TAKARA'S
FUJI FROM ULTRAMAN
ANNU FROM ULTRASEVEN

A while back, Takara released Cool Girl versions of the first two Ultra-gals, Annu Yuri from Ultraseven (left) and Akiko Fuji from Ultraman (right). I'd bought the Annu doll some time ago, but couldn't think of anything particularly interesting to write about; that's still true, but with both of these gals, I'll try to fake it...

takara cy girl fuji annu ultraman ultraseven I finally gave in and got Fuji, from eBay of all places, and paid the penalty for taking a year to make up my mind. At this time, these are nowhere to be found except occasionally on eBay, and judging from the starting prices, the original Ultraman series must be much more popular than I ever could have imagined! I held off buying one when they were released because I didn't really like the Science Patrol (Science Special Search Party) uniform that much-- I've always thought that orange was a hideous color for a uniform. Does the doll really have that much eye-appeal? Or maybe people snapped these up because they were Cool Girls, and Takara didn't make very many of them? If so, it's sad to think about those poor Fujis held hostage for ransom on eBay by folks who don't really appreciate her for being Fuji (but I don't begrudge their investment savvy). She was such an endearing character in the show, an integral member of the team, and a real cutie. Hiroko Sakurai, who played her, was there from the very beginning (starring in Ultra-Q), had cameos through the years, and is a regular in the current incarnation of the series, Ultraman Max (as is Susumu Kurobe,who played Hayata/Ultraman in the original series). We're talking about nearly 40 years! Dang...

billiken akiko fuji ultraman On the other hand, Takara's version of Fuji isn't much of a likeness of the actress-- it's more like an approximation done as a Cool Girl wearing the Science Patrol uniform. Something about it is off-kilter, and it doesn't stand up to the instant recognition test. In contrast, Billiken's 1/6th scale prepainted vinyl model (right) does a much better job of capturing the essence of the Fuji character. Takara always does great headsculpts, but doesn't focus on dead-on likenesses-- Their Annu doll bears some resemblance to the actress Yuriko Hishimi, but the likeness aspect is diminished by the stylistic approach. This is probably appropriate since the doll doesn't reflect the stature of the actress either-- The Annu doll should probably be only about 9 or 10 inches tall.

No matter... for many folks, it's the Cool Girl that counts. In addition to the figure, Takara typically does an outstanding job on outfits and accessories, and indeed, both uniforms are tailored as reasonably accurate renditions of their TV shows'. However, for decades I had believed that the Science Patrol's uniform was a light burnt orange color... so I was really shocked when I opened the box and was blinded by Fuji's neon tangerine uniform. Daaa-yum! That thing is freakin' bright! Admittedly, colors are a real slippery thing, and you can't expect that translations through cameras, film, old videos, uncalibrated monitors, print, and lighting will give you anything more than a notion of what the real thing looks like... so for all I know, the color might be dead-on accurate. Despite this, the look of the uniform grows on you and it's waaaay more aesthetically pleasing than some of the really garish and ugly Ultra team uniforms which followed (notably, ZAT's of Ultraman Taro-- ewwwww!). I guess it's to help the monsters see who's firing the usually ineffective rayguns at them.

cy girl takara akiko fuji ultraman dollAnyway, Fuji's outfit's is very well executed-- the white shirt front panel is part of the jacket, which is just like the original. (In the show, the Science Patrol members would be hanging out at the headquarters in their blue blazers, receive an emergency call, and henshin into the Science Patrol uniform by removing their blazers and slacks. Strange...) Black piping is sandwiched between the materials along the borders, and a velcro closure in the white shirt runs about 3/4 of the way from the neck down, covered by the tie. (If you choose to remove the uniform, be warned that the hook part of the velcro attaches very readily to the orange knit material. Unhooking it, peel-away style, will more than likely fray the material and leave some frizzy microfibers-- that's just the way that velcro works, and the helmet's chinstrap has a small strip of it as well.) The tie is attached by elastic at the collar and is kept centered by a nylon clip (not the tie pin). The jacket has the decorative buttons on the outer collar, but the buttons are a tad too small. Also, the Science Patrol logo comm pin on her left outer collar is oversized (and lacks an extending antenna), as is the logo on her left arm sleeve. That's nit-picky stuff, but hey-- it's the kind of stuff that would earn Dragon's WWII stuff some major griping. The pants are constructed of the same stretch knit material as the jacket, and fit well. They're awfully high-waisted and a pair of sewn-on ribbon suspenders make sure that the pants stay where they're supposed to. Underneath it all, the Fuji doll wears the same white sleeveless undersuit that the Annu doll does, and I think its purpose is to pad over articulation seams that might show at the knees and hips. The flat-heeled boots are kewl: I hadn't ever noticed they had an SSSP logo on the sides.

cy girl takara annu ultraseven doll The Ultra Garrison uniform worn by Annu is my favorite of the Ultra team uniform designs, even including the modern, all-black outfit worn in Ultraman Nexus (and I'm partial to black). The jacket is a complex tailored marvel of different materials to produce the striping, piping, and side panels... something that's way, way beyond my pathetic tailoring skills. The crisscross pattern on the sleeves and pants appear to be printed or stamped with a puffy, dimensional ink-- I never quite figured out how it was done on the actual costumes, so I can't complain. Her jacket has a full velcro strip closure in the front, which works fine for giving a tightly closed look. Unfortunately, the pants don't fit quite as well as Fuji's-- there's some bagginess in the crotch which causes some strange folds.

cy girl takara annu ultraseven doll The accessories are rendered with crisp detail. Takara doesn't do quite the extreme level of cast detail that Dragon does, but beyond a certain point, it doesn't really matter to me. The helmets are great. Fuji's helmet (with correct sized logo) is missing the short antennas on the earpieces, but that was probably too fragile a part to cast-- it's an easy fix with thin wire, anyway. A word of WARNING though: The helmet's liner may stain the doll's head-- Mine got a black stain on the temple and under the chin. I understand you can get these off with zit cream, though I've never tried it.

The ray pistols for both sets appear to be accurate, although I didn't know that the Science Patrol's pistol had a collapseable barrel-- but that's the only way it will fit into Fuji's holster (even with that, it's a tight fit). The extra big-assed guns are interesting designs and are welcome extras. I first thought they were bogus because the main parts have the same basic design, but Fuji's is an accurate replica of the gun that made its first appearance in the second Baltan Seijin episode. It appeared frequently in subsequent episodes, and Hayata used it to sever Gomora's tail and nose horn.

As usual, Takara provides a generous selection of replacement hands, correctly scaled, with good glove sculptures. Half of them are posed with a separate index finger for the two pistols that come with the figures, but they're suitable for other uses. If you can get over the trauma of unboxing these expensive toys, the splayed fingers hands would be good candidates for reposing, with pins inserted in the fingers.

 

CUSTOMIZING TANGENTS A number of years back, I made a Moroboshi Dan (Ultraseven) doll, dressed in my own home-made Urutora Keibitai uniform. After I got the Annu doll, I bought a second one so that I could replace my inferior version of the uniform with theirs; the excuse being that uniforms should be uniform, and it would be nearly impossible to remake mine and match the color and texture of the Takara uniform. The figure required a number of adjustments to make the outfit work, but I liked the way it turned out. After getting Fuji, I decided to do the same thing and make a Hayata (Ultraman) doll. My cursory inspection of the Fuji doll had convinced me that the fit wouldn't be a problem, since the jacket is made of a very stretchy knit. Well, almost...

It turns out that while the orange knit is very stretchy, the white faux shirt part isn't. Even after I'd altered the vintage-style GI Joe body for a slim-profile build, I had a helluva time putting the jacket on: The only way I could manage this was to wriggle it on, pulling his arms out of their sockets all the way to the back of the body to get them in the sleeves, while wriggling it up some more, watching to make sure the velcro didn't snag or the arm insignia didn't get mangled (and hoping that I didn't hear that dreaded fabric-rip sound). But eventually, success! Once again, the brilliance of the elastic-tensioned design proves its versatility in a tough situation. (However, I don't think the jacket is ever gonna come off...) As with the Dan doll, I had to lengthen the legs so that Hayata didn't look so short standing next to the Fuji doll. I also had to thin the neck a little bit to accommodate the collar. Of course, then there's the matter of the headsculpt...

hayata ultraman dollThe stock "NYPD/FD" head that came with the vintage-style Joe was oversized and would have been a lot of work to fix (cut off everything from the neck up and reconstruct it). I wanted quicker gratification, so I used a Volks Tom Cruise head from a Neo Guy. It was a great likeness, and I don't have anything against Tom Cruise, but I couldn't imagine that I was ever going to want an homage doll of the guy. Although maybe a little small, at least it would fit in the helmet, and I wanted this one to have ears. It was surprisingly easy to adapt to the modified (cut down, retaining rings circumference reduced) vintage neckpost-- I just enlarged the pin-retaining hole a little bit.

I googled for Susumu Kurobe reference photos and was surprised by how few there were; the best photos I found were of him as he looks now-- not the young Hayata of nearly 40 years ago. So I searched through video episodes and rounded up a collection of grainy VHS frame grabs from the old TV show. I don't think it's essential to have good quality, detailed photos, as long as they're from useful angles. The main objective in doing a likeness is to capture the essence of the character, and we can recognize people from a distance based on structure, geometry, and general features. Details can lead you astray since they might tempt you to narrow your focus too much, when you should be working on the bigger picture. Nevertheless, I thought that this one was especially challenging because I couldn't put my finger on any characteristic features of the actor... Those can help you out much like the way that drawn caricatures work: You don't need perfect proportions if you capture the characteristic features. The converse is probably true: If you can't identify any characteristic features, you have to do a really good job of interpreting the 3-D cues accurately. That's difficult when working from a hodge-podge of 2-D photos, with different lighting, different angles, and a mix of different expressions. Hey, it's a reasonable excuse for why my likeness attempt is dead-off... dammit, if only I had better pictures!...and more talent!


 

THE 2.0 BODY I don't remember having done a point-by-point discussion of the version 2.0 figure, and I'm not patient enough to search this chaotic website to check. There's only so much you can say about the outfit aspect of dolls, so this seems like a good opportunity to add filler and cover bases that I may or may not have covered before. (Besides, these are now barely-available figures, so it's right up my alley). Anyway, if you're the type who takes this kind of stuff real seriously and personally, you shouldn't be here in the first place, but read on at your own risk...

Fuji was one of the first of Takara's Cool Girls to use their version 2.0 body, a replacement for their 1.5 version. The 1.5 had only minor changes from the original version 1.0-- the lower legs were redesigned so that they could be made longer by using plug-in shin extensions of different lengths. (Technically, the redesigned dual axes articulated hands were part of the upgrade, but I see them as a separate item since they're removeable.) The 2.0 version was a radical redesign-- although the proportioning looks very similar, almost every part was recreated from scratch. The main purpose of the redesign was to improve articulation.

Ganged hinges replaced the single hinge elbow design, and give far greater range of travel. I've said it before, ad nauseum: It's debatable whether this was absolutely necessary; the extra parts adds seamlines which degrade the appearance of the bare arm (however, it's impossible to "fix" this problem without covering the joint, regardless of what kind of hinge is used). Although the earlier versions have an extremely limited range of travel, that can be significantly improved by shaving away plastic from both arm segments. In fact, the 2.0 version gets most of its greater range with flattened, less-muscular upper and lower arm segments. The extra hinge segment accounts for maybe 15% additional travel-- which could be done in a single hinge, but only by positioning the hinge axis forward by a small amount (which would look weird when the arm was not flexed). However, the redesign also presented the opportunity to flatten the face of the elbow hinge so it looks better under a skin-tight sleeve.

The shoulder articulation was also improved, and in much the same way as the elbow. The upper arm was thinned at the side, and the upper arm segment was positioned farther outside on the shoulder ball joint. This makes a bigger gap between the arm and the body, which allows a longer travel of the hinge; ergo, the arms can sweep further inwards across the front (except for the area where the boobs get in the way). This is the same principle as the solution I mentioned for a single-hinged elbow (moving the hinge axis forward), and has the expected trade-off impact on the appearance- the gap makes her arms look a little too far from the body.

The torso was given an additional point of ball/socket articulation at the waist. This is another mixed bag. From an articulation standpoint, it really doesn't add any extra range of poseability. However, it does distribute a tight arc over three segments instead of two, which creates a more natural curvature. Because of this, the gap between the upper torso (boob) section and the lower section is smaller, without quite as pronounced an overhang at the edge-- which is a big improvement. With an additional seamline at the waist, the 2.0 body isn't as suitable for certain types of skimpywear. However, the separate hips section seems to define the torso into familiar and recognizable zones, making the midriff look longer (although it isn't) and more natural so that the naked doll's torso doesn't look quite as stubby as the earlier version.

I'm puzzled by the redesign of the legs. The original design had two whole-leg articulation axes at the hips: forward/back and spread/close. The new design works like a ball/socket joint, adding an additional rotation axis. That may sound like a really great feature, but it's subtle (neither figure can cross their legs). The earlier designs got a similar effect solely through rotation of the lower leg at the knee hinge, but the 2.0 version's range is slightly greater. The ball/socket mechanism is an interesting and admirable bit of engineering: It's not a true ball/socket, but a hinge flanked by two pivots. On the plus side, it has a screw for tightening the tension of the spread/close axis. However, some might also call its machined marvel appearance and seamlines ugly, and a really bad thing for leg-revealing outfits. The enlarged leg/hip gap isn't much of a step forward either.

The 2.0 version knees are single-hinged, but have a greater range of travel than the older version. They demonstrate what I was talking about with the elbow hinges, and if you pivot an arm backwards and compare it to the fully bent knee, you can see that the arm doesn't get a lot of extra travel for its extra hingework.

Most discussions about the attributes of figures center around the quantity of articulation, since it's easy to count and list. The actual range of poseability that the articulation allows is less often discussed, but relevant-- for example, an old Sideshow Toys ganged hinge elbow gives the same range as a vintage Joe's single hinge elbow. More range isn't necessarily better since it can allow a doll to assume poses that would be impossible for a human; that may not be a drawback, but it shouldn't always be considered "better". However, the least discussed aspect is the quality of the articulation. It's the result of the manufacturer's design, materials, and production quality. It's more subtle, and mainly detectable as a "feel"-- how easily the doll poses, and stays posed. Loose joints, joints which don't hold up to gravity x time, uneven travel, and articulation with "play" or "chatter" are indicative of poor quality. Version 2.0's articulation has a quality feel, and a better feel than earlier versions-- it's smooth and consistent throughout its travel. No doubt, production technology has improved, and manufacturers do learn from their earlier efforts.

Although similar in proportioning, a comparison between the current and older figures shows a shift towards a more "conservative" look. The earlier bodies are more voluptuous, with bigger butts, fatter thighs, calves, and arms. There are at least a couple of variations on the boob size of the version 2.0 body; my Fuji doll came with the modest ones, and my Annu doll came with the whoppers, which appear to be more common. The earlier versions' boobs, though large, aren't any larger than either of the 2.0 version's modest ones or whoppers. They just have more frontal projection; the 2.0's boobs are fuller, more rounded, spread to the sides and higher up on the chest. This lets them produce dolls whose profiles don't look like exotic dancers (not that there's anything wrong with that); this is more appropriate for dolls like Fuji and Annu, who bears no resemblance to exotic dancers (It's after you remove Annu's outfit that you're shocked by how huge her tits are, and that she really could be an exotic dancer).

You should take these observations for what they are: Area-by-area dissections, but not the big picture. I have a tendency to evaluate the figure as if it were designed to be admired in isolation for its bare naked attributes-- I'm sorry, but naked dolls with chasm-like articulation seams at the crotch are hardly wood-inspiring. The fact is, most people put outfits on them, so it hardly matters how good or crappy the figure looks. Furthermore, the two perspectives are often at odds. For instance, I said the arms looked too far away from the body... but that was for a naked figure. Clothed, the gap gives a sleeved outfit's material someplace to go, so that the arms can be posed at her sides, instead of angled outwards. This improves the way the dressed doll looks. It's important to keep this perspective in mind, since it explains why some fashion dolls' bodies look so peculiar: They're designed for the overall appearance when they're wearing outfits. Lest one forget, it's the final appearance that matters most.

IMO,if there's an "art" to this hobby, it's in selecting/designing a happy marriage of figure and outfit, so that the result isn't one that only its mother could love. Although the 2.0 CG is a great figure, it isn't a good choice for certain outfits, like those which reveal upper thigh meat: The leg articulation mechanics look too funky. Unfortunately, articulation seams and gaps are a given with articulated dolls. It's easy to become blind to them when you see them so often, but whether you're sensitive to them or not, they're still there and are noticible to folks who aren't in the choir. You can get away with a limited amount of seam-showing (since everyone accepts that they're dolls), but there's a point at which it's distracting. If the seams and gaps are the first thing that folks notice-- that ain't good. The alternative is to use a figure that's less articulated, but more compatible with the outfit. Sadly, very few articulated dolls can wear a G-String without looking funky (trust me, or check out eBay for yourself). That being said, the Fuji Akiko and Yuri Annu dolls aren't wearing G-Strings, and they do benefit from the improved articulation of the 2.0 body.

CONCLUSION These are great products from Takara for Ultra fans and Cool Girl collectors. As usual, the quality of their outfits are outstanding, and probably will remain the standard by which other attempts to make Science Patrol and Ultra Squad outfits are judged. It's a shame that the retail life cycle of some toys is so short these days (although retailers and eBayers probably feel otherwise). I would liked to have picked up some more of these dolls to adapt their uniforms to create other members of the teams, size & fit willing-- without the financial pain. Unfortunately, they are scarce. Occasionally, Annu's outfit shows up on eBay, which ensures that it gets distributed to a fan of the Ultra series-- Akiko's outfit appears to be far rarer, by virtue of the doll being an earlier release. Of course, expect a healthy markup, determined by demand for a limited item. You snooze, you lose. For all the bad things you can say about eBay, it does offer second chances which would not exist otherwise. Happy spending!

 

--10/14/05

hayata akiko fuji doll ultraman


THE REALLY GOOD STUFF

medicom billiken annu yuri ultraseven

08/15/15- I got these after writing the '05 article and never got around to adding photos of them. The Cool Girl stuff lives in its own stylistic world, and it's obvious that they weren't trying to accurately portray the actresses. Medicom (left) did a pretty good job of capturing Annu Yuri, but not as close as Billiken's sculpture (right), which somehow captures her personality. Granted, the actress (Yuriko Hishimi) had different hairstyles throughout the series and looked different at times, but Billiken's master sculptor (Hayao Hama?) absolutely nailed it.

Billiken did an equally superb job with Akiko Fuji (Hiroko Sakurai) of Ultraman.

medicom billiken akiko fuji ultraman

 

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