Saturday, December 5, 2009

[RealxHead / リアルヘッド] Mutant Head (ミュータントヘッド)


Real x Head - Mutant Head (Yellow Caps)


Today we feature the real Head of RealxHead: Mutant Head! Although my collection is less heady (har) than I would like, there will be many interesting words for you to digest.

As with past RxH characters featured here, Mutant Head [ミュータントヘッド] is an original hero created by Mori Katsura of RealxHead. Debuting in June 2004 at the 18th World Character Convention (WCC), Mutant Head was the first character to grace a now-impressive lineup of Mutant Zone toys. Many, however, forget that Mutant Head is not the first toy from RxH- the Oni Head had in fact seen its first release over half a year prior in November 2003. Stylistically, the Mutant Head was a huge departure from Oni Head, which feels more like a mascot figure influenced by pop and street culture (similar to other Japanese vinyls of the day). Mutant Head, in contrast, is 'all toy,' which may account for its broad popularity among toy collectors from extremely varied backgrounds.


RealxHead - Mutant Head

Being the seminal release for the Mutant Zone line, Mutant Head has an origin story fit for a card back. You see, Mutant Head is but one of a race of mutants that live alongside humans on Earth. We cannot see these mutants because they are normally invisible to us; however, they often cause accidents and unexplained phenomena when we disturb their homes through construction, foresting and other activities detrimental to the environment. The mutants are fighting back and are led by the warlord Akrokaiser. Mutant Head was injured in one such battle and lost his invisibility, causing him to be discovered by a child. When the child nursed him back to health, he realized that not all humans were greedy and destructive; thereafter, Mutant Head pledged to bring peace between the mutants and humans. Not all mutants shared his views, however, and Mutant Head quickly found himself at odds with Akrokaiser and his troops. An evil twin of Mutant Head- Clone Mutant Evil- was created by Akrokaiser to destroy the traitor. In their clash, the two severely wounded one another, leading to Mutant Head's torn ear and Mutant Evil's scarred face. NY-based artist, Lamour Supreme, even teamed up with Mori Katsura to produce a figure and artwork set to commemorate this vicious fight; the figures were sold in both 'bloodied' and 'clean' versions.

The design of Mutant Head draws from both western and Japanese influences. It is well known that Mori is a huge fan of those turtles of the ninja variety, and the design parallels in Mutant Head are apparent. The squat proportions of the mutant body and three-fingered hands are also taken from a vintage S-ar Wars Y-da toy. What you may not know, however, is that the head of Mutant Head is based upon an antique bird-type Tengu mask. So if you've ever thought that his head looks like a helmet or mask, now you know the reason.

So enough jibber-jabber. Let's see some Head.



MH-L01, Feb. 2005

RxH - Mutant Head (MH-L01 7-04)

RxH - Mutant Head (MH-L01 7-04)

Getting closer to the beginning (MH-01), this is a pretty good consolation prize.

This Mutant Head was the very first 'limited' RxH toy to be produced. It was sold in July 2004 at a store called "Toybox Hoop," which has likely since gone out of business (no web address to be easily-found, at least).

Mutant Heads are peculiar in that there are a very large number of limited MH releases in comparison to the other figures. Many of them are very similar in appearance, and nearly all are virtually impossible to track down (in fact, this one was not even available to be photographed in the Super7 Mook!). I suspect that Mori was simply experimenting with various color arrangements on airbrushed toys (the Oni-Heads were primarily paint-masked, with the exception of one) without really intending to make a limited offering.

MH-L01 is simply a painted version of the unpainted MH-01- and the paint style is nearly identical to the blue MH-06. It's very cool as a historic piece, but I'm not sure if I would buy it as a normal release.



MH-04, Feb. 2005

RxH - Mutant Head (MH-04)

Mutant Head MH-04* is probably the oldest RxH toy in my collection, being first sold in February 2005 [EDIT: 11/14/2010, beat out by MH-L01]. The paint work is simply exquisite, combining carefully controlled metallic purples and blues over the green spray. And the bright yellow vinyl with green paint is nicely offset with the red eye color. There is nothing that I do not like about this toy. Not to say that I do not like the current RxH releases, but there is no comparison to the original RxH pieces in terms of quality. Part of the reason, I suspect, is that the master painter today has to produce maybe 50 or so toys for each release (and maybe multiply that by 3-4 releases at a time), whereas back in 2004-05 he would make 20 or less of one or two figures. Production numbers seem to factor heavily into the quality of the finished product- which is perfectly understandable as the painters are people, not machines.

Of course, for those of you not willing to trade limbs and digits for the original (as I did), MH-04 was reissued in November 2009. The differences between the reissue and original include (1) different yellow vinyl color, (2) painted belt, (3) painted wrist bands, and (4) darker green paint on the torso and limbs, seemingly without the metallic blue found on the original. There were not many of these made, and I have not seen many sold after the initial release. The painted belt and wristlets are an improvement in my opinion (although many may disagree).



MH-13, Apr. 2006

RxH - Mutant Head (MH-13)

Another stellar version from 'back in the day,' this Mutant Head (MH-13) was sold at the third Patchi-Summit in April 2006. This is a very unlikely color scheme, and not one that I would imagine as attractive if described on paper. Hot magenta. Lemon yellow. Sky blue. But it is an immediately memorable look.

Mori did some of his most daring work with the original RxH runs, see also the orange Bigaro twins. Toy makers seem to hedge their bets a lot these days with crazy rainbow paints and homage versions- guaranteed sellers- so I think a few risks would not be unwelcome.

And hey, this was given to me as a gift! Thank you!!



MH-14, June 2006

RxH - Mutant Head (MH-14)

This Mutant Head (MH-14) was sold at the 22nd WCC in June 2006. It was intended to be a partner piece to the MC-08 Mutant Chaos, which was sold separately at the same event. Both toys are colored to match a certain little plastic bottle of white, Ramune-flavored candy balls that has been a fixture in the candy aisle of Japanese shops for years. As such, these two have become popularly known as the 'Ramune set.'



Shinto Gangu secret release, Feb. 2008

RxH - Mutant Head (2-08 store release)

In February 2008, we saw the return of Mr. Mori's magical bubble vinyl in this Mutant Head, sold exclusively to walk-in customers at the brand spankin' new Shinto Gangu store. By anecdotal account, these were sold for slightly above normal RxH retail and in lower than usual numbers (perhaps becoming the first of many 'store' releases). Bubble vinyl was a rare sight at the time (the only preceding examples being the exceedingly rare bubble Chaoses from 2006), so you can imagine the overwhelming demand for this version.

Bubble vinyl is a trick unique to the RxH playbook, and perhaps for that reason, little is publicly known about the process. The original technique was allegedly devised as a way to 'recycle' old vinyl material, which would normally produce an unusable product due to bubbles trapped in the vinyl. This may have been the problem with Rumble Monsters' Snow Pharaos. RxH somehow engineered this defect into a production technique that would produce vinyl with small, evenly-distributed bubbles. Quite a feat. However, this required both adequate supplies of old vinyl and, most likely, specific conditions that would allow saleable results. And so it was accepted that bubble vinyls would remain a rare indulgence.

This was all related to me second (or even, third) hand, so I consider the accuracy of the 'old vinyl' theory suspect. Further inquiry has also turned up a photograph of several prototype bubble Chaoses from different factories. This could mean that bubble vinyl turns more on production techniques than a quality of the material. The large number of bubble RxH that have been produced in recent months also suggest that this technique can be- and has been- standardized. Still, it remains the secret weapon of RxH.



Shinto Gangu normal release, June 2008

RxH - Mutant Head (6-08 release)

The last of a set of 3 RxH toys painted to resemble the original K-men R-ders, this Mutant Head pays homage to No. 2. Utterly brilliant concept and perfect execution.

The only downside was that we KNEW that this set was coming, sometimes weeks or months before each toy was actually sold. I managed to pick up the Chaosman and Evil at normal retail, so I was really sweating when the Head was displayed at Shinto Gangu in April '08. I REALLY wanted to complete the set. Would this be the one that would force me into the arms of the secondary market?? Unfortunately, I was moving at the time so I did miss it when it was sold online... but I was able to trade with a friend to get it. I can't even remember what I traded. Isn't that sad?

Here is the group shot:

Mutant Riders

Mutant Head was the final piece in the set, sold in June 2008. Evil was the first and sold in March 2008. Only a few months, but believe me, it felt like years.



Shinto Gangu normal release, Nov. 2008

RxH - Mutant Head (11-08 release)


Shinto Gangu store release, Feb. 2009

RxH - Mutant Head (2-09 store release)

These two Mutant Heads have a very interesting appearance, due to the use of multiple paint masks in their production. Paint masks are essentially metal pieces molded to the shape of a vinyl toy that 'mask' certain areas from airbrushed paint; toys can then be painted with precise lines, even if the operator is not unusually skilled. This look is more like that of a modern action figure than the hand-painted vinyl kaiju of yesteryear. Some like it, and most do not (deeming it less artistic, I suppose).

Paint masks are expensive to manufacture based on my understanding of the process, and Mori was not able to afford them in the beginning (although he apparently would have preferred their use) leading to the freehand sprays associated with older RxH toys. But as the popularity of RxH increased, he was able to create additional and more intricate masks; in fact, you can see the addition of paint masks to the Mutant Head toys over the years as some have masked belts, wristlets, shorts and head spots in varying combinations. (As an interesting aside, the new Kaiser Head toy does not even have the head spots sculpted into the design, relying solely on the paint mask for this effect.) So the truth is that these two recent Mutant Heads may be the closest to Mori's original vision for the character. The blue was first sold in November 2008; the orange in February 2009 as a store release.

While they look great as a set, my favorite is the orange one. I may even like it more than the MH-04 (above). Crazy, I know. From a historical perspective, it was the first Head to use all of the paint masks. It then contrasts the clean-cut paint lines with a minimal dash of silver on the chest, crest and extremities, allowing the glossy orange-red vinyl to show through in ample measure. At once both complex and simple, it perfectly captures the best elements of RxH.



Shinto Gangu + Lulubell Toys normal release, May 2009

RxH - Mutant Head (5-09 release)

This 'blue fade' Head was sold in the U.S. exclusively through Lulubell Toys in May 2009. There is quite a story behind this one. This Mutant Head was created as a set with a matching Mutant Evil, and samples of both were first seen when Shinto Gangu opened in February 2008. While there was a high demand among fans for this set, we were told that regular production would be impossible as the paint technique created too many pieces that did not meet Mori's quality standards. A few of these 'blue fade' pieces made their way to Yahoo Japan Auctions, indicating that a small number of sets had been made and distributed at some point in the past. Finally, in May 2009, Lulubell Toys announced to our great anticipation that the set had finally been produced and would be sold online through their webstore. Despite the relative decline in RxH sales, the set sold out faster than instantly.

While it is a nice piece, I think my enthusiasm is only lukewarm. Straight out of the bag, my specimen had a large paint rub under its left arm. The colors also appear much more saturated than the shop's paint sample, which undermines the delicate color arrangement. Finally, the paints used on the production set are not glossy and this clashes with the underlying vinyl. Most people were probably just happy to have a chance to own this one, but the execution does not feel quite right to me.

The original, non-production sets had a slightly different appearance than the production versions. I would like to see a photo of them side-by-side for purposes
of comparison.



Shinto Gangu normal release, Jan. 2010

RxH - Mutant Head (1-10 release)

Another bubble vinyl Mutant Head was sold in January 2010. The winter colors are particularly nice on this one and give the clear bubble vinyl an unexpectedly snowy look. However, the shortcoming of bubble vinyl is that it is never completely smooth and there can be considerable pitting as bubbles form on the vinyl surface. Paint sprayed over this uneven surface makes the flaw more obvious.



Shinto Gangu store release, May 2010

RxH - Mutant Head (5-10 store release)

Yet another bubble vinyl Mutant Head... this one was sold in-store in May 2010 and was preceded by a matching Mutant Evil. There has admittedly been a glut of bubble vinyl RxH recently, but this one shows an interesting progression from the first, virtually unpainted MH, to the painted version (above), to this version, which uses a black wash over airbrushed paint. The aquamarine bubble vinyl is quite beautiful.

The black wash does wonders to draw your eye away from the uneven vinyl surface, which I took issue with for the above version; I only wish that QC had been a little better on this toy. Nearly all examples that I have seen of this MH have odd swaths and marks from/on the black wash. My version also has several chips around the belt area. Cleaner paint work would have made this toy a true gem.



Shinto Gangu micro store release, Oct. 2010

RxH - Mutant Head (micro store release 10-10)

RxH - Mutant Head (micro store release 10-10)

In mid-October 2010, Mori released the spiritual counterpart to the fabled ME-L03 Mutant Evil. Being an in-store micro release, it was perhaps, only a little easier to acquire than said Evil.

I didn't think much when I saw the first photo of this MH, as the photo was poorly lit on a dark background. Clear purple with minimalist paint applications. Ho hum. But a later, better photograph later revealed it to be an instant stunner. The metallic paint is sprayed over a cream-colored base color, which gives it additional definition against the clear purple vinyl. Spray is a little rougher than I care for, but a minor issue on a superb version.


I wish my collection could do more justice to this classic example of a new vinyl toy, but slow and steady has always been my collecting philosophy. The Mutant Head lineup is extensive to the point that you can probably collect subgroups within the character sculpt, and this is a remarkable deterrent to completionism.




*Numbering of RxH toys per standards of RealxHead Supplement, Super 7-The Book, vol. 5, issue 1 (2007).

- Credit and thanks to Super 7-The Book, vol. 5, issue 1 (2007) (for providing numbering standards and release information on RxH toys); and to Skullbrain.org board members BEYOND, stealthtank, lulubell and others for their work in furthering our collective knowledge of these toys.

- My sincerest thanks to the many blogs, image galleries and websites that have photographed and provided information regarding toy release and event dates: K-Rex blog (http://svnl.exblog.jp/i9/); Kadomiumtank's sofvi blog (http://pink.ap.teacup.com/kadomiumtank/) and (http://blog.goo.ne.jp/kadomiumtank/); datadub's flickr gallery (http://www.flickr.com/photos/datadub/sets/); and others.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am impresssed with your display of photos, the enthusiasm for the vinyl world and all the info you posted. I just started collecting Japanese vinyl figures ie... toys.
Thanks, Robert