Imagine that you've spent weeks/months working on your home-made-from-scratch
rendition of a media property that's never been commercially produced...
only to hear that Megabucks Corp. has just announced release of their
ultimate version! Bummer, huh?
Nope, that's not me. I learned that lesson a long time ago (hint:
if you put large breasts on everything, you're usually pretty safe). I'd
started making a 12" King Joe a long time ago, but I didn't get very
far and it would have been a bear of a project. So when I found
Banpresto's 14" vinyl King Joe, I was content
to do a few modifications to improve its articulation. At that time I
had no idea that Medicom would ever produce one; once they announced,
I jumped at the opportunity to preorder it.
I had pretty high expectations: From the Banpresto vinyl, I knew that
a major obstacle to achieving articulation and remaining faithful to the
costume design was the fact that the TV show's costume was a rubber suit.
Admittedly, this looks kinda funky for a robot that you'd expect to be
made of some kind of metal, but dem's da facts of vintage TV shows. ("It's
a very special metal that we aliens use to make robots and condoms!")
A faithful reproduction of the costume at doll-scale would have to be
done with rubber, and who better to do it than Medicom?
After months of waiting through delays, it finally arrived... and to
be perfectly honest, I was a little disappointed. It's not Medicom's fault:
They did a fine job. I have no complaints about any major aspect of their
production-- quality, detail, fidelity, fit, finish, etc. (Okay, the price...this
one reflects a price hike above an already steep price). The detailing
of the head antennas and the clear plastic chest panels are much better
than Banpresto's efforts; the rivetless thigh panels are more faithful
to the costume. It's a neat-looking piece that fits in well with the rest
of their "Real Action Hero" line of Ultra-stuff.
I couldn't be disappointed with the lack of lighting effects since none
of their other dolls have them either. It's a shame though, since the
costume lighting effects are a big part of their "look", and the King
Joe costume has an interesting set of sequenced light effects. As a practical
matter, the omission makes sense: Lighting and sound effects are a gimmick
that would probably be appreciated for only a brief initial period of
the doll's lifetime. The aging battery would then become a liability.
This would add quite a bit to the price since the design and assembly
would have to deal with complications of light arrays, battery and switch
placement, in addition to design of the timing circuit board. Given the
already steep price and limited appeal of these things, I'm sure that
Medicom didn't want to press the issue.
couldn't be disappointed that it's not very poseable-- none of the rubber
suited dolls are, despite the super-articulated figure that's smothered
under the rubber. For all practical purposes, King Joe's legs aren't really
poseable. The armature can do it and the rubber suit can do it, but put
them together and it's a no-go. I've come to realize that 12" dolls with
conventional plastic armatures aren't really suitable to properly handle
full, one-piece rubber suits. It's a lesson with a bit of irony: In theory,
one of the reasons for using rubber is to eliminate seams and hide the
hinged armature, making a more faithful, poseable version of the costume
than one could achieve from a plastic toy figure (with exposed hinges
and seams) or a static sculpture. In practice, what you get is good-looking
doll with poseability that's fairly close to a static sculpture.
Along those lines, I also couldn't be disappointed that King Joe's hands
are totally un-poseable. Like others in this series, they're like flexible
molded gloves that have been sculpted as part of the arm casting. The
armature's standard-issue "hands" (flippers, actually) don't even reach
into the hand casting. That's not a big loss, since the flippers really
wouldn't do much even if they did.
This isn't to say that there's no room for improvement. It seems obvious
to me (now) that Medicom should have made a more robust armature exclusively
for this specialized line of rubber-suited dolls. The RAH body works fine
for dolls wearing traditional outfits which show skin or a humanoid contour,
but it's a poor choice for this line. The reasons why they don't are likely
economic: It's cost effective to produce a single universal body style
for all their different lines. They're willing to do simple variations
to customize it for specific monsters (mainly the head section), but charge
considerably more for radical departures (like Garamon).
The main reason for my disappointment is pretty silly: Banpresto King
Joe has been towering over the others in my collection for a long time
now, and Medicom's is so much smaller. King Joe was a truly formidable
opponent for Ultraseven; camera angles and shot framing of the TV episode
amplified the drama and gave (me) the impression that King Joe should
look much tougher than a run-of-the-mill alien. Taking BKJ's place and
posed next to Medicom's Pegassa Seijin, Medicom's King Joe looks so puny,
so meek. I recognize that it's not valid grounds for disappointment: The
Medicom version is sized correctly, and is slightly taller than their
AS SEEN ON TV
King Joe variants have appeared in at least a couple of post-60s Ultra-series
episodes: In the 1999 Ultraseven "Duplicated Man" video (center images), and
in a 2005 Ultraman Max episode (right images). Both episodes reveal a different
approach to the costume; instead of using a full rubber suit, the costumes are
a mixture of rigid and flexible pieces (much like an armoured knight). I think
this works and looks better than the full rubber suit, since the parts which
look like they shouldn't smoosh, (usually) don't. It was interesting to see
how they made the changes, as they clearly made an effort to retain as much
of the original King Joe costume design as possible. Of the two, I prefer the
1999 Ultraseven version: The Ultraman Max version was heavily mixed with computer
graphics footage, so perhaps that's why it looks somewhat stylized? In my opinion
it looks cheaper; the lower pic shows the rubber suit's smooshable hips/codpiece
area, just like the original.
BANPRESTO'S KING JOE, REV. 2
Since the role of the official King Joe had been filled, I was
free to see BKJ as a King Joe variant, maybe a "Mark II", or a "Super
King Joe" (or with large robotty breasts, a "Queen Joe"?). This meant
that I had no inhibitions about cutting him up to make articulation improvements
and to get away from the full rubber suit paradigm.
My revisions to BKJ were quick & easy (since I'd already done the arms):
The first and most obvious thing to do was to separate the upper torso
from the lower along the natural seamline. This would permit full balljoint-like
posing of the upper torso instead of the simple built-in rotational articulation.
Since this wasn't the "real" King Joe, I wasn't concerned about
preserving the original peaked shape of the sculpted-on "belt" (which
happened to cross the original articulation seam).
Next up were the legs. I'd originally been too lazy to do anything about
them since they served their purpose (to keep it standing up). One of
the technical problems had been with the bellows at the knees and ankles.
I'd been too lazy to make flexible ones, and the bellows I'd made for
the arms didn't hold their shapes very well (ideally, they need to be
rigid enough to hold their shape, but flexible enough not to inhibit articulation).
I decided to use the vinyl casting's (semi)rigid bellows, but to separate
them, ridge by ridge, and join them with a stretchy material backing,
like a sleeve. That way they'd retain their shape, but the sleeve would
be somewhat flexible. It's not the way bellows really work, but it's an
easy compromise of look & functionality. (I wasn't expecting the doll
be able to pose on bended knees-- armoured figures typically have pretty
Next was the
armature. I'd played around with parts from my dismembered doll parts
box, but most of the junker parts were junkers for a good reason: The
ankles and knee joints were modern PVC friction type, with no means of
tightening them to make a good solid hinge. Even if I'd used the best
of what I could find, I'd still have to lengthen and join parts together.
I finally settled on a simple, upscale solution: An aluminum articulation
armature for stop-motion animation. The segments were a perfect length
to locate the ball joint ankles, knees, and hips, with a multi-segmented
trunk sticking up through the hip section and into the upper torso. The
armature's weight is a good thing, since it helps to lower the center
of gravity of this rather big feller.
Separating the legs from the hips was maybe the most difficult part,
from a design perspective: What would work best and not look really funky?
The central problem is that articulation works best when the two abutting
sides have smooth lines between them; otherwise, the parts bind. King
Joe's design, with its wide legs and glommed-on cylindrical projections
are about as far from smooth-lined as possible. That's not an issue for
a full rubber suit, but causes some challenges for a mix of rigid & flexible
materials. The videos provided examples of two different approaches, and
I decided to follow the 1999 version's example, where the separation line
is kept fairly straight by turning the top of the legs into a belt between
the cylinders. They'd actually redesigned the parts to make it work better,
and filled the gap with a dark, flexible material. I was working with
a straight reproduction of the original design, so I didn't have the same
degree of freedom to make it work as well, unless I invested a bunch of
time in resculpting the area. Nawwww....
The legs were cut off from the hip section following the natural seamline
around the crotch & cylinders, and cutting across the top of the leg
in between. It became clear that I needed to keep the legs aligned with
the hip section. This meant that the complex outline at the boundary of
the legs and hips looked good only when aligned at their original orientation:
If the legs were rotated or twisted, they wouldn't line up with the hips,
and there would be gaping holes. That limited articulation to forward/backward
and side-to-side sweeps. It's not an ideal setup for hip articulation,
but sometimes you make do with what you're given. The legs were aligned
to the hips by running elastic from the inner and outer sides of the legs
up through retaining guides attached to the inside of the hip section.
These are strung upwards through the armature, similar to the way a vintage
GI Joe's legs are strung together through the torso and to the neck. To
put it another way, the armature is wearing pant legs held up by suspenders,
and the suspenders are threaded through channels on the inside of the
The final challenge was figuring out how to join the upper torso with
the lower section. This didn't need to be anything real elaborate, since
the doll's heavy enough for a loose press fit to be acceptable. Basically,
the torso just needed something to retain the armature's trunk so that
it didn't rattle around inside the torso-- a rubber bellows tubing (from
a car) did the job nicely, held in place by the elastic that tensions
The aforementioned concept of "fit" is important for "posing performance"
(for lack of a better term). When using an inner armature, it works best
when exterior parts are secured or fitted to the armature in some manner,
instead of floating around it. I've used the hips section as the "index
point", and screwed the armature to that section. The leg sections are
padded on the inside so that they generally track with the armature. If
you don't do this, repositioning the armature won't necessarily produce
any difference in the posing of the exterior parts-- it's a common-sense
concept, like why you have to grab the steering wheel to turn your car.
For the purposes of this article, this a good stopping point. I've covered
some basic structural modifications that you might want to make in a project
like this, before tackling the details. That's a completely different
phase, where you can exercise your creativity and finishing skills (I'm
a slacker in that area). Offhand, I see some obvious opportunities for
improvement sub-projects-- the head antennas, the visor & chest panels...
it would be fun to open up some panels to put groovy mechanical detailing
inside, or maybe even lights (There are plenty of LED "chaser"
schematics on the 'Net.). Basically, you can get as nerdy as you want,
if you've got the time!
WRAP IT UP
This was supposed to be a review of Medicom's recently released King Joe, but
the article followed the flow of real life: I received the much-anticipated
and long-awaited package, unpacked it, admired the goods for a while, then
put it up to replace the Banpresto King Joe. The real fun began when I started
geekin' with the Banpresto King Joe. I won't belabour the obvious conclusion
here except to suggest that you remove all the paper bills from your wallet
and turn them into little Origami cranes. Wheee!
A review would probably be of limited value anyway, except as 'Net documentation of one of Medicom's releases. A true die-hard fan of this stuff would just buy the thing, like I did. If you've bought one of their releases before, there are no big surprises here. Medicom has the market sewn up, so it's not about comparison shopping: Basically, if you don't buy when they release, you probably won't be able to later.
in this article I commented that light effects were a gimmick with a limited
novelty lifespan, I've since realized that that's kinda true about the
store-bought doll itself! For me, the real "play value" comes from what
I can do to it. Back in the day when computer games
were written by mere mortals, I didn't really like playing the
games-- I enjoyed figuring out how they worked and editing file structures
so that I could cheat.
After finishing the first part of this article, I Googled for LED chase
circuits and found plenty of schematics websites, but I also found Quality
Kits, which had bagged LED kits with printed circuit boards and all
the parts you'd need (except the 9-volt battery connector). It's much easier to get it all in one place than
digging through your own parts boxes and placing small orders for what
you're missing. The downside is that it's pretty hard to tell what the
kits do from a written description. Unless you're fluent in electronics
or breadboard the circuit before you build it, you find out exactly what
it does after you've built it and power it up... if you've built it correctly
and you haven't fried any parts during assembly. That would be me,
and that's why I was surprised when the light kit didn't do what I thought
it was going to do. (But at least I'd built it right and hadn't fried anything.)
As you can see
from the unused PC board, I didn't assemble it exactly as they'd intended.
Although the PC board was fairly small, my peculiar point-to-point construction
method offers more flexibility when installing the circuit in the doll's
body. I've used this for slot car lighting too, since there's sometimes
not room for a circuit board packed with components; the only way to get
the circuit to fit is to put components whereever there's room.
The main challenge of assembling circuits this way is planning how leads
should connect so that the assemblies are strong, the components don't
get flexed loose, and nothing is likely to cause shorts. Generally speaking,
rigid component leads should be short so they don't flex much. To do this,
you have to pre-tin as much as you can, and solder hot and quick. I used
a 100W Weller soldering gun because it melts solder so quickly, since
I was soldering 2-3 mm of LED/diode leads without a heat sink. If you
dwell too long with lower power, there's more cumulative heat build-up,
which tends to fry components. (I learned this basic "truism" from soldering
surface mount LEDs, which are a little smaller than matchheads.)
As for the circuit: I thought it would be 2 LEDs chasing each other
down two lanes of 6 LEDs each, in a circular clockwise pattern-- just
like the lights on the TV version of King Joe! Wishful thinking, I suppose.
Instead, it's two rows of LEDs flashing in tandem, one direction and then
the other. Kinda like the Knight Rider car, or the the Cylon eye-sweep,
except it's two LEDs at a time. It looks kinda kewl, nonetheless. Besides,
the objective had already been compromised: I'd intended to use white
3mm LEDs, but they were outrageously expensive-- I got a 25 pack of green
3mm LEDs for the price of a couple of white ones.
I still think that lights are a gimmick that will entertain you for
a only a brief period of the doll's lifetime; however, constructing and
installing a light kit can bring many hours of entertainment, and maybe
teach something along the way. Besides that, the project can be fodder
for a website article addendum, with the rare opportunity to show off
some cheap action video: