Review by NekroDave
Rather than review each of Unifive's Garada K7 (ガラダK7) Jumbos separately, I think it would be best to talk about all three at once, for the benefit of newer collectors who might be confused about how many versions there are, and why. As we know, the Unifive Jumbos were basically an homage to the original Popy Jumbo Machinders. Unifive released Mazinger Z and Great Mazinger first, banking on the popularity of these characters for sales. But they decided to try something different for their third release, producing a new version of Mazinger Z's number 1 enemy kikaiju, Garada K7. This was also to be based on the original Popy toy, but there was a problem. The original toy was so rare, no one had an original specimen, or even a picture, of the toy to use as a template.
In order to get around this problem, the toy would be manufactured based upon the only images known to exist at the time. These were pictures of the original prototype seen in a catalog, as well as on the box for the second series Machinder villains. The project was announced and a mysterious teaser image was included with the Great Mazinger jumbo. An image of an unpainted prototype would even turn up.
So eventually the toy would be released. It stood slightly smaller than regular Jumbos at 20.5" tall and was made entirely out of soft vinyl, with the exception of the styrene sickles in the head. The sickles could be removed but there was no place for the toy to hold them. Each one is about 9" across and placed into small slits in the back of the head. With the sickles in place, the width of the toy is about 19" across, which might be a bit of a problem when displayed with other Jumbos. There is slight articulation at the neck and waist, as well as at the shoulders and hips. Garada has a tendency to lean slightly forward when its feet are flat down and pointed forward. Turning the legs inwards straightens it out, but makes it look a bit awkward. Copyright markings are molded directly into the back. Painted just like the original images showed, now everyone could have a Garada just like the original....right? Well, not exactly.
Immediately, hardcore Jumbo fans could tell that Unifive had dropped the ball. At 20.5" tall, their version of Garada stood about 2" taller than what the original likely would have been, when you consider that all the other villains in the second series were about 18". And the sculpt was not the same as the original and the sickles protruded at a more horizontal angle than they should have. Furthermore, even though Garada appeared on the second series box, the Unifive version came in a box that was more like the first series villain boxes, plain brown cardboard with a single color image on front. If I had to make a guess at the reason for this, I'd say they probably figured since they were not making 6 different villains, why copy a box that has 6 different villains on it? Better to mimic the first series boxes, which only had the included character.
Popy 1st series villain Kame Bazooka box
Unifive Garada K7 box
Next, a limited edition, hand-painted recolor of the toy would be offered through the magazine "Gangu Jinsei" (aka "Toy Life") in their second issue. The toy would get the traditional black repaint with silver limbs and gold detail on the chest plate, as well as a new sticker on the back. The box would be the same, except that it featured a sticker on the front to distinguish it from the regular version. While releasing black versions is pretty common in the field of Japanese toys, this would be the first and only time it would be done with a Jumbo. It is the hardest of the three to get now and, in my opinion, the nicest looking.
But this would not be the biggest draw for this issue of the magazine. They would have an article about Popy Jumbo Machinders, including the first ever officially published photos of the original Garada K7! (An image had appeared on the internet not long before this, but was removed, and the magazine photos were higher quality.) Regardless of which came first, people everywhere could now see what the Popy Garada K7 looked like.
Clearly, we have ourselves another problem. Not only was Unifive's release of Garada the wrong size and sculpt with an inappropriate box, it wasn't even remotely colored correctly! Furthermore, there was no ball launching gimmick in the chest. Due to these differences, many fans and collectors were very disappointed in Unifive's release, especially since the silhouette in the flyer looks more like the Popy original than the actual toy would. In an interview with Matt Alt of ToyboxDX, toy scholar Koji Igarashi went as far as to call the toy a "total sham". Others simply believed it to be a nice toy, but a poor attempt at a replica of the original. And others didn't care either way, but were just happy to have a Jumbo villain that was easy to get and afford, even if it wasn't just like the vintage ones.
After the release of the fourth Jumbo in the line, Gaiking, it was becoming apparent that sales could no longer justify the continued production of these toys. Plans to release a Jumbo Combattler V were scrapped, but Unifive would still go ahead with one more Garada. A limited "original color" version would be release exclusively in the United States via Diamond Comics Distributors. It would be painted like the original Popy Garada, but would not include a ball launching mechanism or any change to the sculpt. You'd get the same box again, but this time with a sticker designating it as a Diamond Comics "Previews Exclusive".
You may also hear talk of a "test color" version of Garada K7. This would be a couple of specimens that are the same as the Diamond version, except that they had no packaging, no holes in the head to hold the sickles and the sickles themselves are just hand cut pieces of plastic. These were essentially prototypes and were not available to the public.
So where does that leave us? Well, probably with the most convoluted review I've ever had to write. But hopefully it all makes sense. Essentially, there are five Garada K7 jumbos that you would need to know about. They are:
- white Popy Prototype (seen on box)
- green Popy toy
- white Unifive toy (based on Popy prototype)
- black Unifive limited edition toy
- green Unifive toy (based on Popy toy)
If you want the Unifive Garada K7 toys, the green is the easiest to get, followed by the white, with the limited black version not surprisingly the rarest. None can compare to the original but are cool jumbos to have.
*Many thanks to Matt Alt for letting me use the picture he took of the Unifive prototype Garada, and also to Sean Bonner, for letting me borrow it from Jumboland, where it was originally featured. While I'm at it, thanks also to Tom Franck and his old CoolJapaneseToys website, where much of the original Garada mystery unfolded as it happened.
** While this is the specimen featured in Gangu Jinsei, this particular image was saved from the Mandarake website.
|Posted 14 April, 2007 - 14:32 by NekroDave|