Censorship, or Market Forces? Fate: Stay Night
in 2004, when working at a hobby store in Kobe Centre Plaza, a little erotic PC game shop displayed an interesting poster for a game called “Fate: Stay Night” which caught my attention for the presence of the King Arthur Saber character, who has become a major icon for Type Moon in the years since.
Initially, just a normal pornographic visual novel in the same vein as all manner of games at the time (themselves something of a holdover from an already decade-old PC game line), I admired the art style, and got to know one of the voice actors, who shared with me the silliness of trying to dub porn games without getting the giggles….
What I did not expect was what happened when Type Moon discovered that it was not only the usual young guys who were buying into the property – and the nascent merchandise which went with the game in the early days – leading to a heavily censored version releasing on the PS2 in 2006 under the title of “Fate: Stay Night, New Stars.”
A full breakdown of the series can be found here.
Reality Hits You Hard, Bro…
Back in 2006, though, Type Moon were faced with something of a turnabout.
Their normal board of fare was nothing compared to the popularity of the “Fate” property, which was beginning to sell more ‘value’ in merchandise than in games. Initially in prints, posters and stickers, but eventually moving on to the first UFO Catcher toys and the like; A huge percentage of which were based around a small number of characters, led by ‘Saber.’
It was fun to watch from my standpoint, but as I moved from retail into teaching as my doctorate ended, I rather missed out on the way the release of the first animated series really lit a fire under the Fate brand.
By the time I settled in the far north of Japan, the shops were already swamped with “Fate” figures, books and toys. A thing which did not connect to the hentai game I had seen only a few years before.
Still staying in touch with the voice of Saber, this seems to have been down to nothing more or less than the power of the bottom line at work. As Fate lost many of its licentious elements, and consequently lowered its age rating, it appealed to more and more companies, who smelled merch blood in the water.
And when that legendary company Volks joined the pack with their 1/3 scale Saber/Saber Alter dolls in 2008, Type Moon’s Golden Goose had officially achieved respectability.
Volks, however, did not have things all their own way.
Originally founded in 1988 as a stencil maker and industrial dyer, Azone started out making clothing for mixed media figure or doll manufacturers, as well as a variety of prints and cloth goods for a number of clients in Japan. However, Azone supplemented its income with the importation of clothing and fancy goods from South East Asia, to feed the then current trends among the young of that time for the ‘Vietnam style’ (which begat first an office, then a production plant in Hanoi in the 1990s).
Still far from making their own dolls, Azone held their own by producing 1/6 scale accessories for the dolls of other companies, as well as all manner of licensed novelties until they recognized a niche in the market for a small-scale, high-quality vinyl doll, which became the ‘Sara Test’ of 2000, the complete sellout of which demonstrated that Azone had something they could exploit.
However, while Azone had small-scale production facilities, they could not handle something larger, and by joining forces with Obitsu Plastics, they were able to develop their doll line much further – especially after Volks announced the development of a 1/3 scale 57-60cm vinyl doll, called the Dollfie Dream.
Azone/Obitsu’s response was a series of dolls in 50cm, 55cm and 60cm sizes, based on similar vinyl technologies they had used for their earlier dolls.
Whilst not wanting to get into a giant aside about Ball-Jointed Dolls (BJDs), the development of the large-scale vinyl dolls by Volks and Azone/Obitsu both certainly caused an impact around 2006/2007. They were markedly cheaper than their resin counterparts, obviously more ‘anime’ in appearance and not strictly marketed at female audiences, which had been the case with the resin dolls for a long time.
Very quickly, both Volks and Azone/Obitsu (followed eventually by Danny Choo’s Culture Japan) found slightly different and specific niches, based on the demographics of their client base. Whilst Volks ran a higher RRP, with larger dolls and a more limited range of Dollfie Dreams, Azone found their 50cm range, which came in at a lower price point to be most popular with their clients.
There has been some argument (and fairly, it must be said) that whilst the Azone Dolls are not of quite the same quality as their Volks/Smart Doll counterparts, it cannot be denied that the lower price point is very attractive.
I suppose this is to be expected, though.
The market for such dolls is a tight one, and trade wars do nobody any good in the long run. Visiting Akihabara regularly even now, I see Volks and Azone especially co-existing quite happily, in the same building, one shop above the other.
Even to the point of being willing to take the risk of running competing properties without, it seems, much issue – with the subject of this review, Azone’s “Fate: Apocrypha” Jeanne d’Arc Ruler selling out at pre-order for both Azone’s recent release and the upcoming Volks version which arrives in December.
Out of the Box
Here is the element which sets the Hybrids apart – loved by some, hated by others – the pad-printed (previously decaled) eyes. They lend a more traditional anime quality to the Azone/Obitsu dolls for sure. However, I admit I always buy a spare, conventional head with acrylic eyes for my own hybrids, as heads can be swapped out very easily, thanks to a QD mechanism in the neck.
The Azone Saber in 2012 was a big step for the company, but this Ruler doll marks an equally impressive leap in some ways, and – as we shall see in the review – a few unfortunate errors or compromises: I’m no hater – as I collect Volks, Smart Doll and Volks, all three – but what has to be said, has to be said…
Product in this review: