So Japan has toys that are compelling enough for grown-ups to enjoy? Figures. No, I mean action figures. As I mentioned in part one of this commentary last week, Japan has some of the coolest action figures on the planet, and much of why has to do with that country’s toy-buying market, which skews older than, say, in the U.S.
However, a lot of that sophistication is now making its way over to this country, in the form of toys that are either imported from Japan, or have their roots there. Some are kids’ items that have double appeal among older audiences, while others are purposefully aimed at grown-ups. That’s a bit of a blanket statement, of course, as any toy can appeal to lots of different demographics for varying reasons. However, we have a feeling adults will want to get their hands on these particular figures once they’ve cleared customs–probably even more so than kids will.
This spring, Funko will introduce its new line of Hikari Japanese Vinyl figures, which are inspired by the vinyl “kaiju” figures that have developed a considerable following among collectors in Japan. The first wave will feature Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The style of the figures is squat and overly cartoonish, yet they remain respectful of their source material: Batman, for example, has all his patented iconography, including cape and cowl, utility belt, and chest insignia. Similarly, the Ninja Turtles have different-colored bandannas, as well as the side-of-the-mouth sneers that have been a trademark since their early American action figure days.
Funko didn’t have an image ready as of press time, but based on what I saw at American International Toy Fair a few months ago, trust me: These toys are for all ages, but they clearly have strong grown-up appeal. After all, rather than being just another action figure line, they have a genuine sense of whimsy! They’re also appealing to collectors, as each Hikari Japanese Vinyl figure is a limited edition and comes in different styles. For example, Batman will have two blue-and-gray costumed versions, a black costumed version, and even a gold-skinned one. Each figure’s packaging doubles as a display case with LED light.
Another set of figures from Funko, the upcoming Vocaloids! line, is also not a direct import from Japan. But the figures–Hatsune Miku, Kagamine Len, and Kagamine Rin–all come from a popular video game series published by Sega: Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA. In the games, the three characters perform Japanese pop, or J-Pop, songs, which players push buttons to in order to test their sense of rhythm. Thanks to specialized synthesizer software, each of the Vocaloids! figures can sing like their digital counterparts. But what makes them really cool is that the lyrics and melody can be typed in for the figures to perform.
This kind of toy could conceivably appeal to all ages, especially since the Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA franchise was a bestseller across multiple demographics. However, the customized singing aspect makes it seem like ideal party item for wiseacre adults, or at least it should be.
Bandai America, meanwhile, is set to launch new action figure model kits, SprüKits, based on a line of similar toys released by Bandai in Japan. What makes SprüKits unique is they do not require any glue, paint, or tools to build. Once assembled, they can be posed as easily as other action figures. The first wave will feature characters from DC Comics, the Halo video game franchise, and LBX, the latter a hit animated series on TV Tokyo.
SprüKits come in three different building levels, with the most beginner-ish, Level 1, consisting of 30 to 40 pieces per kit and yielding a 4-inch figure. By contrast, Level 3 kits are the most difficult, and include more than 150 pieces to assemble into 8-inch figures. I like this tiered system, which seems divided more by degree of seriousness than by age. Level 1 kits may require “only” 30 or so minutes to put together; however, that’s still time that has to be put into the task, and for anyone–even a grown adult–who doesn’t have their heart set on it, they’re likely to switch to doing something else long before their half-hour is fully invested. Meanwhile, that Level 3 Batman: Arkham City Batman–which results in a figure that’s even more articulated than Level 1 or 2–sounds like an item fit for experienced, grown-up model enthusiasts. Bandai’s SprüKits will be introduced this fall.
Thanks for reading this over-sized Toy Book commentary on Japanese toys and games! Here in the U.S., it’s easy to forget that playthings don’t necessarily have to be just “kids’ stuff” all the time. Sometimes it takes a faraway land to remind us of that fact.
For more commentary from Phil, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!