(This is something I've been wanting to do for a long time. It's a checklist/overview of all the releases in the 1991-1993 Bandai Ultramonster line. I'll update this thread with a new post of 3-4 figures each day, with pictures of each toy and a information about the toys and how they differ from other releases. But first, an introduction...)
Everyone collects Bandai's Godzilla vinyl line. People write about them, study the various releases and re-releases and there are plenty of English-language databases and lists around for anyone to learn about what's been put out over the years. The same doesn't really exist for Bandai's Ultraman series, whose releases probably number in the thousands by now, easily outnumbering anything they've ever done with Godzilla. The Ultramonster series in particular has been made available many times over the past thirty years, with new figures constantly being added and many being retired in the process. It's a daunting task to keep up with it all. It's even harder to sort out the various releases of each individual figure. Some of the oldest sculpts have been made available seven different times, and many are difficult to tell apart unless they're found with their original packaging.
I suppose it's necessary to start at the very beginning. Bandai's first assortment of Ultra heroes and monsters started to be released in 1983 under the all-inclusive "Ultra Collection" banner. 41 different Ultramonsters ranging from Ultra Q to Ultraman Taro were released over the course of about two years. Much like the earliest Godzilla figures, these figures were all sold with small, laminated cardboard tags attached to plastic hangers. Each tag depicted a photo of the Ultra hero from the series they were from on the front while the back displayed a photo of the monster, along with their name in Japanese and English, their episode number, statistics and figure number. Gudon and Twin Tail would be unique to this line until 1989, until they were made available again with sculpting differences, making the original releases far more sought after and expensive as a result. Aboras, meanwhile, wouldn't be re-released until 1992. Excepting a limited edition release in the early '90s, Grand King wouldn't be widely re-released at all until 2009, making the original release one of the most sought after figures in the entire series.
Starting in 1986, Bandai began releasing the figures again, this time ditching the tags for a plastic bag and generic header card titled "The Ultramonster Collection". The one new addition to the line during this assortment was the monster Kemular, which was based on a mold originally released by Bandai's subsidiary Popy. The "1983" on the figure's foot indicates it may have originally been intended for the first "Ultra Collection". None of these figures were numbered. Almost 30 years later these figures aren't often sold in their bags, making it easy to confuse loose samples with the earlier toys or later issues. The only way to tell for sure that they're part of the 1986 assortment would be to check for the lack of a tag hole.
In 1988 Bandai put out a box set of figures similar to the Memorial Box sets they'd later issue for the Godzilla series in 1995 and 2005. This box (red with black silhouettes of various monsters and an image of the original Ultraman in the front) was crammed full of 49 figures, including all the heroes and monsters they had released thus far - again not including Gudon, Twin Tail, Aboras and Grand King. Also attached to each figure was a small square tag with a red border and the image of the Ultra family. The entire box set is very hard to find and even loose, tagged figures are difficult to track down. Like before, untagged figures are so similar to the first two collections and later figures that without the tags they're impossible to tell apart.
In 1989, Bandai refreshed the "Ultramonster Collection" and started all over. Everything that had been available in the 1986 assortment was issued yet again. It was at this point that Twin Tail (featuring an all-new simplified sculpt) and Gudon (with shortened horns and arm whips) returned, remaining fixtures of the line in its various releases to this day. It's also with this line that Bandai finally began adding brand new characters to the collection. Popular characters from Return of Ultraman, Ultraman Ace and Ultraman Taro debuted here, while Bandai finally turned to the later shows Ultraman Leo and Ultraman 80 to feature characters like Satan Beetle, Ron, Salamandora, Gamaira and Gykogyler. This collection also represented the first real time Bandai would tie new releases to a current Ultra series, as Kilazee and Bogun - characters from the Australian produced "Ultraman, Towards the Future" (known in Japan as Ultraman Great, and having just arrived there on video) - made their debut. Finally, the tags were re-designed, looking very familiar to anyone who collected the "Destroy all Monsters"-tag Godzilla figures from the same period. The rectangular tags were red in color and featured another generic image of the Ultra family. The bottom section of the tag is perforated, with the "Ultramonster Collection" printed on the front and the each monster's name on the back. This would be the very last time the tags were not numbered.
And now we come to the subject of this overview. In 1991 Bandai started from scratch yet again in what would eventually grow to become the fullest and easily the longest-lived incarnation in the series' history. Initially, everything was re-released all over again. In many cases, the vinyl color and/or paint applications on these new releases would be very different from the previous figure assortments, making most of this line quite distinct from previous issues. The length of time a lot of these figures were kept in production also insured that the majority of them ended up becoming relatively common, and quite a few of them are still easily found with tags attached. In addition, Bandai's switchover to softer vinyl and the farming out of production to China happened during this time, so many figures can be found made of both hard or softer material, as well as different imprints on the feet. The tags were now wider than before, and each one featured a photograph of the monster they belong to, along with the monster's name, statistics and figure number. Worth nothing is that the earliest releases of these figures were not numbered, something that didn't seem to last very long. The perforation is retained and, while the front still features the "Ultramonster Collection" title and copyright information, the reverse side now includes the barcode and other information. A brand new feature - one that would carry on to this day with a few alterations - is the inclusion of a thick colored stripe behind the photo of the monsters, which corresponds to which series it appeared in. For the record, the colors for the 1991 releases were purple (Ultra Q), red (Ultraman), dark blue (Ultraseven), orange (Return of Ultraman), light blue (Ultraman Ace), green (Ultraman Taro), purple (Ultraman Leo), yellow (Ultraman 80) and teal (Ultraman Great).
Many new characters also made their way into the line at this point, including several that are entirely unique to this series as well as Aboras, who had not been seen since the early '80s. Also worth pointing out is that there is no figure #41 in this collection. At least one Japanese guide lists #41 as Takkong. While a limited edition Takkong figure (molded in purple) was made available during this time, one was never added to the standard, numbered series. In all, the numbers for these releases ended at #70, including the missing #41.
Finally, mention must be made of the direction the line started to take in 1994, when Bandai began retiring older sculpts, replacing them with updated molds and giving certain figures full repaints. Seven figures were re-sculpted, thirteen figures were given new paint jobs and Takkong took its place as figure #41. All twenty-one of these figures were given a brand new, thinner tag design that would apply to all new character released until 1996, when the tags were re-shaped again and lost their perforation for the new Ultraman Tiga figures. This tag design lasted until May of 2000, with a whopping 140 individually numbered figures having been released. Throughout this all the other figures who had not been updated with new sculpts or paint jobs were kept in production as-is, with their original 1991-style tags. What this basically means is that even as late as 1998/99 it was still possible to buy a Garamon figure with a 1991 copyright on its tag, while Bandai was also producing brand new characters from Ultraman Gaia or Dyna complete with the newer tag designs.
Last edited by Legion
on Sat Mar 09, 2013 10:31 am, edited 1 time in total.