Monday, November 9, 2015

ROBOT WITH A ROCKET-FIRING CROTCH

One beautiful autumn afternoon whilst hunting for toys in Akihabara, I stumbled upon this rather curious and eye-catching box art on the upper floor of one of the toy shops that I rarely frequent. The box itself was roughly a foot tall and contained a plastic model-kit for a robot of sorts, identified as 'CHUKA-CANNON', manufactured in Japan by the Aoshima model-kit company and Soft Bank Publishing in 2002.

The awe-inspiring artwork of a retro-looking robot firing a rocket from it's crotch immediately grabbed my attention, as surely it would anyone. After taking a look at the price tag, I decided that it would be most ludicrous for me to pass up such a unique item. So I brought it to the checkout counter along with the various other items I had rounded up during my excursion at that particular shop.  



Upon taking it home, I did some research into it's origins and found out a few very interesting things. According to HobbyLink Japan, CHUKA-CANNON was sold exclusively through Net Runner magazine, a PC gaming publication. 'CHUKA-CANNON' literally translates as 'CHINESE CANNON' and the design was actually a spoof of the Chinese National University of  Defense Technology's actual functioning robot, 'Xianxingzhe'.

Xianxingzhe ('Forerunner'), made it's debut on November 29, 2000 becoming China's very first bipedal humanoid robot. It was considered a major technological breakthrough in China... 

...and a major joke in Japan.

(This is the actual Xianxingzhe robot... not the model-kit.)
Standing at just over 4 feet tall - with it's crude design, hilarious face and protruding phallus-like appendage, Xianxingzhe didn't take long to be made into a complete mockery by Japanese critics and their highly advanced robotics industry. Shortly after the Japanese website Samurai Damashii caught wind of China's attempt at 'advanced robotics', an explosion of ridicule was unleashed. One article from the site joked that Xianxingzhe, or Senkousha as it's known in Japanese, was actually a military weapon - stating, "Senkousha would first rattle the ground with it's feet to stir the energy resting on the ground, then do squats to harness that energy and transfer it into it's crotch cannon, then finally fire that energy as a massive white beam with a pelvic thrust."

Eventually 'Senkousha' became an internet phenomenon. Garnering meme status, it's very own theme song, video parodies and even bootleg video games where it battled the likes of Japan's finest robotic creations of the time period such as ASIMO. It was a cruel world for China's first major attempt at humanoid robotics... at least in Asia. 

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

HUGO : MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES


As Halloween comes to an end and the Christmas season begins, the jack-o-lanterns, spider webs, ghosts and monsters will inevitably disappear into our attics and quickly be replaced with glistening snow, x-mas trees, eggnog and mall Santas...



...screaming children on the laps of costumed strangers is one of the hallmarks of the Christmas season after all... and Halloween too I suppose.  Too bad we can't just scare children for fun all year round.

But if you were a one of the unfortunate children of 1975 who had parents that didn't love them or were on some fucked up drugs, you could have continued the age old tradition of being terrorized during the holidays in your very own home, with... 

...HUGO : Man Of A Thousand Faces

"...yes Billy, the police will never find out who really murdered your family."
Released by Kenner in the 1970's before their success with the Star Wars action figure franchise, HUGO was a bald plastisol puppet with the cold stare of a serial killer. It's main feature was the ability to change into different disguises utilizing various face attachments such as facial hair, scars, warts, eye patches, fangs... you know, all the stuff normal people have on their faces.

The disguise attachments were applied using some kind of glue, which I'm sure was tons of fun to clean off after multiple uses. What child wouldn't want a soulless puppet with white goo on his face to play with alone in their bedrooms? Try not to make a mess kids!


HUGO hasn't glared at little children from toy store shelves for over forty years, but if you are a good little bastard, Satan... I mean Santa, just might track one down on eBay and drop it off at your miserable house so that you too can experience the terror for yourself.

Speaking of puppets and sticky white goo - did you know that HUGO helped Pee-wee Herman hypnotize women to take their clothes off on his live stand-up comedy show back in the 80's? No wonder Pee-wee's Playhouse was so fucking insane. Don't let the silly humor fool you. Under the guise of 'Dr. Mondo', HUGO has gained complete control over Pee-wee's child-like mind...

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

WTF JAPAN? - TARAKO KEWPIE


Kewpie is a household name in Japan.  Having a naked baby with a mohawk as your mayonnaise mascot is strange enough... but when Japanese advertising agencies made this series of TV commercials for a spaghetti sauce starring hundreds of marching Kewpie toys dressed as cod fish, they really went head first into the twilight zone...

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS ARE FROM JAPAN...


You may be aware that many iconic animated American TV shows have often been animated in South Korea, especially during the last few decades.  Some of those shows have included The Simpsons, Futurama, King of the Hill, Family Guy, and SpongeBob SquarePants.

Back in the 1980's, several popular animated American TV programs were still being animated in America, such as Masters of the Universe. However the ones that weren't being animated at home didn't outsource their animation work to Korea like they do today, they outsourced to Japan.

Japanese animation studios worked quickly, efficiently and produced high quality, slick animation at a very low cost. You can actually see a lot of Japanese handiwork in the opening sequences to many, if not most, 1980's animated TV shows.

One of my favorite animated television shows from that era not only had an opening sequence animated in Japan, the entire show itself was animated in Japan...  

That show was The Real Ghostbusters.



Fans of the animated series and even the films should definitely check out this fun documentary made in 1990 about the history and production of The Real Ghostbusters.  It follows the process of script writing, storyboarding and voice acting with the American production staff, then takes us to Japan where the animation itself is produced.  There are even interviews with the Ghosbusters' creators and actors, Dan Aykroyd (Ray) and Harold Ramis (Egon), discussing how the whole proposition of an animated Ghostbusters series came into fruition.

The only downside to this documentary is that it's hosted by a convicted pedophile...

...who ya gonna call?



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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

WHICH X-MEN INTRO KICKS THE MOST ASS?

"Look, it's the wicked Japanese version of our show's intro!"
One of the best animated TV series of the 90's was Marvel's X-Men. It was just too damned awesome.  Today it is still one of the few animated TV shows that I watched growing up that is still enjoyable to watch as an adult.


Now the X-Men are a worldwide phenomenon with a new movie being released every other year, however 30 years ago your average kid didn't know who the X-Men were unless they had an older brother that had read the comics and happened to let them borrow some. But that was all about to change. 

In 1989, Marvel aired a TV pilot based on the X-Men for the very first time, it was called 'Pryde of the X-Men'. It was produced by the Japanese animation studio Toei, who at the time was working on the extremely popular Dragonball animated series. It aired rather infrequently before making it's way to VHS.  My first introduction to the X-Men was a copy of that VHS, and it was glorious. Unfortunately Marvel's budget for animation had dried up around that time so fans had to wait three years before they could gaze upon new animated adventures of the X-Men. Check out the VHS version of the pilot below.


The 1989 VHS version of 'Pryde of the X-Men' introduced a whole new audience to the X-Men, just as it had to me.  But if it weren't for the 1992 debut of the X-Men animated series, many kids would have never been properly introduced to those marvelous mutants, at least not as a staple of modern popular culture like they are today.

When the X-Men animated series was released internationally, naturally there were dubs of the dialogue, but for some reason the 1994 Japanese version not only dubbed the show's dialogue, it also presented two different opening animations as well as brand new theme songs. Although I've always loved the original 1992 US opening theme and animation, the first Japanese opening is an explosion of badassary with insane animation and a wicked power metal track to back it up.  It will truly blow you away if you've never experienced it before... however the second version is a bit of a boner-killer, especially after seeing the first one, but at least it does feature all new animation again. Check out both versions below.


Which intro was your favorite?
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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

THESE BOOTLEGS ARE KILLER...


Peter Goral is the creative genius behind Killer Bootlegs, an independent bootleg toy operation based in Rockford, Illinois.  His 're-imaginings' of classic toy lines often combine various body parts and accessories from a wide variety of vintage action figures, which are molded and then cast in resin. But these aren't just simply cheap rip-offs... they are highly refined pieces of art.



Vividly painted and oozing with nostalgia, the creations of Killer Bootlegs are extremely eye-catching, expertly crafted and ultra wicked.  



Upon discovering some of these gems, I had to find out more about the man behind their conception. Fortunately, I recently had the opportunity to ask Peter of Killer Bootlegs some questions...

What were your favorite toys and cartoons growing up?
My favorite toys as a child were GI Joe and Star Wars action figures. But, I played with anything 3.75" and could be mixed into play with my GI Joe and Star Wars figures. I really liked the odd knockoff figures made by companies Lanard and Remco. But, if I had to pick a favorite, it'd be Storm Shadow V2 (1988).  My favorite cartoons were, GI Joe, Thundercats, He-Man, X-Men, and Scooby Doo.

Which action figure series made the biggest impact on your childhood?
GI Joe: A Real American Hero and Star Wars POTF 2. It's all their fault!
   
When did you you decided to start making your own custom action figures?  
I decided to start making my own figures back in the fall of 2009. At the time, I was working a 1st shift job and my wife worked on 2nd shift. I would get off work and have a ton of time on my hands and be home alone most of the night. At first, they were just one-off kitbashed figures that were held together with Super Sculpy and super glue. I didn't get into the molding and casting aspect for maybe a year or two later.  

Did you find the processes of molding and casting difficult to learn?
I have to admit, it was a lot of trial and error. There really weren't any instructional videos online at the time. I didn't have customer reviews or anyone with past experience to tell me which products worked best for what I was attempting to do. It was difficult, but eventually I got a handle on what needed to be done and figured out what little tricks make the difference in the end. 

What was the first action figure that you created?
The first action figure that I created was called, Shifty Megatron. He was a one-off kitbash made with a vintage Star Wars Ewok lower body and Boba Fett torso, GI Joe Talking Battle Commander Overkill head and I think Jurassic Park Velociraptor arms. I repainted him a few times, before he was eventually mounted on a screen printed cardback, framed, and shipped to Australia where he now resides in a private collection.

Can you describe the process you go through?
I generally start with molding some of the action figure parts that I will use as my base to work off of. I have found that working with a resin casting is much easier than the actual part itself. I sculpt, cut, sand, and glue parts from other, toys, castings, and sometimes really random pieces of plastic together to achieve the desired look and feel of a vintage action figure. I make multiple molds, depending on the size of the run to speed up the casting process. Most times, I'm casting several hundred individual parts, which all need to have the vents/pour spouts trimmed off, be sanded/cleaned/polished, and then ultimately everything is painted. I like to have a blank canvas to start with when it comes to the paint application, so I cast everything in bright white resin. I apply washes, rubs, airbrush parts, and then hand paint all the details.  

Which action figure(s) are you the most proud of making?
I'm proud of everything I have made. But, some of my figures that instantly come to mind are...


Frankenfett

Phantom Starkiller

Draco Knuckleduster

Czarface

Ewoking Dead

and Star Warhol.

What are you cooking up now?
I've got quite a few things left up my sleeve for the second half of 2015. You guys will just have to wait and see.. 

Do you have any tips for aspiring action figure bootleggers and toy creators? 
Focus and have fun. They are only toys...


Make sure to visit Killer Bootlegs' official website for more info!

. . .


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

WHAT THE HELL DID JAPAN DO TO THE NINJA TURTLES?!


If you grew up in the 80's or early 90's like I did, there was no escaping the tsunami of green mutagen that was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise.  From their humble beginnings as independent comic book characters to a popular animated TV show, best selling toy-line, and several successful live action films, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) completely dominated the eyes and minds of not only American children, but kids around the world.

However in Japan, our beloved "heroes in a half shell" only got minimal TV exposure, and in a somewhat confusing manner.  In the early 1990's there were apparently a few different Japanese dubbed versions of TMNT floating around in Japan, some of which were broadcast on several different TV networks.  Each network aired only a specific portion of the series and many episodes were never even aired at all.  It's easy to see why TMNT didn't catch on nearly as well in Japan, especially during a time when Japanese kids were already hooked like rabid junkies on epic superhuman testosterone fueled shows like Dragonball Z (which American kids didn't get a taste of until the late 90's).

Then in 1996 the Japanese toy company Takara, which had created the original line of Transformers toys (Microchange), released a brand new line of Ninja Turtles action figures that would seemingly appeal more to Japanese kids.  Using a mash-up of popular Japanese hero, robot, and anime inspired designs, Takara called these new versions, "Super Turtles"... successfully making our beloved green heroes look absolutely nothing like what they should look like (pre-Michael Bay).  Nice job asshats.


To help sell this new line of bastardized TMNT toys, TV Tokyo produced an animated two part OVA mini-series called 'Mutant Turtles: Superman Legend'.  What the hell?  Did this new series really need to exist?  I don't think so, most Japanese people I know who grew up around that era have never heard of the fucking thing... but it does exist, and the marketing team behind it tried really hard to turn the Turtles into "superhuman" badasses. They even hired the composer and singer of the popular Dragonball Z theme 'Cha-la-head-cha-la' to write and record an opening song for the show to help ensure it's success.  Here is the result...
 

Cow-abomination.

So as you can probably gather from the lengthy intro proceeding the god-awful theme song, the explanation for the turtles transforming into Saint Seiya-esque "Super Mutants" is due to some sort of magical fucking crystal... Once again, did this shit even need to exist?

But of course that wasn't the first time (or the last) that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise had made some really strange decisions and decided to produce some really weird and fucked up toys...


To be continued...
. . .

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

WEIRD GODZILLA TV COMMERCIALS [UPDATED]


Godzilla is recognized around the world as the most iconic Japanese character ever created.  Even people who have never even seen one of Godzilla's roughly 30 movies, know who he is and what he looks like.  Godzilla is a giant monster with giant appeal. So of course, just like Star Wars, marketing and advertising companies around the world try their damndest to slap the big G onto their products and TV commercials.  However, if you don't ask the company who owns the rights to Godzilla, TOHO, for permission to use him commercially... you can expect a visit from their relentless lawyers.

Big companies like Subway learned that lesson the hard way after using a giant green lizard monster in their 2008 '$5 Footlong' TV ad, resulting in a $150,000 lawsuit.  Although, there are rare occasions when TOHO actually works together with foreign companies to produce officially licensed Godzilla TV commercials.  Such was the case for this awesome Nike commercial from 1992, in which TOHO gave the rights for Industrial Light & Magic (the special effects team behind Star Wars) to produce it's own version of Godzilla to go one on one against NBA superstar... Charles Barkley.


For more info, check out 'The Making of Godzilla vs Barkley'.

Last year we got a fun new officially licensed Godzilla commercial, this time advertising everyone's favorite candy bar, Snickers.


But that wasn't Godzilla's first try at helping to sell sugary junk food to Americans. Nearly 30 years before, in 1985, he was promoting Dr. Pepper in these two classic kaiju styled commercials.



Another 'sweet' TV ad not made in Japan featuring Godzilla comes to us from Dutch candy makers, VENCO.  I'm not entirely sure if this commercial was given the OK by TOHO, but it's pretty damned funny.

 

Next up we have a "Godzilla" TV ad from Thailand... well, it's technically not Godzilla, even though I'm fairly sure they are using the exact same Godzilla suit that was used in Godzilla vs Barkley.  It's a Thai gas company ad that obviously didn't ask TOHO for any type of official approval, which is why Godzilla appears to have grown a horn on his snout... but whatever, it still counts.


Back in 1984, TOHO had just relaunched their Godzilla franchise and were busy promoting the big G wherever they could.  In order to appeal to the adult audiences who had grown up watching Godzilla as kids in the 1950's-1970's, TOHO collaborated with the Asahi beer company to create a couple of family friendly beer commercials.  While they aren't wild and wacky like the commercials above, the somberness portrayed by Godzilla as he stares into the distance holding a giant glass of beer is just strangely beautiful...



...I could use a beer that big too...

Being a lot more wacky this time around, Japanese electronic company Hitachi used Godzilla to advertise their state of the art home karaoke system back in the early 90's. Even though karaoke is as normal in Japan as anything else, I'm not sure if it did very well, but this particular ad is one of the big G's most entertaining. Enjoy!


UPDATE July 23, 2016: 
With the brand new Godzilla Resurgence (シン-ゴジラ)coming out in less than a week over here in Japan, I will be adding brand new Godzilla TV ads to this article. You can also expect a review of the film opening night ;)

First up, a TV spot for the Japanese department store, PARCO. The footage from this ad is taken taken directly from the new film itself, however some sequences have replaced Godzilla with a CG koala bear, whom is the current mascot for PARCO stores, and made it appear as if it and Godzilla are gearing up for battle.




And here is a TV spot for the 'Shin-chan vs Shin-Gojira' episode of the animated series Crayon Shin-chan. The full episode aired last night here and it was pretty cool to see the new incarnation of Godzilla in animated form. It was a fun episode full of the kinds of gags you would normally expect from the long running Crayon Shin-chan series. I'm a fan of both Godzilla and Shin-chan, so I really enjoyed the episode, as did my kids. I tried finding the full episode online today but they had all been taken down by TV Asahi, so until that becomes widely available, enjoy the teaser TV spot below this promo image :)


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Monday, July 13, 2015

WHY WERE STAR WARS TOYS SO SH!TTY? PART II


Aside from the somewhat freakish lightsabers, there were many other troubling aspects to the design of the original Kenner line of Star Wars action figures.  First being the articulation.  As I mentioned in PART I, a popular line of action figures existing in the USA before the release of Star Wars, were the Micronauts, also known as Microman in Japan. Microman was the very first 3 3/4" scale action figure.  Microman and likewise the Micronauts, had over a dozen points of articulation, making them super poseable and a lot of fun to play with.  Kenner's Star Wars action figures only had five or less points of articulation...


So if you were a kid back in the late 70's or early 80's and wanted some sci-fi themed toys to play with, which one would have seemed like the most fun?  Of course many kids that had already discovered the Micronauts toys before Star Wars was released probably thought that the Star Wars action figures were mostly rubbish. Unless of course they had become die-hard Star Wars fans after seeing the films, allowing their collection of Micronauts figures to hang out and have make believe adventures with some inarticulate Jedi loving pals...

"Shhh, be quiet... our love is forbidden by the Empire!"
...but who really wants to go on an adventure with a bunch of awkward looking guys that can't even bend their knees.  Jedi or not.  

Take the rigamortis stricken Biker Scout Trooper for example.  He looks like a mentally challenged man sliding down a playground slide...

"Wheeee!!!"
His legs are completely joint-less, so his feet go nowhere near the speeder bikes pedals, which are supposed to control the steering flaps.  The two kids in this commercial try their damndest to make it seem like there is nothing wrong with this toy... and I'm fairly sure that the white kid is on some sort of drugs, just look at his face.


Also, Han Solo never rode on a speeder bike you fucking moron.  If you are going to reenact a scene from Return of the Jedi, at least use the right goddamned figure. And why did the black kid have to be the bad guy?  Racist. 

Now check out a commercial for the exact same toy, but from the European distributor of vintage Star Wars figures, Palitoy.  They knew exactly how to sell a shitty action figure...


Don't you want one now?!  The speeder bikes themselves are actually damned cool, like most of the Star Wars vehicles, Kenner got that part right.  Later on in the mid 90's, a new line of Star Wars action figures released a somewhat better Biker Scout, with speeder bike, that had the ability to bend his knees... but for some reason decided to keep his arms perpetually bent like he was taking a shit.


Oh well, better than nothing I suppose...

To be continued. . .  again. . .

Monday, July 6, 2015

WHY WERE STAR WARS TOYS SO SH!TTY?


Fans of vintage Star Wars toys are probably foaming at the mouth right now after reading the title of this article, ready to rip my limbs from their sockets... but fear not, I too am a huge fan of vintage Star Wars figures.

Last week I posted an article featuring a brief history of the Microman action figures which were released by Takara in the mid 1970's in Japan.  In it I explained that Microman and it's international versions, the Micronauts, were the dominate 3 3/4" action figures until Kenner's line of Star Wars toys came around.  Microman's sales dropped after that point and Takara started to focus on their 'Microchange' line, which later evolved into the Transformers.

Whilst attempting to express some anger and disappointment over the original Microman toy line being phased out and replaced by 'gimmicky' transforming robots, I said "fuck the Transformers"...

I quickly received some angry comments calling me various rude adjectives.  Some readers even asked...

"...fuck Transformers?. How about fuck Star Wars? How did action figures with (at most) five lame points of articulation, who could barely grip their stupid accessories, usurp the actually cool toys just because they *vaguely* resembled characters from a popular movie franchise? Inquiring minds want to know."

OK inquiring minds, here you go. 

In the late 1970's, 3 3/4" action figures were still a relatively new thing.  Hasbro's G.I. Joe toys were still 12" tall and Mego's line of 8" Star Trek and DC Super Heroes figures were doing moderately well, however their new 3 3/4" Micronauts figures were gaining a lot of attention at the time.  The Micronaut's Japanese progenitor, Microman (1974), was technically the first 3 3/4" action figure line to ever exist, but were unknown in the USA, making Fisher Price's 'Adventure People' (1975) the first line in that scale to be released in America.

Sometime between 1976-1977, Lucasfilm and Fox offered the license to design and produce their line of Star Wars action figures to many different toy manufacturers, including Mego, but all of them passed on the offer for one reason or another. . . except for General Mills' subsidiary, Kenner.



With expectations of Star Wars' success being somewhat low in the spring of 1977, Kenner was not at all prepared for the tidal wave of demand that would proceed the opening of the film in the summer.  They were so unprepared after the film's release that they actually began selling  an empty box called 'The Early Bird Certificate' with illustrations of the characters and a mail away certificate inside that eager fans could redeem for actual Star Wars figures.  The figures included Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and R2D2... but you had to wait until 1978 to receive them.


 

You might be thinking "What a shitty thing to do!", but back in 1977, if you were a Star Wars fan, The Early Bird Certificate was a must have, even if you had to wait nearly a year to actually physically hold the figures in your frantically shaking hands.  They were like drugs.

For one reason or another, Kenner decided to produce their Star Wars action figures in 3 3/4" scale.  High oil prices definitely had an effect on the toy market in the mid 70's.  Plastic was becoming a lot more expensive, fueling the emergence of the 3 3/4" action figure market. Also, being able to make vehicles, spaceships and playsets in a reasonable scale for a reasonable price would have been a priority.  Whatever the reason, Kenner's production staff decided to use Fisher Price's Adventure People toy line as the foundation for their Star Wars figures.

(A Fisher-Price Adventure People figure that looks suspiciously like elderly George Lucas)

(An "Adventure Person" becomes an Obiwan Kenobi prototype)
(... and so on ...)

Back then, kids and fans didn't care about the scale or articulation of the toys, they were just happy as hell to have them.  Having seen the truly amazing Star Wars films, the action figures allowed fans of all ages to recreate their favorite scenes at home. 


Remember that this was a time before home video was a standard household appliance.  The first VCRs hit store shelves in the USA the same year as Star Wars hit theaters, but the first Star Wars film wasn't even released on VHS until 1982.... so unfortunately the kids who had the action figures were too damned excited about having Star Wars shit in their house to even notice how fucked up some of the toys actually were...

I mean, just look at Darth Vader.  He looks like he's been wrapped up in a garbage bag... and his lightsaber... it looks like he's holding a walking stick that's too short and has a dog's cock coming out the other end...


To be continued. . .

CLICK HERE TO READ PART II

Also check out the official trailer for Plastic Galaxy, a documentary about the production of the original Kenner Star Wars action figures as told by the actual toy designers and insane collectors.


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