THE BANDAI TOYS OF YESTERDAY
A Retrospective of Marusan and Bullmark Vinyl Godzilla Toys
Author: John “Dutch” DeSentis
A Very Special Thanks to Greg Cordaro, Mike Russo, Brandon and Andy Shields, and Erik Boschert
Author’s Note: I, as well as the people who helped in the completion of this article, have done our best to ensure that all the information presented herein is as accurate as possible. Specific information is at times hard to come across for things such as the toys you are about to read about. We have taken the best available knowledge that’s been previously put forth into print or passed on from collector to collector and used it for the content following.
A SciFi JAPAN RETROSPECTIVE
As a reader of this article, you more than likely have some interest in Godzilla collectables. For the average Godzilla collector, most of what they treasure as their collection probably consists of Bandai toys. After all, they are the most popular of all the Godzilla toys ever produced. But what does the name “Marusan” or “Bullmark” mean to you? Chances are you have heard these names but may not know much about them. Simply put, these two companies are responsible for the birth and pioneering of vinyl Godzilla toys. Everything that came after them; Bandai, Yamakatsu, Marmit, and M-1, all owe a debt to the trail blazed by Marusan and Bullmark. While they may simply be pieces of vinyl, there is much to learn about the rich history of vintage Godzilla toys. So sit back and prepare to discover what many collectors consider to be the most important yet by far most overlooked Godzilla toys of them all.
THE EARLY DAYS
The origin of the first Godzilla vinyl toy ever made can be traced back not to the King of the Monster’s homeland, but to North America with the release of the very popular Aurora Model Kit in 1964. That same year Marusan, a Japanese toy company which specialized in tin toys and cars, took notice of the kit’s extreme popularity and dipped their feet into the business with the release of the Plamodel Godzilla. Marusan’s kit was based on the Aurora model, which itself was inspired by the 1962 Kin-Goji design from KING KONG VS GODZILLA. Standing about 8 inches tall, the toy was capable of walking via remote control. Although nicely done, it is thought that the high price (for the time) of the toy made it a difficult item to afford for Japanese children. It is also likely that a plastic remote control toy could not stand up to substantial play, so Marusan came up with a new solution. They made a decision to produce toys made out of soft vinyl which had articulation but did not require assembly.
MARUSAN AND THE BIRTH OF VINYL GODZILLA TOYS
In 1966, the very first Godzilla vinyl toy was produced. The Marusan Godzilla looked very similar to the Plamodel, but was molded in blue vinyl and sprayed with silver highlights. There is a known variant of the toy molded in green vinyl, but that version is impossibly hard to find. Although the sculpt of the toy was noticeably unrealistic, it was a hit and paved the way for more characters to be produced.
The second toy was Baragon, a monster fresh in the minds of Japanese children from the movie FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (Furankenshutain tai Chitei Kaiju Baragon, 1965). This toy is unique in that it is slightly more caricatured than most of the toys which would follow. That year also saw the release of GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (Gojira, Ebirah, Mosura: Nankai no Daigetto aka: Ebirah Horror of the Deep, 1966). To coincide with the movie, Marusan ordered toys based on Ebirah and Mothra produced. Both of them were solid efforts, especially the Mothra which sported a green-red paint combination with gold eyes. Mothra was re-released in 1967 with a much improved pink paint scheme and silver eyes. Notable about Mothra is the fact that it sported no Marusan logo stamp.
In 1967 came two new Toho productions in the form of SON OF GODZILLA (Kaiju to no Kessen: Gojira no Musuko) and KING KONG ESCAPES (Kingu Kongu no Gyakushu). This of course presented the opportunity for even more toys. Oddly, for SON OF GODZILLA, only a small toy of Minya was produced. The toy was only about five inches tall and was released in both green and red vinyl. The green version is a difficult toy to find, but the red version is extremely rare. This is one of two toys never reissued when Bullmark came into play, the other being the Marusan Giant Gorilla which was released the same year.This is effectively Marusan’s version of King Kong produced for the movie KING KONG ESCAPES. It is entirely likely that Marusan avoided calling this toy ‘King Kong’ for licensing issues.
In addition to the Giant Gorilla, a toy was made of the monster Gorosaurus. Widely regarded as one of the best, the first issue of the Marusan Gorosaurus was molded in blue vinyl with a red stripe down the back side. There also exists a second issue of the toy, dubbed the “Cream Belly Goro” or “Tan Belly Goro” for its green paint and tan colored belly. This version is actually the best of all the Gorosaurus toys as it has the most accurate paint job.
MARUSAN MYSTERY: MECHANIKONG
With the toys from KING KONG ESCAPES comes the single greatest vintage enigma ever to prod collectors minds: the existence of a Mechanikong figure! The question as to whether Marusan produced this toy has baffled, frustrated, and driven vintage collectors crazy trying to answer. Common sense dictates that one was made. If one were to think logically it would not make much sense for Marusan to produce a toy of Gorosaurus, a supporting monster, and not one of the main monsters. To be fair though, the only tangible evidence of the toy’s existence is a supposed picture in Yuji Nishimura’s Godzilla Toy Museum. The picture, however, is only a frontal shot. The only way to tell for sure would be to see the Marusan stamp on the bottom of the foot and to date no one has seen it.
On the other hand, all recorded data suggests that one was not produced. A big piece of evidence towards this side of the argument lies in the stamp itself. When Bullmark began to reissue the toys under their own banner, they did a rather sloppy job masking the Marusan stamps to make way for their own logo. Reissues of Godzilla, Baragon, and Gorosaurus all had their insignias shoddily filled in so that a Bullmark logo could be applied. The original logo, however, could still be seen. The Bullmark MechaniKong sports no evidence of a tampered Marusan stamp. The only way to ever know if Marusan made a Mechanikong would be to see it in the flesh…or in this case the vinyl. If one were to ever surface, it would indeed be one of the rarest finds in the history of Godzilla vintage toys.
Very peculiarly, Marusan opted to release no new toys in 1968 to coincide with the release of what was then the biggest Godzilla movie since KING KONG VS GODZILLA; DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (Kaiju Soshingeki). It is not entirely known why this happened, but it is very possible that declining sales had a hand in Marusan’s decision. For whatever reason, Marusan did try to resurrect the toy line the following year for GODZILLA’S REVENGE (Gojira, Minira, Gabara: Oru Kaiju Daishinkegi a.k.a. ALL MONSTERS ATTACK, 1969) with molds of Gabara, as well as a new Minya toy that was taller than the original issue, were produced. The Marusan Company, however, was deeply embroiled in bankruptcy and closed its doors before these two toys were ever put into production.
While the first chapter of vintage Godzilla toys had closed, a new one had begun almost immediately. The Japanese toy company Bullmark came into the picture and bought out all of the old molds from Marusan. The aforementioned Gabara and Minya molds were the first to be filled. Oddly, the first run of these two toys sported Marusan stamps. Even more peculiar is the fact that first run issues with a Marusan stamp seem to be easier to come by than those with the proper Bullmark stamp, although there is not much of a price fluctuation. Gabara is considered one of the better sculpted Bullmark toys with an accurate green and yellow paint job. Minya, re-sculpted and re-scaled, was molded in red vinyl.
As the year 1970 dawned, Bullmark decided to kick production into full gear. No less than sixteen toys were manufactured. There were nine original toys, five Marusan reissue toys, and two giant toys. First off the production line for that year was Mechanikong, which came standard in dark blue paint and had a rarer light blue counterpart. The light blue version is a very lovely show piece, but recent collector attempts to get one have come up empty handed.
Next up were Angilas and Rodan. Rodan is a fairly common toy with not much in the way of variation- blue paint on flesh vinyl with silver highlights being the standard. Angilas on the other hand comes in many different variations. There are at least 7 or 8 different paint jobs known thus far for Angilas. While none of them are drastically different, they do offer a variety of choices.
HAWAIIAN SPRAYED TOYS
Easily, the most impressive paint job for an Angilas toy would be the “Hawaiian Spray” version. Now, this classification only applies to only two toys and one must be careful to make the distinction between “Hawaiian Spray” and “Hawaiian”. Both Angilas and King Ghidorah belong
The term “Hawaiian Spray” was given to these toys due to their drastically different and unique sprays which give the impression of Hawaiian colors. However, unlike true Hawaiian Bullmarks, these toys were produced for the standard line. Angilas is one that you would definitely know if you saw it. It has an incredibly over-sprayed belly and back with tones of green and yellow green. A standout piece to be sure. King Ghidorah has darker greens in its paint than the decidedly lighter colored standard version. There is also a unique Hawaiian Spray King Ghidorah which boasts a one tone jungle green paint job and silver eyes.
The standard Bullmark King Ghidorah toy is easily the most common Bullmark toy to be found, although it is not entirely known why. Perhaps it is the overall lackluster look of the toy or perhaps many more were made than usual. Whatever the case, tracking one down is no great feat.
A strange move by Bullmark was their release of toys representing Varan (from VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE, 1958) and the original Mogera from THE MYSTERIANS (1957). Strange indeed as neither monster had really been seen since the 1950s, the only exception being Varan’s brief cameo appearance in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. Varan comes in a multitude of color schemes with the yellow bellied version being the most common. Mogera is a hard toy to get even in its more common blue and silver paint. Trying to hunt down the green and orange version is quite the venture.
MONSTERS FROM SPACE
With sails to the wind, Bullmark next produced wonderful toys of Gezora, Ganime, and Kameba for the movie YOG MONSTER FROM SPACE (Gezora, Ganime, Kameba: Kessen! Nankai no daikaiju a.k.a. SPACE AMOEBA, 1970). While the Ganime toy is really no great shakes and relatively easy to obtain, toys of Gezora and Kameba are highly sought after.
Gezora is one of the better sculpts of the line. There are two main versions that are known to exist of Gezora. There is the more common darker version which has magenta/ purple highlights and the rarer light colored version with light blue and pink highlighting.
Kameba has what is perhaps one of the most hunted variants of all the toys. While the standard version has a nice mixture of dark colors, the green version of Kameba is what many collectors want to get their hands on. This is probably due to the wonderfully bright colors which make it an eye catcher on the shelf. Some have even suggested it might be a Hawaiian version but in truth it is simply a rare variant. There is yet one more variant of Kameba that has been so scarcely seen, no one knows much about it. It is said to have reddish brown type paint on it.
1971 was a dismal time for both the country of Japan and its movie industry. Eiji Tsuburaya, the father of Japanese special effects, had passed away the year previous. With his passing seemed to be the end of an era at Toho studios. In an attempt to make Godzilla socially relevant once again, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka decided to have his creation take on the problem that was almost literally choking the country at the time; Godzilla would fight pollution in the form of a hideous sludge monster named Hedorah. GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER (Gojira tai Hedorah a.k.a. GODZILLA VS HEDORAH, 1971) was released in theaters and with it came the release of two new toys from Bullmark; a vinyl based on Hedorah and a giant sized Baragon. The nicely sculpted toy of Hedorah is yellow with several highlights of green, black, and red.
Something very noteworthy about GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER is that the movie features young Ken Yano playing with both a standard and a giant sized Godzilla. A giant sized King Ghidorah and Baragon can be seen in the background as well. The sight of him pushing those toys down the slide and hearing them “thud” against the ground might be enough to make most collectors cringe, especially when one freezes the scene and takes a good look at the wonderful condition of them.
A very nice toy of the cyborg monster Gigan was released the following year for GODZILLA VS GIGAN (Chikyu Kogeki Meirei: Gojira tai Gigan a.k.a: GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND, 1972). As with the Angilas toy before it, there are almost innumerable variations of Gigan. All of them are different shades of blue with dark blue versions being the tougher ones to find. Still, Gigan is a relatively inexpensive toy to obtain and a great start for anyone looking to collect Bullmark toys.
THE LAST DAYS OF PLANET BULLMARK
The Godzilla series was in a downward spiral by 1973, and so was the Japanese economy. This might be one reason why the last two standard toys in the line are so incredibly difficult to find. For GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (Gojira tai Megaro, 1973), a standard toy was produced of Megalon and a giant sized toy for Jet Jaguar. There is no standard version of Jet Jaguar that exists.
Megalon featured green and orange paint over a flesh colored base vinyl. There are actually two known variants of Megalon. One has very light pink spray. The other is completely gray sans a streak of green down the belly. It remains one of the most hard to find of all the Bullmarks, second only to the last toy ever produced by the company; Mechagodzilla.
Not even pictured in the Bullmark catalog for 1974, Mechagodzilla is beyond the shadow of a doubt the rarest Bullmark toy ever produced. So few times has this toy changed hands among collectors that its value remains very high. One good reason for both the toys’ popularity, besides being insanely rare and valuable, is their accurate sculpts. Even by Bullmark standards these toys are without a doubt the most accurately sculpted figures in the entire line with the paint job on Mechagodzilla taking the cake. Nowhere on this toy is the decidedly out of place colors found on many of the other toys. However, the true reason for the rarity of Megalon and Mechagodzilla is somewhat of a mystery. Like the supposed Marusan Mechanikong, collectors have argued for years as to what the story of the two is. Some experts have stated that both these toys were theater exclusive toys. While this might be a good explanation, it certainly seems odd that money would be spent to produce toys for sales only in theaters at a time when the economy was in dire straits. Other collectors simply believe that not many of these toys were made due to failing finances and being at the end of the run. The existence of the Hawaiian version of Megalon would suggest this. In either case, what is known for certain is that these two toys represent the pinnacle of Godzilla vinyl toy collecting. If you own one, you own a rare piece of vinyl history.
FROM HAWAII WITH LOVE
One of the hot pursuits of vintage collectors everywhere is Hawaiian toys. It has long been theorized that due to Japan’s close proximity to the Hawaiian Islands, these toys became very popular and were exported there. Bullmark manufactured them in even more outlandish colors than their standard versions which represented the colors of Hawaii. It has been said that these toys were sold in Japan too. It is likely that if Bullmark didn’t have enough standard toys for their orders, they were filled using Hawaiian toys. It is both the dream and nightmare of collectors to have a complete set of Hawaiian Bullmarks. The Hawaiian Godzilla is a bit of a strange production. It has been said that the toy actually came unpainted in the bag with blue paint which one had to apply themselves. This might explain why most of the paintjobs seen on this toy look shoddy. However, an unpainted version has yet to be seen. As with the standard Bullmark toy, there are two versions of Godzilla; one blue and one green.
Baragon is a toy which does not deviate as much from the standard version. Brighter tones of orange are what differentiate the toy the most. Gorosaurus also looks very much like its standard counterpart except with a flesh colored base vinyl. The same can be said for King Ghidorah. Angilas has more of an all around peach color with minimal highlights. The biggest divergence among paintjobs belongs to the next three. By far the most popular of the Hawaiian toys is Hedorah. This is probably due to the pink vinyl color and striking highlights that make the toy a real attention grabber. It is the pink base color that also sets this toy apart from all the other Hawaiians, which were mostly made using flesh or gray as the vinyl base color. The Hawaiian Gigan has bright green paint similar to that of the green Kameba toy. This toy is another favorite among Hawaiian Bullmark collectors. Last up is Megalon, which sports reddish/brown paint. Many collectors actually agree that this version is preferable to the standard version and is equally rare. No one really knows whether a Hawaiian Mechagodzilla exists or not. There are pictures that would suggest one does exist. If it did, however, it would be another one of those toys that is so rare that it would send shock waves through the collecting community if it were to pop up.
Although the purpose of this article is to cover the standard vinyl toys only, the giant sized toys are worth mentioning. The giant Godzilla is easily the best of the four with a pleasing sculpt and decent paint job. The likeness is much improved from the standard sized version. It is this toy that would go on to be the inspiration for the sculpts of the later Popy toys. The King Ghidorah toy doesn’t really leave much in the way of satisfaction as far as improving on the standard version since it is basically the same toy. One definite improvement that Bullmark should have done was to correct the single tail that plagues the standard toy since King Ghidorah has two tails. However, the toy is a beauty nonetheless. Most collectors would agree that the giant Baragon is a definite improvement over the decidedly cartoon-like look of the standard. Godzilla and Baragon both have the distinction of coming with an accessory, a small Tokyo Tower toy which fits into each toy’s right hand. There are a few variations of the tower which makes it extremely difficult to pin which one goes with which toy. It is said that the Baragon tower has two blue segments on it whereas the tower for Godzilla has one. The last giant sized Godzilla toy produced by Bullmark was Jet Jaguar. It is rather interesting that the company decided not to do a standard sized toy of Jet Jaguar, opting instead for the giant sized and medium version. Jet Jaguar is probably the most all around accurate of the giant sized toys. The sculpt is nice and the paint is very accurate to the colors of the robot as it appeared in the movie. Overall, the quest to collect all the giant Bullmark toys isn’t one that is impossible. Several noteworthy collectors have accomplished this and having all four is a rewarding goal for those who hunt vintage.
MODERN DAYS AND BEYOND
Today, the market for vintage toys remains a steady, but small niche. Most average collectors prefer to concentrate on Bandai vinyls, many of which have become increasingly available since their heyday. Another reason is that many people simply cannot afford to collect vintage toys in quantity. It’s completely understandable given the price of a lot of the toys and their rarity. Certain vintage toys have become more available as well. Angilas and Hedorah were both previously rare toys and are now much more common. King Ghidorah has always been the most common toy. Baragon is common as well. Any of these would be a great starting point for someone looking to get into collecting vintage. One thing that almost all vintage collectors will agree on; once you get momentum you just can’t stop! Expensive? Yes. Rewarding? Absolutely. The rewards go beyond how much the toy is worth. If you own a piece of vintage, no matter how rare or how common, you own a piece of Godzilla history. It is probably best not to think of the toys as any sort of an investment. Rather, think of them as something to take pride in. You could consider them trophies of a different kind. Perhaps after reading this article, you might be inclined to become a vintage toy collector yourself.
Vintage toys are getting harder and harder to find all the time. However, there are plenty of resources and people out there that can help with information, tips, and all around general thoughts on the toys. Club Tokyo is a great resource and has tons of pictures and information (Note: the link must be cut and pasted to work). There you can also join the Club Tokyo collecting forum. Erik Boschert runs the Boshzilla.com website which deals with all sorts of Godzilla items including vintage vinyl. For other online communities, check out the GodzillaC Yahoo! Group. Finally, Andy Shields runs a Yahoo! Group dedicated to vintage vinyl Godzilla toys.
Listed here is a price guide to help those who are considering vintage collecting. These prices are based on known sales as well as the thoughts of various collectors. Keep in mind that a toy is truly worth what you are willing to pay for it. However, this list can be used to give you a basis on which to go by.
Mothra- $350-$500 (Pink) $400-$550 (Green/Red)
Minya- $650-$800 (Green) $1000-$1500 (Red)
Giant Gorilla- $900-$1400
Gorosaurus- $350-$450 (Blue) $900-$1300 (Cream Belly)
Godzilla- $200-$275 (Blue) $300-$400 (Green)
Gorosaurus- $250-$300 (Blue) $1000-$1400 (Striped Belly)
MechaniKong- $300-$450 (Dark Blue) $600-$800 (Light Blue)
Mogera- $400-$550 (Blue) $700-$850 (Green)
Varan- $300-$400 (Yellow Belly) $350-$450 (White Belly) $400-$500 (Green) $450-$550 (Blue)
King Ghidorah- $200-$300
Gezora- $650-$850 (Dark) $700-$900 (Light)
Kameba- $250-$350 (Dark) $700-$850 (Green)
Hawaiian Sprayed Toys
King Ghidorah- $350-$500
Godzilla- $2,000-$3,000 (Green) $4,500-$6,000 (Blue)
King Ghidorah- $2,000-$2,500
Gigan- $1,200-$2,000 (Green) $???? (Neal Version)
Mechagodzilla- $7,000 + ????
Giant Bullmark Toys
Godzilla (With Tower)- $500-$1,200
Baragon (With Tower)- $600-$850
King Ghidorah (With Tower?)- $800-$1,200
Jet Jaguar- $800-$1,200 (Loose) $1,800- $2,000 (Bagged)