I suspect toys are not the first thing to come to mind when presented with this question. I am speaking, however, of bootleg toys. While quite commonplace in collecting vintage toys, they are still something of a rarity in modern vinyl. That is not to say that people haven't tried...
So what do you think of these Gargamel fight figures (Gargamess)?
If you're familiar with their lineup, you know that these are two colors that were never officially produced. Meaning... these are either super-rare test shots or dyed clear "Invisible" Gargamesses jerk bootlegs. Either is within the realm of possibility. Making them possibly the best lucky bags ever, slews of one-off paints and test shot pieces were packed into the 2006 Gargamel Lucky Bags. Hell, there's still stuff popping up from 3 (and a half) years ago that we've never seen before. But there is also a technique to color vinyl, involving a long bath in a boiling pot of dye material. I can't speak from firsthand experience as to the quality of color that can be achieved by this method, but it seems produce fairly good results. A couple of Gargamel experts that saw photos of these guys seemed to think they were dye jobs. Gargamel hasn't returned my calls. (Kidding.)
The vinyl feels pretty smooth and clean, and the color is even throughout. Even if dye jobs are hard to detect, I really don't feel like these were thrown into a vat of boiling color and reassembled. Some of the arms are loose which might suggest disassemblage. I guess there's one way to tell- just cut the vinyl apart.
Well real or no real, the colors are pretty and they'll be a pleasant enigma until I drag these in front of the Gargamel guys and cry like a baby when they tell me they're fake. But I'm about 75% sure they're real, given the circumstances under which they were purchased. If not, there's a bunch of jerks out there that I don't like anymore.
SPOOKY PARADE's Bun Bun (or Ban Ban [バンバン], if you will) is the company's first foray into the world of vinyl toys under the Nutty Kitchen line. They are affiliated with the well-known Pop Soda group (also of Osaka) and gained a limited recognition through their resin figures sold at various shows in Japan, particularly the Madball-esque "Spooky Balls." As their blog reflects, SPOOKY PARADE products are heavily influenced by late-80s and 90s U.S. pop memorabilia.
Growing up during this time, bugs, slime and aliens were an integral part of gross-out kid culture. I remember slime expulsion (or replication thereof) and barfing projectiles being particularly common action features on toys. Over time, this was downgraded to "shoots water" and "changes color," and today I guess we're lucky if toys do much of anything other than stand there and attempt not to incite a frivolous lawsuit. I'm not sure what life skill is associated with learning not to lick your fingers after playing with toy ooze, but I have no doubt that it is an important one.
Bun Bun really does not strike me as something that I would normally collect. It is a little too cute for the hardcore dinosaurs and mutants in my display case. But it does an honest job of capturing the feeling of the 'gross toys' of yesterday. The colors, in particular, bring to mind the fluorescent packages of 90s toy aisles, each attempting to visually out-scream the other toys. Sculpting is sharp for a cartoonish sort of toy- I like the crisp detail of the sesame seeds and ruptures in the bread, as if the eye stalks are busting through the bun. Although next time maybe they can wait until the paint dries before dropping the toy in the bag (note the funked up eye on my Bunny).
It's a happy trip down memory aisle (this would be the one between the Barbies and the Lego sets) with Bun Bun, as I shed a slimy tear for imagination lost.
I hardly write about RealxHead on this blog it seems, even though I would count it among my favorite vinyl toy lines. Toward the end of 2007 and through 2008, RxH experienced a meteoric rise in popularity; almost every new toy sold out instantly and older releases began selling for hundreds of dollars. I think it was this craze that led to the absence of RxH on, er, RxM!. There was really nothing left to say.
I won't go into much detail on the "bubble" and its deflation, since I think this has been dissected to pieces on various message boards. But Mr. Katsura has since taken an interesting tactic, by mixing up old and new sculpts, and in-store and regular releases. He also used the recently popular mini-size figures to explore new sculpts, creating the Kaikya Series, consisting of 6 new, mini-style characters that had never been produced as regular size toys. There has certainly been a fresh and exciting feeling to RealxHead as of late. So while the craze may be over, I think the reinvention has begun.
This bubble-vinyl Fighter Chaos [ファイターカオス] was sold recently at Shinto Gangu. I've heard that the bubbles are either the result of using old vinyl material or stirring the liquid vinyl during production... I'm not sure which is the truth. People don't seem too crazy about this one, but I think the light spray of bright colors on bubble vinyl is perfect. It reminds me of a summer festival in Japan.
This one originally came with a black kerchief around its neck, but I left it off. It was too much of a contrast with the colors.
The golden figure, I have been told, is supposed to reference Japanese Haniwa clay figures. One product listing called them the "Training Man" sculpt, so I'm not 100% about that. I feel like I have heard about similar wooden dummies used for combat training in Japan, but can't find a reference. At any rate, his name is Rodriguez.
Last up today is Evilbat [イビルバット], who is the newest addition to the RxH cast in Mutant Zone Series 3. Inside sources say that he represents Mutant Evil after his absorption of villain Ohgan Bat's life essence. Evilbat was preceded by the Akrokaiser-possessed Mutant Head (Kaiser Head), so perhaps this is a move by Evil to counter the combined power of Akrokaiser and Mutant Head. Good thing Akrokaiser and Ohgan Bat did not combine... or you would have an Akro-Bat. (Wah waaaah.)
This version of Evilbat is the so-called prototype release, even though there are a few of them in circulation. The bright orange-red vinyl is almost too bright to photograph properly. It's a little larger than the standard RxH figure, and feels somewhat heavier as well.
The hook arm is, unfortunately, not articulated as is the Chaos-style arm. This was slightly disappointing, since it would be interesting to be able to change its angle. It's kind of lumpy and, well, not my favorite part of the sculpt.
There were also a few unpainted early versions of Kaiser Head. It would be great if I could find one to pair with this guy.
Well well, I do believe it's just about time for my monthly blog post. I really do think of this blog as more of a periodical than a daily journal. It's like a magazine with one author, one article, no editing and zero production value.
Anyhow, you all may remember a recent post where I lamented my failure to purchase the second half of a pair of tiny transforming robots. Well not long after that someone wrote to me, offering to send me said second robot if I would just pay the cost of shipping! Now how could I say no to that? He even threw something else cool in the box (to be revealed later!) just because I mentioned it while we were e-mailing about toys. So, despite what I may say, there are still nice and generous people in the world. And as a showing of appreciation, I made certain to deliver an extremely tardy write-up, letting the photos ripen in my hard drive as one might a delicious peach. Let it never be said that Robot Loves Monster was made in a day.
So today we revisit the small world of Takara's Chorobo toys. As my original post was rather lengthy, I'll try to do this with minimal repetition.
Chorobo was a strange 1980s fusion of Diaclone/Microman and Choro-Q by Takara, involving small Diaclone-ish robots implanted with a pull-back motor adapted from Choro-Q cars. Datestamped '1984,' they technically predate Transformers in Japan (which were, however, essentially repackaged Diaclone and Microman toys from 1983). Chorobo ended abruptly after only two toy releases, descriptively named Chorobo 01 and Chorobo 02. I can't help but imagine that there was more intended for these diminutive hybrids, but perhaps this is a fantasy brought on by the endless stream of repaints indulged in by toy companies of the present day.
Chorobo 02 is largely the same as 01 in terms of packaging. Two things, however, deserve further discussion. First, Takara produced the box for 02 in mirror image of the 01 box. This has great visual impact when the boxes are displayed next to one another. Second, Takara even went so far as to have copy written for the side of the box detailing various statistics and abilities of Chorobo 02:
*Note: I think these are 'joke' measurement abbreviations, the "Q" referring to Choro-Q.
The product sample used for the box photo is also slightly different from the production version. As the Transformers would prove, certainly Takara was no stranger to non-existent products appearing on package art.
As Chorobo 01 featured the compact British Harrier GR-3, Chorobo 02 takes the form of the iconic American F-15[E] [Strike] Eagle. Ah, the innocent days before licensing complications turned every F-15E into a "fighter jet" and every Ferrari into a "supercar." In the world of 1980s toys, the F-15 and F-14 were the flying machines of choice in the transforming robot and action vehicle genres. Transformers had the F-15 in multiples- Starscream, Thundercracker, Skywarp, etc. etc. Gobots had Leader-1, also an F-15. I know very little about G.I. Joe toys, but I feel fairly confident extending this generalization to them as well. As further proof that Japan really can make anything cute, Takara took all of the screaming, missile-laden awesome of the F-15E... and condensed it down into this chubby widdle guy.
I learned while writing this post that F-15Es are still in service (I don't know anything about these, ok? I had to do research.), meaning that this toy can still be relevant to children today. No awkward moment where your child transforms the toy, only to end up with a box with wheels that was discontinued 20 years ago... in Japan. No, son, it's a Chevy Vanette.
The transformation to robot mode is again pretty unique among transforming jets. Wisely, Takara ditched those nerve-wracking pin joints of Chorobo 01 in favor of legs that slide out on plastic rails. The face is just the hidden portion of the center cockpit segment (it rotates to reveal the face). Finally, raise the arms, flip the wing tips around to reveal the hands, and that's it! The hands are a really weird touch that fills me with inappropriate delight. You realize that the engineers really could have taken an easier way out with this one, but no, they went the extra mile and sculpted tiny fists on to tiny, pivoting wing tips.
But man, is this guy short! Chorobo 01 absolutely dwarfs 02, which is kind of amazing when you consider that they transform into virtually identical vehicle shapes. Unlike 01, unfortunately, 02 looks mostly like a jet standing on its hind legs. It's not as much of a transforming faux pas as, say, those vehicles that have their entire robot mode stamped on their undercarriage, but y'know throw us a rotating wing or something. When a primary engineering constraint is the enormous brick motor strapped to the toy, you can't get too picky I suppose.
More troubling, perhaps, is their lack of individual names. Chorobo 01 and Chorobo 02... I mean, geez guys. Did the raw materials at the imagination factory run out after you came up with the fake Q measurements? There are no 'tech specs' to provide differentiating personalities, or even names to hint at such personalities. How are we supposed to begin to play with these? How will they fit in with the other robots in our toy boxes?? Are they good or bad? Do they enjoy flying or are they secretly afraid of heights? Are they sentient or are there tiny humanoids riding inside of their heads (or are there only cockpits, but no drivers)? I suspect that this would have mattered little to me as a child, because every toy other than my favorite characters ultimately ended up as cannon fodder and a contorted pile of limbs in some epic Wildman-esque battle or other.
While I've surely beaten this point to death by now, there was a lot of work put into two toys that would be both the beginning and end of their line. Maybe there was more intended for Chorobo. Or maybe this was just lavish 80s toymaking at its height (before every new toy had to be repainted into oblivion, gripe gripe). In any event, whether you are a Choro-Q, Diaclone, Transformer or model airplane collector, these are worth picking up if you happen across them. They are both interesting as a historical enigma and immensely charming without being childish; proof that an good toy does not need 36 points of articulation.
All names, images, depictions and other references to works that are not the property of the author of Robot Loves Monster! are used solely herein for educational and commentary purposes. It is intended that all rights to such items remain with their respective current owners. All rights to the content of Robot Loves Monster! are otherwise reserved to the author.