Aug 13
Robodaz

Available from Hobbylink Japan

“God Bless Her, and all who Sail in Her”

– Traditional Ship Launch Blessing

Though Lloyds of London, the main shipping insurer today, officially ended the practice in 2002 you’d be hard pushed to find a mariner – old or young – who does not refer to their own dear craft – be it a yacht, or aircraft carrier – as anything other than ‘she.’ It is a practice which has obsessed researchers and sailors alike since records began, and in truth no one really has a clue as to the real reason why we persist in this anthropomorphism in our ships (and planes, cars, and so on).

However, this ties up a little with what we were discussing in the unboxing, and the way in which things that have a human personae gain some of the spiritual authority of humanity.

Indeed, in a number of cultures – especially shamanistic ones such as Japan – anything can be repurposed and re-signified, if there is sufficient will, faith, and purpose behind the matter.

The Shaman, the wizard, the priest, and other such people specialize in this process of spiritual transformation and if one scratches the surface of any basic faith, you will find something like it under the skin: from Catholicism’s faith in the transubstantiation of flesh, the Celtic religion’s belief in the power of words to directly grant power, or the way in which Shinto can summon Kami from whole cloth simply through an act of physical creation (meaning that making a thing fashions a spirit to reside in that object).

We’ve talked about how dolls are an especially important example of this process of signification – combining human form with spiritual power. However, I propose that this perspective also applied (and still applies) to other inanimate objects with which we as people interact on a daily basis.

We all have those objects of desire, nostalgia, or power which link so closely to our own lives that we can tell a great deal about ourselves by simply examining what we so name – as if we are detaching elements of ourselves and making disciples of these objects.

I myself have named my PC, my phone, my airbrush, my bike, and my boiler, of all things… This tells you plenty.

But… there is more to this than simply spiritual.

 

A Rose, by Any Other Name…

Names give an identity, a purpose, and even a character to things, not just to people.

Going back to what I noted above about the Japanese case, I was not exaggerating – for in Shinto, one can create a spirit simply through an act of physical creation. This is so because, as with all animistic and shamanistic faiths, the nature of the Japanese World is one of joined material and spiritual elements. The Chief Kami represent elemental forces (earth, fire, air, water and ether) and from their union, in other forms and combinations, we derive other kami. As each element in the world has its own God figure, then when elements are blended, joined, and/or crafted then they change their purpose and change their kami associations.

This I see as being tied up in the purpose which we assign to objects. A sword is more than just a collection of elements fashioned with the skills of a master. It has a brutal, terrible purpose, which needs recognizing in some potent way, and setting it apart.

After all, swords are (with the exception of the Atomic Bomb) the only weapon which we have fashioned that does not have any other purpose other than killing. All other weapons that can be named are tools, or are based on tools. Hammers, staves, bows, rifles, machine guns, flame throwers…. Perhaps a little of a stretch, I know but history is replete with named swords, representing both their deadly purpose and the skill required to forge them.

The name defines them, the name constrains them, the name controls them.

Perhaps that is the ultimate point.

When we create a thing which has the potential for real power (even evil) we must bind it in terms that allow us to better empathize with it, perhaps even influence and control it. Thus, the knowing the true name of a powerful sword not only tempers the savagery folded into the blade, but also possibly draws from it, as it bathes in the blood of the battlefield.

Very Moorcockian, to be sure.

Purpose and the direction of purpose, then, is the key here.

 

The Sea is a Cruel Mistress

Ships then, being objects of great worth, scope and – for centuries – potency certainly fit into this notion of constrained and controlled purpose. It is little wonder then that, from the times of the Ancient Phoenicians, the sailors who go into the realm of the deep do so on ships that bear potent names and the significations of power that go with them.

In the deep past, it was gods and heroes who lent their names to such vessels, abjuring the essence of such figures and appealing to those beings of legend to lend them their aid in places to which no other help could come.

This is also from where we get the concept of the figurehead: an attempt on the part of shipwrights to further signify their appeal to the powers by rendering the name of the ship in human form… A pair of blind eyes which might better watch the cruel sea then the living ones aboard of the ship.

Cruel indeed.

But not, in the main, evil.

The sea is even today a mystery and largely unreadable. It is cold, implacable, and indifferent to the passage of the humans who go about it, on business which is as trivial to the Great Water as are the scurrying of ants is to us.

It is a terrible, lonely thing to be on the stormy ocean, and out of sight of land.

Is it therefore any wonder then that sailors cleave to their ships so powerfully and cast them in the guise of figures that represent stability, comfort, warmth, and security?

Though there are many stories concerning the notion that all ocean-going ships are female, to reflect the Mother of Oceans, the one to which I look is that of the significations noted above.

For centuries, the vast majority of sailors were – owing to the heavily, physical demands of the work – male. A host of myths and superstitions developed around this fact, including that one was not to bring women aboard a working vessel, lest by doing so one offended the Mother Ocean.

Whatever the actual truth, this common belief that the ocean is reflected in a female guise, combined with the natural way in which all boys cry out to their mother in times of crisis gives us this figure of comfort and hope which is the female identity of the ships in which many have served over the years.

And that’s to say nothing of the whole Moe, and undeniably etchi qualities which surround Kantai Collection…

RAH Kantai Collection 1/6 scale Akagi Doll by Medicom

When Mattel picked on the roughly 1/6 for their line of GI Joe (AKA Action Man) dolls back in the 1960s, it was a bit of a compromise scale. The dolls had to be big enough to allow the company to fit them out with appropriate uniforms and weapons, but small enough to allow young children (the toys were initially aimed at boys from 10+ years) to play with them properly, without being overwhelmed.

To recap from a previous review (Dragon Saladin MkII) – Though mainly sold in the US and marketed as an American infantryman, in the UK and Australia the toy distributer Palitoy merely repackaged Hasbro GI Joe dolls for sale in their region, with all their US WWII and Korean War identity intact. However in the 1970s the Action Man line began to move towards a more British and Commonwealth identity, and company began releasing more and more dolls/uniforms based on many different services and nationalities – from Australian SAS, circa 1944 to Wermacht staff officers.

It is this range of historically diverse uniforms and figures that collectors loved to work on improving, especially after a combination of political correctness and changing child demographics (and perhaps a little corporate insanity) turned Action Man from a historical line of toys into gaudily-colored superheroes (a trend which is clearly not that unpopular, as it continues to this day).

A number of manufacturers have jumped out of market desire over the years, mainly working on historical figures and equipment. However, in 1996 a small company in Tokyo, founded as Medicom Toy, was able to win a license to try their hand at 1/6 collectors dolls based on the Lupin III manga/anime series.

Rough, ready and not all that pricey for the time, Medicom scored something of a hit with their Lupin Dolls, and led the way for other companies to turn towards anime sources for such figures (such as Cool Girl, the Volks 1/6 Dollfies and so on) – eventually branching out into a wide range of other pop culture licenses (such as Ultraman, Star Wars, Kamen Rider and Evangelion).

Garage kits had been popular in pop culture collecting circles for some time, but these required skill and tools to realize, and in the age before the sort of incredible PVC, fixed-pose figures to which we have access today, the 1/6 doll represented the only way for the average culture fan to acquire and collect character figures.

Moreover, in an age in which both the garage kit and vinyl figures have reached almost unthinkable levels of finish, the larger scale dolls – coming mainly from Medicom and Hot Toys these days – have not sat on their laurels.

Medicom especially has (perhaps as a way of setting themselves apart from the seemingly movie license-obsessed Hot Toys) embraced its old roots and the aesthetic of the ‘anime figure’ in designing its newer ranges of 1/6 dolls, not merely in styling, but also in materials and build.

Today, Medicom’s Real Action Hero line is essentially a wonderful hybrid between highly detailed figure and classic doll, with fixed hair and classic anime face stylings, combined with a wide range of hands, dress options and equipment to hand.

And this Kankolle Akagi is no different….

What really sets these new figures out is the head, in my opinion. The styling and material choices of Medicom since the days of the Lupin III line establishes these figures in a very specific aesthetic, and more in the line of anime figures than the dolls they are.

This is intentional, of course… with the heads closely replicating the character they are set to represent, it helps the client associate the doll with their own experiences. Medicom even experimented with dolls of a more traditional style, but found that such product did not gain the same level of character recognition as did the solid cast heads which eventually became the signature of their line (as well as being easier to produce).

The technology of the RAH head design has developed well over the years. Gone are the days of completely interchangeable heads, and in has come the partial face-off scenario above. More for cost reasons than any other, I still find the idea appealing…

All in all, I can see why folks like Hot Toys, as a brand… They have all the really hot film licenses and have made a real name for themselves with regard to the peripherals they put out for their figures (I mean we’ve had the Batmobile, we have the DeLorean and suspect we might even get a some Star Wars tech…).

However… for me, I go with Medicom wherever I have a choice (and thankfully, license issues being what they are, I am unlikely to have to choose any time soon). I much prefer the stylings of he RAH line despite the caveats noted below…

For new purchasers…

This figure, and all new RAH dolls share a few little issues which might be worth keeping in mind if you are wary.

1: Joints. Hot Toys has developed a reputation (fairly or not) for the weakness of the jointing in their 1/6 line. I too have had dolls fail in weird ways from the HK based company. However, Medicom is not immune either. This is especially evident on wrist joints, which have spigot fittings into the arms of the dolls. The hinge joint itself is also a tad fragile, if not treated well. Moreover with the rotation of the wrist being managed by simply twisting the spitgot in the arm it is possible to actually shear off a hand totally (though this requires the whole arm to jam).

2: Material: These days, for sake of build and possibly price, most dolls have gone over to a sifter vinyl body, with padding and shaping as required. This has caused some classic collectors some concerns, and the dolls no longer have the look that one might expect of the scions of GI Joe. I like it, as it lends better to the ‘anime’ feel, but it might put some people off.

Those little niggles aside, I say if you are pondering the idea of large figure collecting, you really should look further into what Medicom has to offer.

And, if you are specifically thinking about a Kantai Collection figure, think doubly carefully about the Akagi. She might have the turrets of the battleships, but that is offset by her charm, styling and posability.

Full steam ahead! Launch all faeries!

Dr. Robodaz.
 

Comments

  1. It might e off topic, but I have given my car a name too and it’s a “she”!
    If I’m recalling correctly, it was you who has wrote in an article some time ago that it was/is believed that in Japanese culture when a object has been made by someone with great care and/or fulfills a purpose it therefor acquires a soul.
    It was a long time ago I’ve read the article in question, so please correct me wherever it is due, but to me this is a true fact. It is for that reason I give the objects that I care for a name, as I feel like they are a part of me, or my family if you will. And I am not Japanese… Alas.
    To me this is what connects all cultures and religions, as in every one of these there are people which connect to objects more or less in the same way.

    To get back on the subject, I don’t have even one “doll”in my collection of the 1/6 scale and I’m always debating if I do get one (and then many will follow, I’m sure of it) what kind it’ll be. A figure of an action movie or one departed from an anime. With this article I’m bias towards an anime figure.
    Does one ever can have too many hobbies and collect too many things? I myself say no, but my storage space begs to differ.
    Maybe one day I will get oceans of space (pun intended) and start collecting 1/6 scale figures. If that day comes I will fondly think back of this review.
    Thanks for sharing Dr. Robodaz!

  2. It was actually Hasbro that manufactured the original 1/6 scale G.I.Joe in 1964 which was licensed to Palitoy two years later as Action Man. Mattel was responsible for introducing Barbie in 1959 which itself was ‘inspired’ by the German Bild Lilli doll first made in 1955.

    I find that the 1/6 scale allows for greater realism especially for licensed properties such as film and television. I remember thinking, back when Toys ‘R’ Us were pulling Breaking Bad toys off the shelves that Sideshow should have made them so the heads would actually resemble the actors.

    • Ah, yes… You are correct. Hasbro indeed. Where I got Mattel from, I do not know (but, as you hint, I think I was getting Barbie mixed up in there, somewhere).

      And Lilli…. There’s a name I’ve not heard in a Dog’s age. Time to dig out the old strips and stroll down memory lane.
      ‘Am vielen Lachen erkennt man den Narren’ 😉

      Edit: We’d better be careful though… Even saying the words ‘Bild Lilli’ could be grounds for a lawsuit these days, Mattel being as litigious as they are….. 😀

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