WAITING FOR DADA
With the explosive growth of old television show releases on video and the spin-off toys, this is a great time to be alive... if you want to escape and relive Yesteryear. Apparently,lots of folks are spending lots of money to relive it, and other folks with stuff to sell are happy to indulge the fantasy. Medicom's released a bunch of yesteryear's Ultra series creatures in a high-brow 12" toy doll format, so for a fan, it's difficult deciding which to get. It's not that there are actually that many (five to date, not including the really special limited editions that sell out in pre-orders), it's that they're so pricey. Since this is purely discretionary spending, it's not a choice between having a cool toy or starving, but it could involve things like whether you've maxed out on your annual contribution to your Roth IRA, or whether you'd rather blow it out on an evening of Chickenshit Bingo at Ginny's Longhorn Saloon. I originally intended to get only one, but Collector's Dementia is an evil master. The only saving grace is that they don't seem to be releasing them every month, and I'm only interested in certain ones (which, unfortunately, would still be too many). So I've made the hard choices according to my incredibly complex formula for preference ranking. The Dada creature came in third, ahead of Metoron Seijin and Zetton, because I thought he looked cuter.
Dada is a bizarre-looking creature, with a tribal African flavor: The head resembles a mud mask or an infamous pop singer, and the bodysuit is similar to tribal body paint markings. The primary black and white coloration is very striking. It's just an inspired design though, and has no known tie-in with Africans, or the sketchy background of the Dada race of aliens (as the costuming does with the hunter aliens of the movie "Predator"). For unexplained reasons, the Dada are on Earth, urgently looking for six special human specimens to shrink and presumably take back to their home world or Neverland dimension. There are three of them... well, there are three different masks, but we only get to see one creature at a time. In the episode, the different masks switch unexpectedly, like during the showdown battle with Ultraman, or when the creature has fallen down and gets up ("Help...I'm white and I can't get downnnnn..."). At first you might think it a bizarre continuity error, and a cynic might believe that they did it because the budget allowed for only one body suit, but I prefer to believe that it's just one of their unexplained and peculiar alien powers (along with teleportation and invisibility) that a filmmaker could attempt with '60s optical effects. It adds to the mysterious and scary atmosphere of the episode, at least for a kid in the '60s. As for the name, "Dada", it has nothing to do with art movements; like many Ultra series aliens, this one has a signature sound which happens to be "Daaaaadaaaaaa", moaned. (Nevermind that they converse in a typical reverberant spacemanly voice, using full sentences.)
I wasn't interested in Medicom's Dada for its dollmaking insights. There didn't appear to be any flexible rubber tricks, and it's pretty obvious how one could make such costuming with the aid of some slave labour seamstress elves and someone insane enough to paint bunches of zebra stripes. My main excuse for not trying to make my own was that they'd already done it. Also, it was part of the series that I was collecting (so it would match, quality-wise), and that undoubtedly, Medicom could do a better job than I because of their access to good reference materials. The doll's simplicity also gave it a desirable feature: I'd finally be able to satisfy my curiosity and examine Medicom's RAH-301 figure without destroying the costuming. That really hasn't kept me up at nights wondering, and you could probably get just the figure alone for far less $$, but I'm a sucker for my own rationalizations. So, with high expectations, I placed my order at Hobbylink Japan and waited for Dada to arrive...
Fast forward through the excitement of the arrival and unpackaging-- he looks good, although his head has fallen off in shipping. Not a big deal; happens to me all the time. I hit the head with the heat gun and forced it back on the body. Just before showing him to my wife (whom, for some time, had been tediously aware that Dada was coming), I noticed that his lovely black and white suit looked smeared where I had probably grasped him to reattach his head. My hands weren't dirty, and the black ink didn't seem wet or anything, and there's no trace of ink on my fingers... Oh well. Pehaps it could be washed out? After showing him to my wife, and before seeing if I could do something about the smear, I noticed that he seemed to be getting dirtier, and dirtier-- gradually, and all over! Puzzlement & angst. The white seemed noticibly grayer than it had seemed before taking him out of the packaging, and was showing darker marking patterns along the fabric folds. Very, very weird. I tried the usual cleaning steps on a small test area-- first, water, then soap and water, then alcohol, and finally, bleach. Nothing made any difference at all! I then looked at the fabric under magnification and saw that this was not a normal case of ink or paint smearing. The gray color seems to come from a black dot pattern in the fabric, similar to how an old B&W newspaper photo achieves tonal gradations. It's particularly strange because the dot pattern looked so uniform and cleanly defined under magnification, but from a distance, looked like regular old smearing. I don't claim to know how the zebra stripe pattern is put on the suit, but my theory is that it's done by a photographic or thermal process. I speculate that whatever was used to activate the darkening in my Dada's suit wasn't completely washed out or neutralized, and that deboxing it, or my handling had restarted the reaction. Or maybe the suit is allergic to the cat dander/lethal atmosphere of our home? However, I'm puzzled by the fact that it seemed not to have this problem when I first opened the box, since it must have been handled at the factory.
A puzzling case of Accelerated Reverse Vitiligo (ARV)...
I should point out that my experience may not be typical-- I could have just received a rare factory-mishap dud. However, I'm not feeling very charitable since a previous Medicom purchase (Jamila) had semi-tacky paint in a few areas. I don't know the production numbers of these Ultra series monsters, but I don't think they're very high. My suspicion is that Medicom is rushing products out in small batches, and that the quantities may require them to develop new production techniques that are cost-effective. It's possible that whatever new production techniques they might be using aren't fully tested or proven. If this is the case, it's a black eye for a long-respected manufacturer in the hobby. If not, I'm just one helluva unlucky SOB or neurotically fussy whiner for thinking the suit should be a crisp black and white.
I'm also a do-it-yourselfer and don't like to dwell in unresolved angst, so I repainted the suit. It was a tedious job (it would have been easier to paint the black stripes than the white inbetweens), but fortunately the paint sticks well, keeps the suit's flexibility, and looks much better. (I haven't gotten around to doing the gloves and boots, but there's only so much zebra striping one can stand at a stretch.) I knew that this would be much faster than going through customer service channels via Hobbylink Japan to Medicom. (And I'm not confident that Medicom actually has a solution that's any better than my paint job.) On principle, it's a hard pill to swallow because I didn't pay the bucks for a paint-by-numbers kit. However, I'm happy with the overall results, and in a few days I won't care whether a customer service solution is forthcoming. I'll write to HLJ though, to at least warn them of the problem-- perhaps they'll pass the word on. Also, the warning on this page helps as a vent outlet, and in a perverse way, it's given me something a little different to write about.
While I'm ragging on Medicom: Unfortunately, the price does keep coming up in these reviews of Medicom's stuff, and as they say, "if you have to ask, you probably don't have your siphon in the funding for Homeland Security." Even as a die-hard fan with a paid-off mortgage, I'm forced to admit that the price/value ratio is only barely tolerable, and you can get a lot better value for less money at Big Lots(!). But Big Lots(!) doesn't carry this kind of Ultra-stuff. It doesn't help that Medicom doesn't give extra goodies with their releases: You get a box, the doll and a doll stand. Woo hoo. That compares very poorly to Bandai's Type 'C' Ultraman, which, in addition to its novelty electric light effects, included a miniature Science Patrol Jet VTOL, and a (non-functioning) Beta capsule. The comparison invites speculation: Is Medicom just a misewable gweedy company, operating on a slim margin, too busy with their production schedule (it's true, they do make dolls for lots of different lines), or somehow don't realize that they exist solely for my wish-fulfillment?... or does Bandai just try harder to deliver fanboy satisfaction? In any case, they've missed opportunities to improve the value of their products for an addicted fanbase. It's not hard to think of some neat extras that could have been included (if they didn't mind earning less money): Baltan Seijin & Jamila had distinctive flying saucers that would have been great extras. A gold ingot souvenir would have been nice too. With Dada, okay-- they do give you the three masks. But it's a pretty simple doll, so you ought to get more: An obvious choice for a kewl extra would have been actual miniaturized pet humans, or perhaps the shrink ray gun prop that's featured prominently in the episode.
While waiting for Dada to arrive (and before I knew that I'd be remaking the suit), I made my own approximation of the shrink ray gun. There weren't any good reference shots in the episode that showed the whole thing from a dead-on angle, so making an accurate version was pretty hopeless. I could only piece together my guess of the overall proportions from snippets of different angles, lens distortions and all, which have a funny way of making parts look shorter or longer, and making angles look more ambiguous. That made it more inviting to stray from the design with some fun changes, like using a transparent green tube instead of an opaque black one for the barrel, and using a honeycomb segment at the barrel's end. Actually, that saved me the trouble of making boring parts in service to "accuracy", which, as I've said, was a lost cause. Styrene was used to fabricate the shapes, since that was the most natural way to get the flat planes. It was also much lighter than a solid, sculpted solution. I don't think it strays too far from the funky retro '60s look of the actual cheapo prop-- it too looks plain, boxish, and silver painted. Unfortunately though, I couldn't figure out how to make it overlay the ray gun optical effects on Reality.
Even though I like the Ultraseven series better than the first Ultraman series, overall I prefer the Ultraman monster and alien designs. It's splitting hairs, but they're not quite so garish, and I can't convince myself that I must have Medicom's Metoron Seijin from Ultraseven with its red, yellow and blue suit (with fur collar!). Still... despite my bad experience and my protests about Medicom repeatedly prying money from my wallet, I'm looking forward to getting just one more: Mephiras Seijin, which looks like he might have a full rubber suit-- mainly black, so hopefully they won't screw that up. Fortunately, there's a breather, since he's due out later this year in... August? Dang, that's next month!
THE REVIEW? WOT'S THAT?
Even though I can't recommend that any sane person purchase this doll, the boring construction details might be of general interest. As I expected, the suit was easy to remove, so I've finally been able to get a peek at what's inside.
As I discovered when opening the box, the whole head is removeable-- the heavy but semi-rigid head fits onto a rounded ball on an articulated stem from the neck (similar to the way most recent figures like Cool Girls are constructed). The lower neck at body is also articulated.
It should be pretty obvious where someone stole his facial reconstruction ideas!
The three face masks are held in place on the head by a strong magnet, so they can be changed quickly, depending on your mood. If only we humans were so lucky, and plastic surgery weren't such a commitment...
The outer suit is removeable by a tiny zipper down the back. Aside from the printing fiasco, the suit is pretty nicely made of a stretchable vinyl with a thin & soft backing.
The hands (gloves and wrist/hand nubbins) and boots are easily removed, but the feet aren't. They may actually be removable, but I didn't want to force the issue if I didn't need to. The outer suit came off easily enough while the feet were attached. The hands/gloves are flexible rubber castings and the solid fingers can be easily pinned to make them poseable.
The figure has a thicker inner suit, made of a soft felt-like padding. This is probably to give the figure a softer "feel" and smooth over the articulation seams & joints. It fills out the outer suit and removes folds and wrinkles as muscle and fat would, but I cut the sleeves back to above the elbow joint, so that it wouldn't reduce the articulation range (otherwise, what's the point of fancy articulation?). It's removeable by three velcro "bandaids". What's left underneath is a version of Medicom's new RAH-301 body.
I've seen pictures of the RAH-301 body available for preorder in a more human-ish flesh tone, with feet, hands and a head. So there are at least a few things that are unique to these monster figures, like the color and the hand nubbins. However, the main articulation features are probably the same as the non-monster version.
Some of the articulation features are old-hat: The ganged elbow and knee hinges are almost a de-facto standard nowadays, even on some bargain-basement figures (although the quality does vary...). Things that are somewhat unique to the RAH-301 are the multi-axes shoulder articulation, design of the hips & leg articulation , and design of the feet (see Baltan Seijin review). These aren't all that functionally unique, since there are other new figure designs out there that find similar ways of doing, more-or-less, the same thing. Maybe they've finally run out of new places to add articulation?
The hips/leg articulation design shows a new trend though: the upper legs have marched over and annexed the butt. What is usually a solid buttocks/hips section in older dolls has been transformed into just a crack of its former self, squeezed between the butt/thigh sections of the legs. Fascinating, huh? Otherwise, it does pretty much the same thing as it does on most every other doll, but it just looks different and more complicated.
The shoulder articulation looks awfully complex too. The inside hinge connecting to the body sweeps front to back; within that, there's a hinge that sweeps up and down; within that, there's the usual dual axes rotation & pivot shoulder hinge. The mechanism is beefy enough, and does what it does with a nice smooth feel. However, I noticed that for all its complexity, it gives a rather subtle bit of extra articulation range that would probably be hidden under most outfits. And you wouldn't want this figure to go topless. Design-wise, this is just another approach to doing what other semi-recent figures have done (Volks' EB & Neo Guy, BBI's Perfect Body, 21C's...shudder... Jactilda), and it perhaps doesn't give quite the range of Volks' nested-ball design. There's one thing that I'm puzzled by though-- despite all this, the figure's arms can't rest as close-in to the body as they can on many lower-tech dolls. That's because the mechanism is inset a bit deeper into the shoulders.
From the Jamila and Baltan Seijin dolls, I thought that the design had improved the stiffness of the articulation, but now I'm inclined to believe those were just quirks, individual variations. Some of Dada's joints were looser than they should be but most are about average. There's really nothing special that I can see in the design that actually improves that quality. Of course, the rivets, pins, and screws do help to tighten parts and make fixing loose parts easier. That's not too unusual for quality Japanese dolls, and indeed, I did tighten up a few hinges.
I consider the figure's body proportioning a plus: It's actually slim-chested and realistically proportioned for an average male. In the world of steroid-chested male dolls, that's kind of unique. However, as with all unskinned articulated dolls, all the articulation seams have to go somewhere. The general rule is that the more articulation, the uglier the nekkid figure is going to look (unless you've trained your brain to ignore the seams, openings, and pins). For massively articulated & yet relatively good-looking, my vote still goes to Volk's old Neo Guy doll. I consider Medicom's new foot design to be interesting and functionally efficient (except for the pointless toe articulation), but uglier than Sin with its low placed ankle hinge.
So overall, I'm a little underwhelmed with their "new & improved" RAH-301 armature, since I had expected more from the hype. It comes from being blasé about "advances" in figure technology: I think that a plateau has been reached. While manufactures have been quick to add more points of articulation, they really haven't worked that much on improving the quality of articulation. I think making tight, smooth-working hinges should be a priority. I think that the hinge tension should be adjustable by screw. And as I mentioned in the Baltan Seijin review, I believe that more thought should be given to selecting proper materials & placement of the tensioning elements so that parts don't get overstressed and crack. Of all the dolls I've had the pleasure of gutting, the one with the most impressively designed articulation was the giant Men of Honor abomination. Because of its size and weight, the designers used sandwiches of hard and soft plastics (really good stuff), tensioned by screws. Yeah, it increases the parts count and assembly steps, but that shouldn't be a big deal for a Cadillac doll commanding a Cadillac price tag.