Ready to delve into the deep depths of toy geekiness, kids?
Today, we talk Marusan [マルサン]. Wait. Didn't we just do an article about those? No, no. THAT one was about Marushin dinos, which is a different company entirely... probably maybe.
If you are familiar with the world of patchi-kaiju, you have probably heard the term "Marusan originals." Marusan originals refer to a group of kaiju sofubi (the overall line is the "Marusan Ultra Kaiju Series" [マルサンウルトラ怪獣シリーズ]) that were produced by Marusan's 3rd incarnation around the early 1970s without featuring characters directly based on any childrens' show. Presumably, this was a way for Marusan to avoid licensing costs. In the late 90s, Marusan issued reproductions of a number of these toys.
Marusan originals have nowhere near the status of, say, Marusan's famous Ultra Q line, and I would venture that they are considered tantamount to bootlegs by most serious collectors. This sentiment is not entirely undeserved (King Godzilla, I'm looking at you). As a result, only a minor effort has been made to document the variety of sculpts and paint variations output by Marusan during that time. There was an article published by Hyper Hobby that provides a partial catalog of the original and reproduction Ultra Series kaiju toys, but their listing is by no means exhaustive.
Among this motley crew, a handful of Marusan originals were produced without any name or identifying manufacturer's mark on their feet. It is likely that some people do not realize that these were produced by Marusan at all. Most or all were seemingly produced in only 2 color variations: a tan or turquoise vinyl base with matching paint colors in either case. Both versions seem to turn up with equal frequency. They are also a bit more common than the other characters. The corespondence of the common color schemes to the sculpts that lack markings suggests to me that these could have been a production subset of the Ultra Series kaiju, perhaps produced toward the end of the line (the matching colors may have been a cost-cutting measure to standardize production). But that is just speculation at this point.
I have found images of the header card from one of these unmarked characters (Ganburiya [ガンブリヤ]). The header is very different from the original Ultra Kaiju header used by Marusan for some of the other releases- it is bordered with a 'hazard sign' type red and yellow stripe with a primarily black-and-white illustration of Ultra Ace and several kaiju attacking a train. Very nicely drawn, but it has a cheaper feel overall than older kaiju toy headers.
More interesting is the series name written on the header. One side has the character name and "Ultra Kaiju Series." The other side (featuring the full illustration) has written "Bankoku Ultra Kaiju Bouken Series" [万国ウルトラ怪獣冒険シリーズ], loosely meaning "Worldwide Ultra Kaiju Adventure Series." This lends credence to the theory that these were produced under a slightly later, or different, line of Marusan originals.
Galapagos [ガラパゴス] (top) and Dorango [ドランゴ] (bottom) are two of the characters in this subset. I won Galapagos for a cheap price through a mislabeled auction some time ago. On a recent trip to Japan, I found a matching Dorango in a small toy shop (writing on the foot led the shopkeeper to give me a good price). I definitely appreciate the rugged texture of these sculpts and eventually plan to track down the corresponding tan versions. However, I don't find the tan version nearly as attractive as this turquoise scheme- brown and black over the deep turquoise vinyl brings to mind seaweed-covered rocks on a tropical shoreline. I cannot think of any other vinyl toy- vintage or modern- that uses such a rich turquoise, making the piece an instant eye-catcher on any shelf. Mentally, I have been using the term "Ultra Blue" to denote this color combination, much in the way of the famous "Godzilla Blue" used on the seminal Marusan toy. Tell your friends.
To add a further twist, I have seen a variant of Dorango in the Ultra Blue colors- with the addition of green paint. Initially, I passed it off as a custom paint, but a second specimen has since come up for sale from a well-known vintage dealer. The green paint also appears to replace some of the 'normal' Ultra Blue colors, rather than covering over (as would be expected if it were a custom). So perhaps it is genuine.
Tan version of Galapagos.
I recently also came across a page where someone had generously summarized the text of an old Hyper Hobby article on the Marusan originals. This article provided some background and statistics on the characters (presumably from an official source). I have unfortunately not been able to acquire this publication myself.
Galapagos' height and weight are 20 meters and 22,000 tons, respectively. It was an iguana from the Galapagos Islands that was mutated by atomic bomb tests, resulting in gigantic size and a violent disposition.
Dorango's height and weight are 45 meters and 35,000 tons, respectively (significantly larger than Galapagos). It is an amphibious monster living in the sea near the Mariana Islands. The twin horns on its head can emit a heat ray that will burn through nearby objects instantaneously. Dorango appears to have once had the ability to fly, but has since lost it.
And as mentioned above, Marusan issued a number of Ultra Kaiju reproductions in the late 90s; among the chosen sculpts was Dorango. Sadly, the Ultra Blue colors were passed over in favor of a version similar to the original tan scheme. 50 pieces of an all-new red version (above) were produced as an exclusive version for the (now-defunct) Boston toy store, Day-Old Antiques. A simple way to distinguish the reproduction Dorango from the original is to look at its horns. Nearly all reproduction versions seem to have horns that bend inward, whereas they should project straight forward in the vintage piece (see below). This may be due to a mold or materials defect- no one really seems to know.
I am always hesitant to state facts when I get into the vintage murk, since I am just a collector and certainly not an expert. If you happen to be more knowledgeable than I and see mistakes in my articles, please feel free to let me know via e-mail or comment. I'd really appreciate it.
As is yearly tradition, Gargamel released a New Year's Lucky Bag this year on January 3rd. Unlike the customary 'fukubukuro' used to get rid of excess store inventory in Japan, these lucky bags are filled with new sculpts and new versions of old toys... and sometimes rare prototypes and one-offs!
Unlike past years, I actually had the chance to drive into SF to see this event unfold first-hand at the Super7 store. But as it turned out- for the first time in history- the bags were only sold online! Usually there is a big turnout for this (everyone loves Gargamel) and I was really looking forward to seeing the excitement and hoopla as people ripped into their bags. So pretty much a bummer.
But a few of us did show up, and I was able to watch a lucky someone pull this beautiful Kiyoka Ikeda 1/1 Zagoran from his bag. The colors are intended to evoke the likeness of a vintage toy, which is an added level of significance that I appreciate.
On the way home, I bought a Sanrio fukubukuro for the woman. Cost me $20 and was probably the better choice. I think so, anyway.
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.