Sunday, December 21, 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Those are really huge ingredients.

Gobble gobble.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there in Internet land!- well, everyone that celebrates Thanksgiving, I suppose. Due to hard economic times, we were forced to downsize our bird this year. He was tasty enough if you ignored the toxic fumes that wafted from the oven during baking.

Also, I have finally completed the first piece of an ongoing project. If you look at the bottom of the right-hand column, there is a link to "Monsters Love Dream Rocket." Over the next few months, I hope to develop a complete-esque catalog of Dream Rocket's releases to date. The first chapter, Gilmos, is up for your viewing. Otanoshimi ni!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

[Mr. Carlton-Ritz] Transformers Universe Powerglide (JP ver.)

Powerglide was first previewed for the Universe/Classics line back in January 2008 when resin prototypes were revealed by Hasbro. By the end of that summer, Powerglide was officially on shelves around town. But surprise- he was gigantic, greyish and around $30. You could almost hear the collective fanboy whine. Takara/Tomy provided us with the alternative of buying a gigantic, but cartoon-accurately red "USA Edition" Powerglide. This version retails in the U.S. for roughly $20 more than the Hasbro version ($50).


Transformers Universe - Powerglide (JP ver.)

Powerglide was a mini-bot back in 1985- a rather distinctive little red plane. Although he is officially an A-10 Thunderbolt, I always figured him to be a crop-duster or stuntplane of sorts, probably due to his official tech-spec bio which paints him as a daredevil stunt flyer (I believe the term used was "dazzling aerial virtuosity"). Either way, he provided some much-needed aerial support for the Autobots, who were otherwise firmly reliant on Cosmos to fight the 200,000 Seeker jets in the Decepticon army.

Transformers Universe - Powerglide (JP ver.)

Like most of the mini-bots, Powerglide was small, but chock full of character. His jet mode was bright red and chubby and perfect for flying around with little hands. When transformed, he had gangly noodle arms and a bemused expression on his robot face. Very neat little guy, and he received tons of play time, despite being a bit of a second-stringer in the cartoon. Speaking of the cartoon, you probably remember Powerglide from that infamous episode titled "The Girl Who Loved Powerglide," where he falls hopelessly in love with wealthy socialite Ritz Carlton Astoria Watson Vanderbeek while defending her from the conehead Seeker jets. I've heard that people hate this episode for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the cheesy blinking heart in Powerglide's chest cavity. Unlike those lame-os, I thought this episode was AWESOME when I was little. Astoria Carlton-Ritz was a hottie, and Powerglide's actions entirely justified.

Transformers Universe - Powerglide (JP ver.)

Powerglide's 2008 makeover was a mysterious move from Hasbro, as he was ramped up to an Ultra class toy and given an entirely new color scheme. I think it is safe to say that he can handily defend Ms. Carlton-Ritz from Seekers, which are now freakishly diminutive in comparison. The Hasbro grey/silver color scheme lacked some punch, however, so I shelled out the extra cash for that pretty, pretty red plastic.

Transformers Universe - Powerglide (JP ver.)

The high points:

Classics Powerglide is a very attractive toy. The Japanese red coloration evokes the G1 toy, but with added bulk in both robot and jet modes. The effect is very much a spec-up (is that a word?) version of the original character. Powerglide's head was intentionally given the asymmetrical sculpt of the original toy (complete with the screw jammed into his forehead), but the more angular design again reminds you that this is a grown-up Powerglide. You have the appreciate the humor in giving him a barrel chest and tiny T-rex arms when the original toy was extremely skinny with noodle arms.

Transformers Universe - Powerglide (JP ver.)

There are also a number of good mechanical details. The engines are nicely sculpted with inner turbines and clear orange vents on the back. In transformation, the kneecaps of the robot become the front intakes for the jet- hard to describe, but it is a clever touch. As you can see in the photos, the surface of the toy is heavily detailed with rivets and panels. Lastly, I love the tiny chain gun mounted on the side of the cockpit. It's detachable as a hand weapon for Powerglide, and complements the overall neo-retro look of the toy.

Transformers Universe - Powerglide (JP ver.)

The low points:

Though Classics Powerglide is a pretty toy, he is also heavily flawed. Also- he is kind of pricey.

First, my toy came out of the box with a giant scratch across the right engine. Don't drop it on the floor and stick it back on the assembly line for chrissakes.

Second, the transformering sounds are insufferable. I had hoped that the electronics would be disabled for the Japan release. Not so. Classics Powerglide can scream out any number of indecipherable weapon and transformation noises when you press the button on his back OR the button hidden in his torso. This second button is triggered every time you transform the damn thing, so it's not an avoidable feature. While cute at first, this had me looking for a screwdriver, followed by a hammer, within the first 10 minutes of ownership.

Third, this toy reuses the original uh-ga-lee Hasbro packaging complete with the dead-eyed assembly line artwork. Maybe they were going for a statuesque look, but it gives off a killer zombie robot vibe across the board. Most of the Japan versions of the Classics toys are entirely repackaged with manga style card or box art- this one was given a tiny sticker in Japanese. Not a big deal, but the box art for the U.S. release is truly awful, so it's a strike against it nonetheless.

Finally, the arms do not 'clip' on to the side of the torso as they are supposed to. Whether it's a mold defect, a design defect, or just some random problem with my toy, I can't get it to work and the arms tend to flop around. While my toys generally spend more time on the shelves, this seems like it would be extremely frustrating for a kid.

Transformers Universe - Powerglide (JP ver.)

IN CONCLUSION, do not buy this version of Powerglide unless you are in love with the red color. The Hasbro version is $20 cheaper and probably just as good (unlike many of the other Henkei/Classics). I like a red Powerglide a little too much to give in to the price difference, so I can't honestly say that I wouldn't buy this again if given the chance. Otherwise it is a decent enough toy, and quite fitting for a revised Powerglide.

Transformers Universe - Powerglide (JP ver.)

Transformers Universe - Powerglide (JP ver.)

Transformers Universe - Powerglide (JP ver.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Super 7 x Brian Flynn - Squirm (unpainted clear blue)

Testing out my new black background photo setup.

I know everyone really cares about this, but I'm slowly trying to standardize my image collection. For now, I'm going with mid-size, with watermarks and captions. The captions are more a way for me to keep track of what is what. I always hate finding photos of cool toys, but with no way to determine name, maker, origin, etc. I'm a guy who organizes my music files by arist, album and song title. What do you expect?

I'm still on the fence about all this text on my photos, but I figure this provides an easy way for people to link to the photos without having to credit/shout out/give mad propz to my blog and flickr account. So go ahead and link to my photos! Don't be shy.

If the load time is slow, you hate the captions, or whatever, leave a comment. I want to know about these things.

For comparison, here is the raw image from my camera of the above photo:

Raw image of Squirm

I also fooled around a bit (with protection, of course) in Photoshop to generate the below image... can you tell how I did it? It was mostly an accident. But I did think it gave Squirm the look of a free-floating bioluminescent critter. Unintentional science.

Photo tweak of Squirm

Item: [Super 7 x Brian Flynn - Squirm (unpainted clear blue prototype)]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

[10-17-08] Hakone Gardens

Last (last) week, we visited Hakone Gardens in Saratoga. Because the driveway basically involves reversing up a 30 degree incline, we missed the entrance the first time around and ended up driving a mile or ten into the boonies. I knew we were lost when my GPS STOPPED DISPLAYING OTHER ROADS.

Supposedly, scenes from "Memoirs of a Geisha" were filmed in the gardens. It's a charming little stop (give it about 30 mins. to an hour) and an unexpected find in the wilds of northern California.

Oh, and don't go behind the main building. There be wasps afoot.

As always, higher res photos can be found in my flickr set.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

[10-18] Kimono My House!

I'm almost a little embarrassed to admit that this past Saturday was my first visit to the iconic Japanese toy store, Kimono My House.

It is definitely not a trip to be lightly undertaken- the drive is fairly nerve-wracking even on the weekends. The store itself is located in a desolate industrial area, and is surprisingly difficult to find.

But I knew that we had truly arrived upon stepping out on to the sun-baked rooftop pathway to the toy mecca of yesteryear. A giant Ultraman greeted us, along with a fairly new Carranger statue. All of the legendary jumbos are now entirely gone- either moved inside for safety or stolen.

A sign tells you that Yuki would like someone to take care of his similarly giant cat, Monster. We seriously considered the offer.

Passing by the sound of a serious discussion of Ultraman, our eyes adjusted for a minute as we entered KMH. If you happen to visit KMH, your first impression will undoubtedly be that it is much smaller than you expected. The square footage of the store area cannot be much more than the two bedrooms of our modest apartment. With the ambient sunlight filtering through the dusty air of the warehouse-like space, it seems more like someone's personal collection on display than a retail venue.

There is the usual assortment of newer anime and toy products on the shelf fronts. The two or three glass display cases near the register hold carefully preserved vintage items. There are some real treasures in there to be certain- I think I even saw a boxed Ark Zinclon King Kong in one corner.

I think the true magic of KMH cannot be fully discerned unless you spend a half hour or more looking carefully up and down each shelf. Above the main shelves, jumbos, monster sentai toys and more out-of-production items from years past fill up the walls to the ceiling high above. A 3-foot orange Godzilla crouches in one corner of the rafters, behind a couple of giant Tetsujin 28s and adjacent to a row of boxed Jumbo Machinders. I think those were newer, but I don't know enough to say for certain, and I would not be surprised either way. Behind the register, a veritable army of Medicom RAHs and Henshin Cyborg toys stands watchful. A tree of bagged kaiju (including those amazing Marusan original reissues) stands quietly in another corner, perhaps humbled by the massive Godzilla looming above. And as you look at each shelf, there is more and more and more piled far into the back, in the crevice beneath the shelf, and buried beneath other items. I was encouraged to dig through the mass of items behind the register as well.

I did not have a chance to speak with the mystical proprietor of the shop, Yuki, but I did have a long and interesting talk with Brian (webmaster/assistant shopkeeper). The topics ranged from current anime, to paleontology, to Kamen Riders, and other topics that I cannot recall. I can get stuck 'talking shop' to toy store guys for hours. I probably would have spent the rest of the afternoon there if my girlfriend had not reminded me that we still had to drive out to SF.

As I reluctantly emerged from imbibing the toy-infused air of the shop, it felt like waking up from one of those dreams where you have found that tiny store that still has its original stock of 1980s toys. Except this was real, and I was clutching a toy of Servo from the American adaptation of Gridman. (Don't worry, I paid for it.) There was so much more that I could have picked up, but I didn't feel like hauling a rucksack full of kaiju and sentai robots through Ghiradelli Square.

After years of collecting, Internet shopping and bidding on Japanese auctions, I feel almost too cynical to admit that a mortar-and-brick toy store can still have something that cannot be boxed and shipped over the Internet. But KMH has an undeniable magic; it is like stepping back in time to when toy stores were a treasured destination for kids, rather than the big-box, sterilized nightmares that they are today. I can think of only two stores that have a similar effect on me, and both of those are in Japan.

But beneath the obvious love that has gone into building and operating KMH for the past 35 years, there is a bittersweet note. To put it somewhat poetically, KMH is a flower that has passed the point of full bloom. While you can still see the color of its petals and smell its fading perfume, you cannot help but imagine how beautiful or fragrant it must have been at its peak. I believe that KMH was truly an incredible store in the late 90s when Japanese toy stores were a rarity and the Internet economy still in its infancy.

If you have never made the trip out to Emeryville, I would do so, and soon. There is something fundamental to the nature of toy collecting in small stores like KMH. But it is fading fast, and once gone, I think we will never see it again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

[100th Post] Huey Lewis

Yep, this looks to be my 100th blog post (maybe there were some unpublished entries that were counted into that). Huzzah.

So here's a little bit of kaiju news from my favorite company.

Dream Rocket's blog "コロリポンですよ" (Kororipon desu yo) reports that the sculpt of Girozun from the Akakage line is delayed until early next year. This one was previewed on the blog a while back.

Fortunately, there will be a new Monster File sculpt released before then (above).

Also: new Marnon on sale later this week.

Shake shake shake

Been traveling around a bit this week, so I have a few photo blog posts to catch up with.

Here's something I found (but did NOT buy) in the dusty back room of a store in Half Moon Bay, CA.

It's a keychain. For making those supermarket keyring card swipes REALLY awkward. It kills me that they went the extra mile to sculpt nipples on the damn thing.

Monday, October 6, 2008

[TF:Universe Acid Storm] Divide and Conquer!

Hasbro is getting better at repainting toys, I'll give them that. There was once a time when the most you could hope for for was a coat of white paint on ol' Optimus.

Acid Storm was produced from the original design and mold of the Starscream toy from the same line. This design has probably been reused more than any other Classics/Universe toy, and as a result, there have been complaints of factory mold degradation on some of these later versions.

Unlike many other repaints, this is not merely a square-peg-round-hole set of colors forced on a non-consenting toy. There was an actual green Seeker jet in an early episode of the Transformers cartoon (Divide and Conquer), which was responsible for seeding the clouds above Cybertron to create crippling acid rain. So it's a fitting, if obscure, tribute to the old cartoon.

The vehicle mode for this toy is, of course, the traditional F-15 Eagle. I guess this sort of dates the toy at this point. But, like the F-14 Tomcat Valkyries from Macross, it just wouldn't be a Decepticon jet without the trademark F-15 design. I am by no means an expert in military aircraft, so I cannot tell you the precise model on which this toy is based (although you may note that it is a single-seater).

I've seen some complaints about the color scheme for this toy- specifically that it is unrealistic to have a camouflage airplane. The reason for this coloration is that it makes the jet more difficult to see- from above- when it operates in forested regions. While I guess I don't know if there ever was an F-15 that used these colors, that is not to say that it is an unreasonable design stretch. I actually think the colors on this toy are pretty subdued when you compare them to other repaints. Aaron Archer was supposedly heavily involved in the production of this toy, so he may be to thank for the 'real-type' color scheme.

Transformation to robot mode is pretty simple, although not intuitive. I have to use the instructions nowadays, which makes me feel sad. It is, however, surprisingly analogous to the transformation of the original Decepticon jet toys. The turbines in Acid Storm's chest turn into tiny useless wheels. Wheee...

Overall, the Classics/Universe toys are just really excellent, and this one is no exception. I love camouflage/real-type color schemes, and to receive something like this as a domestic regular release is a treat. Acid Storm is clearly a kids' toy, but it is complex enough to be engaging for older collectors as well. Much like the old Chogokin/Godaikin or Microman toys, Hasbro has produced something that successfully transcends the usual child/collector toy boundaries.

More photos on my flickr set.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

[Nakayoshi Astromons] A Monster of a Coincidence

As a firm believer in Toy Karma, I also feel that there are some collecting events that are fated to happen.

An expert on Hawaii supernatural lore once wrote of the concept of inexplicable causality that leads certain people to places and events that when viewed in hindsight, are part of a clearly intended chain of seeming coincidences. The implication is that we can be guided by otherworldly forces to an inevitable result. I guess if you are cynical, this can be explained away by our tendency to find patterns in otherwise unrelated events. Sort of like seeing shapes in clouds. If you aren't cynical, hoo boy, chicken skin...

I think if you have been seriously collecting THINGS for a reasonable length of time, you've probably experienced this. You find one random toy and decide to learn more, only to find that you owned its companion piece as a child.

When I was in Shibuya Mandarake last fall, I found this unpainted Astromons toy sitting humbly in the back of a display case. I knew that this version was produced by Nakayoshi in collaboration with Dream Rocket and Shono Kikaku, so I picked it up. The one thing that bugged me was that it was ORANGE. As far as I knew, there had only been releases on purple base vinyl.

In April of this year, an auction materialized on Yahoo Japan for a painted version of the orange Astromons- still in the original bag, no less! Let's just say it wasn't cheap. My speculation is that this orange version was sold at around the same time as the pink "Hawaiian" Red Jack (also by Nakayoshi), as the seller had both toys up for auction. That Red Jack is estimated to have been produced in less than 10 pieces total, so I would figure this one to be similarly low production. However, while I have seen at least 3 Red Jacks sell, I've never seen another orange Astromons.

It's kind of a weird feeling when I display these two pieces side by side- knowing that this is probably the only time that they have been united since they were in the maker's studio. It is memorable events like these that make the hobby a worthwhile pursuit for me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

[Sucks or Blows?] The San Jose Super Toy Show

And the answer is, only a little. Only a little.

Despite having an overabundance of toys that could probably be found at the nearest Wal-mart, the San Jose Super Toy, Comics and Record Show wasn't that bad. In between the dozens of those booths, there were some actual gems in the mix.

A few boxed Exo-squad toys were sprinkled around the dealer floor. Which would be cool if they weren't all missing their internal trays. So the toys were all shaky loose inside the box. Yikes.

Also: weird bootlegs. But not when they are priced at $150. So none of those for me. One guy had an old Go-Lion (Voltron) bootleg for $30. It was fine, except there was no black lion. When you can't form Voltron from the Voltron lions, that's kind of a deal breaker.

But I did find this neat-o Machine Saurer bop-bag from some guy with a truckload of Rat Fink stuff. How he got this, I have no idea. Since it was entirely written in Japanese, I referred to it as the "dinosaur robot thing" when I asked about the price.

Also, right before I left, I bought this Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad toy. Laugh at the name if you will, but it's genuine grade-A transforming super robot. One of the last good toys before McFarlane defiled the toy market for the next decade. Takara produced the Japanese toys under the Gridman TV series at roughly the same time as the last Transformers and the post-Transformer Brave toyline. So that's why Zenon kind of looks like Optimus Prime.

Overall not bad by my standards. Not a lot of vintage, but lots of 90s stuff, which I totally dig.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

[These People] Would You Sell Your Kaiju to Them?

See the original image in all of its foppish glory at Max Toy Co.'s flickr.

I was fully intending to use the original image, but felt bad stealing Mark's photo outright to dersh the auction (yes, you know where this is going). So I "created" my own. And let me tell you, there is no greater amusement on a Saturday evening than a bottle of beer and a willing copy of Photoshop.

On that note, I feel compelled to state that this is an opinion piece. Good for a read over morning coffee, perhaps, but please just consider these my personal feelings.

So it's here again. For maybe the second or third time this year, renowned auction house Phillips de Pury & Company has allowed its respectable premises to be subject to a small infestation of kaiju and other monstrosities. Items in the show are procured by everyone's favorite caps-lovin' eBayer, Steve Agin, and feature production toys as well as custom works from artists such as Mark Nagata, Paul Kaiju, Tim Biskup, Le Merde, Bwana Spoons, Carlos Enriquez, Kirkland Jue and Matt Walker (aka Dead Presidents) to name a few. Check out the current auction catalog here:

Prices are not in dollars. Those are British pounds, baby.

Make what you will of those numbers. I really don't know what to think anymore- except perhaps feel a bit sorry for the poor rich chap who ends up paying $200 for a Pop Soda Ekitai Ningen.

I've been collecting this stuff for about a year and a half now- longer than most of the newcomers, but not as long as the crochety old men. One of the things that I have always appreciated about Japanese vinyl toys is the sense of enthusiasm and love for the subject matter exuded by artisans and collectors alike. As I watch the community grow, however, this sense of 'genuineness' has been eroded slowly by slowly. Some designer toy fellow misappropriates the term "kaiju" for a stylized piece of crap. Another customizer comes to the 'scene' and starts cranking out a line of soulless, though technically proficient, custom toys- and everyone sings their praises. People mindlessly collect toys without appreciating the significance of its origins. And the list of offenses continues to grow. I don't think these high-roller auctions will be the death of our passion (as many claim), but they contribute to a cheapening of the spirit of the hobby. While I enjoy seeing the network of collectors expand, I hate that there always seems to be someone with an angle on turning a profit waiting on the other side.

We need to support the growth of this toy collecting community through its original artisans and customizer hobbyists alike. But at the same time, its visionaries and leaders need to oversee its growth in an intelligent direction- preferably one that is untainted by the profit-minded. This is necessary to avoid sacrificing the 'homegrown' spirit and innocence that drives this hobby, while allowing new collectors and artists to be welcomed.

And F--- the Kaiju Industry.


Friday, August 22, 2008

[???] Braxton County 2008


The following still images were recovered from camera and field equipment found in the storage room of a West Virginia police station. Upon developing the film found in the equipment, only about 10% of the images were usable due to the condition of the equipment, although they provide both a date and time.

The equipment is otherwise in an unusable condition as a result of physical damage and its age. Markings on the case of the camera and monocular are consistent with chemical burns.

The identity and whereabouts of the operator are not currently known.

This is the first photograph in chronological sequence. A humanoid figure and ship (?) appear in the distance.

At this point the operator attempted to use a more powerful monocular scope with night vision capabilities. The image is grainy, although it provides a date and time.

A clearer image of the humanoid.

This is the last photograph in the roll.

So, totally realistic, huh? Amazing that field agents in the '50s had access to night vision equipment with digital rangefinders. I had fun making that image... guess I got a little carried away. War of the Worlds, not quite.

Few ETs/cryptids have captured the popular imagination like the Flatwoods Monster and his Horvathian compatriot, the Mothman. Even in toy form, there have been many, many versions of the Flatwoods released in recent years- I have only a handful of them, photographed below. The particular toy used for this shoot is a tiny 3.5" glow-in-the-dark version made by ILANENA, and is one of only 25 pieces sold at a recent toy show in Japan.

With all of this popularity, I will be highly surprised if we go a few more years without a movie about the Braxton County incident... hopefully this time the filmmaker doesn't make the Mothman mistake of turning a real story into a hospital ward psychological thriller starring Richard Gere. If I wanted to watch The Eye, I would have rented it, thanks. At least that would have had Jessica Alba.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

[Super7] River Children

On August 9th, Koji Harmon finished the end of a very long trip in the Americas with a solo show at Super7 titled "River Children." Over 30 hand-painted customs were exhibited, encompassing not only the standard Gargamel fare of Zagorans, Hedorans and mini-Dethras, but a handful of Rumble Monsters sculpts as well. The show also debuted a limited edition Tokoji Seijin and a super-special surprise of the first Zombie Henchman from the Snakes of Infinity series!

Now for some photos and words.

Crazy GID Zago-tank. This Deathra was the one piece that I almost grabbed at the show (but buying Dream Rocket one-offs quickly depletes the wallet, hurr). I always think of that pastel blue color as "cartoon elephant blue." Why is that?

Megalo Tokoji... so cool. The little Zag is feelin' cheesy.

The two Cosmic toys done up by Koji really looked great up in person. I hope Gargamel uses this vinyl again in the future. And who wants some strawberry soft-serve?

This Tokoji is also a homage to another classic kaiju, but I can't remember which one... Zag and Mightin get desaturated.

Black with brown spray is quickly becoming Koji's signature style... the slight off-white and matte black give it a refined feel. It almost looks like old painted wood, where some of the paint has rubbed away with age. Very Japanese, very classy.


There was a bunch of other goings-on that night, including a street pinata bash (featuring The Original San Francisco Street Candy) in celebration of Joe Bunny's bee-day. Beer and other refreshment provided by S7, ever the gracious hosts.

Photos of those things on Toybot's blog.

So I was a jerk and didn't buy any of Koji's wondrous wares, huh? Yeah I felt like an ass talking to him after the show and having him ask, "So, did you pick anything up?" Uh, no. Me too poor to buy $200 toys, but me likey very much.

I did buy something, though, so I didn't totally mooch off of S7 that night. I bought Brian Flynn's monster child, the Dokuwashi- direct from the floors of SDCC 2008. I don't usually go for these, but it glows and the colors are so, so nice. You could totally see this flying about in a Japanese festival in some seaside town where the sole agricultural produce consists of an exotic variety of potato. I think it is the spot where the deep blue hits the bright pink that makes my heart flutter. So good.