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2002 - The Year in Review

By Richard Cox & Bob Schneider

Remember back in 1999, when the whole world was infected by Y2K fever? Optimists eagerly anticipated the beginning of a new millennium, but pessimists feared everything from the collapse of the information infrastructure to global apocalypse.

As 2004 and Godzilla's 50th birthday steadily approach, the fandom seems possessed by a similar anxiety. Some look forward to celebrating the golden anniversary of the first G flick and watching another fifty years of kaiju eiga history unfold. But others see signs of deterioration and decline everywhere and ruefully lament about how times have changed since the ďgood old days.Ē

With this atmosphere of uncertainty hanging over the fandom, 2002 was a year of extreme ups and downs. The reaction of fans to the events, products, and trends of the year were often widely divided, resulting in some dizzying high points as well as a few unfortunate lows marks.

Events

Movies

As 2002 began, most of us were just beginning to hear the first reviews and reports on Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. In spite of a strong premiere and favorable box office returns, the movie proved to be the most controversial Godzilla film in years. Though many fans praised GMK for its exciting action sequences and well drawn characters, some viewers were put off by the movieís dark tone and seemingly unconventional portrayal of some of the monsters, particularly King Ghidorah, now recast in the role of a guardian beast. Unfortunately, a few of the critics resorted to personally attacking Director Shusuke Kaneko and his supporters, many of whom in turn understandably adopted an overtly defensive stance. Though the entire debate has no doubt been blown out of all reasonable proportion, at times the conflict threatened to split the entire North American fandom into opposing factions. Love it or hate it, GMK at least succeeded in making an unforgettable impression, whether positive or negative, on virtually everyone who saw the movie, something no other Godzilla film in years has managed to do. Considering the luke warm reaction to the previous two films in the series, Kaneko and Toho apparently were doing something right to provoke such strong emotional responses on both sides of the fence.

December saw the release of the 26th Toho Godzilla film, Godzilla x MechaGodzilla, which marks the third incarnation of the robot monster and its fourth appearance on screen. Like GMK last year, GxMG is being paired with the latest Hamutaro animated feature film during much of its theatrical run in Japan, which should help draw audiences. Itís still too soon to declare the movie a box office success, but early reports sound encouraging. Though the retooled Mire-Goji styling of the new Godzilla has been receiving a mixed reaction, for once, the fandom almost universally agrees about the new MechaGodzilla design: itís a knockout.

Festivals and Shows

For the third year straight, there were two big shows to attract North American kaiju fans in summer 2002: the third annual Asian Fantasy Film Festival, held in Saddle Brook, New Jersey on June 15 and 16, and G-Fest, held in Chicago on July 12, 13, and 14. Both shows brought hundreds of collectibles, several movie screenings, and some very distinguished guests all the way from Japan to America. AFFE featured appearances by Director Shusuke Kaneko, Effects Director Teruyoshi Nakano, Bandai Representative Shinichi Yokokawa, and Carl Craig, the former child actor who starred in Gamera vs. Virus (1968), while G-Fest was headlined by Suitmation Actor Ryu Hurricane, Effects Director Koichi Kawakita, and Actor Robert Scott Field, best known as android M-11 in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991).

G-Fan Publisher and G-Fest Organizer J.D. Lees has already scheduled another festival Ė ďG-Fest X,Ē as itís being touted Ė at Chicagoís Radisson Hotel for the weekend of July 18, 19, and 20 this coming summer. Guests and activities are yet to be announced. As with so many facets of the fandom last year, though, the good news was mixed with the bad. Just when AFFE was becoming an annual tradition every bit equal to the venerable G-Fest, Club Daikaiju Owner and Event Organizer Jim Cirronella revealed that the 2002 AFFE would be the last. During a chat session at the time, Jim cited his hectic schedule and a general lack of time as the reasons for pulling the plug on future events. But mere weeks later, Jim would drop an even bigger bombshell on his unsuspecting customers that would reveal a more pressing motivation behind his decision.

Club Daikaiju and Godzillashop.com

On August 31, Club Daikaiju shut its doors and closed its on-line store after many years of exemplary service to the fandom. Jim was reportedly interested in devoting more time to his music career and found his dealership, coupled with last summer's AFFE 3, to be too much of a drain on his energy. Perhaps fellow dealer Greg Cordaro best summed it up when he described the closing of Club Daikaiju as "the end of an era."

Fortunately for his customers, Jim worked with the fine folks at The Outer Limits, another long time New Jersey dealership, to establish Godzillashop.com, a new on-line store that will continue catering to the fandom where Club Daikaiju left off. Godzillashop.com has already proven itself quite capable of serving kaiju collectors by offering the first wave of Bandai USA products before anyone else, a score that could very well cement their place in North American collecting circles. Jim also plans on continuing the popular Club Daikaiju / M-1 Monsters of the Movies series of vinyl figures, which are being sold through Godzillashop.com and other North American dealerships.

If you're reading these words, Jim, I'm sure all your former customers and fellow list members join Richard, Mike, and myself in wishing you the best of luck in whatever you pursue in the future. Maybe someday weíll see those crazy Canadians Rush opening for your band on tour.

Products

As usual, in 2002 the lionís share of new kaiju collectibles were produced by Japanís "Big Three," Bandai, M-1, and Marmit. However, other manufacturers like Bear Model and X-Plus also accounted for some major contributions to the hobby - and some major withdrawals from our bank accounts! On top of all this, a few new companies introduced their first kaiju related products last year, ensuring a better selection of collectibles than ever before.

Bandai

Everyone's favorite Japanese conglomerate Bandai continued its Movie Monsters product line with new vinyl figure releases in two different scales. Following the precedent established in 2001, Bandai rendered characters from the latest Toho film -- the new versions of Godzilla and MechaGodzilla, in this case Ė in the classic eight inch scale, while dusting off some long neglected favorites like Godzilla Junior, MechaGodzilla '75, and Titanosaurus for six inch sculpts. (As Jim Cirronella likes to point out, by the way, at last summer's AFFE 3, collectors practically begged Bandai's Shinichi Yokokawa to recommend producing a Titanosaurus figure upon his return to Japan. Who says fans in the west canít influence the decisions of Japanese manufacturers?) Bandai further expanded the product line with reissues of a few more Godzilla Island / Toho Kaiju figures, including G Force M.O.G.E.R.A. and Fire Rodan, now sporting slightly different paint schemes. The manufacturer also announced new "Action Sound" Godzilla and DX MechaGodzilla models, which feature various combinations of lights, sounds, and motion effects. However, the most anticipated new Bandai appears to be the company's first die cast toy in years: a seven inch tall rendering of the new robot monster. Enthusiasm for the Die Cast MechaGodzilla was somewhat diluted when early reports revealed that most of the figure was not in fact cast in metal but a hard plastic. Though yet unreleased as of this writing, the sculpt is still a brilliant rendering judging from promotional photos and the toy remains one of the most anxiously awaited products of the year.

Bandaiís candy toy division announced the 2003 Mini Battle Set, consisting of a pair of new four inch Godzilla and MechaGodzilla figures (essentially Hyper Real style). The ninth series of Godzilla High Grade capsule toys and another set of Appearance (or Directory) Dioramas, again based on the superb sculpts of Yuji Sakai, are also available or coming soon. However, follow ups to the hugely popular Soshingeki / Soukougeki SD Miniature Sets and last year's surprise hit, the Godzilla Gummi Figure Set, were conspicuously absent from the 2002 line up, which disappointed some collectors.

Rounding out the manufacturer's new product line are several novel theater exclusive items, ranging from the new eight inch Godzilla and MechaGodzilla figures in translucent silver and jet black, respectively, to a few different color variations of the 2003 Mini Battle Set, including a glow-in-the-dark version. The most unexpected theater exclusive is a Matchbox style Die Cast Maser Cannon which immediately became a must-have item on everyoneís list.

Meanwhile, Bandai subdivision Banpresto followed up its hugely successful DX Godzilla 2000 with a new rendering of Godzilla '54, based on another Sakai sculpt. The new model was again sold as a prize in Japanese arcade crane machines, but this time, two versions of the figure were available: a full color, brown tinted version and a gray scale edition that recreates the way the monster appeared on black and white film.

But the biggest news from Bandai was the establishment of the USA Creation series, the first line of Japanese produced Godzilla figures specifically designed for and distributed in North America. The series includes six inch renderings of Godzilla '54, Burning Godzilla, Rainbow Mothra, and Gigan, all reportedly different from the Movie Monster series figures released in Japan, as well as the Crumble Zone Play Set and the charmingly named Box of Destruction Figure Set. More releases are scheduled to follow soon. Thus far, the products are being distributed only through Godzillashop.com, though eventually, the entire line will be available through toy store franchises like Toys 'R' Us.

M-1

Typical of previous years, M-1's output in 2002 was relatively modest in quantity but nothing short of outstanding in quality, a winning formula that no doubt explains the companyís victory as Company of the Year in last yearís Club Tokyo survey. Two of M-1's best sculpts in 2002 were gorgeous renderings of Godzilla and Mothra as they appeared in GMK. The manufacturer later released HMV Exclusive versions of both the Godzilla 2002 and the earlier Mire-Goji figure, the latter in a brilliant, painted glow-in-the-dark color scheme. M-1 also gets kudos for producing what must be the most utterly unusual figure set of the year: a pair of SD style sculpts inspired by the film Godzilla x Megaguirus depicting Pilot Kiriko Tsujimori not as she looks on the big screen, but instead based on the cartoon representation of her that appears on a computer screen in a few scenes during the movie. Now thatís an original product idea.

As during previous years, M-1 also reissued a couple of popular Bullmark sculpts in 2002. One of these was a painted glow in the dark Hedorah available only by mail order to customers who purchased a copy of the book A Bullmark Story. The other was a reissue of the ever popular Minya sculpt, which never fails to draw snickers from fans amused by the characterís dough boy looks. However, serious collectors were thrilled to see the classic figure available in some interesting new variations, including Simulated Test Sample and Museum Trophy Exclusive versions.

Two more 2002 M-1 favorites were sold only as parts of larger packages. The Godzilla '54 Maquette figure, based on the design prototype of the monster, not the way it appeared in the actual movie, was sold as part of a Toho Fan Club package that also included a G-Shock watch, CD, and book. Later, M-1's long anticipated Godzilla '62 figure was released as part of the Godzilla Classic Box, which otherwise featured posters, lobby cards, theater programs, and other historical treasures reprinted by the publisher Tarkus and all neatly packed in a luxuriously designed box. M-1 also manufactured a pair of classic mini model kit reissues for the set.

Finally, Club Daikaiju continued itís line of M-1 Monster of the Movies figures with a pair of sculpts based on the movie Gorgo: Mama, measuring about nine inches tall, and Baby, around four inches.

Marmit

In 2002, Marmit not only continued its popular Para Baby series but also launched a new line of sculpts ranging from nine to thirteen inches in height and dubbed the Monster Heaven series. In keeping with the manufacturer's recent trend toward less stylized, more realistic renderings, the Monster Heaven figures are arguably the most accurately proportioned and beautifully detailed sculpts Marmit has produced to date. So far, the series includes representations of Hedorah, Gigan, Megalon, Ebirah, Varan, and several different Godzilla suit variations, as well as the oddest model of all, an Irisawa Exclusive "Illustrated" Godzilla that depicts the way the monster appeared in promotional illustrations. Fans are especially excited about the Gigan figure, which has been heralded by some as Marmitís best piece ever.

Unfortunately, the initially stunning Para Baby series didnít enjoy such a spotless record last year. Though collectors were delighted by some of the new Babies, particularly the Manda and Atragon or the Mothra Larva Twins, other models were a significant let down. The Sanda and Gaira Gargantuas looked too dull to generate much excitement, for example, while the Mothra Twin Fairies were cast from identical molds and equipped with no points of articulation, making them resemble Kewpie dolls more than action figures.

Other Manufacturers

Bear Model kicked off the year energetically by introducing its Toho Lucky Bag at Wonderfest in January. The set featured five vintage style figures: reissues of Godzilla '55 and Angilas and new sculpts of Godzilla '65, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, all molded in translucent hues that make the toys look a bit like figural Popsicles. But Bare Modelís biggest hit in 2002 was an eight inch Hedorah figure that came with a smokestack accessory. The original release was decked out in an outrageous pink, gray, red, and yellow color scheme, though the figure was later offered in a more conventional gray, black, and green eBay Special edition, sans smokestack.

Perhaps encouraged by the popularity of its 2001 Flying MechaGodzilla model, Marusan seemed bent on rendering novel poses of every kaiju under the rising sun in 2002. Within the span of one year, the fandom was assaulted by a Flying Gigan, a Crawling Baragon, and a Swimming Godzilla. Marusan even produced a "Blowing" Godzilla, though the sculpt isnít quite as shocking as you might be picturing -- itís actually a reissue of a vintage toy that can blow up balloons.

Sega attracted hundreds of Japanese kids to local arcades with its Gamera 3 model kit, sold exclusively through arcade crane machines much like the Banpresto DX Godzillas. The manufacturer later released a special Bannishing Fist version of the kit and announced a new Hyper Gyaos model sporting an awesome twenty inch wingspan.

X-Plus launched its eagerly awaited Godzilla Chess Piece Series with three inch statues of Godzilla, Rodan, and Hedorah. The company also debuted some impressive large scale statues, most notably a spectacular King Ghidorah and a sinister Legion.

2002 may be remembered as the Year of the Smog Monster, since everyone from Marmit and M-1 to Bear Model and X-Plus released renderings of the often forgotten kaiju. Unfortunately, what may have been the most unique Hedorah figure of all never made it into production. Late last Spring, American Artist Wayne Ho revealed prototypes of his new Henshin Hedorah set, a convertible figure that could be assembled in various configurations, enabling the monster to be displayed in tadpole, crawling, standing, or flying form. The product was slated to be manufactured by Toy Pirates as a follow up to 2001ís Neo-Retro Godzilla and Rose Biollante Set in time for a late Summer premiere. Because of production problems, though, the manufacturer had to push back the release date indefinitely. Maybe Wayneís latest masterpiece will finally see the light of day this year.

New Manufacturers

Though Toy Pirates failed to make a showing last year, several manufacturers new to the kaiju fandom eagerly filled in the gap. The first products out of the gate were a pair of Godzilla and Baragon figures released last January by a company called Sunguts (doesnít that name conjure up lovely images?). The figures briefly generated some excitement when pre-release photos began turning up, but collectors eventually agreed that, like a hydrogen bomb test, the sculpts look much better from a distance: close scrutiny reveals a general lack of textural details on the figures.

On a smaller scale, another manufacturer new to the hobby gave candy toy fanatics reason to rave last Spring. Yujin, formerly known for its Yokai (or Japanese ghost) figures, produced the Gamera Trading Figure Collection, a series of seven miniature, full color dioramas plus an eighth gray scale chase model, all equipped with interchangeable parts, snap on accessories, and other cool extras. About four months later, Yujin struck again with a six piece series of similarly featured Daimajin dioramas.

Finally, a manufacturer called Konami released one of the wackiest products of the year last month. Beast Shooters are miniature SD figures mounted on rolling wheels and designed to be fired from spring loaded launching mechanisms (honest!). Available models include the new Godzilla and MechaGodzilla, as well as sets featuring old favorites like Angilas, King Ghidorah, and the Mothra Larva and Adult.

Super-7 Magazine

If youíre having a hard time keeping up with all the great new products coming from Japan (and who isnít?), a new publication that premiered a couple of months ago can help. Super-7 is the first English language magazine dedicated to the world of Asian produced toys. The first issue featured an interesting article on Bullmark Godzilla figures co-written by Club Tokyo's own resident collector extraordinaire, Mike Johnson, as well as mail in coupons for a pair of magazine exclusive figures from Bear Model and Club Daikaiju / M-1.

DVDs

Fans fortunate enough to own region free DVD players were able to enjoy recent kaiju epics, including GMK as well as some deluxe box sets, direct from the source on Japanese manufactured discs. Japanese DVDs are extremely high quality and often packed with bonus features, though they also tend to be high priced compared to the American equivalent Ė think 80 dollars or more as opposed to a quick 20 bucks. For those of us who canít afford the foreign DVDs or a player to watch them on, American distributors released a few reasonable substitutes, most notably a beautifully packaged, good quality box set of Daieiís Daimajin trilogy on the ADV label.

Perhaps more important for most fans, though, 2002 was the year when recordable DVD media became widely available at reasonable prices, and bootleg vendors immediately responded by releasing the first wave of Japanese monster movies on bootleg discs. For the first time in history, viewers in the west could enjoy high quality copies of new movies dubbed directly from Japanese discs, and better yet, the bootleg copies even featured the added bonus of English subtitles, thanks to the translation skills of dedicated fans. What effect this development may have on the future of the fandom remains to be seen. Perhaps Toho will finally recognize the market for quality copies of its films in the west and begin rethinking distribution policies. Until then, recordable DVD will likely be the format of choice for fans of Asian fantasy movies. If Toho follows its usual release schedule, we can expect the first DVD boots of GxMG to begin cropping up late this summer.

And 2003 looks to be at least as bright, as ADV has announced not one, not two, but all three Heisei Gamera movies on subtitled DVD, to begin release in March, with an optional artwork-filled slipcase.

Trends

Nowhere could the fandom's pervasive mood of anxiety and uncertainty be more keenly felt than in the trends that dominated discussion throughout the year. In 2001, the major complaint of collectors was the proliferation of reissues and variations that manufacturers seemed to be pumping out in lieu of new products. Though these gripes persisted last year, most collectors began focusing their attention on problems with the market rather than the manufacturers.

eBay

Hardly a month went by without somebody on the GodzillaC or ClubTokyoC List mentioning an eBay auction in which a kaiju collectible was being misrepresented. The most common objection was inaccurate descriptions, often involving the use of the terms "rare" or "hard to find" in reference to commonly available items, though there were also incidents of bootleg copies being palmed off as the Real McCoys. Some of these auctions were no doubt deliberately designed to deceive potential buyers, though many cases could be attributed to misinformed sellers who were innocently passing on erroneous information. Either way, the moral of the story is the same: Never bid for anything on eBay without first contacting the seller and asking as many questions as needed to positively identify the product and determine its exact condition. If necessary, refer to Club Tokyo (forgive the plug) or other reference sources for more information and watch for telltale signs of bootlegs, like missing stamped markings or tags and sloppy paint jobs.

Is the Hobby Changing... ?

The topics of diminishing sales and dropping values of products turned up in various forums on several occasions throughout the year, and each time, one conclusion was inescapable: the collecting hobby is rapidly changing. Of course, the hobby has been in a continual process of change throughout its history. But as the dramatic influx of new fans triggered by the release of Godzilla and Mothra: Battle for the Earth in 1992 and then TriStarís Godzilla in 1998 gradually subsides, the ratio of supply and demand is shifting more quickly than ever before. Meanwhile, the availability of eBay and other on-line services in the age of the internet is rapidly changing the way collectibles are bought and sold. Since adapting to change is never easy, maybe itís inevitable that some collectors have begun to worry about the future of the hobby.

...Or Is It Dying?

One of the hip trends in 2001 was the custom dying of figures. But last year, some collectors were more concerned about the dying of the hobby. After almost half a century of Japanese giant monster films and almost as many years of kaiju collecting, could the hobby we love actually be nearing its end? The answer to that question is more a matter of perspective than factual data. Consider, for example, the case of eBay, often cited as one of the causes for decline in the market. True, the service creates a huge potential for misinformation and deliberate deception, but in all fairness, these risks have always existed and always will. If anything, on-line resources like Monster Zero, the GodzillaC List, Club Tokyo, and the ClubTokyoC List (another shameless plug!) provide buyers with more information than was ever available before, which helps ensure well informed purchases. Similarly, the decrease in Godzillaís visibility in America since 1998 and the release of TriStarís Godzilla may be reducing the value of some collectibles. But lower prices also mean new collectors can afford to purchase items they couldnít otherwise buy, which helps build an appetite for higher end products. Again, adaptation is the key. As buyers and dealers alike learn to adjust their practices to suit the changing market, both can more readily recognize the short-term trends as part of a self-perpetuating cycle, not a steady, abysmal decline.

Looking Ahead

What will the future hold for the daikaiju eiga industry? According to current reports, Toho has announced there will be no new Godzilla movie this year, and so far, hasnít even committed to the seemingly obligatory 50th anniversary film in 2004. But then the studio has been known to abruptly reverse its decisions in the past and itís certainly not too late to begin production on a film for release next year, or, following the studioís usual schedule, even this December, for that matter. Whatever Toho decides, there are plenty of other promising signs of life in the industry. With the formation of the new Kadokawa-Daiei Motion Picture Company, plans have already been announced for a remake of the Daiei classic, Daimajin, and the company is reportedly negotiating with Toho for rights to produce the film kaiju fans have been dreaming about for decades: a showdown between rival monster champs Godzilla and Gamera. Clearly there is much to look forward to in daikaiju cinema during the coming years.

And what about the collapse of the collecting hobby the pessimists foresee? In spite of the many changes in the fandom, it seems certain there are more North Americans collecting Godzilla memorabilia now than there were ten years ago. Far from suffocating the market, the internet is making both Godzilla collectibles and information about them more available to potential buyers, which can only help the hobby in the long run. Another factor to consider is that many of us first began collecting when we stumbled across those Trendmasters Godzilla toys at our local department stores back in the mid '90s. Granted, the figures weren't the most impressive renderings youíll find, but the availability of the toys opened the door for many fans who otherwise may have never sought out the far greater variety of wonderful products from Asia. Imagine what effect Bandai's new USA Creation line could have on the hobby when high quality, well detailed figures begin appearing on toy store shelves for a whole new generation of collectors to discover.

When the digits finally flipped over back in 2000 and the world entered a new millennium safely and securely, a lot of the doomsayers who had direly predicted the worst must have felt pretty silly about their unwarranted fears. In the same way, when the 50th anniversary of the original Godzilla film arrives next year, the pessimists and worrywarts may yet be pleasantly surprised to see the fandom enter a new era of even greater wonders.

The Survey

During December, Club Tokyo asked visitors to participate in an extensive survey to help determine what products, manufacturers, events, and trends collectors liked and didnít like last year. When the dust settled and Richard Cox finished tallying all the votes, we discovered that hundreds of visitors had voiced their opinions, providing a fairly accurate portrait of the state of the collecting hobby in 2002. Note that only products released after November 2001 and before last month were eligible candidates in most of the survey categories. December 2002 releases were disqualified because most voters wouldnít have had a chance to consider these items by the time the products made there way to America. However, the releases of these products were eligible nominees in the Most Anticipated Toy or Event category. Also, because of the large number of participants in this yearís survey and the resulting variety of responses, only nominees that received multiple votes were included in the summary reports. You can review brief summaries and graphs of the survey results here.

Meanwhile, the Club Tokyo staff conducted its own private survey of sorts. Richard, Mike Johnson, and I compiled top ten lists of our own picks for Best Products of the Year. You can compare our choices here.

-Bob
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