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Lifelike Figures

Collectors Snap Up Models of Favorite Anime Characters


Mazinger Z.
©Dynamic Production

Top-quality, minutely detailed anime character figurines have become highly sought-after collector’s items, especially among men in their twenties, thirties, and forties. These figures are so realistic that one almost expects them to start walking around on their own. Action figures with fully opposable joints attract children, while collecting figures of manga and anime characters enable fans to create a world all their own. It is not unusual for these “toys” to cost upwards of ¥10,000 (about $90 at ¥110 to the dollar), but the high price tags bring satisfaction and fulfillment.

Toys or Art?
Popy Co., an affiliate of toy maker Bandai Co., set off a major boom in figure collecting with the release of its Chogokin (super alloy) toy series in 1974. The first figure to go on sale was a recreation of Mazinger Z, a giant robot piloted by the protagonist in the anime series of the same name. The weight of the die-cast figure, combined with its spring-loaded missiles and other movable parts, served to make it a smash hit with elementary school kids.

Figures of over 200 characters were subsequently released, including other giant robots from the world of anime and heroes of live-action special-effects series like Kamen Rider (Masked Rider). In 1998, developers at Bandai revived the toys in their Soul of Chogokin series. Having fond memories of playing with the figures as children, they decided to remake toys from the old series using the latest technology.

The Tamashii Soul Nation 2008 figure exhibition event was held in Tokyo’s Akihabara district in March. Collectors swarmed to purchase tenth-anniversary Mazinger Z robots selling for ¥7,000 ($64) and other limited edition figures. Now there are even Cyber Chogokin figures that can be connected to your computer and a Super Imaginative Chogokin series featuring even more artistically designed figures.


©Ishimori Production/TOEI

In May 2008 the auction house Sotheby’s auctioned a figure made by Murakami Takashi in New York, and the piece finally sold for $15.2 million dollars. Japan’s top figure creators take pride in their meticulous craftsmanship and the high quality of their creations; referring to such works as “art” is by no means an exaggeration. Prototype figures made by Takeya Takayuki, head designer at Art Storm Co., are available for purchase on the company’s website. The “Predator Bust” (¥59,800/$544) and “Big Alien” (¥31,290/$284) are minutely crafted right down to the bones and teeth, evoking an essence so lifelike that they look as if they are about to jump off their stands.

Hooked on Collecting
According to the Yano Research Institute’s estimates, the market for figures in 2006 reached a scale of ¥24 billion ($218.2 million), not including sales of cheaper varieties of figures. This represents growth of 30% since 2004. Together with the steadily increasing quality of the figures, one factor behind this growth is product lineups that capture the imagination of adults. For example, Kaiyodo Co. has turned characters from its popular martial arts manga Hokuto no Ken (Fist of the North Star) into figures. In addition to main character Kenshiro, horses and other characters from the show are available to collect, satisfying the desires of manga fans who wish to re-create a miniature world of their own beloved characters.

In addition to action figures, makers have also produced series featuring  feudal-era warlords and characters which tend to be popular among girls. Another factor behind the market’s expansion may be that female and elderly collectors are swelling the ranks of a fan base previously dominated by men in their twenties to forties. (August 2008)