To the card-carrying anime fanatics out there (hello my comrades), Neo Tokyo at 787 Dundas St. may not be a new name. But for those unfamiliar with the sphere, the store has fueled London’s otaku culture for years.
Neo Tokyo sells collectibles and novelties from almost every anime or manga you can dream of – be it books, Blu-rays, or model kits of your favourite Gundam.
What you can’t find can also be ordered online through the sites’ forum.
Been looking everywhere for the first season of your favourite quirky anime about a family of raccoon-dog creatures struggling not to be eaten by social climbers? Shoot Neo Tokyo a message and they’ll hook you up.
I got the chance to sit down with Rob Chamberlain, owner of Neo Tokyo, and discuss the thens and nows of anime and manga culture, and the store’s place in London’s otaku scene.
By fans, for fans
Neo Tokyo was started by three knowledgeable anime fans – Rob Chamberlain, Pete Fey, and Tim Morris, the then owner of the Comic Book Collector – as an expansion into a vacant space beside the Comic Book Collector when it was located on 616 Dundas St.
“I really enjoyed anime and hated my job,” Chamberlain laughs. “I was looking for something other than sweat of my brow kind of work.”
What started as three fans’ intrepid expansion into the space quickly took off. The store moved to its current 787 Dundas St. location to accommodate for all the anime, manga, and collectibles it offers.
Neo Tokyo works hard to house the ever-expanding industry and cater to its varied fans. It’s an expansion that Chamberlain believes is in part due to the indie market fueling anime’s growth.
Indie publishers cater to the niche tastes of fans while circumventing the big companies like Funimation and Aniplex.
“Indie stuff is getting really popular,” Chamberlain says. “Especially web comics, where I see a new publisher almost every day because some guy decides he’s going to publish his own.”
Chamberlain recounts ONE’s One Punch Man as a fringe indie manga gone mainstream.
“One Punch Man is a great example where the guy was drawing online and wasn’t very good at the art,” he says. “Yusuke Murate, the same guy who did Eyeshield 21, was a fan and wanted to see it succeed, so he offered to draw it. ONE is still doing the web comic.”
Chamberlain believes that the importance of the original creator sticking around is integral to the success of the work, both on the creative and fandom fronts.
“We’ve seen in the last 10 years across the board, that if you let the original creator have control of things, it goes so much better for everyone,” he explains. “Walking Dead, GOT, if you keep the original writer involved and interacting with the creative side of things, you’re going to get something that the fans are going to latch onto more so.
“If you go and watch a movie, you can feel the difference if it was made by people who loved it or not.”
Anime and manga are substantially more artist-driven than their Western comic counter parts. But the Japanese art has a knack for taking a popular Western trope and morphing it into something unique.
“One of the things that manga and anime does best is take an idea, skew it, and tell a whole new story on it,” Chamberlain says. “Frankenstein, Romeo and Juliet – these classic ideas get skewed, and that’s where I think these things get interesting.”
Chamberlain recalls the manga Real Account, where the artist took the classic “trapped in the game” format and made the characters trapped in a deadly Facebook-esque world.
On the appeal of anime and manga to western kids, Chamberlain believes it all has to do with the way that the form treats its audience in comparison to western Saturday morning cartoons.
“In anime there’s a mile-long backstory behind every character. That’s where anime really grabs hold because you aren’t being talked to like you’re a moron,” he says. “They assume you’re interested and capable of dealing with it.”
He adds western pop culture cartoons make the same false assumption – you’re a moron and it doesn’t have to make sense. Why did Cobra Commander want to take over the world? Because he’s Cobra Commander and he’s got a shiny mask.
Perhaps the hardest question I asked Chamberlain was also the shortest – favourite anime/manga?
“Cowboy Bebop – after that there’s about a 75-way tie for second place.”
You can check out Neo Tokyo at 787 Dundas St.
They also make appearances at London Ribfest and Forest City Comic Con.
Check out their website!