Friday, March 31, 2017


In high school I was a huge fan of Dragon Ball Z. It was my first taste of anime and its influence eventually led me to working in Tokyo doing manga illustration as an apprentice for the creator of Fist of the North Star - but that's a story for another post. In this series of articles I want to concentrate on Dragon Ball Z. Specifically the vintage toy line that began in 1991, and eventually the impostors that followed.

Many people from my generation in America were not aware of Dragon Ball Z until the late 90's. It first aired in the USA in September of 1996, but  was canceled after only two seasons. Then in 1998, the reruns began airing regularly on Cartoon Network's Toonami, eventually leading Dragon Ball Z to become the most popular animated television show at the time and launching further English dubbed seasons. 

Still, a lot of casual viewers in America did not realize that the Dragon Ball franchise had been around as far back as 1984 in Japan. Originally published in manga form, Dragon Ball chronicled the life of Goku as he faced a slew of enemies and martial arts adversaries, meeting new friends along the way, and showing him progress from a child into an adult with god-like power. However it wasn't until 1989 that the animated "Dragon Ball Z" began airing on TV in Japan.

With the success of both the manga and animated series, it was only a matter of time before merchandise featuring everyone's favorite Saiyan warriors began to pop up on shelves all around Japan. Being that Dragon Ball Z was more action oriented than its more comedy-centered predecessor, action figures were only natural. 

Thus the Super Battle Collection was born.

Bandai's first Super Battle Collection action figure released in 1991.

We will come back to that in a moment. First, let me catch up on my experiences with DBZ and how I began collecting the action figures that it spawned.

As I mentioned earlier, I was a complete Dragon Ball Z-a-holic in high school (and still am). Back in 1998 I unintentionally caught an episode one afternoon. I had come home from school and was flipping through TV channels. Suddenly I saw two dudes with pointy black hair, flying through the air, beating the living shit out of each other. 

It was fucking awesome. 

The next day at school I approached a friend who I had remembered mentioning the show and asked him to divulge as much information as he could give me. He gave me a brief synopsis and recommended that I go buy the first set of episodes in order to catch up. 

So I did... on glorious VHS.

My life was changed from that point onward. I began to live and breath Dragon Ball Z

When Cartoon Network would run out of episodes and start over from the beginning of the series, I would order bootleg VHS tapes from Japan that continued where I had left off. I bought DBZ video game cartridges for Super Nintendo that were never released outside of Japan. My bedroom walls were plastered in DBZ posters and images I had printed from the internet. I swapped my standard polo shirts for ultra-gaudy DBZ t-shirts...
Like a boss.
Hell, I even used to spend several hours a day, sometimes staying up all night long, drawing a series of full-length fan manga books. I sold copies of each issue for $2 to DBZ fans at my high school and ended up making fair bit of extra cash. I was a fucking pimp.

A few pages from my Dragon Ball AF fan-manga (1999-2000)

I also absolutely loved tracking down the action figures...

From 1999 to 2000, the local Toys R Us in my hometown had a a fairly large assortment of DBZ action figures on their shelves. All of which were released by Irwin Toys, a Canadian toy manufacturer and distributor. Something I noticed about their selection was that there were multiple sculpts of each character, some looking very different from the others. Later I found out that Irwin had simply repackaged Bandai's vintage Super Battle Collection action figure line along with figures from AB Toy's Super Guerriers DBZ action figure line. They were all roughly 5" tall and limited to only a few points of articulation. 

When hunting for these figures, I was always more keen on grabbing the Bandai re-releases, they were more beefy, came with removable armor and had better hair sculpts - Super Saiyan hair is something not to be fucked around with.

Just take a look at a comparison between Bandai's Vegeta and AB Toy's Vegeta...

... would you rather have the one with badass extra pointed hair, intense facial expression and awesome armor... or the one that looks like a stretched out prude in a tank-top?

The vast difference in sculpt and style of the AB Toys figures really turned me off. In fact, I actually thought that they were bootlegs. My brother and I used to refer to them as the "Mexican bootleg" DBZ toys, and for the most part stayed away from them. 

By the time I graduated high school I had amassed a large collection of DBZ action figures, most being Irwin re-releases of Bandai's Super Battle Collection. However, there was a guy with a kiosk at our local mall who was selling the original vintage Japanese Super Battle Collection figures mint in box. Compared to the re-issued, repackaged versions I had been buying at Toys R Us, these original Japanese figures were damned expensive, but of course I had to indulge. 

Irwin's figures came packaged on a generic multicolored blister card, while Bandai's original figures came packaged in an exotic window-box style of packaging with prominent artwork of the character. Bandai's packaging also allowed you to easily remove the figure and be able to put it back without damaging the packaging itself, unlike Irwin's blister cards which basically have to be torn open. Don't get me wrong, I actually love action figures in blister cards, they have a special nostalgic look to them, but when you've got a figure in packaging that can be opened and played with, then later put back into the packaging for display, it's a win-win.

Which do you prefer?
Unfortunately much of my action figure collection, including my Dragon Ball Z figures, were sold in a yard sale while I was away at art college. Then in 2005 I moved to Tokyo and got interested in collecting again. I was surprised to find out that even then, Bandai was still putting out reissues of their Super Battle Collection figure series. They had revamped the packaging and even given the figures more paint detail. 
2003 release of Super Saiyan Goku by Bandai.
I thought they were cool, but I still wanted to track down the original figures in vintage packaging. After several years of toy hunting around Tokyo, I found out that the original Super Battle Collection figures were actually pretty damn hard to find. But I've stayed vigilant and have ended up a finding a few mint in box that I was able to afford. Some of them can get very pricey. The Movie 7 Super Saiyan 3-pack for example, contains a rare version of Future Trunks in Super Saiyan form. Currently it sells anywhere between $600-$900. 
At $600-$800, you'd think their hair was made out of real fucking gold...
Fuck that.

So in those cases, I take the cheap way out...  and buy bootlegs.

Check out the video below to see some of my DBZ bootlegs!!

.   .   .

I recently started up a new private Facebook group called DBZ Vintage Collectors, which is dedicated to DB & DBZ toys and collectibles produced before 1999. In the the group members can buy, sell, trade, or share their vintage DBZ items. If you'd be interested...

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