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[Nomura]

K.K. Plamodel: Marusan's Minis

text: Matt Alt, graphics: Robert Duban

September 2004

Updated: 09.10.04


[Ultraman Ace] Legendary toymaker Marusan Shoten, the predecessor to the equally legendary companies Bullmark and Ark, is venerated for introducing the world to soft-vinyl kaiju (monster) toys. Although the company declared bankruptcy in 1969, it staged a minor comeback in the early 1970s when a resurrected version of the firm sold diecast toys under the name "K.K. Plamodel." (The "K.K." is shorthand for the Japanese words "kabushiki kaisha" -- "incorporated.")

What's the connection between "K.K. Plamodel" and Marusan? Before Marusan Shoten sold the first licensed monster character vinyl toys in the late 1960s, it was better known for tin toys and high-quality plastic model kits. In fact, Marusan Shoten staff coined the contraction "puramoderu" ("pla-model," taken from "plastic model") in 1953, a term that remains widely in use in Japan more than half a century later.

Marusan Shoten's plastic models of aircraft, tanks, submarines, cars, and other real-world vehicles sold briskly throughout the 1950s. By 1961, the firm's efforts caught the attention of American manufacturer Revell. Before long, America's top model company and Japan's top model company were cooperating to import the other's kits into their home countries. The early 1960s proved to be a boom era for plastic model kits in Japan.

The appearance of licensed character merchandise in the mid-1960s shook the Japanese toy industry to its core. For reasons too numerous to list here, Marusan went out of business in 1969, passing the baton to Bullmark, which was founded by a trio of ex-Marusan employees. A nephew of Marusan's founder decided to forge his own path, however, re-christening Marusan as "Marusan Co., Ltd." later that year.

In 1972, a company by the name of "K.K. Plamodel" unveiled the Daikamodel series of licensed portrayals of vehicles from the Ultraman series of shows. The series name appears to be a contraction of the terms "diecast," "car," and "model. In spite of the name, the products were toys rather than kits. At only a few inches in size, the Daikamodels were tiny -- even smaller than the legendary palm-sized "Grip" toys sold by rival Eidai.

The packages for the Daikamodels feature the late Marusan Shoten's famed "Plamodel" logo -- strong evidence that K.K. Plamodel was a spin-off of Marusan Co., Ltd. In addition, the boxes for the Ultraman Ace and Ultraman Taro toys feature the catch copy "Ultraman Mini Mini Series". The Ultraman Leo toys were sold as "renketsu" ("joining"), as the individual vehicles could be connected into a train-like chain. In addition, they were touted as containing "dynamos," a reference to their pull-back mechanisms.

The Daikamodels were obviously a last-ditch attempt to exploit the fad for diecast toys that began with Popy's 1972 "Chogokin" Mazinger Z. How successful was it? The specific answer may never be known, but one thing's for sure: the Daikamodel toys rank among the most obscure of Japanese character toys.


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