Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Designer Toys 101: What is the difference between Sofubi and Western Vinyl?

If you are new to this column, it is truly meant to be read from the beginning to the most recent.
Please start with the first installment, "What are Designer Toys?"

It has been asked of me what the difference is between sofubi and Western vinyl, for which I think a good place to start is identifying what each one is. Sofubi is the Japanese word for "vinyl," but it has come to indicate — within the Designer Toy world — the high-quality, soft vinyl that is cast in Japan; and it has likewise come to be used to be used as a catchall term for Japanese vinyl releases, whether they are kaiju or not. Western vinyl is typically produced in China (strange, right?) and is the most common kind used by Western companies.

But is there an actual difference between them, beside one being made exclusively in Japan. Yes, there is. In what will seem like a brief digression, I'm going to talk about bagels now. If you are a bagel fan, then you surely know that the best bagels in the World are made in New York City; something specific to the process and conditions available there allow bagels to be made like nowhere else (purportedly). And sofubi is like the bagel: it is vinyl, but something specific in the process and conditions of making it in Japan are unique.

While sofubi is a soft vinyl, it retains it's shape like some strange memory foam… once it has been cast, you can bend and push it into deformed states but it springs back (though if you heat it and bend it then it will hold the new shape you assign). But possibly the greatest asset of sofubi is the quality.

You've perhaps heard of (or experienced) Western vinyl releases oozing some mystery liquid after a length duration; this is the chemicals used in the casting beginning to break down. It doesn't always happen and it's not harmful to the Designer Toy (at least that I've heard of), but it is less than desirable. Sofubi will, in all likelihood, outlast you before a similar event occurs.

That's truly the main differences that the common person has to be aware of. So, yes, it is a different quality of vinyl and not just some strange "Japan is better" mentality.

Next Week: What is the legality of resin casting a Designer Toy?