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Retail

Store Check: Kino’s (a.k.a. Blind Box Heaven)

By: Karina Masolova

I visited another bookstore for our store check feature, and this time, it’s a specialty Japanese retailer in midtown Manhattan. The chain bookstore has 12 locations in the U.S., including two recently opened shops in Texas.

The fastest-growing region in the U.S. for interest in Japanese-origin properties is the Midwest, and the strongest demand for the stuff isn’t on the coasts anymore. According to TLL sources, mass merchants like Walmart are increasingly stocking languishing DVD aisles with anime properties, whose sales are up. One point of difference between Japan-born anime and U.S. productions (and this also applies to movies and manga) is the moral tendency among fans to “support the creators” by watching shows through officially licensed channels and buying officially licensed merchandise. This is one consumer base that actually knows what licensing is, thanks to years of education on the part of manufacturers.

Kino’s also enjoys strong among American consumers, who are attracted not only by the Japanese novelties but also by the stock of American comics, books, and the in-store café. The store has website where consumers can order books, but you can ask staff to order certain stock if there’s a figure you want—and there is a lot of staff (okay, that’s a throwback). It’s a different take on retailing that might signal the changes to come as the trend to decrease footage decreases. The shelves are crowded, noisy, and colorful. There are no end cases insomuch as stands littering the floor.

To sum up the reasons I wanted to feature the location:

  1. Japanese-origin properties are back on the rise;
  2. The store has actively engaged in featuring a diverse range of U.S. and European comic book properties on shelves;
  3. Like Barnes & Noble, the bookseller is rapidly expanding its non-book stock—but with a twist. It’s one of the few local bookstores to have an in-store café like B&N, and it also has an upscale accessories store;
  4. Easily a third of floor space is dedicated to novelties like blind boxes of posters, key chains, pins, and miniature figures. The product category grew 12.8% for entertainment/character properties in the U.S./Canada in 2016; and
  5. Full disclosure, I happen to like the store.

I’ll start with the second floor, which is the level dedicated to things that aren’t technically novels or books—American and Japanese comics, art books, and assorted merchandise. This level has anime soundtracks piped in to the speakers and TVs on a constant loop of trailers for movies and TV series.

As background, there are three floor—the basement level has Japanese-language books, the main floor is English-language, and the upper level has all things “nerdy”.

While Vagabond will always be front-and-center to visitor’s viewing experience (the artist drew these murals when the store launched), I was surprised to see standees for new anime series Yuri on Ice. Our Sourcebook features a U.S. licensee that holds the license, but there was no actual merchandise in the store for the show.

When you’re talking about collectible figures, you know you’re going to find Funko. Some of the featured properties include Star Wars; DC Comics superheroes like Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, and the less-knowns (I don’t have enough space to list them all); and video game series like Mass Effect, Fallout, and Gears of War.

But there are also “real” collectible figures, and half of the display case was dedicated to American properties (just two years ago, that wasn’t the case). The Japanese figures included the Fate/Stay series, Gundam, and One Piece. American properties included Silent Hill, DC superheroes, Star Wars, and Disney properties like Frozen and Pixar’s Inside Out.

Gund has a stand featuring non-plush merchandise—but interestingly enough, most of it had nothing to do with the manufacturer.

Gund does have a strong presence with its Pusheen plush, however. There is another, similar, stand on the main level featuring the American-made character.

On the right is the start of your journey into the sheer expanse of blind boxes available. If I have anything to say about the number of blind boxes (most are priced between $8.99 and $10.99, though some premium boxes can go up to $14.99) it’s that I was extremely tempted to buy all of them.

The wall below is dedicated to blind boxes for some lesser-known Japanese series, mostly based from video games (hand-held, desktop, or—most importantly—mobile games). Gintama and Tohou feature here as well. What follows are more examples of the expansive scale of collectible figures, pins, key chains, scrolls, and cards available.

But interestingly enough, there aren’t any for the American series we’ve previously seen. The main floor does feature novelties, but ones that have a vaguely “Japanese kitsch” appeal and don’t necessarily involve licensed merch.

And for those who don’t want to take any chances, there’s a wall of key chains on the way down back to the main level. My favorite is the gudetama x Godzilla pin.

On the lower level (and speaking of Godzilla), the Japanese Blueray for the film Shin Godzilla is out, and there is no want of t-shirts, figures, and posters featuring the giant monster.

In case you’ve been wondering where Hello Kitty has been all this time, no worries. She has a dedicated section for plush, bags, accessories, and stationery. Note that most of the stationery you see below isn’t licensed to her name.

And for the fashionable shopper, there are also Pokémon, Rilakumma, and Hello Kitty purses and pen cases.

Papercraft and miniature novelties (such as the World’s Smallest) get a full display. Licensed papercraft include the Vocaloid series.

And lastly, we’ll end with a book or three (I swear this is a bookstore). These Star Wars English-Japanese dictionaries are tailored to the jedi master, padawan, and jedi knight in your life. Chewbacca has a spread, too (disappointingly, it’s not full with his cries translated into Japanese characters).

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