In the early '90s, I went through a Godzilla collector phase and once
had a decent collection of Bandai figures that I later shed on eBay.
The only ones that I kept were the rubber-skinned Bandai "Action-Sound-Detail"
series (below). After building the first ones by the book, I removed
the gimmicky "Action-Sound" mechanism and rigged them with
inner armatures and wire. Though not as collectible as the stuff I
unloaded on eBay, I thought they were much cooler. I believe that
primed me for Medicom's release of the rubber-suited RAH Ultra series
critters in the mid '00s.
It's become apparent to me that Medicom is dragging its feet on
that series, probably due to lack of consumer interest. I doubt
that they'll ever get around to doing some of the stuff that I really
wanted them to make in 12" rubber, like Icarus Seijin. Or any
reptillian monsters with big bodies and big tails. I've got a number
of them in vinyl/garage kit form, but none with rubber skins. Consequently,
my attention turned to the 12" rubber-suited Big Guy, originally
released in 1984 by Takara under their "Combat Joe" line.
Those are quite expensive now, but I learned that Medicom had revived
the concept more recently (2006?), using a revised version of the
Takara Combat Joe body and a change in the design of the rubber
suit: Unlike the original, the head and hands aren't separate parts,
but are sculpted in the rubber suit.
Takara's concept was pretty novel: An articulated figure wearing
a rubber monster suit, just like the man-in-a-rubber-monster-suit
used in films. Some special editions of the Godzilla toy included
a figure that resembled the Godzilla suit operator, Mr. Nakajima,
complete with headband. Although primarily intended for the GI Joe
fan, it's a super-cool collectible for the Godzilla fan. Medicom
adopted this core concept for their old Alien and Predator dolls,
although the Combat Joe-style armature wasn't intended to resemble
the actual actor.
These days there are much better-performing armatures out there
than the old Combat Joe, with its limited and loose articulation,
and removeable parts that tended to remove too easily. Hot Toys
adopted some aspects of the concept by designing custom armatures
for each of their Alien figures and using rubber castings strategically
to cover certain key areas. (Unfortunately, their custom armatures
were inadequately tested to survive the rigors of time... many broken
joints out there, repaired with hot glue. And pissed-off consumers.)
I'm not as much a Godzilla fan as I am a retro Ultra-series fan.
Therefore, when I ordered the 12" 1954 Godzilla, I thought about
its conversion to the Ultraman monster, Jirass (a 1964/5 Godzilla
suit with an added frill collar and yellow-painted highlights).
This was an entertaining Ultraman episode that threw a bone to those
who fantasized about Ultraman fighting Godzilla.
Well... it turns out that 1954 Godzilla is a pretty poor candidate
for conversion to Jirass. Almost every time they released a new
Showa-era Godzilla movie, Godzilla's look changed. When Godzilla
first appeared onscreen in 1954, he was a scary monster who threatened
mankind. As more movies came out and he became more popular with
kids, he became more of a protagonist and ally of mankind who did
battle with the truly evil mankind-hating monsters. His looks changed
to reflect this transformation. The Godzilla/Jirass of Ultraman's
time was a more kid-friendly monster who engaged in humorous antics
like a rock-blasting challenge with Ultraman. It fit well with the
tone of the show and fit Godzilla's guest star appearance in the
Unfortunately, put a frill collar on 1954 Godzilla, and he looks
dopey, and not at all like Jirass in the Ultraman episode. IMO,
it seems wrong to degrade the '54 Godzilla with a glommed-on
To do a proper Jirass conversion, a '64-'65 era Godzilla should
be used. One likely candidate is X-Plus' 1968 "Destroy All Monsters"
version, which has the proper facial features. Unfortunately, it's
one of their shorter "12-inch" figures, and chibi-goji has a hard
time looking fearsome amongst other 12" figures. Another option
would be the harder-to-find Billiken 1965 Godzilla kit, which appears
to have the proper friendlier-looking facial features. (Despite
the 30 cm caption in the pic above, I've seen it cited with a 26.5
cm height, which would also make it a chibi-goji.)
Although I like the Jirass episode, the thinly-disguised Godzilla
isn't one of my favorite monsters. I think I have an aversion to
monster designs that I consider lazy conversions, like Aboras (clearly
Red King with a different and uninspired head design) and Chandora
(clearly Pegira with ears). I don't have a problem with some of
the other recycled monster suits, like Gomess (Godzilla), or Pagos/Neronga/Gabora
(Baragon) because the lineage isn't quite as obvious (to me, plus
I like their head designs). To be fair, Jirass isn't exactly a lazy
conversion; I think its supposed to be recognizable as Godzilla
Therefore, I've decided to keep the 1954 Godzilla as Godzilla,
even though he isn't an Ultraman monster. If I came by a '65-era
Godzilla, I might consider the conversion... but I'd have to weigh
my affinity for the model as a Destroy All Monsters-era Godzilla
versus it as Jirass. (If I came across two '65-era Godzillas,
that would be a no-brainer.)
Damn... That was some long-assed exposition! Now, onto a discussion
of the toy itself...
I probably have a slightly different perspective on this than
most; I'm not really interested in its fidelity to the screen Godzilla,
or in the concept of a man in a Godzilla suit, but as an articulated
rubber-suited monster model in the spirit of the 12" Medicom
RAH Ultra monsters. For what it's worth, I think Medicom did a great
job capturing the likeness of the 1954 Godzilla, although the textural
detail is a little soft and I think the dorsal fins probably start
too high up the neck and don't extend down into the tail enough.
There's plenty of info out there about the Combat Joe, so I won't
bother with that. This is about the rubber/vinyl suit.
Appearance-wise, what bothered me most was the fit of the dorsal
fin, a separate casting that is attached by Velcro and serves to
seal the suit in lieu of a zipper. From the side profile, it juts
out and looks like a part stuck on with Velcro. It doesn't blend
with the rest of the suit. I'm not sure how they could have fixed
this, but I have a few ideas. The base of the dorsal fin casting
is fairly thick (to be durable), and sandwiched between it and the
suit casting are two pieces of Velcro which don't achieve a very
low-profile closure. That doesn't matter on a pair of tactical boots,
but on a scale miniature, the height that the closure adds does
matter. To solve this problem, I think a lower profile could have
been achieved using a zippered suit closure (like the original Takara
version), and securing the fin casting with magnets (interior suit-side)
and a thin strip of metal embedded in the fin casting. If the figure/armature
were not intended to be removable, the fin casting could be glued
down (like Medicom does with their RAH Ultra-Kaiju).
I wasn't up to the task. There isn't much of an attachment overlap
between the suit casting and the edge of the Velcro, so removing
the suit-side Velcro would leave a huge hole in the back. The dorsal
fin casting would almost exactly fill the hole, with little margin
for movement or stretch, unless the hole were filled enough to create
a margin for attachment. That's not an impossible task; pieces of
rubber could be glued to the edges of the opening, or the velcro
could be melted flatter. That's if I cared enough. I'm lazy and
would be satisfied with just a slight improvement in the side profile,
without the Velcro being so painfully obvious.
Instead, I glued one edge of the fin casting to the suit and caulked
over the gaps. This made it easier to stretch the fin casting tightly
over to the other edge so I only had to deal with getting a tight
Velcro closure on one side. I think it looks better, even if one
side looks funkier than the other. It's a compromise that's necessary
if you want to be able to access the suit's interior to adjust or
Articulation through a thick rubber suit is never going to be
great. With Godzilla's elephantine legs padded with foam rubber,
you'd be unlikely to notice much change in pose even if you had
the bestest and tightest armature in the world. The Combat Joe body
is pretty far from that lofty ideal, and stands little chance of
turning in a passable performance inside this rubber suit. Of course,
that's not the point, is it? This is sort of a retro-flavored piece,
and the point is the representation of a man in a Godzilla suit.
If this were about creating a seamless poseable Godzilla, a stiff
wire armature would work much better and be much cheaper. For a
more upscale production, a functional metal articulation armature
that bore little resemblance to a human would be even better. In
that case, the rubber suit could stand some improvements, like not
sculpting the upper arms joined to the torso... among other things.
I don't say this to point out deficiencies with the product. I
believe it's important to not have unrealistic expectations and
to recognize the product for what it is. The limitations are there
mainly to make an affordable novelty product for consumers with
different interests. From there, we as consumers can try to make
it better conform to our vision of what it should be.
For most, doing a box-stock assembly is probably good 'nuff. If
you're interested in it as an outstanding Godzilla movie shrine
piece, you can focus on improving the look of the human-operator
figure. If you're interested in it as an articulated seamless Godzilla,
get rid of the Combat Joe doll and focus on the innards. Or add
light and sound. Or do it all, none, or find some middle ground.
That's one of the really cool things about a toy like this: It has
a lot of potential and the fun can extend far beyond removing it
from the box, putting it on a shelf, and periodically dusting it.
My modest improvements were focused mainly on slightly improving
the poseability. I replaced the Combat Joe body with a spare RAH
Ultraman body that had considerably better arm articulation. The
upper arms are fused to the torso in the sculpt of the rubber suit,
which limits the amount that the arms can be raised (something that
could be fixed with ambitious surgery); however, the RAH figure's
shoulder articulation allows the arms to open outward and close/compress
inward over the body.
The kit comes with a pair of human Combat Joe hands that can be
plugged in if the figure is displayed outside the suit; the suit
itself has no support inside the monster hands, just open air. The
RAH figure's "flipper" hands came in handy for this: Glued
inside the monster hands, they give a degree of inward/outward and
rotational poseability. Since the rubber suit's hands are sculpted
with palms facing slightly upward, this gives a welcome bit of variability
to the hand posing.
The kit includes a rigid neck/head piece that's inserted into
the rubber suit to shape the head (and keep it from being squishy).
A lower jaw with screw/nut hinge is included, but it doesn't do
a very good job of posing the jaw. I supplemented it with a heavy
gauge wire jaw to hold the mouth open.
As delivered, the Combat Joe body is pre-inserted in the Godzilla
suit; it can be a minor challenge to remove due to the copious foam
rubber padding that the figure wears around its torso. (I would
recommend leaving the leg padding donuts in the suit; the legs slide
out of them without too much difficulty.) Once you remove the figure,
it looks quite silly wearing the giant foam donuts like inner tubes.
(If this is actual suit-accurate construction, I feel very sorry
for Mr. Nakajima!) If you're not concerned about retaining this
design, the donuts can be cut open on one side, which makes it much
easier to insert the figure and place the padding after the figure's
in the suit. The suit's rubber is fairly thick and self-supporting;
I felt that it didn't need quite so much padding, so I left out
two of the foam donuts. This also makes it a little bit easier for
the articulation skeleton to hold poses. Add extra padding whereever
you think it's needed.
The tail needs some work. To make a crush/fold resistant tail
that's somewhat poseable, the foam rubber padding needs to be supplemented
with denser foam like the kind that's used to insulate pipes. Because
the pipe foam is denser, the wire that's used to hold the pose needs
to be supplemented with something heavier duty, like Romex, a.k.a.
3-conductor house wiring. You can make a tapered bundle by using
2 or 3 nylon ties to cinch it along its length. It may be difficult
to insert the bundle in the tail, but if you're patient, you'll
get there. You can snip the nylon ties once the bundle's in there
(from the outside with sprue clippers). Bear in mind, this doesn't
eliminate the tendency of the skin to crush and fold, it
just reduces it. The skin is fairly thick and when there's
an inner bend, the skin doesn't compress much or uniformly across
the skin, so the excess material has to go somewhere. It'll find
the thinnest area (usually, between the surface "rod"
detail) and try to fold there. To mitigate this, I think the foam
would need to be glued to the inner surface. (I think there's only
so much you can do with what you're given...)
One of the more aggravating things I've encountered with this
kit has been joining the tail to the body. In theory, superglue
should work on a vinyl-to-vinyl join. However, it's a rigid glue
and not ideal for joining two flexible materials together. Contact
cement should work since it's flexible, but the tail may be too
heavy for the bond to hold without stretching. Maybe if you leave
it well-supported for an extended cure time? Hot glue seems to do
a fairly good job, but it's difficult to align and join the pieces
while the glue is at its hottest, given its short working time.
You can "sculpt" (glue on the exterior) to an extent with
hot glue; it's a fast way to add a fairly large amount of material
as filler, but taming the texture (to kill it's tendency to turn
into shiny globs and spider webs) can be challenging due to its
fairly short working time. However, it can be re-melted with the
glue gun's hot tip for additional sculpting time. Not recommended
for fine detail; also, although flexible, it's much less flexible
than the vinyl skin.
Anyway, those are just some ideas if you want a little more articulation
from the toy and don't mind maiming a "collectible" and ruining
its investment value (if so, don't even open the box).
Why stop there? The small centered pupils are one of 1954 Godzilla's
distinctive features, but they make him look a little... eager?
Maniacal? I think it looks funky. (The movie's darkly lit B&W,
so it's not as noticeable.) I think the larger, non-centered pupils
look better, even if they don't cure the frontal facing wall-eyed
BANDAI'S REAL OLD ACTION GODZILLA STUFF
I mentioned these guys at the top of the article, and since I'm
here, I might as well say something about them. While trying to
figure out how old these guys are, I discovered that there's very
little info about them out there. Sheesh! This is the frickin' Internet,
where you're supposed to be able to read about the most obscure
and frivolous shit imaginable! That was the promise of the Internet.
Facebook has made it too attractive for folks to waste time writing
about themselves instead of writing about the really important
useless and frivolous stuff.
So here it is. My wild-assed guess is that I got these sometime
in the '90s from Atomic City, a cool brick and mortar store
in Austin (now defunct) that fueled my interest in kaijus and Guyver
stuff. I've read that they were made between 1993 and 2001. Contrary
to a comment made about the rubber skins not aging well, my experience
has been quite different-- the skins on all the above are as soft
and resilient as the Medicom Goji. The stuff that didn't age well
was the acrylic gloss varnish I put on Space Godzilla's crystals...
they were awfully yellow before I touched 'em up!
The little guy measures slightly over 8" tall; he's hunched over
a bit in the picture. It's sort of an odd scale that doesn't fit
with the majority of the smaller-than-12" stuff that's out
there (mostly 6").
To the right is an action and sound mechanism that I probably
installed, then removed. King Ghidorah's is the only one I didn't
remove, probably because it was easier to leave it in than find/adapt
an articulated armature to replace it: King Ghidorah's got no arms!
And three necks!
The standard "action" is about what you'd expect: A motor drives
gears and cams which move the legs back and forth, the arms up and
down, and rotate the neck/head right and left. The sound chip plays
a digital roar through a chest-level speaker periodically (I think...
I don't really remember). It requires four batteries: 2 x R6P (aka
AA batteries) and 2 x R1 (aka "N cell", shorter than a
Amazingly, the design of the walking action mechanism looks nearly
identical to that of the monster models I built during the '60s:
The legs go back and forth, and there's a ratcheted wheel on the
bottom of the foot. It never worked very well during the '60s, and
the same design didn't work any better during the '90s. It appears
that I used some of the kit parts (the skull, back cover, and tail
attachment) but replaced the action mechanisms with modified Zap
Cyber Cop figures, also from the '90s. (Picture from Google Images
because I was too lazy to find one and photograph it. Apologies
to whomever it came from.) The articulation works as well as can
be expected with a rubber-skinned monster suit; for arms, it appears
that I used stiff wire for posing. Some day maybe I'll take one
apart to see what I did!
I hadn't paid attention to these guys in a long time and I'd forgotten
how neat and detailed they were. Of course, they needed some serious
dusting! It's kind of weird to be revisiting them after so long,
and to be doing more-or-less the same thing to a figure that I just
got. Now that's progress... (not!) Oddly, I feel the need to watch
some old Godzilla movies.