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

No comments:

Post a Comment