Welcome to another installment of the Puyo Museum. Today we’re going to take a step back into one of the more underappreciated aspects of any franchise: the merchandising. Like any successful brand, Puyo Puyo had it’s fair share of merchandise to help spread awareness of the games. These were a mixture of all sorts of products, like entire plush toy sets, to drama CDs and light novels, to more bizarre products like… toilet paper??
However, for this article we’re going to primarily focus on one of the more common aspects of Puyo Puyo merchandising, the plush toys. Yes, like any popular branding, Puyo Puyo had a surprising amount of plush toys in particular. These toys came in a variety of styles, sort of making each set have their own identity. Even the ones that are technically off model have a lot of charm to them, due to elements such as their pose or expression.
Puyo Puyo itself is one of those franchises that benefits from the translation from artwork to plush toys for several reasons. Arguably the biggest reason is that the Puyo Puyo series commonly uses a “chibi” styling with sprite work and even some official artwork. Elements like the round heads, large eyes, lack of neck, and other simplistic details, like minimal detailing of feet and hands, helps make a lot of these characters translate smoothly into plush form. Some of these toys even go so far as to reference the sprites in the Puyo Puyo games. One example is an Arle plush toy showing her distressed with a pair of Puyos behind her, similar to the Game Over screen of the arcade Puyo Puyo.
So, where exactly did people get these toys? Well a bulk of these toys were made for UFO catchers. For context, a UFO catcher is basically the Japanese equivalent of a crane game, where the objective is to similarly grab merchandise like toys using a claw machine or something similar. UFO catchers are a big business in Japan, since they are designed to attract people into businesses like arcades or shops. Because of that, many companies love to commission plush toys based on their intellectual properties, as a sort of cross-promotional deal. People play on the UFO catchers, they get the prizes, and it helps spread awareness of franchises, while the owners of these shops or arcades also make a profit. Plush toys based on video games alone are very common in UFO catchers, with major companies like Nintendo, Capcom, SEGA, Bandai, and Namco historically using these machines to promote then-recently released titles.
Compile back in the days wanted to exploit the popularity of the Puyo Puyo branding with recent games such as Puyo Puyo and Puyo Puyo Tsu, so would often collaborate with common UFO catcher distributors, like SEGA and Banpresto. The toys produced would vary in quality and would serve different purposes. Some toys were independent merchandise not based on anything specific, some toys were made to promote games like Super Nazo Puyo, and some were more unusual like a series of Christmas themed toys.
Some of these plush toys also came with additional features, helping make them standout more from others. One example is the Chef Arle plush toy meant to promote Super Nazo Puyo. By itself it’s already unique since she’s wearing something different from her normal attire, but it also comes with a built in thermometer on her stomach. This means hypothetically you could use the toy for genuine cooking purposes, appropriate considering the “cooking” theme. Another example is an entire line of toys, which has miscellaneous Puyo Puyo characters holding embedded speakers and wearing headphones. Their gimmick being you can attach their AUX cord to a music player, and they would playback music.
However, another level of plush toys were a collection of Puyo Puyo plush toys commonly called the “Puyoman Hanpo (ぷよまん本舗)” series. As the name implies, these toys were originally distributed in a special shop by Compile. “Puyoman” referring to Puyo Puyo themed manjū, a type of pastry popular in Japan that traditionally is stuffed with a red bean paste or a similar filling. However in addition to these pastries, customers also have the ability to buy merchandise typically limited to this shop. Alternatively, people could also mail order these toys. They would be advertised in the Momomo Digest section of Puyo Puyo, Madou Monogatari, and DiscStation titles, with a separate slip often being included, where you can specify what product you want and send it by mail.
The Puyoman Hanpo series of plush toys is highly coveted among collectors for several reasons. The most obvious reason is the overall high quality of the materials used. UFO catcher toys are commonly produced cheaply, since they were built to fill up a lot of machines. However the benefit of the Puyoman Hanpo toys is that they were purposely produced in limited quantities, so it’s really apparent that quality was a higher focus to compensate. This results in the plush toys having an overall good quality to them, such as their soft material and well stuffed bodies. Not only that, but the selection of characters is also fairly diverse, with characters such as Carbuncle, Arle, Schezo, Suketoudara, Momomo, Pakista, Owlbear, and such being available. Though unfortunately some characters, like Draco and Rulue, were still omitted.
The only flaw with the Puyoman Hanpo series is, again, they were produced in limited quantities. This means that collecting all these toys is a real challenge for pretty much anyone. For example the Puyoman Hanpo version of Carbuncle was one of the more popular toys, so you might see it appear on Japanese shopping websites like Yahoo Auctions or Mercari, but the pricing is commonly high due to the strong demand. Then there are plush toys that rarely appear, such as the Puyoman Hanpo Arle Nadja toy. Generally collecting a whole set of plush toys is a challenge, since some toys were produced in more limited quantities, a specific toy has a lot of demand, or simply a case of being old. But with Puyoman Hanpo plush toys, the limited stocking means that even getting one of these toys is a bit of a challenge.
Regardless of all this, an important thing to remember with plush toys is that they’re often a time capsule to a different time period. It generally highlights the different philosophies between Compile’s interpretation of Puyo Puyo and later SEGA’s. Compile wanted to make Puyo Puyo a huge deal with as much merchandising as possible, but with SEGA it’s more downplayed, as the Puyo Puyo series has to also contend with SEGA’s other IPs getting attention too, such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Yakuza. As a result, SEGA’s merchandising has surprisingly little Puyo Puyo plush toys by comparison, mainly being limited to the Puyos and Carbuncle. The only exception being a Suketoudara plush toy made to promote the video game Puyo Puyo!! 20th Anniversary.
Now that you’ve read this article, you might be thinking as to where you might be able to find these toys in the wild. Well for starters, it’s important that a lot of these toys are decades old, so they will be both hard to find and prone to damage simple due to the material they’re made of eventually disintegrating. So getting these toys in mint condition is going to be a challenge right from the start. But if you aren’t picky about the quality, then you can simply browse Japanese websites like Yahoo Auctions or Mercari. Keep in mind that if you buy from a Japanese website like these, you’ll need to take into account the shipping prices, and figuring out a method to purchase from another region.
This is only scratching the surface though. If you want to learn more about Puyo Puyo merchandising, I highly recommend following @Puyomaha and his personal blog, as he periodically posts about his collection of Puyo Puyo material. But even then that’s not everything. Yes, there’s still a lot to talk about with Puyo Puyo merchandising, but that will saved for another time. Until then, I’d highly recommend buying one of these toys if you can, since they have a lot of charm.