Otaku culture has gone beyond tv shows and become more of an aesthetic. Anime isn’t just shorthand for an animation style, but it’s an entity in itself. You can find its influence everywhere in pop culture, from music to animation to even gaming. And you can even see it inspiring the realm of collectibles, leading to the boom of toy capsules in Japan and how that translated into different mediums like mobile games. And so, welcome to the chaotic world of Gacha.
Gacha, or Gachupon, isn’t a new concept. Toy-vending machines have existed in Japan since the early 1960s and many big-name franchises have collaborated with companies to bring their merch into the foray, like Mobile Suit Gundam and Kamen Rider. But now, Gacha has gone digital, thanks to the mobile gaming industry that took off in the early 2010s.
A lot of these games were also inspired by anime designs, and quickly became popular thanks to that specific aesthetic. That later expanded onto other styles of gaming, such as Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs) but Gacha Mobile Games remain the most popular because of their accessibility and convenience. I mean, it is how we got the blueprint for one of the biggest franchises in the world: Genshin Impact.
But where did Gacha truly come from? What makes it so addicting that people are so obsessed with it? And is it really just a strangely nerdy form of gambling? And how does all of it come back to anime? While I personally never enjoyed the idea of paying money for a mystery item that you’re not even sure you’d like, I kind of understand the hype. So, let’s break down the convoluted concept of Gacha.
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Gachapon: More Than Just A Noise
The origin of the name Gachapon is a really fun story. Back in the 60s, Japan was in the swing of modernization and vending machines were all the rage. Back then, you fed them money and hand-cranked out your prize. The sound that action would make roughly sounded like ‘gasha’ and then the actual toy you’d get would be in a capsule, hence the ‘pon’. Gachapon is an onomatopoeic term.
These vending machines dispensed toy capsules became all the rage in Japan and multiple companies decided to cash in on the trend. You had companies like Tomy who popularized the term ‘gacha’ in Japan. Whereas in countries outside, like the United States, Bandai Namco had licensed the term altogether for use in their merchandise such as blind box sets, which use packaging to hide what product they contain to maintain the element of surprise for the consumer.
The sets are released with a limited amount of stock. But because of the hidden quality, buyers would never know if they accidentally got the same thing twice until they had already bought the set. Still, the limited number would help limit how many times a person would get a repeated product.
Gacha And Gaming: An Anime Fan’s Dream Come True
Gacha has been an integral part of the anime stratosphere for a while now. In Japan, it especially focuses on the figurine model, ranging from having them in mini capsules like Nendroids or even as Bottle Cap figurines.
Gashapon toys are often licensed from the popular manga, anime, or even video games, with highly detailed figurines that make them a popular item amongst adult collectors. It’s not uncommon to find various ‘waifu’ figurines amongst gacha collectibles.
But the place where Gacha has had the most success is in gaming. Gacha games have been a hot trend in not just the mobile gaming industry, but even in mainline MMOs such as League of Legends. The concept of Loot Boxes and Mystery Crates has been going strong since collecting items in gaming has become pretty popular.
This especially holds for a game such as Fate/Grand Order, where you can ‘collect’ alternate variations on popular heroes from the main anime series. People actively spend money on trying to get their favorite variation because the designs are usually limited edition and generally well-executed. This is one of the reasons gacha games like Genshin Impact peaked like they did, because of the gorgeous anime-inspired setting and characters.
There is plenty of anime that have gacha games such as Bleach, Sword Art Online, and Date-A-Live, to name a few.
Gambling For Geeks?
There is, however, a downside to the popularity of gacha in gaming. In a way, throwing money blindly at a machine until you get the result you were looking for is questionable. Since it is a blind purchase up to chance, it does feel akin to a gamble of sorts. Sure, it works out if you get the thing, you were looking for early on but that isn’t always the case.
It’s especially worse if that feeling becomes addictive, leading to unnecessary amounts of money being spent just to get one item you desire.