Vault Tales 216 Run the Set Wild Republic Bouncy Ball Sharks

So weird set today–and proof that amazing figures and sets can come from very, very dumb places. I am sure that most people are familiar with Wild Republic–their merch is ubiquitous in shops at zoos, aquariums, museums and science centres…and has also infiltrated regular toy shops and ‘impulse’ toy sections in other stores. These days, they are probably most notable for their wide range of plush animals in different forms (“Wild Republic” used to refer specifically to a line of velcro-handed primate plush) but they also have a number of other materials, often low end small figures (often reissued Nayab figures) and trinkets. But in the late 90s they were far more recognized under the name K&M International for their small and mid-size PVC and rubber animal figures (this red salamander is a still-existing relic of those). But sometimes they still make unique and interesting things.

Back in my museum days, upon my arrival, our gift shop was, like most, pretty Wild Republic heavy. I definitely pushed it in different directions (better model brands of course, and more interesting stuff besides) but we did keep some WR products–things that still reflected the overarching themes of our centre, but were still fun and decent quality. And, yes…they tend to be less expensive, so kids could go nuts. Which is what my son did when we brought in rubber bouncy balls with sharks in them (I don’t know where he gets that from…). But it was my fault–because the first thing I noticed in these balls, was that while a few sharks were pretty regular and generic (note the first two images) many of them were absolutely must-haves!

So I had to try–it turned out that it was pretty easy to split the balls with a sharp scalpel and a good twist. The species that caused me to try was what I recognized as some kind of Lantern shark! This was, for me, a big deal, because there were no lantern shark figures at all–and still aren’t (there are a couple other similar species, like cookie-cutter sharks). So when I popped it out, I noticed two things–one, it was crazy small, less than 2 centimetres long (it had looked larger due to the distortion in the clear bouncy rubber). And second, there was a crazy amount of detail in this tiny little shark, especially given the size and the otherwise cheap nature of the product. So now I had to go looking through for the others.

And after getting past the kind of generic ones (notice that first row of pictures…) but the others–I was stunned. I the next ones that popped out were a Goblin shark and Catshark (or maybe a Swellshark…it’s a pretty tough one, but definitely something unique). While I did have a few goblin sharks (as they are marginally common figures if you look in Japan!), there are no other catsharks (and only one swellshark…ironically, a K&M International figure!). And once I had a few…well, might as well go all in. And overall it didn’t disappoint. Even the kind of generic ones, kind of basic requiem or lamnid sharks, were kind of interesting–and the size makes them great for any kind of scene–they’d easily fit with tiny mosasaur or spinosaur figures, for example!

Closer inspection turned up some of the usual suspects in a set of sharks–a Hammerhead shark (could be a winghead? It has a pretty wide, narrow head), a Whale shark, ones that were probably meant to be a Lemon shark, a different Carcharodontid shark, a probable White shark, a maybe Basking shark, that sort of thing. But beyond those, there were some other real gems in those rubber balls. The first Sand Tiger shark figure I’d ever seen (and would remain so until later Kaiyodo and Safari figures) (could be a carchariid or odontapsid shark…); a Horn shark of some kind, although these are pretty tough to get down to species; and finally a Sixgill shark! Which is especially exciting, since, again, not a group usually seen in figure form. When I first saw the figure I thought it might be a frilled shark (which has been made before)–a hexanchid shark is an even better surprise, since there were literally none (Takara eventually made one, so still not exactly common).

So how does this whole set stack up? In terms of sculpt and quality? They are overall a resounding ‘okay’. Many of them are a little rough, and the paint can make the identification to species a little uncertain. And the material is kind a strange, almost brittle plastic. But again, these are tiny figures, around 2.5 centimetres each, meant to be tucked inside of a rubber bouncy ball. Given that context…these figures are an incredible effort, and one of the most diverse sets of sharks ever made–12 figures with relatively little focus on what are generally thought of as ‘typical’ sharks. The tiny size makes play or display difficult, but they’re great diorama accessories. Sadly, I don’t think the balls are available anymore…I know that people track these down but I’m not sure how easy that is. Very much worth the search though, it’s definitely a great example of a hidden treasure!

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