Toga's Kuru Togas

I am required by law to review these pencils.

Close up image of 2 Uni Kuru Toga mechanical pencils showing the name imprints with an orange background.
Listen to this post in the authors voice

I am required under the Stationery Naming Law, § 27b, to review these pencils.

Credit to the always awesome Brad from the Pen Addict for the idea. If for some reason you're not already, you should absolutely follow him on Twitch & Mastodon.

A few years ago, I decided I could do with a new mechanical pencil. I had a few old ones from 20 years ago, like a Staedtler Mars Micro 775 and a Pentel Technika-X—both solid pencils in their own rights—but I wanted something a bit sturdier and with a metal grip. As I was perusing the Amazon results, one in particular stood out to me. Not so much for its looks, but for its name: The Uni Kuru Toga Roulette. How could I not go for it when it carries my name? Thankfully, it turned out to be a pretty great mechanical pencil!

Photo of the Uni Kuru Toga Roulette & Dive mechanical pencils on a marbled grey background
My Kuru Toga Roulette & Dive

If you're unfamiliar with the Kuru Toga series, they have a mechanism that rotates the lead as you write so that you always have a nice, uniform point without having to keep rotating the pencil itself. This is one of those things that's always bugged me about pencils, but you put up with it because it's just the reality of using an implement that wears down as it's used. So it was a pleasant surprise to find uniball had come up with a solution to this that actually works.

Photo of the Kuru Toga Roulette being held up by a Red Panda figure, with an orange marbled background
Kuru Toga Roulette

The 0.5mm Roulette is styled along the lines of a draughting pencil, with a metal grip and plastic barrel. The bottom half of the grip has some very grippy knurling, but if you hold your pencils higher up, the matte metal is still grippy enough that I don't feel like it would slip out of my hand. There's a small circular window at the bottom of the grip that allows you to see part of the Kuru Toga mechanism turning as you use it. The mechanism works via a clutch and a series of gears that incrementally rotates the lead each time you press the pencil onto the page & lift it again, taking ~40 presses to fully rotate on this model. This does mean that it doesn't work as well with English cursive writing, since you don't lift the pencil as often. But for print and languages like Japanese it's pretty effective. It would be nice if the entire pencil was metal, but having the body made from plastic keeps the rear light so that you have a front-balanced, easy to control pencil. My only complaints with this model are that 1) the grip is quite thin at 9¾mm, so it quickly becomes painful for me to use in longer writing sessions, and 2) it doesn't have an automatic lead advance mechanism. I can live with the latter, but the former relegates this pencil to quick notes or light sketching & detail work only.

Close up photo of the front end of the Roulette with an orange background
Look at that lovely, evenly-worn lead!

Fast-forward a few years and uniball released the Kuru Toga Dive—a 0.5mm mechanical pencil with a cap! It's not the first to try this—the Pentel Sharp Kerry has been around for a while & is highly regarded—but it's still a rarity among mechanical pencils. The Dive was a huge hit & remained in high demand long after it sold out. Unfortunately, because uniball weren't making any new ones the scalpers started listing them for astronomical prices. Eventually, uniball decided that they needed to do something about these scalpers, so they made more available & became the scalpers themselves, selling them for more than twice the initial price. This was already a fairly expensive pencil at ~£30, but re-releasing them for ~£70 caused quite the commotion in the stationery world. Despite this high price, they quickly sold out again. I would have liked to have picked one up at the time, but because of the steep price I put it out of my mind. Until February, when I realised there was a model with a colour shifting paint job. I loooooooove colour shifting products—be it pens, pencils, even guitars—so I knew I had to track one down. This wasn't easy, but I eventually found one in a Taiwanese store for a pretty decent price.

Photo of 3 fountain pens & a mechanical pencil sitting on top of the body of an electric guitar. All items have different colour-shifting paint jobs.
All my colour-shifting items! L-R Lanbitou 776, Pelican Twist, Uni Kuru Toga Dive, Diplomat Magnum, & an Ibanez Xiphos.

This model has an adjustable automatic lead advance mechanism along with a thicker 11mm grip, solving both issues I had with the Roulette. The packaging states it has a new Kuru Toga mechanism that rotates the lead faster, but I can only assume this is compared to much older models, as—just like the Roulette—it also takes ~40 presses to rotate the lead a full 360º. The colour-shifting matte paint job looks gorgeous, ranging from a dark forest green through to a sumptuous dark purple depending on the direction that light hits it. The cap has a satisfying magnetic closure, with small wedges on the pencil body that guide the cap into position as it closes, meaning that the facets will always line up. Uncapping also activates the lead advance mechanism, so the pencil will always be ready to write when you are. The grip is rubberised with some small raised nodules to help keep your fingers in place. I do much prefer the knurling of the Roulette, but the thicker grip section on the Dive stays comfortable for longer. The Kuru Toga mechanism window is in the middle of the body this time, and is fairly deeply recessed, making it quite a bit more difficult to observe it in action than on the Roulette.

Photo of the Kuru Toga Dive being held up by a Red Panda figure, with an orange marbled background
Kuru Toga Dive

I tested this pencil with 3 different grades of Pentel Ain 0.5mm leads to see how well the auto lead advance mechanism works: 2H, HB, & 4B. There was a lead from uniball designed specifically for the Kuru Toga pencils that had a hard core & softer outer shell, but I couldn't find it for sale anywhere so I had to settle for one of the best leads on the market. I found it couldn't quite keep up with how quickly the 4B lead wears down even on the highest setting. I'd say 2B would probably be the softest it could cope with if you never want to have to manually press the lead advance. Both 2H and HB worked perfectly, never requiring me to manually advance it. Which is just as well, because—unlike with the Pentel Kerry—when you have the cap posted you can't press the cap down to activate the button. I was initially a little surprised by this, but in reality there wouldn't be much point in adding that feature when the pencils entire shtick is the lead auto-advance. I'm not usually one to post my pen caps, but in this case I think it looks and feels best with the cap posted. It uses the same magnetic system to keep the cap securely posted as it does when you cap it, so there's no chance of it accidentally coming loose. It does affect the balance a smidge, moving it from slightly front-weighted to almost exactly centre-balanced, but it wasn't enough for me to notice much of a difference while using it.

Close up photo of the front end of the Dive showing the lead auto-advance dial in front of an orange background
The wear isn't quite so even on this one, but that's because I have 4B lead in it which wears down faster than either the Kuru Toga mechanism or the lead auto-advance can cope with.

I really love these pencils, especially the Dive, but would I recommend them? For the Roulette, there's no question. It's a great pencil at a good price, but it's just a bit too thin for me. The Dive I'd recommend with a Mariana Trench-sized caveat. It's a fantastic pencil, but it's way, way too expensive. If you need something thicker than the Roulette, then either the Advance or Alpha-Gel Kuru Toga's would serve you better at a fraction of the price. If you desperately need a capped mechanical pencil, then the aforementioned Pentel Sharp Kerry would be a much cheaper option.

This concludes my legaly mandated review of the pencils that carry my name. Or is it me that carries their name? 🤷‍♂️ What are your favourite mechanical pencils?