Close to two years since I last posted a brog. A lot has transpired in those two years, but as with many things, life happens in cycles.
It was 2006 and I was watching a Moprhy auction unfold. I had been working at Reebok, and due to firewall restrictions, was unable to bid myself and so relied on someone externally to place bids. As luck would have it, that was a disaster, and not only did I miss a couple of the items I was after but one of the bids placed , as if insult to injury , was on an incorrect toy.
The collection had been part of Carl Lobel’s classic tin assortment. Over the many years since the early 80s, Carl had been traveling to and from Japan, many years before the majority of us even thought to collect character tin or chogokin for that matter, both of which he imported early on. Other than Kitahara, as well as a few other hard core collectors, the field was mostly focussed on the generic tinplates of the earlier 50s and 40s.
Fortunately I had won a Zaboga tin for a very good price ( Which had come from Kitahara in the mid 80s during one of his trips ) Carl being the owner, I contacted him post auction to ask if I could simply pick up the winnings in person. I drove to his place in northern New England to pick up the winnings. He was a friendly and colorful man, and I spent the better part of two hours looking through his remaining collection. He still had many of the tins he would not have sold yet, and I was pleased to see everything from A Normura Batman to various Popy MIMB walkers to the rarest of Popeye and Betty Boop toys.
I spied on his shelf, one of the missed opportunities. A early Gekko Kamen tin motorcycle made by Bandai in the period between 1966 and 1972. The logo had always thrown me, because the large bubble card had an early mid 50s Bandai logo, yet had on the toy what looked to be a later, or must have been later variation on the Bandai baby logo from around 1966, when the character went a resign around the same time Ogon Bat did.
It had sold for 50.00, the opening bid. A crazy low amount. Carl had been smart enough to offer the winner many times that to buy it back. But at the time of my visit it was not for sale.
A few years pass and I see Carl at the Solenz auction, Discuss how I missed the Leo in the 2006 auction, to which to points to the one in the case and explains it is the same one… I feel a sense of synchronicity and manage to finally check the Leo zenmai off my list for less than I imagine possible, and realize again, it had passed hands in a strange but comforting way.
Fast forward to this year. Carl decides he is going to sell off the last of his character tins and lists a number online. I contact him after my first purchase and we work out a deal… Solenz manages to score a few of his tins from his own collection in 2009 thankfully as well, sort of again this all feeling serendipitous and right. I travel a few hours to Carl’s again a week later with Regan, as we are interested in checking out a few local VT breweries anyway.
I make the exchange and bond over old collecting war stories and we promise to stay in better touch. The better part of that afternoon was spent with lunch and drinking good local beers in his back yard, and talk about how collecting has changed in the years since ebay and other online marketplaces.
Upon getting ready to leave I take one last look in his toy room and spy the very same Gekko Kamen motorcycle I had missed out on in 2006 and never seen again. This time the patience pays off, and he graciously sells it to me for a very fair price and I feel some sense of doors simultaneously opening and closing. The karmic toy boomerang makes a sound as it flies by. We make our goodbyes and I smile and drive home thinking about how many friends I have made through these very toys, and how it has been the experience of meeting people like Carl, and Marc, as well as others along the way from Toybox to CDX, to every Summit and nerdy get together. People who have given me a sense of purpose in the slow burn of being patient for the right piece, and realizing it is the people you meet along the way that makes the score all that much sweeter. It will come to you when you are ready.
Needless to say the toy is a gem in my collection and one I would be hesitant to let go of due to the long history it has. It stands in almost 1/1 scale with the walker, and the small details, like the tin wheels give it a charm with Gekko name, I have come to expect in the earlier incarnations. The package is not mint, and many will laugh at the idea of me not, caring as much anymore about everything being “C10″. But to be honest I have not really fit than persona for the past 5+ years. As I get older, I realize time affects everything, myself included, and the tell tale signs of a long life are not always negatives to my eye anymore.
Like I said, things happen in cycles, and this cycle is one I hope to repeat, again and again.
The Japanese government commissioned a report on the history of Japanese robot animation. Yes, the government. My government's robot studies are undoubtedly focused on stuff like killer Predator and Reaper drones. Japan's? Astro Boy, Tranzor Z, and Voltron. More power to 'em, I say. (Pun intended.) "Japan" and "robots" go together like chocolate and peanut butter. It's fair to say that no other country has become so intimately associated with robots both real and fictional.
But until now, precious few have explored the history of the robot shows that are a virtual synonym for Cool Japan. Ryusuke Hikawa wrote the majority of the report. He's been on the front lines of otaku culture since day one, chairing the fan club that played a big role in getting the Space Cruiser Yamato movies made back in 1977. Today he's one of Japan's top anime critics and I can't think of anyone better suited to have authored the report along with Sunrise's Koichi Inoue and writer Daisuke Sawaki.
AltJapan was hired via the Mori Corporation to translate the 90-page beast into English. And now it's available for free download on the Agency for Cultural Affair's Media Arts Content site. (Scroll down for the English link.)
The English-language ebook editions of Fujiko F. Fujio's classic manga "Doraemon" have started coming out. AltJapan translated it for Voyager Japan in association with Fujiko Productions - some 12,000-plus pages over the course of last year, easily the biggest manga localization with which we have ever been involved. It's finally being released in 3-episode chunks: volumes one through ten have come out via the Kindle Store as of this posting. (Apologies if you can't see them - they're only available for download in North America at present.)
This release is a really big deal. Doraemon is Japan's single most popular character, yet the comic has never been officially released in English. There have been a handful of bilingual editions created for students of English, but never a truly localized edition intended purely for enterainment's sake.
If you've never read Doraemon, you can't truly call yourself a connosieur of manga. I challenge anyone to find a middle-aged or younger Japanese person, otaku or not, who hasn't read at least a few pages (and probably a lot more than that.) It is the first sci-fi most Japanese read. It's part of the fabric of Japanese life in the same way that classic Disney films or Peanuts are in the West. The cast of characters are archetypes: Nobita the nerd, Sneech the rich kid, Big G the bully, Shizuka the neighborhood idol. They are given homage in countless other works, parodied in nationwide advertising campaigns for car companies. People casually drop references to them in daily conversations in the same way an American might refer to Homer Simpson's love of donuts or Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie Brown.
So why hasn't it ever come out in English before? It's hard to say. Perhaps because manga and anime are often associated with dark, edgy imagery in America, and that's the last word anyone would ever apply to Doraemon. It is kids' entertainment par excellence, but quintessentially Japanese kids' entertainment, meaning it's filled to the brim with subtle cultural references, occasional nudity, and inevitable toilet humor of the sort that sends certain types of parents into a tizzy. And simply due to the age of the series - it debuted in 1969 - modern-day analogues of many of Doraemon's "22nd century" gadgets are available to anyone with a credit card. The Asahi Shimbun quotes a "former industry ministry official" theorizing that Americans can't sympathize with a passive loser like Nobita, but that can't be right - Charlie Brown is an even gloomier protagonist, minus any hope of salvation from a pal like Doraemon.
Whatever prevented Doraemon from getting an English release didn't stop it from being translated into many European and Asian languages, where it retains a huge following (particularly in SE Asia.) The English-speaking world is simply behind the curve on this one, and it's been our loss - until now. Doraemon is a cornerstone of Japanese pop culture, and it has been an honor to be part of the team that is bringing it out in English for the very first time.