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General Products 1984: A small look at the early days of Japanese fandom

The story of General Products is one that doesn't need repeating, but here's the short version anyway. Toshio Okada dropped out of school and started a business making garage kits in addition to opening a science fiction specialty store, taking the name from Larry Niven's Known Space series of novels. This store was the first of its kind in Japan. He recruited people like Yasuhiro Takeda from the university science fiction club, many of whom had worked together on animating the opening video for the third Japanese SF Convention in Osaka, aka DAICON III.

These people went on to found Gainax Studios.

I'm fascinated with this period of time in Japan. It's the point at which the fans who had grown up on anime began to make their own, and General Products and its daughter company DAICON Film were at the heart of it.

Problematically, while General Products is legendary, it's kind of hard to turn up information about what they made. It's not hard to find some of their kits in online auctions, but to my knowledge there's no online repository for all things Genepro. Because of this, I was very excited to find a catalog of theirs, which I have scanned and present to anyone interested for download.

You can either view the individual pages in this gallery or as a zipped archive from this dropbox link. This comes from 1984, two years after General Products opened for business.

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I think all of the artwork in the catalog was done by Takami Akai.

The catalog came with a fantastic sticker sheet, which I can never use.
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Featuring Dino Tank Girl, crush of otaku everywhere.
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Map of the store interior, translated and sloppily edited.

I said it in my earlier blog, but I had briefly thought about translating the whole catalog in a manner similar to the above. While I quickly gave up that idea, here are the two editorial passages in the catalog. The first is less interesting to me and was much harder to make sound natural in English, but I did it for completion's sake. (I'd like to note that this is the first time I've attempted to do any sort of translation work, trying to find the median between the literal Japanese and what sounds like natural English writing was the goal. I don't know how successful I'd say I was; to me it still kind of reads like "translated Japanese".)

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It’s shown on the comic (?) on pages 4-5, but there’s a cafe in the corner of the General Pro shop.

The name of this cafe is 'SID'.

When you hear that you think “Oh, you took the name of the satellite computer from UFO", don’t you? However, this isn't the Space Intruder Detector.

When we were naming the cafe, we debated over which names would be good, and finally the remaining candidates were 'SID' (from UFO), 'Dune', and 'Seiun Kamen*' (!!). 'SID' and 'Dune' had a sort of attractiveness, and 'Seiun Kamen', well, how should we put it…it’s hard to say if that sort of unpredictability is better. We thought long and hard about which to pick, and then we thought, “How about if we just took bits of all of them and jumbled it together?”

In other words, 'Seiun Kamen In Dune'.

A great name that could be abbreviated to SID, so that’s what we decided to go with (Behold, this General Pro-iveness!).

If you’re able to come to General Products and sit at the counter at SID, pick up one of the SID matchbooks. Written on the underside is “The man from the Planet Ivy, who descended to the Planet of Sand. What he desires is a cup of coffee…”

Or some other appropriate phrase (probably). It’s laughable, isn’t it?

*Seiun Kamen, or Nebula Mask, comes from the 1984 tokusatsu show Seiun Kamen Machineman, whose titular hero hails from the Planet Ivy.

The second essay is about General Products' experience attending L.A. CON II in 1984.

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All of the goods on these pages are made in America. The world of science fiction belonging to the America selling these items is diverse, and completely unfathomable to the Japanese.

The representative sci-fi event of that America is called Worldcon.

The proper title of this event is the World Science Fiction Convention. Since first being held in New York in 1939, it’s a super event held once a year for sci-fi fans, enthusiasts, and professionals from all over the world.

This year (1984) the Worldcon held in Los Angeles—L.A. CON II—was a large scale event surpassing 10,000 attendees over a 5 day period. It was said that around 100 participants came from Japan. (Naturally, General Pro participated as well.)

At Worldcon there were lectures from novelists and movie showings, and a masquerade (something like a costume show, although the scale was completely different from Japan’s) where the ceremony for the world’s most prestigious sci-fi awards, the Hugo Awards was held.

However, even within the unique events of Worldcon, the Dealer’s Room is something worthy of mention.

With no relation between professional or amateur, people selling sci-fi related goods they had made gathered inside the Worldcon grounds, making up a large market—that was the Dealer’s Room. Starting from fanzines to T-shirts and extending to original glassworks and specially made replicas, the sense of wonder emanating from these goods resembled a sparkling planet. Among the American items in the General Pro storefront are some obtained at the Worldcon Dealer’s Room. Try to look for them if you come by.

I don't know if this is widely realized by younger fans of Japanese pop culture, but American fandom played an enormous role is shaping how the Japanese fans shaped their creative outlets. Trekkies particularly were a big inspiration to early otaku. Reading firsthand accounts from Japanese fans encountering that fandom is awesome.

There's so much about this catalog that is interesting and eye-opening to me, but I'll hold off on that since this is already a massive wall of text. I might continue to edit it, but I think I'm pretty much done with the translations for now. If anyone has questions about the products though, feel free to post them.

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The back cover. I probably won't bother trying to do anything with this, but maybe...

Posted 4 November, 2012 - 19:15 by SpaceRunaway


2 comments posted
Wow what a great piece of

Wow what a great piece of Anime history. Thanks for posting and translating this. I took the liberty of cleaning up the formatting of the text a little, hope you don't mind.

JoshB's picture
Posted by JoshB on 4 November, 2012 - 22:07
Thanks Josh, I don't mind at

Thanks Josh, I don't mind at all. If anything, thank you, the post looks so much better now,

SpaceRunaway's picture
Posted by SpaceRunaway on 4 November, 2012 - 22:16