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Gambling in Disguise: The Sonny Angel Phenomenon

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UC Irvine chapter.

You may have seen it on social media: a tiny naked angel baby with some type of hat on his head. The hat ranges from different colors and shapes, with designs detailing animals to plants. These Sonny Angel figurines come in ten different sets (not including the limited edition ones), ranging from five to twelve Sonny Angels wearing different hats per set. Their three-inch height, soft smile, and pastel colors make it an appealing collectible item for all ages. 

These figurines sell for ten to thirteen dollars, depending on the set, at your local Japanese memorabilia store. They are commonly sold in individual blind-box packaging, meaning you will be able to choose from what collection you want but not the specific figurine. For example, you can buy a Sonny Angel from the Animal Set wanting to get the Lion Sonny Angel, but you might end up getting the Peacock one. Sonny Angels aren’t the only figurine sets to have these blind boxes. In these Japanese stores, the Sonny Angels are often next to other figurines with the same concept.

What does this exactly mean? Well, if you’re looking to get a specific Sonny Angel, you have a one-out-of-five to one-out-of-twelve chance, depending on the set, to get the one you want. If you want to complete a set, you are probably going to have to buy more blind boxes than there are Sonny Angels in that set. The idea of spending your money for the chance of getting lucky and achieving your desired outcome is a lot like gambling. Only, it’s not advertised like that.

In Japan, these “chance gambles” are commonly known as gacha. The name originates from gashapon, or vending machines that would dispense a random toy capsule. Gacha is not only a title reserved for these physical mystery items but also for video games such as Genshin Impact.

Despite being gambling games, gacha removes the negative connotation of gambling. Gambling is often associated with an addiction that takes over a person’s life, leaving them in financial hardship. Is it harmful to call these gambles by a different name and therefore downplay their possibly harmful impact?

In my opinion, no. There’s a reason why these gambles are called gacha and not gambles, and it has more to do with making them family-friendly.

When someone purchases a lottery ticket, society doesn’t hold them to the same standard as a, let’s say, blackjack gamble, even though it is a gamble. The same can be said of gacha. These gacha games offer a high-stakes adrenaline rush without the actual high stakes. That’s what makes them appealing in the first place. 

People know when to limit themselves. Many Sonny Angel customers I know would limit themselves to two blind-boxes per set. While they may be looking for something, often they don’t look to complete the whole set and they know the odds of a duplicate increase with every unique figurine they get prior. They continue to buy Sonny Angels because they like the mystery surrounding what they could get. 

Unlike gambling, there are other means to get what you want. You can buy specific figurines off of sites like eBay or buy the whole set from Japan if they want it. I, myself, have indulged in this gacha with Panghu Daily Life of Tiger Cub figurines. I’ve only ever bought two, afraid of getting duplicates.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be cautious, though. It only takes one straw to break the camel’s back. While I wouldn’t liken the act of purchasing Sonny Angels to gambling, I will say the high one gets from purchasing these blind boxes can easily be a gateway to the real deal. It’s easy for the ten-dollar purchase to turn into twenty, then fifty, so proceed at your own risk.

Jasmine Doan

UC Irvine '25

Jasmine is a Vietnamese-American history major at UCI. She loves to read, write, and watch K-dramas.