Pop culture fandom takes on many forms. Whether it be cosplay, fan fiction, or just obsessively collecting a whole bunch of stuff, there are a multifaceted wealth of ways that people can fly their geek flag high and proud.
After pulling together the roundup of our favorite physical media last week, we got to wondering: “What about all this other cool stuff we love — does this stuff count as physical media? Because it’s great stuff.” In the interest of not overwhelming readers with a list consisting of over a bajillion entries collectively splitting hairs over the taxonomical definition of what qualifies as “media,” we’ve taken the opportunity to dedicate this week’s post solely to pop culture collectibles and memorabilia.
Here are a few of Polygon staffers’ favorite pop culture collectibles. Shout off and show of your own collections in the comments!
Nier: Automata music box
Photo: Square Enix
You learn a lot about yourself when a drunk driver crashes into your home office at 2 a.m., destroying nearly everything you’ve accumulated over the past 30 years. First, you’ll check to see if everyone’s OK. You. Your family. The driver. All safe. Then you’ll look at the rubble and begin to search, instinctively, for what matters most. In my case, I looked for wedding vows, written by my wife on two scraps of hotel notary, which she had framed for me as a gift.
Once you find the most important thing, your brain immediately chooses the second most important thing. And the third most important thing. For a moment, working my way through this vetting of decades of stuff, I gained an acute understanding of which possessions mattered, and realized the answer was “not much.” I would be OK without all this junk. Sad, but OK. Stuff-less.
The one piece of video game ephemera I did mine from the wreckage, roughly around 4 a.m., and using the flash on my iPhone, was a music box. Branded for Nier: Automata and roughly as large as two bite-size Snickers, the mechanical doodad still played its mechanical rendition of a song about life after loss. I didn’t grab it for this pseudo-poetic reason. Of course not! I grabbed it because, like Nier, and I traveled halfway across the globe to attend the official Nier symphony and purchased the music box as my keepsake. Small and dense, it survived the impact.
Now I keep the music box on my nightstand, a totem with new meaning, reminding me of that euphoric clarity. —Chris Plante
A complete set of The Big O mini figurines
Photo: Toussaint Egan/Polygon
As a rule, I tend to love all things retro-futuristic and neo-noir. So I’m a big fan of The Big O, the 1999 mecha anime series created by director Kazuyoshi Katayama and designer Keiichi Sato (Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still). Set in Paradigm City, the last remaining bastion of civilization in the wake of a cataclysmic event which destroyed the rest of the planet and seemingly erased the memories of all those who survived, the series followed Roger Smith, a former military police officer-turned-freelance negotiator who solved disputes and crimes with wit and a giant steampunk robot with humongous pistons for arms and eyeballs that shot lasers.
Having watched and loved the series from its initial run on Cartoon Network’s Toonami back in 2001 and its Western-produced second season on Adult Swim in 2003, and with no access to DVD set or Blu-ray at the time, I knew I wanted to have something of it to proudly proclaim my fandom. I came across two figurine sets featuring most of the show’s principal cast produced shortly after the series’ first season a couple years ago and quickly snatched them up. Nowadays I keep most of them in storage, with the sole exception of Roger Smith and the Big O itself standing front and center of my monitor stand next to my Bloodborne Hunter figurine and my Funko pop of Westworld’s Dr. Robert Ford. In the words of Marge Simpson, “I just think they’re neat!” —Toussaint Egan
Life-size cutout of Elizabeth Swann, Pirate King
Photo: Petrana Radulovic/Polygon
I am an adult with a full-time job and a salary, and that means I can purchase items that I only dared dream of as a child. I’ve already spoken at great lengths about how deeply obsessed I was (and am!) with Pirates of the Caribbean, specifically Elizabeth Swann. As the heroine of the franchise, Elizabeth is brave, daring, intelligent, and resourceful, and she unapologetically goes after what she wants. She’s also played by Keira Knightley, whom I love. Right around the time I rewatched all three of the good Pirates movies last summer, I decided to indulge my childish whimsy and searched to see if a cardboard cutout of Elizabeth Swann existed online. Turns out, it did and it was much cheaper than I anticipated.
My life-size cardboard cutout of Elizabeth Swann, as seen in the Pirate King outfit she wears at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, is directly positioned behind me during my workday. She joins Zoom calls (though I tend to move her out of the way for new interviews, because she is definitely a talking point). When I feel sad or lost, I look toward her for guidance, and she gazes upon me with her dark brown eyes and lets me know that I too can rise up and be a Pirate King. There is something so joyful about walking into my home office every morning and seeing Elizabeth waiting for me to start my day. She gives me strength, all for the pretty low price of $35.99 plus shipping and handling. —Petrana Radulovic
Two Spartans (from Halo: Reach) handcuffed together
Photo: Nicole Carpenter/Polygon
I know almost nothing about the origins of these toys, neither how I acquired them or when I acquired them. But I’ve kept them around over the past 10 years not only because Halo is my favorite franchise of all time — I used to be the kind of person who played Halo games and only Halo games — but because what they represented has evolved over the years. Particularly, how they got permanently tied together by that tiny set of handcuffs.
My now-spouse and I went to an arcade for our first date; he’d driven a few hours to meet me. It was snowing, and it was a three-hour drive for him. We were the only people in the arcade because it eventually became a surprise blizzard. We won enough tickets to get a prize. Unfortunately, we didn’t win enough tickets to get anything very good, so we settled on the best we could afford: a few pieces of candy and the tiny handcuffs. When we got back to the house, I attached the handcuffs to my two Halo: Reach Spartans, a way to keep myself from losing the prize.
Anyway, that was something like eight (?) years ago. We’ve been married for a few years and live together with a cat and dog. I have lost a lot of possessions in my life (including the arcade ticket my partner used to propose to me with) but I somehow managed to keep track of these two Spartans, who’ve remained permanently enjoined by the tiny set of handcuffs. I’ve moved multiple times since the handcuffs were placed, but they remain together to this day, guarding my ink collection.
Despite my partner having no interest in the Halo franchise, these two figures always make me smile, and think of our first date in the arcade, where we played Rock Band in the middle of a snowstorm. —Nicole Carpenter
Sakura Kinomoto Stars Bless You Figure
Photo: Julia Lee/Polygon
I repeatedly make poor financial decisions by buying anime figures. My room and office space is littered with figures of all kinds, from my beloved [email protected]: Cinderella Girls Mika Jougasaki one-eighth scale figs to smaller figures of League of Legends’ K/DA girls. My favorite figure is the one-seventh scale Sakura Kinomoto: Stars Bless You figure, which has the star of Cardcaptor Sakura floating along planets with beautiful transparent wings and a wooden base.
Despite the price, I knew I had to have this figure the second I saw it. Sakura has been an influential part of my life since I was a little girl, not only being the protagonist of the first anime series I’ve ever watched, but also because of her “invincible spell.” She tells herself that everything will definitely be alright, and she works hard to make sure things end up alright. I used to say I had access to the same magical spell when I was going through tough times. This figure sits alongside my volumes of the Cardcaptor Sakura manga and serves as a reminder that despite any hardships I’m going through, everything will definitely be alright. —Julia Lee
Being Jeff Goldblum Poster
Photo: Josh Rios/Polygon
I don’t really collect much these days due to the limited amount of space that I have in my apartment. The one thing I do have is a substantial amount of wall space. Wall space that I have covered with various prints such as my Batman: The Animated Series prints from Mondo. There is one piece I love till the ends of the earth and that’s my fake movie poster for Being Jeff Goldblum. I bought it because of the series of fake sequels for movies that never got sequels. (Being Jeff Goldblum hypothetically being the sequel to Being John Malkovich.) It is always a conversation piece when people come over and ask “ Is that real?” —Josh Rios
Fatal Fury figurines
Photo: Matt Leone/Polygon
I’ve been going minimalist recently, getting rid of a bunch of old games and consoles, so everything I care about basically fits in one drawer. And I don’t really have a favorite, but the smallest thing in that drawer is an old Ziploc bag with seven miniature Fatal Fury figures. They look 3D-printed, but are much older than that. These came from a mail-in marketing program that I think was in an old issue of GameFan — you mailed in a return envelope and they sent you a figure, or something like that. So I kept sending envelopes, and they kept sending back figures. Then I held onto them for 30 years.
Bonus: That brown circle behind Billy Kane’s head is a token for Sega’s holographic arcade game Time Traveler, which I picked up off the ground at a Sega mall tour promoting the game in the early ’90s. —Matt Leone
An original Ursula Vernon triptych
Photo: Tasha Robinson/Polygon
Back before Ursula Vernon was the celebrated author of the Dragonbreath and Hamster Princess children’s books, she was primarily known as a fantasy artist and the creator of the stellar, Hugo-winning graphic series Digger. And at some point in there, she auctioned off a series of original-art commissions, and I won the one for “Anything you want, as long as it’s a mouse.” At the time, she was producing lavish paintings of mice in masquerade masks, so that’s what I asked for — a series of masked mice climbing dark branches, on their way to a ball. Somehow this evolved into her painting me a triptych, which arrived in a vast, custom-made wooden box. It’s been at least a dozen years now that her paintings have had pride of place in my living room, and I get to admire them all over again every time she puts out a new book for adults — she’s currently publishing some of my favorite new fantasy novels under the pen name T. Kingfisher, and I’m both ecstatic about how her career’s developed, and ecstatic that I own my own little personal part of it. —Tasha Robinson
Storm figurine from X-Men (2000)
Photo: Maddy Myers/Polygon
This figurine of Ororo Munroe, aka Storm, represents the character as portrayed by Halle Berry in the 2000 film X-Men — a widely panned performance in a film that gave the character very little to do, especially considering that she’s one of the planet’s most powerful mutants. And yet that film adaptation kicked off what would become my lifelong obsession with the X-Men in general and my crush on Storm in particular.
Looking back on it now, I take issue with many aspects of X-Men (2000), especially with director Bryan Singer’s alleged behavior on and off set. But it was also a movie that came out in a time when I had finally become comfortable with my attraction to people across the gender spectrum. Even though I went back into the closet again in my 20s, when that first X-Men movie came out, I lived a few years of blissful queer affirmation, celebrating my crushes on Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, and James Marsden in equal measure (I didn’t so much have a crush on Famke Janssen as want to be her, and also the mutant she played, Jean Grey). My crush on Storm went beyond all the rest, and that’s why my gay best friend Ryan (with whom I now co-host an X-Men podcast) bought me this Storm figurine at the time.
To me, the X-Men and their journey toward self-acceptance mirrored my own journey, which has had as many ups and downs and moments of self-doubt as Wolverine’s tortured backstory. Throughout it all, I’ve held onto this figurine as a reminder of a notable high point. —Maddy Myers
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