Category Archives: Figures and Models

Miku Is Fun to Write About

The other day I read that Miku pitch from that Idea Channel show (which hangs with the PBS tag) and I was like, yeah another show mining eyecatching fringe otaku taglines. After watching it, though, it’s actually an honest investigation from a music perspective. Too bad it’s so short that you can’t really get much out of it.

I guess it’s not unlike console gamers and their alleged alligence to certain platforms, or lack thereof. I buy consoles purely based on the software. That’s why I own a 3DS. But I also buy consoles based on other considerations too, which is why I have a PS3. This multiplicity in terms of how and what makes sense to spend money on is something I believe most folks share, given that they have enough resources to consider different means of rationalizing their spending.

Do we treat these idols the same way? Identity aside I think the way we derive enjoyment from popular entertainment isn’t unlike the way we derive enjoyment from, well, consoles, which are also pop entertainment channels. In that aspect maybe Miku is just like one of the other typical, flesh-and-blood idols. In that aspect maybe it really is all about the music (software) for some people sometimes. But of course, the hardware matters too…

Rather than Lana Del Rey, I think someone like Shokotan is probably a better comparison. But then again how many top 10 Oricon albums did she sell versus Miku… Well, the comparison sticks for either one of them. The hardware will appeal to somebody, the software, who knows?

Clearly, Miku addresses a big lack of appealing hardware of a certain type. And by 2012 terminology, what I mean by hardware is more like ecosystem. And I’ve written some on that already.

I think for every Sharon Apple reference made for Miku, rather to think of it as some kind of silly “old school nod,” I think of it as an itch that is unscratched for ages. I’d go even as far that when Priss and her Replicants a few years prior, or even in Gibson’s Neuromancer line of novels, this itch was already a thing. Miku happened to scratch that itch. Perhaps not applied head on, she does help relieve some of that energy people have in terms of creating and projecting and identifying with some thing they want to be creating/identifying/etc.

Which is all to say, as an idol, Miku is for real. It’s just that it is we who write her story. Kind of like an open-source idol of sorts, and the repository is made of memes and moonrunes.


Koi wa Sensou

I always wanted to make something pretentious like this. Just for kicks.

Over the holidays I got access to a new camera, so maybe that combined with a limited edition figure that I foolishly purchased, I feel kind of excited.

Man, I don’t know why camera companies hold back on these sweet CMOS from the masses, because an APS-C sensor does wonders to a point-and-shoot kind of paradigm.

For now, just a few pics. Once I get some real time to shoot at it and time to pour over the pictures maybe I’ll post them (LOL fat chance). Click on image for larger versions (but you knew that, right) hosted off somewhere else, since WordPress is lamers.

I was looking at this picture in photoshop and I was like, man, she’s got some big cans. Big enough to pass for a body builder with those flaming heart tattoos. It’s in the exercise of  reading in between the slender lines that we come to appreciate Miku’s roaring personality in Koi wa Sensou. It is in the exercise of seeing beyond the absolute zone in which we understand the redeeming feature of this figure.

Probably my favorite pick from this session.

Just in case you can’t hear her.

In case you want to know more about the figure, you can find out about it here, here and of course at MFC–see everyone else’s potshots! Koi wa Sensou Miku is very photogenic, as long as you don’t mind her facial expression, roaring with angst. A new meaning to the term siren. I always had the impression that the air raid siren took up a special place in the trauma of Japan. (Second to the earthquake siren, surely.) Is it true? I don’t know. But it sure looks hella good.

Year in Review: N-Listing

So, the tradition continues. 12 lists of 12 things. Some are ranked, others are not. One this year is not ranked but merely numerated.

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Ichiban Kuji Is Suffering

I always thought one major tenant of anime fandom is the power-consumer aspect. This is particularly special to imported fandom because usually it means navigating foreign shipping, different language websites, different business practices between stores and consumers, and simply a larger array of factors to keep track of when shopping. And given anime is pretty much as commercial as fandom gets, it’s even more so something intrinsic to be a fan, or at least more related to fandom itself.

Of course I don’t think it’s the only way to fly, but it can be fun navigating those shark-infested waters (and there are lots of sharks between here and the far side of the Pacific, I suppose), technically, to get what you want. With internet shopping exploding in Japan (about 5 years too late) it’s something that is now advanced enough to trouble yourself with, should you be up for the challenge.

The biggest hurdle in this kind of consumerism is one that is based on lack of information. I mean, I think Ichiban Kuji figures are largely still purchasable because of this. Banpresto’s new line of merch (it goes beyond figures…like this ramen bowl I have at home) they introduced in 2007 is kind of a lottery set. Retailers can buy a whole set of it, and sell raffle tickets (500 or 800  yen or whatever) where you’re guaranteed to win something. This means a lot of what goes into the set is worth less than 500 or 800 yen. This also means some items in the set is not only worth more than 500 or 800 yen or whatever, but also makes doing a raffle something desirable (even if irrationally so). Bandai makes it back by selling the set. Retailers makes it back by selling tickets, which total (tho assuming at some point not every ticket sells) to be more than the cost of the set. Or at least this is what I think how Ichiban Kuji is suppose to work. Here’s an older write-up for the One Piece readers.

The thing is, there are some pretty serious figure collecting otaku out there who would buy direct the whole set, just because 2-3 figures in the set is worth their while. I mean an entire allotment is well under a couple thousand dollars, if even one. It may be the smart thing to do, especially when you can split the duplicates with someone. Typically one set comes with a few A or B prizes and more C, D, E, and subsequent prizes. Each prize level probably has a few different varieties of things you could get. So it gets you partly like how trade figures could as well.

And just like how some retailers sell open-box trade figures at a markup, some do the same with these Ichiban Kuji sets. I can’t say at what price they break even doing this, since at that point it depends a lot more on how attractive a particular set is, how rare a particular figure in that set can be, and how much it goes for. More importantly, since each Ichiban Kuji set only has a handful of the top tier PVC collectible figures, the supply of it is definitely limited.

Thankfully, because of this non-single-product aspect of Ichiban Kuji sets, it’s not really marketed as such. People who may be hardcore PVC figure collectors may not know about specific figures from a set in which could be similar to one of those 4000-8000 yen single figures. And I think this is how it is at all possible to collect specific figures from Ichiban Kuji sets.

Of course, this is not some kind of secret. Attractive figures from specific sets are sold at a big markup even at Japan’s domestic retailers, let alone export/import operations. That is, if they’re sold individually. So there’s another kind of price ceiling there.

So on top of worrying about the usual traps of mail ordering (which is not a lot these days), there’s the more-than-usual shipping, the exchange rate, the bargain hounding aspect, the availability aspect (since individual figures are kind of like a secondary market thing), and then there’s competition for the limited quantities among buyers who are stuck with proxy or a handful of online sites for all their Ichiban Kuji deals.

Why do I even bother… Oh, right, the 2D waifu demanded it.

Making Doujinshi in America

I was walking through the artist alley at Anime Expo this year with Tom and the thought kind of came to me: in the US we sell crap as it is in the Artist’s Alley–character merchandise labeled with our favorite ideas, like t-shirts with sarcastic or funny phrases on them. In this case it also doubles as a stylistic option given the artwork on your hat or pin or the print you hang in your bathroom wall. [I’m so hanging that pretty neat Miku print I got last year in my new bathroom.]

The whole thing is more along the lines of an arts and craft show than a maniacs-of-franchise swap-a-thon, the latter being the case of Comiket, where fans flock to pick up their doujinshi or whatever. From a copyright perspective the differences between American and Japanese fans explain the nature of copyright enforcement in this practical application of law between the same two countries. At the same time, it feels like the American artist alley wares fill in a gap in the consumer market: the lack of licensed merchandise and goods at the right price.

Except that isn’t even quite the case anymore. There are licensed merchandise for a lot of this stuff available in the US. It may be hard to find sometimes, and there may be smaller gaps (licensed “sarcastic t-shirts” are hard to find and really expensive when you do; always make me a tad bit sad when I see those Jlist shirts) that are not fulfilled, but merch presence is by and large there in some way. What’s a fan to do in this context as a producer of stuff to sell? The thought came to me about doujinshi, then, as what market segment it really fills.

I mean in some ways there were always American fans putting together these coterie magazine like EX or that new Colony Drop zine or Super Rat’s zine. There are plenty of examples littered across the past 20 years. Even now, I know some folks I work with on Jtor also are interested in making that kind of stuff. There’s a particular attraction to that publishing format. I think especially today in America, where e-readers and tablet computing are truly the order of the day, there’s a rich visual space now available that would really suit publishing for this kind of material. (Not to mention that for photogs there’s also something a nice print offers that your monitor is definitely missing.)

It just makes me wonder why people don’t flock to this format in the artist alley. I suppose, comparing workflows, it’s way less work and pressure to just make prints of random stuff you draw or make buttons or whatever. In Japan people bust balls (often together!) trying to put together their 16-page manga or whatever before the various deadlines for the various doujinshi events. It feels like the former is run like a lemonade stand and the latter is run like an actual project.

I’m not really here to minimize the contribution and hard work of artist alley types or lemonade sellers. I’ve bought my fair share of things from them, and some of those arts and craft stuff are well worth of our money and attention (in fact, I want to highlight that here). And we all know lemonade makes a delicious summertime drink. The artist alley concept is fine to have these vendors and artists participate, and for the most part the notion of artist alley as we know it works perfectly, and each con’s add a piece of the local flavor and culture to the overall convention experience. But culturally, the con artist alley is a creatively dead space, full of two types of things: people making a quick dollar on derivative copyrighted works and well-known trademarks, and artful people making cool art stuff. Sure, there are still some people doing their original stuff here and there, but I mean, I want my US counterpart of the doujinshi market to be able to provide an environment where a Tsukihime or a Nyoro~n Tsuruya-san will be able to thrive. But I just don’t see that being ever possible with the way things are.

Where is this happening? Where everything else is happening: the intarwebs.

The mode of consumption, I wager, has completely screwed the pooch in terms of where “content” buyers go to shop. People who buy crap at the artist alley at an anime con are shopping for some kind of image-based good. They want merch; they’re not as interested in content. By this I mean we’re after just ideas, icons and signals; not narratives. For that we go buy anime or manga, even web comics, forums and fanfiction. If we want a cute story about Cirno, for example, we can go read a Japanese doujinshi. And I imagine any American doing the same thing is likely going to publish it online anyways. It’s like, you can’t make it as an artist in the artist alley; you make it as an artist somewhere else, and you use the artist alley like a dealer’s room: sell crap.

With that in mind, I’ll cop a line from Makoto Shinkai’s Otakon press panel (my version w):

With the changes to animation and computer technology, how have things changed in the past 20 years as an artist?

Shinkai: Today the circumstnaces are better, the hardware is better, and there’s the internet to help distribute. There’s better software. The truth is what you want to express in your work is still the basis of that. When you are creating it on your own, the effort goes into making it look good. So today even when the circumstances are better, if the artist doesn’t understand that you need to express through from what you want to show, then things hasn’t really changed much.

So how do today’s independent artists accomplish this, at least in the context of the artist alley situation? To me the solution is obvious for an organizational body. Tap into the fan-creation communities (lots of places) and make a call for self-published works in the long format. Work with an online print company to organize some kind of infrastructure where you can do, for example, print on demand, bulk, negotiate on infrastructural burdens and prices for those things. Set a deadline for submissions, screen the submission and assists authors and creators with their work, and submit the end results to the print-on-demand service. Be the go-between for the printer and the artists. Set a fix date (like a week) where people can buy the doujinshi from the site at a discount and they will be all shipped together at the end of the period. Market the hell out of the online event during that time. Debut all those submissions at the start of the week and take them down after it is over. If you’re awesome, you can also make them purchasable via e-reader/tablet-friendly format.

  • Divorce the “con” culture from the nature of the creative endavor but still put it in context of the fandom; use the internet instead.
  • Reach the people who are already interested in these expressive forms of discourse by marketing to specific grottoes on the internet
  • Create value for POD/publisher by bundling eyeballs online and attach their brand to the effort
  • Create value for buyers and artists by bargaining collectively and sell in bulk, reduce shipping charges
  • Provide the middleman for technical help and billing, education and generally assist artists in online sales.

There are a myraid of technical challenges along the way, but the biggest question in my mind is what would people want to buy? Doujinshi as we know it? Doujinshi as it is in reality (ie., a lot of text-based things)? Music? Games? I see things like, say, Altogether fitting this idea closely. Translating a doujin game is a very different process flow than running a lemonade stand. But what else? I think people would buy photo books of figures. Even more people might buy your garden variety cartoon for adults, but that runs into some problems. Who would buy some home-grown Touhou doujinshi? Is this like the field of dreams, where if someone builds a cheap, accessible way to create, sell and buy doujinshi, people will come?

And again, to address my previous point about artist alley, in reality it isn’t the fault of anyone that our American artist alleys are like that; it is just much easier and natural to do a lemonade stand than to manage a project on the scale of a properly-made doujinshi. It’s also much easier to run something like a dealer’s room than to manage something like Comiket. So rather than to change a thing that works, maybe I’m just looking for something that’s not offered by that space.

Though, this isn’t a chicken-and-egg problem. Comiket and its kin can’t exist without doujinshi, and doujinshi cannot exist without passionate creators and fans. So at the core of it all are dedicated fans who want to semi-formally communicate with each other (and also less-dedicated fans) about the stuff they love. Maybe that is the true test of the nature of America’s fascination with Japanese pop culture from the lens of anime, manga and games. I have no doubts that these people exist, I just don’t know if they can be organized enough to build on top of the same feelings and emotions that drives them.

Figures: the Panel

If you have any feedback about what I’m writing below, please leave a comment. I am curious as to if this is a concept worth exploring in a panel format (at say, a convention). It’s not like I’m running a panel or anything (yet), but it always sort of sat somewhere in my mind after listening to a couple of them last year and the year before.

If I stole all of Happy Soda’s choice shots and put it on a nice slideshow and ran it for 30 minutes, would that make it an entertaining panel at a con?

  • Alternatively, if I stole some of Happy Soda’s choice figures and put it in a nice gallery (possible hands-on!), would that make it an entertaining panel at a con? How about both?
  • Would the slideshow go better with music?
  • If the slideshow played in the background for 30 minutes, in which during that period three dudes were talking about figures, would you pay attention to the dudes (probably not)? What do you think these dudes should be saying to catch your attention?

What kind of people would go to a figure panel? Collectors? Would-be-collectors? Random people who are wondering what is up? Photogs? Gunpla peeps? Toy people (in general)? People with a couple figures? People with a couple hundred of them?

  • How many different types of collectors are there? Would it be useful (I think so) to storyboard your common figure buyer/collector types?
  • Critiques of different types?
  • Why do we do it? Little plastic wimmens swimmins? Little plastic dudes dancing?

Is it more useful to describe how people “interact” in figure collecting? What are commonly the things to do? How do you find the right place to hang out on the internet, so to speak?

  • A list of links? Forums?
  • Blogs? Making one? Reading one?
  • and like?
  • How to spend your money, ie., follow all the figure news and PR? You don’t need help for that I’m sure.

Photography? Figure scene is vibrant with the photos of figures. They are the loudest.

  • Should we steal Super Rats too? Or at least, his blog posts?
  • Are there anyone else we should be ste–, er, learning from?

Buy & Sell? Do we need panel speak on those (I’m leaning towards yes)?

  • Domestic? Import? Price discrimination? Wholesale?
  • Proxy?
  • Used? Budget?

History? Did anyone collected anime figs in the 90s? Up to the PVC boom? Do you even care about what happened in the scene before 2007? Are you Patrick Macias?

Figure care? How to clean figures? How to put together a Detolf? Fight lean? Is this something obvious or worth talking about?

Help me out guys. If any of the questions I raised sounds interesting, or is something you’d like hear answered, let me know.

Joy of Mail Order, or How Figures Are the Worst

You know you are buying too much stuff when there’s a backlog of packages to be opened.

I almost miss the days when I would tackle something I get in the post with glee and anticipation. I say almost because I still do on occasion, depending on what I’m getting. I remember getting my N1 last year, that was like Christmas in March. I remember getting my Rakkyo box, but that was more me gawking at the amount of disrobing required to get to a few, simple plastic discs. It’s been a while since I had to do that. There were others but they were few.

The sad thing is, being an anime nerd and collector invariably meaning buying your own loot. It’s something that can’t be avoided, and in fact when you collect seriously, it is part of the art. For the truly serious, it’s gotten to a point where you talk to other collectors and buyers and do it like a MMORPG: via teamwork and/or by proxy. It’s complicated.

The issue I want to examine is how to recapture the same joy we all experience when it happens. It’s Christmas every month or every week, for some people, when they bulk ship from your favorite e-retailers here and abroad. Things like Amazon Prime are basically taking the joy out of shipping (and making it a seamless process). It can’t help but to feel that after a while, it just doesn’t matter anymore. #firstworldproblem indeed. And who should be interested? Those who wants to look at the bright side of life aside, probably retailers. And no, I’m not advocating you should buy each other loot, to somehow salvage this sorry situation. I’m talking more about making the buying experience a little less mercenary and a little more magical.

I collect DVD and Blu-ray Disc media: I buy to archive. It’s not a surprise that probably a good 1/3 of my collection is still shrinkwrapped. So when I get a package of something like that I systematically process it and store it somewhere. It’s only when I end up buying something I found particular attachments for, that I stop and smell the roses. Or maybe I should just slow down, make less money, consume less anime, or some such. But what I find overwhelmingly today is that most SKU from R1 publishers are these no-nonsense stuff, these budget super-econo-bargain sets. We all love a good bargain, but for the archiver they literally are just that: data on a disc. Of course, it didn’t help back in 2005 when there were some value-added incentives, like CDs (more data on a disc!) or T-shirts (worthless and kind of unremarkable, like cheap promo items) or flimsy cardboard crap (lol gondola). Sorry, but no.

The irony is Japan is awesome at making such purchases “value-added.” If you can import anime, why don’t you guys import this other paradigm at retail as well?

It feels entirely against some notion of old-timer otaku, the ones that best described by the likes of Satoshi Kon (RIP) when he talked about his younger days, how Japan, back then, is not a rich or affluent nation. Anime was something that happened once a week on TV, and for a school boy that’s going to be a short 25 minutes of joy to last through a whole week. In comparison we (of the 21st century) are living life in a very different way, yet it’s only in such a prosumer perspective that we can see how awkwardly out of line we are with how things used to be.

I want to savor the experience. Isn’t this something obvious? Why is almost nobody selling it? Or are we too accustomed of doing it ourselves for cheap? Sorry, but as much as people are good at it, it still falls short at a pro’s take. I guess that’s part of the problem too, right? That there are no pros working at this in the anime space, sans importing from Japan.

Granted, I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing–probably neither. But I think the way we approach this sort of consumption will have a drastic impact in the way we view the stuff we consume. It reminds me of Last Exile, the value of water, and the strange eats Lavie and Claus had a chance at towards the very end. Except it’s not so populist, just elitist. And maybe this is one place where we can see a clear democratizing effect of internet on media. For one, not only I can buy, without too much effort, special orders that were originally available to Japanese buyers, but even finding out about them in the first place is a big deal. We lose some, but we gain some too.

It’s easy to see it in the distribution of anime, but it’s harder to see it in other tracks of the same fandom. I am going to single out figures only because out of all the unopened stuff I own, those take up the most space, and have the most “value” to be opened, and yet I have the most of these packed and unopened… Still, the compulsion to buy figures never really ceases in correlation to accumulated number of figures. At worse it is a problem (again, #firstworldproblem) but that is an issue separate and usually unrelated to the desire to buy the latest pretty thing. I mean, a number of collectors buy figures that they don’t know about just on the merits of a figure’s design and craftsmanship. It’s like getting stone lions for my front doors, except these are nubile anime girls or giant robots (but small-sized) with colors of the rainbow.

And typically this habit all started somewhere, probably with some not-so-nerdy-but-a-little-bit dude’s physical desktop (not the one on your PC) where you could put a UFO catcher thing here or a Nendoroid there, it’s kind of cool; like putting a work-friendly-sized photo of your wife (not waifu) on your desk. Then it just goes on from there. Sooner or later you might find yourself in this situation. And then from there it is truly a slippery slope to something like a top scorer on this site, unless common sense or your bank account stops you.

The value in this stuff is the aesthetics appreciation, and maybe for some interior decoration, on top of the usual achievements and ticks for collectors. So it behooves buyers to “consume” figures by digging into them. It’s a great “Christmas” effect item. And all of these reasons points contrary to the issue I’m having.

And I don’t know why. The only explanation I came up with is that the “savoring” thing I previously describes is the thing I buy figures for. And once you’ve got a lot of them lined up, you probably want to take it easy and slowly. You know, to savor the whole present-opening experience. It’s totally creepy, but it’s the only one that makes sense.

That, and I’m running out of display space so I would have to spend some time to make room first. I suppose there is no point reasoning with a man and his 8″ plastic little army of Sabers.