During each of my trips to Tokyo in 2012 and 2013 to take photographs for my “Tokyo Panic Stories” project, I met up with some really wonderful people, people with whom I hope to remain friends for years to come. But during the 2013 trip, a particular treat for me was the opportunity to hang out with Shinichiro Kitai and Kotohiro Nishiyama of the Tokyo-based toy and graphic design firm Devilrobots. I have been a huge fan of the Devilrobots ever since I stumbled across their To-fu Oyako character toys on eBay in 2002. Their whimsical, anthropomorphic designs for toy figures and other colorful objects really appeal to something deep within in my senses of aesthetics and fun.
In short, and without being too gushy about it, the Devilrobots are personal heroes of mine, and their work adds a LOT of joy to my life. In fact, it’s fair to say the Devilrobots inspire me in a way that has helped me cope with my chronic depression.
I met these fine gentlemen one afternoon while they were setting up the Devilrobots “Devil Museum” retrospective and retail sale displays at the Fewmany pop-up shop in the Shinjuku Marui Annex. And the rest of the afternoon just flowed from there…
Mr. Kotohiro Nishiyama, Koto-san, the Devilrobots’ business manager who also acts as the English translator for public events. I got to hang out with Koto-san in 2012 at the Devilrobots’ offices in Shinjuku. Here at the 2013 Fewmany shop, he showed me the “Devil Museum” and the various artifacts from Devilrobots’ 17-year history.
The man himself, Mr. Shinichiro Kitai (Shin-san), the Devilrobots founder and lead designer and artist. He designed pretty much every toy and graphic element you see in these photographs. And he is as colorful, whimsical, and fun as the things he creates.
A display showcasing prototypes and mock-ups of some of the very first To-fu Oyako kubrick figures designed by Shin-san and manufactured by Medicom Toy. Other items in the display utilize To-fu Oyako design elements.
A closer look at some Devilrobots kubrick prototypes. Note the To-fu Oyako figure in the background shaped like a “Toy Story” alien.
Koto-san pointing at a display case full of Evirob kubrick figures and small sculptures. Evirob is Shin-san’s other major character design, but the character itself is a bit odd and hard to explain, mostly because I don’t fully understand it (even though I like it).
One of the neatest things on display, a mashup statue of toy designer Kenny Wong’s Molly character and Shin-san’s To-fu Oyako. I wish I could have purchased this, but I had to be scrupulous with my Kickstarter funds.
Koto-san and Shin-san taking a moment to evaluate their display work. Shin-san is, as you can see, not camera-shy.
A multitude of Devilrobots stickers and badges, manufactured by Facto, a Japanese design company which produces various goods for toy and graphic designers like Devilrobots.
After the work was done setting up the Devilrobots “Devil Museum” shop, Koto-san and Shin-san offered to take me out for some beers. Shin-san and I waited out in the rain in front of Marui Annex while Koto-san was busy retrieving the umbrella he had forgotten inside the building.
We made our way to joint called 82 Ale House in Shinjuku 3-chome. After Shin-san bought the first round of pints, he was kind enough to autograph some Devilrobots items I had with me. Here he’s inscribing a booklet he designed for a CD by an excellent J-pop band called Tokimeki Express.
Beers, smokes, peanuts, and a signed hand-decorated To-fu Oyako kubrick on a greasy bar table. To me this is one version of heaven.
As I noted earlier, Shin-san is not camera-shy.
Despite having to translate between me and Shin-san, Koto-san was able to relax.
I felt so honored that these busy guys…
…took the time to hang out with me.
The list of things for which I am a gushing fanboy is very, very short, but the Devilrobots’ design work and these two superior gentlemen are certainly on it. One of the greatest open secrets about the Japanese is that they are very warm, big-hearted people if you make the effort to get socially close them. Shin-san and Koto-san are two perfect examples of this. I really treasured their company that rainy afternoon in Shinjuku, and I hope they enjoyed mine.
And I can’t thank these two gents enough for their warmth, hospitality, and generosity. Take care, boys, and I hope to see you the next time I’m in Tokyo.
–Dan Ryan, Brisbane, California, July 22nd 2014.
Post script: On my birthday this past January, Shin-san created this digital birthday card and posted it on my Facebook wall, convincing me that he is even more of a big-hearted mensch than I already thought he was…
(Photographs taken at Marui Annex and 82 Ale House, Shinjuku, Tokyo in October, 2013)
I’m a huge fan of the Tokyo-based toy and graphic design collective Devilrobots. And because of this, I sometimes post pictures of items from my Devilrobots collection on Facebook. What follows is a collection of my favorite Devilrobots Facebook photos. Perhaps after looking through them you might understand why I love the color, attitude, and anthropomorphic whimsy of their creations. Enjoy…
Promotional buttons for various characters and events.
Be@rbricks, also by Medicom. First two are Series 3.
Hellcatz character lidded mug, and an Egg To-fu rubber eraser.
Secret figure from the To-fu Oyako Koke x Kake Mascot gashapon series.
To-fu Oyako wallpaper on my smartphone.
Navi To-fu and To-fu Japan Medicom kubricks.
Ice to-fu magnet figure (clinging to a “Blade Runner” movie badge.)
Less-than-happy To-Fu Oyako Santa plush toy.
(All pictures taken in Brisbane, California)
My friends took me to lunch today. We went to my favorite noodle and donburi shop…
The green tea was beautiful. I wanted to get in it like it was a hot onsen bath…
My favorite lunch is oyakodon. I had a giant bowl all to myself. I was very hungry…
After lunch, my friends went shopping. I went to see an old friend…
In Japantown, there is a beautiful concrete pagoda. We went to see it. The sky was very blue…
To help save forests, I read news online. This newspaper machine was a strange sight to me…
I am very green, so I picked up trash on the way home. San Francisco can be very dirty…
But I am relaxed now and home with my friends. We do yoga. It was a good day.
I am midway between 48 and 49 and still enchanted with and charmed by toys. I suppose in a perfect world I would be over my love of toys by now. But I don’t want to live in that world.
Happiness is where you find it, even it it’s in a bit of plastic or vinyl molded to look like a non-existent creature. And when it comes to such toys, my greatest admiration is for the weird, whimsical and very Japanese toys designed by my personal heroes, the Devilrobots.
I just love their stuff. I have quite a bit of it here at the house, though modesty forbids posting pictures lest it be considered a vulgar display. I’ve been a fan for about 10 years, but Devilrobots have been around since 1997. I can’t quite remember exactly how I stumbled upon the toys and trinkets they design. But I do remember making a conscious effort to meet up with my heroes when I was in Tokyo in April and part of May this year. And, lucky me, on May 3rd, 2012 I got to travel to Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward and have a look inside the creative world of a small group of geniuses.
And I’d like to share that world with you. So have a look, and enjoy.
My host, Kotohiro Nishiyama, is really just the nicest man. That’s him in the picture below. Due to scheduling conflicts, Koto-san was the only team member who was able to meet me and let me look around Devilrobots’ headquarters. And he didn’t just meet me at the office like anyone else might have. He met me in the rain at Kagurazaka Station on the Tōzai Line and guided me to the Devilrobots’ building near Edogawabashi. He was such a gentleman, letting me wander around as I wished while he did some work in his office. And at one point we sat for a good spell at the Devilrobots’ coffee table (pictured later) and had some cigarettes and talked of toys and the time we both spent in Minnesota and some silly things I don’t exactly recall. His company was delightful and his hospitality was wonderfully generous. And he’d never even met me before.
After meeting Koto-san, well I went a little nuts and took pictures of almost everything I saw. And it started with this To-fu Oyako display right outside the Devilrobots’ front entrance.
Detail from the previous photo.
A beautiful assortment of wonderful characters greets you when you enter Devilrobots.
The reception area and lounge. No receptionist nor sign-in book here.
Marshmallow princess Maffy, my wife’s favorite character. This is to the right as you enter the Devilrobots’ front door.
The fully-loaded shelves of toys in the Devilrobots’ lounge will blow your mind.
And on the floor, there are Japanese-style To-fu Oyako slot machines.
Devilrobots have designed a whole menagerie of vinyl creatures and characters. The pink figure in the center is a To-fu Oyako x Gloomy Bear mashup.
A crazy-wonderful Devilrobots version of Mickey Mouse.
The entrance foyer, because I forgot to show this previously. Sorry. I got distracted.
The Devilrobots’ Jedi coffee and meeting table.
Just a trinket on the table which Koto-san showed me.
A prototype for the new To-fu Oyako color vinyl figure series.
To-fu vinyl and ice water await patiently for attention and consumption.
The two great Devilrobots characters, To-fu Oyako and Evirob, in vinyl on the table.
Koto-san and I, we had a few cigarettes together when I took a couple of breaks from taking pictures.
Koto-san looks a little like a Japanese Abraham Lincoln.
And except for the unhappy expression, this hirsute to-fu sculpture kind of looks like Koto-san.
To-fu Oyako happy figure madness.
To-fu Oyako “Toy Story” UFO catcher alien.
Devilrobot’s Medicom Toy 100% Be@rbricks. These are kind of rare. I’m lucky to have all three (the first one is the same as the third, but showing the back of the head.)
There is whimsy at every turn where the Devilrobots live.
In a snow globe of his own, lonely Kiiro-chan.
400% be@rbricks and other figures. Does the one on the left look familiar?
A prestigious award that lead designer Shinichiro Kitai won with his To-fu Oyako character in a design competition before founding Devilrobots in 1997. I would have met Shin-san but for the scheduling conflicts, both his and mine but mostly mine, mentioned earlier. I regret this missed opportunity, but I hope to compensate by meeting Shin-san the next time I’m in Tokyo.
Well, that’s it.
I shot a hell of a lot more photos than the ones you’ve just seen. But even the internet can only hold so much data. So I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour and commentary about my wonderful time visiting the Devilrobots.
(And Koto-san, from me to you I say thanks. Meeting up with you that afternoon in Shinjuku was one of the happiest experiences I’ve had in Japan.)
It seems nice today.
My friends. We have been cold.
We tire of the winter.
Where does the warm come from? We are not sure.
Then we look.
And we decide.
*Author’s note—Devilrobots is a Tokyo graphic- and toy-design team that created the figures pictured, which are part of their very large “To-Fu Oyako” set of products. I discovered Devilrobots’ work back in 2002 while looking for some Star Trek thing on eBay that was totally unrelated. The whimsical anthropomorphism of their to-fu designs hooked me immediately, and caused me to seek out not only more of their work and merchandise, but also to delve deeper into the wonderful world of modern Japanese toys and graphic design. Yup, it was one of those life-changing discoveries, for which I am very grateful. To Shin, Yoshizo and all of the Devilrobots I say: Thanks, guys.
Quite often the thing you need to do….
….is the last thing you usually consider.
And that is: Always watch out for the toys.