I will happily admit that I am a novice in the complex world of Resin and Garage Kits. This little essay arose out of a series of posts I did on the subject, and my realization that I had some useful knowledge to pass on to others interested in exploring this field. I started out collecting Gashapon figures, especially the more ero/ecchi/hentai series produced by Millennium DGP. On my first trip to Japan I purchased my first larger scale figure, and then began investigating how to buy figures on-line. That led me to a number of vendors, including HobbyLink Japan, from whom I have been purchasing items on a fairly regular basis, and more recently, Amiami as well.
I had been aware of the Japanese resin kits for many years, however their relatively expensive nature, and the difficulty in finding kits I was interested in had put me off. After seeing a number of painted and assembled kits on a trip to Japan a few years ago I became more curious. With more information becoming available online, including extensive advice on how to prepare, paint and construct them I was determined to try this out. In the past I had constructed and painted plastic model kits, as well as painting metal figures: I reasoned that those skills should help in my new hobby. Thus I slid into this strange new hobby.
What are resin and garage kits? Whilst many people use the terms interchangeably, I prefer to differentiate between the two. When I refer to ‘Resin kits’ I mean the kits produced by major manufacturers, such as Volks A-Brand and X-Brand series; Okayama Figure Engineering; and a number of others. A quick search through the Neko Magic site will reveal a number of such kits. By way of contrast, I apply the term ‘Garage kits’ to those produced by individuals or groups, without the backing of such corporations: they may be the work of amateurs or professionals, of individuals or a group, but they are produced independently, without traditional corporate support, and which are primarily sold at hobby festivals. In either case, due to the labour intensive nature of the manufacturing process, such kits are often produced in limited numbers.
Having started investigating the strange world of Japanese resin/garage kits, I was disappointed to discover the apparent difficulty in obtaining authentic resin. A quick web search will rapidly turn up vendors such as the US based HobbyΟΟΟ; Hong Kong based EΟΟΟΟ and any number of eBay vendors. Sadly, the bulk of the kits available through these sources appear to be bootlegs, that is, unauthorized copies of both resin and garage kits. It appears that there is a lucrative market in these bootlegs, which are typically either recasts of existing kits; or (worse yet) casts taken from disassembled PVC figures.
A good example of the proliferation of these bootleg kits can be found with Keumaya‘s popular Hyper Nurse series. I had originally seen these figures on the Neko Magic site, but it was not until I managed to acquire one of these in Japan that I came to appreciate the nature of the problem. These figures were never offered as resin or garage kits. Keumaya’s business model has been to offer PVC/ABS figures in a prepainted, disassembled state. These disassembled figures were packed in a distinctive box, together with detailed instructions. I was surprised to see that both HobbyΟΟΟ and EΟΟΟΟ both offer a resin kit of one of the series. I purchased one of the original Keumaya figures on my last trip (in original packaging, with colour instructions, but sadly without the comic), and it is one of my favourites. It was a complex figure to assemble, but the finished result was worth it. Fortunately, these original Keumaya kits are being reissued as completed PVC/ABS figures: this might help stem the tide of the bootlegs.
There are a number of problems associated with bootleg kits. Firstly, there is the simple matter of creator’s rights: the artists and artisans who create the original kits are not receiving any payment for these bootlegs. If these creators are not paid, they have no incentive to create new work, and the whole hobby will grind to a painful halt. Secondly, bootleg kits often lack the finishing detailing elements.
Note the inclusion of the finishing components included in the packet with these Volks X-brand instructions.
Finally, being recasts of pre-existing kits or figures, details, which were present in the original moulds and kits, may become distorted, or lost all together. Furthermore, any defects present in the source for the recast may become exaggerated, making the kit more difficult to paint and assemble satisfactorily.
So, how do you tell an authentic kit from a bootleg?
As previously stated, within the Japanese resin kit market there are two distinct types of kit. Those that are manufactured by major companies (Volks A-Brand and X-Brand; Okayama Figure Engineering; Orchidseed; etc.) are typically sold in boxes, with all the necessary extras (chains, rings, etc.) for detailing included.
Also included are (often detailed) assembly instructions and parts lists, and a painting guide, which may include colour photographs, or at least specifications of paint colours. Typically, these instructions are in Japanese, but they will be clearly printed, sometimes going as far as 4 colour process offset printing (as in the earlier Volks X-brand example).
These are instructions from a boxed kit.
These are instructions from a garage kit.
The true Garage Kits, produced by amateurs/fans/hobby groups may not have quite the same high standard of presentation, as they are typically sold through the hobby festivals. Even so, clearly printed monochrome instructions and or component lists will generally be included. Whether the kit comes in a box or a plastic bag it will often be marked with a seal from the Hobby Festival at which it was sold. Such a seal is an excellent mark of the authenticity of the kit. As examples, a number of the AUTHENTIC kits I have carry Wonder Festival seals, which are stickers permanently affixed to the box, packaging or instructions.
Note the Wonder Festival seals on the lower right hand side!
My limited experience of bootleg kits suggests that apart from inferior casting, there is generally no box, and the instructions, when present are low-grade photocopies.
Painting guides, if provided, are at best a badly reproduced photograph, suggesting a reprint of a resized computer image, with poor colour definition and contrast, and general fuzziness/murkiness. Bootlegs will also often lack detailing components, as illustrated in the X-brand kit.
Obviously, the most straightforward manner is to go to Japan, and purchase the kits at Wonder Festival, or one of the other hobby festivals. So far, I have not been able to indulge that luxury, but I have hopes for the future. The next best option is to go to Japan, and visit some of the retailers who specialise in such things. Areas such as Akihabara and Ikebukuro in Tokyo; and Den Den Town in Osaka have proven fruitful for me. Two shops that I have found especially impressive (both in Osaka) were the giant Mandarake megastore; and Jungle (in Den Den Town). That said, there are many shops I have visited, and all have been helpful.
I have found Japanese retail staff to be universally friendly, enthusiastic, helpful and courteous. Despite my negligible Japanese, I was able to communicate with the staff and purchase what I wanted. All that is required of a visitor is that we behave courteously: don’t push, or cut queues, or argue. Larger shops typically have a well-marked area for the cashiers, and also often indicate on the floor areas for queuing for service. If you are buying some of the more sexually explicit material you may be asked to provide proof of age, I found that simply showing my passport (which you should be carrying anyway) was sufficient. I learned this through my experience when I purchased the long sought after Okayama Figure Engineering Natsuke Wakame Navy Bloomer ver. [GGT: I believe he meant Natsume Wakana].
Make sure you have allocated space in your luggage for your purchases, and have also allowed for padding and insulation, as the kits (and figures) can be quite fragile. One option is to mail items home. I would suggest taking some Post Office approved flat-pick cardboard boxes, along with bubble wrap, and using Japan Post’s excellent EMS service. As it is an international parcel service the JP staff will want to see what you are sending, to ensure the Customs declaration is correct. If you are going to purchase any of the more risqué items, remember that you may have to explain them to Customs on your return home. This is true both for mailed items and items in your luggage.
Authentic garage kits are often produced in very limited quantities. This in itself does drive the price up. Likewise, if the kit is popular or a new release, the price will probably be higher. Finally, if you are looking for the erotic, ecchi, hentai or pornographic kits the price will almost certainly be higher. That said, it is still possible to find bargains: older stock and the like. In larger shops, like Mandarake, it pays to look carefully through the available stock.
OK, so you can’t get to Japan, what about buying Japanese resin and garage kits on line: how can you do it to ensure you are buying authentic kits? The simplest course of action is to check out reliable vendors like HobbyLink Japan and Amiami. These carry limited ranges of the resin kits issued by the major manufacturers. Both also regularly discount items, and it is possible to find some bargains through them. If your passion is for the true garage kits things are a little trickier, especially if you do not read Japanese. I have been making extensive use of Bing translator (http://www.bing.com/translator/) to help understand some of the information I see posted.
Perhaps the most accessible source for garage kits is Mandarake. It is a network of businesses that carry much in the way of manga, games, figures, kits and so on. Whilst the kits and figures they sell are second hand, they are honest about their condition, and publish photographs that are an excellent indicator of what you are buying. I have not used their on line service, but was very impressed by the assistance I received at their Osaka megastore.
Investigating a little further, through the English language Rakuten.com portal (http://global.rakuten.com/en/), I came across Suragaya-a-too, who appears to be competing with Mandarake in terms of the second hand market. If you are not up to reading Japanese the Rakuten portal allows access to a number of vendors. It may take a little while to get the hang of using their search engine, but your perseverance will be repaid. My order with Suragaya was completed swiftly, and I was delighted to discover that all three kits that I had ordered appeared to be authentic. Suragaya-a-too is not the only vendor available: they were simply the one that offered a number of cheaper resin kits at the time I was looking for them.
My cheapest legitimate kit was ‘Milk’, manufactured by Kotobukiya (I think). I assume that the kit was rather old, given the condition of the packaging. To be brutally frank, it was not a very good kit: poorly sculpted, and poorly collated (one component was missing, and another duplicated). To compound matters, despite cleaning, scrubbing and sanding the components it did not hold paint, not even primer, well. From the point of view of trying to assemble a good kit it was a failure, however it did serve a useful purpose in making me more confident in working with resin, even allowing me to learn how to resculpt components, as well as developing my painting technique. You get what you pay for, and the Milk kit was very cheap: having seen the Lesca and Cocoa kits similarly priced I suspect that the problems might have run across this entire production line.
I avoid using eBay: in part because of its inconsistent business practices, but more because it is clearly a channel for bootleg material. Given that many of the eBay vendors of supposed garage kits are not based in Japan the wise buyer should treat their offers with a high degree of scepticism. A further hint as to the illegitimate nature of the kits offered could be the often surprisingly cheap prices quoted. Indeed, unless you are absolutely assured of the authenticity of a piece, it is best to avoid ALL non-Japanese vendors, especially on-line.
For related reasons I would advise against using PayPal for payment. I have witnessed a number of occasions where buyers and/or vendors have suffered because of the inconsistent application of PayPal’s conditions of service, which are not consistent across national borders. If you are going to undertake international financial transactions a reliable and secure credit card is preferable. Whilst Japanese retailers may have been cautious about accepting credit cards in the past, an increasing number are now doing so, in part to facilitate international business. Both eBay and PayPal have rather confused standards when it comes to the adult end of the market, thus it is in your best interest to use a credit card if you are purchasing such material.
Well, that is about all the advice and assistance I can offer. There are other resources for the subject of painting and construction of resin/garage kits, notably the excellent ‘How to Build Garage Kits’ Page by Cody Kwok at (http://codyscoop.com/howto.html). I continue to refer back to his notes. Please try to buy ONLY legitimate garage and resin kits: the bootleggers could destroy this hobby.
My first attempt at a proper garage kit!
Donations of resin and garage kits gratefully accepted!
——About the Author——
Mark Fraser: A self-described dilettante, Mark pursues an eclectic range of interests, including orchid growing; weird fiction (particularly H. P. Lovecraft); post punk music; and Continental Philosophy. He has visited Japan twice, where children and young people refer to him as Hagrid.