Thursday, October 14, 2010

Farewell Anime Figurines

Some day I will really appreciate abstract sculpture. I will feel the swirling lines, the effect of polished surfaces next to parts left rough, and the tension of blocky parts digging down that want to spring up and away. For now though, in the spirit of crawling before I walk, the only sculptures I buy are anime (Japanese animation) figurines. Are they art? Yes, you may be surprised to find they come with the sculptor's name prominently on the box.

Sometimes you may choose to buy these figurines pre-ordered from the factory, or else wait and hope to buy from the factory’s extra run. Often, though, with a prototype shown on the internet, “pre-order” is all there is. If, perchance, you had no cash flow this summer because first you finished your mortgage early, then paid a year's worth of property tax and then paid off all your visa and then paid off your powerful yet incredibly light Macbook Air computer then … like me, you will feel sad at the pre-order figurines that you never bought, gone now, gone forever except in memory.

There were three pieces that I appreciated. I had wanted to set them for display on points of a triangle. Let me recall them now to say farewell.

There have been many interpretations of the teenage girl Asuka Langely. In the series Neon Genisis Evangelion she often wears her uniform, her plug suit, to fight mystic ghostly aliens. (Not living humans) This year an artist pictured her away from battle, dancing for joy. She is wearing a monotone blue dress rather than, say, a schoolgirl’s sailor shirt over a dark skirt. This means my eye’s path down is not delayed. But my eye does not rush out along her leg: the leg is not extended with a straight foot like a proper ballerina’s. Instead, her knee is tossed out, her schoolgirl satchel is gaily swinging, dress swirling. Such a jumble of energy surrounds her. And her face! It makes me so happy just to see her.

Asuka’s girlfriend Rei has often been interpreted wearing her plug suit or a girlish blue dress or even as a gothic waitress. This year the artist must have imagined a prim cylinder within which to sculpt Rei as wearing a woman’s traditional Kimono. Energy is constrained. In contrast to her dancing friend of American heritage, Rei’s narrow kimono allows only short soft steps. It has gorgeous fabric, as part of how traditionally women were meant to be adored and put on a pedestal. The effect is matched by Rei’s usual not-smiling expression.

As any art becomes less abstract and more “real,” as with realistic figurines, the art becomes increasingly viewed in the light of the history of the viewer and what he or she brings to the art. For me, knowing the eventual fates of the girls, I am moved to see them as still unmarred and having a life.

The third figurine for my triangle, balancing the other two poles of joyful and serene, new and traditional, child and woman, is a girl named Kuniko from the series Shangri-La. I remember her sitting in a short pleated skirt, wearing not high heels but high action boots. She still wears her old schoolgirl sailor shirt, and, with her arms up overhead, she holds a steel futuristic boomerang. Cool! I immediately sense she is not “just another teen in the crowd.” Best of all is her expression, rare in figurines: a huge U-shaped smile. I can relate. I instantly want to know what adventures she has. So I did a google search for boomerang and found out Kuniko is a leader, fresh out of jail.

I won’t reveal what the dear girl tries to do: Anime differs from mundane U.S. television. For U.S. TV, which typically has ongoing shows such as police mysteries, you could accidentally expose the plot of only one episode at a time. Fantastic anime is different: The plot lasts for a full season, as the show is intended to terminate after a certain number of weeks. The stories for my two favorite shows, Elfin Lied and Serial Experiments Lain, are told in just thirteen episodes. At the end of the series the hero has won or lost, lived or died: For her it’s all over. This makes the figurines especially dear.

Had I bought my three sculptures I could have brought them to my favorite art gallery, the Stephen Lowe gallery. I would have brought them up to the counter, set them in a triangle, and then my friends the art experts, they who so deeply appreciate “real” art, would have ooh-ed and ah-ed been happy for me.

My lesson? Don’t be intimidated at the thought of “real” art lovers; buy what you like and if you really love it… snap it up before it’s only a memory.

Sean Crawford,
October 2010
Update: In summer of 2016, pre-order for September of 2016, is a "re-issue" of the Asuka figurine. They know what fans want, and what true fans will pay, for this time they are charging what the market (in Japan) will bear—quite a lot. Too much for us sensible North Americans. Yes, but I really want to have it.

So I've ordered Asuka, and I get free tracking of my parcel too, all the way from leaving Gunma prefecture, to Tokyo post office, to cross the ocean, to the port of Vancouver post office, to the transCanada highway, to my town. (Yes, regular post; I can't afford Federal Express) I've ordered through J-List.

Somehow I found Rei, a few years back. Hurray! Did you know her name means spirit? (Oooh)

Any Kuniko figurines out there? I will road trip to your house to buy it! She was created by artist Range Murota, who did the covers for Robot magazine.

Footnote: There must have been a number of people who missed out this summer, because this fall the term **pre-order** is being bracketed with two stars on J-Box, the Japanese import site I use.
Update: And this August, 2011, a big box has been added to each pre-order figurine page, spelling out what a pre-order is, and how you may easily miss out if you wait for the actual factory run before buying.

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