As even now Dragon Ball continues to become an increasingly global phenomenon with fans all around the world, there are those who have turned their passion into a profession and become involved with the production of the series itself. What kind of work are these diehard fans doing? And how did they fall in love with Dragon Ball in the first place? In this interview series, we’ll hear their stories to try to get to the bottom of these questions and more!
In this second article, we'll be introducing Marius Ormond-Byrne, who works in promotions for S.H.Figuarts at BANDAI SPIRITS! Let's hear what he has to say!
-- Can you tell us where you're from?
I was born in Sydney, Australia, on October 22nd, 1987, but my family and I moved to New Zealand when I was 12. Moved back to New Zealand, in a sense—both of my parents are from New Zealand, so I have a dual citizenship for both countries. When I watch the rugby, I wear an Australian jersey under my New Zealand one so that if New Zealand starts losing, I can just take off my top layer and start cheering for Australia. (laughs)
-- Why did you first want to travel to Japan?
I was obsessed with watching Dragon Ball Z on TV when I was in elementary school, and so we would all talk about our dream of going to Japan one day. When I eventually came to Japan for the first time when I was 20, it just made me love Japan even more, and it was then that I started to seriously think that I wanted to work in anime in Japan. Of course, it'd be too much to just pick up and move to Japan right away, so I joined a study abroad program first.
From there, I was lucky enough to get introduced to some work with the Nara prefectural office doing international relations stuff, like supporting international students with life in Japan, and being a guide for tourists to show them what the country has to offer. One of the reasons I got into that work was because, while I was an English teacher back in New Zealand, I wanted to work somewhere I could use my Japanese more often. I don't think I'd be in the job I am now if it weren't for my time working at the Nara prefectural office.
-- What does the job you're doing now involve?
Well, I'm in my third year of working at Bandai Namco Group now, and at the moment I'm a member of the BANDAI SPIRITS Collectors division's web promotion team, where I mainly manage advertising for SNS pages like Instagram or promotional videos for YouTube. For example, I might be doing the English version of a given product's promotion and information on Instagram, directed at overseas audiences—which is great for me because I like working with all things computers and SNS.
I also love seeing people's reactions when we announce a new product. I get to collect feedback and opinions from all around the world and share that with everyone in the company, so it's really fulfilling for me.
-- Do you ever get different reactions to a product between Japanese and overseas fans?
For sure. There are times when even if there's not much of a response on the Japanese side, there's a big one on the overseas side. Just having the words "Dragon Ball" attached to something will get it a lot of likes and comments. Whenever I'm collecting data for analyzing how advertisements are performing, Dragon Ball stuff is always a cut above the rest. It's so popular that when we're talking about the top performing advertisements, we have two categories: “Top 3 Dragon Ball” and “Top 3 non-Dragon Ball”!
-- What are the most popular kinds of merchandise among overseas fans?
Kids in the west grow up with movable action figures like G.I. Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so goods like that—namely, S.H.Figuarts—get the biggest response online. I personally really like statue-style figures where the main focus is on producing a cool design, but no matter how we present them on SNS, people are always like, "Make it moveable!!" (laughs)
I remember during this event called TAMASHII NATION 2020, we were teasing a Figuarts ZERO Super Janenba statue for Dragon Ball Z, and even though all we showed was his tail, there were immediately tons of comments saying, "It's Janenba!" (laughs) I really love Janenba's pixelated, square-like visual effects, and I think the Dragon Ball Z Figuarts ZERO Super Janenba statue captures that perfectly. But, for as many people saying how good it looked, there were just as many saying, "Yeah, but can it move?!" (laughs)
The more people comment on a promotional post, the easier it is for it to get traction and spread around, so we often do these quiz-like posts where we only show a part of the product, but yeah, it's still hard sometimes.
-- Janenba is quite popular overseas for having only appeared in one movie, right?
Yeah, people love him much more than I'd imagined. The movie he debuted in, Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Reborn, came out when I was in high school. I saw it then, and it left a big impression on me. Gogeta was so incredibly strong and so cool, and Janenba was much the same in that respect. Cooler is still very popular too. I remember how awesome it was when he transformed beyond his Fourth Form for the first time. I remember buying the VHS for that movie and watching it over and over.
-- When did you first encounter Dragon Ball?
Dragon Ball started airing on Australian TV in the morning before school at 7:30 in around 1999 or 2000, I think, but I'd actually get too hyped up watching it, and so my parents had to make a rule where there were no cartoons allowed on weekdays. So, what I'd do is get up early before my mom was awake and silently turn on the video player and start recording, then put something in front of the player so that she couldn't see it. (laughs) It'd be recording all day while I was at school, so I had to use one whole tape per episode every day.
It sucked for me at school because everyone would be all excited talking about what happened on Dragon Ball Z that morning when I hadn't seen it yet. I wouldn't be able to hold out until the weekend, so I'd wait until my mom went to bed then try to quietly watch the episode I'd taped that day. At least then I'd almost be able to keep up with what people at school were talking about the next day. (laughs)
In Australia they'd actually only play the English version of Dragon Ball, so when they ran out of translated episodes to air, they'd just start playing the whole series again from the beginning while they waited for new ones. I've probably watched the Saiyan saga and Frieza saga like 10 times. (laughs)
I only saw up to the Majin Buu saga after I'd moved to New Zealand. Australia's a big place, so there were lots of different kinds of people who knew and liked Dragon Ball Z, but, perhaps because New Zealand is smaller and has a lower population, there was more of a core fanbase over there. I remember in art class once we had to draw things around the room, but everyone was just drawing Dragon Ball pictures. (laughs) The teacher was like, "That’s not in this room!!". She was so angry. And then in Japanese class, all we'd do is ask the teacher about Dragon Ball stuff and they didn't know how to handle it.
I made a lot of friends through Dragon Ball in New Zealand. I'd never watched the whole series on TV, but when I started university, it became available to stream online, so my friends and I watched the entirety of Dragon Ball Z from start to finish with no breaks. We did it during summer holidays so that we had the whole week to just settle in and watch it. It was actually kind of sad after we finished because suddenly there was no more Dragon Ball Z to watch. All that time I'd wanted to watch it all but never could, and then we watched it all in one go. It was a bit of a strange feeling, like we'd broken a rule or something.
-- Did you read the Dragon Ball comics in New Zealand?
I read everything up to the end of the Red Ribbon Army saga. The problem is that one volume that might cost 400 yen in Japan costs $25 in New Zealand, which is about 1,900-2,000 yen for reference. It's too expensive for kids to buy, so if someone has a volume, everyone wants to borrow it to read, and then when it comes back it's all roughed up because they didn't take care of it. One time I even lent out a volume that came back torn in two halves! They're expensive, so kids can't buy them, and because of that, stores don't stock them. So even if you have the money, there's just nowhere to get them.
You can imagine how crazy I went when I came to Japan for the first time and was finally able to buy all the comics I wanted for cheap. I threw out all the clothes I brought with me except the ones on my back and just stuffed my suitcase full of comics to take home with me, and then had another 50 kilograms of comics that wouldn't fit in there shipped home too.
-- Who's your favorite Dragon Ball character?
I like Vegeta the most. Especially Majin Vegeta, he's so cool. For me, Dragon Ball ended with that scene where he hugs Trunks before going off to do the final explosion. (laughs)
They actually asked me at the end of my job interview with Bandai, "If you could be an anime character, who would you be and why?" and I immediately answered, "Vegeta." My reason was that while he may be stubborn, proud, and selfish, he always protects his family and his friends when he has to. I said that like Vegeta, I do my best at the things that I love personally, but I'll always fulfill my duty to the company to the full extent of my ability when the time comes. That, and I also rock the widow's peak receding hairline like Vegeta does. (laughs) That got a good laugh out of my interviewers, so I think that Vegeta's power helped me land the job at Bandai.
-- Do you have any Dragon Ball memorabilia?
I have a Dragon Ball Z VHS cover that I got signed by the English voice actor for young Gohan. It was actually a prize for a Kamehameha contest in New Zealand.
-- You won a Kamehameha contest?!
Nah, I came second in the kids division. I screamed so hard I thought I was gonna cough up blood, but the kid that won just did a cute little "Kamehameha～♪" I was a bit of a sore loser about it. (laughs) Like, "He beat me because he was cute?! Damn it!!" I got to pick 10 VHS volumes as my prize, and then got one of them signed. I keep it stored like a piece of treasure with other important stuff like my passport.
Marius' prized possession, a one-of-a-kind VHS cover signed by young Gohan's English voice actor.
Marius' mighty second-place-winning Kamehameha.
-- What are you looking forward to in the future of Dragon Ball?
Well, we got an amazing response to the S.H.Figuarts First Form Frieza & Pod figure and S.H.Figuarts Bardock figure that we started taking orders for last year. People were so enthusiastic about them even before they were available, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how everyone plays with them and what kinds of cool pictures they'll take with them. This is First Form Frieza's debut in the S.H.Figuarts series, so we even had Akira Toriyama himself do the fine detail on Frieza's pod for this one. They'll go on sale from April this year, so we want to get them into the hands of as many fans as possible, both in Japan and overseas.
There are also a lot of people who started collecting S.H.Figuarts series figures halfway through their run, so I'd like to re-release the figures that everyone wants. And there's also the IMAGINATION WORKS series, which got the largest response we've ever had when we announced it, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how that plays out. Speaking purely from a fan's perspective, it seems like a lot to collect. (laughs) But I'm gonna do my best to get them, so I hope everyone out there can too!
-- Lastly, do you have anything to say to all the Dragon Ball fans around the world?
There's this famous scene where Vegeta measures Goku's Power Level, and in English Vegeta says, "It's over 9,000!!!" In Japanese he actually says, "It's over 8,000!!!" This line is so well known both online and in regular conversations that Dragon Ball even seeps into the younger generation. In Japanese classes in university when the topic of anime comes up, Dragon Ball is guaranteed to come up too. I think that Dragon Ball has transcended being just a series that people love and enjoy and has woven itself into the very fabric of people’s lives everywhere. Even if you're meeting someone for the very first time—even someone from a completely different country—if they're around the same age as you, you can have a blast just talking about Dragon Ball with them.
"Dragon Ball" is the language that unites the whole world!
--- Thank you very much!!
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