Quality and Diversity – An Interview With Bandai Namco At SDCC 2022

Bandai Namco SDCC

The show floor at San Diego Comic-Con is unlike any other convention. For four days (plus approximately three hours on Preview Night), studios, artists, publishers, and vendors take over the San Diego Convention Center, offering one of a kind experiences, exclusive merchandise, and more. One of those vendors is convention mainstay Bandai Namco, which had not one but three booths displaying various items from their subsidiary companies. I got the opportunity to talk with Marketing Director David Edmundson about what’s coming up for the brand.

The Geekiary: So can you talk a little bit about the upcoming products that you have coming out?

David Edmundson: Sure, absolutely. So there are a number of lines that we’re excited about. We’re excited about bringing Macross back. We didn’t have it for quite a while. But Tamashii Nations is now making the Valkyrie and a couple of the other iconic ships from Macross. I know in America, most of us know it as Robotech. But Macross was the original one that was kind of, we don’t like to use the word bastardized, but they took like three Japanese shows and kind of crammed it together for Robotech. That’s all I grew up with. So I knew Robotech, I didn’t know Macross, but that’s probably one of the ones we’re most excited about.

And then just the continuation of our lines, the first machinations, S.H. Figuarts for Dragon Ball with the new movie coming out, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero. We’re excited to bring not only the returning characters, but some of the new characters like Gamma One and Gamma Two that’s available on our Premium Bandai platform.

And we’re real excited about Gundam; the Gundam movie is going to be coming out in a couple of years. [At AnimeNext] we saw some kind of concept art for the Gundam movie, which was super exciting. And the Gundam model kits have really evolved over the years. In 1980, when they debuted, you needed glue, you needed paint; now, they are going to render this molding system to where they can mold colors onto individual screws. And so, you know, just the articulation, everything on the model kits had just gone through the roof.

And then Studio Ghibli and Tamagotchi are two kind of legacy brands that we’re always surprised with the fervor of the fandom. I’m a ’90s kid. So I remember Tamagotchis were the thing, trying to keep them alive. 

TG: I had a Tamagotchi.

DE: I killed too many Tamagotchi. They won’t even sell to me anymore. Like, “This guy’s a Tamagotchi serial killer.” But we’re excited because this is one of the first big shows we’ve actually brought them out to. Just to see just the hunger and the line for the Tamagotchis was wrapped around twice.

And the same thing with Studio Ghibli. You know, it’s kind of a legacy brand. They’re still obviously making Ghibli films. So Studio Ghibli we’re really excited to see, you know, people are so excited. And we’re the official distributors of Studio Ghibli in North America. There’s a lot of knockoffs out there, so we’re excited to bring them kind of like the high-quality products, whether that’d be figures or plush, or you know, like constructables, like puzzles and things like that. That was a really long answer, I apologize.

TG: No, that’s fine. Please.

DE: I will talk and talk and talk.

TG: I was actually at Sweet Suite in New York a week and a half ago or whenever that was. I live in New York. I saw the new Tamagotchi that’s coming out and all that kind of stuff. So are there any other licenses for Tamagotchi that you’re going after?

DE: There are so many. Right now they’re really leaning into anime, [like with] Jujutsu Kaisen. Demon Slayer is obviously another big one. But we also have a lot of Star Wars, we brought some Toy Story ones. We actually had a couple of exclusives at the event here that were kind of like the classic Tamagotchi, to where people could remember what it used to be like.

But yeah, they’re always looking for new IPs to do. And they are actively searching for new IPs and engaging in negotiations with new IPs. So hopefully by like New York Comic Con and especially by Toy Fair next year, we should have some really, really cool announcements for them. 

TG: Fingers crossed for an in-person Toy Fair. I miss Toy Fair.

DE: Yeah. I mean, September is a long ways away. So I mean, hopefully, it should be fine.

TG: So what do you look for when you decide what IPs to go after? Is it just like the popularity or is it something that fits more with Bandai? 

DE: So there’s kind of two schools of thought. Obviously, we have legacy brands that we want to continue to support, you know, your Dragon Balls, your Gundam, just things like that. But also trying to kind of predict the trends of what the new hot anime are going to be, you know. Demon Slayer and Jujutsu Kaisen have kind of been like kind of runaway hits. And so we’ve been fortunate enough on both of those to kind of be on the ground floor. But there are other ones that we’ve done that, you know, the anime maybe really didn’t take off.

So we’re trying to take a little more risks now, so we can be in market when it’s actually hitting. It’s no fun if the anime comes out and there’s no figures for it. And then nine months later, there’s a figure for it, but maybe you’re not as excited. You have to kind of coincide with a new season, or like an update in the manga or something like that.

We’ve been trying to probe new anime a little bit more by releasing maybe like one or two main characters and maybe like a villain. And then if it takes off, then obviously, we would go, we’re looking for the next Dragon Ball – our Figuarts line and Dragon Ball or our model kit line for Gundam. I mean, those are just runaway freight trains. They have so many different characters and so many different mobile suits […].

People are still asking, like, “Hey, you haven’t made my favorite mobile suit yet.” I’m like, “How’s that possible? We’ve made so many Gundams.” But the library is just so, so intense and amazing. [It has] been for over 40 years. You know, we’re gonna get to everybody. But sometimes this takes a while.

TG: Actually, my problem is that I get into stuff late. And then by the time I get into it, there’s no stuff.

DE: Yeah, and that’s one of the things about the convention. So for example, for Dragon Ball, you know, Dragon Ball and Figuarts have been going on for years. And so like, if you tried to come in now, some of those early Dragon Ball exclusives are gonna cost you a fortune. 

TG: Yeah. 

DE: What we do at conventions is, we like to reward people to come to conventions by having like color variants of maybe some of the original ones that we did. So like this one, we have Boo, Android 16, and Shenron. They’re color variants on ones that have already been released, but if you went on eBay or something, you’re gonna pay like $500 for it.

And, you know, we’re all collectors here. So we’ve all done that, where we get in the line late. I’m that way for Dragon Ball. I didn’t start Dragon Ball until like three or four years ago. So it’s funny – if I wanted a Shenron, I was paying $400 for it. And I don’t want to do that. So luckily, conventions allow us to kind of pick it up at a reasonable rate.

TG: The Anime Heroes line is something that’s really popular. One of our other writers for our outlet, he’s a big Naruto fan. Like, he went nuts over the photos that I took [at Sweet Suite]. Because right now it’s mostly Naruto and Dragon Ball. Are there also other plans to add other franchises to that?

DE: Yeah, absolutely. […] Before, toys were separate from collectibles. We were two separate companies within Bandai. So in April, we combined – so we became toys and collectibles. And so what we’re trying to do is create like this ecosystem, because we understand you’re not going to give a six-year-old a $90 S.H. Figuarts for Goku. But you might give them a $20 or $25 Anime Heroes.

And so […] we want to get them as children. They play with the action figures, like we played with action figures when we were kids. And as they get older, they get a little more disposable income, maybe then they start to level up to the S.H. Figuarts. And then maybe they have kids or they become an aunt or uncle or something like that. They want to get someone into collecting and then they go back to Anime Heroes and they kind of complete this cycle over and over again.

And so I think we’re gonna see a lot more synergy between like Anime Heroes and Figuarts, as far as you know, different anime like you said. Yeah, it’s real Naruto and Dragon Ball heavy right now. They’re doing quite a bit with One Piece now as well. And so the Anime Heroes is more like mastering Target, Walmart, the big retail chains and stuff like that. So it’s less niche.

With S.H. Figuarts, sometimes we go a little more niche, because we don’t have to make a trillion of them to send to Target and stuff like that. So it’s making sure the market’s there, making sure that people want it. But yeah, we’re definitely going to start expanding outside of those three core IPs.

TG: Go for Spy x Family, I love Spy x Family

DE: That’s been a huge thing for us. We debuted some S.H. Figuarts downstairs earlier. We’re all in on Spy x Family. We love it to death.

[…] I’m trying to think of any other ones that we are real close to announcing. Not really, but yeah, we definitely want to branch out from, like, the four IPs that we’ve already been doing.

TG: There’s so many, like, similar kinds of products out there. So how do you market them? Or what do you do to make Bandai and Tamashii and stuff stand out?

DE: We’re confident that we are making the best action figures out there. They are premium action figures. So there is an increase in costs. But, you know, we are one of the master toy licenses for things like Dragon Ball. Obviously, we have the market covered on model kits with Gundam. The Gundam model kits, you can put up against any other model kit company and they’re just gonna blow them out of the water. It’s not to say the other ones are bad; it’s just ours are so good.

You know, I build other model kits – Revell and stuff like that, Kotobukiya. But we just have very rigorous standards. Japan is very, very focused on quality control and stuff like that. For some of the companies, you may not see that. And so they just have the mindset that they just want to be the best. And I think it shows through.

We also have the diversity of our different lines. We have anything you need. If you’re into figures we have the S.H. Figuarts. If you’re into statues, we have the Figuarts Zero that have these, like, amazing translucent effect parts. If you just want like a cute little thing, we have the little chibi Figurarts and minis and stuff like that.

Shippuden Epic Scale Naruto (Sage Mode)

We just really, really want to make sure that there’s something for everyone. It’s kind of like Star Wars. Star Wars is for everyone. You know, there’s stuff for little kids and stuff for adults – just stuff for all the spectrums and stuff like that. We kind of want to be like that, to where maybe you can’t afford a $100 Goku, but you maybe can get like a $20 Anime Heroes, or you can get a Dragon Stars, or like a $20 or $25 Figuarts mini or something like that. And, you know, it’s all just in service of the fandom.

Dragon Ball’s my favorite anime. I watched it with my [son,] at the time he was 10. So, in 2019, we set the world record for the world’s largest Kamehameha here. And it was my idea, but I realized that I’ve never seen Dragon Ball. I just wanted to do a cool Guinness Book World Record.

Because when I was a kid, that book was everything. You know, when your classroom was against the library, you’d check that book out. [If you’re] lucky your parents got it for you for Christmas or something like that. And I wanted to be in there one day.

So I needed to watch Dragon Ball. I need to consume it quickly. And so I started watching it and my younger son was in the room. I thought he was playing on his DS or on his phone, but he’s actually watching. So when I stopped watching it – I watched like 30 or 40 episodes – and I was like, “Okay, I like what I’m watching. I’ll come back later, but I know the lingo now, so I’m not gonna look like a poser.”

But then my son was like, “Hey, are we gonna watch more Dragon Ball?” And I’m like, “Absolutely.” I will definitely take this time that I’ve got with you and stuff like that. So we watched all 800 episodes of Dragon Ball Z, GT and Super and now he’s like the biggest Dragon Ball fan. I’m so excited.

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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