Semantics Time: Are the Japanese Vending sets "promos"?

This question has been creeping into my mind for years and the time has come to hash out the truth, like the religious scholars of old trusting only each other with the most challenging questions to their faith.

For years, conversations about Japanese promos have included the Vending Series 1-3. These cards, distributed through vending machines on special sheets, were released in small batches and printed on glossy card stock. The sheets they peel from are identical in mechanism to other Japanese promos like those released through CoroCoro. Aesthetically speaking, they have a lot in common with promotional cards. In the western world where what is and isn’t a promo is far more distinct, I think we gravitate towards the idea that these are special cards and that makes them promos. Promos that, in culmination, happen to total over 100 cards.

But is this right? Are they really promos or are they a special set of cards with an unusual distribution method? Is it more correct to consider the Vending Series similar to Web Series, or even Vs Series cards? Can we really call the Vending Series promos?

I’ll tell you, folks, the question has shaken me to my core. What is a promo? What is a set?


You could buy it directly by itself. Wasn’t won or given out with something. Clear organization, numbering, and theme. Definitely a special set, not a promo. And its the best set of all time, outside of base just being the “first.”


I’d say special set, not a promotion. Good thought though, the glossy feature and unique release is close


Honestly I dont see this as a promo, for me, a promo must be (as the name implies) tied to a promotion, like a new game, a movie release, a colaboration with some brand… all that kind of stuff. Or tied on a certain event (like Worlds) or the release of a new set in Pokemon Center… Japanese Vending is a regular set but instead of opening packs they had a different distribution but they dont event have the promo logo, right? Anyway there are pretty cool and it’s a shame we didnt get those on the west :frowning:


Our eyes are all open to the truth. May we soon find peace in knowing.

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I honestly think this is it. Promos are not merchandise, they are promotions. If their primary method of distribution was transaction, they are not promos.

I can’t think of any popular “promos” that would be disqualified by this fundamental criteria.



Why did this send me into an existential crisis! :sweat_smile:

Honestly I never thought about it they are a set or promo. @eeveeteam Probably has the best answer, special set, as vending feels like a bit of a hybrid, both promo and set.


That’s kind of how I feel about the Alto Mare (“Theater Limited VS Pack”) half deck.

18 cards, explicitly a theatrical tie-in promotion, but sold at retail and feels like a modular addition to Vs Series. Hard to categorize.


100%! Southern Island is similar as well. Its why I always hesitate to say its my favorite set, because it feels more like a promo release. I personally treat releases like Southern Island and movie decks as promos.


This chilled me to the bone. The notion that Southern Islands would not be a promo set is incomprehensible. What truth is there if not that Southern Islands are promos?

But you are correct. These were sold at retail and purchased outright. And if Southern Islands are promos, which I believe with all of my soul they must be, then Alto Mare are promos too. In fact, they are very similar releases. I never really reflected on how similar they were.


To tag off of that last bit, it’s a bit of a grey area but I would personally classify decks like that as promos as well. Not only were they tied to commemorate a specific film release, but they had a limited time period to purchase/order. Limitations on distribution/print run and ties to a specific promotional campaign are the biggest factors in classifying promos in my eyes, but I know a lot of folks who disagree. I can see both sides, but personally I see decks like the Alto Mare’s Lati@s, Lenticular Deoxys, and numerous Movie Commemoration VS Packs as promos. I know it’s counterintuitive when they don’t have the Black Star Promo logo on the bottom, though :stuck_out_tongue:

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I think the next step for us, as philosophers, is to list out what qualifies. You’ve already started here, but I think we have a responsibility.


Like the unlimited edition E1 set Ponyta or unlimited edition Pokémon VS set Pryce’s Lapras? Their 1st edition counterparts are set cards, but these unlimited edition cards are promotional releases. :thinking:


The three Vending Machine Series (1: Blue, 2: Red, 3: Green) are originally referred to as “Expansion Sheets” in Japanese (拡張シート). This suggests that the series were not promos per se but actual expansions.

They fall under the category of “Special Expansions” (e.g., Southern Islands, Poké Card Creator Pack, Pokémon Rumble, Dragon Vault, etc.) rather than a “Main Expansion” (e.g., Base Set, Jungle, Fossil, etc.), “Black Star Promo” (e.g., ADV-P Promotional cards, PCG-P Promotional cards), or “PLAY/PPP Promotional Cards.”

The other piece worth considering is, “What is the main purpose of the set?” Is the set promoting something? If so, maybe you can consider it a promotional item, but it is not an official “promo” if that makes sense.

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I feel like the vending series is 100% a set. The word set implies a grouping of cards for a release together, where as promos are released individually or in small batches for a “promotion”. There was no promotion for the vending series, right? It’s just an expanded set. Same for Southern Islands I would think.

As a kid I simply applied the word promo to all odd cards lol

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I’m going to go with promo for Southern Islands. Yes you could buy them directly, but they were directly tied to the 2nd movie and jointly released to promote the movie/tcg.

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If McDonalds promos are promos I think cards you needed to get from vending machines out in the wild would constitute promos

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It’s a set… Just have to think of the sheets as an alternate way of distibution (like a pack from a set). Also it does not promote anything specific. Just a unique set with unique art…

hm… I think there are at least two big differences. First and most obvious, McDonalds cards are a promotion between the two brands and you cant buy the cards directly (I mean, at least you shouldn’t, let the pandemic weird stuff aside), as they are gifted with the meal. Second, but related: the Vending Machine series are sold as cards, it’s not a different product that also came with a card.

I would count both of these as promos. They are promoting the sets they come from and have a distinguishing feature. However, the shadowless Charmeleon that was distributed through Nintendo Power is not. The only thing that makes that card distinct is that its mounted on an insert, which can be considered a collectible, but the card itself is just a regular shadowless Charmeleon.

What’s also a tougher call are the other mysterious unlimited Expedition cards from Japan, which to my knowledge we don’t have a clear narrative on. We don’t know exactly how many there are, how many cards there are, or under what circumstances they were distributed. I would include them as promos in an honorary sense but it’s hard to say what those even are.