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Interview with Edie Xu of CAPSULE◒CORNER

One of the greatest parts of exploring the Japanese gachapon industry is to see how much influence people’s love for capsule toys, vending machines and collectibles is influencing retail trends and distribution models. Edie Xu of LA’s CAPSULE◒CORNER  micro gallery concept, is a brilliant entrepreneur who is using re-tooled gachapon machines to collaborate with “capsule artists” and to distribute unique collectible art.  I was lucky enough to interview her and chat about her gallery CAPSULE◒CORNER and the inspiration behind her vendible art concept. 

Can you tell me a bit about yourself, how the Capsule Corner, “Micro Gallery” art exhibit came to be and what the aim is of this art project?

I’m an artist myself who really wanted to create another opportunity for my fellow artists to be able to show and sell their personal work. The “micro gallery” method was an affordable way to setup a gallery space so that it didn’t have to rely as heavily on sales as other galleries might. This way it provides more freedom to explore different types of shows without the pressure of the bottom dollar being super present. There are so many amazing and talented artists out there right now that super deserve the attention and the opportunity to show in a gallery setting. For a lot of these artists there isn’t as much opportunity to show work unless it’s in group or themed show. These shows are designed to make sales by engaging in a particular interest or by garnering interest due to the number of artists participating. Which can be super fun to participate in but often times it doesn’t allow the artist to express something as personal as they might want.

The “Micro Gallery” aspect also takes some pressure off as it’s not really a “full” show either. Usually a full solo show would consist of 10 to 15+ pieces but this type of scale can be just right for young artists now that juggle day jobs, conventions, and/or commissions at the same time.

What inspired you to use gachapon machines and capsule prizes as a distribution model for your art exhibition?

I wanted to use a Gachapon machine and capsule prizes because they’re fun. Art and art collecting should elicit those same feelings. A gallery doesn’t need to be something stuffy or quiet it should be something that really brings out joy, Gachapon is a very accessible medium that can be enjoyed by everyone. Deeper than that I wanted to explore the concept of collecting and value or worth by blurring the lines between art and commercialism. Concepts explored within the Super Flat movement by artists like Takashi Murakami or Nara. Value and worth are very arbitrary but also highly personal. A piece of art being valued at thousands of dollars or someones figure collection being worth a lot of money, is that more important than what that piece of art or collection is worth or means to the person themselves? The randomness of the Gachapon machine is similar to any economy around collecting really. Art is no different. A piece you buy now at $500 dollars could be worth 5 million a few decades from now. The machine really makes the user look at the items and say, “oh I want that specific one because…” and then what follows is a very honest and personal reason and I think reveals a lot about the way people might engage with media or art.

 

What kind of feedback have you had from your artist collaborators? How have visitors respond to your unique exhibition approach and art distribution model?

Everyone so far has had a really good time! As an artist myself I try really hard to be as artist friendly as I can with the gallery and overall wanted to make an experience or space that I wish would’ve existed when I was first entering the art scene here. There’s also been a lot of positive response from visitors as well although there are certain folk who do need some educating on the whole Gachapon concept. But part of the goal especially with the current location is to also educate visitors on Gachapon machines and it’s culture.

How has small batch indie artist manufacturing IE enamel badges, vinyl stickers, resin toys, micro art, contributed to the development and perhaps liberation of artist made merchandise?

Absolutely amazing. It’s been wonderful for artists to help them make a living. Small batch runs and the accessibility of manufacturing this merchandise has meant so many more opportunities and more amazing creations. It is now so cool to see so many cool things and not just from the artist’s perspective and the way they can make a living but as consumers you just have so many options now!

For this project too since Capsule Corner handles the production costs of the prizes it also gives artists an opportunity to test out a medium of merchandise they haven’t yet worked with to see what their fan’s responses are to it and if they like it I never have an issue with sharing with them who my manufacturer was to help them do more in the future.

How do you replicate the excitement of the physical interaction with a gacha machine with your mail-based subscriptions?

One thing I’ve done is allowed for reveal videos. Gachapon videos were a big thing and maybe still is? Where people just take videos of them using a machine and showing what they got. You can really fall down a pretty deep hole of those on Youtube..

I wanted to get more into that subculture of Gachapon by making those for people who order online. So I’ll take a video of me using the machine and revealing what they got, then tag them via Instagram or Twitter. I’ve thought about a more robust checkout experience too. Currently there’s a thank you page that shows an animation of TOKENs being put into a machine and the wheel turning which I will be updating to 3D soon but I have explored the idea of the whole TOKEN process being almost a virtual Gachapon experience. It kind of asks the question is the excitement in the initial reveal or is the excitement still there if they have to wait longer?

In what ways does a randomized reward system encourage customers to collect art?

In many ways like a group art show might bring out a diverse audience who then discovers new work, having a set or “rotation” of prizes designed by a group of artists allows people to discover new artists they may not have known about before. All original art purchases through Capsule Corner also includes the artist’s designed prize so that system encourages and rewards buying original art. The two systems weigh against each other a bit to try and strike a balance.

Which gachapon machine models do you currently use?

I currently only have one machine and it is not an official Bandai Gachapon machine. I was worried at the time about using one of those as Gachapon or “Gashapon” is officially trademarked by Bandai so I didn’t want to base the entire operation on another companies trademark, just the concept. This machine is customized to fit the custom TOKENs for it as well.

What’s next for Capsule Corner?

There are some exciting artists I’ll be working with in the future and many who’ve expressed interest in it. I really want to keep testing the boundaries of what can be prizes though. The first quarter of 2019 will be a musician and then I also would really love to expand more into game territory as well. It’d be fun to push collecting beyond the material and into an expanded experience.

Physically for the space the goal is to have more machines. Potentially having a row of the Capsule Station IV machines with a flat surface up top that would have maybe more of the prizes you’d find in the machines normally or artist merchandise that will be stocked as part of the CORNER Store.

 

Contact Info:

Godzilla/ Gojira Netsuke Straps

One of things I find so fascinating about gachapon toys is how so many themes incorporate or reference classic Japanese culture. This pvc Gojira/ Godzilla strap is made to look like it was carved into a wooden netsuke. The mixture of old and new creates an object with significant cultural meaning beyond its licensed character origins.

Ultraman Gachapon Bank by Banpresto

Recently received this super awesome Ultraman themed “Gacha Gacha” piggy bank from Yahoo Auctions Japan. Released by Banpresto in 2002 as a UFO catcher prize, it stands at just about 6” and it comes in both red and blue colorways. There is also a Kamen Rider version that comes in red and green. It is a fully functional piggy bank and comes with three capsules. To release the capsule toys, you put in a coin (US nickels work) and turn the knob. Absolutely love the super nostalgic design that captures the Showa Era gacha gacha machines. The original gachapon machine this is lovingly based off of was made by the renowned Gacha maker Konno Industries and was widely used from the 1980s till the mid 1990s. Although the vast majority of gachapon venders today use modern Gacha EZ or Capsule Station machines, these iconic Konno Industies machines can still be found in front of old school Dagashiya, or traditional Japanese candy stores. The Japanese people especially in their 30s and 40s have a great affection for these classic machines and the treasures they held when they were children. Swipe for more photos of the toy, including the mini Ultraman gachapon capsules (pvc) and nostalgic dagashiya inspired box art.

Showa Era Gacha Machine Schematic

This is a schematic for a Showa era gacha gacha machine. These capsule toy vending machines were originally made by Konno Industries, a tremendous contributor to the Japanese gachapon industry. It offers an interesting look at the parts and the terminology used.

 

 

 

パネル Panel
プレート Plate
ギア Gear
テーブル Table
コインメック Coin Mech
ハカマ Hakama
天蓋 Tengai / Canopy
芯棒 Shin Bo / Core Rod
本体板 Hontai ban / Body Plate
回転板 Kaiden Ban / Rotating Plate

Retro Yujin Gacha Machines at Toy Tokyo

Here is another example of how some US shops can use Japanese Gacha machines. This beautiful Yujin era “Slimboy” (now of Takara Tomy) has been placed in NYC’s famous Toy Tokyo store, and utilizes official Yujin Gacha tokens. These are purchased with cash at the register. As of August 2017, they were vending old Tomy blister pack figures of Astroboy and Looney Toons and Pokemon figures. Loved the token so much that I had to keep it for my own personal collection.

Capsule Adventure by Kitan Club and Zarigani Works

 

If you go to a dedicated gacha center or any place that has bays of gachapon machines on display, you will undoubtedly find a garbage bin with colorful, empty plastic capsules. While some people may prefer keep their gacha safely wrapped in their original plastic bubbles (like me), the vast majority simply take out the toy and discard the empty shells. This of course is a considerable problem, as empty capsules causes substantial plastic waste. Gachapon toy companies like Bandai, T-Arts, and Kitan Club have have tried numerous approaches in reducing plastic waste. Some have reduced the size of their casings, others recycle the plastic or collect and reuse their shells, and others have integrated their capsules as a play feature in their gachapon products.   

These empty capsule bins can be found in most gachapon centers via Nagisa05

Kitan Club (Strange Club) and Zarigani Works (Crayfish Works),  “Capsule Adventure” (カプセルアドベンチャー) series does exactly that with their modular line of buildable capsule vehicle toys. Reminiscent of 70s and 80s robot space toys like Takara’s Microman/ Micronauts and Diakron/ Diaclones, each one of the ten set parts can be used interchangeably to make a myriad of vehicles, space ships and mecha robots.  This product design series makes effective use of the 72 mm capsule it comes packaged with; using it as a cockpit or command center for the included pilot figures, or other mini figs.  Because there are so many different parts, the building accessories can be reused in endless combinations, giving the toy extended play value–and a compelling reason to buy more!

Photo via nuf

It is not apparent whether these kits can be used to with other brands or sizes of gachapon capsules, but the pieces snap into the ventilation holes at the top and bottom of the capsules. Whether it was Kitan Club’s clever idea or not, the scale of these sets seems to be comparable with Fuchiko on Cup, but then again most gachapon figures will fit inside. Either way, seeing gacha figures inside adds a certain kind of smile inducing whimsy to it all. The response has been pretty positive so far from Japanese toy and robot blogs, hopefully Kitan Club and Zarigani Works continue to collaborate with this series, it’s effective reuse of the capsule is certainly a step in the right direction.  

Fuchiko pilots her Adventure Capsule photo via norimoccori
Any kind of mini figs can fit inside photo via ctbn
Mecha robot made from Adventure Capsule parts. Photo via ctbnBF90

Find online at:
Amazon Japan

Lineup:
All ten types come in both red and blue colorways.
Stickers are also included for further customization

TYPE-A: Missles and drills
TYPE-B: Cockpit seats with removable humanoid pilot and landing gear
TYPE-C: Caterpillars and claws
TYPE-D: Cockpit seats with removable feline pilot and pod landing gear
TYPE-E:  Mecha legs and top loading missiles

Product Specs:
Title: Adventure Capsule
Japan Title: カプセルアドベンチャー
Manufacturer: Kitan Club and Zarigani Works
Release Date: September 2017
Material: ABS
Dimension: 3-4″
Cost: ¥300
Minibook (coming soon)

Toys Cabin Miniature Cassette Tape Swings

Here’s one for those who long for the days of the mix tape! Banking on that sweet, sweet Showa era revival boom, a new gacha and toy design company, Toys Cabin has released a series of miniature cassette swings (ball chain pendants) in Japan in gachapon machines in August 2017. Containing five different variations, each cassette comes with its own removal plastic case and insert. Set at a 1/3 scale, these mini cassettes may not be playable but the cassette reels do rotate. They are not officially licensed, but I think that’s part of their charm in a way.  Instead, Toy Cabin chose to use spoofed names for the set: DENOM (Denon), FOJIFOLM (Fujifilm),  Macell (Maxwell),  TCB (TDK), and of course, SOMY (SONY).  Although it may be long shot, I personally  hope they release a Minidisc set soon!

Image via Bookport


While younger consumers may get a kick out of the old school charms of these mini cassette tapes, this is likely another great example of gacha toy companies trying to hook adult customers. Nostalgia infused merchandise that capitalizes on Japan’s economic boom of from the 1950s to early 1990s, and authentic Showa era vintage goods are tremendously popular right now in Japan. Furthermore, this gacha release may be part of a larger trend. 
Japan Times has also written about the cassette tape renaissance in Japan. According to their report, cassette players, including boom boxes and portable cassette players like Sony’s iconic Walkman, played a tremendous role in the growth of the Japanese and global electronics industry. Although household electric appliance manufacturers began producing cassette player recorders in the 1960s, domestic sales of these devices, peaked at about 6.1 million units in 1989.

Related image
Image via Nubono88

Cassette tapes, Walkman’s and boomboxes are not only beloved among Japanese adults, it turns out hip young things dig them too.  “The current excitement over the machines is being boosted by demand from older generations who want to hear the sounds of cassettes once again and young people who are perhaps experiencing radio-cassette recorders for the first time.” says the author of the Japan Times article, Masatoshi Chino.  According to an organizer of a cassette exhibition at Seibu’s department stores, “There is increasing attention being given to nostalgia items, and manufacturers have not been slow to notice” Junichi Matsuzaki, 57, a collector of home electronic equipment, and  supervisor of the boombox exhibition, agrees that analog devices are making a comeback. “People don’t just want to hear digital music, they want to listen to music on many platforms. The fascination with records and other analog goods is spreading,” he says. “What makes the boombox popular is the number of unique designs and other things that make them instruments that speak to one’s personality — there is a strong fashion element.”

Looks like Toys Cabin had the right idea.

Those looking to snag these should check out:
Amazon Japan
Rakuten Japan

Lineup:
A: TCB: White tape with beach image
B: Denom: Black and orange tape with bridge image
C: Macell: Pink and red tape with sunset image
D: Somy: White and blue tape with moon image
E: Fojifolm: Blue and green tape with forest image

Product Specs:
Title: Miniature Cassette Tape Swing
Japan Title: ミニチュア カセットテープ スイング
Manufacturer: Toys Cabin
Release Date: August 2017
Material: ABS
Dimension: 1.5″
Cost: ¥300
Minibook