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August 30, 2005

Extremes Measured: SoC GX-27 Gaiking and Euro-jumbo Goldorak

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 12:42 am

Every so often, you find a toy that reminds you of all that’s good about collecting. The Soul of Chogokin GX-27 Gaiking is such a toy. And, at times, a toy makes you feel like giving up collecting altogether. That would be the French jumbo machinder, Goldorak. I received both in August, so I’m a bit conflicted this month.

Lead with the positive: Gaiking is one of the classic 70s super robot designs. The GA-51 chogokin version is legendary, not just for its engineering, not only because it’s hard to find complete, but because it’s GAIKING!! Which is why the previous SoC Gaiking, the GX-05 Daikumaryu, was a disappointment. It was a technical triumph, the best modern execution of Gaiking’s signature docking sequence from the cartoon. Yet, in order to properly scale Gaiking’s chest to become the Great Space Dragon’s head, however, the robot ended up with some … shortcomings.

The Daikumaryu’s “Wee-king” did not resemble what Gaiking is supposed to be: a huge, angry bruiser. You’ve got to be a bad-ass to survive Mattel marketing you with the tag line “He’s a Samurai! He’s a robot skull!” The vintage GA-51 and jumbo versions of Gaiking had this mean streak, and the new SoC GX-27 Gaiking has the same attitude. This latest version is heavy like a gokin should be. The points of articulation are nicely detented, allowing Gaiking to hold postures that say “I’m gonna knock you out! Go Nagai said knock you out!”

I dig the absurdity of robots wearing armor. Heck, I even like the vaguely creepy, let’s-take-this-to-its-illogical-extreme Transformers that wear other robots as armor. Bandai designed Gaiking’s “power-up” parts from the cartoon along these lines. Rather than swapping out arms and legs (as did the prior SoC and Super Robot in Action), this Gaiking bulks up with gauntlets, combat boots and larger weapons that look right for a Samurai who doubles as a robot skull.

About that skull: It separates from the robot arms and legs and connects to a facsimile of the Daikumaryu’s neck on the display stand. This is pretty standard for Gaiking but, without a cat-sized Great Space Dragon to dock with, isn’t much fun. Still, the skull has a feature previously only found on the Japanese jumbo Gaiking – it can actually bite! Bandai can really engineer an action feature, and Gaiking is replete with similar touches. Like the three different heads, to match the various stages of power-up. The best-detailed one splits to reveal Gaiking’s “open mask” face. It’s beautifully detailed, but doesn’t hold together well during, er, dramatic posing. Stick to the solid big-horn version, and you’ll have no complaints.

On to Goldorak. I have no idea why the French called Grandizer that, any more than I understand why Mazinger Z had to take the stage name “Tranzor Z” in his cartoon appearance here. But he’s Grandizer to US Shogun Warriors fans. Far from his esteemed place in the Japanese super robot pantheon, the American Grandizer was a B-list Shogun Warrior who made cameo appearances in the small “Collectors” series and as a … missile included with the “Solar Saucer” Action Vehicle.

Or so I thought, as a child. It turns out that the French were crazy for Goldorak in the 70s, and Mattel’s European operations obliged. France received not only a larger UFO Spacer carrier-vehicle (GA-37) which we never saw in the Two-In-One Warrior line here, but even got a Goldorak jumbo machinder. To be sure, it was not the same jumbo as the Japanese market received. Like the later US jumbos, this Goldorak was substantially simplified. I’d always liked Grandizer, so when I discovered much later we’d been denied a jumbo version the French got, I thought, “No fair!” I knew I had to have one, to finally get what should’ve been ours, those many years ago.

I suggest you resist such urges to act on principle. The stripped-down US jumbos retained most of their functionality and visual impact. Take Mazinga. Mattel substituted a missile launcher for his left hand and changed his plastic breastplate to a sticker, but the essential visual impact of the character and features of the toy were maintained. By contrast, it’s fair to say Mattel gutted poor Goldorak. The Japanese version’s firing fist was removed, replaced by the same missile launcher Mazinga ended up with. (Why didst Mattel giveth Raydeen a rocket-punch and taketh one from Goldorak?) This had the unfortunate side-effect of robbing Goldorak of one of the Japanese character’s main visual cues, those colorful wrist-guards. Also like Mazinga, Goldorak’s plastic chest armor was replaced with stickers. But Grandizer has more intricate armor than Mazinga, so the stickers look far less impressive than Mazinga’s bold “V” shape. Toss in weak molding on Goldorak’s head, and the end result is a jumbo that’s much more generic than it needed to be.

Mattel did retain the Japanese jumbo’s sickles for the French version – perversely, as Goldorak now only had one hand to hold them with! The Goldorak I received had handmade reproduction sickles which look, well, handmade. That’s my fault, not Mattel’s, but it only increased my level of frustration with the piece. They’ll stay secured on Goldorak’s shoulders. “Displays great!”

Final analysis: I can unreservedly recommend the SoC GX-27 Gaiking. If you still find yourself thinking about buying the Euro-jumbo, I’ll caution you that Goldorak’s new role in my collection is a B-list Shogun Warrior appearing as an extra in crowd scenes.


August 27, 2005

Review: 1-Coin Blue Knight Berserga

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 8:10 pm

These are the Blue Knight Berserga 1-Coin Figures from Kotobukiya. These are only available in “blind boxes” priced at 500yen each. There are 5 in the series and 1 secret figure, but each figure comes in either a normal color or “weathering version”, so the total number of figures to collect is 12. The are 12 boxes in a case, and in the case I purchased, there was an even distribution of every figure in both versions, so I have a complete set. I’m not sure if this is unusual, but it was definately a relief since my favorite mecha of all time- the Red Shoulder Custom known as Death Messenger- is the alleged “secret” figure.

Rewind to the late 80’s. Writer/artist Hiroyuki Hataike and mecha designer Kazumi Fujita updated and re-imagined the designs from the original Armored Trooper VOTOMs TV series for a serialized novel series called Blue Knight Berserga which ran in Takara’s Dual Magazine. The serial led to 4 novels and the novels led to 2 Hobby Japan Mooks featuring wonderful models of the various mecha from the story and also including original designs inspired by the Blue Knight setting of futuristic and deadly arena combat. I have no idea what the whole story to Blue Knight Berserga is, and if someone could enlighten me, that would be great, but I’ve loved the mecha designs (known as Armored Trooper or simply AT) ever since I purchased the first Hobby Japan Blue Knight Mook many years ago. I fell in love with the advanced AT designs featured throughout the book.

Fast forward to 2005. Kotobukiya seems to have taken their series of expensive 1/35 resin Blue Knight models from a few years ago and downsized them for easier consumption. The details are all still there at a scale of about half the size(I estimate 1/60). These toys lack the “full-action” features of their larger predecessors, but they make up for it in pre-painted awesomeness. These toys do manage to retain a little poseability, mainly in the arms, with some also having moving hips, but the real draw is the amazing paint jobs. For 500yen(about 5 dollars), you can’t beat these for value, and if you love Blue Knight or VOTOMs in general, these are a must have, especially if you can collect a whole set from the purchase of a single case.

In short, buy these so they’ll make more!

I chose to assemble a set that was mixed with both normal and weathering versions based on which ones I imagine as tending to look beat up and which I tend to see as always being bright and shiny and clean.

Here’s the breakdown:

Blue Knight Berserga: weathering version (another shot)

Funny Devil: weathering version

Shadow Flare: weathering version

Death Messenger: weathering version

Calamitydog: normal version

Testa Rossa: normal version


August 22, 2005

SUPER #1 ROBOT book signing 9/24!

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 2:38 pm

Super #1 Robot – the signing! Mark Nagata and the crew of the Super 7 Store in San Francisco have graciously offered to host a book signing / release party for Super #1 Robot!

In case you missed it, Super #1 Robot is the first English-language expose of the Japanese toy robot phenomenon from 1972-1982. 10 years of robot toys lovingly photographed by Tim “well I’m no Tim Brisko…” Brisko! Full color! Introduction by Matt Alt and afterword by former Bullmark president Saburo Ishizuki! (Just check out the website already why don’t you…)

The release event will be at the Super 7 store in San Francisco, on Saturday, 9/24 from 7-9 pm. Directions to the store can be found here. Attendees include Matt “fresh from Japan” Alt, Tim Brisko and Robert Duban. Books and select body parts will be signed upon request.

Big thanks to Super 7 and Chronicle Books for making this event happen!

Robaato D

August 21, 2005

Summer Wonderfest 2005

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 5:52 am

Ah, summer. Is that the scent of soft-vinyl, spray paint, and diecast metal in the air? It’s time for another Wonderfest!

That’s right — the biannual convention that’s dedicated to giving amateurs a single day of “copyright amnesty” to sell handmade kits and trinkets based on otherwise expensive-to-license characters. And sell them they did. Freaks and geeks of all streaks were out in full force.

Scary cos-players in full costume selling prop swords. Guys who look healthy enough to have normal sex lives but spend their days molding garage kits of little anime girls sitting on toilets. Fish fanatics selling resin kits of rare and exotic sea-life they can’t afford to purchase live. Obsessive dudes who don’t appear to have any solid employment or place of residence, but can sculpt Godzilla as he appeared in each of his films, blindfolded. Toy gun nuts dressed up like “Solid Snake.” Nazi wonder-weapon fetishists. UFO fetishists. Nazi UFO fetishists. Yes, they’re all here, and under one huge roof: Big Sight, in the scenically industrial Odaiba on the outskirts of Tokyo.

Established companies like Yamato, Max Factory, Takara, and Fewture Models were out in force as well. Personal favorite sightings at the show included:

Fewture’s jumbo-sized vinyl Garada K7 figure, measuring in at more than two feet tall (and a prototype of the next one in the series, Grandizer)

Max Factory’s latest 1/16 scale, fully painted soft vinyl Ma.K. powered suit figures, including the obscure fan-fave Fliege and a spacy Melusine (someone hose Roger down);

Yamato’s Round Mover pack for their 1/12 scale Votoms toys and the GBP-1S Armor for their 1/48 Valkyrie toys;

Liquid Stone’s spectacular (and at $500, spectacularly expensive) 1/6 scale, “full action” resin kit of the Starship Troopers powered suit.

But perhaps even more interesting was all the stuff they wouldn’t let attendees shoot, including:

-The creepily-named Good Smile Company’s latest prototype of their diecast Tachikoma from Ghost in the Shell, featuring articulated claws and an opening cockpit;

Yamato’s fully-transforming Garland bike from the Megazone 23 series, which won’t hit shelves until at least mid-2006;

-And the big surprise of the show, Max Factory’s own diecast, transforming version of the Garland, which appears nearly identical in size to that of Yamato’s. No word on a release date yet.

And there ya have it. Time for me to go soak my aching feet in a hot spring….


August 17, 2005

It’s been so long since never we met: Raydeen & Rydoto

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 11:24 pm

I’ve always collected Shogun Warriors. Call them chogokin, jumbo machinders or popynica if you must, but it wasn’t Popy selling them here in 1977. It was Mattel who brought me Mazinga, Dragun, Raider and Poseidon in their 5-inch diecast glory. Later Mattel provided Gaiking, Combattra, and Grandizer in a more compact “Collectors” size. But I never had a Raydeen.

Never got the “Two-In-One Warrior,” despite his killer catch-phrase, “He’s a bowman! He’s a bird!” I did convince a neighbor to lend me his 24-inch Raydeen for a day, but that was the closest I ever came to owning one. So when I started rebuilding my lost Shogun Warriors collection as an adult, Raydeen wasn’t a priority. At first.

I found myself drawn to modern Raydeen toys. First, a Banpresto SD diecast – just to go with the others I had, of course. Then, Bandai’s near-reissue of the vintage gokin moved me to place my first order with Hobby Link Japan. I decided I was done with the character, until I found myself bargaining with Roger for a Raydeen vinyl. Miniature versions followed from the “Popy” gashapon and The Chogokin lines. Only when I begged JoshB for his High Complete Model Raydeen did I realize I’d gone over the edge and become a fan.

Still, I thought I had some restraint, until Mcfitch arrived for the San Diego Comic-Con. I was singing the praises of one of my favorite SoCal dealers, Phat Collectibles, so we stopped by their booth at the Con. Phat had three 24-inch Shogun Warriors there, the triumverate from the initial release: Mazinga, Dragun … and Raydeen. Mcfitch bought the first two on the spot, so I casually asked to see the Raydeen. The price was nice, and what kind of host would I be if I didn’t buy a jumbo at the place I’d recommended? I bit.

Irony was – this wasn’t the Mattel 24-inch Raydeen. No, sir, this was a bona fide Japanese jumbo machinder. No sign of the left Mazinger Z cutter-fist that Mattel attached to its US version. Instead, a perfectly-proportioned Popy bow-arm. As we continue to wander the dealer’s room, clutching jumbos under our arms, I can’t stop shouting “He’s a bowman! He’s a bird!” Seeing this display, Mcfitch offers, if I liked Raydeen, he could hook me up with a Rydoto. Dead stock, real primo stuff.

And he did, good as his word. The Rydoto that Mcfitch sent me was as minty-fresh as a vintage toy can be, like it was just purchased at the long-closed Lowen’s Toys of Bethesda. The contrast between it and the Raydeen jumbo I’d just bought was stark. My Raydeen, let’s be honest, was beat to heck: dirty, scratched, missing stickers. But this Rydoto was pristene, its paint perfect, its box bright.

It’s a great little toy. Full disclosure: I have never seen the “Brave Reideen” cartoon, not once. I have no idea how Rydoto relates to the Raydeen super robot, or what the toy’s features are supposed to represent. But it’s not like Mattel ever gave us that information. So when I tell you that the wings pop out with a satisfying snap, and the little mouth opens to fire a chromed escape vehicle, you’ll just have to take my word that it’s cool. Rydoto fits right in with the design philosophy of the other Shogun Warriors and Action Vehicles, which show an inordinate concern for allowing pilots to bail out with their entire cockpit intact.

The Raydeen jumbo now occupies an honored place in my toy garage, with his buddies Mazinga and Dragun. Courtesy of Sean Bonner, I have an extra left cutter-fist, so I can simulate the Mattel version’s asymmetry. To ask the obligatory question: why did Mattel think swapping this for Raydeen’s bow-arm would be a good idea? Far from the aesthetic matches of Dragun’s star shooter or the missile launcher attached to Mazinga, the iron-cutter fist is the wrong length, size and style for Raydeen. I guess the answer remains that it’s a rocket-punch, so it’s all good.

If you can find a Raydeen and Rydoto, I highly recommend that you “collect ’em all!”


August 10, 2005

Compoboy: Stereo Component Robot

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 4:51 pm

Compoboy, Product of Popy. It’s not a Chogokin, however. It falls into the same grey area as the Kikou Gattai Dairruger XV. As a matter of fact, it shares a lot of engineering characteristics of that toy.

Compoboy is from Batten Robomaru, which I know absolutely nothing about. Seems to be a weird show along the lines of Robocon. Compoboy looks to be an upgraded version of the DX CompoSensei, which is a darker blue version with a different head. There are some other accessory differences as well, but since I don’t have a CompoSensei for reference, I’ll just have to guess.

So what is compoboy? He’s an old school Hi Fi, straight out of 1982. Back when Reel to Reel was a valid format, tape decks were just getting introduced, and of course vinyl was king. Interestingly, the speakers are tiny; less than half the size of the enormous racks that hold the audio components.

These components are what make up the accessories: Tape decks, reel to reels, turntables, eq’s, amplifiers, VU meters, and more. The reel to reel players can even launch the reels as missiles. There is also a strange, inexplicable feature that involves shoving little strips of white cardboard into the main component of the toy. A hatch opens up to facilitate removing of these strips. It seems like they went to a lot of trouble for the feature, so I’m obviously missing something here.

All of the components are kept behind a smoked clear plastic door in the component rack, which has adjustable shelves. There are also shelving units that have “records” and other items, and a separate cabinet that stores the fists. Speaking of fists, the fingers are articulated much like the Chokinzoku T28.

The toy combines via a unique spring loaded retractable peg system. Starting with the feet, you push out the 1st peg. Then you attach the lower legs, which pushes the peg up to attach the next piece. And so on.

The combined robot is about 16” tall, solid, but all plastic. That’s ok though, because if it were diecast, it would not be very stable. There are 12 individual components that have to hold together, and it would likely put too much strain on the connections.

The head has a neat feature: the top opens, and one of two included figures can be placed inside. Once the hatch is closed, a picture inside flips down and is visible through the window in the robot’s face. Very cool.

The box is a little different from most Popy toys, at least on the outside. It resembles a stereo box from back then, as opposed to a character toy. The inside, of course, is straight up DX Chogokin. A large, full color manual is also provided.

Compoboy is a great toy, somewhere between Godaikin and Microchange. Highly recommended for fans of both.


August 4, 2005

Review: Vinyl Scopedog

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 2:12 pm

It’s true, sometimes wanting is better than having.

After seeing Matt’s post about these vinyl Scopedogs at Wonderfest, though, I had to have one. A sofubi-style Scopedog was too hard to resist, and I figured if it was rendered nearly as well as Denjin’s vinyl mobile suits, I’d be a happy camper.

Well, camp is here, and the pudding cup that I got is warm and rancid. This figure stinks. The vinyl is thin and soft, never a good sign, but the worst aspect is that the thing stands like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Sure, it’s big, and it’s articulated at the head, shoulders, elbows, waist, and knees, but the way the feet are molded, the only way you can get it to lean properly is by turning the toes inwards. The result is a mecha that looks like it has club feet.

Overall, I give it a D. Great concept, lousy execution. (See? Sometimes I give a VOTOMS toy a bad grade.)

It doesn’t look like there are going to be more of these. Matt told me when he tried to get more information out of the makers at Wonderfest, they said the nightmare of producing this toy would prevent them from ever doing something like this again. One can always troll Yahoo Japan for one, though, although the price tag will sting (I paid $120 plus $10 shipping from Rinkya).

Here’s hoping that Denjin gets tackles this project themselves one day…


August 2, 2005

Who Wrote the Book of Love?

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 1:35 am

When a popular, English-language, Ultraman Information site was taken down in 2004, I was heartbroken – where would we ultra-afflicted gaijin now turn in search of a name for that twisted, improbable, yet somehow irresistible, Ultraman kaiju?

Well fret no further, my freaky friends – B.Media Books of Japan has just what you’re looking for:

The Ultraman Chronicles – The History of Light Soldier’s Battle, 1966-1975 (ISBN4-8124-0888-1)

Released in late 2002, I’m shocked it took me this long to discover it (and a hearty thanks to Chris M for bringing it to my attention).

216 pages jam-packed with striking full-color photos (except where inappropriate, of course) of every creature, hero, and vehicle that graced the shows -from Ultra Q to Ultraman Leo.

Presented chronologically, each series is fully represented, every episode synopsized; the final leaves containing an index notating when each episode first aired and another that pinpoints your favorite character’s location in the preceding pages.

There are special sections devoted to the popular female members of each team and sections at the end of each series highlighting a selection of toys, magazine covers, books, records, and comics spawned by the show.

Of course, the whole damned thing is in Japanese.

Except for the character names!

Flip through and see your favorite hero, your favorite Ultra-meka, your favorite kaiju (and tons you’ve likely never seen before), clearly represented by photo and labeled in English! It is a dream come true (oh, am I frothing? pardon me).

Did I mention there’s a volume 2 covering 1979 to 2003?


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