The Sapporo Jungle

Mandarake Sapporo, we meet again.
Outside of Tokyo, specifically Akihabara, the otaku-culture is much less pronounced especially where the smaller towns are concerned. Nevertheless, at the heart of every major city in Japan, lies one hub that is hidden in plain sight. Unless you are explicitly looking for it or happen to be a local, chances are you would often miss these spots completely. In the case of Sapporo, the two major hubs happen to be Parco and Norbesa. The former playing host to Animate and Torano Ana. While the latter being a home to Mandarake, Jungle and a game center. Today, we will be taking a closer look at Norbesa and more specifically, Jungle.

I never knew they made a Kyun-Chara Ultimate Madoka!
What is unique about Norbesa compared to every other hobby-center I have been to so far is that the two major hobby-stores, Mandarake and Jungle, occupy a huge part of the floors they all in. On top of that (literally), was the game centers which took up three floors above it! This luxury of space if something rarely seen in Japan, much less so in Tokyo. As such, Norbesa was a very welcome change of pace and one that I was really looking forward to considering my limited time spent here the last time I was in Sapporo. 

I had gone through Mandarake Sapporo in the past but due to the limited amount of time at hand then, I was unable to survey the remainder of Norbesa. As it turned out, what I had missed then was indeed a really big missed opportunity! Located just one floor above Mandarake was Jungle, a hobby store you may have heard of before owing to their various branches all around Japan with one of it being in Akihabara itself. The thing is, Jungle's location is so carefully veiled that most visitors to Mandarake Sapporo do not even realize the existence of another figure store just a stones throw away. With limited signage and promotions, I was even surprised to even find a Jungle here!

The first thing that caught my eye upon approaching the store, was this sign. More and more tax-free shops are popping up all over Japan but, the same cannot be said for hobby stores except for the big ones such as Mandarake, AmiAmi and Volks. With a network established throughout the whole of Japan, it is nice to see shops like Jungle too begin to adopt a tax-free option for foreign customers.

Another big selling point to Sapporo's Jungle was its opening hours. Open 7 days a week from 11.00 am till 8.00 pm, Jungle remains very accessible to many customers all throughout the week. Even when I was there on New Year's Eve, the shop still remained opened up till 8.00 pm! While the opening hours may be a little on the late side, that is pretty much expected from most hobby stores regardless of whether you are in Tokyo or Sapporo.

Outside the shop were large windowed displays of all the rarest and most expensive figures and merchandise the shop holds. Likely to entice seasoned collectors, Sapporo's Jungle had no intention of displaying the latest and greatest. Rather it flaunted its display of super rare merchandise with pride and a fairly large price tag next to it. Better have those 10,000 Yen notes on hand if you are planning to get any of these. 

Towards the left of the store was the large, bright and welcoming entrance to the store. As with most hobby stores, the store's signage itself was fairly small seemingly as to not pull too much attention to itself. Unless of course you are Mandarake, in which case a big red sign with your shop's name on it is entirely called for. A small sign outside the store says no food and drinks but, an unspoken rule also often included no photos. Hence, I kept my photo taking to only the outside of the store.

Towards the opposite side of the store were various Gashapon machines selling everything from the latest releases to the much, much older ones. But do not let this placeholder image distract you, as the true attraction lies within the store itself. By now, I have had the privilege to visit various hobby stores all over Japan and spend a significant amount of time browsing them to. As such, it is no exaggeration when I say that Sapporo's Jungle is perhaps one of the best hobby store I have ever visited in the whole of Japan and easily, without a question, the best figure store I have visited outside of Tokyo. Yes, you read that right. Even better than Mandarake Sapporo. How so?

I am only here to browse or so I thought.
Big, bright, extremely well organized with competitive pricing on a wide selection of brand new and pre-owned figures. Those are the words that can be used to describe both Jungle and Mandarake. From new to old, rare to common, Sapporo's Mandarake and Jungle are very much similar. In fact, that is likely why these two shops are still able to compete within the same space till today.

But what makes Jungle that little bit better, in my opinion, over Mandarake is that it is a dedicated figure shop. While Mandarke's floor space may be several times larger than Jungle's, its merchandise is also expanded outside the realm of figures covering Blu-Rays, manga, cosplay and posters. On the other hand, what it lacks in variety, it makes up in focus with Jungle being almost entirely a figure shop. Being foremost a figure shop, Jungle makes the impeccable decision on cutting down on the number of common prize figures and Kuji figures. Making space instead for the rarer, premium scales while, at the same time, offering highly competitive pricing. The result is a shop that not only looks good but, also has an impressive collection that is extremely threatening to the wallets of any seasoned collector. The result?

After leaving Mandarake, I was fully convinced I was only going to enter Jungle to browse. Well, we now know how wrong I was. Well then, what exactly could be inside that large brown paper bag?

Love Wing Bell RinPana!
The original Love Live series had always been one with serious yuri-undertones so much so that even the seiyuus acknowledge them. As far as I am concerned, NozoEli is canon and I will smack you on the head with a copy of February 2017's Dengeki G Magazine if you dare to claim otherwise. But another pairing I have always been fond of too is RinPana (or Rin and Hanayo). Trust me when I say this that I have been looking to get the Love Wing Bell Rin and Hanayo for more than a year now! Frequently, I would come across them but, always fell short due to some unforeseen circumstance. Whether it was one without the other, the lack of a box or a really high price (2,000 Yen for Rin!?), something always kept me away till the point I was about to give up.

In Jungle though, the stars seemed to align when I managed to find the pair and for 1,836 Yen for the both of them! They even had the Rin with the original windowed box although, I opted for the smaller window-less box. I was beside myself in excitement when I finally managed to find these two together at such a good price. After a short moment of contemplation, I decided just these two would not hurt. That is until, my innocent digging around came upon something even rarer!

Here it is, Yamato's Creators' Labo Super Sonico DX Babydoll Version. Most of you may not even know about the existence of Yamato as a figure manufacturer, much less this figure itself. Made way back in 2011, this has been one of my more sought after Sonico figures on my wishlist. Just like Love Wing Bell Rin & Hanayo, Sonico had always eluded me for the same reasons (pricing, condition, etc.). Make no mistake, this is one proper rare Sonico figure with prices of the DX Version (additional parts such as, guitar, fridge and teddy bear) starting at 7,000 Yen for a pre-owned one and that is even if you can find one. To find an un-opened one, still wrapped in plastic at 5,400 Yen? Mine.

I have avoided discussing this particular Sonico figure on Tiro Finale largely because it is an R-18 figure with Sonico's babydoll being removable. Before you jump to conclusions, that is not the reason why I purchased this figure and, for a while, I had contemplated not getting her on those grounds alone. Those of you in the know may be aware that there is a color variation of this Sonico called the Strawberry Sorbet Babydoll version which is equally, if not more, sought after too. Fortunately or unfortunately, Jungle only had the none-DX version of the Strawberry Sorbet Sonico. So the question remains, will I still be looking out for that other version now that I have this? Maybe. Probably. Who am I kidding? Of course I am.

Done with a little bit of shopping, I decided to pay a visit to the remaining three floors above populated by the game center. There I stumbled upon Hokkaido's mascot, Snow Miku. With winter having just started, the Snow Miku merchandise was aplenty. Go on further up and there is even a Ferris Wheel atop the roof or Norbesa!

But, I digress. Having spent close to 3 hours in Norbesa, a large portion of it in Jungle, I left with a feel good buzz inside of me that went on for the whole night. Maybe it is because I finally found something I have been searching for a long time or maybe it is the thrill of the hunt and discovering something new. Whatever it may be, one thing is for certain. Sapporo's large halls and brightly lit shelves are a welcome change from the dark and cramped spaces that Tokyo calls its hobby meccas.


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