Artwork by Takami Akai, from Puppeteer Vol. 1 No. 1 (June 1982)
Japan’s first sci-fi specialty shop opened to long lines of eager customers on Valentine’s Day, 1982. General Products was a calculated response by future GAINAX producer Toshio Okada to the popularity of the dealer’s room at Daicon III and the success of a deficit relief committee formed after that same convention to pay off debts by offering 8mm film reels of the convention’s opening animation to fans. By working with established artists like Hideo Azuma and Kazutaka Miyatake and securing licensing from Toho and Tsuburaya, General Products lead the way on cashing in on the as-of-yet-unnamed first wave otaku with a mixture of imported merchandise, character goods, and garage kits.
Named for a company in Larry Niven’s novel Ringworld, General Products wares mixed western sci-fi like ALIEN and Gerry Anderson’s UFO with Japanese anime and manga. Much of the merchandise they sold was licensed and produced in-house, with Godzilla and Star Trek goods sharing shelf space with original merchandise based on characters from the Daicon III Opening Animation or original designs by Azuma and Miyatake. Hobby shops offering garage kits catering to this new type of fan weren’t new, but the particular melange offered by General Products was something new and foreshadowed a trend of otaku-focused retail that would develop throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.
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By the time employees had arrived on opening day, a queue had formed and the first day of business saw around 200 people pass through the cramped shop. Unfortunately, many of these would-be customers left empty-handed, as the shelves were quickly picked clean. As a result, General Products employees worked through the night to ensure that they’d have more products to sell the next day. Another hundred customers showed up on the second day of business.
For nearly two years General Products operated as part of Okada’s family business, Okada Embroidering, until it was incorporated alongside GAINAX on Christmas Eve in 1984. Bandai had agreed to fund an animated film to the tune of 800 million yen to be produced by former Daicon staff, and so General Products registered a new production company to facilitate the production of what would become Royal Space Force Honneamise (1987). Okada became president of GAINAX, Inc. while Yasuhiro Takeda became president of General Products, Inc.
Why wasn’t General Products just incorporated as the production company for the new film? According to Takeda, “We didn’t make General Products the production company from the start because we still intended to disband the bridge corporation GAINAX as soon as the film production was complete. It wasn’t our intention to found a new company.” While General Products shut down in early 1992, GAINAX is still in business today. A sequel to Royal Space Force has been in development hell for the last three decades.
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