Prizes are specially designed prizes for the iconic claw crane arcade machines.
What sort of items have you created so far?
I've worked on figures for titles such as 'A Certain Magical Index,' 'Sword Art Online,' and 'Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai,' all published under Kadokawa's 'Dengeki Bunko,' as well as 'Attack on Titan,' published by Kodansha. Lately, for the '
Did you propose the plan yourself?
Yes, I drafted a proposal for poses that I had come up with based on the characters' personalities. I used plain figures to show the poses to the copyright holder, and we received permission to go ahead. These '
Ms. Mori, what would you say is your best-known work?
That would be for the '& y♡u' series, one of SEGA's original brands. The concept is 'stuffed toys that you can take along anywhere, any time.' This series was created from the viewpoint of 'nuitori,' a trend where you take photos of your stuffed toys at cafés, travel destinations and the like for social media. We set out to design stuffed toys that would appeal to people through their ability create a wide variety of unique poses to suit any scene. Each is configured to be able to hang on to things with their hands and feet, sit down, sprawl out and more. Looking forward, I hope to create an even greater variety of '& y♡u' characters, and strongly support them as a SEGA brand. My work scope increased from character creation to brand creation, which certainly kept me busy. I accomplished the series launch together with one other colleague, who had just graduated from university two years prior and was one year my junior at SEGA.
At the time, we didn't have any other staff in their 20's. It makes sense that the company would call upon Mori and her colleague's youthful sensibilities.
How about you, Ms. Marumori?
I work on originally-designed series oriented for young ladies. To develop prize items, it's important to have a firm grasp on current trends. In fact, by the time trends appear on TV, it's already too late. So I always keep up to date on social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, paying particular attention to posts by influencers. About two or three years ago, a particular culture called 'yume-kawaii' became widespread among women in their teens and twenties. Until then, none of our prize products were designed with sufficient awareness of trends among the younger generations. Video arcades are not solely used by boys and men, there are also quite a number of young couples and high school girls. I've always wanted to make prizes that carefully target the younger generation.
The challenge of making products to closely follow trends
When you create new prizes, what sort of things do you keep in mind?
I check social media and visit areas like Harajuku and Takeshita Street. Instead of observing what young people are buying, I instead focus on what sort of things they are wearing or eating. I think that these provide valuable insights into possible products.
In the case of figures, it really depends on whether the anime becomes popular or not.
How can you predict if an anime will be popular or not?
I check how many followers they have on Twitter and how many users are following them from early stages on social media platforms. Nowadays, there are a great number of anime series, and fans are thinly spread among so many choices. This makes popularity hard to predict, but observing where popularity is focused can point us in the right direction. Information is often published about anime works before release, so if you see hundreds of thousands of people following an anime before its release, it's a good indicator of popularity, just like smartphone game releases.
Pre-release followers are certainly a useful piece of data. However, a product generating lots of pre-release buzz doesn't necessarily guarantee a hit. It's quite difficult to judge.
We have had some major success developing products for 'Dengeki Bunko' light novel titles. We were the first to release figures for 'Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni,' which I think really demonstrates an effective anticipation of popularity. Following not only manga and anime, but also reading the original light novel works lets us become deeply versed with the characters, giving us an edge. A thorough knowledge of the works is very important when making figures.
'Love Live' also became a real hit, didn't it?
That started with a proposal from the copyright holder. When our staff visited them for examination of figures for other titles, they asked, 'What do you think of Love Live?' Before long, we had sealed a figure production deal. The series had yet to become well-known, and buyers are always reluctant to work with unknown numbers, which caused a lot of uncertainty. But, the person in charge at the time soon realized that we had a big hit on our hands. We released the figures at the same time that the anime aired. Soon, it was a runaway hit, with products flying off shelves and buyers urgently requesting resupply. For his work on 'Love Live,' that fellow received the 'SEGA President Prize.'
That's quite an accomplishment to have the figures available as soon as the show went on air!
From planning to first sales, it takes about a year. Preparing for trade show exhibits is another hurdle
Could you tell us about the process from merchandise development planning to distribution?
Prize planning begins about a year before the sales launch. These products are manufactured to order, so production commences early. If you try making a prize based on a currently popular character, the popularity may wane by the sales release, so it's important to be aware of trends. After, we propose the product plan to the copyright holder, and once we receive consent for commercial production, we make factory samples and send them to the copyright holder for examination. We will then make adjustments until the final OK is received.
And, four times a year, we hold joint trade shows with other companies, where we receive orders from buyers. After that, we begin production in overseas factories located in countries such as China, which takes two or three months. We send the products to Japan, then deliver them to stores from our warehouses. The products are then loaded into 'claw crane' machines.
At the trade shows, in order to encourage the buyers to purchase, we spare no effort to create an attractive appearance through layout of items, decoration, and the like.
It may be harsh, but products which won't sell are a total waste. Even with an OK from within our company, our trade show performance must also be successful.
However, occasionally an item which was very popular at the trade show fails to receive any orders. In these cases, we go through our colleagues in sales to collect opinions from the buyers, analyze what went wrong, and use this information in our next plan.
How many items is one person in charge of?
There's quite a range, for example, someone might be in charge of four to five items per month, then suddenly have the number double. It takes time and effort.
The amount of effort depends on factors such as the type of product and character, but I would say a single employee will typically handle more than 60 to 100 items per year.
It can be a challenge to deal with the great number of items, and the absolute requirement to have samples ready in time for the trade shows.
What parts of the job can be demanding?
At trade shows, no matter how good a product looks, there's always the very real worry that the buyers won't make a purchase. To give each product the best chance, we personally plan, propose, and arrange printing data for product packaging, brand logos, posters, paper tags, and the like.
A product's packaging effectiveness and appearance are really important, aren't they?
The prizes which we create cannot be bought for money. We have to do what it takes to make arcade visitors take one look at our prize and think, "That's the one I want."
What sort of things do you pay attention to at trade shows?
Compatible product sizes vary depending on the type of 'claw crane' cabinet. Buyers will request certain sizes and shapes, so it's important to incorporate these wishes into our trade show presentations. Also, for products like figures and accessories, we'll plan packaging to include clear sections so the contents are visible.
Understanding the younger market is key to future success
Could you share anything specific that you focus on at work, or anything you find particularly rewarding?
I focus on bringing joy to the end users. I hope that they might think, "Wow, this is something really different", or, "Is the fellow who created this a little crazy?" (in a good way!)
I also hope that, upon taking my prizes into their hands, users will think, "The creator really understands the fans' spirit."
I once spotted a couple gleefully carrying one of the stuffed toys that I had worked on. What a happy moment.
It really establishes an emotional connection to visit video arcades in person and watch users trying to catch my prizes. And of course, it's always rewarding to see that an item I've worked on sells well.
It's quite a feat to catch one of the prizes for a single play of 100 yen, so when I see a small child struggling at a machine, I wish I could just give them one! (Laughter)
Could you tell us what your future goals are, and leave a final message for our readers?
Moving forward, I want to keep taking on new challenges. The fun thing about merchandising work is that you are constantly exposed to new challenges. I work on figures, but I hope to develop more knowledge of stuffed toys and accessories in the future. I've also found that working on apps designed for female players is full of interesting areas - even being male myself. Simply put, in any genre, it's most important to be aware of what the people want.
A stuffed toy or mascot may become a treasured memory for someone. These might be a beloved toy from your childhood, a mascot that you won with a friend, or a keepsake that remains into adulthood. I hope to create truly interesting items that have lifelong meaning to the people who buy them.
One thing that's remained constant over my career is my hope that my work will bring joy to others. I have to keep pushing myself to create new characters and products which people will make an even stronger attachment to. SEGA needs the insight of the younger generation, even more than ever. I hope to work with you to create new prizes.
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