As cult brands go, few actually rise to the challenge – and live up to the reputation – as Medicom Toy. The Japanese brand is renowned for its vast selection of collectibles, ranging from action figures to plush toys.
While there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about toys in general, Medicom Toy sets a new standard with its iconic designs. These aren’t mere throwaways ultimately destined to collect dust for a lifetime on the top shelf in the nursery. These are limited-edition creations thoughtfully produced with art as their definitive intent.
In the Beginning
The brand is the brainchild of Tatsuhiko “Ryu” Akashi, a veritable pop culture genius. When the company’s CEO founded Medicom Toy in 1996, there wasn’t any specific desire to fill a gap in the industry. There was simply a hunger to create fun objects that brought joy to people’s lives. In those early days, brainstorming sessions consisted of creatives who simply had a desire to make. It was as simple and straightforward as that.
Akashi’s background in the computer manufacturing industry paved the way, to a degree. He was uninspired by that work, but on a day off he stumbled across a toy store called ZAAP! in the Shibuya district in Tokyo. He was dazzled by the vast selection of imaginative objects, many of which were produced in the United States.
It was only a year later that he immersed himself in the same world and opened his own toy establishment in Ebisu. At the time, he shared space with a tonkatsu eatery. Those who craved the country’s mouth-watering fried pork cutlets could also satisfy their urge for a colorful toy or two after dining.
The block-style figurines evoke a sense of LEGO-like nostalgia and charm, yet offer their own unique appeal.
The first few designs centered around Akashi’s passion for anime, including a well-articulated Lupin the Third figure designed in honor of the famed manga character. It was the Kubrick, however, that cemented Medicom Toy’s place in the industry. The block-style figurines evoke a sense of LEGO-like nostalgia and charm, yet offer their own unique appeal. The collection quickly spawned a legion of followers, primarily among adult consumers.
The Kubrick Revolution
What’s in a name? The inspiration for the Kubrick was multifold. It was partially inspired by the revolutionary filmmaker, evident from the logo designed in honor of A Clockwork Orange. There’s also a deeper meaning, however: “Kubrick” breaks down to “kyu,” or kanji for nine, and the word “brick.” Nine is a reference to the number of pieces used to comprise a Kubrick toy, while brick nods to its resemblance to the iconic LEGO.
The collection has grown dramatically over the years. If Akashi can dream it, trust that a Kubrick will soon follow.
The earliest versions of the toy, launched in 2000, honored different manga and anime characters. Since those early days, Kubrick has spanned some thousand iterations. Many pay homage to pop culture gems, like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Marvel comics. The collection has grown dramatically over the years. If Akashi can dream it, trust that a Kubrick will soon follow.
Over the years, Kubrick has evolved from a mere unique figurine to a true collector’s item. Akashi puts just as much focus and intention into designing the packaging as he does into creating the toys. Some of them are placed inside what’s known as “blind” boxes, where there’s no hint as to what’s inside. Consumers love the surprise factor, and they love tapping into the heart of the collectors’ mindset. That’s precisely why Medicom Toy also produces chase figures – toys that are limited in production. The thrill of the chase makes them particularly appealing to true devotees of the brand.
The BE@RBRICK Impact
In 2001, Medicom Toy introduced its next innovation: BE@RBRICK. The figure was inspired by the Kubrick, featuring many of the original’s hallmarks reconfigured in bear form. It was an immediate hit among both existing enthusiasts and newcomers to the brand.
True to the carefree spirit of the company, the BE@RBRICK design came about almost by happenstance. Akashi, a master of creativity, drew his inspiration from the fact that the teddy bear’s 100th anniversary was celebrated in 2000. The timing was right, and so was the idea to draw on the success of the Kubrick.
Available in a wide range of sizes and varieties, the BE@RBRICK is the type of toy designed to appeal to the masses. There’s a keychain format, dubbed the 50%, ideal for transporting everywhere. The original style, known as the 100%, is a full-size teddy bear made with nine detachable pieces. There are even 200%, 400%, and 1000% varieties just made for avid collectors. There’s also a junior version, the BB BE@RBRICK, which is a single-piece toy more practical for the younger set.
Some [releases] are collaborative efforts with beloved artists, while others drop unexpectedly and set collectors on a wild frenzy to grab them before they sell out.
To make it simpler for collectors to discern – and, no doubt, to amplify the hype – Medicom Toy releases a new series each summer and winter. Every numbered series contains four different types of bears that follow a specific thematic design. Some are collaborative efforts with beloved artists, while others drop unexpectedly and set collectors on a wild frenzy to grab them before they sell out.
Contributing to their elusiveness is the fact that each BE@RBRICK is appointed a percentage indicating its rarity. Some rank lower on the scale, while others are particularly tough to find – namely those secret drops that come out of the blue – and therefore boast a greater rarity factor.
The beauty of BE@RBRICK was initially in its simplicity, but it quickly grew in esteem. Akashi touts it as a canvas of sorts – a bare starting point composed of nine simple parts whose designs can easily be modified to convey something fresh, new, artistic, and intriguing all at once. It’s easily the company’s most celebrated creation.
The Collaboration Connection
In the modern world, it’s collaborations that speak to the masses and drum up newfound excitement when things start to feel a little bit stale. While this can’t be said for Medicom Toy, whose consistency, design process, and creativity maintain its position at the top of the cult toy heap, there’s no doubt that uniting with other artists has introduced thousands of newcomers to the brand.
The likes of Jackson Pollock, Stash, Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel, Nike, Casio, and Vivienne Westwood have all produced exclusive bears.
Medicom Toy has partnered with several high-profile artists during its BE@RBRICK tenure. The likes of Jackson Pollock, Stash, Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel, Nike, Casio, and Vivienne Westwood have all produced exclusive bears. Not all have sold to the public, making them even rarer and more coveted.
There was the partnership with lifestyle brand Silly Thing, which spawned the Can’t Buy Me Love collection. Four figurines, respectively modeling the likenesses of George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Star, comprise the range of vinyl toys honoring The Beatles.
Another collaboration, this time with electronic duo DAFT PUNK, led to a dual-pack of 400%-variety BE@RBRICKs. There was even a 1000% version that quickly sold out. The duo set includes likenesses of members Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, each sporting ensembles they wore on tour.
A meeting of the minds between Medicom Toy and Mercedes-Benz spawned a set of glossy, sophisticated BE@RBRICKs. The marriage with Nike SB yielded several products, including the most recent variation of the SB Dunk Low. The kicks offer just what Swoosh enthusiasts expect, from their flexible pony hair uppers and eye-catching colorblocked uppers to their premium soles and stylish configurations. Each pair is marked with a BE@RBRICK logo on the heel.
Beyond the BE@RBRICK
It’s innovation that keeps things fresh and exciting. While there’s no dearth of interest in the thousands of BE@RBRICKs that Medicom Toy unveils every year, there’s more to their genius than simply crafting collectors’ items that ultimately end up either in the home of a devoted fan or on the digital eBay racks.
The company also designs apparel, although the collection isn’t nearly as widespread or diverse as that of its epic toy range. Still, you’ll find a wide range of eye-catching pieces in the mix. There’s the Handle With Care All Over Tee, which makes a bold statement and happens to look right at home with everything from denim to khakis.
BE@RBRICK enthusiasts don’t have to look far to find something that honors their favorite toy but offers something just slightly different. The dix x BE@RBRICK collaboration includes several surprisingly dainty pieces, including a pearl ear cuff and a pair of crystal earrings, both featuring adorable depictions of the BE@RBRICK in its most diminutive form to date.
The PORTER x BE@RBRICK match includes several charming additions for the home, like the porcelain coffee mug. Consumers can expand their Medicom Toy collection to include other goodies, including chic keyholders, glamorous wallets, and wildly colorful cushions. Much like the brand’s toy lineup, both the wearables and home goods touch on the distinctive. Some feel far more eclectic and downright wacky, while others verge into nonchalantly stylish territory.
To the Future
The appeal of Medicom Toy has always been in its unpredictability. Indeed, Akashi made a habit of encouraging his team of designers to create anything that they wanted – his goal was to encourage self-expression and to design pieces that spoke to the heart of the person at the forefront of their development. As they continue in this vein, the future looks brighter than ever.