Thursday, May 31, 2012

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad, You Something Something Something, The Facts of Life

A pair of very interesting legal actions in Tokyo within the past day, and huge thanks to Anime News Network and to Sankaku Complex for the goods:

First off, a man from Chiba prefecture was arrested for copyrights violations for selling three unauthorized, modified figures of Nami from One Piece on auction websites.  The figures in question were "ma-kaizoku" pieces, which are ecchi, customized figures of characters in poses and states of dress and are not licensed or approved by the rights holder.  Often these figures are composites crafted by individuals from other licensed figures available for retail.  According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, the suspect was arrested with the suspicion that he was importing the figures from a black-market mass producer in China--would they have pursued him were he just producing the figures on his own and reselling them? 

Not heard--"Cheese it, it's the feds!"  Thanks to for the image
One has to wonder where exactly the line is, and what sort of behavior actually shows up on the radar of rights holders when it comes to fan-made goods.  I cannot imagine that local police took it upon themselves to investigate and arrest the accused--surely Toei Animation asked for intervention--but how far off could we be from a doujin-related arrest, I wonder?  When considering the volume of goods and printed materials moved at the biannual Comiket alone, never mind the multiple other doujinshi events held nationwide throughout the year, the amount of yen changing hands over unlicensed goods that are surely more objectionable to the series' bosses than these figures must be a staggering amount.  The only thing I can think of that staves off the wolves is the idealized not-for-profit aspect of the doujin scene, but there's no way I can be convinced that top-flight circles like NiseMIDIdoronokai and clesta don't see some kind of profit with each release, which, when boiled down, absolutely cashes in on the popularity and success of other people's hard work. 

Not for profit?  Not a problem.  For now.  I think.  Maybe.  Thanks to for the image
I do sincerely hope that the acknowledge-and-tolerate relationship between license holders and the doujin/ma-kaizoku/garage creatives doesn't get fractured.  Toei has a reputation of being more fiercely protective of their licenses than most, so if the results of the investigation show that the aforementioned accused was importing and reselling the unlicensed figures for profit, then congrats to Toei, I say.  I'd just hate to see legal pursuit of fans who create such pieces on their own, 2D or 3D, and sell them as they wish--again, a fine line to walk, and who's to say where hobby ends and business begins? 

Secondly, and rather encouragingly, non-ero erotic anime series par excellence Yosuga no Sora escaped the Ishihara Banhammer, otherwise known as the Tokyo Youth Healthy Development Ordinance or Bill 156.  Anime News Network and Sankaku Complex reported that the 2010 anime series was subjected to review by the governmental council in charge of monitoring content sold to minors, along with four other titles not mentioned in the minutes of the meeting that prompted the articles, after a member of the public reported it to the government. 

NOT GUILTY Y'ALL GOT TO FEEL ME.  Thanks to for the image
Yosuga no Sora was originally an eroge, centered around twins Haruka and Sora Kasugano as they move back to a town they once called home.  The anime is structured very much the same way as Amagami SS, with a block of episodes coupling Haruka with one of the several girls he interacts with, resetting at the end of each block with a "What if...?" as it moves on to a new girl and a new story.  The final, and undoubtedly the most gut-wrenching, is the final collection where Haruka and Sora come together, but there is considerable nudity and sexual activity depicted between Haruka and several of his conquests. 

The Council deemed that the sexual content, including the incestuous relationship between the twins, was not of a nature that glorified the nature of the relationship, and that the sexual content was not deemed excessive or gratuitous.  Indeed, treatment of sexual congress in the series was generally handled in a respectful and a loving manner, and the twins suffer a rather steep penalty for succumbing to each other. 

While it is grievously unfortunate that such a committee exists at all to examine such works, I take it as something of a victory that Yosuga no Sora was treated fairly and judiciously--there is plenty of mature content in the series that, if taken without any consideration of artistic merit or context, could easily be seen as objectionable by elected officials in grey suits.  That they came to this decision, to allow Yosuga no Sora of all things as acceptable for general sale, is surely a significant result other series may favorably measure against in the future.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mariya Shidou by Orchid Seed

In my time as a fan of all things anime, I have borne witness to the gestation, birth, life, and slow deaths of a rather remarkable number of fetishized character trait fads: kemonomimi; meganekko; goth-loli; regular loli; imouto; shimapan; incest; twincest; zettai ryoiki; fujoshi; pettanko; anthropomorphism; yaeba; and on and on and on.  One of the more fascinating fetishes to take root in the otaku consciousness in recent times is joso, or cross-dressing, with men dressing as women especially prevalent.  While gender play is nothing new in Japanese pop culture, and androgynous or gender-bending characters have been around for quite some time, there is an undeniable interest in marketing the presence of a "trap" character in a show's roster of characters.  The character goods market suggests that it's not just the fujoshi population being served by the presence of cute cross-dressing males in series, as both male and female fans are getting serviced.  Consider the fairly recent debut of monthly magazines Otonyan and WAaI! boys in skirts, the thinkopad (or chinkopad) mouse pad that set Akihabara on fire not long ago, otokonoko-themed onaholes, and cosplay items of women's clothing designed to accommodate male anatomy, all very recent attempts to cash in on the joso trend.  Especially in a country and in a medium that has not been terribly kind to homosexuals, the embracing and the normalization and the fetishization of cross-dressing characters could be seen at its worst as reductivist, treating these characters as novel playthings to be eventually placed back on a shelf and left to collect dust, or, in a rosier but slightly perverted sense of the words, it could be seen as somewhat progressive and inclusive of otherness.  It has to mean something when a homosexual experience, however escapist, is successfully marketed to heterosexual consumers, doesn't it?

Kanako Miyamae, the heroine of Minari Endou's 2006 manga series Maria Holic, is a lesbian.  There is no soul-searching, there is no hand-wringing, there is no identity crisis about it.  She likes girls, and she is steadfast and confident in her own sexuality.  Kanako transfers to Ame no Kiseki, a Catholic all-girls school, fully intent on finding true love amongst the ranks of the white lilies that populate the school, and she is immediately smitten by the flaxen-haired belle of the proverbial ball, Mariya Shidou.  Kanako immediately anoints Mariya as the target of her Sapphic conquest and almost as immediately learns that Mariya might not be what she's looking for in a mate:

Thanks to for the image.

I'll spare us the Admiral Ackbar meme if that's okay?

That's right, Mariya, the blonde-haired beauty in the photos, the admiration of the entirety of Ame no Kiseki's student body, is a guy.  Mariya and his twin sister Shizu are the grandchildren of the chairwoman of  gender-segregated Catholic schools, and the siblings are bound in a gambit to become the heir to the position--they've swapped genders, enrolled in the all-girls and all-boys schools respectively, and whichever sibling's true gender gets revealed first loses the bet.

Mind you, this development is a secondary story to Kanako's search for love amongst the student body of Ame no Kiseki, and it works brilliantly.  Mariya is immediately attractive when first introduced and, to the credit of the character design and the writing, he somehow STAYS attractive as a female despite the revelation.  Mariya lords his feminine allure over Kanako (and us viewers) throughout the series, and the fact that it stays effective well after the reveal is part of the series' carnival charm.

Orchid Seed certainly took this playfulness into consideration in the design of this figure, released in November 2009, about a half-year after the debut of the anime.  Mariya's pose is a simple and fairly demure one for an anime figure, in his school uniform, lifting the fringes of his skirt in something of a high curtsy to just above his knees.  Even though the right hand is raised a bit higher, it still does not show anything lurid when viewed from straight ahead.  One must make a concerted effort, crane the neck, and seek out the contents hidden underneath to get the desired effect--I can only imagine the fun that the sculptor had in creating this piece, and I have borne firsthand witness to the shock and hilarity that ensues when the unsuspecting go snooping for a flash frilly pink panties and get a filled-out pair of boxer briefs in return.

Mariya sports a sweet and demure smile and inquisitive Dr. Pepper-colored eyes, his face framed by honey blonde hair.  While his face is adorably cute, it is a bit off-model and is the weakest part of the figure.  From the original illustrations, Mariya's face is a good bit thinner and slightly sharper, more masculine, than the puni-ness we see here.  The hair color on the figure is more honeyed and than the maize yellow of the original character, as well.  Frankly, I think the figure is cuter and (to pluck from Danny Choo's vocabulary) more moesome than the original character design, but if we're being fastidious, it is off-model.  Mariya's hair flows charmingly around her face and down her back, poufing up lightly from the base of the neck as though caught in mid-breeze.

From the back, Mariya's hair is not terrifically detailed either in sculpt or coloration, but not to the point where it seems an afterthought.  If unspectacular, it fits well with the general plainness of the piece as a whole.  Perhaps most notably, it is seamless--viewing enough figures carefully, you'll notice that the crown of the head or the flowing strands of the hair is an easy place to bury a casting seam, but such imperfection is notable in its absence on Mariya. 

Mariya is clothed in the pleasing neutral tones of Ame no Kiseki's uniform, which is remarkable in the anime world as being completely believable and appropriate for a Catholic high school--no bust-accentuating girdles worn outside the blouse, no absurd novelty-sized ribbon, no glorified apron--and Mariya wears it well.  The royal blue of the neck ribbon pops against the bone-colored blouse and caramel frock.  Mariya's faux bustline is consistent with the character model, just a modest rise in his chest and not at all accentuated, which certainly keeps in line with Mariya's public persona.  You'll find the worst seams on the figure on the shoulders running underneath his arms.

Below his waistline, Mariya sports the long, pleated, dark brown skirt of the Ame no Kiseki uniform, with a ruffled petticoat underneath.  He's pinched the skirt between thumbs and forefingers and lifted it up in a curtsy.  The skirt is cast-offable, and as such the connection between the skirt and the fingers is somewhat poor--there's a bit of space between the pinch of the fingers that looks unfortunate at certain angles.  On the balance, though, the skirt looks realistically heavy and folds and hangs believably, especially from Mariya's right hand.  I especially like how the scrunched-up pleats of the skirt in the front lend a little extra structure to the piece.  From behind, the skirt hangs off of his buttocks and bows out a bit abnormally--perhaps the pleats are rigid enough to support a bit of an unnatural hang?  It's certainly not severe enough to detract from the pose. 

Mariya sports a pair of thigh-high stockings and simple, chunky brown shoes affixed to a glossy caramel-colored base with the series logo.  As he lifts his skirt, the ruffled lacy fringe of his petticoat steals the show, adding a flirty, ragged dash of texture to the heavy plainness of the skirt.  His right hand positioned a bit higher than his left allows the intrepid viewer a glimpse of the promised land, if they so dare take the liberty to violate sweet Miss Shidou's chastity.

Credit where it's due to the good folks at Orchid Seed, they decided to have a little fun with the assignment at hand--Mariya sports a pair of dark blue boxer briefs with a pronounced bulge for his wedding tackle, leaving very little doubt to the unsuspecting audience member that they've fallen directly into the trap that's been set by Mariya, and by the sculptor.  I mentioned that Mariya's skirt is cast-offable--he actually comes with an alternate groin wearing panties (and no suggestion of manly bits) to turn the figure into one of Mariya's sister, Shizu, if so desired, but this option is for the faint of heart.  Mariya and his secret share top billing of Maria Holic with with the heroine Kanako's search for same-sex love, and Orchid Seed's handling of Mariya's gender on this piece is a perfect ambassador to the spirit of the show.

Really, that's the whole point of the piece and of the series; turning convention on its head and having a little fun with gender and with sexuality.  It's refreshing to have Kanako as a confident and sexually aggressive lesbian in the lead; there's none of the melodrama that usually comes with yuri-themed high school shows and it's refreshing to meet a queer character who knows what she wants without being a total stereotype.  Mariya is a non-queer character using cross-dressing for a self-serving purpose and, when he revels in tormenting Kanako with his desirable femininity, he revels in disappointing our libidinous expectations as well.  He's not a character figure for the LGBT community to rally around, but he is a PVC figure completely worthy of adding to one's collection.  From the surface, he looks simple and unspectacular, but when you take the chance to indulge your sexual curiosity, you are rewarded with a hilarious and delightful surprise, and all the credit in the world to Orchid Seed for engaging and playing with their otaku fanbase in such a way. 

  • demure pose invites peeping & pays off hilariously
  • creasing and pleating of skirt lend weight
  • adorable expression
  • shape of face & hair color are off-model
  • base of figure features series logo

Monday, May 21, 2012

So At Least They've Got the Character Design Figured Out

The challenge to produce a half-decent Haganai figure continues, and Alphamax has launched another salvo into the fray with a 1/7 version of the founder of the Neighbors' Club, Yozora Mikaduki, in what has to be called a spitting-image recreation of her pose on volume 7 of the light novel series.

Thanks to Hobby Search for the image.
Thank you to for this image

To be released in November, I consider this piece firmly as the class of the field when it comes to recreating Buriki's Haganai character designs--the skin tone seems a little dark, her blush a little more full, the mouth just slightly different, but by no means are these egregious faults. Generally Yozora's expression seems a bit more embarrassed in the figure than in the illo, but all things considered this is as decent a job done as we've seen with the sexy six.  I do not personally care for the pose, and I do not believe that the piece would look great on the shelf, but credit to Alphamax for getting close.  I'm still holding out, hoping they take a try at Kobato.

From Hobby Search.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Boku wa Half-Decent Figure ga Sukunai

Six worthy candidates.  Thanks to for the image

I will not pretend that it was groundbreaking, paradigmatic, or even very good.  When talking about anime series, the word "derivative" should be reserved for shows like it.  When Hiroki Azuma wrote of Japan’s Database Animals, he could very well have put the title screen of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai on the cover.  There was a beach/ghost story episode, karaoke episode, not one but two "digital realm" episodes, and a matsuri episode.  The six-girl harem of female characters includes an ojou-sama tsundere girl, osana najimi girl, reverse trap girl, fujoshi inventor girl, loli nun girl, and a heterochromatic goth-loli little sister girl.  An awful lot of itches scratched in twelve episodes, to say the least, and the heavy reliance on tropes was not assisted by the very few character developments that managed to emerge from the episodic proceedings.

And yet I can't wait for there to be a second season.

Image from
I hate having to admit that I must be one of the Database Animals that Azuma wrote about, but there can be no other explanation for why I crave another 12 episodes with the Neighbors' Club.  The show just isn't that good, but the little glimmers of individual growth, in confidence, in compassion evident in Sena Kashiwazaki as she gets challenged and befriended by the misunderstood non-delinquent Kodaka and tormented by the desperately lonely Yozora, give me hope that she'll extend this growth into life outside the club room.  The great, ballsy, deflating "Call me Yozora" wall that manages to stand though the series' conclusion make me wonder what more what more must be resolved between her and Kodaka to let their relationship either evolve or resolve.  I can only think that it's because of my animality, in Azuma's sense of the word, that drives this hunger to see more of the series.

Thanks to for the image
As a collector, I want to throw my wallet at my computer screen.  The character designs by Buriki (link NSFW) (and totally epic) are completely devourable--there's something very distinctive about the characters in Haganai, something very different about them, which I find irresistible; the best adjective I can come up with is "severe."  Their eyes are drawn and colored extremely heavily (especially the upper eyelid), and the thinness of their mouths make all of their expressions seem rather pointed; the characters' facial features convey their emotions as though they can't bear the weight of it all, whether it's smug satisfaction or disgust or disappointment or jealousy.  Buriki also expends more than the usual effort into his characters' hair as well; rather than just breaking the character's heads into hemispheres, one light and one dark, Buriki takes the time to shadow and highlight individual strands differently from their neighbors, which imparts a great deal of liveliness and texture to each character.  He tends to work in soft pastels, which lends the brightness of his characters' eyes and other details an extra added pop.  They are distinctive, and they are ravishing.

No.  From Hobby Search
So just why is it that there hasn't been a single damn scale-sized Haganai figure I would let in my house?

No.  From Hobby Search
All six of the ladies have been given the Beach Queens treatment by Wave, and as per usual they all look like the budget-conscious, low-fidelity 1/10 figures they are.  Media Factory is putting out their own fully clothed 1/10 versions of Sena and Yozora, and again, they lack the life, the fidelity of the character designs.  Good Smile has 1/7 versions of the two leading ladies in their school uniforms coming out, but they miss the mark for me, as Yozora's body language and her face don't match, and Sena's got quite the derp face going on (official photos not yet released).  Kotobukiya enters the fray with 1/8 versions which I think miss the mark--Sena's eyes are gigantic and completely overdone and, while the expression is about the angriest I've ever seen on a figure (and therefore perfectly appropriate), Yozora's hair, eyebrows, and irises all are too muted.  They look like knockoffs, plain and simple.  

No.  From Hobby Search
No.  From Hobby Search.
The young mistresses of the show, Kobato Hasegawa and Maria Takayama, get the bunny girl treatment by Max Factory in 1/7 scale--Kobato looks as though she's going to be sick, and by going with the opaque-to-translucent treatment of the girls' hair, the charm and the depth of Buriki's designs are completely lost.  

Most recently, Alphamax's 1/7 Sena Kashiwazaki is close-but-not-quite, as the character's body seems entirely too thin relative to her bosom--the nickname foisted upon her by Yozora is "Niku."  "Meat."  Give her some thighs, for God's sake!  Allow her chest to succumb to gravity just a little, even!

Six companies have taken a crack at capturing the Haganai girls in 3D, and I think all six have failed to some degree or another.  Of all the forthcoming examples, I lean towards Kotobukiya's 1/8 version of Yozora as being the best capture of the character in spirit and in pose, but the coloration of everything from the neck up needs a redo, and to be frank, scowling and reticent is not how I like to remember Yozora, and certainly isn't the way I'd want her frozen in time on my shelf.   

Could somebody please get on this?  From Haganai character creator Buriki's website
I want to spend money and devote shelf space to the girls of Haganai.  They are cute and interesting and flawed.  And it's not as though Buriki's character designs are impossible to render well in 3D--check out some of the figures of Erio Towa from Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko for proof.  A cute and mischievous  Kobato Hasegawa in her goth-loli garb can not be that difficult to manage.  A suddenly fun-loving, curvaceous Sena Kashiwazaki straining the buttons of her blazer is not too much to ask.  A demure and doting Yukimura Kusunoki in his/her bathing suit seeking the approval of her aniki can be done--by god, that Beach Queens figure is so so close!

There is no doubt I'm clinging to a series that otaku fandom is gradually forgetting, but please, give us someone from this show properly preserved in PVC to look back fondly upon!

Connected by the red thread of fate to not have a single damn decent scale-sized figure amongst them.  Thanks to for the image.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Whose Fault!! is that face? News from Ciel & Alphamax

Saeki Ai from Fault!!, September release, thanks to Hobby Search.
When Alphamax announced back in late February that they'd be producing a figure of Saeki Ai from Tony Taka's 2009 eroge, Fault!!, I had figured it was just a gift, an opportunistic mining of the creator's backlog to release a heretofore unheralded heroine onto the shelves of Tony's figure-buying faithful.  And what a gift it was--a gobsmackingly sexy pose,  a spot-on Tony facial expression, a character rescued from obscurity into the must-have lists of collectors across the globe. This is a move I'm completely in favor of; generally speaking and within reason, I will buy anything that Tony has anything to do with, 2D or 3D.

I love a well-executed lob shot--Fault!! by Ciel, character designs by Tony, released in July '09.  Thanks Hobby Search.
And then, calloo-callay, Alphamax announced that in addition to Saeki, they'd also be releasing a figure of Date Wingfield Reiko, also from Fault!!, in October.  Great news!...that is, until you see it.  That shredding sound you hear in your head is your anticipation wrought useless.  Unlike Saeki, I certainly did not find Reiko to be an instant pre-order candidate; the face of the figure is just too far afield of the original illustration, or, rather, of anything that even vaguely resembles a Tony Taka character design.  Observe:

As I mentioned in a previous article, Tony Taka's detractors state that all of his character designs look the same, that he has exactly one face in his repertoire and all he does is change hair and eye colors as needed.  I am of the position that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that when the end result is the illustration on the left.  Now, never mind the original illustration's exposing her breasts, look at the figure's face--who exactly is this girl, and what has she done with my half-Japanese, half-British senpai?  The eyes and the mouth are tragically incorrect, and I simply don't have the disposable income or the shelf space to accommodate her with such flaws.  Somehow, she lacks the youth and the athleticism and the spunkiness of the illo. 

Her upcoming release did, however, immediately enter a more interesting question--what exactly is going on with not one but two Fault!! figures all of a sudden, three years removed from the game's release?  Assuming Alphamax didn't just cherrypick Ai Saeki for figuredom, could this mean some 3D Sugiyama Mio sis-con coming up?  Maybe get Hayama Rika in there for the greatest Women's Doubles teams since the Williams sisters?

A new challenger appears!  Image from
It looks like the answer came today; according to Akiba Blog, a follow-up to the original game will be released in June.  Almost three years after the release of the original game, フォルト!!S~新たなる恋敵~ (Fault!! S ~ A New Rival In Love) goes back to the academy for more volleying, smashing, and fuzzy balls.  Probably some tennis, too.  The box art features our lovely Reiko alongside newcomer Mayo Kamiwazumi.

No complaints about Alphamax getting a previously unheralded group of Tony's girls back into the otaku consciousness, but I do hope that if more is to come, they're rendered better than Reiko is.  Also, I suppose this means that I'll have to continue to wait and hope for a France Shoujo figure in the future...