Monday, March 30, 2009

Takara's Chorobo [タカラ チョロボ]

The year 1984 saw the last vestiges of the Diaclone and Microman/Microchange toyline, and the emergence of western-branded Transformers. At the same time, Choro Q- a popular line of stylized mini-cars- was enjoying a diversification into Super Robot territory. Somewhere in the mighty Takara empire, the tinder must have caught fire in the mind of a product designer (or savvy marketing type, perhaps). In a fusion of transforming robots, little cars and little robots, we were given two toys called "Chorobo," which combined the pull-back motor and kiddish styling of Choro Q with the transformation gimmick of the popular robot line.

Takara - Chorobo 01

This is Chorobo 01, which came from one of the many Mandarake storefronts in the Nakano Broadway. I bought it on sight, knowing almost nothing about the toy. I thought it was a little pricey at 2100 yen, so I didn't pick up the 02 figure, which was also for sale (stupid stupid). I'm always game for obscure transforming robots, and the fusion of Choro Q and Takara's transformation gimmick was too good to pass up.

Packaging is compact and simple. The instructions are printed on the back of the box, commonplace among cheaper toys. In particular, the package art is well done- this is always a treat when buying vintage toys since most modern companies will substitute CG art or toy photos for actual hand-drawn artwork on toy packaging. Note the parallels to G1 Transformer artwork in the stance and style of the drawing (more on this later).

Takara - Chorobo 01

The era of delicious styrofoam inserts. No crappy, finger-cutty plastic trays for 1984 Japan. Mini toys were still sold in full boxes in Japan (e.g., Microchange cars, Transformer Minibots) well into the late 80s.

Takara - Chorobo 01

Foil paper decals (oh god, yes) unapplied. Note the Diaclone-esque "Chorobo" logos. They kind of stopped this practice with Transformers, presumably because of the "robots in disguise" thing. Which one is Optimus? Maybe it's the one with "AUTOBOTS" written on the trailer. Naaaaah.

...although if they really wanted to be 'in disguise,' shouldn't they have all been beige Toyota Corollas, and not million dollar supercars? I wonder about these things.

Takara - Chorobo 01

Takara - Chorobo 01

Chorobo 01 is packed in its jet form, probably for good reason. It is a Choro Q styled Harrier GR-3 fighter plane. This model of plane, more properly called the Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR-3, was heavily used by the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force (hence the RAF insignia on wings). The toy does a fairly good job of capturing the main features, particularly the enormous forward intakes. Rear wheels equipped with a pull-back motor feature are hidden under the body of the plane.

Takara - Chorobo 01

Transformation of the plane to robot mode is simple, but nerve-wracking. I've put up a lazy mid-transformation photo to give you a general idea. The legs need to be pulled out on thin metal rods to allow them to the clear the body when being folded down in robot mode. This can put a lot of stress on a very small point, and I'm sure that a good number of these were broken by impatient child-hands. I honestly feel like I am going to break it every time I transform the toy.

Takara - Chorobo 01

So here's the robot mode. Not much to look at these days, I guess, but it was pretty damn good for its time. Chorobo 01 is on par or better than most small transforming robot toys of the day, especially when you consider that the Choro Q motor had to be figured into the design. Discernible head, arms and legs are pretty much a bonus in the early 80s era of robot toy design. As someone has noted, he is apparently quite well-endowed.

Takara - Chorobo 01

Later pull-back-and-go Transformers (Throttlebots, I'm looking at you) became pretty crude. Most times, there was only a passing suggestion of things like arms and hands. This one even has little hands sculpted on to the arms. Nice touch.

Takara - Chorobo 01

I particularly like the head sculpt. The whole toy is only a touch larger than the Transformer Minibots, so there is quite a bit of detail packed into something about the size of a pencil eraser. The head has a very combat-oriented feeling- appropriate to the design.

Takara - Chorobo 01

Several times throughout this write-up, I've mentioned similarities between the Chorobos and Transformer Minibots. The reason for this is that I find it puzzling that Takara would create an entirely new line, blending Choro Q and Microchange engineering, and then promptly can the endeavor after only two toys (the other is a F-15 Eagle). The shared features with Transformer Minibots make it even stranger, since Chorobo probably could have been easily wrapped into the Transformers toyline.

I have to chalk it up to a poorly timed release. Chorobo was likely intended to be a tie-in with the Microchange vehicles (note that Microchange consisted entirely of land vehicles, while both Chorobos are planes); unfortunately, it was introduced as Diaclone and Microman were being phased out, and was probably caught in the resultant whirlpool. I am going to go out on a limb and guess that distribution was probably pretty limited as well. If they had been produced a year later (Transformers began in Japan in 1985, not 1984), you can almost bet that they would have been "Transformers" and made successful by association.

This is purely speculation, since it could have been the case that Chorobo was scrapped due to incompatibility with other Choro Q toys. But it is interesting to wonder what might have happened had a few key decisions been made differently at Takara HQ. Maybe Twin Twist and Top Spin would have been small planes with pull-back motors. But then I doubt we would have this review.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Some assembly required

Too big for the Big Mac? Do you enjoy both chicken AND beef? May I present for your visual consumption, the Ubermac.


Making the Ubermac is simple- and inexpensive! Just purchase a Double Cheeseburger and a McChicken at your local McDonalds (both were on the $1 menu, and are now on the $3 meal menu). Once you have exchanged money for your goods and services, proceed directly to the nearest table (or drive home if you feel shame in your excess) and unwrap your two new friends. Normally, each of these sandwiches is a pretty mundane article, but- much like jello and inflatable pools- together, they become something wonderful.

Tear apart the Double Cheeseburger between the two patties, exposing that layer of pasty cheese-ish stuff and ketchup. Slide the McChicken tenderly in between the two meat folds, and close it up. The Ubermac is born. Do not be alarmed if smaller objects are attracted by its gravitational pull.

Besides being delicious, the Ubermac is also numerically superior to the Big Mac. McDonald's nutrition webpage shows the calorie count of a Big Mac as a wimpy 540 calories, with 29 grams of fat; an Ubermac has a combined total of 800 calories and 35 grams of fat. Perfect for when you only have time or money for one meal per day. Long nap afterward is optional.

Credits to for the original idea. Personal reference omitted to protect the gluttonous.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dream Rocket Gumoz!

Finished up the Gumoz database tonight... whew! This is one of the oldest Dream Rocket designs, so it was pretty difficult tracking down information on the original releases.

Click on the link above to check it out. Hope you find it interesting!

These databases will always be linked on the bottom right menu for easy reference.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The rain is gone

EDIT 3/22/09: The title of this post is now ironic, because it rained really hard last night.

I was recently hooked up with some very cool CLEAR vinyls by a couple of great people...

Dream Rocket - Balbagon

Balbagon [バルバゴン] by Dream Rocket [ドリームロケット]! Yajima-san must like green, because there has been an abundance of clear neon green releases as of late. And that's ok with me, because I love green!

Dream Rocket - Balbagon

Dream Rocket - Balbagon

This Balbagon was released at Hobby Complex 06 in December 2008. An awesome painted version (also in clear green) was also sold at that show, and featured a new paint wash technique that really brings out the texture on this sculpt. These two toys, plus a new GID base yellow Balbagon, were sold (and sold out) on Dream Rocket's website tonight. I missed the yellow one!

Nakayoshi - Bengal (Fall Patchi-Summit 2008, lottery prize)

And in the other corner, there is Bengal [ベンガル] by Nakayoshi [なかよし]! It seems as though Nakayoshi has been experimenting with clear vinyl because this the first clear piece that I have seen from them.

Nakayoshi - Bengal (2008 Fall Patchi-Summit, lottery prize)

Bengal is Nakayoshi's latest original kaiju, and has been sold in elusively small quantities at various Japan toy shows. This clear version was given away as a lottery prize at a Patchi-Summit in November 2008. How did I get it? Hmmmm.. ;)

Size compare

This guy is a lot smaller than I thought he would be (some of the Ultra kaiju previously sold by Nakayoshi are enormous). But that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Nakayoshi - Bengal (Fall Patchi-Summit 2008, lottery prize)

Nakayoshi's clear vinyl is very thick and pliable- about the closest to Gargamel vinyl that I have seen yet. It also brings out some of the more interesting textures in the sculpt... check it out- just like the Hexalite inserts in Reeboks!

Keep your eyes on the bottom right menu. I am working on the next installment of the Dream Rocket database, featuring Gumoz. This is my favorite Dream Rocket kaiju, so I'll be sure to do my best.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Super Sized Hits Japan.

Happy pudding.

As Japan has always been a culture of moderate consumption in my mind, I was sort of appalled to find this behemoth on the refrigerated shelves of a Family Mart on a recent visit. The item on the right is not a drink, but a 480g cup of egg pudding. That is over 1 pound of pudding.

And I ate it all. By myself. In my defense, they only gave me one spoon. Obviously not meant to be shared.

The apple water on the left is quite good- sort of tart, but refreshing.


Nezrange - Mini Borugogon

Nezrange is a Japan toymaker who, in mid-2008, began producing soft vinyl toys of an unusual original kaiju, Borugogon. The oddness of the character is not its name (which may be onomatopoetic) but the concept and design of the toy.

Nezrage - Borugogon

Borugogon [花岩獣ボルゴゴン], whose full name translates out to something like "flower-rock-beast Borugogon," is built in two parts: an outer shell, and an inner rock monster. According to Nezrange's blog posts, the rock monster is the true form of Borugogon; the outer shell is supposed to represent the grass and other small vegetation used by Borugogon to disguise itself. The inner toy also has a gem in the center of its chest, which appears to be a removable piece. According to the blog, chipping pieces off the gem can allow Borugogon to multiply. I guess it is an asexual kaiju.

Nezrange's blog states that the monster can be found in sizes ranging from, well, toy-sized (10 cm / 500 g) to mountain-sized, although the latter are a rarity. Pretty creative way to explain the existence of a mini-sized toy. The ones pictured are all minis. Maybe if I whack them against the table enough, I'll get a big one someday.

Nezrange - Mini Borugogon

Borugogon is currently only sold through Monstock, which means that, yep, they're pretty darn hard to find. The Borugogons pictured did not come from Monstock, but the shop staff seemed surprised that I was buying them. They also had a ton of Destdons sitting on the shelf, so who knows how popular any of these things are in Japan. Regardless, I think they are a pretty creative concept with a distinctly Japanese aesthetic.

And in conclusion, it is possible to talk at length about these toys without using the words "Fry Guys."

Friday, March 13, 2009

[Denjin & Inspire] Soft Vinyl Underground.


Gundam vinyls not made by Bandai or Banpresto? Yup.

Although relatively unknown and exceedingly difficult to find, there are a few soft vinyl toys of Gundam design produced by small 'underground' companies, much in the way of neo-kaiju and fight figure vinyls. Both of these are licensed articles (as evidenced by the silver sticker on the header), probably produced and sold under a one-day license at a hobby show, such as C3xHobby or Wonderfestival.

The round, green item on the left is none other than that stumpy Hygogg-child, AMX-109 Kapool (Turn A version)... ready for some amphibious bathtub combat. Produced by Inspire a few years ago, the header orders you to, "Ofuro de Asobou! [Play with it in your bathtub!]" I've seen an unpainted aqua version of the Kapool, as well as a transformed Mermaid Gundam- perhaps there are others in this series... This must be one of the first produced, as the header is just plain paper with b/w text where the others were more elaborate and in color.

On the right, we have a rather large-ish sofubi of MS-05B Zaku I. This one was produced in 2002 by a mysterious company named Denjin and/or "D". There's almost no information about this company on the web. They have been steadily producing these each year at C3, and the lineup includes the Zaku II, Dom, Zugok, Gelgoog, Gelgoog Cannon, GM and Gundam (and all the distinctive color combinations that they entail). These are standard size vinyls, and stand about 9-10" tall.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

[RxH] The Real Face of New Head.

On my recent trip to Japan, I was fortunate to have the time to visit Shintou Gangu [真頭玩具] in Aoto, Katsushika-ku. For the uninitiated, Shintou Gangu is the storefront for Katsura Mori's line of vinyl toys, Real x Head [リアルヘッド]. The shop opened its doors in early 2008, and serves as both a release location for new RxH and a veritable museum of past releases.

[3/5/09] Shinto Gangu

Owing perhaps to Katsura-san's daytime obligations, Shintou Gangu is open only from 6-9 pm on most weeknights (weekend hours may vary). It's about an hour roundtrip from central Tokyo, assuming that you do not get lost along the way. Aoto is a train stop on the Keisei local line; you will most likely transfer to Keisei from the JR system at Nippori station. Take the exit to your left when leaving the station and turn left at that exit, follow the tracks until you see a 7-11 down the street to your left. If you follow that street, you will eventually come to Shintou Gangu. Although undoubtedly quieter at night, the Aoto area is an area that would be aptly described with words like "charming" and "quaint"- it has the feeling of Tokyo, circa 20 years ago. I think we passed the local mom-and-pop butcher shop along the way to the store.

[3/5/09] Shinto Gangu

Shintou Gangu is not a large location, but it is spacious enough to be a welcome change from the claustrophobic shopping experiences of Nakano and Akihabara. There were two other guys (men in their 30s- OTAKU!) in the store when I arrived. We all did a dance around each other to check out the various things in the cases. You know the browsing dance if you have gone toy shopping in a Mandarake. To the left are the 'vintage' cases, with primarily old releases and prototypes. To the right are the items for sale and recently sold. For some unexplained reason, there is a small sink in the corner. It, too, is covered in toys.

The case of new stuff (mini case to the left as well). To my sadness, the mini Thunder Ragoon was already gone. But I did buy the slime green Hone Borg [モヒカン・ホネボーグ1号], which I really really wanted. Getto!

[3/5/09] Shinto Gangu

[3/5/09] Shinto Gangu

[3/5/09] Shinto Gangu

[3/5/09] Shinto Gangu

[3/5/09] Shinto Gangu

This neat clear, glittery Ghost Sider [ゴーストサイダー] was in the corner of a case. Ghost Sider is a collaboration between RxH and a friend. I wonder if this will pave the way for glittery RxH...

[3/5/09] Shinto Gangu

I should have paid more attention to the 'vintage' case, but I did see this new gold Bigaroid [モビル獣ビガロイド]. Tanomu, Katsura-san!

[3/5/09] Shinto Gangu

Still can't remember this lil' guy's name, but he sure is creepy. Maybe he'll be in the other corner when you turn the lights on in the morning.

[3/5/09] Shinto Gangu

And, yes... he did take the time to snap a photo with a fan. Someone call Kumon- their sign escaped again!

[3/5/09] Shinto Gangu

Shinto Gangu is a toy store, but there is so much more to that place than just things for sale. Perhaps it is the heady bouquet of vinyl fumes in the little glass box, but you leave with the distinct impression that this is a place where one man is making his dreams come true. There is no fashion tie-in or fine art aspiration in RxH. I think it was the Ninja Turtle and Star Wars toys piled on top of a case that really brought this home. These are simply toys- sure you might not give them to your kids at 3800 yen a pop, but there is no ultra-pricey, handpainted artsy stuff being handed down at Shintou Gangu. Nope. Just toys.

Real x Head - Mutant Head (Yellow Cap)

So I also bought one of these yellow-capped Mutant Heads [ミュータントヘッド]. These seem to be the ugly ducklings of recent releases, which may or may not be telling, now that the frenzy has died down. To be honest, I did not care for the recent RxH toys that used paint masking (as opposed to freehand sprays). I think you need to mentally remove them from the realm of 'traditional' new vinyl (oxymoron not intended) to enjoy what is going on here. Think of the toys that debuted in the late 80s and early 90s with outlandish colors and themes. Most times you will find these with the familiar price-slashed Kaybees tags still stuck to the cardback- evidence that they were ignored by all of us kids back then. But that has made them interesting collector's pieces, for better or worse.

Real x Head - Mutant Head (Yellow Cap)

Every great toy line goes through a period of renewal and transition. Transformers had neon-hued European exclusives and Gen 2, before finding a new footing in Armada. Likewise, Ninja Turtles had a few lesser known Metal and Super Turtle lines before it was reinvented in the early 2000s. Assuming that this is all still around 20, 30 years down the road, I think these releases will occupy a special place in collections because of their current unpopularity. But that is the cynical adult collector in me speaking. You should just enjoy the toys.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

[Amapro] New Wave Vinyl Begins.

Amapro - Armor Jack

Way, way before new wave J-vinyl was given its own showcase in Mandarake, there was a quirky toy company called Amapro [アマプロ] and its original tokusatsu hero, Armor Jack [アーマージャック]. This hero's debut came in a 1996 2 minute 40 second promotional film, in which Armor Jack (imagine a blend of Godman and Megaloman) is pitted against (and kills) two monsters. Although there was concern over the viability of the Armor Jack concept, Core Magazine picked up on the two-sworded hero and sponsored production of VCD episodes. From 1997 through 2001, 13 episodes were released in total.

Amapro - Armor Jack & Co.

Showing perhaps incredible foresight, Amapro released a set of bagged vinyl figures in connection with the short movies. Armor Jack and his opponents, Rarigonika [ラリゴニカ] and Naruton [凶悪怪獣ナルトン], were featured in the lineup. Each came bagged with a cardboard backing and attached bromide (4 types in total). A Medicom RAH-style Armor Jack toy would eventually be released as well. I would guess that these first figures were released in the late 90s or early 2000s at latest- probably making them contemporaries of the legendary Fink Shit fight figure. Unfortunately, they have become quite difficult to find, and it was only through a stroke of luck that I found these for sale.

This video, found on Youtube from user 3bainoakaihito, is probably some or all of the original 2' 40" footage from Armor Jack's debut. Totsugeki! Armor Jack!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

[DAGURA!] The Returner.

Ikebukuro Sunshine City Prince Hotel [3/4/09]

So I find myself again in the heart of the bustling metropolitan machine that is Tokyo. It always strikes me as amazing- even as a return visitor many times over- that there can be such a volume of people and machines and buildings folded into such a compact area. But the result is not squalor, as surely as would happen if a similar situation were to be found in the U.S. Instead, the feeling is as though each person, delivery truck, apartment building and street lamp is part of an intricate construction, like the circuit board of an immense electronic device. I guess we are the particles of dust on the circuit board.

Some observations on the way here.

- Early airport shuttles are the worst. My driver arrived 20 mins. late yesterday morning (5 a.m.) while it was raining. What blew me away is that he actually complained that I was not out there 10 minutes ago, because he was "just up the street and calling my phone." Ok. One, I most certainly was out there waiting for his tardy self 10 minutes ago- as I had been for the 15 minutes before that. I'm sorry if I can't stand in the rain waiting for you. Two, it was raining. Does he expect me to walk up and down the street searching for the van? I think the way it works is that YOU find ME, my friend. I regret paying tip in advance.

- Next time I'm going to go through customs with a shirt that says "ME AMERICAN." They keep trying to get me to go through the domestic arrivals line.

- Why do Japanese office buildings have gigantic, non-reflective windows? I feel like I'm looking into an ant colony when we pass them on the freeway. Strangely, the residential buildings generally have very tiny windows in comparison.

- As one sign read: "Family Mart / TOBACCO AND LIQUOR." Come on kids- Daddy's gonna git loaded!

Ikebukuro Sunshine City Prince Hotel [3/5/09]

I have a direct line of sight to Mt. Fuji. Fantastic.

More later.