If you’ve gone to any comic, anime, video game, or pop culture convention in the past few years, you may have noticed or purchased some of these little guys being sold mostly at booths that specialize in plush toys or Japanese cultural items.
I was at Megacon in Orlando, Florida in early April, and decided to ask some of the vendors and consumers of these cute stuffed animals what they thought they were, or where they were from.
The most common answer I got was either “I don’t know, but they sell like crazy!” or “I don’t know where they’re from, but look how cute they are!!!” Occasionally, the Lolita or Otaku answer would be “It’s just kawaii!” followed by the typical two-finger peace sign. So it occurred to me: Most people have no idea what these are, but they LOVE them.
So, where are they from?
There are so many answers to this question. The short one: Japan. Of course, you can just look at them and be able to tell that they’re probably from Harajuku. However, I was in Tokyo about a month ago, and noticed them mostly in arcades, as prizes in claw machines and the like.
So I thought, “Huh. So they’re not just a part of Harajuku kawaii culture, they’re actually made and marketed to gamers!”
These alpacas are a designer line of toys called “Alpacasso,” manufactured by the plush toy company Amuse, and they’re part of the cute plush family of hamsters, bunnies, cats, rams, and sheep. Essentially, they’re responsible for the majority of super cute Japanese plush toys in the convention circuit, so if you see a toy that’s so freaking cute that it makes your insides feel like they’re going to explode, it’s probably made by Amuse.
Okay, but where are they from in the pop culture world?
Is it from an anime? A video game? Is it like, the new Hello Kitty? Amuse has profiles of all their character lines, and the one for Alpacasso (or Arupakasso) looks like this (Note: Translated from Japanese):
Do you know the animal that alpaca.
Among them, a little short neck we name is “Arupakasso”.
It is about me, but Andes region of far South America is born.
But, I actually born in Japan.
I love Japanese customs, and enjoys participating in various events!
Actually born in Japan? Maybe they’re referring to the super cute version of the Alpaca. Where that originated, my guess is probably from two Vocaloid songs and their accompanying music videos:
A-R-P-K is a derived from the katakana symbols for the word “Alpaca” (pronounced Aru-paka). Fun fact! Less fun fact: If you really pay attention to these lyrics, they get pretty dark, especially in the first one. ARPK sounds like it’s almost about animal rights, with notes of the Alpaca getting tired of being touched all the time, being sheared, and being overfed. The second one, by Hatsune Miku, suggests the alpaca is in an abusive relationship. Some translations of ARPK even translate to the words “sexual harassment.” The most accurate English translation of the chorus is this:
You take my fur away
And how I hate you when you catch my skin in the blade
But when the daylight fades
You make me ache for you and all the warmth that you gave
So we’re buying tortured animals?
Not exactly! I have a theory, and it might be a stretch. Consider that these alpacas are girls being abused or participating in dependent, unhealthy relationships. Consider that they’re being harassed by their owners. Also consider that an extremely hot topic in the convention scene at the moment is about how the “geek” industry treats women.
What if, and hear me out, these alpacas are symbolic of how women deserve a place in the geek industry, free from being harassed, forced to depend on the safety of men, and pushed into being a sideshow act for others’ entertainment? It would make sense, wouldn’t it?
Girls and women are buying them up by the boatload, and they’re not even sure why. As a result, vendors all want a piece of that action, so more and more of them are stocking up on plush alpacas. Convention exhibition floors are being painted pastel pink and yellow, as if the female side of the geek culture is saying “We won’t stand for this anymore, we’re here to stay!”
But, maybe I’m reading too much into it.
Why are they so expensive?
Well, Amuse is devoted entirely to making prizes for various arcade machines. Have you ever tried to win one? How much does that generally cost you, in total? I tried winning one in Tokyo out of a machine, and wound up giving up about 1,200 yen later. I walked away with sour grapes, saying I would just buy one at a convention back in the United States. Turns out, an Alpacasso alpaca of that same size cost about $50 in the states, which is almost 6,000 yen. Woah! Okay, so in Japan, apparently all those attempts at getting an adorable plush out of a machine probably yields a higher quality prize.
Short answer: They’re built with better quality.
Will they be worth anything in the future?
If you know anything about investing in collectibles, you know that that is determined by so many factors. As of right now, it looks like they will be going up in value (don’t quote me on that!). There are multiple blogs and articles out there about how to spot a fake one and where to find authentic ones. If you head to online shops that promise authentic Alpacasso plush, they’re usually sold out. It looks like these are worth buying if you’re concerned about their future worth. If you’re concerned about finding them, check the exhibition hall at the next convention in your area!