12" ULTRA MONSTERS

medicom kemurujin ultra-q
MEDICOM'S VINYL FIGURE
KEMURUJIN FROM ULTRA-Q

Before Medicom's recent production of kewl rubber-suited "Real Action Heroes", they produced some not-quite-as-kewl-but-less-expensive 12" prepainted vinyl figures from the Ultra-Q B&W television series of the mid '60s: Gomes/Litora, Kanegon, Namegon, Ragon, and Kemurujin.

Ultra-Q is where it all started; it didn't feature a 40-meter tall superhero, but a trio of regular human beings who encountered strange creatures and phenomena, both of this world and not. It's been described as being similar to the USA's series, "The Twilight Zone", but with frequent appearances of giant monsters. Some of these monsters were recycled from the Toho studio/Godzilla shows: The first episode's monster, Gomes, was created from a Godzilla suit, and Pagos was a modified Baragon (which was later modified to become Neronga and Gabora of the first Ultraman show). Some of the designs became iconic classics: Pegira was modified to become Chandora of Ultraman, Cicadaman was extensively remodeled to become Baltan Seijin, and Garamon was downsized and became the cute, human-sized Pigmon on Ultraman.

Kemurujin makes his first appearance, human-sized, after people have mysteriously disappeared-- they disappear in a fancy negative/positive film trick after touching a strange slime. It turns out that they're being kidnapped so that the aging Kemurujins can homestead their bodies. Fortunately, science comes to the rescue and the transformed-into-giant-sized Kemurujin is zapped by X-Channel rays shooting from the Tokyo tower; the fallen creature spews the nasty slime from his head stalk and decomposes/disappears, and the missing people are returned in a mysterious fog. After Ultra-Q, Kemurujin appeared briefly in an Ultraman episode, summoned by Mephiras Seijin as a demonstration of his great powers. In the final Ultraman episode, the Zetton agent is unmasked to be a creature who looks just like Kemurujin, except he's wearing clothes, has regular clawed hands, and it looks like his head is on backwards (showing a single eye). Honestly, I don't know what this means-- maybe they just needed an alien costume, and this one's head was handy? Forty years later, they appear to have run with the concept; in a recent episode, Ultraman Max battles the giant Zetton monster, sent by the single-eyed Zetton Seijin.

medicom kemurujin ultra-qAt any rate, Medicom's version is okay: It's tall, measuring 12.75" at the top of his head stalk. It's minimally posable, having rotation-only joints at the shoulders, biceps, hands and feet. The head area paint job is likewise minimalist, with some overspray, and it doesn't even have painted pupils. The sculpting is a little shallow too, and doesn't properly capture the bizarre moving eyeballs feature of the suit. Naturally, I would have preferred a rubber-suited doll, but realistically, I think it would have been expensive to produce a form-fitting and seamless rubber suit... Kemurujin didn't fight any Ultra heroes, so he isn't nearly as marketable as many of the other Ultra foes.

You could do some minor fix-ups-- mainly painting, but maybe grinding and resculpting the yucky yellow area surrounding the eyes. Unfortunately, the head is solid so it would be difficult to install lighting. If you went through that much trouble, you might want to totally redo the rest of him with an articulated figure in a rubber suit-- and then there wouldn't be much point in having bought the vinyl thing in the first place (except for the hands, which are pretty interesting).

 

billiken ultraman gomora

BILLIKEN'S GARAGE KIT
GOMORA FROM ULTRAMAN

Even before Medicom's vinyl Ultra-Q monsters, other companies had released garage kit versions of the Ultra series monsters in a 30-centimeter format. I must confess that I'm not very knowledgeable about this, since I've only recently "discovered" some of the treasures that are out there. Unfortunately, the Internet doesn't provide many answers, in English at least. There are some Japanese modeling sites that focus on garage kits of Ultra series monsters, and there appear to be two main sizes: 20 cm (about 8") and 30 cm (about 12"). It appears that one of the main producers of these garage kits was the Japanese company, Billiken. I say "was" because I don't know if they're still around and doing garage kits-- the models I've seen had 1988 & 1989 copyright imprints.

I was fortunate to have stumbled across eBay auctions for some built and painted 12" Billiken models. There's a good deal of faith and wishful hoping that goes with bidding on something that you've never seen in person, especially if you have very little background knowledge. In this case, one of the primary concerns is scale: You can ask a seller for measurements, but you're never really sure unless you see the model in the midst of your other 12" stuff.

When my Gomora model arrived, I had mixed feelings. The original modeler had done a good job, but Gomora seemed a bit short standing next to my Bandai Type-C Ultraman. This isn't actually Gomora's fault-- Bandai's Ultraman is tall for the 12" scale genre, where a great many so-called 12" figures are shorter than 12 inches. Gomora is a big, tough, and energetic monster-- the only one who had a two-episode story in the original series. Therefore, I felt that he should be as tall as Ultraman to look sufficiently imposing. As a general rule, the monster should be as big as, or bigger than the hero, or it looks like an unfair fight. For dramatic purposes, superheroes should always be the underdog in such a fight.

The official word is that Ultraman and Gomora are 40 meters tall-- This is probably meant as a ballpark number, since it's unlikely that they would be exactly the same height, and that it would be such a nice round number. Besides, how do you determine how tall Gomora is, when his neck is bent, and he's got long horns? Bandai's Ultraman is 12.75 inches tall, which means that its scale is approximately 1:124. That's an odd scale; Many plastic models are standardized at 1:144, and N-gauge model railroad is usually 1:160 (but ranges from 1:148). Scaled down, 40 meters at 1:160 would be 9.8". This kind of stuff can drive you crazy, and I doubt that the guys who made it up actually put much thought into it. Therefore, I decided to disregard the official stats and rely on relative scale-- how stuff looks together. Back to square one. After a few days of vacillating between "it looks okay" and "just a little bit taller", I decided to put on the no-regrets mask and make Gomora a little bit taller.

I studied the model and decided that there were two areas where I could add extensions: his legs and in his midsection. I started with the midsection since it was a single job (since he's got two legs). The model was heated and cut in half with an Exacto knife. I found some old garage kit vinyl trimmings (yeah, I'm a packrat) and cut them into strips which I glued between the two sections, from the inside. These spanned about an inch in the front and about a quarter inch in the back, which made him look less hunched over. The struts were reinforced with putty on the inside, which also made the area rigid and impervious to flexing-- something you definitely don't want when you mix rigid and flexible materials. The area was covered with tape to close gaps between the struts, and puttied over. At that point, it became a sculpting job of texture matching. The back ridge was textured with a sponge, the sides were sculpted with folds to match the exiting pattern, and the front was filled in with random blobs of putty, matching the size progression from the edges inward. The hardest part was feathering the edges of the putty, since you don't want obvious joins between the putty and vinyl areas. Even if you think you've blended away all the seamlines, it's hard to see if there's a tell-tale height difference or if it's really a good blend job until you paint. In this situation, sanding isn't an ideal solution because it wipes out the sculpted texture and so becomes its own kind of tell-tale marker. The last challenge is the paint job-- even though a brushed paint job is easier, it can be difficult to blend with someone else's original paint job since you don't know, or are unlikely have the exact combination of paints he used. Brown is a particularly mongrelized mix of primary colors so it has to be mixed on the palette or model and adjusted until you reach a reasonable match of the color and shade-- taking into account that any change that occurs when the paint dries. If that doesn't work, you can always do a total repaint.

I decided not to do the legs since he seemed tall enough. The change is somewhat subtle-- he looks lankier than he should be, but it doesn't look too odd, and he can now stand head-to-head with the Ultraman doll. I'm hoping that Medicom's C-Type Ultraman (scheduled for release sometime in the future) is shorter than the Bandai one, since I don't want to modify every monster I acquire to measure up to Ultraman!

billiken gomora night

08/19/15- It bothered me that his raised arm attack pose didn't match the body english-- How his legs and head were posed, and his sleepy expression. I broke through the putty and superglue, re-posed his arms, re-puttied, and touched up the paint. Most modelers do their Gomora kits in the attack pose, so the lumbering pose is somewhat unique.

billiken gomora temple

 

billiken ultraman red king
BILLIKEN'S GARAGE KIT
RED KING FROM ULTRAMAN

Red King's another "classic" saurian kaiju from the original series. Even though there have been lots of monsters since the original series, very few have achieved comparable "classic" status. It's understandable since after the first 40 or 50 monsters, it's harder to get into that club. Still, many of the monster designs which followed delved into outlandish and gimmicky territory, and many of those designs were just laughably awful. Red King's eye-catching design was so good that they stuck a new head on it and called it Aboras (who doesn't have quite the same "classic" cachet, IMO).

Billiken's Red King garage kit (1988) was a little more work than the Gomora kit. For one, it wasn't as well painted, with a bright and glossy blue brushed between the bone highlights. That didn't really bother me, since I had bought it without seeing a picture and, because of the size thing, didn't have any expectations that it would be plug 'n play. Painting is the main part of the modeling experience, and if you look at it from that perspective, this gave me the bonus joy of stripping the old paint job. As much as I like the easy path, I'll admit that there's a benefit to taking the harder path: It's liberating. After the messy job of stripping the paint with brake fluid, I felt no qualms about doing more drastic things, like breaking the putty job and removing the arms so that they could be repositioned. I'd wanted to do that with the Gomora model, but I didn't want to ruin the original putty and paint job. Since Red King's got lots of folds, I left the arms positionable, like a regular vinyl figure.

As expected, the size needed a slight adjustment. It can be difficult to gauge this since the vertical measurement isn't a good indicator of scale. The kit is sculpted with a fixed pose, and in this case, with bent and splayed legs. It helps to visualize the suit as it was actually designed, with a human actor inside. There are a few size reference points, like the knees, elbows and shoulders-- the actor's got 'em and through all the padding of the monster suit, you might get a hint as to where they might be, and how far off the model is. I posed a Dragon articulated doll next to the model and figured out that lengthening the shins about 3/4" would do the trick: It lines up the model's knees (best guess) with the doll's, but most importantly, puts the model's shoulders right where the doll's are. It's a relatively subtle change that I think improves the model's look-- as originally sculpted, the legs looked somewhat stubby. The unfortunate side-effect of doing this is that it forces you see the monster as a man-in-a-suit, and I now have a hard time seeing Red King's head as anything but a hat, positioned above the bulge where the actor's head is.

billiken ultraman red king

 

Obviously, garage kits aren't the same as poseable dolls. The static pose limits what you can do with photography, and you can't tweak or change the pose to better fit a static display, after-the-fact. However, since garage kits are purer sculptures, they don't have the out-of-scale puckering and folding that many rubber and fabric suits display. Nevertheless, I'd much prefer a rubber-skinned monster with a poseable armature. The problem is, they aren't out there for sale-- There are humanoid aliens available, but I'm not aware of any 12" long-tailed daikaiju with rubber skins (except Medicom's old Combat Joe Godzilla). So you'd have to make your own. Given that, the garage kits are a way to bring some balance to a 12" scale Ultra collection, giving the reptillian kaijus some representation. If you were considering making your own, the static version is an excellent 3-D reference for planning and staying in scale. Besides, modeling is fun, whether it's used in dollmaking or garage kitting. It's great when someone else has already done most of the work so you can focus on details, but it's also fun to do the complete garage kit thing. When all the work's done, the reward is the addition of some interesting new pieces to the collection.

Here's a link to a Japanese modeler site with pics of some Ultra kaiju garage kits:

http://paranoia.on.arena.ne.jp

--10/08/05

ultraman monsters kaiju

 

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