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September 24, 2009

Macross the Pacific

Filed under: Matt Alt,Toy News — matt @ 11:02 pm

You Wish

Max and Miriya, sittin’ in a tree…

In this month’s edition of the “USA Otackers,” our monthly column in Figure Oh (No. 140), Patrick Macias and I bust the case of the Macross “marriage set” wide open with a report on the crazed American fans who, like Fox Mulder in the X-Files, “want to believe.” (For those not in the know, the mythical marriage set supposedly contains both Takatoku 1/55 Max and Miriya Valkyries packaged in a single box. Although American collectors have claimed sightings for years, no evidence has ever turned up, and both Japanese toy scholars and industry insiders insist that it doesn’t exist.)

The article is all in Japanese, so you’ll have to rent a friend to translate if you’re language-impaired, but I am happy to report that piece apparently made a bigger splash than I thought. It came up during a totally unrelated conversation with “top men” from a Certain Japanese Toy Company That Shall Not Be Named last night. Absolutely no promises or guarantees of any kind made or implied. But how fitting would it be if the combined wishes of uncounted Macross-maniacs finally willed the damn thing into existence?

August 10, 2009

It’s Cloverin’ Time

Filed under: Co. CLOVER,Matt Alt,Toy News — matt @ 11:36 pm

CROBER!

According to the Center for Disease Control, the first sign of zinc poisoning is usually intestinal distress, followed by a metallic taste in the mouth. I couldn’t agree more. These zinc-alloy Gundam figurines — I hesitate to call them toys — are appalling playthings even by my disturbingly low standards. Yet I felt compelled to force my sister to win them off of ebay for me nonetheless. (Yes, I have sunk this low: I cancelled my ebay account, only to beg bids off of family members. Just shoot me now.)

CROBER, AGAIN!

Released by Clover, the little toy company that tried but never quite “got it” when it came to things Gundam, these all-metal figures represent a pinnacle of sorts, though I can’t tell if it’s a high or a low one. Hell, they even ran out of paint halfway through the run!

NOooo

I desperately want to say something witty here to salvage some pride and wrap this up, but I’ve got to run and gargle to get this metallic taste out of my mouth.

July 10, 2009

This is How We (Kappa) Roll

Filed under: Matt Alt,Stoopid,Toy Love — matt @ 12:20 am

Now it can be told: I’ve been working on a top-secret project for the last few months. The good news: it’s done and it’s cool! The bad (well, if you want your own, anyway): it’s a one of a kind art piece, not something for sale. But now that we’ve got that out of the way, may I present the Kappa Machine! It was a collaboration: based on my drunken scribble and rendered in glorious 3D by my pal Mr. Marugame.

Let me explain a little background here. Kappa are legendary monsters from Japanese folkore. Yokai, to be precise. They are frog-like creatures that live for two things: cucumbers and human colon-meat.

For close to a decade, a group of my pals has been putting on a “Kappa Exhibition” in a Tokyo gallery. Open to pro and amateur artists, it’s filled with all sorts of art dedicated to the kappa. Hiroko and I displayed original art from our book Yokai Attack last year, and after the show closed, Mr. Marugame proposed a collaboration. I jokingly suggested a Machinder. And to my total surprise, he jumped at the idea.

Mr. Marugame and I have known each other for three or four years. He’s a regular in my circle of toy- and anime-industry pals. He’s a carpenter by trade, but I only learned a year or two ago that he briefly worked in the toy industry back in the Eighties, at a company that prototyped design concepts for big toy companies. (This Machine Robo pull-back toy is one of his designs that made it into production.)

Anyway, four or five months back, I turned in this silly doodle to Marugame. I originally suggested using a Jumbo Machinder Mazinger Z to make things easier. Rip off the chest fins, jam in some plastic kappa maki rolls to approximate eyes, etc., etc. Ever the craftsman, he pooh-poohed the thought, telling me that if we were going to do this, we were going to go all the way. And so it began. He returned a sketch based on my crappy illustration that looked like it stepped out of an anime artbook:

And then quickly assembled an early, quick ‘n dirty prototype out of styrofoam.

We sat down for tea at his house and talked it over. I liked the look of it, but it didn’t feel very “Machinder” to me. Marugame is a good ten years older than me, a refugee from the vinyl generation; he knew the Machinders but didn’t play with them as a kid. Still, he’s an otaku pro. When I whipped out some photographs of vintage specimens, he got the aesthetic at once. The second styrofoam prototype was a hole in one:

Next came the process of turning it into something approaching an actual toy. We both knew that there would be no way to mold it out of actual polyethelene; it’s far too expensive for what amounted to a one-off project. But Marugame, ever the professional, had a solution. It turned out that his old company, which was still in business, was in the process of moving offices. So he convinced them to loan us their vacu-forming machine. Vacu-forming is a process where sheets of styrene plastic are heated and pulled down over wood “positives” using a vacuum hose, forming the parts. Being a carpenter, Marugame quickly turned out a series of wood masters:

And within a week or two, had managed to assemble a functional plastic version of the styrofoam prototype. This is easier said than done. It involved cutting down the plastic, inserting rods inside the assembled shells, and then using screws to fix them in place.

Now for the details. I whipped up a sketch of the “cucumber computer” inside the Kappa’s head, which Marugame used as a blueprint to make a plastic mock-up. Then he chromed it and covered it with a customized translucent dome to complete the effect:

“Ooh, we need Machinder-style missiles, too,” I remarked. “What do they look like?” asked Marugame. I forwarded him a link to a Yahoo Japan auction for a pile of them (which, I will admit, I tried and failed to win myself. Those suckers are getting expensive.) Two days later:

For the other leg, he fashioned a boomerang-like “cucumber shuriken.” Hiroko rightly pointed out that the kappa wouldn’t be complete without a “shiri-kodama” extractor — a “shiri-kodama” being mysterious source of “ki” energy supposedly located in the human colon, and a favorite food of the creatures; they traditionally rip them out of the backsides of unwary swimmers. Marugame was happy to oblige, creating an “XX-series” style attachment arm, complete with winding chain gimmick. He even incorporated a fitting mechanism into the arms, allowing them to be detached at will:

Other gimmicks included a cucumber-katana with an embedded magnet, allowing it to be “held” in the hand or stowed on the back, samurai-style:

What can I say? Marugame’s the man.

But no time for congratulations just yet. The Kappa Exhibition was rapidly approaching. At this point the prototype was unpainted white plastic. We still needed to decide on the final colors, which proved far more involved of a process than any of us expected. Fortunately, Alen whipped up a Photoshop file that let us tweak different combos at will. Here are some of the many variations we wrestled with:

And then the box! To do this right, we knew we needed to come up with faux box art. With the clock ticking, I turned to Walter, a French pal who lives near me in Tokyo, and who works as a professional comic artist and colorist. More to the point, he ran a vintage toy store in Paris years and years back, so he “knew what time it was,” as the old-school rappers would say. And over the course of a week, he turned out box-art in the best style the Seventies greats had to offer:

A word about that incredibly awesome Popy-style logo. I suck at Photoshop. But there’s this guy named Alen Yen who’s something of a renowned mouse-jockey. I begged Alen — already busy with work and his new baby girl — to help. And voila! Instant Kappa Machine logo! (For those of you who can read Japanese, we tweaked the last few syllables so we wouldn’t step on any copyright-holders’ toes.)

Talk about a team effort. America, France, Japan… It’s like a sentai show minus the spandex. (Actually, I’m clad in a stretchy cucumber-green body stocking as I type these words.)

Now as for the inevitable questions. It’s made of styrene plastic, not polyethylene. It is all handpainted save for the patterns on the arms and thighs, which were created using inkjet-printed stickers. And no, there aren’t any plans to mass-produce it — though if any toy companies out there want to license it and produce it as an actual toy, we’re all ears! In the meantime, it’s on display at the Kappa Exhibition in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, through July 21st. Drop by and check it out if you’re in the area. And who knows? You might just run into the legendary Mr. Marugame, too.

June 23, 2009

How Chogokin are Made..

Filed under: Co. POPY,Erik Sjoen,Matt Alt — erik sjoen @ 2:46 pm

Long before Saito, Igarashi, or Nishimura got into the publishing game the ground was laid by none other than Popy. Behold the “Popy Catalog – Great Toy Encyclopedia”. Look at it as the TBDX little red book.

Minister of Information Alt wants all of our comrades to play safe, so read very carefully and retain..

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“How Chogokin are Made” and on the right and “The Weak Point of Chogokin” on the left!

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“Since Chogokin are made out of a hard metal, if they are struck against a hard surface such as a dresser or desk or glass window (!), they can damage your family furnishings. Play with them carefully. And never, ever throw them at other people!”

May 13, 2009

Marusan Double Header

Filed under: Daily Money Shots,Matt Alt,Toy Love — matt @ 7:30 pm

Gosura

Meet Gosura. You’ve probably never heard of him before. That’s because he doesn’t hail from any particular show. He’s all-original — or, well, he’s just original enough not to invite a lawsuit. He’s giant by soft vinyl standards — a good 12″ tall. He’s called Gosura (“Because the heads look like Gomora‘s,” laughed Marusan president Eiji Kaminaga when I asked him about it the other day.) A gift from Jim Maitland, it turns out I’ve met this kaiju before. Way before.

More than a decade ago, I first spotted this toy on the kitchen table of a certain New Jersey rare and vintage toy dealer. It was scuffed and damaged, but I still knew I’d never be able to purchase it from without mortgaging my soul. Some time after that, it was purchased by Jim, who apparently DID mortgage his soul and decided to try restoring it to its former glory. He hired a pal to repair the cracked horns on the noses, and enlisted the help of former Club Daikaiju head honcho Jim Cirronella to retouch the paint job. At some point during this long process, Roger Harkavy dropped by and checked things out. And then it went back to Jim Maitland, who by this point had acquired another, mint specimen. And some time after that, it flew back to Tokyo with Jim, who gave it to me based on nothing more than my having expressed wanting the toy in an idle chat years previously. Tokyo to New Jersey to Oregon to New Jersey to Oregon and back to Tokyo, four decades after it first popped out of the molds. What a tangled web we weave.

Back in the late Sixties/early Seventies, Marusan started making original kaiju characters for sale along with the regular licensed stuff. A lot of them were an homage to existing characters. Like King Gojira here (not to be confused with, y’know, another famous monster that has a similar name.) Others were totally original creations. There are three scales: the usual standard size, then this Giant size, which Gosura is in, and finally a SUPER Giant size, which is a little bit larger still. All of them are totally funky, bubbly, cheap-ass, hand-sculpted, gloriously old-school sofubi. And the more I handle them, the more they seem like long-forgotten pieces of folk art than toys.

Thanks again Jim!

April 22, 2009

C O H I B A AKA COLLECTOR “X”..

Filed under: Erik Sjoen,Matt Alt,Toy News — erik sjoen @ 12:31 pm

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The fucking streets of Kichijōji rocked hard tonight. Heavy weights rockin’ the Iseya izakaya and faux piss alley were in full effect. If you didn’t know any better, Koji was taking Maz out for a drunken spin around the neighborhood. That’s how hard well roll. The best part about it is we don’t even have to try. LOUD drunk white assholes are known to do this, and in our case do it incredibly well. Anyway….

After an unsuccessful trip to “Cosmo Knight Alpha” in Ekoda, and 4 train transfers later, the call was made and the plan was put into play. Alt sent out an underwater sonic transmission that brought he, Maitland and myself into contact with the James Bond 007 of Japanese robot collecting (otherwise known as “cohiba” or “slimemolds”) in my favorite low brow, punk rock neighborhood in Tokyo.. Kichijoji! A place where you can smoke hooka on the street with Devilman and drink from deaths flask with wealthy old men perversely pretending to be homeless.. It just so happens Alt actually lives here, so that explains alot.

So, here we find our hero getting blasted… This is what the famous author ofSuper #1 Robot, Hello Please! and Yokai Attack! (found here: Alt’s scribe) does all day while he takes your hard earned otaku cash..

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Look at me manhandle this little bitch..

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His majesties trademark.. The expensive and infectious Cohiba Cuban cigar. This speaks volumes.

So, as we come to the end of this post you might be thinking to yourself, where the hell is the “toy” content? Well, sonny, the shit that crossed the lips tonight of your aforementioned otaku heroes will be talked about for years to come, believe me. Unfortunately we’re just in the process of carving the stone tablets, so hold your horses.

Stay tuned for more info on this pivotal meeting of the minds, I mean “rinds” soon..

To make it legit, I share with you the RAREST sofubi super robot find of all time. Compliments of Masa Yoda, I give you 7 inch Poseidon, patchi super robot sofubi, unknown year…

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Sjoen

April 18, 2009

Machinda Valhalla

Filed under: Erik Sjoen,Matt Alt,Toy Love — erik sjoen @ 12:17 pm

Alt, blowing a load. Stay tuned, more very, very soon..

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April 17, 2009

Srung Out

Filed under: Co. CLOVER,Daily Money Shots,Declarations,Matt Alt,Toy Love — matt @ 8:33 pm

Srungle

I admit it. I’m koo-koo for soft vinyl robots. Not just any robots: they’ve got to be “real” robot characters from the Eighties. Why? Because nobody else cares, and I’ve taken it upon myself, like Mother Theresa, to give these leprous bastard children the cardboard box under my stairs they so richly deserve. And this is your lucky day, because you get to meet the undisputed king of my collection: the Clover “Treker (sic) Beagle Treker Cruser (sic) The Main Machine of ‘The Gorilla’ (sic)” Srungle. Sick. Intended for mental ages of five or lesser, it is an impressionist, shroomy portrayal of a robot that looks like an ambulatory coffee maker at the best of times. Let the Srung times roll with a trip back to the old Srungle datafile.

April 13, 2009

Black POWER!!

Filed under: Erik Sjoen,Matt Alt,Toy News — erik sjoen @ 9:28 pm

From his secret underwater base in the sea of Japan Minister of Information Matt Alt chimes in on some hot, hot chocolate..

“Black Robocress” sounds like a ’70s blaxploitation film!”

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Per Minister Alt, this is some kind of grey-market, unlicensed thing that came out a long while after the show aired. The manufacturer is someone named “Sunny”.

Not a huge fan of the “black” representations, but this fucking rocks. Wanted: professional “gunpla modeler” who’s into black love and not afraid to get their hands dirty. Send resume to.. Psych! Hero’s Club is down the street from my house.

Pics compliments of “Hohenstaufen”:

Hohenstaufen’s Blog

March 5, 2007

Daily Money Shot 006: Mach Love Deux

Filed under: Daily Money Shots,Matt Alt — matt @ 9:03 pm

Mach Baron gets Serviced

– Matt

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