- Interlude -
Scene: Afternoon, apx. 3:30 p.m., somewhere in San Francisco
Returning back to Joe's place from a full set of meals, we're all collectively pooped. Speaking of poop, I proceed downstairs to defile the second bathroom with the remains of the day. Sweater-dog runs in from outside and promptly drops a log on the floor. Indoor pets are fun. I decide to keep my shoes on.
Gatchabert, plastichunter and I are propped on the extra-plush cushions of the couch. What we really need now is a nap. I close my eyes. Suddenly it's 5 minutes later. I am rapidly regretting my decision to wake up at 5 a.m. this morning (although I did get to pick up a cool toy from a Japanese web store as a result). But the show starts in a couple of hours and we need to get moving. Joe is still energetic, unlike the rest of us slugs. He had a Red Bull. I only had 4 cups of coffee- cups only in the measurement sense, not 4 'real' cups.
Scene: Evening, apx. 5:00 p.m., Double Punch
North Beach parking isn't as bad as they all say... maybe we just got super lucky and bagged a spot across from Double Punch. Of course, some old guy would later park 1" behind us, chat Joe up in a semi-creepy way, and crunch his bumper when releasing his brake. Welcome to parking in SF. Anyway, we were a bit early to see the gallery so Connell led the way to a coffee shop (that man never ceased to amaze me with his intricate knowledge of the city). Fancy hats on the way.
Waiting. Waiting. A little sign that says "Gallery Not Open" and my rule-abiding sensibilities are the only things holding me back from sweet, sweet toys that are about to knock me down and take my money upstairs. We mill around the tiny store floor in an anxious holding pattern. I don't buy these toys. Let me upstairs!
But all is not lost- this gives me the chance to meet another couple of Skullbrain board members: hamamaiku and jefftallica! Jefftallica made a 6 hour drive up from the southern regions of our state just to attend this show!! And I thought I really wanted to attend. I doff my hat to you sir.
Aha! Finally I see Mark Nagata and the others arrive through the front door, giant fiberglass Eyezon in arms, and make their way up to the gallery. Although I've never met Mark, I see pictures of him on the Internet so it's like we've met. For me. I always feel incredibly weird when meeting someone that I recognize from Internet photos- they, of course, have no idea what I look like because there are almost no photos of me out there. Hey there guy, I've seen you before but you haven't seen me.
Then we're given the ok, and the 4 of us that are downstairs (the gallery is small, so a quiet opening was a blessing in disguise) head up to the mezzanine level gallery of Double Punch.
The gallery is tight, but immaculate; every inch is put to use in this show. On the far left, Matt Walker is setting up for his 6 p.m. pinstriping demo, with the giant Eyezon standing above him. To his immediate left is Mark Nagata's section, with a number of customs and even some original artwork on the wall. To the right of Mark's space is the Dream Rocket table and display... oh we'll get to that in a bit. Sunguts is tucked away in the corner nook, which is perfect because his display incorporates a TV playing his original animations and a table covered in Suiko vinyls of varying hues and... positions. Finally, on the far right as you come up the stairs, you are greeted by Matt Walker's pieces.
Each and every display and piece must be photographed before the main crowd arrives. It is already a little crowded; photography will be impossible within an hour or so. The overhead spotlight setup is wreaking havoc with my pocket POS Canon (that point-and-shoot, not that other thing) which would not flash under threat of destruction, and I would later spend hours color-balancing the heck out of my photographs to make the walls not appear to be the color of old urine.
Then someone taps me on the shoulder, I turn around and HOLYCRAPIT'SYAJIMA-SAN. Omigod. The Dream Rocket guy is standing right in front of me. What do I do? My hand moves out to shake his in a long-automated gesture. I try to gibber out a little Japanese to tell him that I own a several boxes full of his toys and ask a billion very specific questions about them (fortunately Toybot had my back on that and asked for a few questions for his interview with Mr. Yajima earlier that weekend). The guys that stand in back and yell "Dream Rocket No. 1 Fan" are not helping the nerves.
More than anything else, I think he was surprised that this 'big fan' (yes, he was forewarned of my attendance) was about 20 years his junior, putting me well below the typical viewing age group for '70s tokusatsu films. In fact, he even asked me later whether I like "kaiju" or "sofubi ningyou," which confused me initially because, being only a toy collector, I consider the two nearly synonymous (like asking me if I like transforming toys or Transformers... uh, both?). I forget that there are those people that can enjoy the shows without little rubber representations of the actors. But later, I understood that he was asking whether I enjoy the kaiju genre or the sofubi toys only. "Anou...." and "Eh, to" were used liberally that night, to say that least. I always find meeting 'important' people in social settings mentally overwhelming so as long as I'm sober, with all of my clothes on afterward, I assume that it hasn't gone too badly. Only lost my socks that night.
Anyway, it is high time we talk about the toys there.
MARK NAGATA / MAX TOY CO.
The bulk of Mark Nagata's custom pieces were Max Toy original toys, such as Tripus, Eyezon, Alien Xam- but no Capt. Maxx this time.
Neo-Eyezon was present in large numbers. This is a new mini-size toy sculpted and produced by Dream Rocket and based on the Max Toy Eyezon character. I particularly like the custom done in dark green-black paint with just a bit of the red base color peeking through the cracks.
There was one Drazoran custom there- I was a bit disappointed not to see any of the production Drazorans for sale (should be some nice red Drazorans soon). Drazoran is another collaboration between Max Toy Co. and Dream Rocket- he was developed and produced by Dream Rocket based on a drawing by Mark Nagata. Very cool and easily one of my favorite newer toys.
And I would have seriously considered a purchase of either of these custom Balbagons, were it not for the artist custom Dream Rocket pieces right next door. Mark Nagata customized clear vinyl versions of this Dream Rocket toy with really subtle, yet visually-appealing paint arrangements. I believe the green one sold immediately upon opening- YOU can own the other one (right here)!
Finally met the (Ultra)man himself, too- Mark Nagata! Very unassuming and genial guy- hard to believe that he is behind amazing shows like Toy Karma, Kaiju Comrades, etc. I would have liked to talk story with him a bit more that night, but there were so many people there.
Mr. Ichimiya- whose given name I've recently learned is "Tadayoshi"- brought an amazing assortment of his Suiko character vinyls, as well as a brown Uraname. There were also larger versions of Suiko (don't know if these were vinyl), original artwork and even a small TV playing an animation featuring these characters. Suiko, I believe, is based on the kappa from Japanese mythology.
My photograph is not great, but 5 custom and 1 production XXX-La (actually pronounced "Me-me-me-La," as the 'me' katakana character looks like an 'X') adorned the back wall of Sunguts' display. These are not actually Sunguts toys, but produced by Mr. Ichimiya under another company name: Fetish Mode. XXX-La is known as the "Boob Monster" among American collectors- for reasons I'm sure you can guess. Uberboy bought one of the customs. His girlfriend has my condolences.
Wedged into the back corner, I feel, was one of the coolest toys of the night- Yulysis and the gigantic Queen Yulysis. Yulysis was originally released with Sunguts original character line, featuring a moveable inner part that could be rotated to reveal one of 3 faces. Queen Yulysis is a standard size version of the original.
These are customs made by Sunguts. They combine the heads of his "Dogs of Space" line with the Last Sunguts body.
For those of you who prefer more traditional soft vinyl toys, Sunguts brought 5 customs of Abare Kaiju Resura (Rampaging Kaiju 'Resura'/Wrestler). I have the original version, which was a collaboration with designer Ken M., and it is really fun in all senses of the word. Sunguts always has an appeal to me as one of the few soft vinyl toy companies that makes things that would be genuinely enjoyed by kids. Probably should keep them away from the Fetish Mode stuff, though.
MATT WALKER / DEAD PRESIDENTS
Matt Walker, the third (and second American) guest artist at the show, brought with him an assortment of customs from a very wide variety of artists. I was surprised to see the two custom Nakayoshi vinyls- these were immediately snapped up on opening night. Matt is developing a great sense of color arrangement and diversity on his pieces, and they continue to have a sense of polish and finesse that is very eye-catching.
I realize that I have not been the greatest supporter of the Dead Presidents releases- both here and on other Internet venues- so it was an interesting experience to meet the guy. But, and I realize I say this about everyone, he actually is a really decent guy. Matt greeted me on the stairs as I was running downstairs to fork over cash for my purchases that night. Later we got to talking about toys. To my surprise, he is actually a big Dream Rocket collector and has actually used my checklist as a resource. Damn. I hate when people tell me that. Then I feel like I need to update stuff. But it is kind of cool to have toys serve as common ground with someone that you have never met.
Well, where do I really begin with this? Basically the entire reason that I was at the show, I was told to expect 'really nice stuff' from Dream Rocket. And the offerings really went above and beyond even my high expectations (and possibly, my sense of fiscal responsibility).
At the show was a mix of unpainted toys, production toys (4 of 'em!) and a bevy of artist customs. The unpainted toys really brought a tear to my eye because I couldn't afford to buy any of them! These were a real treat for unpainted vinyl collectors and customizers alike; bargain priced at $50-60 a piece. All of these were never-before-sold versions as well: white Marnons (with 3 variant tongues), black Razor Pegimons, black Gumoz and orange Kyumaras. An unpainted black Gumoz was, however, given away as a lottery prize at a past Patchi-Summit.
Exclusive toys for the show were displayed front and center on the top shelf. Mr. Yajima chose a warm, vibrant palette of tropical colors for these pieces (perhaps to counteract the chilling SF winter outside) which remind me a bit of the fish, birds and insects found in Hawaii. Each was, of course, hand-painted by Mr. Yajima personally and he was at the top of his game in painting these (I suspect there were not many made of each). They are also dated and signed in English at the bottom (most Dream Rocket toys are not).
Production exclusives are as follows:
Pink and blue Doguma, in matte fluorescent colors. The light blue wash along the collar is a great use of the technique. Doguma is a kaiju from the '60s tokusatsu series "Kamen no Ninja Akakage" and one of my favorite toys from Dream Rocket.
Girozun, another Akakage kaiju, was my pick of the show exclusives. This is a newer sculpt which features an articulated mouthpiece to mimic its attack from the TV show. The blend of turquoise, pink, yellow and orange really make him look like a tropical wrasse (type of reef fish common in Hawaii).
Agon is done in gold and red metallics with a neon pink pattern sprayed on its back. We couldn't figure out how he did the pattern spray, as it does not have the clean edge of a masked spray. I think he does them freehand, which is amazing if true.
Finally, Ganda was painted in neon pastels, somehow reminiscent of an art piece from the late '80s. Both Ganda and Agon are Akakage kaiju, which come to think of it, was true for all 4 show exclusives. Although the sculpt is smooth, Mr. Yajima achieved a very light textured wash over its entire surface.
I really appreciate the common color theme that was applied to the show exclusives. As many of them have been repainted a number of times, you have to respect the artist that is able to continually reinvent his creations.
All of the artist customs brought by Dream Rocket were for sale. A few of them were featured in previous shows, but not offered for sale- imagine my delight to see them that night with a price tag!
Several Marnon customs were present. The grotesque detail of the sculpt seems to make it a favorite of Mr. Yajima for one-offs and show pieces... I imagine it to be a lot of fun to paint. Particularly striking was the rainbow Marnon on the new white base- the cheapest custom in the show to boot!
I was oh-so-tempted by this Razor Pegimon, done in a seamless blend of metallic colors.
This is the other piece that I ended up purchasing that night- a bit more than I intended to spend, but it would have been a lost night if I didn't go home with at least one custom from Mr. Yajima. This Gumoz caught my eye because it was earlier displayed at the "Kaiju Invade NYC" show back in April 2008! (Mr. Yajima confirmed that it was the same piece.) While the wild, multi-colored brush strokes may not be for everyone, it has a bit of crude charm to it- kind of like the cheap, traditional toys that are sold at tourist stops in Japan. I can hardly wait until the 30th, when these are sent out from the show!
Another beautiful Gumoz with glitter sprayed on its carapace.
Kyumaras (or Qumaras or Quemaras) is a chimera kaiju recently added to Dream Rocket's original character toy line.
Finally, two custom Balbagons rounded out the set of custom toys from Dream Rocket. Interesting to note that all customs were original characters, whereas the production pieces were Akakage kaiju. Maybe something to do with the licensing arrangement for the latter?
The grey Balbagon seems to be one that was displayed at Toy Karma in 2007, as I recall a grey wash Balbagon appearing in photos from that event.
This Balbagon was completely sprayed with glitter- beautiful, but the glitter does fall off a bit over time.
And that's a wrap for the toys. After saying my goodbyes to Mark, Mr. Dream Rocket, Mr. Sunguts and Matt, we headed for the car to drop a few pooped toy nerds off at their respective destinations. Right as we were about to go, Matt came running back with a toy that he pulled from the back: a custom Agon that he painted as a gift to Mr. Yajima! The clearcoat gloss and detailing on the toy (unfortunately not visible in my photo) really complement the shape of the toy. I'm frankly sort of touched that he would bring this out to show us... it was a nice personal connection on which to end the evening.
Scene: Night, apx. 10 p.m., Japantown S.F.
Eating a meal in Japantown with the crew is always the perfect end to a day. Sometimes I think I look forward to the eating more than I do the toy stuff. People move on to drink and karaoke the night away at a nearby watering hole, but I am totally spent and decide to begin the drive home. Crazy kids.
3 hours ago