Do you only know Kotobukiya as that company many American collectors stumble over when trying to pronounce its name? You should look again as it’s actually a company that’s producing a product line that is snagging fans and converting them to collectors incredibly quickly. Featuring popular licenses such as Marvel, DC, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Street Fighter and Tekken to name just a few, the fanfare is quickly understood. With its attention to materials used, product detail and an almost unexpected level of articulation, I understand the rapid growth in its core audience. That said, if (like me) the name is newer to you, I invite you along for a quick journey through their history.
I first bumped into Kotobukiya at New York Comic Con a few years back as I spotted their ArtFX series. It just felt ahead of its time in terms of what I was seeing other companies producing and I’ve been following their work ever since. Little did I realize at the time just how late I was to this particular game. You see, Kotobukiya has its origins in a single toy store selling dolls in Japan. That store was operated by Jusaburo Shimizu who kicked things off in 1947. To put this year in perspective, that is the same year Jackie Robinson first took the field in baseball, Miracle on 34th Street debuted in theaters, and the first recorded use of the word “computer” (in its modern sense) was uttered.
Two years after the doll store opened, Mr. Shimizu shifted it to a limited liability company (in 1951) and was joined by his two brothers. To say this company has deep historical roots would be an understatement, but it wouldn’t be until 1983 that they would take their first steps into original products as a model kit manufacturer. Everything began with their Armament kit which was followed in in 1985 with King Godzilla, the company’s first licensed kit.
In the 1980s it was a loaded kit market, but Kotobukiya broke away from the pack when they nailed down the license for Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam THE-O mecha which made a splash as it marked the first time any company other than Bandai had been allowed to produce a Gundam product.
They would continue to grow, eventually proclaiming themselves “Japan’s number one collector toy company” in press releases as late as 2007. Things shifted toward growth again in 2009 when Jeffrey Kashida, CEO/President of KOTO Inc. announced the creation of a new Kotobukiya Team in the USA. There had been significant steps into the US market prior to this, but the addition of a dedicated team (Erick Sosa, Jorge Martinez, William Valenzuela, the “Kotobukiya Kreative 3” as they were known plus Dan Lujan and Anuj Pradhan) really marked a serious turning point in this company’s growth in the states. This was also a point when many really tuned in to their product line which had been turning heads at shows like San Diego Comic Con for several years.
Early on their license work with Final Fantasy plus a series of high end Star Wars and DC ArtFX Statues set the stage for what was to come. Now, it you dig through the CompleteSet archive of their products you will see just how quickly their line has evolved into so much more than those first model kits. Now you can see soft vinyl statues, active styling figures (branded as ArtFX Statues), fully assembled and painted resin statues (their Kotobukiya Fine Art Statues line), highly detailed action figures, One Coin Mini Figures and much more.
Ever looking for the new talent to advance their creative staff, Kotobukiya is known for their annual sculpting and painting contests which take place at their retail stores in Japan. Entries for these competitions regularly top three hundred participants with individuals from all over the country vying for attention. Many in-house sculptors for Kotobukiya owe their roots to these competitions and other toy manufacturers regularly headhunt talent there.
Certainly a company to watch (and collect).