It's been two years on this column! I'm sort of shocked it's gotten this far, and we don't do anniversary celebrations or anything like that, so I thought it would be fun to just talk about it on the blog for a while.
It was a complete happy coincidence that ANN found me, but I've been buying toys from Japan for long before I took up this column. I was into Gunpla back in high school, but eventually I didn't have room for a "workshop" anymore as those kits required to look good. That led me into Japanese action figures, and because I love robots and wanted high-quality stuff, I was led towards the high end lines like Chogokin and so on.
The last thing I bought before I stopped buying toy robots was a Max Factory Gaogaigar. At that point I was completely satisfied. By the time I started this blog I was more or less done with figures, so there was never anything on here about it.
And then a couple years ago I was recommended to write Astro Toy, and by sheer coincidence I happened to have a history with the subject. My shelves have been cleared off, and most of my old toys put in boxes to be sold off one day. My shelves are stocked again with "keeper" toys and the rest are in more boxes to be sent off to ANN or given away at cons. I'm more involved now than I was before.
Couple things about the column, straight up: I'm free to pick what I want for the column, but my choices can and do get rejected every once in a while when management doesn't think the audience would go for them. (if you've ever seen me post a figure a lot on Twitter or something and it doesn't turn up in the column, then, well...) I aim to balance a couple of factors:
-quality of toy. No gashapons, no trading figures, no cheap stuff! This is important to me because this is inherently a nitpicking column, and the low-grade stuff usually doesn't deserve to be nitpicked. Yes, the sculpt on that gashapon set is poor. The paint doesn't hold up to inspection. Of course they're crappy, the figures cost 300 yen each! "Look at this crap" is only fun when it's something egregiously terrible, like a bootleg or something.
-popularity of character. If there's a decent, Figma-or-higher piece of a character from a really popular show coming out, we're always gonna buy it. However, it must be something decent. The popular Jump series are perfect examples: yes, you can easily get a figure of Ichigo or Naruto and yes, those guys are about a thousand times more popular than anything I post about on Astro Toy. It's probably a piece of crap six-dollar toy you distract a small child with, though. If it doesn't make for an entertaining read, or if it's obviously a product that isn't worth the money (I've mentioned the Alucard Revoltech in the column: I'm still considering buying it for the column but it really does look terrible), I just don't buy it.
-features, playability. This is pretty much why we don't do fixed-pose PVC on the column. It's not that I dislike them at all, I've got quite a few: I'm just expected to write a good-sized article, and there's little you can say about PVC other than the obvious comments about sculpt and paint. Heisei Democracy did great, insightful PVC reviews and they did them in 400 words. I have to say a lot more than that. Nitpicking a PVC just isn't a full article, and stretching out your nitpicking just to get more words on the page is one great way to write a shitty, boring piece of work.
I want to avoid, by all means, the column becoming an endless, boring parade of Figma, Revoltech, and Nendoroids of popular characters. It's not that those lines are bad, it's that they're very consistent at a certain medium level of quality, and there's only so much to say about one toy line no matter how many characters it produces. Readers will get tired of it, I'll burn out on writing it. I already repeat myself so much as-is, you know?
We all have to have fun here, myself included, or what's the point of doing the column? Unusual and lesser-known toy makers and lines, classic and cult characters, figures with fun gimmicks, and sometimes indulging my own weirdo personal tastes: all of that stuff is important to mix things up, and I do go out of my way.
This makes certain purchases obligatory (the great action figures for Tiger and Bunny, the wave of Madoka figures from Good Smile, big-in-the-West properties like Trigun) and certain figures infeasible no matter how much I like them (most super robot toys, the upcoming Saber and bike PVC).
The budget is covered by ANN--I would absolutely not spend this kind of money on toys myself-- and it's pretty comfortable, in large part because of the bad exchange rate sending the prices of even average Japanese toys out of control. The added cost of international express shipping is tremendous too. When I started, a Figma was $35 or so shipped. They're now $50-60. Anything above that level starts to get into crazy land really fast. Barring big sales, really high-end lines like Real Action Hero or Soul of Chogokin are just out of the question.
When there are holes in the schedule, I try to fill them with deliberately wacky choices that the crowd either loves (nobody loved that near-defective Squid Girl, but the article was a success!) or hates (robots elicit near-total silence from the ANN crowd, but I buy one every couple months anyway). Again, I think it's really important to cover this weirdo stuff to give people a view of things that aren't even commonly found in Japan. It also means that since I'm constantly looking through toy listings, every once in a while I see something I really want for myself but can't possibly justify for the column... so I wind up spending my own money on it (Alter's Dizzy, Kamen Rider Fourze). Honestly, though, that's pretty rare. Last thing I bought for myself was Weissritter to complete the set with Alteisen: can't really justify buying the companion piece for the column when the readers didn't care about the hero!
Speaking of which, I'm always curious about my crowd reaction. I don't know anything about my pageviews, so I definitely use the forums as a microcosm of audience interest. Of course, given the very niche nature of the column, going by number of comments isn't a great idea... but when you get a crickets-chirping response you definitely take it into account for later. Only very rarely do I get hostile responses ("this column should be about PVC instead of ugly, boring crap!" was as bad as it ever got), so I think I'm running things alright.
So it's been a lot of fun, and I plan on continuing to run Astro Toy until either I no longer have time to run it or ANN gets rid of me. Thanks for reading the column, and an additional thanks to those of you who actually stuck it out through this mega post.