Saturday, April 28, 2007

[Review] Small Packages

Good things come in small packages. I'm sure that all of my male readers would agree.

But things in Japan are getting small in another way- mini-figures. Now, the miniaturization of toys is nothing new to the Japan toy scene: trading figures have become extremely popular in recent years, replacing the perennial favorite, gashapon figures, and even in some cases, supplanting larger scale figures. The motivation for this shift in the toy production model has been explained as recognition of the limited space available to most Japan residents (however, there is also a trend towards ultra-high-end, large-scale toys that would beg to differ). I believe that Gargamel was the first of the neo-kaiju companies to create a dedicated line of mini figures in its Zokki Kaiju line. Following in its wake, there have been more and more neo-kaiju companies dabbling in the mini-figure game.

Here tonight, I have selected a few of the latest neo-kaiju minis, proving that, no matter what that girl last weekend told you, good things DO come in small packages.

Inazuma-Go x Frank Kozik / Rumble Babies

These were something that I stupidly passed on the first time that it was offered up to patrons of the mighty RFSO. At the time, I was copping the first tentative feel in what would become a full blown love affair with neo-kaiju, and I would still shy away from the "high" prices of some of the smaller figures. Now, of course, I have grown balls of titanium when it comes to buying these, and I think I am working on the first coat of adamantium. At any rate, I was lucky enough to grab these (Rumble) babies on the second go-round when they were sold at a board member's personal fire sale (or perhaps more accurately, the "ohshittaxesarenextmonth" sale).

The initial run of Rumble Babies, consisting of the clear blue and GID pink versions, were done as a custom job by Mr. Frank Kozik, veteran skullbrainer and toymaker extraordinaire. For those of you not familiar with the name, Mr. Kozik is perhaps better known for his line of Smorkin' blind box figures, which consist of rabbits, grenades and bananas, all with trademark cigarette and/or five-'o-clock stubble. Even I own a couple of these- the OG smorkin' labbit was my first vinyl purchase, and I was unable to resist the charms of the 5" Labbit. How can you say "no" to those beady little bunny eyes? But what the much of the world may not know is that Mr. Kozik is also a neo-kaiju afficionado, who owned, at one point, one of the sickest vinyl collections around (before he sold a bunch of it) and who has has produced the "Murder" colorway of select neo-kaijus, including a Pharaos, Damnedron and Mutant Evil.

These Rumble Babies are precisely what their name suggests: baby Rumble Monsters. More specifically, they are baby The GID pink Baby makes perfect sense in this light: it is the larval form of the GW-Sakura Pharaos (GID w/ pink spray). However, the clear blue Baby remains a mystery with no corresponding adult. Perhaps this is a hint of things to come- summer surf Pharaos anyone? In the end, Inazuma-Go went on to produce one final colorway of the Rumble Baby in the original Pharaos green and yellow. These can still be found at retail prices with minimal effort.

Anyway, I don't think there's much more that can be said about these critters than has already been said. They make a great 'baby' form for a bigger toy, are easily displayed on a desktop, and are even fairly affordable as underground sofubi goes- that is, if you can find them.

Charactics / Mini-Gezora

Charactics is another one of those toymakers that, like Dream Rocket, Amapro, and the like, blurs the boundaries between traditional and neo-kaiju. Unlike the 'creative bootleg' method used by other companies, I believe Charactics might actually purchase a one-day license from the owner of the character's likeness (e.g., Takara, Bandai) to produce and sell a toy for a single day or weekend at a character/toy show. For example, if you look at the header for Charactics' Walder set, it actually bears the copyright stamp of Takara as well. From what I know, this also is the method used by Sakamoto Showten to produce his show-exclusive Votoms vinyl toys. As a result, Charactics has produced its take on various classic kaiju- in both mini and mid-size- including Gezora, Hedorah, Matango, Biollante and Majin Bander.

Sadly, I do not know much about Gezora, other than that he is associated with Godzilla. I bought this one for the sole reason that I love octopus/squid toys. Most of these were released before I started seriously collecting vinyl kaiju, but I would have to assume that the majority, if not all, were released at a -fest or matsuri or convention, via the method described above.

He's a cute little fella, and I hope we see more colorways from Charactics in the future. A mid-size version would be nice, as well.

Gachamon / Medorome & Berippus

At last winter's Sofubi Matsuri, several of the major manufacturers of modern sofubi kaiju collaborated to produce a series of trading figures called Gachamon. Reportedly the stock of about 1000 pieces sold out in minutes, leaving many of us on this side of the ocean high and dry. To make it even more hair-pulling-ly difficult to collect, the 13 Gachamon came in an unpainted clear red, unpainted glittery 'rame' red, and painted full-color versions. The full-color versions were supposedly limited to 10 pieces each... total. Nonetheless, a few industrious folks were able to cobble a full set together through the magic of YJA. I had to resort to Mandarake's stock to grab a couple of the more common red colorways.

Word out is that a second run of the Gachamon is planned for the May 5th Sofubi Matsuri. The full color versions will supposedly be more plentiful; I'm not sure what the color the unpainted versions will be at this point. Collect 'em all! Lose your mind!

TTToy / "Night Sakura" Prodon

The Prodon is the mini counterpart of TTToys' bread-and-butter- the Grus. The name, despite its common mistranslation as "Prototype Don" or something similar, is correctly "Mutant Covert Agent Kaiju: Prodon." Prodons have been produced in a variety of colorways, including the frosted blue 1st color, clear pink and green, and GID spray versions. This most recent "Night Sakura" colorway was released in connection with the clear pink "Cherry Glow" Prodon at the February Winter Wonderfest. According to TTToy's blog, only 10 pieces of this version were produced in total!

Although I've picked up a number of the Grus and other TTToy sculpts, I've had the damnedest time in trying to track down Prodons. This is my first one. I have to say, I'm fairly impressed; for such a simple sculpt, it is clean and elegant in this simplicity. The piece is a lot heavier than you would expect, and it feels really good in your hand. The bright pink spray on an off-white GID base vinyl has a very pleasing look that will always remind me of fishcake. This is particularly striking when the GID is charged- the pink spray fluoresces an orange color! (Note: Upon editing this article, I realize that I forgot the picture of the GID effect. Whoops.)

Touma / Baby Skuttles

One of Japanese artist, Touma's, more popular creations is the Skuttle, a spiky, humanoid turtle that is vaguely reminiscent of the Koopas from Mario Bros. I've never been into most of Touma's sculpts- Knuckle Bear, Goon, etc.- but I find the Skuttle especially cool, even if I do have a inexplicable urge to stomp on it and kick it around. The unfortunate part is that there are also a large number of people that feel similarly, as the Skuttle can hit crazy stoopid prices on the aftermarket. So, my Skuttle collection thus far consists of zero pieces, which I may remedy soon with the release of the clear DIY Skuttle sets, budget permitting.

Skuttles have been released in a couple of forms, including the original and 'primitive' alpha-type. Touma's newest version is the Skuttle-X, which is even spikier than its predecessors and features a cool Jolly Roger on its chest. To test these turtle-infested waters, however, I began with a couple of Baby Skuttles in clear and green vinyl. Based on the feel and appearance of the clear vinyl, I'm going to guess that these are produced by the same factory that does Wonderwall's stuff. Similar to the "Kaiju for Grow-Ups" toys, the Baby Skuttles are made of a very firm and smooth vinyl with virtually no trapped bubbles. While most clear pieces have visible bubbles to some degree, these are cleanly done, and resemble glass figurines at first glance. The big let-down, however, is that the Baby Skuttles are hollow with a hole at the bottom, meaning that you cannot fill them with beads, pipe cleaners, pom-poms, as many of us are wont to do. My disappointment is mitigated somewhat by the pretty clear vinyl.

Whew. So there's my smorgasbord review of mini sofubi toys. None of these are more than $20, and are a great way to get sucked into the vast financial sinkhole of Japanese neo-kaiju collecting.

No comments: