ummmm... they all look so good

Okay. Let's face facts. No matter how much team spirit, national pride and/or patriotism you sport, you must admit one thing; the Japanese make the best toys in the world. No contest. They own the house.
Now some of you may say, "No way! My Star Wars/X-men/Spawn figures rule!"
No, actually, they don't. They suck. They're about as much fun to play with as Hummel figurines. Stiff, awkward figures with ridiculous accessories. If you want a figurine, buy one. Put it one your shelf, and look at it from time to time. Very pretty, yes.
Japanese toys are different. These are what toys are really all about. Innovative, holistic designs. Incredible articluation. Cool accessories that enhance the figure rather than distract from it. You can spend hours playing with these toys and discover new things about them. And they have the one magical, mystical chracteristic that truly sets them apart; mysterious, unexplainable joints, mechanisms and buttons. You may never figure out what their for. Point is, you can invent a purpose. Now that toy is yours. Now it is unique. Only you comprehend its full function.
Okay, so maybe I've over-romanticized this a bit. But they are cool. And the best part is they're usually on clearance, because they don't have a hip cartoon/movie to market them. The kids blow right past them. You can buy them for a song.
Some of the toys I mention below may very well have been designed in places other than Japan. Toy companies frequently work internationaly. Kudos to these designers for evoling past their peers.

ZAP Police Force I have no clue what the toys are about, but they're damn fun. Upwards of 25 joints on each figure. Good joints, too. You can pose them, and they'll stay that way. They're also good if you like to make your own figures. After you strip off the armor, they're pretty basic. You can buy these at any KB Toys for about $4. Click on the image to the right to go to the ZAP Power Force web site (I can't belive I actually found one!).

SuperHuman Samurai Cyber Squad Terrible show. Great toys. The best part is you can buy several that unite to form completely new toys. Toys R' Us usually has these bad boys on clearance.

Technozoids Robotic animals and monsters you build from a kit (don't worry, they're pretty easy). The larger ones require batteries, the smaller ones just wind up. They walk, gnash their teeth, wag their tails, wave their guns, flap their wings, you name it. You can find these at any good Walmart for dirt-cheap prices. There are a few incarnations that were released only in Japan. These are usually signifigantly more expensive. Click on Iron Kong to the right to visit the most thorough 'Zoid page in the world.

Mobile Suit Gundam Pretty expensive, since they're imported. I have yet to buy one for that reason, but damn, they look good. If anyone out there has actually bought and assembled one of these kits, let me know what they're like.

Vac Man Definately not a Japanese toy, but he is very fun. His body is like a hollow bag filled with air and these tiny pellets. Twist him into some bizarre shape, and then pump the air out through his head. He retains the new shape, and you can play with him like that. When you're done, let the air back in. He returns to his normal shape. The cool thing about Vac Man is that he's a good party toy. The more people you have twisting him, the better he comes out.

Akira Everyone's seen the movie, but very few have actually read the whole comic (understandable considering it had such and erratic schedual). The movie is amazing, but the comic is better. The story is more sophisticated, the characters more complex. The art, of course, is stunning, unsurpassed. If you have the moxie and the bread to check out, what is in my opinion, the greatest comic ever, I'd recommend the trade paperbacks for economy and ease of collection. The American edition of Akira also broke the ground for computer coloring, way back when Olyoptics new the meaning of the word "restraint".

Torpedo 1936 Gritty? Yup. Violent? Oh yes. Mysoginistic? A bit. Earthy? Check. A good read? Every time. Torpedo 1936 is a series of short stories about a Depression-era hitman. The stories are quite authentic, and consequently, quite un-PC, but they're grim, funny and strangly satisfying. Additional Torpedo stories pop up in anthologies all over the place, so keep an eye out for them. The writing is tight. The art is fluid and strong. The book is considered Adults Only because, yes, Torpedo does get busy once in a while.

Gregory In my humble opinion, anything Marc Hempel touches is gold. The man has a brilliant, expressive style, and a true gift for story telling. His Gregory books are still the best in my opinion, although Tug N' Buster is defintely one of the best books on the rack today. Gregory is about a little boy who lives in an insane asylum with a rat down his pants. See? You're intrigued already. If you really develope a hunger for the Hempel, check out his old "Two-way comics" in old issues of Heavy Metal. Kooky.

Wasteland That's right, the old DC anthology series. Vertigo before there was Vertigo. It ran for about 17 issues, and can frequently be found in quarter boxes. Neat, fun stories a la Eerie and Creepy (also excellent books). The art's kinda odd, but it grows on you. I especially recommend the Dead Detective stories.