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November 22, 2005

Crossing the Rubicon: Buying vinyl mecha at Kimono My House

Filed under: Toy News — Rumble Crew @ 7:20 pm

I’ve long suspected that Kimono My House somehow existed outside of space and time. Now I’m sure. The first time I visited this legendary San Francisco area toy shop was in 1994. I can’t recall exactly what brought me there, perhaps an ad in a campus paper, maybe a yellow pages listing. Yet I distinctly remember the feeling of walking across KMH’s rooftop “lobby” and stepping through that door into my childhood. There, all around me, were the very same brightly colored boxes that had burned into my memory in the late 70s and early 80s. It felt like being welcomed home after a decade away.

I often thought of returning to KMH in the intervening years, but never found the time. In September, I had the good fortune of being able to attend the “Super #1 Robot” book signing in San Francisco. (If you haven’t picked up this masterpiece by Messrs. Brisko, Alt and Duban, please stop reading and go buy it right now – I’ll wait.) It was a perfect opportunity to finally revisit KMH. Intrepid TBDX regulars Roger and Corey were also up for the trip, and together we took the excellent Emeryville public transportation back to that rooftop.

KMH looked almost exactly as I remembered it. Sure, there was a giant Ultraman outside now, but the faded Gaiking jumbo who welcomed me inside in 1994 was still working the door. Inside, the same Godaikins, Gundams and Godzillas were stacked to the rafters. With unerring instinct, Roger immediately found every eraser toy in the store. Corey happily inspected the diecast case. I found myself drawn to a group of mecha toys that looked like they were shelved, new, in the 1980s. And not just mecha: vinyl mecha.

Now, I’m all for vinyl in a jumbo machinder or the “Fierce Legends of Super Robots” line. The soft material meshes well with the smooth curves of the classic super robot designs of the 70s. But for the hard-edged real robots and mecha of the 80s, I’d always thought diecast metal and tough plastic were essential. Not for the first time, I was wrong. The vinyl mechs I saw on the KMH shelves had the essential character of the animated robots they represented, along with that inestimable “funk” found in the diecast toys of the same era. I did not even try to resist.

I picked up a large Mark II from Zeta Gundam, and a trio from Macross: two Destroids and a VF-1J Battroid. The Mark II is really something, capturing all the details of the Gundam’s complex geometry without seeming too busy or “detail-up.” It’s my favorite of the squad, but the Macross mechs are great fun, too. The VF-1J has all the right elements from the anime Battroid, down to the boxing-glove fists and an impossibly anthropomorphic form for a transformed aircraft. Despite their diminutive size, the Destroids also look bulky enough to take on giant aliens mano-a-mano.

These vinyl mechs are now proudly displayed in my previously diecast-only cabinet, and the surrounding toys look all the better for it. If you haven’t tried adding a little vinyl to your diet, may I suggest the variety might help your disposition? And with the extra enthusiasm you’ll soon have, make sure to check out Kimono My House next time you’re in San Francisco. It’s well worth the trip, and you might even discover something new from your childhood.

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