In the 1960s and 1970s, Japan was notorious for copying American products and ideas. Especially, some Japanese anime and toys made in this period are obviously copycats U.S. and European shows such as "Thunderbird" and "Star Trek."
And now in the 2000s, as widely known, Japanese toys, as well as American and European toys, are being copied in China and Korea to an extent that’s not even funny. But "The Complete Guide to Fake Toys" makes us realize they are actually hilarious. One of the authors, Inchiki Bancho, is quite well-known in the subculture scene for his vast collection of knock-off toys from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.
Let’s take a look at “Transformable Thomas.” They have made Thomas the Tank Engine -- a classic children’s favorite from Britain -- into a transformable giant robot. If we asked the Chinese designer who made them, they would probably say “What are you talking about? It’s our original. It’s not Transformer or Thomas the Tank Engine. It’s China’s original Transformable Tomas!”
And they have made knock-off action figures of hall-of-fame anime characters. Doraemon, the gadget cat robot from the 22nd century, is Asia’s favorite Japanese manga/anime character. Naturally, the authors have identified a variety of Doraemon knock-off toys throughout the region. Since the Japanese grow up watching Doreamon, they would immediately notice the differences, such as the position of the eyes and color of their hands. Happy Drummer Cat Adventurer, featured in the book, would cause Japanese kids to have surreal nightmare about a suspicious-looking cat robot whose face suddenly opens and reveals an elephant face as he plays the drum.
Granted, the Japanese did get a lot of hints from American toys 40 years ago but these Chinese knock-off toys are just too obviously knock-offs. The book also features a Batsuperman, an obvious combination of the most popular Marvel heroes. In the conference room at the Chinese manufacturer, someone must have said “Why don’t we fuse Batman and Superman together? Kids will love it because it looks stronger!”
And now indeed, they are making some knock-off, yet high-quality and creative toys that even the Japanese would think they are new models from original manufacturers. So, the history repeats itself. In the future, just as Japanese knock-offs of Western pop culture turned into a thriving otaku culture worldwide, Chinese otaku culture may become internationally popular.
"The Complete Guide to Fake Toys" (いんちきおもちゃ大図鑑』いんちき番長＋加藤アングラ) is on sale now.© Japan Today