Friday, November 20, 2009

[Nakajima / 中島製作所] Dinosaur Walkers

Nakajima - Triceratops (Walking)

As might be inferred from my last post on the Marusan / Marushin Toy / Marushin identity crisis, vintage dinosaur vinyls are somewhat of an obscure item. So I would have to think that mechanical dinosaur vinyls fall into that pocket of obscurity populated by things like remote-controlled Diaclone toys and the transforming train station robot (yes, you read that correctly).

Until recently, I was not even aware of the existence of Nakajima's walking dinosaur vinyls (the full company name is "Nakajima Seisakusho," or 'Nakajima Works' in the factory/production sense). Nakajima is probably better known for its production of Tiger Mask vinyls, nodders and the famous Astro-Mu toys. (See this entry on ToyboxDX for information on Nakajima's other plastic and die-cast offerings.) Almost nothing will turn up if you search for their name in reference to mechanical walkers or dinosaurs; even the websites that specialize in dinosaur vinyls do not seem to acknowledge these. Again, mechanical vinyls are not extremely popular, and less so for the non-licensed variety.

Nakajima - Triceratops (Walking)

I found this Triceratops walker while browsing the Shibuya Mandarake on a recent trip to Japan. He was easy to miss, having been relegated to the corner of a corner case, and so I noticed him on my second or third pass of the row. The price was right (read: inexpensive)- and it was one that I had never seen before- so I gestured and Engrished my way to a purchase. The salesperson helpfully offered to demonstrate the walking feature, but I thought better of testing the longevity of 40 year old mechanical components in a dimly lit store.

Finally having one of these in hand, I am a little undecided as to whether to pursue the set. There are 3 dinosaurs that I know of- the other two are the Allosaurus and Stegosaurus. All 3 appear to share the same base (i.e., only the top part changes between toy); although the toy is molded in two parts, the waist joint is fixed in place. I find the bipedal portrayal of Triceratops pretty amusing, much like another company's vinyl of a Stegosaurus that has been endowed with huge, beefy arms and sharp teeth. It's a total '70s crossover between reality and live-action shows. The paint is applied precisely to the toy, which is nice as many dinosaur vinyls were given a spray-and-pray job, being the cheaper of the cheap vinyls. The one disappointment of this Triceratops is that the feet are made of a brown plastic, where I had previously thought them to be metal. I guess they were never high-end toys, but it has a little less of a sturdy feel.

Nakajima - Triceratops (Walking)

Here you can see the Nakajima stamp and "Triceratops" name on the side of the base. Nakajima is affectionately known as "turtle mark" by collectors, due to the appearance of its logo. I do not know whether these were sold loose or boxed- as is the case with so many mechanical vinyls- but it is oddly easy to find specimens with little to no paint wear (that is, if you can find them at all).

Is it an undiscovered gem or another piece of crap that I am using to weigh down my apartment? You decide.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gumoz Updated!

Cronic x Dream Rocket - Gumoz (one-off HP 7-09)

Gumoz database has been updated to be current through November 2009!

Check it out HERE, or use the handy sidebar link.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mechs are from M.A.R.S.

Big thanks to and Monster Forge's blog for the information on these!

I can honestly say that I never considered Walgreens as a toy hunting venue, but it may be high time to reevaluate my stance on this issue. After a brunch at a nearby diner this past Sunday afternoon, I managed to convince the woman that I 'needed' to pick something up from Walgreens. I'm sure she thought I meant pharmaceuticals. (But she really ought to know better by now.) To my great luck, our tiny Walgreens somehow managed to have a full set of these guys in stock, with a 2-for-1 deal that equated me getting 9 of these guys for about $15 after tax (the other 3 are duplicates). The cashier gave me a funny look- as if there is something wrong with a grown man buying cheap-o robot toys by the armload. As if. /sassytone

M.A.R.S. Heroes (3" Series)

As you might expect, these are not Japanese trading figures, but the latest offering of Hap-P-Kid Toy Co., a Hong Kong and China based toy company, under its M.A.R.S. banner. M.A.R.S. is better known for low-end, battery-operated M.A.R.S. Robots, but recently Hap-P-Kid Toy has been experimenting with a supporting line of action figures: M.A.R.S. Heroes. These are currently sold only at Walgreens and discount retailers (e.g., Dollar General). They are not available online, anywhere, including eBay (scalpers, where are you now?).

Unfortunately, I learned too late that this is actually Series 2 of M.A.R.S. Heroes. Series 1 (which has been reviewed here and here) consisted of nine 6" figures: 3 aliens, 3 robots and 3 humans. All 9 figures were sold individually and in a boxed set. The back of the package of Series 2 hints at future support vehicles to be released for the 6" series. One can only hope that they also re-release the figures at that time.

M.A.R.S. Heroes (3" Series)

Series 2 instead consists of 6 unique 3" figures, focusing solely on robots. The 6 figures are packed in varying 3-pack assortments. Packaging for the line is actually quite nice, as the figures are placed in various action poses on a blister card. One might almost imagine that they are static figures for the price, but this is thankfully not the case. There are also 4 display bases included with each pack, although their utility is questionable as they lack the usual foot pegs to improve stability.

Ok! Now on to the toys. There are 6 unique robots in Series 2, as follows:

DARKBEAT. Probably the lead character as it is the only one with a name that is not stupid.

M.A.R.S. Heroes (3" Series)

COMA. Perhaps not the best name for an action figure.

M.A.R.S. Heroes (3" Series)

BLASTER. Better hope Hasbro doesn't hear about that one.

M.A.R.S. Heroes (3" Series)

MARTIAN. Yes, we get it. There is a Mars theme.

M.A.R.S. Heroes (3" Series)

FROSTY. Just in time for the holidays... no, no I can't do this.

M.A.R.S. Heroes (3" Series)

TANKER. I can forgive the slightly dopey name, as this figure is pure gold.

M.A.R.S. Heroes (3" Series)

So, well, the names are not exactly the most imaginative. Or even logical. It's probably best to forget that there are official names.

But truth be told, these are just such cool toys that I don't really care that they were named by people with a rudimentary grasp of English. The engineering is so simple, yet effective. One of the features common and central to the M.A.R.S. Heroes line is modular construction; although featuring somewhat less articulation than the 6" line, Series 2 utilizes ball joints in the shoulders, hips, knees and feet (but not the neck) which can be easily popped apart and reassembled. Not unlike past cult builder favorites, such as Xevoz. Compatibility with the 6" figures would have been even better, but no real complaints. The Series 2 toys also come with heaps of accessory guns, roughly 1 hand weapon per robot, and 2 back weapons that can be pegged into the left and right sides of the rear torso. These can all be exchanged among the robots.

M.A.R.S. Heroes (3" Series)

The designs may look familiar to mech aficionados, as they are well, liberally cribbed from a niche mech simulator, Arm-red C-re. The resemblance is not exact, but I'd be lying if I said that I couldn't pick out parts from the game. But this dovetails perfectly with M.A.R.S.' use of modular design. AC gave us a few action figures and sets of trading figures, but never really capitalized on the building aspect that was central to the video game. Don't get me wrong- the figures could be disassembled and recombined in theory- but it was such a painstaking, sweat-beading experience that I doubt anyone was really pulling them apart on a daily basis. M.A.R.S. simplifies the design, but also makes them really easy to build and disassemble. If they would, say, release these figures in swapped colors, they'd be kings in my book.

Materials and paint quality is really excellent for a discount brand. The plastic is a soft, heavy PVC with a pleasantly toxic smell. It is a little like the softer plastic used in vintage Japanese candy toys (e.g., Joint Robo). Out of my 9 figures, only one had a fused joint that had to be popped in the freezer to unstick. But do be careful of applying too much force to the joints when popping them together or apart. Paint applications are on par with most other mass retail toys.

My favorite out of the 6 are definitely Darkbeat, Coma and Tanker. Tanker is simply DELICIOUS and chunky with his boxy legs and gun arms. The red and light blue guys- Blaster and Martian- are a little nondescript about the torso and head. Frosty is... they can't all be winners, can they? Let's just say that the kids can keep the magic hat off this guy. In fact, burn the hat. Just to be perfectly clear, "FROSTY" IS A STUPID NAME FOR A ROBOT.

Bottom line is that these are very cheap in the modern toy market and a great value for your money. Each figure comes out to roughly $1.50. So skip that McD's combo, go hungry and get some generic, slightly bootleggy robot fun in your day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Marusan, Marushin and Marusin

Marusan and Marusin Toys both produced lines of stylized dinosaur vinyls in the 60s and 70s, respectively. Perhaps not surprisingly as a result of this, they are often confused with one another by American collectors. It certainly does not help that their names are nearly identical, differing only by a single Japanese character.

[WARNING: Boring toy nerd stuff!]

Most collectors are, no doubt, familiar with Marusan [マルサン] in some fashion; less so for Marushin and/or Marusin. Marushin is known perhaps only to a handful of niche collectors due to its unusual product mix, which could be charitably called, "eclectic." Kaiju toy collectors are often familiar with the Arklon-esque die-cast Garuban (but maybe not its gorilla-headed sibling) and the mechanized Kemlar, both produced by Marushin. To make matters more complicated, a company named Marusin Toys produced a rather substantial line of vinyl dinosaur toys in the mid-70s (around the same time period in which Marushin was active).

Originally I believed that Marushin and Marusin were synonymous, Marusin simply being a separately-adopted romanized version of Marushin. But now, I am not so certain. Besides having radically different product offerings, Marushin is consistently written as "Omocha no Marushin" [おもちゃ の マルシン] on its toys' packaging (which could roughly translate to "Marushin Toys," but they never write it that way); Marusin is written as Marusin, Marusin Toys, or Marushin Toys (seen on the header for a dinosaur vinyl), and always in English. The last permutation of Marusin is the most puzzling because it suggests that the 'Marusin' spelling was not intentional. I suspect that Marushin and Marusin Toys are distinct companies with similar names (similar to Miura and Miura Toy- which is a discussion in itself), possibly chosen to emulate the more famous Marusan name. On the other hand, certain knowledgeable toy folk seem to believe that both -shin companies were spin-offs of Marusan itself. The truth remains elusive.

So are you still with me?

Marushin - Kentrosaurus (cir. 1975)

This Kentrosaurus toy is one of the mid-size dinosaurs made by Marusin Toys. I wish I had taken a photograph of its stamp, but it simply says "Marusin" in English. The vinyl material is extremely hard and lightweight (thin); it is surprising to me that you can regularly find these with all of the spines intact.

Marushin - Kentrosaurus (cir. 1975)

Marusin dinos are sort of hit or miss in my opinion. The distinguishing characteristic of these toys is their expressive, almost cartoonish, face. Some even have little white rows of triangle teeth. A few, however, cross the line and just look downright goofy or cheap (sorry Brontosaurus- yes, it's Brontosaurus and not Apatosaurus, isn't that wonderful?), and others were saddled with horribly drab paint schemes. Kentrosaurus is one of the best of the bunch, I think, as he has a wonderful 'happy cow' face and an appetizing color arrangement that makes me think of ripening mangoes. It tickles me that anyone would even think to make a toy of Kentrosaurus.

Marusan - Norakuro dino mini (cir. 1969)

As for dinosaur vinyls, Marusan is most well-known for their 5 toys based on the 1,000,000 B.C. movie [恐竜100万年]. But this little toy is actually from Marusan's later line of vinyl toys featuring the famous animated character, Norakuro. Without getting into the details of this line or the background of Norakuro, it is sufficient for our purposes to know that these miniature dinosaur vinyls were actually accessories for the larger Norakuro toys. There are two different sculpts (including this one) and at least two color variations of each; I believe these were randomly packed with the associated character toy.

What is interesting about this mini figure is that it bears a sculptural resemblance to the original characters created for Marusan's Ultra Kaiju Series (a.k.a., Marusan originals). And in fact, both the Norakuro toys and the Ultra Kaiju toys were produced by Marusan's 3rd incarnation around 1968-69, suggesting that the same sculptor may have been responsible for both. It is truly amazing that such a detailed little toy would be generated solely for use as an accessory for another toy!

Well I hope that I have managed to thoroughly confuse you as to the source of vintage dinosaur vinyls. And as Gary Owens once said in my favorite childhood dinosaur video- "You're just scratching the surface."