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The most "ultra" Ultraman collection in the universe!

Author Kirkland Jue

The Collection of Mark Nagata

The most

Mark Nagata is an Ultra Toy Collector in every sense of the word. An artist and Co-Founder of Japanese Toy Culture Magazine Super7. (www.super7magazine.com) Mark is credited with the largest Ultraman collection in the world.

Having the privilege of witnessing this mass of over 1,800 figures with my own eyes, I have little doubt about the credit he has received. The pictures below only tell two-thirds of the story as Mark has another one-third of his collection in storage. All Japanese toy collectors know Ultraman, but for the uninitiated, Ultraman is one of the original Japanese Super Heroes from a series of live-action TV shows that ran in the late 60's.

It was Christmas 1973 when Mark began his fascination with Japanese toys. His Aunt and family were stationed at a military base in Japan when she surprised him with a huge box of toys. As he un-wrapped each box, his eyes grew wide and jaw dropped low as he uttered "Whoa!" with each new figure. Mark had no idea what the names of the figures were, but knew they were cool toys. "I'd call them seaweed guy (Zaron, from Return of Ultraman) or lion man (Lionmaru) or green guy with star on his head (Mirrorman). 
Like many of us, Mark began collecting toys again years later as an adult in the late 80's. Mark bought toys from old-school stores like Kimono My House in Emeryville, CA. (www.kimonomyhouse.com). It wasn't long before he made a major trade with a Super Collector, Sanford Mok, which was to be the core of Mark's vintage Ultraman collection seen here. Mark sighs and looks in the air: "Opening the box from Sanford was as close to replicating Christmas 1973 as I will ever get." 
Eternal Collector: How did you know about all these vintage toys? 
Mark Nagata: I happened upon a book published by B-Club that showed a series of vintage Ultraman vinyl toys made by the company Bullmark. I picked up this book and flipped through it and saw this picture of all these different kinds of vintage Ultraman vinyl toys. I had never seen so many Ultraman toys gathered in the same place. I was mesmerized. I had no idea there were so many different kinds of Ultraman toys. I was transfixed. I wanted them all.

EC: How did you begin acquiring all these rare and vintage toys?
MN: At that time, it wasn't nearly as easy as it is today with the internet, eBay and all. Not even close. I saw an ad in a Japanese magazine somewhere for one of the vintage Ultraman figures and I asked the seller if he could get more. I faxed him in Japan, the pictures from the B-Club Magazine and he replied that he could. Thus began a beautiful relationship with another legend in the toy business, Masato Shono. He finds more vintage toys, I buy more vintage toys. He finds, I buy. More, more, more...

EC: Why the fascination with Ultraman?
MN: It's a funny thing, most hardcore Japanese collectors don't collect Heroes. They collect "Kaiju" or the monsters that Ultraman and the other heroes fight. When I go to Japan and tell them I collect Ultraman, they always ask: "Why do you collect heroes?? Collectors like kaiju better." Most hardcore collectors like the monsters better because they are so weird and alien-looking. Nobody collects the heroes which is why I guess I have the largest collection in the world. I like Ultraman and the other heroes such as Kikaider and Inazuman because they look cool and I remember watching the shows when I was a kid. I think its part nostalgia and part aesthetics.

EC: Do you collect all kinds of Ultraman toys?
MN: I used to get all Ultraman toys. Anytime I would see a toy or figure I didn't own, I would buy it. I used to get packages in the mail every other day. As every collector knows, there comes a time when you just run out of space and have to make hard decisions about what you're going to continue collecting. Some guys collect Japanese die-cast toys, which are very popular. For me, it was always about the vintage vinyl figures. The stuff made by Bullmark in the 60's. Bullmark is known for its Godzilla, Ultraman and Kaiju (Monster) vinyl toys. They used to be very inexpensive to collect as they are cheap to manufacture, but these days, collectors will spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars for rare vintage vinyl toys. Early on, this was the path I chose. Collecting vintage vinyl is pretty niche amongst toy collectors. Collecting vintage Ultraman is even niche amongst the niche.

EC: How did you begin to narrow the focus of your collection?
MN: I began with focusing on rare vintage Ultraman vinyl figures that are officially licensed. For example, I showed this Ultraman Bank to my friends in Japan and they couldn't believe it was officially licensed. They thought it was a bootleg for sure. Bullmark didn't make Ultraman Banks. What is special about this toy is that it is officially licensed, but in Argentina! I also collect bootleg figures, which in some cases, are even more rare than the licensed ones. Bootleg figures are not officially licensed so they can look different from their licensed cousins. I also started collecting Ultraman masks and helmets. Some of these helmets are actual props from the TV series in the 60's. One of my latest additions is this Ultraman Tin Friction Tank from Marusan. It's whacky, rare and it had this incredible box art so I had to add it to my collection! Lastly, I collect test molds, which are very rare pre-production figures that are not painted and are just for testing purposes to see how well the new mold is producing.

EC: What drives your collection? 
MN: Some collectors just collect what they like and think is cool. Other collectors must have everything in a specific toy line or series. Some collectors focus on a TV show or anime and have to own every toy related to that show. For me, I chose to focus specifically on Japanese Super Heroes and even more intently on Ultraman and his "family" of figures. I try to collect every version from every manufacturer from that time period. The rarer, the better. To the un-trained eye, they all look alike, but if you look closely, there are subtle differences between each of these Ultraman figures. For example, in 1966, the first vinyl Ultraman ever released was from a company called Marusan. It was 9 inches tall, but had strangely sculpted ears. The second version of this figure featured a newly sculpted head, but with more accurate ears. For me, the thrill of the hunt for rare toys is half the fun. I keep a list of rare toys that I check for online with Yahoo Japan or eBay. Finding the toy is one thing, but finding it at the right price is quite another. If I find a figure, but it's overpriced, at least I know where I can get it if I want.

EC: What's it like toy shopping in Japan?
MN: It's quite an experience. There are entire buildings with floors of Japanese toy stores like the temple of vintage vinyl toys, the Nakano Mall in Tokyo. All they sell are toys. They used to have niche stores that only sold die-cast or only vinyl toys for example. These days, you see a lot of consignment shops, which are essentially stores that have row upon row of glass cases containing shelves filled to the brim with new and vintage toys from private collections. It's hard to believe but imagine floor after floor, store after store filled much like this room with nothing but toys and then imagine even more glass cases. It's so crowded in the stores that an aisle can only fit one person in it. If you are coming down the aisle and someone else is coming down the aisle from the opposite direction, you have to decide which one of you is going to back out. Think about the most crowded library you have ever seen, double the amount of books, but instead of books, they are boxes filled with toys. It's crazy.

EC: What's the "Holy Grail" of your collection?
MN: Ahhhhhhhhh, the Holy Grail! All collectors have the Holy Grail that is on the top of their list of toys to acquire. Usually very rare, very expensive and very wanted. My Holy Grail was the original vintage "Red" Ultraman from Bullmark. I first saw a picture of this rare figure in Yuji Nishimura's book: "Vinyl Treasure Toy". I have been looking for this toy for eight years with no success.

EC: Red Ultraman? What's that? All your Ultramen look Red!?

MN: No. Ultraman is usually molded in grey vinyl with red paint. Red Ultraman is molded in red vinyl with grey paint. The story behind the Red Ultraman is that the vinyl toy market was pretty saturated at the time so Bullmark wanted to try and appeal to different markets. In this case, the girl market-which was a terrible idea, but it made for a very rare figure. They thought: "Let's make an Ultraman to appeal to the girls. What color do girls like? Red! Let's make a Red Ultraman!" It was a complete marketing flop. Girls don't really like Ultraman regardless what color he is, including red. We think a very small run of less than 100 Red Ultraman were made back in the 60's and to the best of my knowledge, only five (5) exist in the world today.

EC: Only five Red Ultraman exist in the world? How did you get one?
MN: Well, as I said, the Red Ultraman has been on the top of my list for a long time. I hadn't even seen one in real life. I came close once and saw an ad for it in Hyper Hobby magazine and it said: "Contact Seller for Price". By the time I could get my friend in Japan to contact the seller, it was sold. I don't even know for how much. While in Japan shopping at the Nakano Mall, we were in this consignment shop looking around and my friend called out and said: "Hey Mark, you might want to come look at this". I replied: "What is it?" My friend said: "I think it's the Red Ultraman". So I'm thinking to myself, whatever. Bullmark did a re-issue of the Red Ultraman which I already own and not very rare at all. I was almost sure it was one of these. Because the consignment shop is very crowded, I didn't even want to make the effort to go over there and inspect it myself. I yelled back: "Is it the re-issue?" My buddy replied: "I dunno, but it looks pretty old".

EC: Was it the real Holy Grail? 
MN: My head snapped up like a prairie dog and I wondered if this could be it. I walked over and just sitting there on a shelf inside a very crowded glass case was the vintage red Ultraman. I called over the shop keeper and asked him if I could see it. The old Japanese shop keeper came over, opened the glass case and handed me the Red Ultraman. Up until now, I had never ever seen one that wasn't a picture. I coddled the red figure and brought it up to my nose and took a deep whiff. You see, vintage Bullmark toys have a distinct smell to them. It smelled right. I turned it over and saw the original Bullmark stamp on his rear end. No doubt in my mind. This was it...the Holy Grail in my hands! I immediately snapped my head at the old man and asked him how much. He looked at me with his head cocked to the side with a one-eyed wince and this funny wheezing sound- kind of like Yoda, and said: "ooooooohhhhhh, very, very expensive - the Red Ultraman."

EC: How much was the Red Ultraman? 
MN: He looked at me and said: "$5,000" (or whatever the equivalent in Japanese Yen). Now I winced grabbed my stomach and stumbled back. I was torn because I could have easily heard him say $10,000; but no matter, even $5,000 was out of my price range. I took one last look at my Red Ultraman and placed it back in the glass case. I was a little depressed when we left and my friends were even willing to lend me the money to buy it. But I couldn't borrow money from my friends to buy this ridiculously over priced toy.

EC: How did you eventually get the Red Ultraman?
MN: So I returned home and immediately thought of ways to come up with the cash. I knew I had to sell some high priced items in my collection to come up with the cash quickly. I first wanted to make sure if I did come up with the cash, that it wouldn't be sold already. I emailed a friend in Japan and asked him to go back on my behalf to the shop and offer the old man $100 to hold the Red Ultraman for one week. If I didn't come up with the money in one week, he could keep the $100. With one week to work, I immediately began to sell off some of my other toys. I sold a couple of figures, but only had a grand or so. I needed to sell something big. I happened to have this vintage Bullmark Ultraman store display that was worth $3,500 by itself. Amazing toy karma kicked in when the other founder of Super7, Brian Flynn was in LA on business and happened to come across the wife of a collector who happened to be looking for the exact ultra rare Ultraman store display. He wired me the money and I immediately wired the money to Japan. A week later, I had the Red Ultraman in my possession. It turned out the insurance on the package was only for $50 and not $5,000! It was incredible toy karma! The Red Ultraman filled a huge void in my collection and I think it knew it had to be here!

EC: Wow. That's an amazing story that every collector can appreciate! 
Thanks Mark! Go! Go! Super7 Magazine!

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