Battle Tribes: Wave 6
2 days ago
|Mark Nagata recently unveiled his latest soft vinyl toy at the Kaiju Comrades show in The Ghetto (a gallery, not THE ghetto), which took place at the end of March 2009. Drazoran [ドラゾラン] is the fourth foe of Captain Maxx, following on the heels of Eyezon and Tripus (the second was Alien Xam). Captain Maxx, and the various creatures that inhabit his universe, are all original creations of Nagata.|
The story behind Drazoran's appearance is detailed on the back of its beautifully illustrated header card. He is a legendary beast from days past who has been brought forward through time due to the massive battles between Captain Maxx and his alien opponents. It is implied that he is the real-world archetype for dragon and giant lizard myths, which is a clever twist on the cliched science-gone-wrong origin story. Not surprising coming from the guy who designed a giant space potato.
|But Drazoran is not only the latest installment to the Captain Maxx tale- he is also the first Max Toy soft vinyl figure to be produced entirely in Japan! Both Eyezon and Tripus, although appearing similar to other neo-kaiju toys, were manufactured in Chinese factories. Vintage kaiju toys by companies such as Bullmark and Marusan were mostly manually produced and hand-painted in Japanese factories. It was a fairly personal manufacturing process in contrast to modern standards; while the term "factories" is used, these were basically guys with tools, molds, airbrushes and giant vats of liquid vinyl in small, poorly-ventilated rooms. The same is generally true of new vinyl toys, although they are no longer the cheap toys children once left out in the garden or took with them into the o-furo. Drazoran returns to this simpler era of craftsmanship, which I feel makes it a true kaiju toy.|
Drazoran is also unique in that it brings a western design together with the production expertise of a Japanese vinyl toy company. It is in fact one of only two kaiju toys [EDIT: as of the original date of this article] that has accomplished this collaboration of eastern and western design sensibilities. The other toy is Grumble Toy's Wormrah (released last year), which was sculpted and produced by Amapro based on an original drawing by Grumble Toy (more on Wormrah later!).
|Beginning life as an illustration in the sketchbook of Mark Nagata, Drazoran was picked up by Mr. Yajima of Dream Rocket [ドリームロケット] for production as a toy. Mark Nagata and Dream Rocket actually have a long history together, with numerous exclusive Dream Rocket toys released during both Nagata's time at Super7 and his operation of Max Toy Co. So it seemed to be a natural fit. Interestingly, Nagata shows us early sketches of Drazoran on his blog and it looks much more like a western dragon; Yajima actually tweaked the drawing to transform it into "Kaiju Drazoran." |
Over the course of half a year or so, the base sculpt for Drazoran was previewed (in various stages of refinement) at toy events. Translating the artwork into a three-dimensional sculpt was also handled by Dream Rocket. Finally, at the Art Shocker show in March 2009, photographs of a flesh vinyl test shot of Drazoran surfaced in Kabushiki-Gaisha Link's flickr gallery. My heart skipped a beat when I saw these pictures. Wow! When? When???
|Well, 'pretty soon' was the answer. The first version of Drazoran arrived at the end of the month, debuting at Kaiju Comrades in the timeless "Godzilla Blue" color scheme. As additional icing on the cake, it turns out that it was painted by master artist, Goto Hiroshi [EDIT: I didn't know this guy's first name for a long time.]. Mr. Goto (or Goto-sensei, I should say) has been hand-painting toys for around 50 years, so he was around to see the original Marusan Godzilla and Ultra Q toys come out of the factory (and maybe paint them too). He is probably one of only a handful of remaining artisans from the "Made in Japan" era. Anyhow, seeing his hand in this toy completes the circle- east to west and past to present.|
Needless to say, I was rather excited to get this toy in my hands. And it arrived just about a couple of weeks after the show! Looking at the sculpt, Dream Rocket's influence on the design is very evident. There is a lot of organic texturing on the shoulders, knees and back, and it weaves in several design elements that should be familiar to vintage soft vinyl collectors or aficionados of the live television shows. The head, however, retains Nagata's distinctive style- maybe it is something in the placement of the eyes. I can't really say how, but when you look at the toy from different angles, it sometimes looks like a vintage kaiju toy and it sometimes has more of a western feeling.
The vinyl is surprisingly lightweight. It has similar heft to vintage toys, in contrast to the heavier, thicker vinyl used by most toy companies.
|The colors and paint style used on Drazoran is called "Godzilla Blue." What is Godzilla Blue and why does it look like the dark blue and silver paint scheme used by Gargamel (called "55Blue")? Well, the two are similar, but I have been told by a knowledgeable collector that 55Blue is supposed to reference the original Ultra Q toys by Marusan. Godzilla Blue, on the other hand, resembles a paint variation on the original Godzilla vinyl by Marusan, which had a similar color arrangement but with metallic blue spines.|
|The only fault that I can find with Drazoran is that mine suffers from a manufacturing defect that causes the head to cock to one side. It can probably be corrected with heat, but I kind of like the slight imperfection. A lot of the old patchi-kaiju toys had shortcomings like this because they were not particularly expensive. Plus it gives him an attitude when you turn his head a different ways. See?|
Although my expectations were pretty high for Drazoran with two of my favorite artists involved in the project, I am very happy with the toy that I received. I think it was a success in Japan as well, as I have heard that most of them sold quickly during and after the show. Mark Nagata will have a few for sale, however, so keep your eyes open for that. Congratulations to everyone involved in this endeavor as the collaboration of talents made this a very significant toy, and it is just super cool to boot. I hope we see many more of these collaborative projects between western and Japanese artists as this niche area of toy collecting and producing continues to grow.
Can you believe that it has been a year and a half since I wrote the post above?
The development of Drazoran, Eyezon and Tripus has been relatively quiet since then in terms of production releases. Max Toy has focused heavily on custom paints of its toys (by Mark, Dead Presidents, etc.) and production versions have been limited to mini-runs, often exclusive to events in Japan. They have also been busy with the new set of Max Toy minis- super-deformed versions of the big 5 (Maxx, Xam, Eyezon, Tripus and Drazoran).
|In June 2010, Mark unveiled via Twitter (http://twitter.com/maxtoyco) [Oh God I have just linked to Twitter on this blog. I have to wash my hands.] not one, but TWO new head sculpts secretly developed by Dream Rocket for use with the Drazoran body. |
By interchanging the heads, you can have either Dragigus or Drazoran. The concept behind the design is that the three kaiju are brothers (apparently that family has a lot of recessive genes). On a historical level, the new-head/same-body technique was developed as a cost-savings measure for both live-action monster suits and the associated Bullmark and Marusan toys. [I buy my hyphens in bulk.] As I have commented above, Mark does a masterful job at tying these new toys into the traditions of Japanese vinyl monsters.
|Dragigus [ドラギグス] was the first of the two to be revealed, so I consider him to be the middle brother (Drazoran is the oldest). It's like Full House, but with claws and fangs... that you can see. His head sculpt reminds me of a marine iguana with its various nodules and spines.|
I don't have a Dragigus yet. :( There has been a fantastic Hawaii version with green paint that was released in Japan and limited to 8 pieces (none made it here) and a green version that matches Mark's artwork (sold out here). 'Stephanie' continues to elude me. That came out sounding unintentionally creepy. Like... Full House... y'know. Please don't call NBC.
|Drazorus [ドラゾラス] was the third head to be revealed. He has the most sinister appearance of the three designs. I particularly like how the main horn spirals and twists a bit, rather than protruding out straight. Good design choice by Mr. Dream Rocket. He also reminds me of a Jackson's chameleon given his slim, helmet-like head shape. On a complete tangent, I've always TOTALLY wanted a Jackson's chameleon and there was a rumor that you could catch them in Hawaii near where I lived. It involved driving to this desolate highway in the middle of a volcanic forest (which I made my parents drive me to on more than one occasion), but I sadly never saw one. Much to my parents' relief, I expect.|
|And I made up for my lack of Dragigus by buying two Drazorus. That's some math that I can get behind. |
This first version is part of a Hawaii set recently released in August 2010. Unlike the earlier Hawaii Dragigus, these were painted in the iconic colors of the Bullmark domestic Hawaii Hedorah. In Japan, these were sold in both red chest and silver chest variants (U.S. domestic sales were red chest only). Each includes an extra matching Drazoran head. Cleverly, I bought the Drazorus in anticipation of one day tracking down the super-limited earlier Hawaii Dragigus. ONE DAY.
[Header artwork is cropped from a larger piece done by Mark Nagata.]
Goto-san (btw, I hate calling him that because it sounds like Mr. Miyagi) did a stellar job on painting these as well. Sometimes I feel that his touch is a little rough, but he fades the blue and red here very nicely into the flesh base vinyl. You can really do no wrong with flesh vinyl + bright colors on top.
And my appreciation for the head sculpt on Drazorus as well. Lots of fine touches that give it its character. Drazorus has a bit of a snakey hunch due to a slightly extended neck. A severe overbite and snaggle-toothed lower jaw also create an 'ancient wyrm' aesthetic. And as I've mentioned earlier, the slight off-angle main horn completes the head.
And then LAST month, Dream Rocket blew me away yet again by releasing a set of small-run Dream Rocket versions of the Draz brothers. Drazoran, Dragigus and Drazorus were each featured in A, B and C paint versions (i.e., 9 total types). Dragigus sold out first (damn it all). Yajima also sold a few one-off customs of these characters at the recent Superfestival 54 in Japan.
And failing yet again to buy a Dragigus, I found this Drazorus to be a suitable consolation prize. While all of the paints were extremely nice, I wanted something that would be completely different from any of the Max Toy production counterparts. This regal metallic purple and gold version "C" seemed to fit that bill.
[For you packaging geeks, these were bagged with a handwritten Dream Rocket header.]
With a touch that makes it seem effortless, Dream Rocket executes his usual array of color blends and fades on Drazorus. While the toy at first glance appears to be purple and gold, there is so much more going on upon closer inspection. For example, there are (at least) three different shades of purple on the toy! But my favorite effect by far, is the darker color applied in the crevices around Drazorus' eye, which really give it a sunken, evil look. The base vinyl color is a deep royal purple.
|My closing thought on the new Draz head sculpts is that they have a much stronger resemblance to the source material than Drazoran did; however, they do a fantastic job of differentiating the character despite the shared body sculpt. Strong follow-up hits to the chart topper that Drazoran is and was. Finally, my thanks to Max Toy and Mark Nagata for keeping the prices stable for the Draz brothers... you are definitely getting a lot of toy for your money. |
Oh, and I almost forgot... mini-Drazoran!