MEDICOM'S RAH 1954 GODZILLA

 

07/31/15- 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.)

Jirass 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 episode.

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 collar.

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 (wink, wink).

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 fix things.

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 look.

 


 

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 AA).

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.

 

Final Thoughts: First off, after doing research for this article, I'm now more aware of how much more popular Gozilla/Toho stuff is than the Ultra-series stuff, at least in the USA. Many retail and model collection websites that have "kaiju" in their name don't have a single thing about the Ultra-series monsters. The Ultra-series appears to be mainly an asian thing. I suppose it's a practical thing too, since the Ultra-series has gone on for so long outside the USA, with so many seasons, weekly shows and sooooo many different Ultramen and monsters. The Godzilla movies have been fewer in number and easier for the American audience to access and focus on. That makes it easier for the younger generation --who aren't interested for nostalgic reasons-- to pick up an interest. Even with so many redesigns of Godzilla and the other Toho monsters, it's a much more manageable and realistic target for collectors.

I think that rubber-skinned monsters are a neat concept, but having done doll-making stuff for a long time, I'm aware of their shortcomings. They're never as poseable as an articulated figure without a rubber skin, and although the rubber skin hides ugly articulation seams, they're rarely totally seamless.

There's also the issue of the durability and unknown lifespan of the flexible skin (which isn't latex rubber that deteriorates within about 10 years). I used to consider it a truism that hard plastics outlasted flexible plastics, but I've experienced some shockingly short-lived hard plastic formulations used in some toys in the last decade. The fact that 50-year flexible caulk is available at hardware stores puts some perspective on what's possible in flexible materials.

In the course of updating my view of the current landscape, I came across Bandai's popular line of Ultra-Act, super-articulated and highly detailed +6" figures. They've been out for a number of years; so long that they're now in improved, version 2 releases. If you're interested in hyper-poseability, these are a very attractive product (as well as SH MonsterArts for Godzilla/Toho monsters).

I was willing to consider becoming a convert, except for one significant deal-killer for me: It seems that the majority of the Ultra Act releases are of Ultra heroes, with only a skimpy handful of kaiju releases to date: Gomora, Red King, Eleking and maybe a couple more that I wasn't interested in. Of those that I saw, it appears that there can be a pretty significant sacrifice in looks for the hyper articulation... I'm not entirely sold on the trade-off. The articulation seams seem better blended on MonsterArts Toho stuff, but that may be due to the design of the monsters themselves. For that smaller scale, I'm inclined to favor the X-Plus stuff (which unfortunately, is considerably more expensive.)

I've whined about Medicom's line of 12" Ultra stuff being moribund and limited, but to their credit, have released a fair variety of iconic Ultra series aliens, at least early on. These days, not so much.

My grousing is probably due to growing old and deliberately limiting my interest to a time when there were far fewer Ultra heroes and a lot of, but a manageable number of evil monsters and aliens. I have a hard time remembering what Ultraman Dyna, Tiga, Max, Mebius, Nexus, etc. even look like... and they're relatively old news. Apparently though, this is what the current generation of Ultra-series fans are mainly interested in. As a geezer, I'm grateful for the fact that there are remnants of decades of the old stuff out there, still available if you look hard enough and are patient. (It's just hard to research it on the Internet!)

 

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