Of the many things that I don't understand about Japanese pop culture, the appeal of super deformed (or "chibi") merchandise baffles me more than most. The way I see it, if I'm going to spend some money on a miniature replica of a character design that I admire, I want it to be as scale accurate as possible. Thus, to distort well-designed monsters, robots and superheroes by giving them tiny, squat bodies, stubby limbs and oversized heads makes absolutely no sense. I can't just blame the Japanese for this, though. Given the popularity of bobblehead dolls here in the U.S., dolls that would qualify as being super deformed, we're just as much to blame for the popularity of ill-scaled merchandise.
However, I will make exceptions in cases where no other merchandise for a particular character is available. Case in point: Godzilla during the mid-80s. During that time, I was itching to get my hands on a replica of Japan's King of the Monsters but no versions of him were anywhere to be found here in the states. The last one I had seen was a jumbo Godzilla action figure that was part of the Shogun Warriors toy line, which ended in 1980.
Like many small towns across the country, the town I was living in at the time had its own annual festival. Like most annual festivals in small towns, it brought in a large number of vendors who sold merchandise of varying degrees of quality. So, I'm sure you can imagine how my eyes almost popped out of my head when one of the vendors was peddling tiny Godzillas, like the one pictured above. Read on for more details and pictures of the pint-sized kaiju that somehow showed up in my middle-of-nowhere town as nameless knockoffs.
From what I can recall, the display box that contained the tiny Godzillas didn't even have the name "Godzilla" on it but I could tell who the little green guy really was. Better still was that these tiny Godzillas were also being sold with five other kaiju from Toho Studios:
King Kong (Toho Studios Version)
Please note that these pictures aren't completely accurate. Mechagodzilla was originally made out of brown plastic with white eyes, so I painted him silver with red eyes to make him more movie accurate. Also note that this is the only example of action figure customization you will ever see from my customization- and model-kit-assembly-impaired hands.
Sure, they were cheap toys for $1 per figure and were barely over an inch in height, but I couldn't get my hands on them fast enough. (Considering that I didn't have to buy and consume six consecutive Happy Meals to collect the complete line of these toys, I'd say that $1 was a bargain.) Each monster had moveable arms and a rubber wheel on the bottom. When you revved them up, they would roll across flat surfaces while sparks would shoot out of their mouths. Unfortunately, there were no other Toho kaiju figures included in the bunch: no Hedorah, no King Ghidorah, no Megalon, no Mothra, no Rodan.
So, in an era and location where Godzilla figures were hard to come by, the ultra-cheap super deformed versions had to satiate my kaiju cravings until something better came along. They looked good on my book shelf, and I even used them as game pieces for a kaiju-themed board game that I created. I suppose the moral of the story here is that thanks to the loose enforcement of international copyright laws, kaiju collectibles can pop up in even the most unlikeliest of times and places.