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.

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