In the 1980s, the line between model shop and garage kit manufacturer blurred so much as to be almost indistinguishable. In the era of up-and-coming kit creators, most got their start as dedicated shops before branching out into creating their own resin, soft vinyl, and vacuum-formed kits. Some of these companies succeeded on the quality of their kits and the licenses they managed to secure, but most faded into obscurity only to live on in the back pages of old issues of Hobby Japan. Some shops wouldn’t survive but still managed to leave their mark in other ways, like a shop in Osaka called Musasiya that briefly employed a young artist named Kenichi Sonoda.
At the time, Sonoda was a high school student with an obvious talent for illustration. He was also the chairman of his manga circle, VTOL. In a recent interview with Hobby Japan Vintage1, he explained that his circle produced doujinshi but that they weren’t the type to focus on parodying anime, instead they were serious artists with original stories that wanted to become professional manga artists. As chairman of the circle, he was tasked with a number of administrative responsibilities like collecting membership fees, assembling manuscripts, and overseeing the actual publication of their comics.
In addition to juggling his studies and manga circle responsibilities, he started a side gig illustrating advertisements for a model kit shop named Musashiya (which, amusingly, used the slogan “Hobbies & Somethin’ Special” in most of its advertisements) and developed a mascot named “Lumroid.” Clearly influenced by Rumiko Takahashi’s Lum of Urusei Yatsura, Lumroid also drew inspiration from some less obvious designs, like Scanny of Technopolice 21C.2 The design itself was very much of the era, as cute girls and robots were being combined in parody, as seen in Pretty Metal U-Gaim. A stroll through any garage kit show at the time would turn up a number of robot/girl mashups based on contemporary series like L-Gaim or Layzner. Bandai event got into the act themselves with a series of models based on Gundam and Macross they called “Armored Lady.”3
Sonoda’s illustration work with Musashiya wasn’t just limited to advertisements, as he also worked on art for kits like one based on Kyoko Otononashi from Maison Ikkoku. But his advertisement work and Lumroid herself proved to be a hit, so Musashiya quickly moved to capitalize in an era of nascent character goods. In a relatively short period of time, they released a series of foil stickers, art books, and of course, garage kits based on their mascot character. Out of all of these, the aptly titled “Lumroid Book” is the easiest to find and the most comprehensive. Published in 1985, it serves as a collection of everything Musasiya and Sonoda did with Lumroid, including reproduced advertisements, pages from the settei collections4, images of all the stickers sold, and photos of the garage kits.
Juggling the manga circle and design duties meant that Sonoda, by his own admission, didn’t have the time for entrance exams. Instead, he enrolled in a design college where he’d go on to study alongside Rey Yumeno and Tony Takezaki, two future collaborators at ARTMIC. School didn’t seem to stick, however, and after offers from ARTMIC and the opportunity to work on Royal Space Force, Sonoda moved to Tokyo. Recruited by Masayoshi Kubota to work on ARTMIC’s Gall Force Star Front photo novel, Sonoda was once again working on garage kits thanks to the studio’s partnership with Hobby Shop Lark which produced kits under the Monocraft name based on ARTMIC characters. Hobby Shop Lark’s garage kit business was eventually spun off into its own operation and is now known as Wave Co. Ltd.
In an era when garage kit packaging was just starting to come into its own and often featured the simplest of labels, Sonoda’s work elevated the kits he worked on with his trademark style. While it wouldn’t last, his work creating advertisements for Musashiya helped the shop stand out in the crowded pages of Hobby Japan where most shops advertised with little more than a logo and some photos. Musashiya continued operation long after Sonoda’s departure, continuing to release garage kits from series as diverse as Evangelion, Macross II, Ranma 1/2, and Love Hina.
- Specifically, Hobby Japan Vintage Vol. 8, the latest issue with a heavy focus on ARTMIC-related models and interviews.
- In the aforementioned Hobby Japan Vintage interview, Sonoda mentions that the “realistic” joints of Scanny served as an inspiration.
- While Bandai’s series only lasted three models (two from Zeta Gundam and one from Macross), a prototype was apparently developed to continue the series with a design based on Layzner.
- Musasiya released at least two booklets of settei artwork, basically photocopied and stapled pages of Sonoda’s lineart.