Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bandai Creation Classic 12" Godzilla Figures

Fans of the Kaiju genre, particularly those that collect the terrific, albeit expensive, Bandai imports, have had a great couple of years thanks to Bandai Creation's prodigious vinyl toy monster output, and the company shows no signs of slowing down. With virtually no marketing support whatsoever this offering of expertly sculpted likenesses of the various incarnations of Godzilla and his foes has continued to impress and sometimes confound fans of the 50 year old film series. The toys are a mix of home runs and missteps, and a reason to celebrate with the release of each totally unexpected new wave of figures. Like all previous releases, Wave four came out of nowhere and has it's good points and bad, but ultimately its about children being able to enjoy cool vinyl Godzilla toys just like their Japanese counterparts, and without the need for having a sci-fi geek uncle with too much frivolous income. This wave of figures also happens to herald a new surprise for collectors; enter the latest product category, the Classic 12" Godzilla Figures collection comprised of Final Wars Godzilla and Mecha Godzilla.

Not since the failed play sets of the first wave has Bandai Creation attempted to deviate from the tried and true 7" line of figures, and this time I believe they got it right. Rather than a bunch of tiny figures and cheap accessories, what Kaiju loving kids are looking for at a higher price point is actually a larger version of the monsters, perhaps scaled up enough to be a true menace to a matchbox car or army men collection. This time the manufacturer was listening. These toys are finally trickling into stores at their famously uneven distribution rate, and I'm telling you they are worth the trouble.

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The first thing you'll notice is their size when compared to regular ol' Bandai's larger 9" scale figures. They are more than just taller, they are bulkier, and sporting additional points of articulation. They look like they could eat the 9" figures from Japan. They are large enough to force a collector to consider the various properties of soft vinyl as they are practically collapsing under their own weight. When you take into account the incredibly low price point ($15 Toys 'R' Us) these things become positively mammoth. As a long time collector used to browsing online and in specialty shops, I find it almost ludicrous that I'm able to walk out of a major toy store chain with so much injection molded vinyl after years of supporting this otherwise expensive hobby. I think I cheered out loud when I scanned the bar code and saw how reasonably priced they are. I don't believe they were on any sort of clearance, since this is the first time I've seen them anywhere on the shelves, and I'm pretty sure that Godzilla collectors need to get a hold of these two before they disappear.

As for the sculpts, well, these are still Bandai Creation toys. Keeping in mind that I've been collecting domestic Japanese releases for years, it's easy to see the flaws in an otherwise awesome toy line. It's awesome because it's authentic Godzilla coolness finally made available on our shores, and does a lot towards helping us forget the clunky Trendmasters offerings from ten years ago. Even though Trendmasters gets credit for understanding how badly kids desire Godzilla toys, the execution wasn't quite enough to garner the support of adult collectors, which we all now understand to comprise nearly a third of the current toy buying public. Bandai Creation has cleared that hurdle by offering the closest thing to the truly cool, virtually indestructible toys its parent company has been selling in Japan for decades. That said, after five years of inspecting these toys I'm convinced that there is a conspiracy to deprive American collectors the same levels of perfection enjoyed in the Far East. There's always something a little wonky about certain figures, whether it's a clumsy paint scheme or a disproportion. With such expectations I don't think it's a big deal that the 12" Final Wars Godzilla only vaguely resembles the creature as it appears in the film. Looking at the previous waves accurate 7" representation makes me wonder why they couldn't get it right at this size, but it's not the end of the world. The monster sort of looks like Final Wars G, with a little Heisei G thrown into the mix, perhaps in an effort to broaden the appeal of the toy. I like the crouching pose and lashing tail as a nice change from the more uniform poses of the Japanese releases, although I don't feel compelled to remove it from the sturdy card backed tray packaging. The pose is definitely a better solution to the apparent problem of the "overreaching tails" than the current waves curved tails (which you can reshape with a heat gun) They should have all the 7" toy lines tails lashing since no one wants a static looking Godzilla toy.

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Mecha Godzilla is a slightly different story. It's the Kiryu version of the monster, which is the right version to release at this scale, and also the first Kiryu to be released domestically. Similar to it's Japanese vinyl toy counterpart, Mecha G has less articulation. His legs don't move, and his tail has only one point of articulation compared to Final Wars G's three points, which is kind of a bummer, but again, not a deal breaker. Another flaw might be the shortened tail with a stubby end, very unlike the actual monster, however the entire wave of toys seems stuck on the idea that the monsters tails should not disrupt the delicate balance of available shelf space. The toy does benefit from a dynamic pose and slightly taller height than it's companion piece. It's legs are askance, and when placed head to head the two toys look as though they're about to clash. Of the two figures, this one is begging me to remove it from the packaging, but I think I'll pass it along to my nephew and let him do the honors. I don't think the lack of articulation makes too much difference in light of the cool pose, although I find it curious that they wouldn't try to tackle a shortcoming that has plagued every vinyl incarnation of the character.

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That's my harsh criticism of an otherwise intelligent decision in moving this toy line forward. The epic 12" scaled figures should be enough to have Japanese collectors drooling, pining for a cool toy that is beyond their possession (unless they want to shell out $50 bucks to purchase and ship. Ha! See how they like it!) These two figures should have U.S. fans responding in much the same way. These are the first Bandai Creation toys, other than GMK Ghidorah, that I would highly recommend including in a collection of original Bandai vinyls. They won't look out of place at all, and will continue to tempt you to open them. When I present these to my six year old nephew, I truly believe he will flip out. Who knows when or if Bandai Creation will launch a fifth wave of figures, since you can't find anything official about any of these toys on the internet, which is bizarre. In any case it's probably still a few months off. If we do get another wave, I sincerely hope they'll continue the 12" line, maybe throwing in some other characters as they did with Kiryu Mecha G. I could go for a 60's Baragon or Kameba. Since there isn't any place to find out more, I'll just sit with my fingers crossed and look forward to whatever they have up their sleeve.

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