Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Melbourne: A Piss Weak Anime Shopping Guide

About a year ago I went down to Sydney for a trip, mostly to get away from work and see the city which I really hadn’t been to for about half decade. I also wanted to compile a list of anime shops as there really wasn’t a guide anywhere for the city. I ended up being rather disappointed at what I found. There was only two dedicated anime shops in the city (though another has set up shop quite recently in the CBD), a substantial change from the 1990’s and early 2000’s where there were several anime related shops in the CBD. I had decided to make a similar list for Melbourne which I had planned to visit again within the year.

I almost didn’t get around to doing it but decided to go to Madfest in early November. I really wasn’t expecting much in terms of shops. I thought a couple had closed and knew the shop selling Japanese magazines had shut down (now online only) and so did a maid café which only operated on Fridays and Sundays. Unfortunately I was a bit sick during my stay, so I didn’t get to as many shops as I liked. Also due to the convention, a lot of shops were closed as they prepared to sell their merchandise in the dealer’s room. However I was really surprised at how many shops there were in Melbourne. There was also a ton of Gundam plastic models (or Gunpla as they’re colloquially called) in every single anime shop in the city. I love the fact that building plastic models is still something fans do in this city. It’s a hobby that has unfortunately fallen out of fashion with most anime fans all around the world. There are a large number of comic book shops in the city, but I have only included those with a large manga and/or anime section. Also because I didn’t get around to all of the shops I wanted to see, the list isn’t as comprehensive as I would have liked it to be. However I think I have complied all of the important shops in the city.

One Stop Anime
Address: Level 3, 180 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9663 9098
Opening Times: Everyday 11am to 6pm, except Thursday and Friday, closes at 7pm, Sunday, closes at 5pm

Right in the middle of Chinatown, this shop is hidden away on the third floor of a building next door to Hungry Jacks. It’s pretty easy to miss the entrance, but does have a couple of A4 sized laser printed signs outside the entrance. Like a lot of the shops I tried to visit on my trip, this one was closed when I visited.  Originally opening in 2002, looks like the shop has moved a couple of times before settling in Bourke Street. The shop has a quite large range of merchandise including Ichiban Kuji prizes, Figma, Gundam plastic model kits, Nendoroids, crane game prizes, cards, DVDs, plush toys, key chains and even wind chimes and other assorted miscellaneous anime merchandise. However like most anime shops the core of their business is selling figures. Prices seem comparable to other anime shops.

Nekocards
Address: Level 1, 311 Elizabeth Street (entrance on Little Lonsdale Street), Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9650 6356
Opening Times: Everyday 1pm to 8pm, except Thursday and Friday, closes at 9pm, Saturday 11am to 9pm, Sunday 11 am to 6pm

A year or two ago, one of the editors from Anime News Network (which I am no fan of) publicly berated a Japanese tour operator because they took his group to a card shop in Akihabara. Because we all know westerners don’t play these games, right? Oh wait they do, you massive knob. Admittedly though this part of fandom the west is rather niche. However there have been at least two attempts to set up card shops in Australia; one in Sydney which by all accounts didn’t last too long, and this shop in Melbourne’s CBD. The shop is in the same building as the local branch of the Pepper Lunch restaurant chain, but the entrance is located on Little Lonsdale Street, with a graffiti style logo above the entrance, so you can’t miss it. Apart from selling card games by Bushiroad, Weiβ Schwarz as well as Cardfight!! Vanguard, Future Card Buddyfight and Force of Will games, the staff can also show you how to play the games. You can also play the games there and they often hold special events.

Minotaur
Address: 121 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9670 5414
Opening Times: Everyday 9am to 6pm, except Friday, closes at 8pm, Sunday, 11am to 5pm

In my opinion, this easily the best comic book shop in Australia. Though I think more correctly they’re called a “pop culture superstore”, as a lot of comic book shops, Minotaur included, have branched out over the last two or three decades to include other segments of pop culture including manga and anime. As you walk down the stairs, you’ll pretty much find the manga and anime sections of the shop to your right. They have a very extensive collection of manga including some books, pretty much every Australian anime DVD in print (or pretty close to it anyway), a ton of anime merchandise including figures from manufacturers such as Good Smile and Kotobukiya, Figma, Nendoroids, S.H.Figuarts, other miscellaneous merchandise like keychains, t-shirts and other clothing items as well as Funko Pop! Vinyl figures.

Critical Hit
Address: 377 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
Phone: 0448 773 030
Opening Times: Everyday 10am to 6pm, except Thursday, until 7pm, Friday until 7pm, Sunday 11am to 5pm

This shop first began trading in 2010, and although the website makes it look like they’re mostly a games shop, the physical store itself is filled with a ton of anime products. The shop is also located inside the ground floor of the heritage listed Collins Gate art deco building which I thought was a bit unusual. I can only assume the rent might be on the pricy side, however when I went there ion a Friday afternoon there was plenty of customers in the store. Aside from the card games and other western pop culture merchandise they have on offer, they stock second hand games, a large range of Gundam plastic model kits, a wide range of merchandise including some Cospa  merchandise, figures, some CD soundtracks, t-shirts and other clothing items, crane game figures, Studio Ghibli merchandise, DVDs and blu-rays, manga, Funko Pop! Vinyl figures, key kings and other miscellaneous merchandise.

Animasia
Address: QV Melbourne, 26 Jane Bell Lane, Melbourne
Phone: 0425 423 709
Opening Times: Everyday 11am to 7pm, except Thursday and Friday until 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 11:30am to 7:30pm

The QV shopping precent is a bit of a labyrinth to be honest. I had some slight trouble trying to find this store. And of course when I got there, it was closed for the day in preparation for Madfest. You can quite clearly see tons of figures from outside, but upon closer inspection through the window you can see a large table in the centre of the shop with half built Gundam kits and bits and pieces of model making equipment sprawled all over. It’s patently obvious what the owners of the shop like doing. In fact their Facebook indicates you can come in and get hints from the staff on how to make Gunpla. If you google the shop’s name, you’ll see something really nasty within the first few results; a 2015 Sun Herald article saying that convicted paedophile Stephen Maxwell Murray was running the shop at least since a year after its inception in 2010. Not sure what the current situation of the shop is or who runs it, but doubt Murray is involved in the shop anymore. You’d think they would have at least changed the name of the store. At any rate the store sells Gundam plastic model kits (of course), a wide range of figures, wallscrolls and  hobby supplies such as paint.

Hearns Hobbies
Address: 295 Flinders Street, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9629 1425
Opening Times: Everyday 9:30am to 5:30pm, except Saturday, 10am to 3pm, closed Sunday

This family run hobby shop has been around for more than 70 years. That’s a pretty long time for such a business. Not sure how long they’ve been in their current location in a basement location in Flinders street, but they were in the same location about five years ago when I last went to the store. Currently they are working on the façade of the building and there is scaffolding everywhere, but the shop is easily accessible. I think they had two or more locations, but now their store in the CBD is it. As you can image they mostly sell remote control planes, cars and ships, as well as slot cars, plastic models and diecast cars. However they also sell a lot of sci-fi related plastic models and of course anime related ones. They stock around 150 anime related plastic model kits, almost exclusively Bandai kits, mostly Gundam, but also including a decent range of Yamato 2199, Dragonball series, Girls und Panzer and even a couple of old Evangelion kits. They also stock a number of Gundam accessory kits and of course hobby supplies. The shop also has a club which costs $25 and gives you a 10% discount on kits.

Alternate Worlds Comics and Collectables
Address: Unit 11/13 Malvern Street, Bayswater
Phone: (03) 9738 2662
Opening Times: Everyday 12pm to 7pm, except Monday, 11am to 6pm, Saturday, 11am to 4pm, Sunday 12pm to 5pm

Another shop I was too sick to visit. However I did go to their massive booth at Madfest. They had a ton of English language manga, ranging from stuff published in the late 1990’s until present, a good selection of local and region 1 (USA) DVDs, some of which were from the early to mid 2000’s, and a ton of figures, however most US superhero stuff, not much in the way of anime figures. They are currently located in an industrial area which is a little bit hard to get to. I think if you’re on the hunt for old out of print manga, it might be worthwhile making a trip out to Bayswater.

Anime Town
Address: 728 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
Phone: (03) 9913 4754
Opening Times: Everyday 10am to 4:30pm, closed Monday

Yet another store that I went to on the Friday I was down there and discovered it was closed for the day. I’m not sure how safe Brunswick is, but god the area looked relatively run down. Anyway I could see from the outside that pretty much half of the shop is dedicated to selling Gundam plastic model kits. Down the back of the store is a table which I’m sure is used to build Gundam kits. Their face book page states that they provide “free painting facilities”. Not 100% sure what that means exactly; is it just a place to paint or do they have airbrushes you can use? The other half of the store is mostly figures; a lot of Nendoroids, Frame Arm Girls, a lot of plush toys, some crane game prizes, and the usual range of figures from manufacturers such as Good Smile and Alter. The prices seem comparable to other shops in Melbourne.

Gundam Universe
Address: 246 Huntingdale Road, Huntingdale
Phone: (03) 8555 4563
Opening Times: Everyday 12pm to 5pm, closed Monday and Tuesday

Due to the hours this shop keeps and the fact it takes over 45 minutes to get there via train from the city, I never even bothered attempting to see this shop. As the name implies, Gundam plastic model kits as well as accessories and hobby supplies are the main things sold here. It was a bit of  shame as the store really sounds interesting. They also sell an extensive range of Japanese card games and have a space for customers to play the games in the shop. The store also holds “build meets” and late social events for Gundam builders. From what I could see this shop is a labour of love for the owner. However it seems to be sporadically closed for lengthy periods due illness or other difficulties the owner seems to be having. The opening times on the days the shop also seems to vary, so it’s probably best to check their Facebook page before heading out to Huntingdale.

And that’s it for Melbourne. Certainly a lot more places for anime fans to shop and socialise than Sydney, that’s for sure. And despite the fact all of the small hobby shops selling bootleg resin garage kits (and bootleg fansubs and commercial tapes) back in the 1990’s have disappeared, I’m really pleased to see such a strong fanbase that still makes models still exists. Luckily most of the shops in this guide are located within the CBD; however the few which are out in the suburbs are generally worth visiting.

This will probably be my final anime shopping guide, unless I make a few more trips to other countries or decide to revisit the places I’ve been in a few years times. Despite the fact it is generally easier to buy merchandise online, nothing beats the thrill you get hunting for items you want from actual physical shops. I suspect that in the future a lot of retail spaces for anime will vanish as they just won’t be able to compete with large online shops overseas. Just make sure you visit and buy from these shops before they disappear so you don’t regret it later.

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