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You can find some pretty strange stuff in Japan’s gachapon toy capsule vending machines, like futons for your smartphone or doggy bread figures. But one set of gachapon goodies from manufacturer Epoch is so odd because of how amazingly mundane it is: a series of folding chairs and school desks.

But why did Epoch decide on such a down-to-earth muse, and why have people been snapping them up? We went straight to the source and talked with two members of Epoch’s development team to find out.

As popular as the understated folding furniture set is, Epoch isn’t averse to making zany products too, like its banana parrot and mushroom parrot figures.

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But mixing cute animals with other items is a well-established tradition of Japanese toy design. What we wanted to learn about was the folding chair series and its follow-ups, and Epoch planning and development division employees Takeshi Sato and Munefumi Asago gave us the lowdown on the low-key toys.

▼ Folding pipe chairs with a long folding desk are the newest offering.

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The quirky chairs and shopping carts may only cost consumers 200 yen (US $1.85), but that doesn’t mean Epoch doesn’t put much thought into them. Making the tiny trinkets was a big undertaking according to Asago, who informed us that planning started in May 2013. It takes about half a year to design a toy and fashion a prototype, and roughly that long again to sort out production and stock the machines that sell the products, so the folding chairs didn’t hit the market until February of 2014.

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That approximately one-year path from inspiration to finished product is the best-case scenario, by the way. “Sometimes we think something will be interesting, but after we finish the prototype, we find out it’s not as cool as we’d imagined,” Sato says with a laugh.

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At one point in development, the team was thinking about making the series of desks and chairs in 1:12 scale, which would match that of a lot of figures sold in Japan. They were designing gachapon toys, though, and a 1:12 scale would make the furniture too large to fit inside a capsule, so that plan was scrapped and the chairs made smaller. That’s not to say there aren’t any figures that work well with them, though. Size-wise, the Fully Poseable QP dolls don’t look strange at all seated on the chairs.

▼ Except for the fact that they aren’t wearing any clothes, that is.

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▼ “The reason I’m not making eye contact with the dude sitting in front of me is because he has no pants.”

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But even if you can’t sit your collection of Gundam or Attack on Titan figures on Epoch’s gachapon furniture, fans have been buying it, and in bulk. Asago credits this to the sense of nostalgia people get from looking at the sort of desks and chairs many of them used in their school days. The design team’s goal, he explains, was to make the people who look at them think, “I’ve seen these somewhere before.”

There’s one more savvy design point to the series. Generally, gachapon toys draw repeat customers by offering many different models in the same machine, but aside from some color changes, there isn’t that much difference from one capsule to another in the machines stocked with Epoch’s furniture series. But since people are used to seeing these kinds of desks in a classroom, with 20 or 30 lined up at once, fans say the more they have on display, the more realistic the effect becomes, which encourages them to keep putting coins in the machine, even if it’s spitting out duplicates of something they already have.

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“We’re going to keep designing things that are more fun when you have a bunch of them,” promises Asago. We’ll be waiting, just as soon as we scrounge up a handful of hundred-yen coins and clear off some shelf space.

Photos: RocketNews24
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