The Mugen logo has always been to me a thing of beauty. I first saw it in the late 80's, on a white first-gen CRX that the popular kid at school owned. He had acquired a few Mugen parts and proudly showed off his Mugen badges. In those days, Robotech and Japanese anime culture were on the rise, so the Mugen logo represented a magic synergy of Japanese cool-factor and cache. The badge had it all: Power, bold kanji, simplicity and in "in the know" foreign flair; all built upon compact cars that were within reach to the average high-schooler growing up in Southern California. Come to think of it now, these elements make up a large part of the backbone of what we toss around these days as the definition of JDM car culture.
Nowadays we take it for granted that "imported from Japan" is synonomous with "high quality," "original" or "authentic" -- even if it isn't always true. But let's turn back the clock to the 80's, to a time when Japan was just starting to be seen as a country that produced high-quality, technologically-advanced goods, especially in the automotive and consumer electronics industries.
This newly-forged consumer credibility in Japanese-made goods was such a departure from decades past that "Back to the Future: Part III" pokes fun at how much things have changed. In the 1955 storyline, Doc and Marty dig up the USDM Fried-Time-Circuit-Spec DeLorean and have this memorable exchange:
Doc Brown: No wonder this circuit failed. It says, "Made in Japan."
Marty: What do you mean, Doc? All the best stuff is made in Japan.
Doc Brown: Unbelievable!
Can't blame Doc Brown for his incredulity. Let's put this in perspective for today. Right now, Chinese-made cars have the reputation of being low-quality, gaudy, inferior knock-offs hobbled together with shoddy workmanship, cheap labor and non-existent quality control standards. Whether that harsh reputation is warranted or not, when the Chinese car manufacturers show off their products at international auto shows, they make cringe-worthy appearances and somehow can't find a copywriter who helps their image instead of harming it. But you have to start somewhere, and in perhaps a decade a few stand-out Chinese auto makers will at last make a decent car, pay the big bucks for a proper ad agency to position and brand them, and they will eventually sell proper Chinese-made cars here in the USA. It sounds crazy now, but no crazier than telling 1955 Doc Brown that in just a few decades, Car and Driver Magazine would have a 10 Best Cars list that includes three cars from Japan (1985 Honda: Accord, Civic/CRX and Prelude). In my own lifetime I've seen Korean cars go from oddities to top sellers. So IMHO I'm betting the same can happen with China. Some day, your kids may want Chinese lettering on the vinyl stickers they proudly display on their super-smart, super-efficient CDM rides. Ni hao, mei guo!
All this automotive navel gazing spooled up within me this week when King Motorsports posted up a classic collection of Mugen logos and emblems from the mid 80's. This single full color catalog page reads a bit like the Rosetta Stone of the Mugen logo. The logos featured here bridge a certain visual branding language gap, capturing a precise moment of Mugen's visual identity transition from the 70's to what they would use in the 90's.
On this single page you'll find the well-established, classic kanji-focused stickers and emblems-- but you ALSO see some of their early uses of the red-gold-black stripes integrated with the logo. The san-serif version of the badge has transitioned nicely into the metal, tilted parallelogram badge they use today.
By the 90's the red-gold-black stripes were common in the printed logos, usually in the minimized dashes they still use today.
I love this terrific window banner that is properly curved to the shape of the glass and tucks the Mugen kanji into the black color bar.
Here is the full catalog page scan. Right-click to see the high res version.
And someday you'll have this exchange with your son:
You: No wonder the super e-motor volt booster you got off Taobao isn't working. It says, "Made in China."
Your kid: What do you mean, Dad? All the best stuff is made in China.
** Check out all of the currently available Mugen emblems and stickers at the King Motorsports online store. **