LET’S DISCOVER THE SECRET OF A GOOD SMILE!
After 20 years of creating Nendoroids and all kinds of other figures, Good Smile Company has started a new figure brand: POP UP PARADE. The brand was started in 2019, and features figures made at an affordable price point, in an easy-to-collect size and with releases scheduled quickly after announcement. In this sense, the series is quite a departure from scale figures Good Smile Company has made up until this point. What led to the realization of this unique approach? It all came down to Good Smile Company's excellent reputation and the minds of a few young staff members. The driving forces of the POP UP PARADE series, Shuhei Torii, Yu Takagi and Erika Nitta of the Good Smile Company Planning Department, gave us a look at the innovation behind the POP UP PARADE series.
As times change, the figure industry and its fans change too.
Creating an Easy-to-Collect Figure Series for Fans Across the Globe
The POP UP PARADE series first released in 2019 features 17-18cm tall figures for just ¥3900 each. Figures in the series are planned for release just 4 months after preorders end, making them easy to collect. By focusing primarily on price, size, speed and collectability, Good Smile Company was able to create a high quality figure brand like never seen before. In creating the series, the prior experience of each staff member involved proved crucial.
Torii: “I first joined the company around 2010, and was originally assigned to work in the Planning Department. About two or three years later I moved to the Manufacturing Department. There I learned a lot about the figure mold creation process and the general flow going from mass production to shipment. After that, I started the Good Smile Company Lucky Factory in Tottori prefecture. Working with the staff there, we did a lot of trial and error studies about paintwork and manufacturing techniques for mass production. After three years there I returned to Tokyo. Following that, I worked on different capsule toy projects and Nendoroids and also worked on the With Fans! brand with Bandai Namco Arts. Right around that time is when the POP UP PARADE project started up. At the time, it was mostly Takagi-san working on the project, but I joined in around then.”
Takagi: “I joined the company in April 2018. At the time, many Good Smile Company figures were over ¥10,000 and had waiting periods of around 1 year after preorders ended. So we had an idea of creating a series separate from scale figure and Nendoroids that ended up being POP UP PARADE. I was tasked with figuring out how we were going to be able to produce the line. I used to work at a manufacturer that made prize goods, and I mostly worked on figures, so I was recruited at Good Smile Company partly for my know-how when it comes to making low-cost figures. It really worked out for both the company and I that they were looking for just the skills I had.
Nitta: “I joined the company in March of this year, the latest out of the three of us. I also worked in making low-cost prize figures at a prize manufacturer, so I've been using those same skills at Good Smile Company to make the POP UP PARADE series.”
Combining Mr. Torii's knowledge of figure manufacturing and Mr. Takagi and Ms. Nitta's experience making low-cost figures are the driving forces behind POP UP PARADE, but why are low-cost figures in such demand now, anyway?
Torii: “Nowadays, figure buyers come from a very broad range of backgrounds. Figures have started to be sold not only in Japan, but in China, North America, Europe and all over the world. Among those users, so-called "light users" have been increasing in numbers. Now with Japanese anime and games reaching across the world, a lot of younger users are expressing interest in starting figure collections, and with that the demand for easier-to-collect figures has gone up. Painted scale figures continue to grow in Japan as well, and as the demand grows for large, luxurious pieces by famous sculptors, it also stands to reason that in and outside of the country demand is also growing for more affordable figures.”
The demand in the figure market spans from both elaborately detailed scale figures to easy to collect figures, and demand for each is only going up. Mr. Torii explains "the growth in demand was inevitable, so I thought it was a great idea."
Torii: “It's easy to see when you look at the manufacturing process in a factory, but I think all of us, from the sculptors to the workers in the factory, view figures as luxury items that we want to be able to show to as many people as possible, not just through pictures, but by getting people to buy them to see the craftsmanship for themselves. So I think POP UP PARADE is a perfect brand for being able to reach as many people as possible since the prices are more affordable.”
Creating the figure brand required extensive trial and error.
From that, the POP UP PARADE brand was born, with a mission of creating a new style of figures that everyone could collect. So, how is it possible to keep the price low and speed up production? How do POP UP PARADE figures differ from scale figures?
Takagi: “The biggest difference is that POP UP PARADE figures are generally smaller. Our scale figures up until this point have been around 20 to 23cm, made at around 1/7th or 1/8th scale. POP UP PARADE figures are made around a size slightly larger than 1/10th scale.”
Torii: “When creating figures, we take a mold from the original prototypes and fill it with plastic. Creating those molds costs money, of course. If we can reduce the size, we can reduce the amount of molds we need, which results in lower costs. The paintwork after the figure comes out of the mold isn't done by machine. It is all done by hand. So we try to lower the amount of additional processing that is necessary when designing the figures. For example, many figures utilize several coats of gradated painting to make hair and other places stand out, but we try to keep gradated paintwork to just the hair and places that really stand out for POP UP PARADE figures. POP UP PARADE figures also feature characters in simpler outfits, usually ones that customers are used to seeing. That way we can reduce the amount of work that goes into creating the outfit parts.”
Nitta: “Knowing what parts of the process to cut comes from prize figure making experience. A lot of the techniques when making either remain the same.”
Torii: “Of course there are parts of the process that we can't cut costs on, and me having experience working in a factory has helped us achieve a balance between the two extremes, I think. For example, it's not about just reducing the gradated paintwork, it's about choosing what parts of the figure should have gradation based on what customers want to see.”
POP UP PARADE figures also feature a speedy turnaround from preorders to shipment. Many figures take up to a year from preorders to completion, but the POP UP PARADE series takes just 4 months.
Torii: “Part of speeding up production time is in promoting the figures in a unique way. Figures are generally available for preorder for about a month, and there is usually one painted prototype that is used for promotion at different stores during the preorder period. POP UP PARADE is different in that we don't do that kind of promotion, so we're able to send off the painted prototype for mass production earlier than typical figures.”
By speeding up this process, the team has been able to release around 30 POP UP PARADE figures this past year. The series features all kinds of different characters and series, such as Hatsune Miku, My Hero Academia, Weathering with You and Persona 5.
POP UP PARADE Izuku Midoriya
POP UP PARADE Hodaka Morishima/Hina Amano
POP UP PARADE Joker
Torii: “The target for this series is younger fans looking to buy a figure for the first time, so we've tried to base our decisions of what characters to make based on what characters are popular with those fans. Taking a look at different regions, the latest anime is usually popular in China, while in North America anime like My Hero Academia and other Shonen Jump anime are quite popular, and in Europe many people still enjoy somewhat classic anime from the 1990s, which gives us quite a diverse set of characters to choose from.”
The POP UP PARADE series is all about a new way to collect figures. It was from this idea that POP UP PARADE got its name.
Takagi: “POP UP is meant as in your favorite characters POPPING UP into the series, and PARADE is about lining up all your figures in your collection. Since each is just ¥3,900, it's easy to keep collecting your favorite characters for your collection. We wanted to get that across in the name. We didn't put "Good Smile" in the name, but we wanted to break away from that for this new brand.”
So what is in store for the future of the POP UP PARADE series?
The first release for the POP UP PARADE series came out in June 2019. The figure was of Hatsune Miku, who you could call a standard character at Good Smile. However, the reaction to the first product in the series was unexpected.
POP UP PARADE Hatsune Miku
Takagi: “There...wasn't much of a reaction at first. Thanks to the support of the fans, we've been able to produce and send out a lot of POP UP PARADE figures, but the reaction to the series was relatively muted compared to typical scale figures and Nendoroid releases.”
Nitta: "The beginner figure collectors we were targeting aren't as vocal about their impressions as other fans."
Takagi: “There weren't many people taking photos and upping it to their blogs, for example. From that response, we kind of knew we were heading in the right direction. We felt like we were reaching and satisfying people that don't usually buy figures.”
Nitta: “We started to hear more of a response from fans right around when the "NEKOPARA" figures came out. We had a lot of end users saying things like, "For the price, this kind of quality is incredible.”
Takagi: “It was around that time that people seemed to start understanding what the POP UP PARADE series was all about. It finally felt like we reached the starting line.”
POP UP PARADE Chocola
POP UP PARADE Vanilla
After one year, the brand has finally established its image. There are plenty more figures joining the line-up too. From current hit series like "BanG Dream!", to classic like Fullmetal Alchemist and Yu Yu Hakusho, the brand is set to span all kinds of genres and characters.
Torii: “For the "BanG Dream!" figures, we want to reach casual fans of the series. A lot of young people are fans of BanG Dream!, so we want to be able to help them start their collection. Fullmetal Alchemist is quite popular in North America, so we want to push the brand there once again with this release. Yu Yu Hakusho is popular all across the globe, so being able to bring a popular series like that into the brand is another important point in order to please the fans.”
Nitta: “One part of POP UP PARADE's mission is bringing classic series to life. Being able to create classic characters with the latest techniques is something we're excited to do in the series in the future.”
From the latest anime to classic series, the POP UP PARADE series is planned to have them all. What dreams do the three planning directors have for POP UP PARADE?
Nitta: “I want to try something that isn't human-shaped. Maybe some sort of creature with four legs, or something like that. I think the brand certainly has potential for something like that, so I want to keep trying challenging things like that while maintaining the quality of each and every figure.”
Torii: “I want to be able to tell fans, "POP UP PARADE has figures of your favorite characters at an affordable price." I want people to think, "If it's POP UP PARADE, they can do anything." If we can continue to match the expectations of customers when it comes to cost, speed and quality, I think we'll have succeeded as a brand.”
Takagi: “I've directed a lot of figures of cute girls. They're really fun to make. The NEKOPARA figures have that same charm. I want to send that cuteness out into the world. Now that I've been at Good Smile Company for two years, I feel like I've been able to learn a lot. I want to put that experience to use in future figures, and continue to raise the quality of the POP UP PARADE series. I think that now is when the real battle starts.”
POP UP PARADE Lio Fotia
POP UP PARADE Aqua
POP UP PARADE Yukina Minato
© K. Horikoshi / Shueisha, My Hero Academia Project
©ATLUS ©SEGA/PERSONA5 the Animation Project
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