Hobby Japan’s Experimental Otaku Subculture Magazine Mark 1

Published since 1969 and encompassing a history spanning over 600 issues, Hobby Japan is the largest publication in Japan covering all things model kits. Beyond just covering model kits in print, Hobby Japan’s legacy includes introducing western tabletop RPGs and strategy games to Japan during the 1980s and expanding its brand with multiple spin-off magazines and sub-divisions. For a brief period back in 1985, Hobby Japan experimented in a new kind of all-encompassing mania magazine for all things otaku with a curious little experiment called Mark 1.

Very little information exists online about Mark 1’s three-issue run and it’s regarded as obscure – not the venerated kind of obscure, the forgotten and ignored kind of obscure. In a booklet that listed every issue of Hobby Japan included with the 600th issue of the venerable magazine, Mark 1 was given a brief entry, calling it “ambitious,” but pointing out that it only lasted three issues (August, October, and December 1985). Of course, being a Hobby Japan publication, Mark 1 looked at model kits (particularly gunpla and Zoids) but also covered otaku sub-culture at large including manga, video cartoons, the nascent V-cinema horror movie scene, conventions, interviews, and more. I found all three issues of Mark 1 in the Shibuya Mandarake many years ago; not held in any display case or prominent area of celebration, but unceremoniously stuffed in a bin with a few odds and ends on the floor. Coveted otaku tomes these issues were not.

All three issues of Mark 1, as discovered on the floor of Mandarake. Kamen Rider, Jaspion, gunpla and futuristic cockpits! What else could a maniac circa 1985 want?

Keep in mind that in the early to mid-1980s, Hobby Japan magazine kept media coverage outside the world of model kits to a minimum. At the time it was still heavily focused on military and World War II kits, with sci-fi subject matter such as Gundam, kaiju, and SF3d having slowly worked its way into its pages and vying for dominance. Perhaps Mark 1 was considered an attempt to give the mecha and tokusatsu crowd their own magazine, allowing Hobby Japan to stick to scale models of Luftwaffe aircraft and obscure variations of the Panzerkampfwagen IV.

Reading it today, Mark 1 feels like Hobby Japan was trying to make a bible of all things otaku in the mid-’80s. Encompassing cosplay, airsoft, video games, OVAs, porn OVAs, toys, and idols, Mark 1 even dabbled in areas outside the realm of what is traditionally considered to be “otaku” culture with coverage of topics like jidaigeki dramas and josei manga. Around this same time, there were similar “jack-of-all-trades” publications such as Comc Box Jr. which looked at the emergence of the direct-to-video anime market and gave creators like Hideaki Anno his own column alongside coverage of manga, music, and live-action film.

There’s a throughline in the rise of toyetic sci-fi militarism and chunky mecha. 1985 was the same year Zeta Gundam came out, and Mark 1 (along with most anime-related magazines at this time) were swimming in fan art of Kamille, kits of the Rick Dias, and interviews with Tomino. Set in the far off world of 2008, View of Space by Shoji Kawamori creates a “what-if” scenario where Formula 1 races begin using bipedal transforming mecha. Zoids were also extensively covered in Mark 1. A far cry from the candy-colored shonen protagonists of Zoids New Century, which some of you might remember from Toonami, this era of Zoids went for a gritty military motif. Photo comics depicted CRT monitors picking up footage of Zoids approaching enemy bases and the kits were modified with more bulbous weathered hulls, reminiscent of SF3d. [Probably because Kow Yokoyama was doing cover illustrations for Zoids during this era! -Ed.]

Speaking of SF3d, Mark 1 magazine was published at a time when Hobby Japan was going hog wild with promoting Kow Yokoyama’s world of scratch built kits. Ads for the SF3d tabletop game Operation Faserei and the direct-to-video tokusatsu short film Nutrocker, run alongside interviews with Yokoyama. The Parallel Mechanology column took look at the weaponry and machines used by the Terrestrial Defence Force (TDF) of Ultraman, and pragmatically analyzed how these machines functioned and what they reflected on the TDF’s budget for fighting monsters. Sci-fi nostalgia mingling with hobbyist pragmatism with an obsessive attention to detail.

As I previously mentioned in my article The Book of Otaku Insects, 1985 was a big year for anime fandom and the growing otaku movement. It was the same year the OVA Fight! Iczer One was released and Mark 1 featured a comic by Iczer’s creator and prolific Lemon People contributor Aran Rei, called Toma-Zero full of the kinda sci-fi rigamarole and scintillating nudity you’d expect from him. The magazine also featured interviews with josei manga artists Shigicu Uchida and Eric Sakurazawa. Their presence here is a bit puzzling since their work is considered far removed from the world of mecha anime, military fetishism, and model kits, though Sakurazawa did do a short romance story in Garo that had Dragon Quest as a central motif.

Along with new shows and movies, nostalgia was entering into the pop culture landscapes thanks to people who were children in the ’60s and ’70s now having disposable income, along with being able to relive the past thanks to VHS. Don’t just buy Kamen Rider model kits and tapes, build your own Kamen Rider suit with our thorough guide! New releases on VHS, LD, CD, and more were unrelenting and Mark 1 included lists of hot new records (Culture Club, Stevie Wonder, Shigeru Suzuki), movies on videotape (Liquid Sky, Dawn of the Dead, The Tin Drum), and video games. Jidaigeki even got some coverage with an interview with actor Makoto Fujita and a look at a new model kit based on one of his characters.

Perhaps it was this attempt at covering so much that led to the magazine’s short lifespan. “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long – and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy.” Jack-of-all-trade magazines were not uncommon during Mark 1’s era. Comic Box Jr., which was first published in 1983, took a similar approach, covering the multitude of aspects of the growing otaku subculture, but focused primarily on manga. The first issue of V-Zone in 1985 was one of the closest parallels to Mark 1, albeit on a lower budget, a more prurient focus in content, and even that approach only lasted for a single issue before the magazine turned into a horror magazine. In 1987 Hobby Japan launched Hobby Japan EX, a quarterly offshoot with some similarities to Mark 1, like media coverage beyond the world of model kits. Unlike Mark 1, Hobby Japan EX kept a stronger spotlight on modeling [Particularly garage kits! – Ed.]. There was no shortage of doujinshi and major publications during the mid-1980s, but they all had their particular area of specialty. Mark 1 represented an ambitious attempt to organize and rank the goods associated with subcultures in a pre-internet age.

Mark 1 Gallery

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