(For information about the Marusan, the predecessor to Bullmark, see the Marusan (Vintage) article.)
In 1969, former Marusan employees Kotaro Ishida, Saburo Ishizuki, and Yutaka Shibata founded the company Bullmark. Marusan’s character licenses from Toho and Tsuburaya were transferred to the new company, and a similar business arrangement to Marusan's was established between Bullmark and sofubi manufacturer Shimada Toy.
Bullmark’s first figures were reissues of Marusan’s designs from Ultraseven (ウルトラセブン), the sequel series to Ultraman that was currently airing. The company continued to sell sofubi figures licensed from subsequent Ultra Series shows, as well as Mirrorman (ミラーマン), Ambassador Magma (マグマ大使, known in the USA as Space Giants), and several tokusatsu and anime shows featuring robots.
Bullmark’s financial troubles began to worsen in the late 1970s. In an attempt by Bullmark to pay off debt, some associated companies were granted permission to sell their own branded runs of Bullmark’s figures:
- Shimada Toy (島田トーイ) - Sofubi manufacturer hired by Bullmark.
- Ark (アーク) - Distribution management company founded by Bullmark.
- Tsuburaya Enterprise (円谷エンタープライズ) - Merchandising division of Tsuburaya Productions, creator and licensor of the Ultra Series shows, Mirrorman, and others.
- Orange (オレンジ) - Design and manufacturing company hired by Bullmark.
Bullmark ended operations in 1977, but over the years their iconic vinyl figure designs were resurrected again and again as reissues made in Japan:
- Late 1980s: The Tsuburaya Ultra Monster Friends Association started offering reissues through magazine ads.
- Reissues were sold bagged with header cards. A serial number was stamped on the header card.
- Each reissue had a Marusan logo sculpted into the foot and a serial number written in marker on the foot.
- Around the same time, unauthorized flesh-colored reissues of Ultra Series and Toho kaiju started circulating among collectors.
- Early 1990s: Bandai (バンダイ) reissued multiple Toho and Ultra Series kaiju in large quantities and sold them through regular retail outlets.
- Some reissues were sold with a folding tag tied around their neck, while others were sold bagged with header cards.
- Each reissue had a Bullmark logo or text sculpted into the foot and a sticker reading "BANDAI 199X JAPAN".
- These reissues were rumored to be recast from Bullmark production figures instead of being generated from original tooling.
- Late 1990s: Production runs of these reissues were scaled back and the product line was moved to B-Club (Bクラブ), one of Bandai’s hobbyist sub-brands.
- Each reissue had a Bullmark logo or text sculpted into the foot and a blank ink stamp reading "バンダイ" (Bandai in katakana).
- Mid 2000s: Bandai consolidated several of their divisions including B-Club under the brand Popy (ポピー).
- Each reissue had a Bullmark logo or text sculpted into the foot and a blank ink stamp reading "POPY".
- The brand name caused some confusion with collectors. Popy was the name of Bandai’s character toy subsidiary, established in 1971 and absorbed into Bandai in 1983. Popy sold their own distinct line of Ultra series and Toho kaiju sofubi called King Zaurus in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The new Popy branding led collectors to believe that their new sofubi figures would be reissues of King Zaurus figures. Instead, the brand continued to offer reissues of figures originally sold by Bullmark. Some King Zaurus figures were later reissued by Slash Company (スラッシュカンパニ).
In addition to the main series of reissues described above, numerous individual Bullmark figures have been reissued throughout the 2000s to the present by several companies, including:
- M1GO (Ｍ１号)
- Yamanaya (やまなや, initially named Tsuburaya Communications, 円谷コミュニケーション)
- Toygraph (トイグラフ)
- Gargamel (ガーガメル)
In the early 2000s, Bandai released scaled-down replicas of Bullmark Ultra Series figures called Soul of Bullmark. These were initially sold in gashapon machines and later as candy toys.
Shortly afterwards, Iwakura (イワクラ) released similar replicas of Toho Kaiju figures called Iwakura Godzilla Bullmark Legends, also sold as candy toys.
In 2009, the Popy reissue series ended, and the Bullmark brand was relaunched by Saburo Ishizuki. (See the Bullmark (Modern) article.)
Thank you to Eiji Kaminaga of Marusan for providing source material for this article.
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