A fascination with life-sized replicas can be found in plenty of disparate fandom groups; from Star Wars blasters to the once-ubiquitous giant anime sword. Not coincidentally, garage kit manufacturers’ impulse to dive into hyper-specific niches resulted in quite a few 1:1 scale replicas being cast in resin and soft vinyl. But when you look at the combined aspects of scope, accuracy, and subject matter, nothing else was quite like Fewture Model’s Zeiram Prop Series.
As you could probably surmise, the Zeiram Prop Series was a line of kits based directly on the props used in Keita Amemiya’s Zeiram and Zeiram 2. While garage kits typically fall under some common categories (girls, robots, monsters), the world of small-batch resin or soft vinyl was (and still is!) diverse enough to allow for some pretty obscure subjects, although with the way that the Zeiram duology resonated with fans, it shouldn’t be surprising that somehow Amemiya’s sci-fi action films garnered no less than six prop kits.
Simply put, Amemiya’s Zeiram duology was a love letter tokusatsu. Not unlike anime, in the ’80s an increasingly older fanbase offered up a welcome demographic for more adult takes on childhood fare, and as anime branched out into big-budget bubble-era films and direct-to-video OVAs, so too did tokusatsu fare sidestep into video-only releases or darker, more “adult” series. Tangentially, that decade also saw the rise of the so-called “indie” tokusatsu product, wherein fans would create their own characters and costumes and sell their own shows on VHS via ads in hobby magazines. The garage kit boom of the late ’80s also heavily favored tokusatsu subjects, with stalwarts like Godzilla and Ultraman lending designs to an untold number of kits and being far more prevalent in the early days compared to mecha. Fans of more obscure shows were served too; for example, Bandai’s B-Club offered up plenty of resin kits based on the Metal Heroes franchise. They were not alone.
I’ve long believed that garage kits, at their most basic function, fulfill a tactile need for fans who want to capture something from their favorite show, movie, OVA, or video game and hold it in their hands. Think too hard about this and consider how many girl figures must have sold over the years and it gets uncomfortable pretty fast. But at its core, the driving motivation behind the garage kit boom wasn’t much different than the drive fans of today have for picking up a figure or building a new gunpla kit. For fans obsessed with props, real-world gear, or costuming, this inevitably meant you’d want a life-sized version of things you saw in your favorite media, too. In more benign forms this materialized as General Products’ life-sized Dragon Quest sword kit or the dozens of kits produced over the years trying to properly replicate the look of Deckard’s blaster from Blade Runner.
Tokusatsu garage kits could be an article in and of itself, but my point is that a series of 1:1 replica kits wasn’t entirely unprecedented, but the breadth of the Zeiram Prop Series was unlike anything else.
Zeiram Prop Series List
The range and depth of the Zeiram Prop Series made it a fascinating series of kits because Fewture didn’t just create replicas of Iria’s handguns, instead, they facilitated a hands-on exploration into the prop design of Amemiya’s films—provided you had the patience and skill to put them together. To explain exactly what I mean, take a look at the list of kits in the series below:
Vol. 1: IRIA’s HANDGUN
Vol. 2: IRIA’s COMMUNICATOR
Vol. 3: IRIA’s SAVE GUN – LIGHTER – GRENADE SPECIAL SET
Vol. 4: KAMALITE – CARD – ZEIRAM COLD KWAN-NON SPECIAL SET
Vol. 5: IRIA’s HANDGUN – ZEIRAM 2 VERSION
Vol. 6: IRIA’s SUBMACHINE GUN
Zeiram Prop Series Photos
The following photos are from Hobby Japan EX, Summer ’94.
Iria’s Hand Guns
Iria’s Save Gun – LIghter – Grenade Special Set
Kamalite – Card – Cold Kwan-non Special Set
Iria’s Sub-Machine Gun
Beyond what you’d typically see, Fewture saw fit to produce replicas of secondary props like Iria’s lighter and the Kamalite teleporter (cast in translucent resin to match the on-screen version, naturally). While I can’t say that every item in this series was cast from actual props used in the movies, both of Iria’s handguns were molded directly from the original props with enough fidelity that you can see the strips of electrical tape used on the handle of Iria’s handgun from the first film. On the instructions for Iria’s handgun from the first movie, an English-language “Modeler’s Note” explained that some inherent flaws in the kit were due to using an actual film prop as the source of the cast.
“This kit is molding directly from the original movie prop of ZEIRAM IRIA’s hand gun A-type. Therefore it has details and gimmick added some process, some flaws and loss on taking the film are left just as they are.”
The Japanese version of the same note goes into a bit more detail in the production process, explaining that while it was cast from an original film-used prop, the components were purposely designed in such a way as to allow modelers to use an MGC Colt Rome 2-inch metal replica gun to replicate the original prop more accurately than just relying on the resin kit. In other words, if you wanted to take things a step beyond just building a resin kit based on the screen-used prop, you could take some of those parts and put them on the same kind of metal replica gun actually used to create the original prop itself.
Choose the level of your
ModelGuns Corporation (MGC)
ModelGuns Corporation produced high-quality model guns between 1960 and 1994. The accuracy of their models and assorted international laws saw some of their models appear in movie productions, including the 1963 James Bond film, You Only Live Twice, and Star Wars. During the filming of A New Hope in the U.K., surplus Mauser C96s were used as the base for Han Solo’s DL-44 blaster, but when shooting was moved to the U.S., MGC replicas had to be used as the original guns couldn’t be brought into the country. Production for Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi both used MGC replicas of the C96.
While older tokusatsu and sci-fi fans might have gone crazy for Zeiram, Zeiram 2 paid homage to fan dedication by relying on an open casting call of cosplayers and indie tokusatsu producers to fill out the ranks of the bounty hunters on Iria’s heels. After the original call went out in the pages of B-Club magazine, Amemiya held open auditions for fans who thought their original costumes were good enough for the film. A behind-the-scenes feature on subsequent home video versions included footage from these auditions, showcasing DIY costumes that ran the gamut from “potential super sentai extra” to the classic, ocean-spanning “guy with a Nintendo Power Glove.”
Given that the actual films (well, film in this case) embraced the creativity of fans, it makes sense why the Zeiram franchise was a bit of a garage kit darling in the early ’90s. In addition to some heavy featuring in B-Club, a heap of traditional garage kits based on the characters of Iria and Zeiram were released as part of the push for Zeiram 2 and the animated spin-off, Iria: Zeiram the Animation. Resin and soft vinyl kits by the likes of Max Factory, Falchion, and Fewture briefly dominated the pages of hobby magazines.