Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vintage Discoveries #2: Condorman book + flexi disc

Condorman book + flexi disc set
In the late 1960s-early 1970s, records for children's movies, TV shows, and anime started to become popular in Japan. The good thing about vinyl records (like the one in my first Vintage Discoveries article) was they were well made. The bad news is they were expensive.

Enter flexi discs, the thin, clear plastic records that might be green, blue, or red. These were so cheap that you could pair them with a mini book and still sell them for less than the cost of a vinyl EP. In the late 60s, flexi discs were really thin and floppy, and they were easily damaged. These were known as "sonosheets." Asahi was one of the main companies in the field, and their Asahi Sonorama (朝日 ソノラマ) series included book + sonosheet sets for titles like Ultraman, Mighty Atom (Astro Boy), etc.
Asahi Sonorama Mighty Atom mini book + sonosheet set

Advances in music printing technology came quickly, and in the 1970s, a new series of Asahi book + recording sets was launched: the Sonorama Ace series. The full title is Sonorama Ace Puppy Series (ソノラマエースパピイシリーズ). Note the puppy in the top right corner of the very top pic.

In this series, the paper was thicker for the mini books, though the internal binding wasn't the best, leading to pages easily becoming separated.
Mini books were typically around 6-8 pages long. In this Condorman book, the lyrics to one of the flexi disc's songs are on the right-hand page, and a mini story (not recorded on the disc) starts on the left.
The new flexi discs in the Sonorama Ace series were thicker and sturdier than the discs from the 60s. Called "punch sheets," they were made from a clear red material.
Condorman "punch sheet" containing one song on each side.
It's worth noting that few people will know what a "punch sheet" is, so in Japan the general term used is "sonosheet" for all types of flexis.

More after the jump:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Super Festival 67 - Ultraman Leo Exhibition / スーパーフェスティバル 67 - ウルトラマンレオ展

One of the highlights of Super Festival 67 was an exhibition of Ultraman Leo goods. A single cabinet contained a beautifully curated collection of toys, books, models, scripts, and other items related to the show. Here's a detailed look at the cabinet.

Gorgeous assortment of sofubi toys
 More after the jump:

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Super Festival 67 / スーパーフェスティバル 67

Welcome to Kaiju Korner's Super Festival 67 indie toy report. Once again I've tried to go beyond the status quo and introduce several makers we haven't covered before, across different mediums. I hope you'll find something interesting, inspirational, or just plain fun!

So here's our coverage, with pictures and notes. The makers are alphabetized.

Aimo Do
Today was this maker's first appearance at Super Festival.


This and the next two custom sets were 60,000 yen each.

 More after the jump:

Friday, January 9, 2015

Japan Rail (JR) x Ultraman promotion - prizes galore!

I spotted this poster at a JR station advertising an upcoming JR x Ultraman promotion. It's marked JR East, which is primarily the area around Tokyo and heading north towards the edge of Hokkaido.

The Tokyo-centered promotion will run from January 13 - February 27. The little sequential numbers on the bottom of the poster run through the details. From what I can make out (please take this as a rough outline, as I can't claim to be able to translate the guidelines perfectly), it starts with (1) buying a pamphlet, after which (2) you can go around to JR stations and collect 64 different stamps representing heroes and kaiju from four Ultraman series. Here's the full treasure map. For example, here is the kaiju associated with Nakano station:

Then (3) a total of 12 original menkos are available as giveaways. The promotion website says you get 2 menkos by collecting 10 stamps. So I'd guess you can get all 12 menkos by filling up most of the stamp book. Here are a number of them:

*Geeky side note – these are called “maru menkos,” meaning “round menkos.” Paper menkos like this have been around a long time – more than 100 years. During the Meiji and Taisho eras, they often portrayed generals, samurai, etc. During the Showa era, and especially from the 1950s on, menkos featured a much broader range of subjects, including movie stars, cartoon characters, and other pop culture icons. (The other popular menko shape, which seemed to reach a height of popularity in the 1960s, are rectangular.)*

OK, back to Ultraman. Next up (4) there are 10 different Ultraman acrylic stands available. You get one for free after spending 300 yen at one of 10 "goal stores" with a Suica card. There are 1,000 of each type. Here's one of them:
Also, if you  collect all 64 stamps, there's yet another prize available. Now getting that would be a lot of leg work!

Finally (5) there are 78 bonus prizes that are chosen by lottery. Wow, if I've got it right, the top prize is a visit by Ultra Seven to your house! That's pretty wild.

Anyway, click here to visit the promotional website.

This rabbit hole turned out to be a lot deeper than I expected. What started with a simple photograph of a poster turned into a Dantean labyrinth that overmatched the single can of Kirin I had tonight. So, well done.

Once again we learn several key lessons: (1) Ultraman is still insanely popular in Japan. (2) Major public institutions are perfectly comfortable with promotional tie-ins involving nearly 50-year-old tokusatsu heroes. (3) If you're going to do something, make it complicated enough that only the truly devoted will pour the time and effort needed to figure it out and maximize the prize winnings.

I have to say, those menkos and acrylic stands look pretty cool! But what would I serve Ultraman Seven? I wonder if he likes Kirin...

Monday, January 5, 2015

Vintage Discoveries #1: Thundermask Book + Record Set

Kidoverses are like lattices, with TV shows and cartoons leading to toys, clothes, books, and so on. The companies that make these goods often have multiple licenses, producing items within and across content types.  So you'll see a company like Popy making Barom 1 toys, Great Mazinger figures, and so on. They'll sometimes do crossovers, with multiple companies working together to put out a mixed media set. Then there are store exclusives, limited releases, boxed sets, and on and on. Find enough dots, and you see that everything's connected somehow.

With modern toys, it isn't too difficult to put the pieces together and see what came from where, when, and even how. Vintage toys present a much larger set of challenges, with less documentation and clear information. So when collecting 40-50 year-old items, you often become a detective trying to figure out how many figures are in a series, when they were released, etc.

One of the fun things about the 1970s Japanese kidoverse is the massive variety of things made for the children of the burgeoning middle class. You had some of that in the West as well. Then of course in the late 70s, Star Wars turned everything on its head, making soap and toothbrushes viable crossover candidates.

When toy shopping in Japan, you never know what you'll come across. So here's the first installment in what I'm calling Vintage Discoveries.

This is a Thundermask book + record set with some really cool features. It was put out by a company called San Kikaku.

Here's a look at the back of the set:

More after the jump:

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Paper Board Dice Games

In my previous post, I talked about the possible origin of Chicken Fever. One of the sources I referred to was a paper board game played with a pair of dice. Here are a few more of these colorful, portable games which seem to have enjoyed some popularity in the 1970s. I'm not sure of the rules, but they're still fun to look at.

The above pic is of an Ultra Seven game. It's got a lot of action sequences and kaiju illustrations. Here are some closeups:
I guess you got points as you moved across the board. (?)

Maybe landing on 105 got you fried and you had to go back some spaces? I dunno. My guess is kids made up the rules, which is a lot more fun anyway!
 More after the jump:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The origin of Sin + Wombat's Chicken Fever?

Chicken Fever, a figure by Sin + Wombat, debuted in the early waves of indie sofubi toys, back in the mid-2000s. Not too many versions of the toy were released, but there were some nice ones, including collaborations with other toy makers like Cronic and Super7. One of the releases is shown above. (It isn't my pic, since I haven't got any of the figures on hand.)

Many indie toys can be traced to earlier characters, concepts, or designs from the 1960s-1970s. I believe I may have uncovered the origin of Chicken Fever, or at least the inspiration for the figure.

A short while ago, I came across this postcard-sized item, which I believe is from the 1970s. It's called a "Kaiju Siri E" which means "kaiju scratch illustration." The image is slightly raised, with a felt-like texture. Basically you put your blank sheet of paper over it, rub it with a pencil, and produce the image.

More after the jump:

Monday, December 8, 2014

Shirahama + Kaiju Ken Interviews + Super Festival report in MAT 11

The new issue of Monster Attack Team has an article I wrote about Super Festval 64. In it I go into depth about how the event is put together and what you might see at one of the shows. There's also a section about the tokusatsu actors who appeared at SF 64.
Besides my article, the magazine has pieces on Kamen Rider Amazon, Hedorah, Juspion, and a lot more. You can buy a copy on the site.
Shirahama's Dennis Hamman holding a Kumon.
For the piece, I also interviewed Dennis Hamman of Shirahama and Abe Toru of Kaiju Ken. There wasn't space to fit these in the magazine, so MAT uploaded them to their website.
Abe-san holding two Kaiju Ken figures.

For my Shirahama interview, click here.

For my Kaiju Ken interview, click here.

Once again I'd like to thank Dennis and Abe-san for their time. I'd also like to give a big shout out to Yukie and Gordon for helping with the translation for the Kaiju Ken interview. Putting these things together takes a huge amount of time. I hope everyone enjoys them!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tokyo Vegefood Festa

This weekend at Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, a small but well attended veggie food festival was held. (The much larger Spain Festa going on nearby was huge.) At the Tokyo Vegefood Festa, there were a few dozen stalls selling Indian, Japanese, Taiwanese, and other types of veggie, vegan, and macrobiotic food.
Events like this are rare in Japan, so it was nice being able to walk around and try food from different vendors.
Most of the food was good. Portions were small, though. On the bright side, that made it easier to sample a number of stalls. Some things were reasonably priced, while others were out there, even for Japan.
No complaints from this happy dude.
 More after the jump:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Vintage Boxed Astro Mu Mars Man

Astro Mu is one of those vintage lines that excites and confounds collectors. The legendary toys are important in the history of tokusatsu and other 70s toys, and homages continue to appear in modern indie toys. Finding them loose is difficult enough. One rarely sees them complete. Seeing a boxed example has become a once in a blue moon event. So when I saw one boxed and unused recently, I considered myself lucky. Fortunately I had my camera and was allowed to take detailed photos, which I thought would make a nice viewing and reference for fans and collectors.
The back of the box

The vinyl has turned from blue to green
 More after the jump:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Design Festa 40: Steampunk

In my report on the indie toys of Design Festa 40, I touched on the explosive growth of Steampunk in Japan. Besides people in full-on Steampunk outfits, there were a number of booths selling things like accessories, jewelry, and toys.

With full and upfront admission that I'm not an expert in the area (so apologies in advance if some of the images don't fit exactly in the genre), here's a look at more of the Steampunkery of DF40. (I've carried over a couple of the pics from the indie toy report.)
This company is called Lunago. Website:

They seem to combine steampunk with other design elements. Pretty cool.
 More after the jump:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Design Festa 40: Indie Toys

Welcome to the Kaiju Korner indie toy report for Design Festa 40. As always, booths will be arranged alphabetically. That's to make it easier for you to find the pics from your favorite toy makers, and it creates a better reference for the future if people want to go back and see who did what at past shows.

One thing I am doing differently is expanding the spectrum by including makers that we don't normally focus on. I feel we tend to get too myopic when looking at indie toys - so 80-90% of the makers are the same at every show, with a couple of debut makers and infrequent exhibitors added for good measure. But that can create a sort of tunnel vision when what you see is too prescripted or limited. It can create a false sense that collectors should only be looking at a narrow range of "seal of approval" makers or toy materials.

So let's see if we can break apart or at least expand that model a bit. Recently I've noticed some fantastic work done with needle felt toys and other materials, so I'm going to work in some unfamiliar names this time. Let's see how it goes.

Black Rabbit

 120 pics after the jump:

Design Festa 60: Preramble

After missing the previous Design Festa, I was interested to see how indie toys were represented at the show. There were a few big trends. First, the booths were spread out around the Big Sight, but mostly in clumps. So on the 1st floor you had the old school crew - Max Toys, Blobpus, Yamomark, Sunguts, and Pico Pico - all together again, and they were in eye shot of Marmit.

Then on the 4th floor, you had the long Jungle table (representing many toy makers) right next to the Rampage booth. And then there were a few other booths like Chima scattered around the Big Sight. Personally, I liked it better when most of the toy makers were together, so we'll see if that might happen again in the future.

Another trend I noticed is how interlinked makers within these groups are. So in the Max Toys + friends group, you had makers customizing one another's toys, accessory makers putting things out for multiple lines across companies, and so on. Over on the Jungle table, although many different makers were there, it had the look and feel of an umbrella brand.

A final note I'd say is it's becoming clearer to me that the separation between Japanese sofubi and American sofubi is becoming stronger all the time. At the Rampage booth, you had a bunch of different Western toy makers represented in some way, by an American toy seller. But for the most part, that was it. Recently at SDCC and NYCC, I got the opposite sense. There were very few Japanese makers there at all (Gargamel was a big exception at SDCC).

My sense is that's because the American indie toy scene has grown so much that there are plenty of makers at US events to fill booths and find customers. At the same time, Japanese makers know what their local customers like, and there's plenty of product put out at shows and through other channels to meet that demand.

Of course it isn't black and white. There is still plenty of interchange, especially with Japanese toys making their way overseas. And there has been a lot of movement with the attention that D-Con is getting for toy makers from all over the place. But in general right now I'd say we're looking at a mature market. It's downright easy for Western designers to get their toys made in sofubi, so all those old channels and gateways have come tumbling down. With sites like Big Cartel, "lottery" sales via e-mail lists, and so on, it's easier than ever for makers to find collectors. So if you can't get a hold of new stuff from one place, there's plenty of other stuff on the other side of the world to catch your attention.

Anyway, that's just my sense, and maybe the longest preramble I've written for a show. Next up, indie toys at DF40.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Gundam 35th Anniversary 7-11 Promotion

For decades, Japanese convenience stores have been big players in the kidoverse. They've been the home of exclusive toys and packaging variants, countless shokugan releases for candy, chocolate, and other snacks and drinks, as well as seasonal and anniversary promotions.
7-11 has an ongoing Gundam 35th Anniversary promotion There are toys, a super cool spoon + bowl set, and other Gundammy goods.
From what I can gather, it's pretty straightforward. You take one of these tickets to the register, pay 620 yen, and randomly get one of the things on display, based on the letter you pull. At least that's the way they've handled these types of promotion before.

Here are some of the potential prizes:
 More after the jump:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Furoku - 付録 Part 5: Modern Furoku

In past articles, I've written about the history of furoku, furoku in girls' magazines, a close-up look at furoku manga, and a super close-up on a Henshin Ninja Arashi manga given away with a magazine. Now I'd like to take a look at modern furoku.
Freebies continue to be widely given away with all sorts of magazines, and the bundled gifts have become diverse and extravagant over the years. I've even read that women's magazines are using the tactic of giveaways as a way to boost plummeting sales.
Clearly the strategy has traction, as you're seeing everything from anime to sports card to fashion mags wrapped in shrink wrap with one or more alluring prizes.
Some bookstores even have display areas filled with samples of what you can get in new publications.

More after the jump:
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