I had some pictures left over after my series on the evolution of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and thought to share these with my fellow Oswald fans. In particular these are images of the various prizes created by Taito for Universal Studios in Japan. For the almost two years that the company had the rights to Oswald they created more unique and memorable Oswald merchandise than Disney did in the first few years since they got the character back. Let's take a look at the tags that were created for the various plush figures that had come out.
Universal wanted to educate their audience as to Oswald's origins. The Disney name carried a lot of weight in Japan. His films inspired Osamu Tezuka, the godfather of Manga. Presented was the character that predated Mickey and helped put Walt Disney on the map.
The tags sold the origin myth of Oswald very well while ignoring the fact that the studio stole the character and most of Walt's animators away from him. Taito designed many figures which would become prizes in their arcade machines. Oswald appeared in several formats.
The majority of the Oswald figures were plush but at least two were actually a soft vinyl, like a bean bag.
There was a set of Oswald figures that were sold exclusively in the Universal Japan park. They were small, medium and large plush figures with similar proportions and expressions.
The smallest figures were designed as cell phone straps, it was and continues to be a popular trend in Japan to have mascot keychains and accessories.
One of the more common Oswald figures seen outside of the theme park was a mid-size plush figure. The character was mainly seen shirtless. The earliest version of the character sometimes had a sweater with his name on it. There were at least four different sweater colors with this version. There was also one with a green "Christmas" sweater released during the winter.
Oswald was often presented with a single overall strap over his shoulder. Several figures did have the character in full overalls. This was a nod to the early appearance of Oswald as a farm-type character in the comic books. These plush figures were more rare than the typical mid-size figures.
Some of the smaller mid-size figures came in collectible soft vinyl bags. Note that these figures had closed mouths, subtle differences like these made the figures desirable to fans.
During the spring and summer there was a version of Oswald wearing a striped shirt. Taito had planned for this character to be used as a puppet. Unfortunately I do not know of any pictures with the character actually having the control arms.
One of the largest figures made by the company was Oswald lying down. This plush figure was made with a soft material much fuzzier than the mid-size plush figures. There were two known versions of this figure made, one with an open mouth and one with a closed mouth.
Possibly the rarest of the mid-size plush figures were the cake and sleeping versions. A small plush cake was affixed to the hands of some characters. The others featured Oswald in a head scarf and nigh shirt while holding a pillow. At least two of the sleeping versions were presented with closed eyes.
Not everything that Taito produced for Universal was a plush figure. Three of the most unique items from the company were watches. At least one of the watches had moving hands similar to the classic Ingersoll Mickey Mouse watch. This was the first Oswald watch to figure that type of movement. After Disney got the rights back Japanese watch maker Hirob created a variation of the moving hands action as well. Any of these watches are highly sought after collector pieces.
While the vast majority of everything that Taito and Universal produced had a blue fur Oswald wearing yellow shorts I did see at least one alternate colorway of the character. Many years ago when I purchased an Oswald plush from a Japanese arcade vendor I noticed that he had a picture of the same figure but in with gray fur and red shorts. Had I known that the Taito items would have disappeared overnight I certainly would have ordered the alternate color version. I used Photoshop to mock-up what the figure looked like in my memories. If I ever come across any other versions produced by Taito I'll be sure to share them on the blog.