A Look At Volks' Excellent Base Model [Neo]

Last modified: Friday, June 22, 2001 6:15 AM



Is it a model or is it a figure or is it a doll? Semantics... who cares? The significant thing about the name is that it contains NEO. As this is written, there's considerable interest in Volks' NEO-Guy figure, which has yet to reach this side of the Pacific. The reason for this interest is Guy's realistically proportioned and sculpted body plus a considerable amount of new and novel articulation. It looks like a real winner.

Their Neo EB female figure seems to have slipped under the radar. Little has been said about it despite the fact that the articulation layout seems very similar. Granted, Volks figures aren't very commonly found in the US of A and the figure does not look as outwardly "realistic"-- I think that male figures suffer less when you throw a lot of articulation at 'em because heroic musculature creates all kinds of high points & shadows, Articulation seams don't jump out at you as loudly as they do with female figures. So this figure, like 21C's Jacqueline/Matilda suffers from a kind of robotic look. It's just not as impressive in the world of female figures (Takara's/BBI's CY Girls wins that honor) as Neo Guy appears to be in the world of male figures. Of course, that still remains to be seen... But early pics from the other side of the Pacific look very promising.

I did a review of an earlier Volks female figure (Base Model). Dragon's first female figure, Winona, was pretty similar to that. Both are too skinny for my tastes (Winona is downright ghoulish IMO). Neo EB is somewhat more meaty, especially in the arms. But she still is thin and trim despite her meaty silicone-perky boobs, sorta like a Teen-Lolita-As-Exotic-Dancer. Compared to Volks' other EB figures, and perhaps a feature of the Neo line, this one has more "realistic" proportions without the large "Anime" style head. Also contributing to this look is the attention Volks has paid to minimizing the gaps at the articulation junctures at the legs/hips and the torso sections. It takes precision designing to do this without sacrificing too much of the articulation range. [Whoops-- yeah, I just noticed that thar be privates showing! If that gets yer rocks off, check this out: (|) Grow up, dammit!]

Anyhoooo... the interesting thing of this figure is really the articulation. The layout appears to be very similar to Neo-Guy's so this might give us some advance insight into how that figure is constructed, and by extension, how it mightpose.

Like most modern figures, this one's got the dual hinged elbows and knees; the additional points of articulation are the shoulder balls and the extra segmentation of the torso.

The knee joints are worth a closer look simply because they're constructed unlike any of the other mainstream "super articulated" knee joints. This pic shows the side view of the knee and the back view-- due to the cut of the thigh section, the joint must be pulled out slightly for clearance, but this is an unnatural pose. What you should notice is that there is no mid-thigh cut in the leg to allow the knee to be rotated independently of the leg/hip articulation. That's because it's all done at the knee joint. This is something I'd always thought was a good idea, since it puts the ugly articulation seams in one place. Unfortunately, they didn't do this with the elbows, probably because there's less room.

As I mentioned above, this figure has some of the best-fitting non-elastic tensioned hip joints I've seen, with a minimal leg-hip socket gap. That improves the figure's appearance immensely. They didn't maim the hip design too badly to achieve adequate clearance for the legs. Instead, that pound of flesh is carved from the top of the legs, which looks unnaturally flat. (As you know, you can't have everything.)

The torso articulation bears some similarity to Dragon's Winona (which looks like it was copied from Volks, LOL). As you can see, it's a ball end spine which pressure fits into the hipside socket. The "exo-vertebrae" torso sections fit between. Unlike their earlier versions (and Dragon's), the fit is very tight, without that articulation gap-- you can barely see the middle seam in the pictures.

There's an innovation that's visible in the pictures if you look closely: the spine is spring-loaded through the center and extends at the cross seam, similar to elastic tensioning. That gives the spine additional length (with tensioning) when the torso sections are compressed for a forward or backward bend. In theory, that sounds great, huh? In practice it's a little fonky. From the pictures above, you can see that I didn't get the top torso gap to close completely. The torso posing doesn't always stay where you want it at the farther reaches (you can see the molded texturing to provide friction), and I've had the ball joint pop out a few times. Despite the fancily-machined contrivance, the design offers nothing that couldn't be accomplished with simple, crude elastic. Adding friction pads definitely helps.

Now this is interesting. From the pics, the extra arm articulation looks like a turret mechanism (per Neo Henshin Cyborg) or an extra ball socket. Once you handle the figure, you know something different is going on since you can feel that the articulation axis is much deeper in the body. And so it is, as these pictures show. The "balls" are nothing more than covering rings to conceal the rod. They don't do anything to add to the tensioning, and are cleverly designed to orient themselves properly within the socket so that the rod remains hidden. This is an exceptionally brilliant trick. Because of the deep articulation axis, the shoulders have considerable deflection range. If this had been accomplished with a simple ball socket design, the balls would be huge. So in this rare case, you have an example of design which provides superior utility, with a minimal degradation on the appearance. Jacqueline/Matilda should have been so lucky...

Also, notice the design of the neckpin. At the body end, it's a simple swivel, so the neckpin can rotate. The rod connects to a hingepin in the neck which provides the nodding deflection. This means that the sculpted neck can be rotated to a position appropriate for the direction the head is facing. It doesn't rely on an exterior sculpted ball-end shape, so the neck can actually be sculpted without compromising the function. At the head end, the neck ends in a fairly standard "Barbie" like design which provides another ball-socket joint for further head posing possibilities.

This is another collection of disassembled parts to show you the modular spirit of this figure. Some parts, like the shins and the shoulders hook onto a pin, rather than having a solid disk drilled through the center for the pin. This may not be a good thing for many people, since it contributes to the model-like feel of the figure. Despite the abundance of articulation, I would not call this a toy. It's fairly fragile and you could easily break it by doing simple things like rotating the elbow from the forearm. The parts detach easily, and enough play wear might make the parts detach (as in "fall off") too easily.

In the GI-Joe world, this creates a kind of cross-purpose confusion. Lots of articulation seems to go with the idea of "playability". In fact, figures with less articulation are more durable, have fewer moving parts to wear down, and are less troublesome to pose because there's less to tweak. Mega articulation would therefore seem to be an adult ideal since the pose can be finely tweaked for static display. (Besides, a doll with pubic region detailing is obviously not meant for children.)

Volks creates these figures for adult hobbyists who customize dolls-- hence the blank, unpainted and bald head. They sell eye decals and wigs (and wings if you want to make a Fantasy doll), and I assume that creating the outfit is a big part of that hobby. They provide two sets of feet: small ones for shoe wearing, and a larger barefooted size. Surprisingly, the ankles on this one are tight, so she can stand unassisted. That's probably against the spirit of the genre, but I'm not complaining...

Of course, it's foolish to come to any solid conclusions about Volks' Neo-Guy based on this figure. It's difficult to guess what's on Volks' mind-- they started out making superior garage kits, then tapped into the Japanese custom doll market. Their distribution has never seemed to be intended for anything other than their domestic Japanese market.

Neo-Guy seems to be created for the 1/6th scale collector-- Joeheads, not doll collectors (Yeah... male doll collectors ;^) If they've been watching the Joe manufacturers and are interested in that market, they'll have tweaked their design and production for that market-- more toy, less model, By itself, the stockier body of the buffed-up male hero-type figure will make the figures less delicate. But that's not enough. I don't consider the sledgehammer test to be the complete definition of "durability"-- A rock-hard figure with joints which wear poorly can hardly be called durable.

That Neo-Guy is available as a base figure with the optional choice (extra purchase) of two styles of painted or unpainted heads indicates that he isn't being marketed like anything from the Joe world. It could be that Neo-Guy is simply intended to be an extension to their fashion doll customizing line. If so, this is another step in bridging the gap between the artificially-separated worlds. Maybe someday, men will be honest enough to call dressable figures "dolls" and reserve "action figures" for those smaller, minimally-articulated statuettes with painted-on clothes? ;^) It's all just semantics, y'know?