Japanimation, Anime, Manga… The terms describing Japanese animations have quickly spread through the world for the past few years. I first noticed a couple years ago that some teen skaters were enthusiastically talking about this Japan-born trend here in San Francisco. It is not uncommon now to see the Anime-effected visuals in many media such as flyers, t-shirts, and short films projected on the wall of some party spaces… I was hanging out at a night club in the lower Haight street one day, and was asked by a club kid if I was Japanese and was interested in importing Japanimations from Japan. He told me that he wanted to open his Anime store in San Francisco. What’s the big deal of this? What interests me about this whole trend is that, as I have seen the contradictory fact that Anime had been dealt as a geeky nerd thing in Japan, there is a definite gap in terms of who admires it between Japan and other countries. Where is this trend coming from? I walked into a leading anime store, Hero’s Club, to find out more about what’s behind the whole scene.
Located on Clement street in the west side of Downtown San Francisco, Hero’s Club caters to mainly Japanese hero products from Anime videos to life-size plastic models called Figures. Covered with many hero figures placed all over walls, this store has a unique, totally different atmosphere from regular toy stores such as Toy’r’us. According to a clerk, Mr. Robin Kwok, this 14 years old store has put more emphasis on vintage products from the 60’s and 70’s. Mr. Kwok was generous enough to spend some time to show me some of the vintage products featuring Ultra Man, Kamen Riders, Mazinger Z, and many other TV characters that I grew up with in the 70’s. Needless to say I was thrilled to see those extinct heros, but the real surprise was that these vintages are priced starting from several hundred dollars. I was told that the 5 feet Godzilla figure on the shelf costs over ten thousand dollars. This could be a kick ass product for Beanie Babies collectors! Since I was unfamiliar with the high-priced collectors scene, Mr. Kwok explained that there were many orders and inquiries for the rare products from all over the country, even from customers in Japan.
Hero’s Club also carries reasonably priced items such as Giant-Robot video and other hero TV shows for about $10. The store has huge video collections of retro heros. The catalog containing hundreds of funky graphics of the characters is definitely worthwhile checking out.
Looking at these hero characters in the store, I was beginning to see the reason why the Japanimation scene had become popular among the collectors as well as kids in the street cultures regardless the poor response from the Japanese street scene. It’s simply kitsch and different. The packages of old-school heros have their own retro design and unique coloring. It resembles the futurism feel in the American comics in the 60’s. I was particularly attracted to night glow Kamen Rider cards coming from the early 70’s. The illustration on the card was rather tacky and amateurish, but has a nice sense of analog feel. As it was priced $2 each, I ended up buying lots of them. Couldn’t help it.
Address: 840 Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94118