The tumblr of misfit toys
When you love something, and I mean really love something, it can become a huge part of your life before you even know it. I’ve got far too many Goku figures on my desk, to the point that I’m scared to move my goddamn elbows. My sister has a whole Tumblr blog that is dedicating to male-presenting nipples. My friends write fanfiction.
My point is this: we’ve all got our ways of expressing our love for our favorite media. And Ugly DBZ Merch, a fan-blog on Tumblr dedicated to—as the name suggests—showcasing ugly Dragon Ball Z merchandise, has got to be one of my favorite examples.
“Growing up, I really wanted a lot of the Dragon Ball Z toys I’d see in the toy stores, but I couldn’t afford them,” the administrator of the blog, who wished to remain anonymous. “As an adult with a job who still enjoyed Dragon Ball it occurred to me that I could finally buy some of the toys I had wanted in the past. I started checking eBay obsessively. It was then that I realized, in the eyes of an adult collector, that a lot of them were downright funny looking. After laughing at literally dozens of them I realized they needed to be shared with the world, and this blog was born.”
The most egregious, but also most amusing pieces of offbrand merch on the blog are those that have literally nothing to do with the Dragon Ball franchise. UDM gives the example of a figure of Goku—a character who is a living god—packaged with a gun.
“I can only imagine the folks who signed off on it saying something like ‘kids like accessories. Give them accessories,’ without bothering to research what would actually make sense.”
Bootleg toys aren’t just a joke, of course. For some, these kinds of toys were the closest they could get to official anime merchandise as children. As a result, they hold a kind of nostalgic value—even if they look nothing like the characters we watched onscreen. And in some locales, they’re still the most readily available anime toys.
“Where I live, it seems like every mall has a weird, little anime shop that sells bootlegs,” UDM says. “So, I know they’re also important for small businesses.”
Nonetheless, UDM also acknowledges that this kind of merchandise is morally complicated—buying it rewards its unscrupulous manufacturers and doesn’t support the show it’s based on. And so, they say, “As much as I love making jokes about these online, I can’t really condone purchasing them new from the factory.”
But there are more than enough knockoffs floating around little shops, eBay, and secondhand stores to fuel the “so bad it’s good” focus of the blog. And sometimes, they are truly works of art that would never have existed were it not for some manufacturer high on enterprise and low on ethics.
Just look at this figure of Dragon Ball character Raditz, who as the result of a painting error, appears to be wearing no underwear—the beautiful garbage of capitalism. How could you resist?
There’s clearly something captivating about these misfit toys, but what? Do we just love laughing at them? Do they remind us, bittersweetly, of the shoddy playthings of our childhoods? Or is there something deeper at work?
Maybe in a haphazardly assembled Saiyan warrior we see the face of the absurd. Maybe we see the endless piles of plastic garbage our species cranks out every day, given meaning in its long lifespan only briefly by its tenuous resemblance to characters from a popular cartoon or comic. Or maybe we see ourselves, and the ways we imitate but inevitably fail to measure up to our onscreen heroes.
Only one thing’s for sure: we definitely see its butt.