But anyway, we’re taking a look today at the 2018 BBM 1st Version cards (available for purchase here). The general consensus is that BBM is the Topps of the Japanese baseball card collecting scene. The 1st Version set is the company’s flagship release, equivalent to Topps’ Series 1. In addition to 1st & 2nd Version, BBM also has a range of team-specific releases and a high end “Genesis” set and a rookie-centric release.
Today we’re focused on the 1st Version, which is what I’m carrying here at Bay State Baseball Cards. I’ve had some of the cards in hand for about a week now, I really like the set. The base cards are a full bleed photo with a small borderless text area on the bottom with the player’s name, team position, number and the set name. The text is a little small (or I’m just getting older than I thought). And it seems that this is a general template that BBM’s using in the past few years. I’ve seen some recent flagship releases with a similar aesthetic (varying graphic elements, but full bleed, name & team in same region of the card, etc). So coming in new to this year’s set, the design is pretty exciting, akin to a Stadium Club. But maybe collectors who have been building sets over the last few years would like to see something new.
Let’s circle back for a second. The base set features 26 player cards, 1 manager card and a team checklist for all 12 teams in the NPB (6 in each league). Additionally there are some parallels (serial numbered gold cards, gold & silver foil facsimile autos, hand signed on card signatures, a small handful of jersey relics and some alt-photo cards. Additionally there is the Cross Universe (& Cross Universe 3D), Gemstone and Japonism inserts. A considerably smaller offering of chasers compared to their American analog Topps.
The back is in all Japanese. I would guess that if you’re studying the language, having a bunch of flash cards written in kanji might be helpful. For me, It’s been 25 years since I’ve even tried to read the language, so I’m lost in the sauce on the backs. I do like one design element where all Central League teams have red highlighted elements and Pacific League squads are trimmed in green. The action photos on front, I’ve been told, are mostly from Spring Training (eagle eyed collectors have caught players from the Korean team KT Wiz in the background of some Fighters’ cards – the teams meet annually in Arizona where they share spring training facilities, I believe with the Cincinnati Reds). It’s personally slightly disappointing that most, if not all, the photos also feature exclusively the teams’ home uniform sets. But the photos are gorgeous. Great photo quality, and the card stock is top of the line front and back. Another nice addition are the team checklist cards (which, surprisingly, also count the Gemstone, Cross Universe & Japonism cards).
My personal opinion is that this is a great jumping in point for Americans who are interested in getting into Japanese cards. You get the full range of teams in this set as well as some stunning looking inserts (the Japonism and Cross Universe are some of the most stunningly crafted designs I’ve seen in a long time). With the limited number of inserts and parallels, putting together a full set through pack cracks and picking up singles isn’t unreasonable. Then, at the end of the day, you will have an awesome looking set. That’s why I’m carrying this set rather than one of BBM’s other offerings, or a set by Calbee or Epoch (the other two major brands producing NPB cards).
Overall, this is a really interesting set for a couple different types of collectors. First is for collectors interested in the Japanese game. But also, there are some interesting guys to look at becoming a super collector of (Wladimir Balentien comes to mind). Then, I just like picking up non-MLB products. It’s also a good looking set. It won’t look like a custom card you printed out on your LaserJet sitting in your binder between Topps flagship & Stadium Club cards.