by Roger Harkavy
Photos by Joshua Bernard and Ed Sanford
Sunday, February 22
While I wait in the lobby for Josh and Ed to show up, a portly Death Star gunner and a diminutive Stormtrooper show up. While the gunner explains to the cops why he's carrying around a giant black rifle, I can't resist asking the Stormtrooper, "aren't you a little short?" A female voice responds, "Yeah, I hear that a lot." This surprises me at first, but then it starts to make some more sense: she's not scratching her groin like the other Stormtroopers I see at the Chiller Theatre convention. There's no way that these people are paid actors, they have to be fans that just showed up. Weird.
After Josh and Ed show up and we finish our registration, we run into a charming older fellow, who starts to regale us with tales of the old days. Something about how he did cartoon voices for a living, or imitated people who did cartoon voices for a living, and bought Mickey Mouse off of Disney for a dollar, and blah blah blah blah and now my legs are starting to fall asleep. Ed and Josh are staring and drooling like they just got a gallon of Thorazine pumped into them; this old coot has put some sort of brain lock on them. I snap them out of it by interrupting Mr. Mouse in mid-sentence and reminding them that we have a meeting to get to. As we not so gracefully part ways with the old codger, Josh says, "I knew there was a reason we wanted you around."
After cruising to a couple of the smaller companies' offices, we go to our appointment at Bandai. We hob-nob with a couple of marketing folks in a fully catered meeting area. We hear a lot of Japanese being spoken, something Josh and Ed say is a big difference from last year. After a brief wait, we file into the multi-chambered showroom area, and the Big Bandai Show begins.
The first display is Power Rangers, Bandai's premier breadwinner for the past decade. Two guys, roughly our age and dressed from head to toe in black, begin demonstrating the new SPD lineup with all the verve of a flight attendant pantomiming what to do with the safety equipment at the beginning of each flight. Occasionally the demonstration is punctuated with the occasional light-up feature, or firing missile. At one point, the demo guys even talk to one of the toys, an electronic police dog that barks when you transform it. I feel strange inside when one of them mechanically strokes the dog's head and tells it calmly, "Heel, boy. Heel."
Next up is Teen Titans, which has been a surprise hit for the company. The "collect them all" mentality is in full swing here: nearly every vehicle needs to be connected to the other vehicles in its' set to have any significant play value. To their credit, though, Bandai has been paying a lot of attention to the figures themselves, and it seems like every character that's ever been animated will see plastic. Taking a cue from anime, there's even a set of vehicles that will combine into a giant robot.
After Teen Titans, we see the Gundam room. It is dead silent. There is no demo person. Inside one of the cases, a Duel Gundam has fallen off of its perch and is now doing a headstand on the shoulder of the Ginn figure below it. It almost looks like a strange re-enactment of the rain kiss scene in Spider-Man. There is nothing to see here. We move along.
We see a demo of the new Dice stuff, which looks interesting. The next set of figures will have an Egyptian look to them, and more giant transforming dinosaur vehicles for them to ride will be made. We breeze through the Strawberry Shortcake, Tamagotchi, and card game areas. By the time we exit the showroom, I've realized two things: all of the demo people inside were Caucasian, in contrast to the completely Asian staff outside, and that I need a Tamagotchi.
We don't have any more appointments, so we head over to the Javitz Center to see the general exhibits. Josh guides us through the Hong Kong section, in hopes that we'll encounter some cool bootlegs ("localized versions," we agree to call them so as not to offend the vendors). Back in licensed toy territory, we pass by the booth for Master Replicas. A salesperson walks up to Josh and I and gives us a couple of their lighsaber replicas. We have an impromptu duel in the aisle, decide these things are incredibly fun, and make mental notes to put them on our wish lists.
The urban vinyl aisle is pretty damn crowded. We see one booth with a figure of Jesus in a space suit. I tell them that personally I wouldn't be interested in that, but I salute them for the guts they're showing. I can imagine the shitstorm that will ensue once it comes out.
I'm getting the feeling that urban vinyl is just about to hit the wall, the same way black and white comics did during the glut of the mid-80s. After a few minutes of looking at the dozens of offerings from only a handful of companies, it all seems to run together. There doesn't seem to be any differentiation. The only thing that sticks with me is a set of monsters that one company did in ABS - they've jumped from urban vinyl to urban styrene.
Two British girls with hair like you might see on My Little Pony dolls are hanging around the Medicom booth. We strike up a conversation with them: they work for Clutter magazine, and they're looking for writers. What a coincidence, I tell them, Josh and I have written for Super7. As one digs out a sample copy of their magazine, I try making eye contact with the other one. No dice. I think she's allergic.
We survey some other selected aisles of the Javitz center, since trying to see it all in one day is impossible. It seems the use of the word "extreme" in marketing children's products is still a fresh concept.
Monday, February 21
I wake up to discover that Hunter Thompson has committed suicide.
Our first appointment is with Yamato. I finally get to meet marketing manager Douglas McNeill face to face, after corresponding with him via email for months. He's very friendly and interested to hear what I think about the items that Yamato offering for the show. I tell him again that I'm crazy about the Scopedog, and he shows me the purple Melkian Soldier version that's coming soon. Other things on display in the room that jump out at me are the upcoming trading figure of Bonaparte (from Dominion), and the Banpresto Huckebein, which has a decent heft to it and a noticeable amount of die-cast.
Douglas gives us a lot of information about the toys and what Yamato is currently up to. As we saddle up to leave, he stops us and tells us that he has a little thank-you gift for promoting the Scopedog. He brings out a sealed case, and from this he produces a Scopedog for each of us. I am floored by this incredibly generous gift, but it gets even better when he flips up the box cover to show us that these have red shoulders. I am amazed. I thank Douglas profusely before we leave. We are all pretty stunned.
We head up one floor to our final appointment: Toynami. George Sohn, company president, has just finished talking to a TV crew. When we tell him that we're chogokin collectors, he seems eager to tell us about his own collection, some pieces of which came from the president of Bandai himself. He tells us about how he wants the spirit of those original toys to carry into items like the Masterpiece Voltron they're developing. Unfortunately, before we're able to sit down, our visit is cut short; George tells us that they have an important meeting and they need to hustle us out of there so they can use the room.
We quickly grab our things and shuffle out into the hall, a little confused after this episode of toyus interrupus and reflecting the contrast between this appointment and the previous one.
Soul still intact...