Japan is just starting to climb back on its feet after the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami (as it’s officially being called now). For long weeks toys have been the last thing on anyone’s mind. But as we work to get much-needed supplies to those up north, dodging the occasional rolling blackout, and keeping an eagle eye on the damaged reactors simmering just a few hundred kilometers away, people in Tokyo are getting back to their normal lives.
My normal life involves toys. And I think it’s telling that even in the midst of the chaos that followed the disaster, these toys showed up on my doorstep. Literally 24 hours after a magnitude 9 tremor rocked Japan’s eastern seaboard, when the nation had ground to a virtual standstill, the Japanese post office still managed to deliver the frickin’ mail. It still amazes me.
I didn’t have a spare thought for, or even a chance to so much as open the package, for two weeks. And I’m glad I waited. Because these aren’t just some of the most beautiful toys Japan has ever produced — they virtually demand attention. Normally I am not a big fan of reproductions of vintage toys. It’s not that I don’t understand why people buy them, but rather simply don’t have an interest myself. I prefer knowing that a toy has a certain history to it. What was happening in the world when this first went on sale? How many hands has it passed through to get to mine? How rare that it’s survived the decades in such good shape…
Most reissues, being simple copies of what came before, by their very nature lack this “weight of history.” But Bullmark is the founding father of Japan’s character toy scene, and Saburo Ishizuki — the same gentleman who managed sales for the company back in the Sixties and Seventies — is running its latest incarnation today. His mere presence gives these reissues the weight they wouldn’t have had, coming from anyone else.
These particular replicas of Bullmark’s old 1974 missile firing Mechagodzilla toy were sold exclusively via mail order earlier this year. (how’s that for burying the lede, five paragraphs in.) They’re color variations of the first missile firing Mechagodzilla reissue that was offered as a separate mail-away premium included with the Bullmark History Box Set, released last year. Physically, the design of these latest reissues is the same as the previous one: only the chest missiles actually fire, with the elbow and knee launchers disabled. (Actually, they’re not even there; the missiles simply slot into the holes where they would be.)
The great thing about these latest two re-issues, the thing that sets them apart from the previous one, is that they aren’t slavish duplicates; they add new value to the concept. Like the earlier reissue, the head is molded separately, capable of rotating — something the original 1974 model wasn’t capable of doing. But the real eyeball grabbers are the all-new color patterns, totally unlike anything seen before. One is in “box colors,” painted with metallic green highlights instead of gold to match the toy as it appeared in photos on the old package. The one that really gets me, though, is the second version. Molded entirely in glowing vinyl, it doesn’t look like any missile-firing toy produced in the Seventies or anytime else, for that matter. The thing looks positively radioactive in the dark, which is appropriate both for the character and the strange times Tokyo finds itself in.
The bad news is, you can’t order these anymore. The only way to get them was by placing an order on the Bullmark web site earlier this year. But there is a better than even chance that we’ll be seeing either more, or more variations, soon. Which is good news for anyone who wants to get their hands on a little “new old history.”