The world of collectible art toys can be a daunting place for newcomers. With so many unique creators releasing their work year-round in all corners of the globe, there’s always something new to discover. I first stumbled across the work of the focus of this interview, HAKURO, a few years ago through Instagram, and since that time I’ve been lucky enough to obtain a few of her pieces for my own personal collection. Known by many for her ‘Ocean Exploration Robot DENSHITAKO No. 3‘, she’s created a global fanbase through her brightly colored, cute, simple character designs over the past several years with some variants commanding a higher price in the secondary market due to their limited availability.
We recently had the opportunity to work with her to create a series of Twitch emotes and LINE stickers based on OTAQUEST mascot Ura-chan (with guest appearances from myself and producer ☆Taku Takahashi), and we saw this as a great opportunity to learn more about her, her process, and introduce her to our readers through an interview!
OTAQUEST: Starting off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into illustration?
HAKURO: I live in Kyushu, Japan, and I am an illustrator and a plastic artist (molding artist). As an illustrator, I continually draw female characters with rounded eyebrows. Recently I am focusing on molding (plastic art), and producing a series of vinyl toys called ‘exploration robot’ by Hinomoto Heavy Industries which is an imaginary company I created.
OTAQUEST: You’re known for your DENSHITAKO, DENSHIUSAGI, and DENSHINEKO characters and series of vinyl toys. How did you come up with the idea for them and the whole ‘exploration robot’ concept to their characters?
HAKURO: Originally, I first produced ‘Space Exploration Robot DENSHINEKO No. 54‘ with resin materials instead of vinyl. And when we had very heavy snow in the area where I live, I built a snowman with the theme ‘a robot exploring the planet Earth.’ After that, I created DENSHINEKO under the same theme, and I thought it would be interesting if I could make an exploration robot series that covers sky, land, undersea, and space. That’s where I came up with the idea of the exploration robot series and started creating toys for these characters.
OTAQUEST: Can you tell us a little bit about Hinomoto Heavy Industries?
HAKURO: Actually, I never put much thought into the concept for Hinomoto Heavy Industries (laughs). I just can say that Hinomoto Heavy Industries is an imaginary company that produces exploration robots, and that’s the only thing I planned. So, it’s the company that produces exploration robots to explore from undersea to space. It’s quite a simple concept.
OTAQUEST: How did you get into creating collectible vinyl toys of your characters?
HAKURO: Here in Japan, there are many plastic toy artists who are producing vinyl toys, and I had always wanted to produce one. But it costs a lot because to make vinyl toys we first need to make a mold, so as a result, I couldn’t initially produce vinyl toys, and I produced DENSHINEKO using resin material instead of vinyl. I had the chance to attend Taipei Toy Festival in Taiwan, which is focused on art toys, and most of the works were vinyl toys, which made me realize how much I wanted to make one so I finally decided to produce vinyl toys.
OTAQUEST: What is the process of making vinyl toys?
HAKURO: I make the prototype by myself, but there are artists who ask prototype creators to make one for them. I want to make the prototypes by myself, so I make them with clay. Next, I need to ask factories to work for me because there are so many specialty processes. First, they make a wax mold out of the prototype, then they make a metal mold from that. After that, we put materials (vinyl) into the mold, heat it up, and take it out. All of these processes are usually done by professional factories and we, artists, can’t do it ourselves. What I work on is the design, the production of the prototype, and instructing the factory on the final coloring.
OTAQUEST: I had the chance to meet you in 2019 at DesignerCon in Anaheim, California. Did you ever think when you first started that your toys would give you the opportunity to travel and meet fans around the world? What did you think about DesignerCon as an event?
HAKURO: When I started making vinyl toys, I never expected that I would have the chance to visit events in countries all around the world. In 2019, I attended events in Thailand, Shanghai, America, and Taiwan. But up until then, I only attended domestic events and after I started making vinyl toys I had more chances to visit many foreign events, so it was quite surprising. DesignerCon was my first American event. DENSHITAKO was mainly focused on the Japanese market, and I thought it had no reputation overseas, so I was kind of nervous. But I had a chance to talk to fans who already knew my works and had a chance to see people who saw my works for the first time, which made me very happy. DesignerCon was quite different from the art toy events I used to attend, and there were many different types of artists attending DesignerCon, so it enhanced my creative urge.
OTAQUEST: You’ve had the chance to work with some really respected partners like MEDICOM TOY and KINNIKUMAN in the past. How different is the process of working with a collaborator like that for you versus when you make new items independently?
HAKURO: When I’m making works for myself, I am making what I want and what I like, but not focusing on what other people would like. I just pursue self-satisfaction when I am making my works. When I am working on a collaboration, I try to put their characteristics into works, while balancing them out so I don’t lose my own style. So I put great thought into the design. For me, collaboration is fun and very enjoyable, and I enjoy the process of making design choices.
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OTAQUEST: If you could make it happen, what would your dream collaboration be and what would you like to do?
HAKURO: Since these vinyl toys are exploration robots for land, sea, sky, and space, I would love to collaborate with the companies/organizations which are actually exploring those places. For example, DENSHITAKO is an undersea exploration robot, so I would like to collaborate with an entity like an aquarium or JAMSTEC. And DENSHINEKO explores space, so it would be nice if I could collaborate with JAXA or NASA, and it’s one of my dreams. If possible, it would be great if they could take my vinyl toys to those places, like undersea or space.
OTAQUEST: What kind of projects can we expect to see from you in the future?
HAKURO: Right now, with the situation going on with COVID, I’m not sure if I can participate in events in Japan and overseas even for 2021. But I will be putting all of my energy and focus on creating more of my works. Right now, my main focus for my vinyl toys is in Japan, but I would love to expand to foreign countries in the near future. I can’t talk much about it here, but there are many new wonderful projects going on right now and I am looking forward to announcing them in the near future.
OTAQUEST: Do you have any messages for our readers and your fans in the west?
HAKURO: Thank you very much to everyone who is always supporting me through social media and at events. I really get power and energy through comments/interactions on social media. I am just a Japanese artist and there would be many people who don’t know me, but it would be great if people could discover me and my works through this interview. I will continue putting my energy toward creating more works. Thank you very much!