Ken Kaneki prototype, from 'Tokyo Ghoul'
At Toy Fair, McFarlane Toys announced figures based on three new anime/manga licenses:  Naruto, Attack on Titan, and Tokyo Ghoul.  The new line of 7” figures will be part of the McFarlane Collector Edition Color Top Series, which will begin with the Red Wave.  The new figures, packaged in window boxes, will launch this fall at $17.99 MSRP:  Naruto from Naruto, Eren Jaeger from Attack on Titan, and Ken Kaneki from Tokyo Ghoul.  We wanted to learn more about the new line, so we caught up with McFarlane Toys founder and CEO Todd McFarlane.

ICv2:  Have you done manga or anime licenses before?

Todd McFarlane:  We had a whole manga line. 

How long did you do those; how successful were they?

We did two or three series.  It did pretty well.  With any category you look at, you can begin to get the AAA titles real quick and then after that you’re starting to look at some stuff just to keep it going.  It’s the same thing as Movie Maniacs; we did some cool stuff there for a while and then all of a sudden you’re having the debate about doing Gremlins 3.

Note:  Based on information provided after the interview, McFarlane’s last animation line, Mcfarlane’s 3D Animation from Japan Series 2, was in 2001, and included a mix of classic characters (Akira, Ghost in the Shell) and then-new properties (Soultaker).

Why go back into the manga and anime space now?

It’s a function of the business climate that’s out there right now.  Everybody seems to be waking up at the exact same time (although you and I are going “what took you so long”) to the fact that there’s this big giant pool of geeks and nerds and they like to collect stuff.  They’ve got disposable income in their pockets because they’re over the age of seven, and it’s not Mom buying the product. 

So they’re all making concentrated efforts now.  It’s the biggest shift from last year’s Toy Fair to this one; they all want collector stuff; they all want geek stuff, even to the point that companies like Hasbro are saying those words at their shareholder meetings.  Everybody knows it’s there; they just don’t know how to grab all of it. 

So they’re now looking at us and going “Todd, you seem to live in that space, why don’t you go get us some cool stuff and give us some stuff that the geeks will like?”  Which is awesome, because it’s basically what I did for the first decade I was making toys.

The problem the last decade has been that there haven’t been any places to market those kinds of things because everybody got conservative after a couple of stock market collapses.  They decided, especially the Fortune 500 retailers, that they just needed the top five movie brands, and that’s it.  They’re in, they’re out, and they don’t even want to touch the #6 brand.  And now they’re saying, “Hey, maybe we need to get deeper into that and get a little geekier.” 

I don’t know if they’ll go that geeky, but if the Targets and the Walmarts don’t, the Gamestops of the world and the Hot Topics and those guys will.   

They’ve made a little bit of an about face on what they’re willing to at least put on the shelf.  At the end of the day it still all has to move, but now they’re ready to look at it and not say no. 

Eren Jaeger prototype, from 'Attack on Titan'
Looking at the mix of properties you announced, it’s a pretty broad range in terms of how old they are and how much exposure they’ve had in the U.S.  How did you pick those properties and why do you have that kind of mix?

One of the things we’re trying to do is what we used to do when I first started the business.  I don’t think I could go to any of these retailers, no matter how big or small they were, and say “will you give me X amount of space for any one of these brands individually,” and the answer would have been no. 

So what ends up happening is that I say, well what if I just put it up there under one umbrella, and instead of saying that each one of these brands has ten characters deep and it’s a 365-day program, what if I just bring you some classic and trending brands and just pick off some of the better characters.  And then maybe if that character sells, then either do another version of that same character or go to the second best character.  To use an example, either after selling the first Batman, I do another Batman or I maybe think about doing Robin.  But nobody’s going to be interested in some of these brands going as deep as Commissioner Gordon.

Instead of them saying no four times to four brands (manga or anime that they might not be that familiar with), if I’ve got their trust that I’m going to pick four brands that I’ll have four characters visually, in terms of loyalty and the fan base liking it, and I put all four of them into the same box and ask “will you take it then,” and they’re saying “Ok, that makes a lot more sense to us.”

So the reason for the variety is just trying to swim around and catch as many brands/characters as I can without going too deep on any one of them that might not be successful.   

Naruto prototype
Are you doing manga or anime licenses?

Arguably, going forward, everything.  Manga, comic book, anime, video games, movies, I’m putting them all under what I’m calling McFarlane Color Tops.  In its simplest form, the first wave comes out as a Red Top, and then the next time you see any of the boxes it will be the same size, the same shape, the same design, but the top is a different color.  It just means there’s more cool stuff.  Within the confines of cool can be all these genres.  And obviously manga and anime are two of the ones we’re going to continue to put into it as a steady mix. 

Are the first three licenses, Naruto, Attack on Titan, Tokyo Ghoul – are those licensed from the manga or the anime?

Obviously I think most people here in America are most familiar with the anime version, or sometimes the app video games, but overseas, especially in Japan they’re way more familiar with this stuff starting in comic book form.  We’ll let the audience dictate to us, and if they want a look from a different style, cool. 

They’ve sold probably a 100 different kinds of Batmans in my lifetime, so I can give them two or three different versions of characters in different styles.  We’ve done five or six Rick Grimes figures from The Walking Dead.  I did 35 series of Spawn.  So you can sell “A” characters more times.  I’ve sold five different Peyton Mannings.   

Now that you’ve announced these new licenses, what’s the response been like?

Good!  Tokyo Ghoul is probably the least known, especially for the retailers that walked through the Toy Fair showroom, but they’re trusting our instincts that we’ll pick the right characters and not make too many of any brand that’s still trying to get its footing.  But they think variety and diversity among the collector group is good.  I was surprised at how enthusiastic they were. 

Is three Japanese properties at a time about the right number, or will that change?

It will vary, because we’re not doing a lot of figures.

I used to put out six to eight figures every time I put out a new series.  But we’re going to make that more like four to five in each series, but come out with series more often.  So the amount of figures might end up being the same over time.

Instead of doing three waves of 6, 6, and 8 figures which might end up being 20 figures, are we better off doing five waves of four?  It still ends up being 20, but what it does is that it turns over the product on the shelves a little faster and it gives a reason for the collectors to go into the store a little more often, which the retailers like.  And it starts to create a little bit more of an urgency for the customers to go shopping every 30 to 60 days instead of every 60 to 90 days. 

One of the things that’s a fallout of geek is that we are older, we have our disposable income, and because of that when we go into a store we’re usually not there for just one purpose.  So the ticket of our ilk is pretty good, because after we’re done buying our geeky toys we end up buying a lot of electronics, and car parts, and high end other products that they make a lot of money on.  Sometimes having some of that data has looked at my product, without ever saying it, like a loss leader.  It’s like eggs and milk.  Get them in the door and they’ll buy steaks eventually.  My stuff is like the eggs and milk.