Opinion: Azuki Is the New Bored Ape Yacht Club
Bored Ape Yacht Club launched as a grassroots community project in April 2021 and quickly became the hottest NFT collection in the world. In 2022, an anime-themed collection is starting to steal its thunder. It’s called Azuki.
- Azuki is a collection of 10,000 anime-inspired NFTs that's soared in popularity in 2022.
- With airdrops, private events, and ambitious plans for the future, the project shares some similarities with the most successful NFT collection, Bored Ape Yacht Club.
- Like Bored Ape Yacht Club, Azuki NFTs trade at a hefty premium on the secondary market.
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Several bullish catalysts reminiscent of Bored Ape Yacht Club’s early roadmap have contributed to Azuki’s rapid ascent.
Bored Ape Yacht Club’s Ascent
Cartoon monkeys and pixelated Punks aren’t the only sought-after avatar collectibles in the Metaverse today—NFT enthusiasts are also shelling out big bucks on anime-inspired artwork for their online identities.
Since the NFT avatar scene exploded in 2021, many collections have come and passed. A few, however, have grown to become so-called “blue chips,” in turn attracting huge interest and hefty price tags on the secondary market. Though there’s no formula for what makes a winning NFT project, the leaders in the space all thrived by building passionate communities and executing on their roadmaps.
Bored Ape Yacht Club, a now-iconic collection of 10,000 cartoon monkeys launched by Yuga Labs in April 2021, was arguably the first NFT avatar project that did everything right. There was a fair launch with a low entry price (apes costed around $200 on mint). There was no gimmicky marketing or paid advertising in sight. There were promises of a full Metaverse experience and generous rewards that enriched those who stayed loyal to the brand. And there were even exclusive merch drops and private parties featuring guest appearances from the likes of Questlove and The Strokes. By the end of 2021, Bored Ape Yacht Club was so big that some of the world’s top celebrities and companies were aping in. Not long after, Yuga Labs hit a valuation of $4 billion in a raise led by Silicon Valley giants Andreessen Horowitz and acquired what was previously known as the world’s most prestigious NFT avatar collection, CryptoPunks, signaling that times had changed and monkeys were now sitting on the NFT throne. The ApeCoin token was then released to power Bored Ape Yacht Club’s Otherside Metaverse. Today, the cheapest apes set Ethereum users back around $375,000—a price tag only the rich (or crypto-rich) can justifiably afford for a JPEG.
Azuki NFTs Go Parabolic
If things move fast in crypto, they move at lightning speed in NFTs. New drops land daily. Archive collections everyone forgot about can blow up out of nowhere. What’s hot today can die tomorrow. And just as Bored Ape Yacht Club was the star of 2021, Azuki may well take its place under the spotlight in 2022.
Launched by the Los Angeles startup Chiru Labs in January 2022, Azuki’s 10,000 Ethereum-based NFTs quickly sold out on release. Similar to how apes are considered members of a yacht club, Chiru Labs sold a vision for Azuki in which holders would get access to The Garden, “a corner of the Internet where art, community and culture fuse to create magic.” Community members were styled as the “skaters of the Internet.”
Then there was the artwork. The collection stood out from many of the animal-based avatar projects that have saturated the NFT market thanks to its distinctive anime style, taking inspiration from the popular trading card game Pokémon. “Most of the Azuki core team got into NFTs through NBA TopShot, where opening up a pack of NFTs invoked the same emotions as opening up that first pack of Pokémon cards back in the day,” a note on the Azuki website reads. Beyond the crypto space, the anonymous team also says it has experience in Big Tech firms like Google and Facebook.
As the broader community started to catch wind of Azuki, prices for the collection began to soar. In early February, the entry price to “take the red bean” jumped above 15 Ethereum, then saw a slight retrace amid market panic over the Russia-Ukraine conflict. However, even as the floor price declined, the trading volume remained high (trading volume is generally considered a strong indicator of a project’s health). Azukies traded almost $300 million in its first month; then, activity picked up when Forbes ran a feature on the collection. It revealed the project’s plans to build an animated series, games, and merchandise akin to Bored Ape Yacht Club’s recent developments (Azuki has since teased merchandise with a shop on its website that promises an update “soon.”)
In the project’s ambitious “mindmap,” Azuki has promised to focus on partnerships, launch a BEAN token, and explore a DAO setup. The team also reveals it’s looking into launching a game and “interactive brand” alongside other ventures that have not yet been announced.
While a market slump characterized February in crypto, Azuki prices began to rally in March as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other assets started to show signs of life. Azuki hype was lifted with the release of Bobu the Bean Farmer, a sister collection whose IP will be managed and story defined by the holders.
The Azuki floor price then doubled in the lead-up to the announcement of “Something,” a mysterious collection of 20,000 NFTs for the Azuki community. Azuki revealed the airdrop at a private NFT LA party for holders on Mar. 30; Wiz Khalifa also appeared as a special guest at the event. Every holder received two NFTs that traded above 3 Ethereum on launch, equating to a payout of around $20,000. The NFTs transformed to dust on April Fools’ Day, and the collection has since been renamed BEANZ, with a full reveal to drop soon. They’re worth over 5 Ethereum apiece at press time.
As the buzz surrounding the collection has grown, so have the big sales. Azuki #9605, one of the rarest pieces in the collection, sold for $1.4 million last week. After his Bored Ape was stolen, the Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou also bought into the collection. Following Justin Bieber and a wave of other stars that joined the Bored Ape Yacht Club, Chou announced that he’d taken the red bean and joined the garden in an unsubtle hint to his 7.1 million Instagram followers. Shortly after, the collection went parabolic as “FOMO” spilled across the market, briefly hitting a floor price of 34 Ethereum.
The Road Ahead for Azuki
With one of the most ambitious roadmaps in the NFT space, Chiru Labs will have to do a lot to live up to its promises for Azuki. But it’s on the right path so far. In offering a full community experience, including airdrops, exclusive in-person events, and innovative DAO structures, Azuki draws several parallels with Bored Ape Yacht Club. In some senses, the teams behind the two collections have successfully executed on their plans so far because they operate more like established companies than nascent decentralized projects. Bored Ape Yacht Club is frequently compared to hyped fashion houses like Supreme, and the buzz surrounding Azuki is not dissimilar. While the artwork might be a cut above the rest, there’s more to being a skater than having a killer profile picture. Like Bored Ape Yacht Club, Azuki is now a fully-fledged lifestyle brand. Teams hoping to create the next six-figure blue chip avatar would do well to take note.
Disclosure: At the time of writing, the author of this piece owned ETH and several other cryptocurrencies.