Sofubi, the whimsical toy freedom

 2020-10-30
by Lil Wah Sing

M1-GO Bull Club Gorilla Series

I don’t know if you over-aged children received your favorite gifts on birthday? To be honest, although I am a 25-year-old independent woman in the new era, my parents and grandmothers still prepare birthday gifts for me on time. In the eyes of the elders, I can always be a "child." As we grow older, the gifts we receive are no longer just toys, but more equipment for adult social survival, such as necklaces, earrings, rings, sneakers, bags, etc. It seems that these equipments will be brought by adulthood. Happiness will soon be exhausted over time. Unlike getting toys in childhood, a child's happiness when getting toys seems more pure.


Skull toys venue limited edition

The happiness of any thing is often related to how easy it is to get it, and adults can also obtain happiness through toys as long as the toy is expensive enough. Some time ago, the news that "buying a toy costs $500,000!" attracted much attention, largely because everyone would think what kind of toy can burn so much money? Although 86fashion is an experienced innovation firm that always stick to the trend, we seldom heard about such LUXURY plastic product, especially in terms of toys! While our editorial department was all about questioning the authenticity of the high-priced toys, Chang from our design department next door quietly answered: "Art Toy! Especially Sofubi!" 

Sofubi? !  What is this?
 
So Chang patiently gave us a detailed introduction. Sofubi is a simplified Japanese word derived from English. It is the Japanese pronunciation of Soft Vinyl. Soft Vinyl refers to a PVC plastic material, while Sofubi refers specifically to a soft toy made in Japan, which is made of PVC plastic material. 

Godzilla ゴジラ, the king of Kaiju (monster in Japanese) , is the very first Sofubi toy born in 1966. It was produced and sold by the well-known Japanese toy company Marusan Corporation (マルサン株式会社). It was the originator of Sofubi.


Understanding Sofubi ソフビ


M1-GO BULLMARK Godzilla

Compared with other types of toys, Sofubi has a unique texture and a strong visual impact. It incorporates sub-cultural elements in its appearance design, including reflection about current world issues, the personal emotional expression of designers or artists, or focusing on the exploration of curiosity routes, which attracts many mature and rich players.
 
Sofubi can be divided into two categories, one is the SFX series Sofubi, the other is the designer Sofubi

SFX Series Sofubi refers to Sofubi made with special photographic characters as prototypes, such as Godzilla, Ultraman and other soft monster toys produced and sold by Maruzo. In addition to Maruzo Corp, toy companies such as Bullmark and M1 or independent toy manufacturers are also representatives of the Sofubi toy field, and the influence on Sofubi designers and collectors has persisted to this day. 

Most of the players who like the SFX Sofubi pay for their nostalgic feelings. "Ultraman ウルトラマン" and "Godzilla ゴジラ" are the childhood of every boy. Until they grow up, they are still full of obsession with such special movies. Defeating monsters and maintaining the peace of the universe should be a heroic dream that every little boy has ever had. The exquisitely crafted SFX Sofubi is like a souvenir of this heroic dream. Realizing his childhood dream after financial freedom from the grown-up world, he is also paying for the dream.


Blobfish (left) & Sphynx (right), clear skeleton, @Redhotstyle.300

The designer Sofubi is created by designers, illustrators, sculptors or toy collectors on the basis of traditional toys, combining mythological stories, cult movies, painting art and even political figures to create new characters, and of course, there are some of them are the deconstruction and reconstruction of the classic roles in the history of SFX movies. 

Those Sofubi toys, independently created by the designer, has more artistic value than the SFX Sofubi. The image of the designer Sofubi will be more grotesque and interesting. It satirizes the political situation from the perspective of a toy, with certain cultural criticism, and of course, there will be some x-rated works.  

To some extent, the designer Sofubi is also a hardcore toy, which highly fits the spiritual pursuit of certain niche groups. Although the playability is not high, it is collectable because it conveys the designer's personal aesthetic concept or the cultural value generated by the social attitude.


Reasons for high prices

The price of Sofubi is determined based on two aspects: parts and size. Parts means that a Sofubi is composed of several parts. The more the parts, the higher the price; the size refers to the size of the Sofubi. The larger the size, the higher the price. As a collectible toy for the hypebeasts, Sofubi is more expensive than other common plastic vinyl toys because of its complicated production process and difficult purchasing channels.


Craftsmanship


Alien Baltan (バルタン星人 Barutan Seijin), Red Sofubi

Sofubi's production process is also called oil furnace process, all handmade.
→ First start with drawing the image, and then 3D modeling or prototyping of clay sculptures 
→ turning the metal mold 
→ after the mold is made, mix and beat the PVC powder and PVC oil, pour it into the mold 
→ put the mold into the centrifuge or vacuum machine, and pump vacuum, remove the air bubbles 
→ put the mold into a high-temperature oil container and heat it (not fry it) 
→ wait for the mold to cool and shape 
→ pull out 
→ wash & clean 
→ split nozzle (the nozzle refers to the connection between the parts ) 
→ Final assembly.


Chimera, Paul

However, the Sofubi with special coating, professional air pumps and spray guns are also required for painting. Such a series of complicated production processes cannot be replaced by machinery, and the whole process requires manual participation. The necessary labor time of the society determines the value of the goods, so the price of Sofubi is naturally not low.


Omamori Two-headed Dragon, 御守龙 Sofubi

It is precisely because of such a complex process and the need for full participation of human hands, so it is hard to discern replicas Sofubi, because every moment designers output is an inclusive Sofubi model. In the absence of the original model, on the basis of only through the ready-made Sofubi product CANNOT be1:1 remake and produce. If one tries to counterfeit, there will be much problems such as rough detail processing and smaller size compared to the original, also the costs of molding are fairly high. 


Limited quantity


Zombie Gorilla, 大久保博人 Hiroto Ohkubo, @instinctoy_hiroto_ohkubo

Things are always getting precious if they're rare. The extremely high labor cost is one of the reasons why designers cannot mass produce Sofubi. In addition, in order to maintain the uniqueness of its art, designers naturally pursue less quantity but refined in quality. The sales volume of a Sofubi will be strictly controlled, generally between 5 and 10 pieces, and usually no more than 20 pieces. 

Some will be renovated the painting on the basis of the original design sprayed by a dedicated painter, thus becoming a limited edition model. Because it is all handmade, and there are almost few copies, it is simply a hard thing to find in the marketplace. 

This sales model has always stimulated the competitive spirit of Sofubi players, which is also the reason why the price of Sofubi in the secondary market is higher than the selling price. We can understand that what players buy is not a toy, but an investment.


Ways to purchase


Shunga 春具, women & men venue, デハラとイズモ 男と女, HK exhibition, @izumonster

Sofubi is generally sold in two ways: show purchase and lottery sales.


Zombie Unicorn, Toy Show Limited Edition, @jmrampage

Show purchase refers to the popular toy show, such as Design Festa SOFUBI  in Japan, HxS, MADBALLS SOFUBI in Japan, BTS in Beijing, STS in Shanghai, Sofubi Shanghai Festivals, etc. Well-known Sofubi artists will bring their works to the exhibition. Usually, they are purchased with a limited number, on a first-come-first-served basis. Sofubi player Gai said that he started lining up at the exhibition gate at 4 a.m. to get a chance to buy the one he wanted. But sometimes, if you want to buy a limited collection from your favorite designer, it's not just a matter of hard work, it's also a matter of luck. Some limited-edition models are blind draw, with an unknown Sofubi for each number. The players lined up, holding the number of love, but have no idea what is behind the number of which, only silently pray and resign to fate.

Abyss Big Eye Series, @dabomb_toys

Lottery Sale is a common way to play in this community. Before the release, you can sign up through instagram, emails or fan groups. Buyers will be randomly selected at the time of sale, and those who win can pay for the purchase. There's no difference between a designer Sofubi and a limited-edition sneaker, as long as you have enough money and can grab the full collection at the mall.


Amazing Sofubi!



Sofubi is still a niche collection compared to other trendy hobbies. Most Sofubi artists or brands mostly come from Japan, such as M1-GO, Izumonster, Shirahamatoy, One up, Ummikko, PDS, Skull toys, etc.



In recent years, a lot of Sofubi artists have appeared in China, such as @擦主席1983 (#Chairman666), @人造人22 (saibooku22), @Dabomb_toys, etc.;


春卷 春蛙, Yokai Yu Sofubi, @co.oc29 #Gamarah

In the form of toys, as an exposed expression of young people facing the current social environment, conveying the designer's personal aesthetic concept is the most attractive for designer Sofubi, such as Yokaiyu's 春蛙 (spring frog) combination, which is a combination of frogs and worms. The worms at the feet of the spring frog are its pets, not food. It converts the relationship between the food chain in nature to the host and the pet, which is both opposition and companionship.

Most of the time, Sofubi is not only a toy but also a kind of thinking.


Placing Sofubi collection

A player with a large collection of Sofubi said when he shared his experience with us that communication between players is greater than transaction. Players' Sofubi collections will not easily change hands, and the phenomenon of buying and selling is rare in this group. 

From Sofubi's manufacturing process to the way of purchase, nothing is not painstaking effort and sweat. "Wait for a limited edition is like having a baby." For players, every Sofubi is hard-won, and this can't be solved by money.


Gorilla Collection

Sofubi, as a special toy, the SFX Sofubi may be closer to our definition of a toy, while the designer Sofubi is a form of art. Both the creative scale and selling price determine that its audience should be mainly adults. For adults, it is rare to maintain a childlike innocence. We all want to not grow up all our lives and be children, because the world is beautiful in the eyes of children. But in the face of adversity, we are eager to grow up, desperate to become adults, to fight against all injustice, to protect those we love. In the face of reality, there will always be some weakness. 

I believe in its existence that there will be a hero of animation when I was a child, so I'm not afraid of any difficulties. The Sofubi, which is becoming popular, may also satisfies our fantasy of the world as an adult due to its existence. It is not only the continuation of our childlike innocence, but also our response and attitude to the social environment and survival system. In fact, what we play is not a soft toy, but life!


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