Sofubi (ソフビ) or Sofvi is a portmanteau word used to describe toys made from soft vinyl (sofuto biniru) usually depicting kaiju, mascots and original characters. The word's meaning has broadened beyond its etymological meaning – referencing the material used, as well as the associated cultural influences and collector scene.
What sets ‘sofubi toys’ apart from general ‘art’ toys, is the subject matter and manufacturing method used. Usually produced in small batches by hand using traditional methods, Sofubi toys draw inspiration from Japanese monsters, folklore and culture.
In 1872 PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) was synthesized by German chemist Eugen Bauman, almost 55 years later in 1926 Waldo Semon and the B.F. Goodrich Company develops a method to plasticize PVC by blending it with various additives. Resulting in a more flexible and more easily processed material that soon achieved widespread commercial use.
In 1954 The Godzilla (ゴジラ, Gojira) franchise is created by Toho, centered on the fictional kaiju character Godzilla.
Sofubi toys were made popular by the Japanese plastic model manufacturer Marusan in 1966 with the release of the "Ultra-kaiju" toy range before succumbing to bankruptcy in 19689. In 1969 Bullmark (ブルマァク) is founded after the bankruptcy of Marusan. 30 years later in 1996, Marmit (マーミット) one of the bigger independent toy manufacturers in Japan is founded, at the same time releasing their flagship "Vinyl Paradise" line.
Traditionally, soft vinyl toys are made using a process called Slush Molding. A wax master is sacrificed to create a metal mold which is then filled with liquid vinyl and placed into a high heat chemical bath. Excess slush is poured out before being cooled until a shell of material forms in the mold. This then becomes a "pull". This process allows various colour variations to be created and the outcome is often unpredictable and unique for each pull. The final product is either left blank or painted, before usually being placed in a polybag with a header card featuring original artwork.
Image credit: @manic_1mag3s. Toy credit: Cinema Monster by Secretoy. Permission for factory access given by Shirahama Seikei
Sofubi toys are adorned with inspiration from both the East and West – exploring the genres of Fantasy, Horror and Science-Fiction. Big screen inspiration comes from Kaiju beasts such as 'Godzilla' and 'Kong' and Tokusatsu stars 'Ultraman' and 'Giant Robot' and Legendary Yōkai  are materialised such as 'Rokurokubi', 'Chōchin obake' and 'Oni'. As well as existing characters, many artists and brands create instantly recognisable original characters and mascots.