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Banned-ai in the USA: Star Wars Model Kits

IMG_1429 (1024x655)What does the prohibition, Jeff Goldblum’s Jurassic Park character, and Bandai’s Star Wars model kits have in common? We’ll get to that in a little bit. But first, let’s take a look at the rather unexpected problem that has arisen.

As of right now, there is no official way for US and European customers to purchase the 1/12th scale Star Wars model kits from Bandai Japan. These are import kits, which means they have been available through sites like Amiami.com, HLJ.com and other prime import spots. BBTS and Amazon could usually be counted on to sell them as well, but at a steeper cost. But Disney — owner of Star Wars — has clamped down on all of that. Sites have been stripped of their kits. HLJ recently liquidated all that it had and has officially released a statement saying they will no longer be selling the model kits after the cut-off date of September 20:

Bandai’s Star Wars kits will need to be removed from HLJ.com as of September 20. Items that have been paid for are not affected, and preorders will also be honored, so if you’d like to order any, now is the time!

This doesn’t just affect the figure kits. The vehicle kits that were accruing a large audience have also been pulled. While the finger has been pointed at Revell — who also manufactures vehicle models for the Star Wars license — as being behind this banning, a statement from the Revell company says otherwise:

We are massively confronted with the accusation that Revell invited Disney as licensor of the Star Wars license to prohibit Bandai selling Star Wars licensed products outside of Japan. This claim is plain wrong because we haven’t and won’t at no time take influence to the business matters of other manufacturers!
The truth is rather that each licensee, whether Revell or Bandai, is only be entitled to sell its licensed products under its own license contract and the countries agreed upon. These license contracts are concluded solely between the licensor Disney and the various licensees. We as Revell GmbH therefore aren’t allowed to sell our Star Wars products in Japan. On the other hand it is not possible for Bandai to sell its Star Wars products in the US and Europe, if these regions are not part of the contract.
Apart from that, we are convinced that a license like Star Wars lives from the wide variety of products and thus inspires young and old. Therefore we see the model kits of the company Bandai not as competition but as a supplement on the market for Star Wars model kits.

So it seems as if Disney has used a legal right to restrict the sales of conflicting merchandise. We who have bought model kits from import stores have been operating under either ignorance on the part of the companies, or some random loophole, which was now been closed.

I’m not a lawyer. I’m just an action figure collector. So the legalities behind all of this ends up being meaningless to me. What I am is an adult action figure collector. And I’m an adult action figure collector that chafes at the often-used designation of “adult collector,” because it seems to imply a status that elevates one purveyor of toys over another. The assumption is that it separates those who “play” with their toys and those who “pose” their toys, that the aesthetics of just a kid who plays with toys is somehow less than the sophisticated “adult collector” who is able to appreciate toys on some higher level.

I don’t self-identify as an “adult collector” because I don’t like the implication, and my inner child doesn’t like it either. I’m a toy collector. Period. Mainly a collector of articulated action figures that tickle my fancy. I’m also a Star Wars fan who is currently loving this absolute deluge of Star Wars action figures that are, or hover around, my preferred scale, which is 1/12th. And I don’t make distinctions between a toy that comes ready-made and prepackaged or one that I snip from sprues and pop together. In fact, there is something both primal and technologically thrilling about pulling a jagged tangle of random plastic parts together into a recognizable plastic interpretation of a character from one of my favorite franchises. In short, I may be an adult who collects toys, but in today’s psycho-crazy world there’s nothing that makes me feel like a kid again more than hovering over a some clipped parts and seeing how they fit together.

And that’s why this entire maneuver is wrong-headed on Disney’s part.

Fans are built in a variety of different ways. Some are weened on the source material. Some come to a property solely because of the toys and reverse engineer a love of the property based on the merchandise itself. And some — heresy, I know — are literally only fans of the process of creation and what comes out the other end. But I like to think that a fan who is curious will spread their interests. This isn’t just about adults. This is about kids who want to have that thrill of putting together a model that also happens to be a toy. That kid won’t just stop with model kits. He’ll move on to action figures and then that will spread to other arenas. Disney’s enforcing a legality is not just taking some model kits out of some adult hands, but it’s strangling an entire generation of brand new enthusiasts.

You take a kid who might not be the most mechanical-minded of people. You put a model kit in front of him with the promise of putting together an action figure of his very own at just the right age, and his head will rewire itself and rise to the challenge.

You take a kid who may not be the most patient of kids. Maybe he has a temper, or he gets frustrated easily. Nothing teaches patience more than a model kit with the promise of a toy at the end.

That kid will want to build more models. But the model kits come out slowly, he’s going to want to fill out this little world. He’s going to want more toys. Hasbro makes toys that go perfectly with those kits, and there’s no doubt he’ll buy what he just made in regular action figure form to supplement his collection. Now the kid’s not only in love with toys, not only grown a bit, but is also intensely interested in the property.

But instead of all of this, a faceless corporation is deciding that kids, adults, enthusiasts, and collectors can’t build a model. They are literally keeping toys from the hands of those who want them.

It’s legal. It’s business. It’s terribly “adult.” And it just feels wrong.

It would be very simple to just gnash my teeth and rant and rave about a multi-billion dollar company not letting me have a little fun. But while this is about me — everything that somebody is passionate about is about them in some way large or small — it’s more about what it represents. It represents a company deciding that a large group of people, both young and young-at-heart, are not allowed the hassle-free purchase of an action figure model kit — a company whose bedrock was formed by animation.

When it comes down to the basics, yes, this is quite possibly the most frivolous problem a person can have, and I’ll just have to deal with it, move on and find other avenues of getting these items, probably at inflated prices. That’s where that prohibition thing comes in. Despite a national ban on alcohol, people still found ways to get stupid drunk any and every time they wanted; they just paid a little more and went through a little more trouble. While I doubt model kit speakeasies will be popping up nationwide, people are still going to find ways to get their kits. Because like Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park said: life finds a way.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. Toys — from model kits and action figures to anything else you think of when you think “toy” — shouldn’t be kept from people that want to buy them. There’s no sense in it, no reason for it, and there’s no possible good that can come from it.

When you write about toys, you end up writing mostly for yourself, but sometimes you want to echo your fellow collector’s thoughts as best as you can. Leave a comment and let your voice be heard if you find this entire scenario as wrong as I do. Maybe someone is listening.

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