Art of Figure Making: MEDICOM TOY and BE@RBRICK

Art of Figure Making: MEDICOM TOY and BE@RBRICK

Welcome to the fourth interview in our Art of Figure Making series. This time we spoke with Akashi Tatsuhiko, founder of MEDICOM TOY, about his start in the industry, his way of management, the vision which led to BE@RBRICK, and more!

About Your Job at MEDICOM TOY
-What kind of duties are you responsible for at MEDICOM TOY?

Akashi: I’m in charge of management at MEDICOM TOY- from scolding general affairs over dirty toilets, making sure the numbers add up, to the overall strategies that lead to the company’s growth, I oversee it all.

- You really go as far as checking if the toilets are clean? (laugh)

Akashi: You could say I’m like a handyman, the top of general affairs, or maybe because I’m the president, but somebody has to be responsible for it, right?

Stylish, simple, and cool all at the same time. Welcome to MEDICOM TOY.

- So when it’s time for project planning and strategy, do you think of the initial concept and then delegate tasks?

Akashi: Yes, I usually have a lot of input in the beginning, but I don’t really say much afterward. Instead, I move on to making the next project when I think the staff is ok.

-I see. So around how many staff do you have now?

Akashi: They’re about 50 employees, but we have a few more if you include the staff working in our stores. By the way, you know that Tokyo Otaku Mode. Inc had around 10 people when it started.

-That’s true. (laugh)

Akashi: It was run straight from a basement in Aoyama, Tokyo.

-You know the story very well. (laugh)

Akashi: I thought to myself, “Ahhh, so this is where they ship from….”. So I was surprised to hear Tokyo Otaku Mode.Inc now has about 80 employees.

Joining the Figure Industry
-I also heard that your shop began in a small space as well, like a space of 6 square meters. Is that correct?

Akashi: You’re right. I believe it was in Ebisu, Tokyo at first. If I remember correctly, the building is a fried pork cutlet restaurant or something like that now, and there’s been a various mix of tenants in and out of it. It was pretty narrow...

Akashi reminisces about his past office.

-Was there any particular reason you had to start the shop there?

Akashi: Well, I originally had a job working with computers and that paid really well, but I rarely had any spare time. Once, on my off day, I was walking around Shibuya and spotted a toy shop, one that sold American toys. I thought to myself, “Ahhh, it must be fun to work there”. There were around 800 dollars in my wallet at the time and I ended up spending it all.

-Was it by any chance a toy store named ZAAP!?

Akashi: Yes, but ZAAP! doesn’t exist anymore.

-Yeah, I tried an image search for ZAAP! and got absolutely nothing.

Akashi: I think they’re like a legend now, and who could have imaged that ZAAP!’s store owner at the time would become one of MEDICOM TOY’s executives.

-Do you feel like you gained any insight from ZAAP!?

Akashi: Hmmm...If you asked me if my job at that time was fun or not, I’d say it wasn’t very fun, to be honest. But because I was involved in making products, I found myself idly thinking what I’d make if I did make something. I often thought, “What is it I want to make? What do I want to express,” and it hit me all at once when I saw the toys at ZAAP!. “Ah! That’s it! That’s it!,” I was so confident and felt like this is what I want to do, what I’ve been searching for.

Inspiration can come from where you least expect it.

-Were there any specific products that influenced you during that moment in ZAAP!?

Akashi: The ones that come to mind were toys from Hollywood movies like “Terminator” and “Batman”. I felt like they were just so cute, so cool, and I really wanted them. I believe it all began from there, but really, all the toys in the store influenced me, honestly. After all, I didn’t really know much then.

-I mean, it’s not like you liked toys a lot before this, did you?

Akashi: Maybe when I was a child I liked them, but I was young and adventurous by the time I was working at the computer company I mentioned. I thought about cute girls or the clothes I wanted, that’s how simple I am, really. But even then, I had a tiny desire to express myself, and I wondered if it was ok to just continue doing the same job day in and day out.

Diversity, cute, and fun can be seen in every BE@RBRICK.

Why You Continue
-Do you feel “satisfied” the moment your ideas finally take shape?

Akashi: Yes, that’s where it starts for me and I think for almost all of our staff.

-Do the things you want to create take priority over other staff members’ projects?

Akashi: For example, if someone on staff is especially into movies, animation, or Japanese live-action superheroes, you end up with a diverse staff. So when they ask me, “Akashi-san, I want to make this.” I respond with, “Well if you want to make it that badly, then please, go ahead.” Frankly, there are things I don’t know about within those media, and if a staff member wants to seriously pursue it, then I think it’s my job to let them. That’s kind of how it is at MEDICOM TOY.

Japanese superheroes, check!

Stress on the Job

-I actually heard that you don’t have any stressful moments at work, is that true?

Akashi: I don’t have any, believe me. How can I put it? You see, when I think about my work as stress, I don’t want to do it. Forcing yourself to do it even though it’s stressful isn’t a good mindset and doesn’t end well. That’s why you find yourself not doing any stressful work.

So, do I refuse every offer I’m not interested in? No, I am saying you should first ask yourself if there are any interesting points within that project and think how you could try making it more interesting. But if you don’t find any interesting points, then you should stop because it’s not going to make you or anyone else happy.

Work isn’t always easy, but it’s all about perspective.

We’re all different and what we see as interesting is different. Even if I said we could laugh about the same thing, don’t you think at some point it wouldn’t be funny? So you have to look inside and find what makes you laugh. I think if you can get others to accept that, then maybe you can build your work around it.

-You and the rest of your staff at MEDICOM TOY are really about making the products you want.

Akashi: That’s it, that’s right. Really. Do I honestly want to make a product just because it’s popular at the time? That’s how I see it.

The “Have-To’s” Associated with the Figure Industry
-Do you have anything specific you keep in mind when making figures?

Akashi: First, there must be a clear concept, this is an absolute condition. If you were to line up 100 toys from different toy makers, I think you should immediately be able to point out which ones are from MEDICOM TOY.

You’ll always know BE@RBRICK when you see it.

-There are a lot of MEDICOM TOY fans around the world, right? Do you spend a lot of time researching the market?

Akashi: I don’t do market research. However, I do greenlight requests I receive if they make me think, “Ah, this might be right.”

-Really, you don’t research what the market needs when you’re initially determining the concept?

Akashi: If I did, this wouldn’t have come out. (points to BE@RBRICK) There’s no way we would have put this out. (laugh)

-You’re really not bound or limited, that’s the truth. I find that so interesting.

Akashi: Think about what doing market research means. You’re trying to estimate and determine the largest number of fans within your fan base that you can sell to.

-Right. Do you feel the industry is currently putting a lot of energy into research and marketing?

Akashi: I think everyone’s forgotten the failure of “Last Action Hero”. About 20 years ago, a movie company surveyed hundreds and thousands of boys across America, asking what kind of movie would you like to see? The idea was what if there were a movie about a hero that popped out of the movie screen and could fight together with you. They thought Arnold Schwarzenegger would be a good fit for the role and thus you have the movie, “Last Action Hero”. It was a big bust. Even the toy makers who banked on its popularity took a large hit.

I think the lesson is what fans want doesn’t equate to what toy makers should be expressing. It’s actually why I don’t like crowdfunding. I’ve received enough invitations to last me until I die, but I’m never going to do it. They say there’s no risk in it, but I don’t expect myself to participate or make a product that doesn’t involve risk. Making products is fun because there are risks.

Really cute! So cute!

-Now that I think about it, MEDICOM TOY products have never fallen below our expectations, and I feel like a lot of them have an even exceeded them.

Akashi: That’s right. “Don’t worry about predicting the market and you won’t betray expectations.” That’s the theme.

-That means…it’s really hard to aim for.

Akashi: I’m not shooting for it. I think it really comes down to a physical, gut reaction that lets me know, “This is the one”. It’s not something you can aim for, and it’s about having the mindset to know what you want and understanding how you can make a product more interesting.

-Right now you’re collaborating with other creators, even some within the fashion industry. Do you think of street culture and anime contents as two separate areas?

Akashi: No, I don’t separate them at all.

-You’re only looking at if something is interesting or not?

Akashi: That’s what it comes down to.

Which do you find the most interesting?

-You really do think in the simplest way. Did you ever have any interest to collaborate with fashion or street culture?

Akashi: The first time I became involved in it was probably with Inoue Santa, the author of the manga “TOKYO TRIBE”. There was this original print that came out of Takarajimasha, Inc. called “TOKYO TRIBE1”. I was in love with it at the time, and I thought it was so interesting. When I mentioned, “Santa-san, let’s do some sort of collaboration”, the conversation progressed to trying to make something interesting.

First, we thought about making “TOKYO TRIBE” figures and that led to Santa wanting to wear the main character APE’s clothes. I feel like it all began around then.

Follow your passions, dream, be bold and make it happen.

Best Work

-Next, if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask what has been your best work thus far?

Akashi: I’m always aiming for my best, and I don’t look back or become overwhelmed with emotions even if I’ve done a great job. On the other hand, I make sure to thoroughly examine what went wrong and how to prevent it again for any failed projects.

-How about the very first product you put a lot of effort into making?

Akashi: I made the “Lupin the Third” figure right before I started MEDICOM TOY as a member of the operations department. There was definitely a lot of emotions put into it. I also remember putting a lot of effort into the “Tetsujin #28” figure we did because it was the first figure we manufactured in China.

-Do you have any products you consider a failure?

Akashi: I can’t say the specific name, but there were many. However, whatever happens, the good and the bad, they’re still like my children, they’re all cute no matter which one they are.

Current Products
- Did you come up with the concept for all of the products on the table here, MY FIRST BE@RBRICK, Solamachi goods, and also VAG?

Akashi: Well...I think my wife came up with the idea for the Solamachi goods. She handled aspects like creating the image based on Solamachi’s interior design. I felt comfortable leaving it to her because she really hit the nail on the head. (laugh)

The Solamachi cats can bring you good luck and money, right?

-How about for VAG?

Akashi: The idea originally came from a capsule toy/vending person outside our company. At one point, the president for a capsule toy came to see us and asked if they could produce their company’s contents through MEDICOM TOY. When we said, “We’d like to work with you if you allow us to do as we please.” They replied “Sure.” So, we tried something new and that led to VAG.

VAG are some of the smallest creations MEDICOM TOY offers.

-Could you speak about MY FIRST BE@RBRICK?

Akashi: This was actually the Japanese talent Chiaki’s concept. I received from her reading, “Is it possible for someone like me to make a BE@RBRICK?” We met once afterward and that’s how it started. She was pregnant at the time and wanted to make something that rattled. I thought it was a great idea for the project because we had never thought to put anything inside of BE@RBRICK.

MY FIRST BE@RBRICK B@BY PINK & GOLD VER. / DESIGNED BY CHIAKI (CIROL & CO.)

So we made a limited-edition for a select shop in France called Colette, and before we knew it, Isetan for men’s took notice and wanted it as well. There was no way Colette’s buyers knew who Chiaki was. In other words, they looked at MY FIRST BE@RBRICK and knew they wanted it simply because of the design, not because it was designed by Chiaki. There’s no greater advantage for a creator than this.

I’m certain that MY FIRST BE@RBRICK B@BY has become an important secondary character within the BE@RBRICK series, so I’m thinking how to carefully grow the brand.

Figure Making: Analogue and Digital
-Do you prefer using analog over digital techniques vice-versa at MEDICOM TOY?

Akashi: I feel like it has nothing to do with choosing between digital or analog but rather the person. You can make everything with digital, in theory. However, you’ll end up with a strange product if the person using it can’t take full advantage of it. The converse also applies when you use analog methods.

When you use digital, you have to remember that what you're making is a 3D image within a 2D screen. It’s not going to come out nicely without adjusting some aspects by hand once it’s actually made.

I feel like using both styles is good because that’s effective. For example, you can use digital up to a certain point, use the 3D printer, and finish the rest by hand. Then again, you could start by hand and then use digital to finish the detailed portions.

Which method do you think was used, digital or analog?

Respect Inside and Out the Figure Industry
-I see you respect everyone who has really grown the toy industry.

Akashi: I respect all of those who are pioneers in the toy industry, even future pioneers, and this applies to other industries outside the toy business. Recently, I probably respect the founder of Mercari, Shintaro Yamada, the most. I can’t even fathom his job. It’s probably not just me, but everyone else as well. Even with the existence of Yahoo! Auction, who would have imagined Mercari’s market share to grow as it has. He made that happen, and I think that’s amazing.

-Were you influenced by others in the past or by other types of media?

Akashi: I’d definitely say people like Kaiyodo and Good Smile Company’s CEO Aki-san. I think they’re all amazing because they’re pioneers and organized something new.

I never think about whether the people I respect are from my industry or another. Whether it be an interesting point about a movie production company or the system for an auction site, anything I receive motivation from will be reflected in my own company and I’m always searching for what can motivate me next.

Akashi has learned from the many influences around him.

The movie director Stanley Kubrick was the same for me. I love all of his works. If we’re talking manga, I like Seiki Tsuchida’s works the most. I recommend ”Henshuou” and “Orebushi”. I’m not sure how many times his manga has made me cry. For music, I feel it’s probably Ryuichi Sakamoto for teaching me how to live.

Future Collaborations
-This is just future talk, but are there any artists, media, etc. that you’d like to collaborate with going forward?

Akashi: Hmmmm...maybe Damien Hirst because he’s like Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Their works will make you say, “Huh? or What’s that?” and then you find out they’re being sold for hundreds and thousands of dollars. I also have to mention Jeff Koons, he’s the sort of person that can make a balloon dog and frame it as objective art.

Questions from Our Fans
-Next, we have some questions from our fans that we would like to ask.

-People around the world who love anime contents are often called “otaku”, what is your perception of the word “otaku”?

Akashi: I’m afraid I’m also an otaku. (laugh) I don’t often use it, and it may sound strange, but it’s because there are fashion otaku and so many other kinds of otaku out there now. A long time ago, if you liked bishojo anime then you wouldn’t find anything outside of that interesting. There was a border line, but now there are so many genres which are mixed into one another. That’s why the phrase “You’re an otaku.” just doesn’t come up anymore in conversations. In fact, it’s become so natural, maybe even too natural, that you just don’t hear it.

There’s a BE@RBRICK pattern for everyone.

- Why did you choose “that” design for BE@RBRICK?

Akashi: The design was actually derived from the KUBRICK product line we had. We heard from a lot of agencies, “It can’t do this? It can’t do that?” or “We’d like to use it for theater pre-ticket sales. You’ve got 3 months.” I thought there wasn’t enough time and from there began thinking of a method where we didn’t need to change the product's shape, only the print. It was the year 2000, and the teddy bear was celebrating its 100th anniversary, so I thought, “We’ll make it a bear!”

-So you didn’t want to use the bear shape before then?

Akashi: It was really nice when I heard that the teddy bear had been around for 100 years and counting, so I felt like it was ok to leave the next 100 years and beyond to MEDICOM TOY. You don’t know how optimistic I felt, but really. (laugh)

-Have you thought about a new template associated with BE@RBRICK?

Akashi: Maybe, but I think the bear, rabbit, and cat templates we have are good enough for now. (laugh)

-That’s all of our questions. Thank you so much for allowing us to borrow so much of your time today!

Thank you for visiting.

Thank you, Mr. Akashi for your time and wisdom! We hope this article has inspired those hoping to create and express themselves through various crafts or media to give it try. Just look at BE@RBRICK and the passionate products from MEDICOM TOY and you’ll see there’s no limit to where simple design, straightforward thinking, and holding true to your principles can take you.

BE@RBRICK, in all its sizes and various collaborations, is available now on the Tokyo Otaku Mode Shop!

Find the BE@RBRICK for you on the TOM Shop!
URL: https://otakumode.com/search?mode=shop&category=&keyword=BE%40RBRICK

Will you create the next MEDICOM TOY?

Check out the rest of the gallery from our trip to MEDICOM TOY below!
This is a Tokyo Otaku Mode original article.
Interview by Adrian Morris, Ryota Suzuki
Photography by Tetsuya Hara

BE@RBRICK TM & © 2001-2017 MEDICOM TOY CORPORATION. All rights reserved.
R@BBRICK TM & © 2015-2017 MEDICOM TOY CORPORATION. All rights reserved.
NY@BRICK TM & © 2016-2017 MEDICOM TOY CORPORATION. All rights reserved.
© Teresa / Production_Genmu
© BAKETAN BLOG
© KIKKAKE TOY

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