Starting out in 1987 in the otaku paradise that is Nakano Broadway, in West Tokyo, manga and anime merchandisers Mandarake have conquered the rest of Japan and these days have stores across this metropolis – in Shibuya, Akihabara and Ikebukuro – as well as in other essential cities like Osaka, Fukuoka, Nagoya, and Sapporo.
While they’re up against stiff competition in the manga and anime market from the likes of the Animate chain, Mandarake also specializes in second-hand and old school, priceless, and sometimes obscure paraphernalia, not just from Japan, but from around the rest of the world – which accounts for the fact that a manga comic book signed by Osamu Tezuka in 1977 (retailing for ¥200,000 and protected behind glass) was, a couple of years back, sitting right nearby a lonesome Grand Moff Tarkin doll (based on the devious Death Star commander played by Hammer Films regular Peter Cushing) from Star Wars: Episode IV that same year… collecting dust in a bargain bin and selling for just ¥200.
Man, I wished I’d picked that baby up (the Grand Moff, I mean) – but as it is I did end up with a buy from Mandarake’s bargain shelves that stumped me at the time, and still does: An Australian O.D.F. soldier I had no idea about that was released in the 1996 G.I. Joe Classic Collection. It was reduced from ¥6,900 to just ¥600, with a bigger layer of dust than that of the aforementioned Star Wars villain. As Jessie, the Yodeling Cowgirl is wont to say, he was mint in the box, never been opened; if Australian militia types really did dress like this furrowed-brow chappie, our country would be an international uniform designers’ laughing stock.
The spiel on the box of this fellow Aussie is likewise hilarious. “Founded in 1982 after the invasion of the Falkland Islands,” it claims, “the Australian Operational Deployment Force (O.D.F.) is highly skilled in quick reactions, often deploying to a location ready for action without any prior notice, regional force surveillance units to understand any situations they face.
Wearing the traditional uniform of plain khakis, slouch hat and boots, and armed with an FN FAL 7.62, a Russack, personal equipment belt, pouches and a canteen and holder, the G.I. Joe Australian O.D.F. is ready for action.” I’m fairly certain most of my 21 million compatriots haven’t heard about these elusive individuals nor their debonair exploits either, though there’s actually some guff about the real-life Operational Deployment Force here… Far less convoluted in their intention and founded two years before the Falklands.
Also available from these incredible stores are lovely tin toys from the 1950s, original animation cels from just about every series you can think of, cosplay outfits, CDs, DVDs, art-books, giant robots the size of you or me and even a wee bit bigger, and anything else obsessive-compulsive-collector related. Essential one-stop shopping for any anime or manga aficionado, plus other people besides.
Andrez Bergen is senior editor of Impact magazine in the UK. He’s a long-term writer on Japanese pop culture, music, anime, movies and weird stuff who has covered the space since 2001. Andrez also runs Tokyo-based IF? Records, makes music as Little Nobody, writes a personal blog called JapaneseCultureGoNow!, and can be found on Twitter @andreziffy