Sofubi Plastic Fantastic with Dan Orlowitz & Japan Times feat Tatsuhiko ‘Ryu’ Akashi of Medicom Toys x Maruyama Toys x Science Patrol x Candie Bolton x Remjie x Ayako Takagi

Our buddy Dan Orlowitz aka Dokool writer at The Japan Times wrote an amazing piece and had the opportunity to meet the one and only President & CEO, Tatsuhiko ‘Ryu’ Akashi of Medicom Toys. Dan took us a sofubi journey and a glimpse of the behind the scenes in the world of sofubi. Dan not only had a chin wag with Akashi he met up with Yuji Maruyama, president of Maruyama Toys, Science Patrol, Candie Bolton, Remjie Malham, Ayako Takagi. Grab a cup of tea and biscuits and enjoy both articles from Dan, examining the global obsession with Japan’s soft vinyl toys.

Below is a bite size Q&A from Dan’s article with Tatsuhiko ‘Ryu’ Akashi.

Tatsuhiko ”Ryu” Akashi , President & CEO, MEDICOM TOY CORP. Photo by Yoshiaki Miura for The Japan Times

Name: Tatsuhiko “Ryu” Akashi
Nationality: Japanese
Occupation: CEO of Medicom Toy
Likes: Cats, toys and curry rice
Dislikes: “I push all dislikes out of my head.”

How did Medicom Toy come about? We started by getting together a group of people who were passionate about their interests and wanted to make things. I don’t think we’ve ever really thought about what the market was demanding or missing.

Which of your toys are particularly popular? Different regions are enthusiastic about certain artists. For example our Jean-Michel Basquiat Be@rbrick sold really well in America, while Keith Haring’s did very well in Asia. But we don’t really chase after specific trends.

How many toys does the company produce? We release around 800-1,000 products annually.

What are your future ambitions? We want to be a hub to connect people. A hub for artists and fans, a hub for distributors and creators. A hub for creations.

Which of your toys are particularly popular? Different regions are enthusiastic about certain artists. For example our Jean-Michel Basquiat Be@rbrick sold really well in America, while Keith Haring’s did very well in Asia. But we don’t really chase after specific trends.

What’s it like to produce toys for the American pop artist Kaws? The first market that really accepted Kaws’ work was Asia. Around 20 years ago he held an exhibition at Shibuya Parco, and nobody in the U.S. knew him. Now his work is on display at MoMA, and our toys are sold there. It’s been great to see his career progress.

Read the FULL interview HERE

Plastic fantastic

Examining the global obsession with Japan’s soft vinyl toys

Inspired by the monsters, robots and folklore of Japanese culture, creators of sofubi — soft vinyl toys — have taken their original plastic creations to new heights … to the delight of collectors around the world

“The sculpt and wax are done by hand, the joints are made by hand, things are fitted and plated, and every toy is pulled by hand,” Privitera says. “(A lot of) people had a hand in making this thing. It’s super cool to see an idea come to life. It was an illustration and now it’s a thing, and it was done by people, not machines.”
The method is nearly identical to the one used more than 60 years ago, when sofubi were first commercialized and Maruyama Toys opened for business.

“The designs have evolved,” says Yuji Maruyama, president of Maruyama Toys. “We have clients from America who submit what would have been impossible designs in the past. We might make some changes but overall we still get it to work.”

Toy designer and consultant Cory Privitera spends three days a week at Maruyama’s Katsushika Ward factory, making toys for clients around the world. DAN ORLOWITZ

Independent artists and facilities such as Maruyama Toys are often connected by larger production companies that coordinate global distribution or character merchandising. One of the most prominent Japanese firms in the industry is Medicom Toy, which was founded by Tatsuhiko “Ryu” Akashi in 1996. Besides its world-famous Be@rbrick series, the company is best known overseas for its work with American designer Kaws, whose creations have graced parks, floated on top of lakes and are on permanent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Boston.
Closer to home, Medicom works with many of the sofubi scene’s most popular creators, releasing more than 800 products annually. In 2014, the company launched “Vinyl Artist Gacha,” a collaboration with sofubi artists that sees their popular works reimagined as ¥500 capsule-sized toys.
“An artist would appear at an event and sell their toys to tens or even hundreds of fans, and that process repeated itself,” says Akashi, flanked by a veritable museum of Medicom’s most famous releases at the company’s Shibuya Ward headquarters. 
“However, there were always people who wanted to buy toys but couldn’t get into the event, or who wanted to go but it was too far away. We wanted to create a way to introduce these artists to a wider group of people,” Akashi says. “A lot of artists have caught big breaks after participating in Vinyl Artist Gacha. It’s good ‘propaganda’ for the sofubi scene and that’s our role.”

“The most important thing about (DesignerCon) was being able to experience firsthand what U.S. sofubi fans are interested in, their passion, their relationship with the toys, what they’re looking for,” Akashi says. “They have very strong feelings in regard to ‘classic’ properties. You have to be a bit more careful in how you deal with the market than you would in Asia.”
Despite Japan’s outsized influence on the scene, there have been few domestic events of equal prominence. This has changed somewhat in recent years — toy designers have a sizeable presence at weekend art expos such as Design Festa and are gaining in numbers at Wonder Festival, the biannual marketplace for anime-related figures and garage kits.
One event that has become a mainstay on the toy fan’s calendar is Super Festival, which is held roughly four times a year in Tokyo and Osaka. With affordable table fees and a receptive audience, “SuperFes” has gained a reputation as a proving ground for international artists hoping to reach Japanese collectors.

“What collectors are looking to find is something that represents themselves. When an artist produces a toy, it’s a piece of their soul,” says Los Angeles-based Candie Bolton, the 2017 Designer Toy Awards’ breakthrough artist whose 25-centimeter-tall Bakekujira design won that year’s best soft vinyl award.

“The collector finds something that resonates and also represents them, and they want to keep it and have a display of these things that they like which represent them,” Bolton says.

Sharing a display area with Bolton is Remjie Malham, a Russia-born, Norway-based artist whose psychedelic paint jobs and kaijū-inspired designs have drawn international attention.

“Three years ago I had no idea this was a thing, because in Europe nobody knows anything about this type of media or the subculture of people who collect or produce sofubi,” Malham says. “We try to support each other. We ask each other how we do this (style of painting).”

A daughter of two jewelers, Ayako Takagi has turned her most popular character, Uamou, into accessories, jewelry, clothing and hundreds of sofubi. Her shop, located near the hobbyist mecca of Akihabara, regularly receives visitors from around the world.

“As someone who likes toys and buys them myself, I want to keep prices reasonable,” says Takagi, who first drew Uamou at 14 years old and fully developed the character while studying at London’s Camberwell College of Arts. “I hope I can keep creating characters that anyone can enjoy, regardless of age, gender or nationality.”

Read the FULL article by Dan HERE

Thank you to Dan Orlowitz aka Dokool for authorising us to use Dan’s content. Please read both of the full articles, trust us its worth your time.

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Written by Andy

A Yellow guy with bad English who's a chef by trade but addicted to toys and art. Instagram nutter rambling food addict who likes to take photos of everything I eat (most Asians do right?) Please don't class me as a journalist or blogger, more on the lines of talent scout and always backs the little guy.

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I am that one dickhead too.

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