Apparently, Medicom has underestimated the severity of my Compulsive Consumer Defliction, so once again, I've had to look outside their box to feed my habit. There are other, less well-known producers of this kind of esoterica, and the search would not be quite so challenging if it weren't for the vexing language encryption system used by the Japanese, and the fact that I don't live in Japan. Clearly, the Japanese Ultraman collectors have the advantage, and their lobbying efforts have helped to preserve that advantage, as evidenced by Japan's rejection of both English and Esperanto as their national language. Shipping costs would certainly be lower if they'd located their country just a little bit closer to Texas, too, but noooooooo...
Enterprising fifth-column vendors have made some of this bounty available to those of us whose brains are too small to house anything but English, but-- not to seem ungrateful-- their pickings are pretty slim when compared to the total toy and hobby production output of Japan. Nevertheless, occasionally you can find an overlooked gem that nobody else wants.
first noticed the X-Plus Bira/Vira Seijin "Completed Model" at Hobbylink Japan's
website some years ago, and wondered, "What kinda brain-dead idjit would spend
those kinda bucks on that thang?!!!" I mean, it was just a tiny, tiny picture
of a box, with the promise of many more pictures... at a dead link. Sure enough,
every time I went back to visit their website, it was still there, with the
same dead link. Now this could be interpreted in several different ways. It's
possible that they had bunches of these things, and that there were bunches
of brain-dead idjits constantly buying them. In that case, it's mind-boggling
to imagine their initial mountain of Bira Seijin inventory... since the model
had been released in 2000, and apparently had been out-of-production for quite
a while (possibly since 2000). These days, most everything is limited edition
and disappears from retailer's shelves within months, if it even makes it past
the pre-order phase.
Another possible explanation would be that there was just one of these things that had waited patiently through the years for that one brain-dead idjit to click the "buy" button. Oddly enough, when I clicked the button, the item disappeared from the products list. I was astounded that I was lucky enough to get the very last one... 5 minutes later and I might have been SOL. (Meanwhile, in HLJ HQ, champagne corks were a-poppin')
Actually, X-Plus does have a website... but it's just set up with that peculiar language encryption thing, and they don't appear to have galleries of all their old stuff. In addition to their Godzilla-series monsters, X-Plus has produced a succession of classic Ultra-series monster in recent years, done in a 9" (approximately) solid vinyl, semi-articulated format. I only have one example (Pagos), but the production quality is excellent and it's a very faithful reproduction of the Ultra-Q monster, with an outstanding factory paint job. I'm guessing that the 12" Bira Seijin resin model (non-articulated) is what they used to, or perhaps occasionally do. This seems to indicate a change in marketing focus. The 9" monsters are positioned between the high-end resin models and the smaller and toy-like Bandai Ultraman vinyls that rule the market. The 9" size format isn't as established as Bandai's, and its main selling point seems to be the upscale sculpt and production quality-- in other words, garage kit quality without the garage kit price tag (in theory). It's probably not that tough of a sell since collectors of this stuff don't seem to be overly obsessive about collecting a single, uniform scale-- Since it's based around a media property, even stuff like Ultraman toilet paper appeals to some collectors. Indeed, the going prices on eBay seem to bear this out: Limited availability tends to push the after-market pricing up into the neighborhood of the 12" garage kit product line.
Resin models, a.k.a. "garage kits" or statues, are less accessible because they're fragile and are usually fairly expensive-- priced above, or at the limit of what the casual collector is willing to pay. Plus, originally they were only available as kits that you had to assemble and paint. Technically, this is a "pre-paint", or "completed model". Although the Bira Seijin box is marked "Garage Toy" (as is the 9" vinyl line), it's intended purely for display, not play. Heavy and fragile rigid resin products aren't blister-packed on cards to hang from pegs-- they're usually packaged in a box, fitted with a custom styrofoam insert. Accordingly, they're produced in much smaller quantities.
The 12" size standard is popular for figural garage kits, being in the neighborhood of 1/6th scale for human-sized figures. This happens to work out well for anal-rententives from the 12" doll world. With Ultra monsters, the precise numerical scale isn't a big deal-- monsters and superheroes range from human-sized to skyscraper-sized, and the source TV/movie shows played it pretty loose in that area (you've gotta remember that none of this stuff can be fact-checked against Reality). So 12"/30 cm is good enough as an approximate and relative scale if you're displaying Ultra figures together for a diorama effect. Mixing 6", 8", and 12" figures together in close proximity (along with your Ultraman toilet paper) creates a "collection" effect.
For me, the main attraction of X-Plus' resin Bira Seijin was that fact that it's an Ultraseven alien, and that it's 12"-- suitable for display with Medicom's 12" Ultra-series dolls and Billiken's Ultra-series vinyl garage kits. It's packaged as two main rigid polymer resin pieces (creature & base), plus a bunch of flexible urethane legs and tentacles for consumer installation. Although rigid resin imparts a quality "feel" by virtue of its weight and solidity, I'd be just as happy with any other material that held the same level of detail. To me, poseability is a much more desireable feature, although it's hard to imagine how this could have been accommodated, given the fact that the creature's design isn't a standard man-in-a-rubber suit. The monster prop in the TV show was suspended by wires and didn't have to deal with the gravity-defying balance issues of its top-heavy design. Wires aren't a desirable solution for model display, so the upper mass has to be positioned to balance against this creature's relatively small support base. Bandai's smaller vinyl version can deal with this because it's light and the top section is hollow; as long as the base and trunk stay rigid, the thing can stand up. If the trunk were poseable, it probably couldn't, since the small base isn't sufficient to counter much of a shift in the center-of-gravity. The 12" X-Plus model deals with the basic balance problem by using a steel pin in the creature's base, which anchors it to the additional mass of the mini-diorama base, like a tree. Therefore, a poseable trunk would be feasible if the creature is anchored to a sufficiently massive base. Of course that means drilling holes whereever you intend to display the sucker. So for me, the fixed-pose statue is good 'nuff; I'll wait until someone invents an affordable anti-gravity solution before refitting this guy with a flexible, scale-covered trunk.
I like the creature's design-- it's sort of a cross between a lobster and a ray (or kite), and a nice change from the usual rubber-suited alien. Its featured Ultraseven episode was pretty decent too (if your standards are as questionable as mine); the high point is when the skyscraper-sized creature rises from the smoke amidst the ominous horns score for the climactic battle with Ultraseven. Although the conclusion is a no-brainer, the before-the-days-of-PCdom dispatch gets at least 4-1/2 (out of 5) sadism stars from the Tempura Center for Battered Shrimp. (Did they really have to flambé the twitching, ginsu'd lobster? Hell, yeah! It improves the flavor.)
Since missing an acquistion opportunity at eBay, I've been hoping to run across another opportunity to acquire Billiken's 30 cm "Gabora" garage kit -- prior to that, I didn't know that such a thing even existed. It was another one of my favorite Ultraman monsters as a kid, so now it's planted in my brain as yet another quest object. The Gabora monster design had a distinguished rubber-suit lineage, starting as the Toho Studios monster "Baragon" from "Frankenstein Conquers the World". With a new head, he became "Pagos" in the "Ultra-Q" series. Apparently, decapitating monsters is both fun and a shrewd business practice, for this same suit appeared in episode #3 of Ultraman as "Neronga"-- with a new head and some additional fin stuff stuck in his back. Gabora's transformation was less dramatic; Neronga's breakaway nose horn had already been snapped off by Ultraman, so they removed the antlers and fin stuff and decorated the head with an opening cowl. Despite this relatively simple change, it wasn't apparent to me as a kid (the transformation to "geek" happened later in life, and didn't involve decapitation).
Due to some reason buried deep within the mysterious workings of a child's mind, Neronga wasn't one of my childhood favorites. Maybe I didn't like his antlers that rotate forward when he discharges his electrical beam? To this day, they don't do much for me from a design perspective. I have nothing against antlers per se: I think they look good on deer, but then deer antlers don't rotate. When Neronga's antlers are rotated back, sometimes they nestle against Neronga's neck and make him look like a submissive dog (a really ugly one) with folded back ears; they don't add much mass around his neck area-- with his short, rounded face and porker body, it seems like something's missing. At any rate, Gabora's armored cowl is much more impressive, and that single addition totally changes the way the monster looks.
The TV show's obligatory kaiju bash fest wasn't particularly distinguished. Neronga's a plus-sized monster who does most of his damage by blundering into man-made structures; his elaborate rotating antlers electric beam has zero effect on Ultraman. For the most part it's a wrestling match, and includes a peculiar, gravity-defying segment where Neronga either leaps or flies at Ultraman. Unlike the later shows, when the monster is ultimately explosively vaporized by some kind of Ultra beam, these early shows include a shower of monster body chunks and a final long shot of the unexploded portion of the carcass (no doubt a gory mess, left for someone to clean up).
When I saw CCP's 12" Neronga on eBay, I was willing to overlook my tepid interest in the monster; I thought it looked pretty neat since they'd modelled his antlers so that they weren't pressed against his neck. I'd never heard of CCP before, so I did a quick search and found their website. Despite that Japanese thing that's going on there, I was able to figure out that they've done several releases (called "Volumes") of these 30 cm Ultra monsters, and that practically everything they've made is sold out. Therefore, it didn't do me any good to see that they'd already done Gabora, along with other kewl Ultra monsters like Keronia, Dorako and Zarabu Seijin. (Not that I'd have the slightest clue on how to order them even if they weren't sold out.)
So my ignorance of Japanese limits me to the few marked-up leftovers that manage to make it outside their borders into the familiar environs of eBay. That's okay with me, since it's exciting when I do run across stuff like that. The eBay-Gabora experience taught me that with this kind of stuff, acquisition opportunities might not be repeated. Although this glow-in-the-dark version was pitched for exclusivity as a limited production of 50, from my perspective it was simply "available"; I would have preferred the painted version (production of 500), but it wasn't available. I assume that the glow-in-the-dark treatment is a tenuous reference to Neronga's special ability to turn invisible when he isn't feeding on electrical power; it's a peculiar adaptation since a lumbering, hill-sized monster wouldn't seem to benefit much from a stealth mode. (Of course, folks who try to make sense of these things might be considered brain-dead idjits.)
The CCP Neronga is perfectly scaled for Medicom's line of 12" Ultra figures, and it's a better match than most of the Billiken garage kits. It's easy to see this when you compare Billiken's Pagos to CCP's Neronga: Although the lengths and heights are close, Neronga is noticibly fatter and more massive. It captures that aspect of the rubber suit very well. Since this is a white, glow-in-the-dark toy, it's a little harder to evaluate the sculpt quality; It seems to be on par with the excellent Billiken stuff. However, it's more toy-like, even discounting the glow-in-the-dark gimmick. There's more hollow-vinyl figure articulation at the knees, feet, arms, hands, neck and tail, and the seamlines are clearly visible in the pics. The vinyl is also much softer than what's used in Billiken's vinyl garage kits.
As I've said, Gabora was one of my childhood favorites, not Neronga. So how difficult could it be to convert Neronga to Gabora, just as they'd done with the rubber suits? I don't have any qualms about destroying the collectible value of this stuff to suit my preferences, since I think it's silly to pay for the honor of being the guardian of an object. However, I'll give glow-in-the-dark Neronga a chance to grow on me. It's kind of a neat and unique feature. Who knows, maybe Gabora will show up on eBay? I'd feel awfully foolish if I had to convert that to Neronga...
07/09/15- Over the years, the glow-in-the-dark plastic had yellowed
to brownish, so it was time to paint it as I'd always wanted to do.
I didn't have to paint the horn, teeth or nails since they were already
a realistically weathered shade of ivory. Now they're the only parts
that glow in the dark.
Sometimes whining does pay off. While proofreading this article (post-upload)
to correct errors that I should have caught before I uploaded it, I became
disgusted with all my whining about not being able to find toys that I wanted.
Although I'd already done my Internet searching, I decided to try just one
more time, and clicked on a heading that was written in that peculiar encoding...
Bingo: Kaiju-Taro. They
have a "Japanese to English" section just for folks like me!
A quick scan of their catalogue gives you an idea of how many companies produce these toy vinyl monsters, and where the popular interest is. Many of the products are from shows that are unknown to me, and are done in the smaller, stylized retro-toy look. It's also telling that most of the stuff, except the new arrivals, is sold out. So apparently, this stuff has a large enough following to support a long list of producers. (I'd never heard of most of 'em.)
Of those producers, only a handful make the kind of non-stylized Ultraman stuff that I like: CCP, X-Plus, and Medicom. Although most of that selection is sold out, it was interesting for me to see what was once offered, and when. I was blown away when I saw that they actually had what I'd come for (CCP's Gabora), and that it was in stock. Game over. Damn...