Technically, this is the first Ultra-kaiju garage kit that I can claim to have built. Up to this point, I've only repainted/revised kits that other people have built, which bypasses the assembly step. That can save lots of time, but not necessarily-- stripping paint and repainting can take longer than assembling and painting a kit. But reworking a kit only gives you a portion of the full experience: When you go through the entire process, you get to see the box it came in, open plastic bags, play with sharp blades and Superglue, and can save the scrap sprues for future projects-- vinyl scraps are a handy material to have around!
The Kaiyodo Garamon vinyl kit was produced in 1989, but I don't know its release history-- evidently, it's not in production now so I feel I was lucky to have found an unbuilt kit. Googling the net, I've found that other Garamon garage kits have been produced through the years, and there are photos out there of some very nice build-ups. The Kaiyodo version seems to be more gnome-like than some of the others, with a squatter body and a more protruding face.
The box lists the scale at both 1:100 and 1:200, which would make Garamon a shrimpy gigantic kaiju at 1:1 scale. Such paradoxes are interesting, but irrelevant for my purposes. When assembled, it stands approximately 10" tall-- a shortie amongst the 12" Ultra stuff I've been amassing. As the Ultra-Q monster Garamon, this might be a problem-- I've seen fan stats that say he was supposed to be 40 meters tall, or as tall as most of the Ultra kaiju. However, the suit was recycled in the Ultraman show, minus the chest emblem, shrunk to human size and called "Pigmon". Pigmon appeared in two Ultraman episodes, "cute-ified", to be a friend of the Science Patrol. He hops around a lot, flapping his arms and making cute monkey-like sounds, which really irritates giant monsters like Red King and Dorako. This sets him up to get killed in both episodes (mebbe a slight continuity problem?), sacrificing himself to save members of the Science Patrol, which establishes him as a tragic & heroic character (unlike Star Wars' Jar Jar Binks, who didn't get killed, but returned in dead roles. But I digress...). As Pigmon, the 10" size is almost perfect, since he's considerably shorter than even the shortest member of the Science Patrol. Oddly, the box art shows a painting of Pigmon.
ASSEMBLY Unlike styrene kits, garage kits usually have only a handful of parts. With vinyl kit, parts are heated and trimmed of excess flash and sprues with an Exacto blade, then test-fitted before joining the parts with a gap-filling Superglue. The fit of the parts usually isn't as precise as with styrene models, so it's often necessary to do additional gap-filling puttywork before painting.
The Kaiyodo kit isn't a typical vinyl garage kit: It's got bunches of parts that need to be trimmed and glued-- 180 fins, spread over 21 sprues, plus a handful of pieces for the hands, fingers, legs, toes, tail, body and head. This is one of the rare vinyl kits where the assembly job can take more time than the paint job.
I can't complain about the fit of the parts, considering how many of them there were and how many fit without much guesswork. However, vinyl sprues aren't like styrene sprues. With a styrene kit, you know where the sprue ends and the part begins. With a vinyl kit, you slice flat against the sprue, hoping that the cut is relatively smooth and flat, and that the piece will give you a clue about how it's supposed to be oriented when attached. It's a cinch when the gluing face of the part is curved or tapered, but when it's not, you have to guess. That assumes that the attachment slot is flat, or matches the part that's supposed to be attached. Sometimes, it's not very clear, and the attachment area isn't exactly flat. So there's a some guesswork for those parts that don't exactly fit-- those need to be puttied over. In fact, all of them should be puttied over so that the fins don't look like they were glued into slots. It's just one more step that gobbles up the hours. On the bright side, it's nowhere near as tedious as knitting 1:6 scale chainmail.
The conversion to Pigmon required grinding off the Garadama emblem on his chest. I also filled his feet and ankles with putty before glueing them together. This adds weight which lessens potential center-of-balance problems. More importantly though, it makes the feet and ankles rigid. Vinyl can gradually distort through time due to the weight it supports, the location of the center of balance, and temperature-- if this happens, the model falls over. You can fix this by reheating and reposing the parts, but it's a temporary fix. Filling parts with a rock-hard material fixes this potential problem permanently.
FINAL ASSEMBLY It's a good idea to sit back and consider your options before rushing through the final assembly to the painting phase. The glueing and puttying steps will make it more difficult to make revisions later on. This is the time to paint any parts that might be inaccessible after final assembly, like inside the mouth.
This is also the fun part. This is where you can deviate from the standard kit construction, perhaps changing the model's pose, or adding articulation. Some vinyl kit producers design their kits so that they can have limited "action figure"-like poseability if you trim the parts conservatively and don't glue/putty over the seams. Of course, you can go beyond that, using any of the modeling and dollmaking tricks in your repertoire. I made a few changes (and decided against making a few):
The finger and tail pieces were joined with wires, glueing the wire's end into a hole drilled into the terminal piece (i.e., finger) and running the wire through the hollow hand section (or joining with the not-hollow tail section). That gives some freedom to repose them and evaluate how they look instead of just glueing them in place. It's also a practical thing, since they're thin parts and this flexibility will make them absolutely immune to snapping off. If I'd been really anal, I might have separated all the parts' segments and articulated them.
While test fitting the legs for the photos, I thought it would be cool if they weren't in a permanently fixed position. Then you could angle the toes out or in, pose the body leaning forward or backwards, and make minor modifications to the center of balance. It was pretty easy to set it up for an elastic-tensioned attachment instead of gluing them in place-- just insert rods in the legs and body and thread the elastic. The tradeoff is that the seam is visible, although the paint job helps to conceal it.
The short arm segments were cut off and replaced with a flexible sleeve. These have a wire core surrounded by padding and a textured outer material sleeve. Like the legs, they don't provide much in the way of articulation, but they do widen the posing possibilities.
Before painting, I grabbed video frames and studied pics of Garamon/Pigmon kit buildups-- the buildup pics have good detail and color, if you can trust them (since Ultra-Q was in B&W). The overall coloration of rust/red with white limbs is well established, and matches the coloration of Pigmon in Ultraman. However, there seems to be some variation in the way the belly is painted: Some paint it white, and some paint it a shade of rust. It's not very clear from watching the Ultra-Q videos, but the belly and face appear to be a lighter shade of something. Since I'd decided to do this kit as Pigmon instead of Garamon, I referred to the two color Ultraman episodes which show slightly different versions of the Pigmon suit. Unfortunately, the quality of the video and brief appearances of Pigmon make it harder than you'd think. Actually, it didn't really matter: After seeing so many images of Garamon and Pigmon, I came to accept that Kaiyodo hadn't sculpted either of them! Theirs is an exaggerated caricature that has all the recognizable features, but doesn't faithfully capture the proportions of the monster suit. It looks kind of like a crochety, middle-aged, overweight and street-wise version of Pigmon, so there was no point in agonizing over a TV-accurate paint job.
There wasn't much to do for the final assembly, just glueing and puttying the face. I decided to leave the head as a pressure fit part so that it could be rotated. This isn't something that I've ever seen Pigmon or Garamon do, but I liked the look in the preliminary picture above. The seam isn't pretty, but it's something that I can easily fix later if I'm really bothered by it. It would be much more difficult to go the other way after it had been glued. By the way, polymer clay is great for masking odd-shaped parts like this guy's mouth: It's easy to remove, and doesn't leave a sticky residue.
PAINTING Unfortunately, our nearby Pep Boys auto shop doesn't carry Plasticote paint anymore, and I hate the Dupli-color Red Oxide primer that they did have-- it smells funny, doesn't dry very quickly, and feels kinda tacky. After learning about those qualities on a test scrap, I reluctantly resorted to my last can of Plasticote gray primer. For future projects, I'll have to see what Krylon has in primers besides UF Black.
I was eager to find out if my last successful airbrushing experience was just a fluke. This time it went pretty smoothly until I started mixing colors. I think it has something to do with mixing brands since the clogs happened when I mixed Polly-S with Testors/Model Masters Acryl. The consistency looked okay, but I've seen some paints clump when you add an incompatible thinner. How inconvenient...
Although I airbrushed the main rust & white parts, the only part that really required the airbrush was the white belly, with its blend into the rust color. I airbrushed in some different shades of red and tan on the body and legs, but the coloration wasn't very noticible. I then brush-painted red/orange highlights and applied some dark washes, which stood out more. The rust bottomcoat was very accommodating; it didn't seem to matter what I brushed on or how thick it was-- it all blended effortlessly.
CONCLUSION This was a fun kit, but if I had the choice, I'd have picked another kit which better resembled the creature's TV suit. I briefly considered resculpting the face to be flatter and smaller, and making an articulated jaw, but that wouldn't fix the wide and squat body. The funny thing is, I wasn't this fussy until after I'd studied a bunch of pictures and became attuned to the differences. Up until that point, they'd all looked the same to me.
Otherwise, Kaiyodo did a great job with the kit production. As I was building it, I tried to figure out how they had turned this complex sculpture into a kit, since all those fins couldn't have been simply shaved off from the finished sculpture and put on sprues-- the body had matching slots, each with a part # stamped inside. I think that they probably made the fins first, pressed them into the body's clay pattern while it was malleable, then stamped the numbers...? It's fun to think about stuff like this since it's garage-tech enough to be within reach of a personal endeavor (unlike today's electronics technology). Someday, nobody's going to know how anything works.