Thursday, February 28, 2008


(It took me two days to come up with that title. Enjoy it I say!)


Whuh? Blah? Why is it still dark?

And so begins my typical day as I roll out of bed at- well, let's just say an early hour- much to the disgust of anyone who might happen to be present (EDIT: for clarity, there would only be one person who might be present). In the darkness of my apartment, I stumble across the length of the room to my computer, refresh the screen and log on to the website of Japanese second-hand store, Mandarake.

At the predetermined time, new stock is revealed in the webstore. Now, 99% of the time, the story ends here as the stock consists of a veritable treasure trove of used hentai manga, girly figures and- shudder- yaoi merchandise. (Look it up.) But on that rare, rare 1%, Mandarake will have patchi-kaiju toys in stock at very reasonable prices. On those days, I don't need my morning pot of coffee.

A couple of weeks ago, Mandarake had one of its 1% mornings. When I refreshed the stock, 90+ new items showed up (which is always a good sign), but as I went down the page, my palms began to perspire. It wasn't just patchi-kaiju for sale, but dozens upon dozens of old or rare Gargamel and RealxHead pieces. Most were unbagged, and as such, priced at sub-$100 levels, even for the larger pieces. As I scrolled down the page, I saw 3 original Mutant Heads in a row- for $30 each!

But you gotta choose, and choose quickly. That's the greatest trick of Mandarake. On good days, there will be 10 things that you want, but you only have time to buy one- forget this, and you'll probably get zero.

So on that day, after wiping the sweat from my palms, I quickly went back up the page and carted off a super-rare Cronic x Sunguts toy (for $45) that had been released at Wonderfestival in early 2007. Once I had checked out, I took my time and poked through the listings a bit more carefully. Of course, all 3 of the amazing Mutant Heads were long gone, but right below them, I saw another tantalizing treat that had been passed over in the initial rush. Take a look:

Looks like one of the blank flesh Mutant Chaoses that had been released in a blind-bag 3-pack not so long ago, right? Well, I guess most people thought so, because it was still there a few minutes later. But look a little closer- the eye is green, where the blind-bag version has a yellow eye.

After a little inner debate, I decided to grab this one as well. It was only $35; even if it turned out not to be anything special, that was a decent price for a flesh blank. Total outlay for the morning: $80.

A few days later, my 'scores' arrived at my apartment (thank you, EMS!). And well, check out the photos for yourself:

Cronic x Sunguts - Camguts

This was a collaboration in which Cronic painted a clear blank of Sunguts' Camguts toy. Allegedly limited to less than 10 pieces, I fell in love with the rainbow warrior when it was released last year, and now one has finally found its way into my hands.

RealxHead - Mutant Chaos (MC-???)

Yeah, thank goodness for terrible photos, I guess. This one turned out not to be the common flesh blank Mutant Chaos, but a very different prototype figure.

And not only is it a prototype, but it is an undocumented prototype. The Super7 Mook recently attempted to compile all known RxH public releases, including a large number of prototypes that were raffled off at a toy show in late 2006. This one was not among those listed, and moreover, I couldn't find any photographic evidence of its origin in display case shots from Junkspot and Katsura-san's new store.

There are other points of interest. First, the figure is cast in a pinky flesh vinyl, which is often used to create test pulls of new figures as it is apparently an inexpensive color of vinyl. Second, the vinyl has a very different feel and weight than other RxH toys- it is heavy and waxy in texture. Third, the details on the Chaos sculpt are extremely pronounced; unlike newer Chaos releases where the bumps and gnarls blend into each other, you can almost see where the sculptor molded pieces on to the torso and arms, and where he pressed his tools into the clay to create texture. It was explained to me that vinyl figures will typically have sharper details earlier in the production process, as bits of leftover vinyl clog the mold over time and smooth out the sculpt. Fourth, the pieces of the sculpt do not fit together well- the head is loose and the arm probe does not match up to the joint. Finally, the eye is the most telling. While most newer Chaos releases have the typical 'small eye' with a textured iris, this Chaos and the OG MC-01 Mutant Chaos share a 'big eye,' which has a simpler design and larger pupil.

Upon consideration of these points and other circumstances (i.e., the older RxH and Gargamel pieces in the mass sale), my speculation is that this is one of the first test-pulls of the Mutant Chaos. Possibly this one was given to the original owner as a gift. Anyway, while it's doubtful that I'll ever know its true origins- short of an e-mail from Katsura-san himself- it's a unique piece and the mystery makes it fun.

So, to all new collectors of patchi-kaiju and fight figures, don't be frustrated by high prices and low run numbers. There are still many, many good deals out there if you keep your eyes open.

Larger versions of photographs available on my flickr set.

Cronic x Sunguts - Camguts

My lame attempt at a 'flying shot' of the flying-pose Camguts. :P

RealxHead - Mutant Chaos (MC-???)

Monday, February 18, 2008

[Review] Modern Artifacts

Six festivals later, a copper Blobpus forgotten outside in the elements grew up into a weatherbeaten horror- a Last Kaiju.

Kaji-san and company released Blobpus in three metallic elements: Gold (Au), Silver (Ag) and Copper (Cu) at Superfestival 39 in April of 2006. The Argon Blobpus, sadly, turned out to be nothing more than vaporware (Ba-dum-bum. Pssh!) In a technique that was ahead of its time (Secret Base Space Bee?), each Blobpus was given a metallic chrome coating using that secret recipe that involves a four-leaf clover, prayers and electroplating. Unfortunately, due to the malleable nature of soft vinyl and the complex Blobpus sculpt, the metallic coating would be prone to cracking and flaking across the board. As you can see from the photos, this is particularly evident on the skull-blob arm extension.

Nonetheless, the chromed metallic copper texture is still beautiful with its hard, glossy finish. One might almost believe that this Blobpus is made of copper, were it to have a little more heft.

If you're somewhat familiar with ancient Japanese history, you might see some parallels between the design of Blobpus and the Jomon era Dogu statues. Besides the obvious similarity of the main 'eyes' (sewn shut, in Blobpus' case), the array of four 'eyes' on the upper head and mandible area also seem to be reflected, although exaggerated, on the Blobpus sculpt. Recently, Marmit took it upon themselves to reproduce the Jomon Dogu in vinyl form (to be released in March 2008). There's something very 'full-circle' about creating a vinyl reproduction of an ancient ceramic art piece. Depending on your beliefs, Dogu are thought to be representations of ancient extraterrestrial visitors, which gives them a monstrous birthright of their own, I guess.

No, I'm not going off on a tangent; there is a point to this discussion. When it was announced that Marmit would be producing a vinyl Dogu, I thought it would be incredible if Blobpus produced its sculpt in a weathered metallic/ceramic version, as a nod to its artistic roots. To my surprise, Kaji-san then actually DID release a set of a Blobpus Last Kaiju, Dokugan and Docross at Superfestival 45 in January 2008, all of which were done a rich copper base color, with a greenish 'patina' wipe. Beautiful! The only catch? They only released two pieces of each sculpt at the show. Doh!

Dokugan fans everywhere were saddened at the limited nature of this release, but rumor has it that there will be a second run of these later this year. An unsubstantiated rumor, to clarify.

Well, due to the relative unpopularity of the Last Kaiju sculpt, I was (obviously) able to land one on a Yahoo Japan auction. For the curious types, I actually know where the other one ended up as well... Rarity aside, I love this piece for what it represents (in my head, anyway), as both an acknowledgment to the 'roots' of Blobpus, and as a grown-up, weathered version of the Blobpus Cu. The Marmit Dogu should arrive soon, and then I shall be complete.

Although I thought that these six pieces had been cast in a pearl copper vinyl, the base vinyl color is actually pink. This means that these six were likely created from extra blanks from the recent Toxic Pink run of the Last Kaiju, Dokugan and flying Docross. So even if a second run is eventually released, it remains to be seen how they will be produced.

Also packed in with each 'Special Paint' version of the Last Kaiju, Dokugan or flying Docross was a clear 'rame' Berippus Gatchamon. Unlike the last two sets of Gatchamon, each show only heralds the release of a couple sculpts in this glittery vinyl. Which, depending on your viewpoint, is either preferable or infinitely more annoying than selling a limited set of fully-painted Gatchamon, and two sets of variant solid colors at a single show. If the maker is feeling particularly sadistic, however, they can use different color inserts or inner paints to create a large number of 'different' toys for us fools to collect. I speak from experience here, kids.

Blobpus Cupric:

Blobpus The Last Kaiju (special paint version):

This shot (below) from behind the left side of the Last Kaiju's head is one of my favorite views of this piece. The 'patina' wiped into the stitched fold really reminds me of weathered copper plates that were riveted together. Very steampunk, I guess (although I hate the overuse of that term). A suprising effect given the very organic nature of the sculpt, but nicely done.

The tendril in the center of this photo has had a bit of the copper paint rubbed away, revealing the bright pink vinyl underneath.

Blobpus Berippus (Gatchamon, 3rd series)

Full-size versions of all photos can be seen on my flickr set.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

[First Look] The Active Eagle.

F-15 ACTV Active Eagle, the 10th release in Volks' Advance System of Action Arms (A3) toy line, based in the Total Eclipse series.

For the first look, I just whipped the toy out of the box, posed it around and snapped a few shots. As Volks' website will show, these always come with an ample assortment of accessories (A3, yet again), but I think the proof is always in the base figure. You can only go so far with accessories and gimmicks in hiding critical flaws.

First, the bad. The trademark A-lock joints provide for an admirable amount of articulation (A3), but are pretty rubbery; I suppose the criticism is actually that the material used for the figure is too heavy for the little plastic joints. By way of example, the two legs actually slide apart when the figure stands in certain positions, owing to the flex allowed by the joints. Also, my particular figure has some kind of bum foot, the ankle of which will not pivot horizontally. In short, articulation is good, but material selection and quality control could use improvement.

I'm mixed on the paint job for the Active Eagle. The matte paint used feels a bit like the paint on the FIX Figuration Gundam toys. Not a whole lot of slop, but I can find numerous examples of paint rubbing, as you can see in the close-up photo.

The good is that the points of articulation allow for a wide range of movement; the design builds in features like swiveling and hinged hip-plates and removable leg-parts that maximize the Eagle's ability to be posed. Improved neck articulation would be a plus, however. Overall, I bought this figure based on design- the oversized knee protectors and the giant, chunky shoulders are big aesthetic turn-ons for me- and the execution seems to match up. Except the bum foot. That really bothers me.

In a compromise between loading time and photo quality, I've put up downsized images on my blog. Check out all of the photographs in full size at my flickr set.

More later with all of the accessories.