Friday, October 27, 2017

Toy shopping in Seoul

I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days in Seoul, South Korea.  Of course, some exploratory toy shopping was mandatory.

The best spot for retail toy shopping seemed to be in a neighborhood called Dongdaemun, which has a stationery and toy district.  It's essentially a couple of cross streets that have a large number of toy and stationery wholesale shops and stalls.  It may look a bit seedy, but the selection of Korean domestic market toys is excellent.

Unless you go to somewhere like a Toys 'R Us, the toy shops around town simply do not seem to have the depth and breadth of stock that you can find in these small shops.  Despite the small frontage, several of the shops are quite deep and appear to have back stock from the past few years.  I'm sure you could find some newer gems with a bit of digging and hand gestures/broken English exchanges with the shopkeepers.

This shop with the yellow sign was one of the better stops.  Open late, clean, well-lit.  Some of the smaller stalls seemed to have more back stock, though.

The display outside said shop.  I think all of these are made by Sonokong, which you may be familiar with from their Korean market distribution of Transformers, Brave and Microman figures in the late '90s/early 2000s.  The two figures in the middle of the top row are from an ongoing series called Hello Carbot.  Despite the fairly dippy name, the quality is superb- comparable to late G1 TFs and Brave toys.  Thick, glossy plastic and clicky joints!

Halloween is apparently a thing here too.  It hasn't quite reached the national fervor of Japan Halloween, but it's fun to see the decorations out and a few seasonal items in stores.

This is the main toy shop in the district.  As you might imagine, it's fairly easy to find, also being located at the crossing of the main two streets.

At first glance, I thought this store display outside the shop was from a Japanese sentai series, but it is actually the main combiner from a kids' show in Korea, Dino Core (the robot is Ultimate D-Buster).  Toy collectors focus so much on Japanese market toys these days that it's interesting to see this reminder that there are entire toy lines and series that receive similar appreciation in their home countries, but never really gain exposure abroad.

This is terrifying.  What kid would want a foot-long, remote-controlled centipede?

Building toys seem to be big in Korea.  Lego is popular, of course, but there are a number of... local competitors, shall we say.  I thought this was an interesting subject for a set.  Lego Ideas, anyone?

An interesting find at a multi-floor Daiso location in Myeongdong- cheap transforming mini-cars!  They looked pretty good with a combination of paint over translucent plastic, but the quality wasn't as great.  I picked up a few of the police and rescue vehicles.  All in all, not bad for about $3 a pop.

Right now, toys in Korea are by and large, for kids.  There is definitely a growing collector culture with a handful of toy museums and adult-oriented toy shops, such as Gundam Base.  But there doesn't seem to be anything comparable to say, Tokyo's Nakano Broadway or the series of reseller stores in Akihabara.

One evidence of the growing toy collector culture in Korea was this fascinating promotion running in the Lotteria fast food chain.

I saw a sign advertising a Taekwon V figure on the Lotteria counter for 35,000 won (about $35, more or less).  I couldn't tell whether it was a cash-and-carry deal or a preorder for a figure to be released at a later date, and my non-existent Korean was of no assistance.  That night, I did some quick Googling and discovered that the figure had, in fact, been released to the public.  And by luck, the next Lotteria that I passed by also had the figure sitting on the counter!  I ran up to the cashier and gesticulated wildly at the figure and said the only words I knew: "Takewon V!"  The cashier rolled her eyes and yelled something at one of her co-workers.  They brought out the boxed figure, placed it in this snazzy bag, and 35,000 won later, I was on my way.

On closer inspection, this toy is based on a super robot called Master Taekwon V (some Googling reveals that there was a Lotteria exclusive toy of original-flavor Taekwon V, which seems to have been sold earlier this year).  I don't know much about the franchise, and there is little information out there in English, so I can't tell you much about the difference between the two robots.

This toy appears to be a produced by a Korean design studio, but most likely manufactured in China.  It is maybe 8" tall or so, and on a larger scale than comparable Japanese robot toys (e.g., SOC, Robot Damashii).  There is a decent heft to the figure, and the joints feel pretty sturdy.  Points against it are a lower degree of articulation than most Japanese figures at similar price points, and just-ok paint quality.  Overall, it feels like the robot figures that were being sold in Japan about 10-15 years ago (e.g., the Xebec stuff and early Revoltech).  Not bad for a fast food premium anyhow.

My take is that if you are looking for vintage toys or vinyl, you probably won't have much luck in Seoul.  I'm sure somewhere there is someone collecting and selling old toys in Korea, but I wasn't able to find them.  If you are into transforming robots and sentai, there are some fascinating toys to be had that you probably won't easily find outside of Korea (although you may need another suitcase to get anything home).  That said, I suspect that in a few years, we will probably see a more robust toy collector scene develop in Korea, although it is likely to differ from the one that has grown up in Japan over the past couple of decades.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Shamrock Arrow / シャムロックアロー - Fang / ファング

Shamrock Arrow - Fang (Super Festival 55 ltd., 1/9/11)

After seeing a new version of Shamrock Arrow's distinctive toy, Fang, revealed after nearly a year, I thought it might be time to revisit some of its prior releases.
Fang [ファング] is a finger puppet-style soft vinyl toy sculpted and produced by Shamrock Arrow [シャムロックアロー]. It is part of Shamrock Arrow's Poseidon Impact Series and currently the sole figure in said line. Perhaps you recognize the 90s-era action figures that undoubtedly inspired its design.
The first version of Fang released used clear yellow vinyl with no paint. It was sold at Super Festival 55 on January 9, 2011. This and successive versions of Fang were packaged in a simple fruit mesh bag with a Poseidon Impact sash-style label.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Super Festival 62 Glyos

At Super Festival 62, which took place on April 29, 2013, Fig-Lab sold a number of one-off custom mash-up Glyos figures from its booth. These were most likely mash-ups made from back stock (similar to the Crystal Marauders sold at 2010 Summer Patchi-Summit), and not special production or pre-production items.
That said, I can't figure out where the deep mauve head on the last Pheyden comes from.
Glyos - Pheyden SF62 3 (Super Festival 62 ltd., 4/29/13)
Glyos - Pheyden SF62 3 (Super Festival 62 ltd., 4/29/13)

Glyos - Pheyden SF62 2 (Super Festival 62 ltd., 4/29/13)
Glyos - Pheyden (Super Festival 62 ltd., 4/29/13)

Glyos - Pheyden SF62 1 (Super Festival 62 ltd., 4/29/13)
Glyos - Pheyden SF62 1 (Super Festival 62 ltd., 4/29/13)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tomy Beyrobo / ベーロボ

Tomy - Beyrobo (brown)

Beyrobo [ベーロボ] is a robot toy produced by Tomy in the 1980s, probably as a way to follow the real robot, cute robot and ripcord/gyroscope toy trends of the time. The little information out there on these toys suggests they were produced in 1983, although they strike me as being from later in the 80s- can't say why.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ichibanboshi Oddities

RxH x Ichi - Ichibanboshi (unknown)
RxH x Ichibanboshi - Ryuusei Ninja Ichibanboshi (unknown release)

There are a handful of undocumented oddities that I have encountered among the collaborative figures produced by RealxHead [リアルヘッド] and Ichibanboshi [一番星]. The above two are examples that I have been lucky enough to add to my collection.
The first figure appears to be the head of the first release 'Kabuki' paint Ryuusei Ninja Ichibanboshi [流星忍者 一番星] placed on an unpainted black vinyl body, and given a black scarf. The first Kabuki Ninja was sold at the Shinto Gangu After-School Club event on June 20, 2009, so I would imagine this figure was distributed around that time. Many Ninjas use black vinyl, so that portion of the figure does not provide any particular insight.
The second figure is the Ryuusei Ninja in unpainted black vinyl with a yellow-orange cat eye. No scarf or eye-patch is included. This one could have been an unpainted test shot for one of the earlier releases of the Ninja, as a couple of them used a black vinyl base and a yellow-orange cat eye.
Other Ichibanboshi oddities that I have seen include:
Ryuusei Ninja in unpainted milky-white vinyl with a yellow-green cat eye (no eye-patch or scarf);
Ryuusei Ninja completely painted metallic red with a yellow-orange cat eye and black scarf;
Ryuusei Ninja in unpainted black vinyl with a grey cat eye (a fairly unusual eye color) and red scarf;
Mikazuki Joe in unpainted black vinyl (probably more of a test shot than a mystery version);
Mikazuki Joe in unpainted clear smoke vinyl with gold tinsel inside;
Mikazuki Joe completely painted metallic red with a black scarf; and
Mikazuki Joe in unpainted milky-white vinyl.
Stranger yet- most of these were still in their original packaging. They were also sold at around the same time, and alongside a large amount of more common Ichibanboshi figures, leading me to believe that someone was cleaning house.
It is still a mystery to me as to why these figures were produced and how they were originally distributed.