Anime for All

Shop hosts inaugural toymaker competition 

Taylor and Joe Abenante of Tokyo Toybox.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

“Most people who think they don’t like anime haven’t actually experienced it,” says Joe Abenante. His wife, Taylor Abenante, agrees. “There are so many different types,” she adds.

Anime, hand-drawn and computer-generated animation, originated in Japan but has since spread around the world. The genre comprises hundreds of subcategories for all ages, but in general, anime in print and on film is distinguished by complex plotting rather than nonstop action, and by characters whose expressively drawn faces — eyes are key — carry the story’s emotion.

Self-described nerds, Joe and Taylor grew up watching Japanese cartoons. They even met inside an anime shop in Nevada. But when the couple ditched the desert and moved to Hendersonville in 2012, they were surprised by the region’s lack of anime culture.

“The East Coast was 10 years behind the West Coast,” Taylor remembers. 

Seeing an opportunity, the husband-and-wife team began selling anime collectibles at conventions in 2013. The business, Tokyo Toybox, quickly blew up. “We were traveling 40 weeks out of the year,” says Joe, listing events as far away as Seattle. “But that quickly wears on you.”

Tired of the road, the two opened a brick-and-mortar in Hendersonville’s Blue Ridge Mall in October. Inside the 2,000-square-foot store is an eye-catching array of Pokémon trading cards, Kirby figurines, and Hello Kitty plushies, plus more obscure anime collectibles — a smorgasbord for subculture devotees. (True enthusiasts will be pleased to know that the Abenantes only purchase products from trustworthy manufacturers, not online bootleggers.)

Sure, anime is niche. But one doesn’t have to be an otaku — a person whose zeal for the genre is all-consuming — to enjoy the store’s whimsical offerings. 

A few items in the store’s collection.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

“We’ve had people come in who don’t know anything about anime but think a plushie is cute,” says Taylor. “We’ve also had older veterans stop by to talk about how they were stationed in Japan and how our store reminds them of their time overseas.”

Since toys are universally fun — no matter if you’re an animation-obsessed preteen or a retired mall walker — Joe and Taylor will celebrate their first-ever holiday season in an actual storefront by holding a Holiday Toymaker Competition. 

Contestants are asked to sew, mold, carve, or otherwise craft a toy of their own design. All entries must fit inside a standard shoebox or a six-quart storage container, use just $20 of materials, and be submitted by Friday, December 23. Playthings must also reflect the theme: Christmas in Tokyo. 

The winner, says Taylor, will be announced on New Year’s Day and receive a $250 cash prize. “We think the competition will be a great way to get the community together,” she notes. 

The Abenantes also see the event as a way of piquing the interest of anime-curious locals. “The storytelling [in the genre] is always phenomenal,” Joe promises. “Anime creators do a really good job of telling really good stories in colorful ways.”

For the uninitiated, Joe has even assembled a syllabus of sorts. “I’ve actually created a list of anime series for people who think they don’t like anime,” he says. “There’s something for everyone.”

Hosted by Tokyo Toybox (1800 4 Seasons Blvd., Suite G15, Hendersonville), the Holiday Toymaker Competition runs from Dec. 14-23. For more information, call 828-333-7220, visit, or find “Tokyo Toybox” on Facebook.

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