What a way to start off a Friday! I’m a big fan of the entire TTMU series by Netflix as a toy buff myself, and the first episode of the newest season was a doosey as it was pretty close to home. To sum up my thoughts on this in one word: OUCH!
This episode went into some pretty intense detail talking about the rise/fall/rise/fall/rise(?) of the Might Morphin Power Rangers, Saban Brands, all the hands that touched the property, and my alma mater, Bandai America (BAI) which I worked for during its speedy spiral face first into the ground. A fitting sub-header for this episode could probably read BANDAI: From Broke to Billions to Busted.
Important note: I wasn’t part of the MMPR at ALL. I was part of their ‘New Business’ department trying to capitalize off of niche collector’s markets, which they really wanted to exploit at a mass retailer level. I did what I could, but in the end, niche markets belong to community curators, not mass market, and social media was not Bandai America’s greatest concern.
I knew the Power Rangers toys built Bandai America, but it was eye opening to see the business risks taken and the tenacity of Saban trying to make all this work.
In the end, it basically showed how Saban took what was ahead of its time in Japan and applied it in a streamlined fashion to America. In a time of no internet and opposite points of the planet worlds apart, it was a refreshing injection of kid interest that really surprised me to the level it had blown up to. I finally saw what carried Bandai America for the last 20 years because it wasn’t like there as anything in there catalog that had busted down doors in quite a while.
Having lived in Japan for much of my youth (Okinawa for the most part), I grew out of ‘Super Sentai’ stuff way early so I didn’t think much of it when it debuted on US TV. Of course, I was 10 years older than the intended audience, but still, even I couldn’t believe how kids could eat up this low budget crap… low key though, I still watched it for Amy Jo Johnson, but that’s an interest for another website…
To see a more unbiased explanation of the Bandai America appearance in the US market was refreshing as the intro I got from the company was understandably all about their successes, and not the failures. To be quite honest, looking at past issues of lines gone by and my experience in retrospect, it didn’t look like the company learned from their mistakes and were too afraid to do anything outside of what’s been done.
The evolution of the toys was really interesting too. To think the Japanese toys were the thing that started it all, but it was the head switching transforming figures made by the US unit that was the biggest seller of any toy. As time went on though, it looked as if the US faction took on risks that were really stretching the limits of fans. I remember the strange motor cycle that would slightly fold to make a weird tall cycle that didn’t look to really fit any other toy and just seemed… awkward. It still surprises me that something so outside the series was even conceived.
Looking back, I feel if Bandai America would have taken more risks to change a bit with exploration and experimentation on media, promotion, and directly connecting with fans, they could have went much farther. Instead, it looks as if their razor focused hopes of a brand that once was hot bled them high and dry until they simply couldn’t afford it. When you’re latest release for a high budget movie is a key line item ‘henshin’ belt that never got featured in the film and worked off the same tech as the belt made for Japan almost 40 years ago, you’re not realizing that times have changed. The tech is old. Give the audience more credit for demanding something modern. Above all else, there needed to be much more planning.
As always with these episodes, I learned more than I expected. It did a great job in digging into the history and referencing all the key players throughout its history. How the name was conceived, how the business model was designed, the risks taken, the victories won, and the dramatic fall from grace of a once formidable juggernaut.
It was exciting to see so many familiar faces that I’ve had the chance to engage with including Greg Mitchell, Shin Ueno, and Eric Phan, but strangely absent were any of the current Bandai America employees. I wonder why??? Oh, was it the shady slap in the face when Saban basically explained the company lost its way and couldn’t sell water to a desert dweller? To paraphrase, ‘In the last year that they had the license, they only sold $20M. To put that into perspective, they were selling hundreds of millions.’ Then Saban sells to Hasbro whose leadership and lead toy designer for the property coincidentally worked for Bandai America during the MMPR heyday. As it was stated ‘when BANDAI America lost the Power Rangers license, it was like they lost a part of their soul.’
1) Be it brand, client, or business as a whole, always have an exit strategy (diversify)
2) When all you got left to run on is pride, step away (stop digging)
3) Never lose the connection with the customer (MMPR movie toy fail)