12" ULTRA MONSTERS 3

As a kid growing up during the '60s kaiju craze, I had lots of kaiju models (but only one Ultra-series model, "Pagos") and several of the Ultra-series vinyl figures. I recognized that the models were more accurate representations of the screen monsters than the vinyl figures, so I preferred them. I think that made a lasting impression and explains why, as an adult, I have little nostalgic interest in the stylized vinyl figures. For me, the main attraction of the 12"/30cm Ultra-Kaiju format is that the manufacturers try to accurately model the monster suits. In many cases, that means right down to the zippers and breathing/vision holes. My nostalgic connection is more for the original shows that I watched as a kid than for the original toys that I used to own.

I suspect that this format is not even a fraction as popular as other formats like the 6" Bandai figures or the nostalgia-centered "Bullmark/M1 style" toys. I saw an indication of this at a website which mentioned a production run of a particular 12" figure or model of only 500 units! (I forget which, and I don't know if this is typical, or even true.) No doubt there are many factors that influence consumer collecting decisions, like price, display space, availability, nostalgia, investment potential... but one might surmise that "realism" has a fairly low value. A similar situation exists for collectors of 12" GI Joe figures, where many people collect mainly to satisfy a nostalgic longing for the actual toys they owned in their childhood. The Ultra-kaiju situation is a bit different because it's both the toys and the shows, and both are still being produced. One wouldn't expect nostalgia to be as big a factor, but yet the stylized and toy-like Bullmark/M1 style appears to be very popular, and very pricey. Recently however, the company X-Plus has produced a highly-detailed and realistic line of 8-inch "Garage Toys" depicting some of the original Ultra-series monsters. Apparently, someone's buying them because they're a fairly recent release and very difficult to find at online retailers (but that's like most toys today). Who knows what it all means? The salient point is that if you're a native English-speaker who's interested in this kind of stuff, you're probably in a very small minority that isn't meant to fathom the forces which drive the production of these things for their target Japanese market.

Speaking of which... I may have been mistaken about the availability of the Billiken kits: Some kits may have been rereleased within the last few years, and the company, Billiken Shokai, is still around. I deduced this from an online retailer who listed some of their kits for sale (but of course, none were actually available).

Anyway, this is part 3 of my ongoing effort to provide visual documentation with English-language commentary for the benefit of that tiny minority. Unfortunately, because I don't speak or read Japanese, the actual factual content is low and in many cases, restates the obvious. I'll leave the research part to someone else, since finding these things and spending the bucks is plenty 'o burden for me.

 

BILLIKEN'S GARAGE KIT
KANEGON FROM ULTRA-Q (1991)

Kanegon is one of the most famous monsters of the Ultra-Q episodes, rivaling Garamon/Pigmon and Baltan Seijin for the most iconic of all Ultra-series monsters. The Ultra-Q Kanegon episode is one of the wacky & whimsical masterpieces of the series. It's one of the few that doesn't feature appearances of the main characters (Manjome, Yuriko & Ippei), or a 40-meter tall kaiju threatening to destroy mankind. It may be a stretch to see in it a trace of inspiration from Kafka's story of Gregor Samsa, but in this episode, an obsessively money-loving boy (Kaneo) wakes up transformed into the money-eating (human-sized) creature, Kanegon, complete with a zippered coinpurse mouth and a coin counter on his chest. He has to eat coins to survive, and after enduring the tribulations that one might expect in such a situation, he redeems himself and is transformed back into his human form. We assume that he's learned his lesson; however, upon returning home, mom & dad have a big surprise for him.

Because of his iconic status, Kanegon has been represented in a zillion plastic versions, including a fairly recent 12" one made by Medicom (same series as their Kemurujin figure). However, I don't have any others to compare him to, so I'll just assume that Billiken did an above-average job. Anyway, even though Kanegon doesn't exactly fit in with the pantheon of building-squashing Ultra monsters, every Ultra-series collection should have at least one representation of this most-famous monster.

The original modeler did a decent job with this, painting it as a B&W TV show version (although for some reason, he did the eyes in a rust brown). It appears to have been done as a gray basecoat with black washes and drybrushed in a light gray. Some of the drybrushing seemed a little too much with a very large and obvious drag direction though, as if it had been applied using a towel. However, it doesn't detract much from the overall appearance. I "fixed" a few things: the eyeball coloration, and the addition of painted zipper teeth. I believe that the actual costume was gold colored, since that's the color that the toys are usually cast in.

billiken ultra-Q kanegon

 


billiken eleking ultraseven

BILLIKEN'S GARAGE KIT
ELEKING FROM ULTRASEVEN (1991)

Although I like all the Eleking episodes I've seen (original Ultraseven episode, the 90's made-for-video Ultraseven show (left) and the current Ultraman Max series), I never fell in love with the design of the Eleking monster. It's too weirdly improbable for my tastes, with rotating antenna on his head and fingerless hands and feet (with gas-shooting orifices). Now that I've got a model that I've worked on, he's kinda grown on me so that I don't dislike the design-- The long tail is awfully neat, but I still can't say that I really like the design. There's a difference, y'know?

The original paint scheme of my model was actually very well done by the Unknown Artist, and featured a very professional-looking wash. Unfortunately, it was totally wrong for my purposes-- It looked like faux antiqued verdigris brass, not the cow-colored creature that I wasn't particularly fond of. I can accept the idea of painting a monster to appear as it did in a B&W television episode, but I couldn't visualize this guy posed next to a piss-antiqued authentic Angkor Wat artifact. Since fixing this would involve considerable pain, it would be a good opportunity to fix other things that I might not otherwise have messed with. It's easier to get motivated when you have multiple rationalizations for doing things that involve lots of work.

I'd read up on the fine art of paint stripping and figured that since everyone was advising against using the really potent stuff, that must be the way to go. I'm blessed with a reasonably high tolerance for caustic and really stinky chemicals, so I used just about every nasty skull and crossbones-marked elixir I owned, including the stuff that generates a burning sensation if you accidently splash it on the back of your hand. It took most of the paint off really quickly, and made quite a mess since dissolved paint's gotta go somewhere-- it doesn't magically disappear leaving behind sparkly cleanliness. A second and third pass through with potent carcinogenic volatiles cleaned up a lot of the mess, but even then, the detail and crevices needed a going over with localized application of toxins, a fine pick, Q-tips, and paper towels. Note that I'm not mentioning which chemicals I used so that I can't be accused of steering anyone down this wreckless path. The cautions are not without merit, for while mindlessly stripping paint and inhaling fumes I reasoned that if we were really created by God, it's so we could be harvested when we're deemed ready. I've heard that we taste kinda like chicken. (Don't worry about those brain cells-- you can't take 'em with you.)

The second part of the reworking was to make him taller and make his head so that it was posed in a more generic way. Originally, the head was facing slightly downward and swayed to the side, which suggested a specific, static situation. I prefer these things to be more generic, since that allows a broader interpretation when posed in context with other models. (It's the same reason why I don't sculpt heads as dynamic snapshots, with open-mouthed, bared teeth "action" poses.) The neck/head was fixed with a slight rotation to better center it and reared up in the front so that the monster's head appeared to be looking at whatever he was facing (even though he doesn't have eyes). I didn't straighten out the slight curve to the neck since it was easier not to, and it gave the pose a little bit of life (unlike the stiff way that many 6" Bandai vinyl figures are posed). The legs seemed like the best place to make the model taller, again using the likely knee positions of a man-in-a-monster suit as a guide. If Billiken sculpted accurate representations, either the monster suits had really droopy knees or the actors had really short shins. The tail's downward angle was increased slightly to compensate for the longer legs, but I later figured out that I could take care of this by simply rotating the tail a small amount. I decided to keep the tail segments as segments so that it could be removed, disassembled, and re-posed. This was a practical consideration since a fixed position tail would limit where you could display the sucker, and make boxing him up really difficult-- This thing's display footprint is potentially huge, depending on how the tail is posed. Besides, I wasn't going to putty his arm seams, so what's another five seams?

  billiken eleking ultraseven

The changes aren't dramatic, but were a little challenging because of the need to match texture. Naturally, when you make something taller, you have to add the extra flesh and blend it with what's already there. Blending the gross details-- the cut and fissure patterns on his skin --wasn't difficult. The difficulty was in blending the smooth areas of the skin so that the textures matched. Although the skin is smooth, it's not perfectly shiny smooth, and has a matte texture with some tiny pits, wrinkles, and fissures. I made about a dozen tiny texture stamps taken from all over his body and used them to stamp texture patterns into the blended putty areas. This makes the blended areas more matte and better matches the detailed texture of the skin. It's difficult to judge how well it blends as you work on it because the color difference is so stark. Spraying the area with primer (pic 3 above, right) lets you know if the added material blends or looks funky.

Heck, even if the patch work is a little funky, a paint job like this will make it less noticible. It's a pretty basic paint job: A gray primer coat, a flat white spray coat and a light airbrush coat of off-white before painting the black detail. I think the costume is actually a pretty pure white, but many pictures show a yellowish cast, probably due to the lighting. I decided to go for something in between.

Painting the black detail was awfully tedious and the paint needed to be fairly thick so that it didn't wick into the white paint's matte texture. Some touchup was necessary, and a recurring question was where the dividing line between the two shades should be-- the black areas are recessed, but there's a "gray zone" between the two. At any rate, it was necessary to make sure that the dividing line wasn't ragged. The pointalist dorsal stripe was likewise tedious work. It would have been much easier with a Pigma Micron pen instead of a brush, but I don't like the ink's sheen. Besides, a brush lets you make different sizes of dots, whether you want to or not. The stripe should actually extend all the way down the tail, but that wouldn't look very good since the tail was intended to be re-poseable.

The last thing I thought about was the mouth, when it was too late to do anything fancy. The costume's mouth appears to be a backlit clear panel, and it's pretty impossible to paint something like that. Basically, the only thing brighter than off-white is white, and the contrast isn't nearly enough to give the illusion of lighting. I tried all sorts of things-- interference paint, clear yellow paint, varnish... before finally settling on a mix of pure white & varnish dots. There's a slight wash of clear yellow, but it's not really visible in the pics.

billiken eleking ultraseven

billiken eleking ultraseven

 

--11/05/05

 

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