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Asian Pop Culture & Beyond
by Cliff Samaniego on Oct 09, 2004
In 1994, a newly published magazine provided an uplifting voice for Asian Americans. Giant Robot (GR), created by Eric Nakamura and Martin Wong, covered everything from instant ramen noodles and Hong Kong actor Chow Yun Fat to energy drink taste tests, Takeru Kobayashi (esteemed world record holder of eating 53.5 hot dogs) and Japanese love hotels. Nowhere else could one read Asian infused articles, vignettes, and ditties that were both tongue-in-cheek and enlightening. What other magazine could humanize and forgive Geddy Watanabe for the immortal sin of portraying Long Duk Don in "Sixteen Candles" (see GR Issue #24)?
As the magazine's subscription base grew, patrons worked up an appetite for the books, 'zines, toys, and DVD's diligently reviewed in each issue. Based in the boba tea section of West Los Angeles, the duo stocked their first store with Asian kitsch from both near and far.
Whispers of GR's new San Francisco store resonated throughout the magazine's local readership. Hope has now come into fruition. The GR store on Shrader Street is only a stone's throw from the Haight thoroughfare. Step inside the doors of Giant Robot and you'll soon discover how Asian culture has permeated every microcosm of global pop culture.
On each display table are meticulously placed t-shirts, books and periodicals, stationary and stickers, toys and knickknacks, plush dolls, CDs and DVDs, and urban vinyl (action figures with b'attitude). But placing Giant Robot's items into these neat categories doesn't capture how vivid and lively each item is. This would be an injustice and put the store on equal footing with Toys-R-Us or Barnes and Noble. A banal chain store Giant Robot is not!
Store Manager, Derek Song explains how magazine founder Eric Nakamura scouts various toy conventions and craft fairs throughout the United States and Asia. He is truly the connoisseur who handpicks innovative designer products to stock the store. Krystal Seli, store worker, illustrates this by showing Takashi Murakami's Superflat Museum figurine. Selling for a mere $8, you can collect each of these limited edition figurines that walk the fine lines between animation, graphic art, and toy sculpture. Derek points out the Yoshimito Nara Flip Clock ($200) as one of his favorite items. As each minute and hour passes by, doll like children express their disdain. Eighty-four drawings in total are revealed, flipping forward as time moves on.
Eric, Martin, and Derek place equal value on the local art community. Proudly displayed on the walls are urban art heavily dipped in San Francisco flavah. California College of the Arts graduates Ogi, Tim Evans, and Mike Park exhibit their anime, illustrations, and mixed media throughout the store. Every month and a half, expect to see a vibrant rotation of Bay Area talent pepper the walls from within.
For those who are melanin deficient, no worries. Knowing how to squat, having uncles and aunts named Bong and Baby, or discerning the medicinal benefits of Siberian versus Korean ginseng are not accurate barometers for a rabid GR consumer. One forgiving attribute of popular culture is that it doesn't discriminate. Regardless of your cultural affinity, Giant Robot will have something that will strike your fancy. Just walk in the store, point in any direction and you'll agree that no one tops Giant Robot in the idolization of popular culture.
by Cliff Samaniego on Oct 09, 2004