If candy was a deliciously animate object, it would manifest itself as Tokyo Disney. The resort’s sprawling backdrop strikes you the moment you step out of the train station. Each facade is made up of an entire palette of pastels seemingly spun from some sort of giant, cocoon of cotton candy. Tokyo Disney is the Willy Wonka of architecture and design.
Optivion and I walked through the gates of Tokyo Disney and were immediately thrown into a headspin. The commercial-esque umbrella stroll of Mary Poppins trailed by a group of young girls wearing Mickey ears on our right. A brilliantly yellow topiary sculpture of Mickey Mouse on our left. The “Something Wicked This Way Comes” twirl of a nearby carousel. I even started to notice some of the fellow tourists. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a furtive figure dressed in an enormous Safari hat drowning in a puffy ascot and prop-sized camera. My first thought was, “how wholesomely cute”. It was a thought that frequently came to mind whenever I saw a costumed Japanese person. The Japanese fondness for accessories is astounding. If it’s time to clean-on goes the matching bandana and apron. If a new road needs to be laid-on goes the blue uniform with matching yellow shoes and hard hat. In a sense, the Japanese people had become something out of a Richard Scarry children’s book.
It wasn’t until Optivion and I were drawn with headlight hypnotism to the Alice in Wonderland sculptures that I noticed that the same “cute” camera-wielding tourist was now a very tired and nervous Disney employee forced to conjole smiles out of serious fun goers.
Optivion and I continued to walk pass vendors selling themed variations of cuteness and ambigiously Westernized food stuff (read greasey ham hocks). The Disney theme parks are by nature exceptionally surreal in incarnating movie magic however Tokyo Disney took it one step further by devoting a whole month to Alice in Wonderland. There was even a spiral-spinning (you guessed it) stomach-clutching tea cup ride. Awestruck, Optivion and I stared up at a Scissorhand-sized heart-shaped topiary gate that enclosed the entrance of the “Queen of Hearts” restaurant. The gimmicky-ness of the restaurant immediately dissolved under the incredible attention to detail. Lured by the life-sized card soldiers and the waitress attired in an argyle chef hat and apron (“wholesomely cute”), Optivion and I resigned oursevlves to touristly gluttony and sat down for a meal of heart-shaped cutlets served with Mickey Mouse cutlery.
Next, we decided to wait for the large parade that was scheduled that day. We thought it would be a small platoon of smiling mascots and glittery floats on wheels. We sat down and surprisingly, secured first row seats near a Medieval sized door where the parade was expected to start.
Suddenly, the green door burst open like an animated pinnata of colors. For the first time, I think my jaw literally dropped.
Afterwards, we rode several rides which seemed like a strange anomaly of new-old. The rides had a certain 1950’s sense of simplicity. The Haunted Mansion had flickering candles and equally flickery holograms while The Snow White ride was like a spooky picnic on a rickety go-cart. Although the park seemed a bit dated compared to the leviathan that is Walt Disney Florida, everything still retained a coat of newness.
It is easy to say that things seem better (or worse) when you’re in a foreign country. By default, everything takes on a filter of comparison and rarely is seen as what it is. Although, Tokyo Disney seemed somehow quieter and more peaceful (there was a lack of obnoxious families screaming at their children or at least it was concealed by the more whisperous tones of Japanese), it wasn’t that much more different than any other Disney resort. Tokyo Disney wasn’t bigger or cuter or superior. It was its own wonderful entity.
The last ride that we went on was “It’s a Small World” which is made up of a large scale diorama of kewpie looking dolls representing each country except for the U.S. (they could have at least thrown in a cowboy or tiny SUV to represent). It was, well, wholesomely cute. It harkened back to a time when things were enough. When the rides didn’t have to be gimmickier or scarier or more advanced. Tokyo Disney reminded me that each world, no matter how brightly you paint it, is linked by a small “time” after all.
Anime Fest. The event conjures up images of thirteen year-old cosplayers with styrofoam swords and swag laden bags hypnotized by the polarity of sexpot dolls and kawaii plushies. As the Tokyo International Anime Fair approached, I thought back to previous convention giants-San Diego Comic Con, WonderCon (based in San Francisco) and the emerging NY Comic Con. I recalled swarms of people-some in elaborate costumes while others wore hand-scrawled indie t-shirts-all huddled together in wide-eyed unison. Carnivorous consumers gathered up gimmicky promos and fawned over the flirtatious hawking of vendors. Novice artists, armed with black-handled portfolios, nervously approached such creative monoliths as Dark Horse and DC Comics for an approving nod. In essence, the U.S. comic (and anime) conventions were a seaport-esque mecca of subculture and entertainment where artists vied for the attention of a cash-pouring and adoring audience.
Optivion and I walked up the Tokyo Big Sight where the Tokyo International Anime Fair was being held. We looked up in awe at the illuminati-shaped building and excitedly went inside, anticipating hordes of cosplayers and random hybrids of Japanese kookiness like samurai robots or toilet seat hats (maybe?). We glided along the people mover like moon-eyed characters in a Spike Jonze video until we reached the main entrance. As we rode the motorized sloth towards the festival, I noticed that in lieu of colorful kids there appeared to be more men in business suits and middle-aged families. It was then that it hit me just how unbiquitious anime was in Japan. An anime festival isn’t a subculture event. It is the culture. Manga was just as likely to be in a salaryman’s briefcase as it was a ten-year boy’s backpack.
We entered the main room and gazed up at an inflated Pikachu and Totoro grinning down like rolly-polly zepplins. After stopping at a sadly scarce Studio Ghibli booth (just a shelf full of a few books for sale), we ran into an independent artist by the name of Sonic who silently held a sign advertising an artist collective called The Artist Army. We oggled over his Tim Burton-esque dolls and after giving several language-impaired thumbs-ups, we shyly asked for a photo.
Look! The sign works. We then passed by an incredible candy-colored display for the impishly cute yeoypawka.
After wandering through aisles of towering booths (one actually resembled a traditional Japanese house), we came across the glorious “Creator’s World” section full of amazing independent animators (mostly stop-action) and artists. We first happened upon the inky Steampunk illustrations of artist Takorasu. We were then drawn to the clever work of animation duo “Woodpecker” . Their booth was adorned like a delirious hobbyists’ attic-full of miniature houses and trees. Woodpecker’s films are interestingly bizarre and strangely comical stop-action scenarios.
Woodpecker’s friendly booth neighbor, artist Michihisa Ohrui, caught our attention with his pink wall and wonderfully handcrafted props. Michihisa is one half of the fantastically fun animation duo (Hashiru Ueda is the other half), Ohrys Bird. Again, after giving a flurry of language limited thumbs-ups, Optivion and I cajoled Michihisa into a photo.
The Tokyo International Anime Fair offered very little purchasable paraphenalia for the consumer crazed and seemed devoid of scrutinizing scouts for eager new artists. It also had few ambling mascots and nary a cardboard clad cosplayer was in sight (there were very few people in costume in general save a few scantily cladded girls and the Goth-ish Hello Kitty mascot for the clothing and accessory line, Hangry & Angry-see the photo below).
It did however have an array of some of the most original and painfully stunning artwork that I have seen in a long time. To see more “Creative World” independent artists, please click on the thumbnails below.
*All photos by Optivion
My book review for Mathilda and the Orange Balloon (by Randall de Sève, Illustrated by Jen Corace) posted in
Time Out New York Kids.
Skelanimals turns cute inside out with its skeleton crew of characters. The Skelanimals have gone from bone bearing graphics and plush dolls to a full blown fashion and accessory line. Stripped of skin but full of heart, each animal is characterized by its doe-eyed skull and black and white skeleton suit. Skelanimals is licensed by Art Impressions, Inc. based in Calabasas, Caifornia. Art Impressions, Inc. is also the mastermind behind the space-age, girl-power troupe, “Milk Way and the Galaxy Girls” and the kawaii brigade, “Wittle Bittle“. Cindy Bailey, CEO of Art Impressions, Inc. reveals the spirit behind the Skelanimals and explains why we can’t stop being haunted by them.
1) What inspired the idea for Skelanimals?
Skelanimals first came to life as the subject of a self-published children’s book by Mitchell Bernal, an accomplished animation artist. To help his young son cope with the death of a family pet, Mitchell came up with the novel idea of portraying the afterlife in a humorous way, creating a collection of animals who met odd and untimely ends as a result of their own silly behavior. The book’s humorous poems about each animal really brought the characters to life and formed the starting point for our development of Skelanimals as a broader lifestyle brand.
2) Where and how did you first promote Skelanimals?
We launched Skelanimals plush, keychains and magnets at leading U.S. trend retailer Hot Topic in 2006. It was so popular that in 2007, Hot Topic featured full boutiques showcasing junior and young men’s apparel, loungewear, stuffed animals and plush backpacks, purses, totes, wallets, ID cases, keychains, bag charms, shoes, socks, hair accessories, fragrance and cosmetics, tinned candies, pins and patches, posters, throws, magnets and stickers.
3) What do you think makes Skelanimals so popular?
One of the keys to Skelanimals’ popularity is its unique mixture of cuteness and edge. Skelanimals are light-hearted, cute and cuddly, never ghoulish or horrifying; irreverent but not offensive. As a result, the brand has been embraced by people of all ages, nationalities, and personalities…it hits that magical middle point between cute and cuddly and dark and edgy!
4) What is one of your favorite Skelanimals accessories?
The crystal studded panda necklace from PINKO in Italy!
5) Can you give advice to someone trying to get their intellectual property licensed?
The most important thing is to have a comprehensive collection of art including main characters, patterns, boarders, and main images. It helps to have a back story about the brand and/or its characters (personalities or stories about each character). You must also have a marketing plan outlining the demographic, target market and support that will generate consumer awareness for the brand such as (depending on the demographic) plans for animation, an interactive website, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter as well as promotional & advertising plans to support your retailers.
Scribble Dribble puts a different spin on the hero’s journey. Author Tasneem Montgomery follows a cheerful CD named Scribble who is rolling down the path towards happiness until happenstance steps in and blocks his way. Scribble’s self-journey is rendered in primary colored wonder by illustrator Daniel DaLoia. Montgomery’s personal background in psychology and meditation illuminates Scribble’s travails and hits a high note with his final triumph.
There are no imaginary enemies here-only sickeningly cute adversaries dressed in animal skins of every combination smiling behind neon, plastic boxes. Don Quijote (spelled phonetically-its praise is sung throughout in a synthesized kid, choir chant-“la-la-lah-la-la-lah-Don-Key-Ho-tee”!) is a discount chain store in Japan that offers everything from racks of eyelashes to questionable junk food. Sadly, Don Quijote is more yellow, shoebox grade of architecture than the literary, looming windmill (although, I wouldn’t put it pass the Japanese to create a windmill structure adorned with a deranged mascot promoting buying bliss). It does, however, contain an epileptic arcade of flashing video games and fantastic vending machines of toys and plushies.
The vending machines house an array of creatures wearing pelt jumpsuits-rabbits are dressed in bear skins, bears are dressed in cat suits, etc. (the bi-curious species are both intriguiging and baffling). Everything within the arcade is dosed in cute. Stitched up dolls and bloody, clawed teddy bears are tempered by their adorable grins and cotton-colors. The arcade is manically brilliant and leaves one feeling a bit hopped up on Clockwork Orange stimulus overload. “La-la-lah, la-la-lah….”