Dragon's China Strike Force Wazzername

Last modified: Thursday, February 22, 2001 9:23 PM

Now this is the image of Eve that Dragon should have come out with in the first place. They would have been spared the humiliation of the poor reception that Winona received. What did they expect? After months and months of anticipation, fans were expecting something more robust than Winona's scrawny frame. Be honest: We wanted sexy. We expected sexy. Even from the first photos of her dressed in the PD uniform, we wanted to believe that there was something sexy under the uniform. Then she came and we were shocked. I think we hurt Dragon's feelings. I think Dragon got the idea.

Neo Eve ain't scrawny. In fact, Dragon has done a full-figured about-face on this one. Not only does she have a Body, but she's constructed with their "Ultimate Soft Skin" technology, a radical departure from Dragon's established figure design. Dragon said, "They want sexy? We'll give 'em sexy!"


You know what a soft-skin figure is so I don't need to go over the obvious stuff again. I wrote an article about the Skinned figure last year, triggered by Kouki's amazing experiments with soft skinned figures. Then Jakks Pacific came out with theirs and the Charlie's Angels dolls. Hell, RealDoll came out with life-sized versions years ago (although I don't think they called them "action figures") so this isn't a totally new and shocking concept. The surprising part is that Dragon has diverged so far from their regular design to bring us this. Dragon's an innovative company, but this isn't a minor exploration of a new concept. They probably invested a bunch of money to develop and produce this doll. They were either really sure that it was a good thing, or the backlash from Winona wigged them out into doing weird stuff. I'm inclined to believe the latter, just for fun.

I'm not saying that this is a bad figure ("she's just sculpted that way... "). It's a kewl figure, that's for sure. But in the Joe realm, it's a novelty. It's the type of figure that you should buy at least one of just to check it out. Would you want five or ten of them though? Not unless you do unusual things with your Joes. This one really falls more in the realm of the fashion doll collecting.

Just so you know where I'm coming from, I consider a good "Joe" figure to be one that you can easily pose for photos. This seems to jive with the way adult Sandboxers describe their version of "play". This kind of playworthiness requires that a figure be able to stand on its own, have precise, smooth-working articulation, have articulation where it counts, and be able to stand up to the type of handling that grubby-handed folks might inflict. Fashion dolls don't seem to have the same requirements-- they're set up for display in stands, rarely posed in diorama settings, and endure light handling.

The first tip off is the unusual stand that's included. It's not Dragon's usual foot support, but their own version of a regular doll stand, with a clear plastic waist grabber attached to a steel pole. Uh oh... this means she can't stand. And it's true. Although there's something solid embedded deep inside her feet, there's so much supersoft rubber surrounding it that it really doesn't matter, even when she's wearing her hard plastic high heels (they provide two sets: black and silver to match her two included outfits).

The second qualifier comes from the nature of soft skin technology; it's not very handling-friendly. It's rubber, which makes removal of outfits difficult. Dragon's figure has a very pale matte finish, unlike that of the shiny, rubbery PVC legs of some figures. It looks better but it gets dirty really easily and isn't as easy to clean as hard plastic. I'm not going to test this, but I suspect that it could easily pick up stains and discolorations which would be nearly impossible to remove. Sadly, these weaknesses seem to be a natural property of this type of material.

On other points, it fares quite well. Dragon's innovation in this field of soft-skinned figure is the articulation. Sorry, I'm not going to slice mine open but it seems as though the articulation is accomplished by hard pieces connected by a fairly ductile metal wire. Unlike a Gumby/Bendie design, this figure only bends where it's supposed to-- not in the forearm, for example. The surrounding tissue rubber is quite soft (which probably contributes to the problems mentioned in the last paragraph), so the limbs stay posed where they're supposed to-- the metal doesn't have to work as hard, so it can be softer which helps it not poke through the soft skin. Dragon did a great job of complimentary matching the properties of these two materials. It works much better than any other figure of this type that I've seen before. There are limitations of course-- the slight spread of the arms at the shoulders can't be posed much tighter-- that was my first instinct on unboxing her ("Gal, close your armpits!")-- but that's not surprising since you'd need a really stiff metal to overcome the compression of rubber material in the armpit. Actually, the material compresses very realistically there and at the elbowpit, considering that this isn't a real human being. More or less the same comment about her legs once I got her dress off ("Gal, close your legpits!").

There are some articulation disappointments, most notably the lack of torso poseability. She can't do the twist, and she really doesn't pose arch backed or hunched over. The embedded rigid part of her shins doesn't seem to extend quite far enough downward, so she can do some weird near Theisman-ish posing with her ankles. She does have neck tilt articulation though.

The only semi-rigid parts are her head and hands. These have that telltale seam you get when joining two dissimilar materials together. The neck joint is pretty unobtrusive probably because we're used to seeing it; the hands are a little more noticible because they're different from what we're used to. The head's removeable-- just pull up and you'll see that it's attached to a spear from the neck. It's a damn good thing you can do this too-- removing her outfits would probably be impossible otherwise.

Her hands however, aren't removeable. They aren't poseable either. In fact, it seems weird that her left hand, with its open posing, looks noticibly bigger than her right hand, and out-of-scale to the figure. The forearms have that same Theisman quality as the shins.

The headsculpt is sweet and very realistic... No comparison to Winona's (or many of Dragon's other headsculpts). However, it's strange: The size is actually well matched to her body, yet looks small in relation to most other figures. I think this is the peculiar "pinhead" perceptual phenomenon. We've gotten used to the convention of large-sized heads on our figures, and throwing a realistically-proportioned figure into the middle of this looks weird. I think? Maybe her head is actually too small? Bah! Messing with Joes for so long has destroyed my sense about such things. Her neck is certainly shorter than the picture shown on the box cover.

While the softskin technology eliminates the problem of unsightly articulation seams, it introduces it's own detractions: molding seams/scars. These are pretty pronounced and look almost like scar tissue. It's noticible mainly because the selling point of the doll is the beauty of smoothness-- then you see those seams. Unlike hard plastic, you can't fill them, sand them down and paint over them. It's a real world manifestation of the Theory of Tradeoffs.

Other than the fact that she looks almost too realistic to hang with "the boys", the size and proportioning of the figure is pretty good. She isn't a 6-foot+ giantess like the Jakks Pacific dolls. She's one of the few female figures whose legs seem to be a reasonable length and girth. In other areas, compared to the JP doll, she doesn't fare as well. The production quality seems poorer (due to the disfiguring molding scars) and the JP doll has some outrageous tummy sculpting with articulation that takes advantage of some of the features of the soft skin medium. The JP doll also seems less likely to get a marred finish, probably because the rubber's darker, denser and harder. However, Neo Eve is a full soft skin figure though, has much better functioning limb articulation and fits in with the Joe environment better. (And if you were curious-- no, Neo Eve doesn't have that special detailing that the Kelly doll has. And no, despite the soft plastic, there's no jiggle. And no, despite their largeness and fullness, they don't submit to the will of the outfit. Apparently, we don't have the technology...)

OUTFIT & ACCESSORIES The outfit and accessories are good quality and appropriate for this figure. The stand is necessary of course, and besides the two pairs of high heels (which are waaaay oversized), you get a kewl tiny derringer (well done with a bored barrel), and a chain-strapped purse (kinda featureless blob of plastic which doesn't open, but is easily recognizable as a purse). Her g-string is okay-- it has elastic straps in the back, but looks kinda big and flat from the front (it needs a tuft of something???). The garter belt serves as a holster for the derringer and the silver dress is slit up the side for quick access. The top of the black pantsuit is similar in design to the silver dress... it's really touch 'n go as far as getting these outfits off and on and I'd suggest that you don't do it often. The inch-long back slit is velcroed with a hook & eye at the top to allow it to pass over her hips, but you've got to strrrrrretch the elastic straps way over the neckpin spear to actually work it off. Verrrry gradually, thanks to the high friction rubber body. After doing this a couple times, the silver foil starts unravelling from the elastic straps. (An afterthought: On the other hand, you could push the dress up before attempting to de-strap her...)

THE VERDICT So has Dragon redeemed itself? Not entirely. It's an extremely cool figure and despite the good things that this design brings to the table, I don't consider it more than a curiosity, like all soft-skinned figures. It shouldn't replace a hard-bodied figure as Dragon's standard female figure: The Winona-style figure just needs to be redesigned to look a little more appealing. The hard plastic figures are the workhorses, the truly playworthy ones (by my definition of adult playworthiness). Those are the figures you can stand (if they'd just design 'em right!), (easily) change outfits on, and pose without worrying about how many flexes the limb has left, or how dirty they get. They're proven good for the long haul. Even though they've got those ugly articulation seams... (and don't get me started about the "articulation versus looks" argument... I just snipped out three long paragraphs discussing how they're really both different faces of the SAME THING within the context of adult playworthiness.)

Here's a big question: Could Dragon have done this figure effectively in a hard-bodied format? Maybe, with some costuming changes (and the right body). Elbow articulation could have been hidden with long gloves, and a gown with different straps would have hidden the shoulder seams. The slit skirt would still show some knee articulation though. Since this figure is based on an actual movie (I think), such costuming changes would have made the figure set inaccurate. Of course, let's not kid ourselves. Dragon didn't develop this figure so it could do accurate costuming for a movie that 99% of us haven't seen and probably will never see! Sex, baby... sex. The concept is sexy and the object is sexy. Corporate pride. That's why. Time will tell whether it's the great success that BBI's "Custom Expression Mechanism" was.

The skinned figure might be seen as an attempt to create the "universal" figure-- one which is good for every style of costuming. Hmmmmm... we ain't there yet. While there are some situations where this figure excels, it has some notable shortcomings which I've already mentioned. One of the major concerns I haven't mentioned is how soft plastics hold up over time. They're certainly less stable than hard plastics. I'm not a chemist but when I read that flexibility and elasticity comes from plasticizers which migrate and leach out, I can connect the dots. Softer plastic = more plasticizer = less stability. I have one year-old silicone molds that now tear where they used to stretch. It would be a bummer to discover that your entire collection of figures had skin which was shrinking, cracking, and becoming leather-tough. Even if it happened over a span of 30 years, it would be a bummer-- we like to think that these guys might last forever.

Personally, I doubt whether materials technology will ever create the perfect 1/6th scale skin: It would be too fragile for us 1:1 scale creatures to handle. Instead, now that we've nailed the human genome, breeding 1/6th scale humans seems a more promising direction. Of course, teaching them, feeding them and cleaning up after them would probably keep collections fairly small, assuming we could get over the myriad of ethical issues.

  --Jimbob, 02/15/01

IMPORTANT CAUTION: It has been reported that the soft plastic skin picks up difficult-to-remove stains very easily. This can be from something as seemingly innocuous as dressing her in a different, untested outfit. I don't know how you can predict the interaction between the skin and the colorfastness of dyes in a material (maybe using her soles as the test swatch? Stand her on the material for a couple days?). I suggest that if you decide to run the risk, use a light-colored outfit, maybe washed a couple thousand times. Bummer, mon... I'm beginning to think that this soft rubber stuff really sux!



(By the way, kudos to Internet retailers War-Toys and Toy Maniacs for great service.)