Kore Janai Robo
Review by SpaceRunaway
This is my treasure.
It’s happened to us all as children. We begged and begged our parents for that one toy. Our birthday, or whatever the occasion was would be perfect, if only we could get that one, very specific thing. The big day comes…and it’s not there. It could have been a simple misunderstanding, but it’s a lot to ask a parent to recognize the difference between say, Lion Voltron and Vehicle Voltron. Kore Janai Robo, literally “It’s Not This” Robo, was born out of this common childhood scene.
In a society where people can get just about whatever they desire, KJR creator Taro Mukasa came up with the idea to make a toy for the sole purpose of disappointing people.
I think I got into this hobby around 2004. I don’t remember what exactly it was about toy collecting that I was interested in, aside from a desire to figure out what the weird Japanese toys I had as a kid were and to reacquire them. It was that weird time of life when you try to figure out who, what and why you are, and mostly, I think I was attracted to the community. Toybox DX and the now-defunct Zinc Panic were holy texts for me, and I felt something approaching adoration for older members like Sanjeev, Roger, and Yappy; people that I had never met but thought of as role models regardless.
Mukasa, who sells an eclectic variety of original toys and goods under his Taro Shop brand, started making Kore Janai Robo in 2001. Each of the 200 made were built and painted by hand, and sold for around 30 dollars. Each stands about 8.5" tall. This is a pretty amazing price in designer toy terms, but sales were...slow. In trying to figure out the history of Taro Shop and Kore Janai Robo, I didn’t really get the sense that Mukasa is one for self-promotion. Three years later though, Taro Shop would become a label of independent distributor Zarigani Works. Even more importantly, Kore Janai Robo would gain something equivalent to meme-like status. By 2005, the Kore Janai Robo boom had reached full blast. Toymaker Medicom would get involved, making licensed Kore Janai soft vinyl figures, Kore Janai model kits, Kore Janai key chains, and on and on. There was now a backstory for KJR, each robot had a pilot, and there was a soundtrack released with an official theme song sung by Ichiro Mizuki, because of course there was. Somewhere in all of this, the original hand-built robots sold out very quickly.
It was in 2005 that Toybox DX published an article on the Kore Janai Robo craze, and like a lot of people into robots and nostalgia, I immediately thought, ‘I need this’. However, I didn’t want Medicom’s version. There was a charm in the crudeness of the original that had been lost in the transition to mass production. The problem was, the originals were nowhere to be found. To this day, I’ve still never seen one of the wooden KJRs on Japanese auction sites like Yahoo Japan, and if they were still available to order through Zarigani at that point, I wouldn’t have known how to do that back then anyway. Actually, save for a single instance, I’ve never seen one for sale anywhere.
Kore Janai Robo comes in a plain brown box simply labeled “Kore Janai Robo”. It looks like something that might be used to package OEM car parts. ‘5/10’ is written on the front, but I’ll get into that in a moment.
After freeing KJ Robo from its prison of cardboard and bubble wrap, you will most likely realize something.
This is a pretty crappy robot.
He looks kind of disgusted with himself.
It’s obvious that all of the parts could be found in any hardware store, from its V-Fin bracket to the galvanized nail shoulders. The head is glued on slightly crooked. The feet are nailed in slightly crooked. The paint job is simple, and there’s no finish to seal it. The detailing has all been done in sharpie and it's been applied quickly and sloppily.
However, in spite of its best efforts, it failed at its purpose. I was thrilled.
At first glance, the design obviously rips off Gundam, but the inspiration actually goes a little deeper than that. Kore Janai Robo is specifically invoking the ‘me too’ models that wanted a piece of the original gunpla craze; lines like Mobile Force Gungal, Solar System Squadron Guldan and Super Galactic Legend Bison seemed designed explicitly to take advantage of a parent’s confusion, and the market was full of robot models whose packaging and designs were almost criminally similar to Bandai’s.
KJ Robo’s arms are the only points of ‘articulation’, although the arms can slide horizontally for more posing possibilities. The arms spin freely, but are weighed down by the Earth’s gravity and will need help staying upright.
A set of casters form the robot’s backpack, as well as providing an alternate source of transportation should the need arise.
The back of the robot has been signed and dated by Mukasa during an event at New York toy and curio shop Zakka, which explains the edition number on the front of the box. Finally, the back also features the Taro Shop logo, a tongue in cheek take on the old Bandai design.
Their slogan, by the way, is “Fire Your Imagination”.
The last point of note is the tag, which explains the thought process that led to Kore Janai Robo, as well as showing the villainous version, simply named “Kore Janai Robo (Enemy)”.
In February 2010, the news came out the Erik Ando-Yeap, founder and curator of Zinc Panic and known in the community as Yappy, had suddenly passed away. I had never met Yappy personally. I don’t know if we ever even talked more than once or twice. I can’t imagine the grief of those close to him, but even for me this was a huge loss, and it felt like something inside me had suddenly gone missing. When it was later announced that his entire collection was to be auctioned off, I knew that I had to have something from it, both as a way to keep his memory and also to find some sort of closure. As it turned out, there was a Kore Janai Robo in that auction. It couldn’t have been any more perfect. For me, this dumpy wooden robot seemed to bring everything full circle, I couldn’t think of a better way to remember him. I was going to win that auction no matter what the cost.
In the end, I paid barely more than the original retail cost to get Yappy’s Kore Janai Robo. I guess value really does lie in the eye of the beholder. For me though, this is my grail. There is nothing worth more to me in my toy collection. For me, Kore Janai Robo is not only about growing up, but also a very specific moment in my life.
This is my treasure.
|Posted 28 July, 2014 - 16:28 by SpaceRunaway|