In 2019, Bandai, in collaboration with Dreams Inc., launched a new line of capsule toys called BUGARTS. Leveraging the success of their dangomushi (pill bug) toy series, Bandai took the lowly insect and elevated it by using its back as a canvas for famous artworks, transforming their toys into a high-end item. For their first round, BUGARTS created a pair based on Fūjin 風神 and Raijin 雷神, the fierce gods of wind and thunder.

BUGARTS Ukiyoe series

Now back for round 2, BUGARTS is releasing a set of five pill bugs featuring classic works of Ukiyo-e, the Edo Period woodblock print medium which was responsible for creating the most internationally famous works of traditional Japanese art.

Beginning with the most famous of them all, the Great Wave, and another masterpiece, Fine Wind, Clear Morning, both from Katsushika Hokusai, the series also includes works from Ukiyo-e masters Tōshūsai Sharaku, Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Utagawa Yoshifuji. Each toy displays the name of the artist in bold calligraphy, along with a portion of the artwork in a dynamic composition.

Let's see the five models in more detail:

The Great Wave

Commonly referred to as The Great Wave, but more accurately translated as Under the Wave off Kanagawa「神奈川沖浪裏」, this print by Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎 (1760-1849) is the first in his series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji 「富嶽三十六景」 and was published sometime between 1829 and 1833.

Fine Wind, Clear Morning

Fine Wind, Clear Morning 凱風快晴 or more literally translated, South Wind, Clear Sky is also part of Hokusai's Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, and along with The Great Wave, is one of the most recognized works of Japanese art in the world. It was published sometime between 1831 and 1833.

Ōtani Oniji III as Yakko Edobei

This print by Tōshūsai Sharaku 東洲斎 写楽 (active 1794–1795), Ōtani Oniji III as Yakko Edobei 「3代目 大谷鬼次の奴江戸兵衛」, portrays Kabuki actor Ōtani Oniji III as Yakko Edobei in the Play The Colored Reins of a Loving Wife and was printed in 1794.

The Haunted Old Palace at Sōma

This impressive woodblock print is a favorite among enthusiasts of yōkai 妖怪, Japan's supernatural spirits and monsters. Created by Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1798-1861), The Haunted Old Palace at Sōma「相馬の古内裏」depicts Princess Takiyasha, who continued to live in the old palace of Sōma after her father was killed in a rebellion against the Emperor, summoning a gashadokuro 餓者髑髏, a monstrous "starving skeleton" specter to repel the emperor's official who had come searching for surviving insurrectionary conspirators. It was published sometime between 1840 and 1844. (The BUGARTS toy focuses on the gashadokuro part of the triptych.)

Cats' Fifty Three Stations of Tokaido

Created by Utagawa Kuniyoshi's disciple Utagawa Yoshifuji 歌川芳藤 (1828-1887), Cats' Fifty-Three Stations of Tokaido 「五十三次之内猫之怪」(published in 1852) is a good example of the kind of gangu-e 玩具絵 (literally "toy paintings," paintings intended for children) which he specialized in. A parody of his master's work Men Join Together to Form A Man「人かたまつて人になる」, it shows cats coming together to form a human face, with bells forming the eyes.

Anatomically correct

BUGARTS not only display artworks on the pill bugs' backs, but they are also anatomically correct models of a pill bug, which means they can be rolled up into a ball to be displayed in the accompanying custom stand.

Product Information

  • Name: BUGARTS浮世絵 | BUGARTS Ukiyo-e
  • Price (MSRP): 6,600 JPY + shipping, set of five
  • Pre-orders from December 11th, 2020 (while supplies last)
  • Shipping: Expected in June 2021
  • Size for each: Rolled up: 74 mm (2.9"). Unrolled: 140 mm (5.5")
  • Materials: ABS, PVC, PP | Stand: PC
  • Product page on Premium Bandai's website

By - Ben K.