Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tamaki Kousaka by Max Factory

No further efforts necessary; please tell the modeling department they can stop trying.  This is the definitive, the only figure of Tama-neechan that you need.


Few anime, manga, or eroge characters have been rendered to scale for shelf-borne perusal and moesome delight more than Tamaki Kousaka from Aquaplus' 2004 visual novel To Heart 2.  For a game published eight years ago, To Heart 2 has managed to keep itself remarkably relevant through OVAs, spinoff series, and, perhaps most of all, the relentless marketing of character goods.  With a stable of almost twenty girls to cavort with across the original and spin-off series, there is no shortage of character archetypes to exploit, and no limit to the number of marketing opportunities designed to separate otaku from their yen.

Robot maid on the bottom left, because Japan.  Thanks to hashihime.blogspot.com for the image.

With so many lovely girls to choose from, the To Heart 2 figure market is enormous, outdone only by the fighting ladies of Ikki Tousen perhaps.  So far as the gentler members of the gentler sex are concerned, however, Tamaki must be the leader in the clubhouse.  A search on the PVC Figure section of Hobby Search Japan yields a Mastercard-melting 56 different presentations of Miss Kousaka for consideration.  School uniform?  Check.  Bikini?  Check.  Maid uniform?  Check.  Straddling a Suzuki Hayabusa?  Gotcha.  Samurai armor?  Sure, why the hell not.  Race queen?  Bunny outfit?  Licking a giant, dripping popsicle?  Yes, yes, and, God save us, yes.

Tamaki, often referred to as Tama-oneechan, or just Tama-nee for short, is described as a headstrong young woman with a forceful disposition adept at classical Japanese arts well as more modern pursuits.  Her nickname is a reflection of the older-sister confidence she brings to her relationships with boys and girls alike.  She's an osana najimi of the story's protagonist who went away to an all-girls boarding school for the majority of her education, but left to rejoin the lucky young man for his senior year of high school. 

Thanks to zerochan.net for the image.
Certainly these character traits lend to her popularity with the otaku set, but there can be no doubt that her character model is at least an equal conspirator in her campaign for collectors' hearts.  If her distinctive mulberry red hair doesn't do the job, her voluptuous figure comes through in spades.  Perhaps the operative word here is "thick"; she's a far cry from fat, but she's not svelte either.  She's not a lean, athletic type, and she's not grotesquely proportioned with gigantic breasts and a tiny waist.  I will not insult any 3D female by describing Tamaki as "realistically proportioned," but she is reasonably close.  She is a rare bird in this instance; if Tamaki fell down, she'd just bruise instead of shattering on impact.  She looks like she'd eat a sandwich and some chips and not moan about the dietary consequences for two hours after the fact.  Few examples of similar sturdily-built characters come to mind; certainly Sena "Niku" Kashiwazaki from Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai is the best recent example.
Not afraid of a sandwich.   Thanks to fanpop.com.

Business logic dictates that figures of Tamaki would no longer be made if they ceased selling, so what is it that keeps her in the otaku consciousness?  I would have to think that her distinctly different character build is what keeps new iterations of her coming about and onto collectors' shelves.  Of course she's idealized, but Tamaki exudes an almost American girl-next-doorness that makes us collectors keep coming back for more. With so many iterations to choose from, it is necessary to be somewhat discerning when it comes to buying.  Fortunately, back in May 2010, Max Factory made it easy for us.  They made what I feel is the first, last and only Tama-nee figure a collector needs to have to capture the essence of the character perfectly.

Beware diabetes sufferers, this one packs a lot of sugar!


Rendered here in a smallish 1/6 scale, Tamaki is posed on her knees in what would have to be called an unusual state of undress--the blouse of her light pink school uniform drapes below her shoulders as her clasped hands contain her considerable bust.  Her skirt and brassiere are nowhere to be found, just a pair of thigh-high stockings and simple pink panties .  Her gaze is slightly up and to the left, her chin over her left collarbone (quite an underserved part of the female anatomy when it comes to figures, if you ask me!).  Let's not quibble over exactly how Tama-nee found herself in this position, but just enjoy it for what it is, starting with her expression.


Let's bask in this for a moment...

...

...

Louvre-worthy
...okay, good.  Tama-nee's face is, I think, just about the sweetest one I've ever seen captured in 3D on a figure.  Her large-as-the-moon brown eyes, subtle blushing in her cheeks, and her Mona Lisa-quality smile are a force of nature.  Another, much better-established figure review site refers to it as angelic, and damn it if they didn't take the best possible word for themselves.  You'll notice that the corners of her mouth and the middle of her lips are slightly peaked, forming a subtle "w" shape.  Her expression is one of bashfulness, just shy of embarrassment, and also happiness; in a narrative, this figure exists after maybe years of friendship and months of dating, finally ready to open the whole of herself to your view, in those chest-pounding moments that exist before instincts trump all.  At this moment in time, Tamaki is comfortable with herself, and comfortable with you, and that nervous natural inclination to keep oneself obscured is finally ready to be broken down.  If there is anything to quibble about, the material used for her eyes seems to be extra glossy, and tends to reflect light a bit more than most figures do, but this is a minor consideration at best.


From the best part of the figure to the worst, to say that Tamaki is well-endowed is insufficient.  Her character model certainly does feature an impressive bustline, but on this figure, her breasts are verging on being absurdly outsized.  Tama's clutching them, pressing them to her body, and lifting them up does lend to an interesting, somewhat realistic shape.  They not perfectly round, and they are not perfectly even, and they definitely have heft and substance to them, which are all welcome departures from the lightweight fantasy globes usually attached to the chests of busty anime girls.  However, these go a bit beyond what they should be--were they free from her grasp, we'd be venturing into Cattleya territory.  Large breasts can be realistic, or they can be carnivalesque, or they can be grotesque. and these definitely qualify as carnivalesque.  They are far from abhorrent (again, Cattleya), but with the rest of the figure so nicely, lovingly proportioned, Tama's chest size does definitely detract from the overall.  And again, at the very least, they are somewhat consistent with the thickness and voluptuousness of the rest of the figure.

Tamaki's torso, legs, and butt all continue the impression that, as a young woman, she is far from fragile.  Her stomach has a noticeable convex, as would any healthy woman, and the waistline of her panties shows a slight bowing to the bottom of her stomach, not just a straight-across flat expanse from her groin to her chest, and sweet Jesus her navel looks like a proper navel, not an afterthought, and I tell you it is s-e-x-y sexy.  
Room for internal organs!
Actually gripping the body!

The same can be said for her thighs--you can see a slight bulge where the upper seam of her stockings compresses her flesh into the hosiery.  And again, those sweet simple pink panties, perhaps a bit low-rise, but basic, honest, what one would expect a girl to wear on a normal day at school or work or what have you, not festooned with bows and lace, just a simple cotton fabric set.

The view of Tama from behind is just as luscious as the front.  The Mulholland Drive created from her lower back to her buttocks to her upper hamstring is remarkably sexy and does not do anything to betray the thickness of the character's build.  I almost wish the panties were cut a little lower down on the leg to give her slightly more coverage, again, just to highlight the curvaceousness of her body, but I can't fault the modeler too greatly for wanting to show more of her skin.  The modeler continued the idea of simple coverage between Tamaki's legs--just a modest rise, nothing overly detailed to see there. 



















 Extra credit has to be assigned for the care given to Tamaki's hands and fingers.  The fact that the time was taken to sculpt each individual digit separately, to interweave them, to give a kiss of color to each fingernail, to actually express the articulation of each knuckle, is simply awesome.  Anyone who's ever tried drawing a hand knows how easy they are to botch and how integral they are to a proper human figure, and the success of this piece's hands cannot be overlooked.

One of the greatest successes of any figure is when it looks right from every angle.  Above, below, left, right, or center, for a figure to avoid a derp here or a herp there and, even better, to stay true to the expression of the character, must be exceedingly difficult considering how rare an accomplishment it is.  This figure does it.  Wherever you're viewing Tamaki from, you get the right idea, that incredibly moe feeling that the sculptor sought to capture.  Tamaki measures 7" tall, requires about 4.25" of shelf space, and comes with an optional base with a furry white fabric for her legs to rest on--for shelf-saving space and for aesthetics, I've chosen to go without.  






Break all the other molds, throw away the templates.  Hang up the bunny suit, put the sword down, park the Hayabusa in the garage.  It's all clutter.  Nonsense.  Just keep making these.  This is no longer unrequited, this is the sweethearted friend-turned-lover Tama-neechan you've always fantasized about. 

はい
  • Soulful expression delivers volumes of depth
  • Thickness of body proportions; looks and feels like a real, healthy girl in 2D
  • Seamless--nothing takes away from the realness of the piece
  • Hair color; not too red, not too purple, true to character design
いいえ
  • Oversized breasts betray proportions of the rest of the figure. 
  • Not exactly sure how character ended up in this state of dress.
  • Nothing better to look forward to.  This is the omega of Tamaki Kousaka




Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tony Taka's Rouna by Kotobukiya

Who are you and what have you done with my daughter?


Released in late February 2012, Rouna is the sixth figure released by Kotobukiya from the JRPG Shining Hearts, with character creation by the one and only Tony Taka.  Coming in at a very generous 1/8 scale, Rouna measures 10" tall with her fixed base and requires about six inches of shelf space as a non-castoffable, no-assembly-required piece. She is depicted in a long black maid's uniform with actual fabric for her stockings and the covering of her decolletage. 

Original illustration from Tony Taka.  Thanks to konachan.com for the image.


Rouna is an attendant to the game world's Princess Rufina, to be released in figure form in late April, and one can see she scratches a lot of otaku itches, between her honey blonde hair, kemonomimi and tail and her maid uniform.  I had a lot of difficulty photographing Rouna in an effort to get her to match the pose in Tony's work, but ultimately I understood that for once in my life it was not my fault.  It is not difficult to pick out several significant differences between the original illo and her figure form, which I personally find quite disappointing.

Rouna enters her surprise birthday party.
In Tony's original drawing, I see Rouna as assertive, her expression steeled and ready.  Her posture suggests to me that she is about to act, about to attack, prepared to defend her charge.  Conversely, the figure suggests more of a reaction, as though she's been caught somewhat off-guard.  Her expression is one of timidity and surprise compared to Tony's original, her shoulders seem to be pulling back rather than forward, and she almost seems like she's struggling with her garments moreso than anything.

The sculptor seems to offer Rouna a bit more modesty than Tony did, as her chest is covered more, and her skirt is not hiked up nearly as high.  Also, the figure presents Rouna with a bit more thickness, more sturdiness to her frame--compare the hipline and torso of the figure compared to the original illustration, and the thickness of her leg.  To say that the figure is reasonably proportioned compared to the fantasy-girl measurements that Tony presents would be fair, but not necessarily what people pay the price of admission for.

On the figure, the weight and heft of Rouna's dress and apron seem to be a bit more realistically presented, again to the general demerit of the piece itself.  Look at that illustration--the flow of the fabric suggests a strong, confident, active move to hike up her hem.  On the figure, it seems like the sculptor imagined Rouna reacting to a surprise attack, like she was caught flatfooted and did not gather enough of her skirt to access the knives she stores in the loops of her garter. 

Impractical?  Yes.  Sexy?  Yes also.
Under Rouna's skirt, Kotobukiya took one of the hugest risks a figure maker can--they used actual nylon fabric for Rouna's fishnet stockings.  It is very very easy for such a move to look simply awful, simply because it violates the relationship the figure has with its space.  When 90 percent of the figure's garments are PVC plastic, it is easy to have the viewer's expectations jarred by the other 10 percent--it's almost like an Uncanny Valley sort of reaction, where the fabric simply doesn't look like it belongs in the same world that the figure does.  Gladly, this is avoided on this application--I credit the fineness of the fishnet used for this.  She sports plain white panties with no gratuitous overworking of her anatomy, and her garters serving as a holder for her switchblades are presented in PVC. 





Rouna is somewhat plain from the back--again, the heaviness of her dress seems to be in play here as it hangs somewhat flatly behind her despite the hiking up in front.  Her long, foxy tail is incorporated nicely in the back.  Her tail itself I find somewhat disappointing--as a whole it just seems too blunt and lacking texture and volume, especially when compared to the furry frayed end depicted in the original illustration.  There are two majorly noticeable seams in the figure; first, where the crown of her head and her ears meet her headband, and down the sides of her head; second, the mold for the tail features a pronounced seam--the sculptor tried to incorporate it into the flow of the tail, and as such it doesn't show up quite as horribly black like the worst seams do, but it is quite obvious where the two halves of the mold came together for the piece.  Observe:

This couldn't have been on the bottom of the tail where no one would see it?  Really?

Perhaps the most egregious of this figure's faults lies with the paint job applied to the hem of Rouna's uniform.  Observe the original illustration, where there's a clear, crisp end to the black dress, with a ruffled white underlayer. How--HOW--does that turn into this hot mess?

This would get you kicked off of Project Runway.
Now, it's certainly true that discussing the negative is much easier than the positive, and I have fallen into this trap in this review, to be sure.  There are definite positives to be found with Rouna--I like that her expression does seem to change slightly when viewed at different angles.  Even though she does fulfill some otaku checklist items, she doesn't look like a lot of other figures you'll have in your collection already.  She is sturdy--the weight of the figure is a testament to her overall build quality.  She is truly adorable in her vulnerability, and once you divorce the piece from the illustration she's based off of, she is, quite simply said, a good to very-good figure.


Not a great one, though.  I just can't shake the feeling that, ultimately, I would much rather have the girl in the illustration on my shelf than the one I've got.

はい
  • Fishnet fabric for stockings
  • Heavy build; feels like a quality piece
いいえ
  • Paint accuracy around hem of dress is a disaster
  • Expression & body language defy original illustration
  • Placement of seam on tail begs to be noticed 







Thursday, March 15, 2012

Figure review of Rouna by Kotobukiya coming soon...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Our newest arrival, fresh out of the box.  Review coming soon...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tony Taka's Xiao Mei by Max Factory

About as good as it gets, whether a fan of Tony Taka, kemonomimi, cheongsam, or just nicely made figures.


Tony Taka's "Shining ______" series aren't the reason I got into figure collecting, but they may be the reason I stay into figure collecting.  There's a certain something about how the proportions of his characters translate into 3D on the shelf that I can't resist.  While the accusation that all of Tony's girls look exactly the same may be warranted--and becomes very difficult to argue against on some occasions--I don't see why that's a bad thing when the end product is this good.

Original illustration from Tony Taka, thanks to Nekomagic.com



Presented in classic nyan-pose, there are some slight variations from the original illustration; it seems there's a little less forehead, the legs are positioned slightly differently, and there's slightly more turn in the torso, but I would suggest that all of these are for the best.  The repositioning allows Xiao Mei's figure to stand out a bit better, and makes her less boxy than the original illo suggests she might be.

Tony Taka said "Knock you out."

The make-or-break for any figure is the face, and there are no concerns to be found with Xiao Mei's.  The coloration of her irises and the reflection in her pupils are exceptional, full of life and personality.  Her eyelashes, nose, and mouth all have been properly tended to and look both great and different from multiple angles. She looks genuinely happy, sassy, and mischievous.  I love the tufts of hair in her nekomimi, white with slight gradation to a peachy pink towards the tips.

From the back, she sports a pair of hair buns with ribbons dangling from the bottom, perhaps a bit too thick and weighty for the application but not a negative worth niggling over.  There is a light seam running across the crown of her head from ear to ear, but again, nothing beyond what one should expect from such a piece.  I'm usually not a fan of Chinese-style headwear but it works for Xiao Mei, and I especially like the lines in her hair, both where it would be parted and pulled into the buns and at the bottom of her hairline on her neck, the imperfect lines of which add to the character's charm.

Well come on, and do the Twist. *bump-bump*
Xiao Mei's body is contained in a colorful cheongsam-style dress cinched at the waist with a mauve ribbon--again, the ribbon seems a little bit too weighty for the application.  If Max Factory applied a slight shimmer to the dress to give a greater impression of a silken fabric, it wouldn't have been a negative, but the application as is is adequate.  A sweet bow on her hip peeks through the slit of her dress, and a subtle flip of the bottom of the dress in back suggests a flirty swish of the hips to get ready for this pose--a little lacy detail rims the white undergarment to match the scalloped edge of her stocking and long glove.








 From the back, the fabric of her dress clings to her lithe shoulder blades and to her posterior.  Her adorably looped and lengthy tail connects to her lower back cleanly; while it's rare to find a figure that applies a tail and makes it look natural, this figure doesn't look unnatural, and that's good enough for me.  The only drawback is that the tail does extend a bit beyond the figure's base, making her take up an extra inch or two of shelf space.  Her stocking does have a bit of a shimmer to it, which only adds to my questioning why the same process wasn't applied to her cheongsam.



Give the people what they want, right?





Xiao Mei is not cast-offable.  She sports a pair of white pantsu underneath her dress, and the sculptor had the mercy and/or good taste to not sculpt each individual aspect of her anatomy.  It is impossible not to comment on the shapeliness of Xiao Mei's buns (not the ones in her hair), though, and the subtle crease and coloration where the upper thigh and glutes connect is simply droolworthy.





In 1/7 scale, Xiao Mei measures approximately 9.5 inches in height and fits in just fine with the other releases of Shining Hearts figures recently released by Kotobukiya, always a concern when characters from the same series are produced by different manufacturers.  You'll only need about 5.25 inches of shelf width to accomodate her, less if you integrate another figure underneath her swishing tail.  She comes with a basic white disc for a base that features the Shining Hearts logo--better than what Kotobukiya's come up for theirs, but I could definitely do without the logo.

There are no gnarly seams to contend with, no inconsistencies with her proportions, no complaints at all when it comes to the lovely Black Tail.  I am not one to pick nits when it comes to things like paint flaws, knowing it is a mass-produced piece one can only expect so much, but I am pleased to say that those flaws are at a bare minimum on this figure.  With the amount of color layering and detail, one would expect the occasional bleed-over, and those are present, but not to such an extend that it takes away from the enjoyment of the figure.  A complete charmer!

はい
  • facial expression
  • eye coloration
  • kinetic swish of hips & tail
いいえ
  • Cheongsam coloration less than lively
  • Base of figure features series logo