That loud thud you heard from Japan today was Epoch throwing the gauntlet down at BBM. Epoch has announced that they are doing their first "flagship" set ever (unless you want to count their 2000 Pro-Baseball Sticker set). The set is called NPB Pro Baseball and it will have a base set of 432 cards - 60 more than BBM's 1st Version set. There don't appear to be any subsets so the base set will have 36 cards per team (assuming that the set is spilt evenly between all 12 teams which is typical of most NPB sets) - that's nine more cards per team than 1st Version. This will include the manager, rookies and the "main players". There are four types of parallels - 72 cards will have a "kira" parallel, 60 cards will have a "silver foil" parallel, 24 cards will have a "hologram foil" parallel and 36 cards will have a "holospectra" parallel. I think there's actually three different varieties of the "holospectra" parallels - emerald, sapphire and ruby (I think). I'm not sure if any of the parallels are serially numbered. There are no autograph or memorabilia cards associated with the set. The cards will be sold in boxes containing 24 packs - each pack will contain 12 cards so each box will have 288 cards. Each pack will contain one of the parallels and I think will contain one card per team. Boxes have an MSRP of 9,072 yen. (As a point of comparison, a box of 1st Version has an MSRP of 6,480 yen and contains 200 cards including possible autograph and memorabilia cards.) The set will be out on May 26th.
This set is significant because it's the first serious competitor to BBM's annual flagship set(s) since probably the Tomy sets of 1993-94. You could maybe consider the Upper Deck issues of 2000-01 but those were relatively small (the largest of their four sets had a 180 card base set). (This is not to diss Calbee - I love Calbee but if you think of the recent Japanese card market as being similar to the US market in the 1970's, Calbee plays the Kelloggs/Hostess role to BBM's Topps role.)
In addition, Epoch also announced their second somewhat reasonably priced team set for this year - the Lions "Rookies & Stars" set. Like the Carp set I mentioned last week, this set is being sold in boxes of 20 5 card packs for an MSRP of 8,640 yen. The base set is 90 cards and 13 cards have two possible parallels I think - sapphire and ruby foil. There's two nine card insert sets that are serially numbered - a gold holospectra set and a silver holospectra set. There are 8 rookie autographs and 27 non-rookie autographs available. The fact that there's 8 rookie autographs is significant - you only get 8 rookies with the Lions if you count the two ikusei players they took in the draft last fall. That implies that the set will include the ikusei players which (to me anyway) implies that Epoch really is taking on BBM in the comprehensive team sets this year. (The Carp set only has six rookie autographs so it will not have autographs of the three ikusei players taken in the draft.) The set will be released on April 14th.
It will be interesting to see as the year progresses whether Epoch will do a "Rookies & Stars" set for each of the 12 NPB teams. So far they haven't announced a set for anyone that they didn't do a team set for last year. If they do a set for Orix, Lotte, Nippon-Ham or Rakuten I'd start thinking they really are going to challenge BBM on the big team sets as well as the flagship set.
I'm excited about Epoch making this challenge to BBM simply because I feel that BBM's offerings have gotten very stale the past few years - kind of like Topps did in the late 1970's. Some serious competition will hopefully light a fire under their creative juices.
Besides these two sets from Epoch, there have been several other new sets announced in the last week or so:
- BBM's first two pack-based team sets were announced recently. They are for the Swallows and Marines. The base set for each set will be 81 cards. The Swallows set is not broken down by subset but the Marines set will have 69 "regular" cards for the manager and players, four "First Impact" cards, a "Road to 2000" card (for Kazuya Fukuura I assume), three "U20 Shining" cards and four "Hot Shots" cards. The Swallows set will have 27 insert cards - 18 of these are unspecified while the other 9 are "Phantom" cards. The Marines set will have 30 insert cards - 9 "Jet Sream", 9 "Front Runner" and 12 "Phantom". Both sets also have a variety of autographed cards available. They will both be released in early April.
- BBM's annual "Icons" box set is back this year and is called "Fanfare". I'm not quite sure of the significance of the name but each box contains 37 cards - the 36 card base set plus one "special" card. I assume the base set has three cards per team but I don't know that for sure. The base set contains the two top rookies from last fall's draft - Kotaro Kiyomiya of the Fighters and Shosei Nakamura of the Carp - as well as Daisuke Matsuzaka's first card with the Dragons. The "special" card could possibly be a facsimile autograph parallel card, a die-cut card or an autographed card. The set will be out in late March.
- I mentioned a few months back that there were a number of team anniversaries this year that I was wondering if BBM would do sets for. Well, they're doing at least one of them - the Hawks 80th Anniversary set will be released at the end of March. This will be a pack-based set with a 90 card base set. The 90 cards break down into 9 "Hawks History" cards, 48 cards of OB Hawks players (which I assume will include former Hawks playing for other teams) and 33 cards of active Hawks players. There will be two nine card insert sets - "Fukuoka Hawks Legends" and "The Hawks Dynasty" and a plethora of autograph cards - including cards of former Hawks manager Sadaharu Oh.
- Epoch is also doing a team anniversary set. This one is called "Legends Of Yokohama" and celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the then Taiyo Whales moving south from Kawasaki to Yokohama in time for the 1978 season. The set is actually subtitled "Yokohama Stadium 40th Anniversary". This is one of Epoch's high end sets - each box retails for 14,040 yen and contains only (I think) six cards - I think it's three regular cards, one parallel card and two autograph cards. The base set has 24 cards in it and there are parallels of 12 of them. There are six different types of autograph card for each player in the base set. The set will be released on March 31.
- Hits has announced a third "Mini Color Paper" team set for this year - this one is for the Carp. There are 14 players represented in the set and each player has two versions of a "card" - a "normal mini colored paper" and a "gold foil signed special mini colored paper". The set hits the shelves on April 27th.