Action Figure Spotlight: Baragon (Trendmasters, 1996)


Waaaay back in 1996, before social media, the rise and fall of forums, and toy websites with any current info, news traveled much slower than it does today.  The best way to hear from fellow collectors was a thing called newsgroups, which were bulletin board-type areas organized by subject matter.  It was here that information was shared--and believe it or not, deals were made (the format didn't allow attachment of photos, and trades or purchases were made sight unseen!).  It was there that I first read of the discovery of three late-breaking figures being released at the tail end of the GODZILLA WARS line, without fanfare.  Figures that nobody really knew were coming, especially because there was no clue of their existence.

You probably know that one of the flagship items in Trendmaster's two Godzilla lines are the boxed action figures with sound (the company referred to them as "6-inch," but in reality they are closer to 5 inches tall).  Here is the back of the box for the GODZILLA WARS series:

However, not all of these were made in GODZILLA WARS packaging, and there was never a sound "Anguirus" figure at all, so you can see how keeping up was pretty confusing.  (Another wrinkle was that most of the sound figures were sold in carded versions, with the sound features removed, but that was not the case for these final three figures).

And so, on that autumn day in 1996 when I first read that there was a Trendmasters Baragon, Megalon, and Varan, I left at lunch and traveled to Kay-Bee Toys (you are missed), which was less than a mile from my work! And there they were; with their familiar KB price tags with the original price lined through and another written in red pen.  They miraculously had one of each.  I lined up the three figures on the shelf in front of me, and took a step back to get a good look at them, and...walked away.  I know; I'd like to tell you they were just too muscular in a 1990's way for my tastes, but also, I was extremely poor back then, and that was probably closer to the reason.  Instead, I tracked the "big three" down in very recent years.

And today, those boxed figures are pushing two hundred dollars apiece. Great Scott!

Seeing as how we recently launched a Trendmasters Godzilla Checklist Page, it seems like a good time to take a closer look at these three figures.  Today, we begin with Baragon.

In defense of my 1996 self, try to remember that this is what Baragon actually looked like:
And that this is what we actually got:
I personally see more King Caesar in this finished figure...but man, those biceps are jacked.

"Snap into a Slim Jim!"

They did get at least incorporate the ridges on his back (something you can't really see in boxed examples).
I can't speak to what his roar sounds like, as the batteries in mine are kaput, but Trendmasters roars never were right anyway; they were just for fun.  It would've been more than awesome if Toho had supplied audio for them, come to think of it (as it is, King Ghidorah actually purrs).

In the retrospect of the many dusty decades that have passed since their release, I'm not 100% sure I would've made it through with "the big three" intact, but I'm thrilled to have acquired them at this point.  They became White Whales after enough time passed, as these sorts of things often do.  Join us next time, and we will look at another of these guys!


1978 View-Master Calendar (GAF, 1978)


Some of the most pleasant discoveries are the finds that you never knew existed.  It's like that dream you had as a kid, where you go to a store or sale of some kind, and find a toy or item that was completely unknown to you but is the best thing you've ever seen, and you wake up clutching it.  Well, it's sort of like that, only in this case, I get to keep the goods, Dr. Freud!

This won't be a super photo-heavy post, but here is the 1978 View-Master calendar, which I think we should assume was a promotional item for dealers.  You could easily imagine seeing this hanging on the stockroom door of a mom-and-pop toy store (if you ask what that was, you're in the wrong place, of course).  There are lots of cool characters, who (naturally) appear in View-Master reels.  For our purposes here, though, we are most concerned with the month of April:

Godzilla had his own View-Master reels, which came in several permutations, including but not limited to:

...which were all part of the merchandising campaign that included the Hanna-Barbera animated series (they were able to keep the license a few years)...and also lots of other good stuff

This calendar measures 17 x 23 inches, so it's not too giant, but still big enough to see. What's more, and you couldn't plan this better if you tried: it lines up with 2023.  It's like fate.

These sorts of things are very hard to photograph, so here is a photo that is slightly sharper than the one above, just a bit more skewed.  Just in case anyone wants to actually use one.  Otherwise, you'll have to wait until 2034!


The Randolph Tapes 26S - Confidence (1986)


SO...here is a bit of a tangent, but not too much, as we have talked about subliminals before around here.  It's a subject that's always fascinated me.  I don't even know what my actual opinion on it even is.  If I hadn't've seen that great Robert Culp Columbo episode as a young kid, maybe I wouldn't be fascinated with the subject.

I stumbled onto this cassette for the princely sum of one dollar, and snatched it up.  There's not a huge amount to say.  It begins with an interesting introduction, and the rest of the tape is mostly ocean sounds.  The idea is that there are positive messages underneath, which are meant to build your CONFIDENCE.  Whether it does, I can't say.  You can see examples of the messages in the scan above (in red text).  The question is: why is it better to have your subconscious mind hear the messages, rather than your conscious one?

I think the answer has to do with changing behavior, and when I look at the huge range of topics offered on other tapes (below), it makes me think people were simply looking for an easy way out.  Why try so hard to stop smoking or relate to people, when you can perhaps just program yourself to do it? This is when things start to derail for me.

I mean, really...there is actually a tape available for "HUMOR."

But all that pales in comparison to the listing for "DEVELOP E.S.P." What the...?

Develop...............E.S.P. I can't even.

About this time, my cynical mind kicks in, which thinks it would be hilarious if the same tape of ocean sounds was sold under all of these different headings.  I will say that I tried lots of different AI and de-mixer programs on these ocean sounds, trying hard to uncover exactly what is beneath them.  The closest I ever got was a buzzing sound that almost sort of sounded like words sometimes, but unfortunately was a total failure otherwise. 

As to the question about results, you can try it for yourself and see! You didn't think we'd get this far without letting you hear it, did you? Good luck. If you develop any powers, though, I would at least like a donation.


Godzilla Dr. Pepper Ad (35mm Theatrical Version, 1985)


A small metal film can arrived in the mail this week, about 4 inches in diameter.  Inside was a short roll of 35mm film!

This is a print of the theatrical version of the famous Dr. Pepper Godzilla commercial! We have covered many, many items on this blog that were included in the massive Dr. Pepper tie-in campaign for the release of GODZILLA 1985.  It was an extensive (reportedly $10 million) advertising campaign that seemed to be everywhere for a short time.

The commercial is fondly remembered by fans, and goes back to a time where fun tributes that were free of politics were possible to produce and be enjoyed.  However, most people don't know that there are actually two different commercials, and four versions total!  However, as reading about fun commercials is like dancing about architecture, it would be criminal of us not to show you the actual ads....so let's dig in!

The first ad actually predates the release of GODZILLA 1985, and is 30 seconds long and was shown copiously on television.  This ad was graciously posted to YouTube by the colorfully-named "assmanbbq."

Like many TV commercials with a big budget, there was a one-minute version of the ad as well, which we will return to shortly.  This recording was uploaded to YouTube by a user named "ThreeOranges," 16 years ago!

The commercial was, of course, hugely successful, and a sequel was released, this time in color, to promote Diet Dr. Pepper, with a female monster showing up! Kudos again to "assmanbbq" for keeping this classic alive.

Which brings us back to the 35mm version, which for once I am SUPER-fortunate to not have to pay to convert, because a kind soul called "FT Depot" has already done it for us on YouTube, in HD no less! This version was shown in movie theaters where GODZILLA 1985 played, which accounts for the different aspect ratio (there is slightly more information on both sides of the frame, and at the bottom as well; the television version looks a little squished to me, now that I compare the two).  This version is slightly longer, as well, because it included several seconds of an end card reading "HOLD OUT," which was one of their slogans at the time.

Thanks to the many fans who have preserved these commercials over the years.  It would be incredible to finally have a proper DVD/Blu-Ray of GODZILLA 1985, which of course would have to include this ad (and "Bambi vs. Godzilla" as well for completeness), but alas, that's something that's also left up to the fans, who luckily are up to the task.


M.U.S.C.L.E. (Mattel/Bandai, 1985-87)

I didn't know it way back in the day, but yet another of my favorite toy lines also came from Japan (doesn't everything?).  Back then, the whole line was shrouded in mystery, but today, we know its complete origins.

In 1985, completely out of nowhere and in the middle of a toy world dominated by 4-inch action figures, Mattel suddenly launched packages of 2-inch, flesh-colored, non-posable rubber wrestling figures, and a new toy line was born.  They christened it "M.U.S.C.L.E.," and went so far as to make it an acronym, standing for "Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere." Their permutations seemed endless, as did the amount of different figures available.  After all, they said "Millions" right there in the title! 

As it turned out, Mattel had entered into a partnership with Bandai (which wasn't their first) to bring figures from a popular Japanese franchise, Kinnikuman, to America.  Kinnikuman encompassed comics, animated series(es), toys, and much more, and had run for years (and still does).  Every figure had a name, and was a character from the long-running series' universe.  But instead of adopting the property, they simply dumped the figures on the toy-buying public.  They did bother to change the lead character to "Muscleman," and rename a character "Terri-Bull" to serve as the bad guy, but everything else, including the allegiance of each character, was up to you.  And you know what? It worked.

Like many folks, I prefer adaptations that are as accurate as possible for Japanese properties brought over here, but the lack of any information with this line really sparked kids' imaginations. You made your own teams; it was wide open for interpretation.  "Hey, this guy is a light bulb; this guy is made of bricks!" (One guy was actually a urinal, but we didn't know that at the time, and neither did Mattel, I'm sure.) One thing that Mattel/Bandai did right was to make the figures harder rubber, and much more durable.  In Japan, they were part of the "keshi" craze; soft rubber, eraser-like figures that come out of gashapon machines [see this post for an awesome Godzilla keshi set].

So how many figures were there? In that first year, a mail-order promotion began appearing, allowing you to order your own poster checklist, which revealed that there were 233 figures.  However, this wasn't the whole story, because the Wrestling Ring playset included 2 exclusive figures, and there is also one rare non-poster figure that somehow got in (and in recent years has been proven to exist in sealed packages), setting the officially-accepted count for a complete flesh-colored set at 236.

And, an entire set of 236 fits in an "oversized-shoebox" size archival box! We should do a post on everything we've learned about how to store things safely long-term (yes, they are all individually bagged, but don't buy your ziploc bags at Michaels or Wal-Mart. You want polypropylene, NOT polyethylene. 

After the first year, Mattel could've kept adding new figures, but instead the decision was made to re-issue existing figures in new colors.  Sometime during that second year, kids' interest waned, and the line folded and blew away in the wind.  It would've been interesting to see the animated series adapted and new figures issued, but it wasn't meant to be.

There is quite a bit of confusion over the colored figures; for example, not every figure is available in every color (in fact, far from it). Also, counting the original flesh color, there are ten different colors available, as can be seen below:

The light purple color is mega-rare, because only five figures were made that way, which we will get to in a moment.  First, let's talk about the ways that the M.U.S.C.L.E. (I hate typing that) figures were sold.

Four-packs were the most popular, because they were the cheapest, AND you could see what you were getting.  Much allowance was scrounged and maximized to buy as many four-packs as possible. Yards were mowed.

10-packs were sold in an opaque garbage can.  I never cared for these as a kid, because I couldn't see the figures I was purchasing (especially with the wrapper on).  The trash can may seem random, but it's actually another Bandai carry-over.  In Japan, assortments of keshi figures (usually Ultraman enemies, from what I've seen) were sold this way.

There were four different 28-packs, and they were the top of the line, and obviously the most expensive.  Unlike the other sizes, they were not randomly packed, and included figures you could get nowhere else.  This is a second-year example that included colored figures:

While the back of the 4-packs sets up the hero and villain, it was the back of the 28-packs that gave us the closest thing to a backstory, with an included comic strip! I suppose no other item in the line had enough room on its packaging:

Speaking of Bandai and keshi, the 28-packs always remind me of their awesome Ultraman sets (which are sets of 30 figures):

Every great toy line needs a playset, and the crown jewel of the M.U.S.C.L.E. toy line was what every fan wanted:  the wrestling ring.

It wasn't even that large of a playset, but the concept of joysticks to move your figures and make them fight was brilliant.  On paper. Unfortunately, it's probably for the best that I didn't get one that Christmas, as they are pretty fragile.  The plastic clips that hold the figures tended to break easily (intact examples usually have white stress marks, at the very least).  But that wasn't all:  the orange cardstock that served as the floor tended to get scratched up quickly, AND the elastic bands that made up the ropes around the ring were prone to breaking or getting lost.  

Bandai produced this item themselves for Mattel.  Notice that the back of the box shows a prototype version of the playset with different joysticks, and, most notably, different clips to hold the figures! Too bad we ended up with the fragile ones. (They really should've been metal.)

We mentioned the rare light-purple color.  There was also a board game, which included ten figures.  What's important here is that, while light green was already an existing color, the five lavender-colored figures in the game are the only ones ever produced that way.  Because of this, complete examples of the game can be tough to come by.

We have already mentioned the mail-away poster, but for completeness, there was also an NES game, a FREE figure in select jars of Nestle Quik (that was awesome), and something called the "Battlin' Belt" that was the Kenner Chewbacca Bandolier Strap of the M.U.S.C.L.E. line.  I see what they were going for, but I thought it was dumb, even as a kid.  However, these are the types of items that always end up worth a fortune, because fewer people bought them originally.  

All in all, one thing you can definitely say about this toy line is that it causes hardcore nostalgia.  It's certainly one of my favorites from the 1980's.  Discovering its origins and finally getting questions answered through some great websites (links below) has been extremely rewarding over the years.  I've noticed in recent years that you just don't run into the figures like you used to.  It used to be commonplace to see a couple in a random bag of toys in a thrift store, but that never happens to me anymore.  I'm sure they are being hoarded, because prices have been climbing! 

If you are interested in learning more--much more--about M.U.S.C.L.E., here are some places you should go:

The University of M.U.S.C.L.E. - This is the definitive website on the subject.  Do you want to know which figures were available in which colors? Are you curious which figures make up the different 28-packs? They have the answers.

Nathan's M.U.S.C.L.E. Blog - Jump to each figure by number, and see exactly how and where it was available! Great in-depth info also on each type of item in the line.


And Then There Were 38


If the photo above looks like junk that you might walk right by at a flea market or thrift store...well, you aren't wrong.  However, it simultaneously happens to be priceless at the same time...at least to me, and for our purposes around here that is!

You probably know that one of the things we keep track of around here is the impressive amount of Godzilla (and other Toho) VHS releases that were put out during the reign of the format, which ended around 2002.  If you are so inclined, you can see all of these at our page: Godzilla - American Home Video Releases.

When it comes to GODZILLA vs. MEGALON, there was a famous, well, let's call it a misunderstanding, where copyright information was left off of the title card of the American version, allowing many, many folks to assume the film was in the public domain (Toho only rectified this issue in recent years).  We aren't going to get into any legal quagmires here, but suffice it to say, lots of fly-by-night, public domain-issuing videotape producers added it to their output:

Did I say lots?

If you are keeping score at home, that made 37 different ones...until now, that is!

This new discovery is a "double-feature" (which is simply cramming two films onto one tape that is usually already compromised in quality to begin with) of the perennial British classic, GORGO, with GODZILLA vs. MEGALON, by a company calling itself Matinee Theater, out of New York.  The tape and box are undated, but we do have one clue to its age:  what VHS collectors call a "big box" package, which is exactly what it sounds like (in fact, there is already one in the MEGALON family; at the end of the first row in the first photo).  Pretty much a product of the very early 1980's, these aren't clamshell cases, but simply oversized cardboard boxes with an area for the tape...or, in the case of this particular example, a channel for it to rattle around in.

"Hey, this isn't the tape we are talking about!" You are right,
sharp-eyed readers, this is a different Matinee Theater release,
which we will get to in a minute.

I've always wondered if the "big box" was an attempt at theft reduction, much like compact discs coming in "long boxes" for years. At any rate, because of this design, the cheaper ones are prone to getting crushed, which is what happened to this example.  This was made worse by the fact that this particular "big box" is even a little bigger than the standard ones.

With a little careful work (a trick I learned from a board game guru is how to use a clothes iron on cardboard!), I was able to restore it to a flatter condition, use acid free tissue paper to help it fill the useless empty spaces to better hold its shape, and get a decent scan of the front and back:

And...we now have 38 VHS editions of MEGALON.  

In the realm of Godzilla VHS, there is rare, mega-rare, and simply unheard of, and I'm afraid this tape falls into that last category.  I've never seen, heard, or even heard rumor of it existing.  In fact, I'm having a hard time even finding anything out about Matinee Theater, save this one other example from an auction:

This release doesn't even have an item number (the MEGALON tape is TMT20014...their 14th release?). It's of course possible that Matinee releases were localized to their region of the country, and maybe produced in low numbers.  It's also possible that they were in business a week and a half and then disappeared.  If I've learned anything, it's that, in the land of public domain VHS, anything is possible.  Anything. 

New discoveries have slowed waaaay down over the years, but the question to end this post on would be: are there more rare American VHS editions of MEGALON out there to be found? I want to say no, and scream it from the rooftops, believe me...but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if another such unknown release was out there somewhere, waiting to bubble to the top after decades of obscurity.  Which, I predict, will somehow end up expensive for me! Stay tuned!

ADDENDUM:  The sad thing is, because of a discrepancy that I finally untangled with another release, we are actually at 39 unique releases of MEGALON, and the VHS page has been updated!


3 Favorite Cartoon Classics (Unicon Communications, 1989)


What? Why are we talking about ancient public domain cartoon VHS tapes? He's finally lost it, hasn't he?

No, friends, at least not yet, anyhow.  That's indeed what we are talking about, and from the long-ago year of 1989.  This is the part where I say that I miss these sorts of things existing.  I miss the Wild West atmosphere that VHS tapes existed in.  Godzilla movie collecting even got me to miss VHS in general, and I often have to fight my hoarding impulses when I go to Goodwill...BUT, sometimes they win out, as in the case of this strange tape.

There's nothing earth-shattering on it; two Warner Bros. cartoons (both directed by Bob Clampett), and one Fleischer color Popeye two-reeler.  As classic animation goes, they are all great, and all share another thing in common: they were widely bootlegged for years, along with many other cartoons.  So what's the big deal?

I will admit, I owned endless dozens of these types of tapes back in the day, and when I pull one from the shelf while shopping, it's usually to see if I can find one of those hilarious front covers with delightfully off-model artwork of Bugs Bunny or Superman, and share it here.  

Like these sorts of monstrosities...

On this particular day, the tape slid out, and lo and behold, something I've never exactly seen before.

We are all familiar with tapes that have colored shells (DESTROY ALL MONSTERS comes in both white and black, for example), but I've never, in the many thousands of tapes that have passed through my hands over the last decades, seen a tape like this.  A green translucent shell, yellow guard panel door, blue lenses...

But it doesn't end there.  The sprocketed "reel hubs" are pink and red, respectively! I have to tell you, I'm still kind of amazed at this tape.  It couldn't have been cheap to do, especially back then.  I have searched for examples of other titles in the line*, and they are all plain-jane, black videotapes like you'd expect.  Even other copies of this same title are normal.  Here are just a couple of the many that I saw:

There was one, however, with blacked-out windows (the mafia edition?)

None of the other titles in the line (and there were LOTS) seemed to come in crazy colors, either.  Was the manufacturer (which is a kind word for some of these companies) just getting rid of parts? Was it a one-off? Did I find the Golden Ticket of public domain VHS cartoons? Either way, I wanted to do a post on it here, to see if anyone could add anything to this bizarre discovery.  I'd be interested to hear what your strangest PD VHS find is, too!

*Babbling Footnote:  We could talk about this all day, but this particular tape was made by "Unicon Communications." However, you might have noticed the "JFK" on the yellow door part, which isn't the President at all, or the dreary Oliver Stone movie, but "Just For Kids." In looking at other editions of this tape, I noticed that the later ones had were attributed to "Celebrity Home Entertainment," which makes perfect sense, as Celebrity were they purveyors of the "Just For Kids" line, which, if it sounds familiar, issued the Gamera tapes back in the day that mostly involved Sandy Frank versions...you learn quickly that public domain VHS is a rather inbred subject matter.


Godzilla Lite Table Lighter (Beetland/Banning, 1985)


Here is one of the more unusual items from the merchandising push around the time of GODZILLA 1985, and one that you couldn't buy in a toy store!

A lighter where the flame comes out of Godzilla's mouth is a no-brainer, and in my opinion, this is the best of the various attempts over the years.  The more common one you will see is actually not as old as the one we are looking at today, and looks like this:

It's usually copper in color, and the eyes light up.  It's cool but unauthorized, and is basically a bootleg item. (We should make a whole page for unauthorized Godzilla items, and it would be pretty sizeable.)  But back to the subject at hand...

This lighter was made by Beetland, who had a large line of Godzilla items in Japan, mostly household and decorative products, and mostly awesome.  It was distributed in America by Banning Enterprises, which may sound familiar to you if you have examined our chronological list of vintage American Godzilla merchandise.  

Banning was apparently tasked with organizing a Godzilla Fan Club in the U.S., and in the past, we have looked at two of the items they produced that turned out to be for this very purpose, the pinback button and the action poster, both of which are described in the paperwork that was included with the lighter:

"The Legend" part of the text above is identical to what is included with the poster.  Speaking of the poster, the entire back of the box is utilized to show its cool artwork:

It's interesting to see (finally) how all of these items are connected together.  I have done a few cursory searches here and there, looking to see if any copies of this GODZILLA GAZETTE exist (or were even made), but haven't turned up anything yet.

The other side of the flyer gives us the instructions for the lighter itself (and you could even return it for repair if needed):

One thing that even I didn't realize was that this lighter came in two variants, black and green! It's as if they began to produce it, and then said "hey, you know, most Americans think that Godzilla is actually green; we should probably do it that way, too." I'd put money on the fact that the green one probably sold better.

Green model

And here is the bottom of the box.  I know they have to tell you not to not to give lighters or butane gas to children, but it's still amusing to read.

The GODZILLA LITE is a unique addition to your collection, but if you run across one, double-check to make sure it's complete, and the little folded flyer is included.  From my experience, they usually aren't!

ADDENDUM: For completeness, here is what Beetland's packaging looked like in Japan (below).