Photos by Mark Alamares
Where do you go if you want classic horror manga, toys going as far back as the 1950s, 1970s idol photo albums, and some doujinshi that was just published the other day? Mandarake! Japan’s largest second hand retailer of manga and anime goods, Mandarake has a multitude of shops in Japan, from the shores of Fukuoka to the icy tip of Sapporo. Though to simply call it a retailer of “anime goods” would undersell its vast selection and variety of products. Mandarake is virtually unparalleled in its selection, but it had humble beginnings.
For many, visiting Mandarake in Nakano Broadway can be a pilgrimage.
While Mandarake is considered an “otaku” hub, it originates from a time before that term was even coined. The year is 1980. The term otaku had not been invented yet, and anime fandom as we know it was virtually in its infancy as Space Battleship Yamato was launching the SF (science fiction) boom, and the Mobile Suit Gundam movie was still about a year away. Meanwhile in the world of manga, the anthology Garo had been running since the 1960s, and leading the forefront of the gritty gekiga manga scene with the likes of Sanpei Shirato, and Yoshiharu Tsuge. For those of you that don’t know, Garo was a comic anthology magazine, not entirely dissimilar to America’s Zap Comix, but substitute drug fueled bacchanalia with post-war Japanese ennui and student protests. One of Garo’s contributors was Masuzo Furukawa. Furukawa’s comic work features whimsical and cartoonish and cartoonish characters similar to Tezuka, but drawn with stylish moody backgrounds that puts him on the same page as his gekiga contemporaries. Furukawa went on to join Shigeru Mizuki’s (Gegege no Kitaro) studio as an assistant artist, but in 1980 Furukawa was in need of supplemental income. It was in Nakano that he opened a tiny used manga store that went on to become Mandarake. Over the years the location grew in popularity and size, and Furukawa has gone on to become the President of Mandarake, even making appearances on TV as an appraiser for 開運!なんでも鑑定団 (Good Luck! We Appraise Anything!), a popular show not unlike Antiques Roadshow.
So rapid was Mandarake's growth that it looked to expand to the west, with a planned store for New York, and branches that opened in California in 1999 and Italy. Unfortunately the California location shuttered in the early 2003 with the Italy location following suit, and the NY location never coming to fruition. Japan has a very vibrant second hand goods culture that can be seen in other establishments such as Book Off and Mode Off, but the same can’t be said for the US. At least Americans that want a taste of what Mandarake has to offer but without getting on a plane can still place orders with them online. And while expanding in the US didn't work out, there are still yet more offshoots opening in Tokyo even now. New to the family is Mandarake Nayuta, located in Ikebukuro. Typically Ikebukuro is considered territory for manga and doujinshi aimed at women, with a cluster of shops along the stretch known as Otome Road, with Mandarake LaLaLa as one of the hottest stores. Meanwhile Mandarake Nayuta is your stop for all things related to toys and model kits, including vintage Diaclone and Transformers toys.
Childhood toys for adulthood prices
If you want to visit Mandarake's home in Nakano Broadway it's only a short train ride from Shinjuku Station. Nakano Broadway itself is a bit of Tokyo trapped in amber. Constructed in 1966, the enormous shopping arcade represents a genus of shopping malls different from what sprang out of southern California in the 1980s. The fountains and promenades paraded by the likes of Tiffany are substituted for Nakano’s ultra dense clusters of cubicle size stores. The closest equivalent to which I can think of in the US is the old Elizabeth Street mall in NYC’s Chinatown, but that’s minuscule compared to Nakano’s sprawl. Nakano Broadway was considered modern in the 1960s, and for better or worse, it’s layout and appearance is relatively unchanged from that period. While not exactly chic, Nakano Broadway’s old world charm goes hand in hand with Mandarake’s selection of titles that reaches back decades
While not all of us can just hop on a plane for Tokyo (especially at the time I'm writing this), browsing their online store is a great way to explore Japan's pop culture past as well as deep diving into niche interests.