Jumping back into the world of Dragon Ball, and especially the SH Figuarts Vegeta figure, has made me especially nostalgic for all things Dragon Ball Z. Back in the early 2000s, I was an avid collector of Irwin Toys’ Dragon Ball Z line of action figures. When Dragon Ball Z first showed up in America, Irwin licensed the old Bandai Super Battle Collection line of toys for distribution in North America. This proved a smart move because the show didn’t catch on so Irwin wasn’t out a ton of capital. The Bandai toys, and also a series also licensed by Irwin from a company called AB, were pretty dated in the late 90s. They contained minimal articulation, almost no accessories (something DBZ didn’t really lend itself well to, in fairness), and were just an adequate representation of the characters from the anime. Arguably their best feature was the nice box-styled packaging, something that was probably expensive relative to other toys so the Irwin ones came in standard blisters with “loud” 90s styling.
These toys, as released by Irwin, were largely peg warmers. They paled in quality to the stuff being put out by Toy Biz and McFarlane and since the show didn’t catch on kids really didn’t want them. They eventually made it into the discount bins, which was when I got my Super Saiyan Vegeta figure for a mere four dollars. Eventually, Cartoon Network picked up Dragon Ball Z and began airing it during the afternoon timeslot. It soon caught on, and suddenly America was in love with this series from Japan that had long since ended. Funimation, the company distributing the show in North America, eventually went back to the series to dub it in its entirety which also gave Irwin the confidence to go all-in on the license and start creating its own toys. DBZ was mostly a show that appealed to an older audience, so Irwin made it a point to appeal to collectors and longtime fans, which was pretty cool from a collector’s standpoint, but maybe not the best marketing decision. They first concentrated on characters that Bandai never tackled such as Nappa, Krillen, and the non-final forms of Frieza, to name a few. They didn’t even release a Goku until Series 4, which is pretty damn crazy since almost every series of modern figures includes one Goku.
In light of my enjoyment of the Figuarts Vegeta, I decided to dig out all of my Vegeta toys from storage and take a look at them. They’re all Irwin releases, except one. Irwin eventually went bankrupt as DBZ was basically its only successful property. They were able to sell the license to Jakks Pacific who would continue the line for a few years. The Jakks toys initially were fine because they were mostly unreleased Irwin designed figures, but the Jakks originals were rather poor which is when I stopped collecting. Jakks seemed to use a lower quality plastic and a much simpler paint application giving their toys almost a rubbery look, even though they were hard plastic. Their only good releases really were the re-releases of older Irwin toys that they were able to make paint corrections to, most notoriously Perfect Cell who had a very blue skin and no purple sideburns as released by Irwin. Lets take a trip through the toys I did get though. I did not get every Vegeta released by Irwin, but I did get all of the main ones (I mostly skipped the gimmick lines, with one exception) and one of the Jakks releases. Let’s start with the first one, the re-release of the Bandai Super Battle Collection Super Saiyan Vegeta.
This figure is pretty damn basic for a toy. He’s mostly comprised of colored plastic with minimal paint applications and almost no articulation, which was par for the course for this line. His only articulation is in the shoulders, wrists, and calves. His hair is glued on and doesn’t look particularly great, but in a way it accentuates his receding hairline. The battle armor is removable and it’s just two pieces of plastic that snap together. This was the standard approach for this line as most characters had a removable shirt. His boots are missing the yellow/gold tips. Still, for the time, the likeness was fine and he mostly looks like Vegeta, especially from the side. Not a fun toy by any means, but at least his bum looks nice in blue spandex.
Our next figure was Irwin’s first attempt at a proper Vegeta. Based on his look in the Androids Saga, this was a Series 4 figure and a much anticipated one. He’s a solid representation of what Irwin’s approach was. They utilized ball joints for the shoulders to go with legs, knees, and head articulation. It was pretty standard for the time, but obviously not on pair with what we’re accustomed to today. After all, he basically can’t be posed in any of his signature stances and what you see is kind of what you get since he has no elbow or wrist articulation. Like the Bandai toys, he is mostly done with colored plastic as well, but the white and yellow of his armor is painted on. The blue of his suit is a deep royal blue and the tips of his boots are molded on, but not painted. This was an artistic approach for the figures as we’ll see with the Super Saiyan version, Irwin would go lighter on the suit and paint in the boot tips. The likeness is solid, though something is off a bit in the face and I think it’s the thickness of the eyebrows. Part of the likeness issues is probably due to the relatively small scale Irwin is working with. Vegetal stands just under 5″ at about 4 7/8″ to the tip of his hair. This line is basically in-scale with the Bandai line, though most of the figures were about the same height with only the obviously taller ones coming in greater than 5″. This figure does accentuate what I love about this look for Vegeta which is the contrasting bright white of the armor with the rich blue of the bodysuit. It pops, and making the armor molded onto the figure is a much better choice than making it removable.
The next figure is Irwin’s first go at Super Saiyan Vegeta. Coming in the very next series following the non-super version, this figure had an entirely new sculpt which was a positive as I feared they’d just put a new head on him and call it a day. There’s evidence of minor enhancements too in Irwin’s sculpting process. This figure is more rounded in the torso, possibly to accentuate the bulkiness of Super Vegeta. He also has molded kneecaps and a slightly open hand showing that Irwin wasn’t going to shy away from doing fingers. The hair is much spikier, and there’s a pearl finish to the white of the armor. As I mentioned with the previous figure, this one is a lighter blue and the yellow pieces are slightly lighter as well to give off the impression of that Super Saiyan glow. The yellow tips of the boots are also painted in as well. For some reason, Irwin associated that feature with the Super Saiyan form as they would repeat this with Trunks. The face sculpting was more ambitious as well as he has sunken in eyes, a furrowed brow, and more detail in his ears. He looks pretty solid, though the shape of the hair feels off and I wish he had a sneer instead of a scowl. The pupils of his eyes aren’t lined up either and he looks kind of goofy upon closer inspection. I was pretty satisfied with him though at the time, and he is an improvement on the previous Vegeta in many respects, though at the expense of looking a little less like Vegeta.
Our next figure is from the non-mainline series and from the Striking Z Fighters line of figures. These ones all featured some action they could perform. In the case of this Super Saiyan Vegeta, clad in his Buu Saga attire, he’s supposed to do a flip. It’s an exceedingly lame action feature as you basically just hold one arm between your fingers and literally flick at him to make him spin around. Basically any figure can do this, this one just features a ratchet joint in the shoulder so he’ll move more freely and easily without getting so loose that the figure can’t hold its arm up when posing. The good thing is this lame feature doesn’t harm the look of the figure, but it does mean he lost knee articulation and can only stand with his right foot slightly in front of his left. This stance makes him shorter than our other Vegeta figures, which actually makes him more in scale with the likes of Goku and Trunks. He’s a quieter looking figure too when compared with the prior Super Saiyan version as his hair is less spiky and his facial features are more simple. He has a sort-of angry, smug look on his face that’s almost the much-wanted Vegeta smirk but not quite. He looks fine, though I wish he posed better. He came with a plastic board originally that he could flip through that I didn’t drag out as it was pretty lame. And it was nice that Irwin made the effort to put him in different attire, even though the Buu Saga was still a little ways off at the time of release.
The next figure is the first Vegeta from the Buu era of the show in the main series and it’s Majin Vegeta. He had an interesting existence as the first version released to retail incorrectly colored his hair black. If you’re thinking this makes that version rare and valuable you would be wrong. While perhaps it could become that eventually, the figure was mass released and I honestly don’t know which is more rare – the error version or the running change yellow seen here. Since it was so obviously an error, I’m sure many people bought multiples and kept them carded in hopes of re-selling them later. Unfortunately for them, this line doesn’t command much money probably due to the abundance of better DBZ toys out there. Anyway, this figure was a bit of a disappointment. Series 6 for Irwin marked a new era of paint experimentation that included applying a paint wash to give the toys more definition and personality. They also tried to give them a bit of a dirty look as well. This Vegeta came well after that and Irwin toned it down some, but they still had’t quite figured things out. His clothing is very muted while his skin has a lot of red to it, including around the eyes which should have been heightened with black for this version of Vegeta. The M on his forehead is nice and sharp, though his hair should probably be spikier given this is also our first Super Saiyan 2 Vegeta. His arms are posed oddly, making it look like he’s riding an imaginary motorcycle. Maybe this was done to recreate the scene where he gives young Trunks a hug before sacrificing himself in a bid to kill Majin Buu. This figure disappointed me at the time, but at least they did finally give Vegeta a cocky grin.
Next up is I guess what you would call dead Vegeta. This is after he’s been brought back by the Kais to help Goku defeat Buu, marked with a halo above is head. He’s in his super form and it looks like the head of the first Super Saiyan Vegeta may have been re-tooled for this figure. At least the hair looks to be about the same. The only real different is he’s sporting an open mouth instead of a closed one. The outfit is less drab compared with Majin Vegeta as Irwin dialed back the dark blue wash they used on that figure. There’s also way less red in the flesh, though the center piece of plastic on the shoulders remains unpainted. His gloves feature a lot of grime on them, as do his boots. Interestingly enough though, Irwin finally adopted elbow articulation so this Vegeta can be posed a little better than others. For the first time he can kind of look like he’s getting ready to power-up his Final Flash attack, so at least that’s pretty cool. The halo is a little warped from storage, though I recall most had a little bend in them, and is supported by a very sturdy peg. It’s not removable, and the tallness of his hair does a solid job of hiding the peg when viewed from the front. This was the last official Irwin Vegeta in the 5″ line and you could argue it was their best take on the character which isn’t a bad way to go out.
Our last 5″ figure is a Jakks Pacific release, but I’m pretty sure this was an Irwin design. This Vegeta was a bit of a surprise, but also a sign of where Jakks would take the line. This is Vegeta as he was on Planet Namek during his fight with Frieza. It features the Namek armor vest which lacked the yellow straps and it’s also battle damaged. The paint is a bit off though as the bodysuit is a very light blue, almost as light as the Super Saiyan Vegeta, when it should be a very dark blue that’s almost black. He also has the yellow tips on his boots when this particular version of Vegeta should have all white boots. The paint is a little sloppy in places, mostly where the vest ends and the bodysuit begins just before the neck, though overall I’d say it’s pretty good. The battle damage on the vest looks awesome and really adds depth to the armor pieces. He has a great looking cocky grin recalling the time just after Dende healed him and Vegeta challenged Frieza thinking he was a Super Saiyan. Best of all, he has more articulation than the other figures including ball-jointed elbows and twisting wrists. He even has ankle articulation, though the shape of the boots makes it very limited. Aside from the incorrect paint choice, the only drawback to this figure is his almost total absence of a nose. The nose is always one of the hardest parts to get right on these characters since they’re so small. It’s not awful, but his face looks a little weird as a result. After so many Super Saiyan versions of the character, it was nice to get another black-haired Vegeta. Jakks would release one more Vegeta that I believe originated as an Irwin sculpt, a version with a black jacket from the very end of DBZ. They would never top this one though.
Oh, but wait! We’re not done yet! In addition to the 5″ line of figures, Irwin also dabbled in the collector market. They first released a trio of figures in a 9″ scale – Goku, Super Saiyan 2 Gohan, and Super Saiyan Vegeta. These figures were more like statues and featured extensive battle damage. Goku looked pretty awful, but Gohan and Vegeta were pretty cool and both were depicted as they were during the Cell Games. This Vegeta is in sort of an odd pose as he almost looks like he’s surfing. As a result of the pose, he comes in at about 8 1/2″ tall. I’m not sure what the source material was, maybe the death of Trunks? What you see here is largely what you get. He does have a thin, black display stand I neglected to remove from storage that helps him stand, but he doesn’t need it. His attire is pretty well beat-up and there’s a real brightness to the blue of his suit. There’s some color blending on it as well that looks pretty sharp. The same trick is used for his skin tone and the color of his hair. It’s similar to what they did with their 5″ version of the character in an attempt to try and make it look like he’s glowing, only with this larger format the results are more convincing. He has a concerned look on his face which i suppose is appropriate. I would have preferred something else though. I really like the shape of his hair, and I wish they could have pulled this off with the smaller figures. He does have articulation in his shoulders and waist as well as his neck. No ball joints though. The rear of his vest has yellowed too, possibly due to when I had him on display which may have been in sunlight – I’m not sure. Oh well. At the time, this was one of my favorite pieces in my DBZ collection, but he’s kind of just so-so now.
Lastly, but not least, we have the IF Labs take on battle damaged Super Saiyan Vegeta from the film Cooler’s Revenge. After just the three figures in their special 9″ line, Irwin created the brand IF Labs (later re-named Giant Ape after the Jakks sale) for large scale collector figures. Most of the figures released in this line were based on the many DBZ films getting dubbed and released by Funimation, but they would eventually tackle DBZ characters like Vegito and Super Buu. This Vegeta is about 8″ tall, making him much shorter than most of the characters released in this line which actually put him in scale for once. His articulation is expansive when compared with the 5″ line – ball shoulders, neck, elbow, hips, knees, shins, and waist. He’s not capable of much in the way of dynamic poses, but his standard look is pretty nice on its own. The sculpting is the real stand-out with this Vegeta as his armor is cracked and broken in places, the bodysuit torn with fragments hanging, his skin is scratched and bleeding and is very evocative of the source artwork. He has an angry, but determined, look to his face and the hair is in two distinct pieces giving the spikes nice definition. There’s finer details as well like stitching on the boots and gloves really giving this figure a jolt of realism, even above what is present in the film. Some of that realism, like his teeth, actually take away from the figure slightly because he looks too real and unlike the actual cartoon. Otherwise, the attention to detail is rather impressive including the all-white boots which is film accurate, even though he always had gold-tipped ones when wearing this attire in the anime. The only thing that stinks about my particular figure is the tiny paint chip on the end of his nose, a terrible place for a spot of missing paint. This was probably my favorite Vegeta figure, until I got the Figuarts one, though I do have another non-Irwin/Jakks Vegeta I’m quite fond of. I suppose I would have preferred a really awesome, non-battle damaged version of the character in this line, but at least the battle damage looks good. They also did eventually do a normal Vegeta and he looked pretty terrible. A lot of the figures in this line suffered with scale as often the heads would be too small, but for at least this figure IF Labs nailed it.
Hopefully you had fun on this trip down memory lane with me and Vegeta. I plan on doing more Dragon Ball related posts in the not too distant future so if you like that franchise you might want to hit that subscribe button!