Zero Points of Articulation – A Moving Prospect

Kaiyudo has finally announced the new Ena Ayase figure to be released as part of their Revoltech Yostuba&! series. The youngest of three sisters living next door to Yotsuba in the the Yostuba&! manga, her decidedly “moe” characteristics are the topic of a few 2ch discussion threads. Along with the Fuka bikini edition figure, it will be available September 1. Accessories include a towel, stuffed bear Juliette, and an alternate body – giving the virtual illusion of having two figures at the price of one.

The most interesting prospect of both new figure releases is that they will have no joints: zero points of articulation. Essentially, they can’t move at all; stuck forever in static pose. Though the term figure can refer to everything from the super poseable to the statuesque, this is a surprising turn of event for the Revoltech series, designed to showcase a joint technology of the same name.

So, then… why? Well, I’m not sure exactly. It’s possible that both figures will sell out based on pure infatuation as opposed to any special features, as did the first Fuka figure, and Kaiyodo doesn’t feel like going the extra mile. It’s also possible that the lack of joints is supposed to give some particular characteristic to the figure or the creation of scenes with Yotsuba, who is easily the most animated between the three.  Unfortunately, none these explanations will aide my creativity in recreating scenes with a string telephone, cake mix, sketch pad, or most any props. Basically, they’re going to have to stand around in exclusion and watch Yotsuba do stuff.

USB Flash Memory – “Always at your side”

In late June, technology firm Buffalo released a new series of USB flash memory drives called “Swattears,” consisting of a 2GB capacity drive built into a 7cm cubric figure. The memory resides in the legs of the figure and becomes accessible through a port that folds down from the back when the figure is in a seated position. Each Swattears comes with a “sofa,” or external USB docking port upon which the character can rest when not sitting on your computer. As a bonus to Windows OS users, the drive will be represented by a corresponding character icon on the desktop while mounted. The total package, which includes a USB extension cable, is priced at 2,980 yen.

So far, both Ultraman and Puchi Eva Ayamami Rei versions have been created. However, as both were priced reasonably and limited to only 3,000 pieces they sold out quickly. According to an Akihabara Keizai Shinbun article, Buffalo said that no plans for any character re-releases are underway, and that they are still considering which characters to employ for future releases. Some crafty individuals are already reselling theirs at Amazon.jp for over four times the price. However, this may be what it takes to have these all-time-favorite characters “always at your side,” as Buffalo’s inspiration for the Swattears series suggests.

Tokyo Toy Show 2008

Pictures are worth a thousand words – particularly when it comes to toys. This year’s International Tokyo Toy Show seemed even more packed than last year’s, which boasted over 100,000 attendants. With free admission, it would seem difficult to keep track of actual individuals entering, even more so since most visitors were barely visible and clinging to their mothers. However, the long winding lines which snaked through the convention hall at most every entrance, exit, and elevator are the measure I’ll go by. Even the pouring rain, which persisted all day, did nothing to detour crowds.

Kaiyodo had a very powerful display, unveiling a new Fist of the North Star figure series, Hellsing series, and Yotsuba& figures among others, as well as displaying an array of current Revoltech figures.

The Fist of the North Star series had one particularly interesting figure, which at a glance looks as any other, but “unfolds” down the middle to create a “post-Ken” scene. For those who don’t know, the protagonist of the series unleashes a fury of rapid assaults upon his enemy, after which they have a good laugh at his lack of skill before exploding. The “Exploding Jeed” figure utilizes Revoltech’s patented joint system to suspend the anonymous villain’s segmented torso, exposed vertebra, and intestines in an awesomely gory pose. Unfortunately, due to the large number of small children in attendance, this figure wasn’t on display. However, various Alucard figures set for release this September nonetheless added a subtle element of the macabre.

On the sunnier side of things, Yotsuba was posed in full summer action alongside a new Fuka figure. The catalog details that though the school uniform clad Fuka is permanently sold out, both bikini and T-shirt fashion editions are underway. The isle of IDOLM@STER Frauliens was a bit disturbing, but August’s “Bandaged Rei” shone in the distance as a ray of hope – as the Fraulien series’ last eight (out of 11 total) figures have been from the idol-manager simulation game.

Tamiya had a cool new series of build-it-yourself robot kits, with acrylic plates to look like various insects and animals. Two different locations in the Tamiya area where kids could battle the robots sumo style were packed; even a a few parents jumped in when their kid was losing. Tamiya was also promoting a new series of slot-style RC cars, including a “Special Pink” color variant, perhaps in an attempt to draw more girls into the sport. An elaborate race track graced the front of their display, where swarms of kids raced and watched with parents. However, both fell short of Lego and Daiya’s huge interactive building-block areas areas.

In promotion of the new American motion picture adaption of the classic Japanese animation Speed Racer, Hot Wheels (now celebrating its 40th Anniversary) is remaking most of its original Speed Racer modeled series. Their display included a child-size mock-up of the Mach 5, and allowed kids to have commemorative photos wearing smaller versions of Speed’s signature helmet. After learning that adults could not similarly enjoy such fantasies save for accompanying some small child, this author was on the brink of throwing a tantrum.

However, Hot Wheels wasn’t alone in hocking movie wares. In a strange series of events, the BB gun manufacturer Marushin made a six-shooter Mateba inspired piece based on Ghost in the Shell character Togusa’s favorite gun. As an accessory option, it offers six individual shells which can be loaded into the gun, each holding a single BB. It also comes with a cell phone strap replicating the tracking bullet Togusa fires while in pursuit of the the Puppet Master. The gun commemorates Mamoro Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell 2.0, a remastered edition of the original 1995 movie with additional computer animated graphics and newly recorded Dolby 6.1 soundtrack. The movie will be released in five select theaters next month in order to promote Oshii’s newest work Sky Crawlers, which opens in theaters August 2.

Bandai had a huge area, housing many cool things, including a giant Ultraman statue made of smaller Ultraman figures, new Tamashi Nation figures, girls dressed as opposing Gundam factions battling it out with Beam Sabers, new capsule toys… just a lot of cool things. The line itself just to walk through the Bandai area was incredible – spanning the length of the convention hall twice before slowly coiling inward, though overall fast moving.

One of the more interesting items on display was “Kaiju Mansion” – something of a designer vinyl series recreating classic movie monsters in art deco inspired casts. Nearby, sat a collection of the huge product line accompanying Evangelion series spin-off game Puchi Eva.

In the capsule toy section, it was surprising to learn that older animated series such as Ruroni Kenshin, Ranma1/2, and Urusei Yatsura would be represented in September’s line-up. Indeed, artist Rumiko Takahashi’s characters seem to have their own series. Weekly manga publication Shonen Jump, in commemoration of its 40th anniversary, will release a series of metal pins with mini magazine covers. And, on the weirder side of things, Bandai also has something called “Toilet Monsters” which will enjoy a capsule toy incarnation this fall.

As always, there are many things to look forward to, including next year’s show.  It was definitely worth riding my bike in the freezing rain.  If anything, I’d try to bring along someone’s child next year so as to fit in and participate in more of the activities.

Sweating Until August

Kaiyodo is releasing two awesome figures this August.

One: Yotsuba& Revoltech DX Summer Vacation Set

The first Yotsuba& figure was released in Fall of 2007. It also marked the first in Kaiyodo’s Revoltech series, which pairs master sculpts with a unique joint system that allows natural looking super-possibility. The Revoltech series has since expanded into various lines, but here she is again – coming back to where it all began. As opposed to interchanging heads, this Yotsuba will instead come with a total of four interchangeable faces, a new development for the Revoltech line. She will also come with a plethora of accessories, viewable in most detail at amazon.com.

Looking at the Kaiyodo page, it seems like an Ena figure is also in development… Hopefully it won’t befall the same fate as Fuuka, which had a day-one sellout at every figure shop I visited in Akihabara. But I’ve learned my lesson: If you’re serious, pre-order.

Two: Fraulen Revoltech Ayanami Rei Bandaged Edition

The Fraulein (German for maiden) series started on January 1 of this year, and has made one new release on the first of every subsequent month. Combining the Revoltech joint system with a series of further improvements with female figures in mind, (like shoulder joints hidden in the bodice for more delicate arm movements and legs cut more obtuse at the hip to create a more natural bikini line) the Fraulein sculpt is simply breathtaking. Like the Yotsuba& series, Fraulein are also sculpted by Enoki Tomohide.

The first of this series was Ayanami Rei, and though it took a while, she had sold out for good by mid-March. Many times passing by the Kaiyudo shop windows in Radio Kaikan, I could see a sign that read something like, “No, we don’t know when Rei will be back in stock. No, we cannot take pre-orders. No, we don’t know anything.” At one point, I believe one of the many Rei’s in the display case chidingly held up the sign for customers to see. Talk about tear-jerking…

However, now after three months of figures from the IDOLM@STER game series, just when I thought Fraulein was done for, Rei has resurfaced. Decorated with bandages from the scarring life of EVA test-piloting, it doesn’t seem as sleek as the original, but still pretty cool, with perhaps a medical fetish edge. In addition to this new figure, a re-release of the original Ayanami Rei will also begin in August – yet another full circle.

Echo World – A Remembrance of Things Past

One of the miniature scenes above boasts “2mm cuts of salmon on a 1cm low-sitting table.” However, when compared to the one-yen coin sitting beside it, the reality of those sizes is likely to be much smaller. This is just one of the many extremely small re-creations which are currently on display as part of the “World of Echo Models” exhibit, which also features Showa Era photos, in addition to domestic, bucolic, urban, and suburban scenes, many prominently featuring contemporary vehicles and electronics.

Echo Models, established 35 years ago, has long toiled over making accurate and “heartwarming” Showa Era reproductions. The current collection, constructed by a handful of artisans, does its best to depict what is fondly remembered as Japan’s modern “Golden Age” in 1/80 scale. Fields of rice, trains rolling along tracks cut through the countryside, prominent stations in Tokyo, residential blocks, city streets, and a student’s small “6 tatami mat” sized room were just some of the many themes represented. The amount of detail and time that went into each piece was stunning – even portions of the model obscured from view do to buildings, windows, people, or other obstacles were earnestly depicted, viewable only through good balance and esoteric body movements.

Islands in the middle of the exhibit hall pointed out the finer details of model construction. For the most part, all models were constructed and painted in ways that mirrored larger plastic models, such as Gundams, the major difference being size in relation to the scale of the model. Tiny parts like teakettles were forked out on something like a plastic tree – actually incorporated into the plastic mold. Given that this setup exposes the most surface area while still keeping the object poised in suspension, it provides the perfect environment for painting model parts, which dry in the same fashion. After the parts are dry, they are then carefully removed from the “tree” base. Other parts, such as those for bicycles and other machinery, came suspended in very thin frames of plastic. They were colored similarly before assembly, though it’s important to remember (anyone who’s made a plastic model would attest to this) that smoothly removing objects from their frame is key to making a realistic depiction. This proves ever more difficult when the objects are rounded at the point of removal, or if the point of removal will expose a visible area, and thus must be painted smoothly in order to conceal the underlying plastics.

It wasn’t surprising to see products from companies such as Tamiya in the gift shop. Tamiya apparently has a special line of flat acrylic paints for such models, in addition to various types of greenery and textured bases. Some of the gift shop items included miniature Showa models made exclusively for the Maruzen exhibit, ranging from 30,000 – 180,000 yen, with optional Tamiya display cases. A huge collection of Showa Era books, including photo collections, period novels, and old maps among many others, drew in a lot of people. There even seemed to be more visitors in that section than the rest of the exhibit hall at most times.

Surprisingly, or otherwise, more than half of the visitors there seemed too young to have known the Showa Era. Though it actually lasted about 63 years, from 1926-1989, and includes WWII, the Showa that lingers in people’s hearts and minds started after the American occupation, in about 1954. This is also the time referred to as the “Japanese Miracle,” during which time Japan re-built itself both politically and economically through the help of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. This miniature exhibit is certainly not the only homage paid to Showa, of which airs are also recreated in small theme parks and restaurants around Tokyo.

Writer and scholar Jordan Sand attributes these predilections for Showa to a lost sense of self, as most Tokyo-ites are not local and lack the nostalgia generated from personal and family history. Thus, a false sense of nostalgia is generated through this same capitalist structure, which in fact caused their displacement in most cases, in order to appease an innate human desire for belonging and stability. This is arguably recreated through other outlets as well – such as obsessions with branded goods, and play-like domestic spheres created in maid cafes. However, no matter what the generation, the mere mention of the Golden Days of Showa almost always strikes the same brand of nostalgic appeal.

The exhibit is currently being held at the Marunouchi branch of Maruzen, located near Tokyo Station, and will last through the 12th; admission is free.  Promotional materials from the encourage you to have a “Gulliver moment” as you browse through the 1/80 scale Showa world.

This Month in Toys

This is just a small collection of some the bigger events going down in Tokyo this month. Bastu and Maru will of course be getting coverage, but if anyone happens to be in the Tokyo area I strongly encourage you to go. These events are usually a lot of fun, even if you’re not buying.

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What: 18th Tokyo Toy Festival

When: Sunday, June 8, 2008; 10am-5pm

Where: Tokyo Big Sight

Cost: 1000 yen

Link (Japanese): but with awesome video… http://www.toyfes.jp/

I think the video says it all. This is a huge flea market style event with a mix of official brand dealers and resale-ers. A variety of stage events are held throughout the day. Toys include everything from figures, vintage, Volks, cars, etc.

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What: Doll World Festival

When: Saturday, June 14, 11am-5pm; Sunday, June 15, 12pm-4pm

Where: Tokyo Industrial Trade Center

Cost: free

Link (Japanese): http://www32.ocn.ne.jp/~japandollworld/

An event for dolls of all varieties, in addition to doll related crafts and goods. On different floors of the same convention hall will be the related Tokyo International Miniature Show, and Japanese Teddy Bear Convention.

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What: Toyko Toy Show 2008

When: June 21 9am – 5pm; June 22 9am-4pm

Where: Tokyo Big Sight

Cost: free

Link (English): http://www.toys.or.jp/toyshow/english/index.html

Only new toys – most yet to be released – will be on display as companies from Japan and around the world try to find buyers. Press and hotshots have their own days – the 21st and 22nd are open to the public. They also have a variety of stage shows, mostly youth-oriented, but cool in a silly way.

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