In the days before ‘Cool Japan,’ Tokyo’s otaku diaspora spread out in areas far removed from the current hotspots of Akihabara and Nakano. This is the second in a short series of articles looking at otaku landmarks of years past.
Join the Club
B-Club was Bandai’s two-pronged assault on the wallets of hardcore fans during ’80s and ’90s. Already in deep with big name hits like Mobile Suit Gundam, Bandai positioned B-Club and its eponymous magazine to compete with enthusiast magazines like Dual Magazine (an issue of which I detailed here), which targeted older fans interested in higher end toys and models. The fan market — remember, the word “otaku” was only first used to describe fans in ’83 — was diversifying, and garage kits and direct-to-video OVAs offered new merchandise for fans that were growing up.
First published in 1985, B-Club magazine kicked things off in the midst of the robot boom, which saw companies like Takara and Tatsunoko jostling with Bandai for a market rapidly saturating with robot toys and models. That boom would later bust, and companies like Takara threw in the towel. B-Club (both the magazine and the company) took advantage of the changing market and began pushing OVAs and garage kits to fans.
In addition to publishing their bi-monthly magazine, B-Club also published artbooks and comics based on titles as far ranging as ARTMIC’s OVA output like Bubblegum Crisis and Gall Force, to live-action shows like Sukeban Deka and Kamen Rider. That topical variety also helped the magazine stand out in the late ‘80s, when a glut of glossy magazines were flooding shelves targeting fans willing to throw down on 10,000 yen anime videotapes. B-Club magazine covered anime, sure, but for the first half of its run much of the focus was on scratch-built model kits, original dioramas, or behind-the-scenes features of sci-fi shows and movies like GunHed or the Metal Heroes series. Such was the focus on models, model-like-things, and the creativity behind them that early issues typically included photos of the builders prominently displayed in articles.
But it wasn’t just all magazines and artbooks, because B-Club also produced a variety of resin and soft vinyl kits, which offered higher detail and more obscure subject matter than off-the-shelf plastic kits offered by Bandai, albeit at the cost of complexity and… well, cost. Garage kits weren’t cheap. Not only did they offer stand alone kits based on obscure topics, but B-Club offered upgrade or conversion parts for existing Bandai kits, allowing modelers the chance the build esoteric variations or just increase the detail or accuracy of a regular kit. These conversion parts were typically cast in resin or metal and required advanced skills to really make use of them.
Fandom changes, and by the mid-‘90s, the magazine had turned into a general purpose anime magazine, eventually reaching the point where the model kits were practically an afterthought. Shows like Sailor Moon began to show up on the cover instead of paintings by the likes of Makoto Kobayashi or photos of Yuki Saito. This, in part, reflected B-Club’s more “mainstream” refocusing. They continued to produce garage kits, but they began to focus almost exclusively on big-name titles like Gundam or Sailor Moon.
Both the publish and garage kit arms of B-Club were shut down in the late ’90s, with the last issue of B-Club magazine published in 1998. Much of the magazine’s staff headed over to Dengeki Hobby, a model magazine that was published until 2015.
When you’ve got enough merchandise, you’re going to want to show it off somewhere. The B-Club Shop, located in Shibuya and operated in conjunction with model kit retailer Yellow Submarine (which already had a location in Shinjuku), was exactly that. Opened in January, 1989, the B-Club Shop was used for release events, signings, and general retail purposes. In late ’89 it hosted the ARTMIC Fair, which offered fans the chance to meet creators and voice actors during Golden Week. At some point during the next few years the shop moved around the corner, where it seems to have stayed until it closed down sometime in 1997.
The original location, located directly across the street from the NHK complex, has been torn down and built over. The B-Club Shop’s second location is still standing, though it now hosts a reggae bar and Korean BBQ restaurant instead of garage kits and nerd books.
Locating it via old maps published in the back of the magazine presented an interesting challenge, as Japan’s unique address structure typically demands that directions to shops rely on landmarks and easily identifiable businesses rather than street names. This makes using old maps a bit difficult, as businesses have a tendency of shutting down or changing locations after a few decades. Luckily, it turns out that despite the no-doubt skyrocketing property values in Shibuya over the last few decades, McDonald’s, Tokyu Hands, and NHK have stayed put.
A Look Inside
So what did it that second B-Club Shop location look like inside? B-Club magazine regularly published announcements about new merchandise at the store, but in issue #73 they published a diagram of the shop’s layout. This gives us a small glimpse of that the shop looked like inside circa 1991.
So what did the B-Club Shop offer? From the looks of it, just about everything you’d expect: VHS tapes, laserdiscs, CDs, model kits, books, gashapon, stuffed animals, and of course, B-Club garage kits.