[Alen Yen's ToyboxDX]

  January 4, 2001

p  a  h  n  d  a  h
Dappy & Yarren

h a r d   m o t h e r
It's rather posh for a panda. What is there to say? You might be wondering what this little guy is all about. After all, a new, official Chogokin toy is pretty good news. What anime series is he from? What does he do? What's his name? How many gimmicks does he have?

His name is Mecha Chogokin Panda-kun. He does not exist in the world of Japanese animation or science fiction. And he does nothing. Well, almost nothing. He is, in fact, the official toy of the Aranzi Aronzo boutique. A company whose motto is: "cute, strange, cool, silly, a little bit horrible, stupid and comfortable ARANZI ARONZO".

Why on earth would Bandai license and produce an unnumbered chogokin toy to promote a chain of three boutiques based in Osaka? Because it's cute. And very Japanese. "Sanrio-gokin" ... that's what I call it.

Mecha Panda slides out of his box in a tray of black, perfumed soft-styrofoam like a new Rolex. You face a minor crisis trying to pry him from his package without damaging the paint. The instructions are a mere sliver of paper -- and even that is excessive. Panda, you see, requires no explanation. He simply stares thru slitted eyes, and you understand.

The only assembly required is to equip Panda with his two gimmicks: his detaching arms and his clock. Yes, his arms detach. That's a feature. He is, after all, a clumsy panda. A small, analog clock is inserted behind the door in his chest. That's so you can keep track of your time spent pondering the enigma of the chogokin world's equivalent of a plushie.

At some point, we've all used the term "brick" to describe a toy. It's now time to upgrade your tools of derision -- for nothing is more brick-like than Panda's perfectly rectangular and un-articulated arms and legs. Of course, Panda offers some poseability ... his head swivels, his arms and legs move at the body. He seems to move only to find new opportunities to fall over. But that's his charm.

Heavy. Diecast. Well constructed. Un-mistakably Chogokin. Yet, Panda comes with an alarming sense of pity for the misguided souls of his designers ... people who, in truth, are damn clever and knew exactly what they are doing. That is the sign of insane genius.

s o f t   m o t h e r

Mecha Panda-kun is an ingenious marriage of dichotomies. Conceived by two independant female designers, but manufactured by conservative, predominantly male company, this objet d'art manages to blur the lines between utility and whimsy. It is a functional timepiece. It is a silly toy. In its promotional material, Panda-kun is described as "weaker than sake or a woman," [sic] yet it is constructed of "super alloy"-- Dr. Kabuto's mysterious, indestructable metal. Brillant... and inane.

Observe the brillant fusion of soft and hard forms in its design: the glossy black spheres against smooth white planes, the stylized, cursive "Aronzi Aronzo" atop the hard sans-serif copyright text (yes, it wears its Sino-Japanese dualism proudly). This meeting of visual extremes adheres to the very root of traditional Japanese design. Hokusai Katsushika (1760-1849) framed the roiling curves of his "Great Wave Off Kanagawa" in a strict rectilinear form. Rectangular sashimi slabs should be placed in a circular container. Maki rolls should be arranged on a rectangular platter.

Yet to pigeon-hole Panda-kun to strict Japanese aesthetics would be foolhardy. Its uncluttered geometry and industrial elements also hearken back to early western modernism and mid-twentieth century pure abstraction. However, its nuanced self-referrential nature (it cheekily plays homage, but does not simply mimic a previous toy form) clearly smacks of post-modernism. And like the latter movement, Panda rejects dogma. It obviously has nothing to say, yet its qualities can be expounded on infintely. Thus it passively (to further explain its zen-nature would be fruitless) encourages multiple viewpoints and dialectic.

That postmodern manipulation of idealogical perspective is amplified further in Mecha Panda's gaping maw. The "mirror-mouth," which at first seems to be a design afterthought, belies a more subversive function. The viewer is reflected within it and becomes nothing more than the illusion of a Panda chewtoy. He or she is now the toy's plaything, reduced to an object of an object. Mecha Panda mockingly shatters that barrier dividing owner and plaything, observer and object.

In one bold move, Bandai and Aranzi Aronzo have elevated the toy medium into art. And not just any banal "art." Mecha Panda-kun can not be codified, can not be categorized within a single artistic movement. It straddles the traditional, the modern, the postmodern, even the nihilistic and unifies them into a glorious new form, a "totalism" if you will. Something pure... something perfect... something panda.

Panda sourced by EastEnd*Yuri on eBay.


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