HOT TOYS' TRUETYPE 38 FIGURE

hot toys truetype For the last few years I haven't paid attention to much in the hobby except for my narrow areas of interest. I've been vaguely aware of newer companies like Hot Toys and their distribution alliance with Sideshow Toy. I was also vaguely aware that they'd gotten the Alien, Predator, and Terminator licenses. I suppose you have to be in the mood, because none of that seemed very interesting to me in a sorta "been there, done that" way.

I honestly don't know why that should be any different now, but after a brief bit of surveying, I'm suddenly hooked again. This stuff is really good, and it turns old investments irrelevant, and candidates for storage. It's an expensive revelation, but I find myself regretting what I've missed and half hoping that I'm not too late. While I am too late for most of the Aliens Colonial Marines releases, some of it's still available at stupid prices, but I'm just in time for the real biggie: Ripley's Powerloader.

Besides the obvious eye appeal, one of the reasons for my renewed interest is my purchase of a couple of Hot Toys' generic male figures. These confirmed to me that there have been some significant improvements in the quality of the basic male body figure. Prior to this, I'd believed that none of the common figures could rival Volk's Neo Guy, an expensive and hard-to-find import from 4 or 5 years ago. Neo Guy wasn't perfect-- it was a little floppy, with a model-like feel, and too scarce to be a practical workhorse, but it was one of the best proportioned and highest quality figures around. The more practical super-articulated workhorses from Hasbro, Medicom and BBI didn't do much for me-- they were either ugly, had flawed articulation, or were boringly marginal improvements over what had been produced before.

The Hot Toys figure is more stylized, but recalls some of the qualities of the Neo Guy figure: It's an upscale, screw-assembled figure that seems an ideal candidate to replace lesser figures that currently wear some of your favorite outfits. It addresses Neo Guy's floppiness and most importantly, the problem of availability. Unlike Volks, Hot Toys seems interested in the international market and their stuff is carried by many US-based online vendors. Hopefully, this will remain so for a while. The figure isn't cheap-- it ranges from approximately $25 to $30+, but if you're interested in quality, it's great to know that it's available.

The figure has a lot of articulation-- I didn't count, but Hot Toys proudly touts the figure's 38 points of articulation and even includes it in the model name: Truetype 38 Figure (Do they make a Truetype 1 Figure?). The good news is that it's all high-quality stuff. In my opinion, some of it is of dubious value, perhaps wedged in to bolster their bragging rights. I don't believe that it's the only criterion by which you should judge a figure; the articulation count and quality ties closely with how the figure is outfitted and how you pose the doll. Even ratcheting hinges have their place-- it may be the only way to get a hinge with inadequate natural friction to hold a pose under a rubbery outfit.

It's generally agreed upon that the more articulation, the uglier the naked figure looks-- The art is in making it not look too awful. In this regard, Hot Toys has done a decent job, but not up to the standard set by Volk's Neo Guy. If some articulation isn't needed and it makes the doll look bad, it's relatively easy to nullify and putty over unneeded articulation. It's considerably harder to add new articulation.

 

General Assembly
Hot Toys call their doll sets that use this figure style "kits", because there's some minor assembly required. This consists of plugging parts together (head, arms, legs). It's relatively easy, but strong force may be required. The hinges are contructed with a flanged plug at each end (fig. L). Once inserted, the plug stays put due to the flange, but some parts may exhibit a small amount of "play". I've found that it can be a challenge to remove some parts that you'd expect to be removeable; I felt that it was best not to force the issue. I suspect that repeatedly removing the parts may make the flange wear down and eventually result in some slop, or parts that are too easy to unplug.

Major sections (shoulder, torso, abdomen, hips, thigh balls, thighs, hinges) are assembled with screws. Most of those screws are on the backside or in inconspicuous places, and rubber plugs are used when necessary to cover the screw wells and preserve the appearance. If you remove those plugs, remember where they came from because they're sculpted to fit the contour of the body.

Some sections (neck, arm segments, shin) are glued together.

The Head and Neck
Hot Toys includes two versions of the neck to fit a long-necked head (like Dragon), or a no-neck head (like Sideshow Toys)-- although I didn't actually test the fit. The necks are easy to swap out because their sockets are pressure-fitted onto a waxy plastic ball, recessed in the torso. This choice of materials works well for bringing the right amount of friction to hold the neck's pose; the waxy plastic is smooth and wear resistant, so the joint shouldn't develop slop and become floppy under normal usage.

I use the vague phrase "normal usage" because I really don't have any idea how well this material and design will hold up. I have a natural suspicion about fitted mechanisms without tension adjustability. Just as fan belts stretch and brake pads wear, I don't trust that a socket will stay tightly compressed surrounding a ball, forever. Perhaps "forever" is a little extreme; maybe 10 years is good enough? I mention this because it's a departure from the traditional spring or elastic tensioned design, where the neck cavity is the socket, and the neck "ball" is drawn into it. That type of joint doesn't get loose unless the elastic or spring degrades, and that's relatively straight forward to fix. On the other hand, the fix for the Hot Toys design might be as simple as wrapping the ball with a wind of Teflon tape.

Another related difference is that the pressure-fitted neck doesn't work by being pulled against the body: The ball/socket could be mounted on a two-foot pole and still work. In contrast, the tensioned joint (as seen in the vintage-style GI-Joe) relies on a ball/socket fit between the neck and body. In that case, the neck ball and body socket usually fit snugly together. This usually results in a gapless articulation seam, with the thin linkage slot visible only when the neck is posed far front/back. The Hot Toys body doesn't work that way, so there's a bigger gap at the neck to allow for front/back and sideways tilt. At the extreme back tilt, the neck/body opening is gaping, exposing the flat bottom of the neck and the ball stem (fig. C).

The Shoulders
The shoulders were the single biggest first impression turn-off for me. It's not all the seamlines from the complex multi-axes articulation design, but the sphere-like look of the shoulders. They look glommed-on, and not like an organic extension of the torso. With a full coverage outfit (probably 99% of its usage), this isn't an issue. Hot Toys produces a different rubber-covered torso for dolls where that would be an issue (like Aliens "Drake"). However, there you trade the smooth and full-range articulation for the horrid limited-range and ratcheting kind. This is where Volk's Neo Guy clearly has the advantage-- the shoulders have a wide range of extra articulation, plus they look reasonably natural. It's the best dual-use design I've run across so far.

The quality of the shoulder articulation is superb-- everything moves smoothly, with a good positive feel. The articulation assembly consists of four axes: front/back hinge, up/down hinge, arm rotation, and arm extension hinge. Despite the complexity, it's a traditional mechanical design and from the exterior and it's pretty easy to see how all this works. The hinge halves are assembled with screws, in case maintenance is needed. I doubt that will be the necessary since it feels like they used the waxy low-wear plastic to tension the parts.

The extra front/back & up/down articulation don't look too obtrusive either. Although they do add to the seamline count, they don't alter the basic look in a bizarre way, like say... Sideshow Toys' old Jactilda? (shudder) They also look no worse than BBI's Perfect Body figure's shoulders, but Hot Toys' actually work!

The Biceps Rotator
The shoulder's rotator pin is tensioned inside the biceps segment; both halves of the segment are glued together, and probably sandwich a waxy plastic tensioning washer around the pin. I assume this to be the case because of the smooth feel of the articulation.

The Elbow Hinge
The elbow hinge assembly is the the dual/ganged hinge design, first seen in the Kankichi Ryotsu doll, that's now present in almost all modern mega-articulated figures. Hot Toys' implementation is notable for a number of reasons, but mainly: It works well-- it's smooth throughout its range and the tightness between both hinges is pretty well balanced. The hinges are tensioned with screws, which (in theory) would let you adjust the balance.

The center piece in the hinge sandwich is very thin, about the thickness of a vintage Joe's. The hinge sandwich is practically gapless at the top and bottom, without the gaping holes found in most other implementations. I'm talking about the hinge assembly itself: The assembly plugs into the upper arm and seems like it should plug into the forearm (although I've had no luck unplugging it). If the assembly were permanently attached and puttied over (sacrificing access to the screws), the seamline penalty would be very, very small. I mention this because when I make dolls, I like to make the basic figure look as good as I can before I work on the outfit (even if the outfit covers it up). I'm not a huge fan of the ganged hinge, and believe that often, the small additional articulation range isn't worth the toll it takes on the aesthetics. In the past, I've compared the elbow deflection range of a vintage Joe's single hinge to Sideshow Toys ganged hinge and found no significant difference-- except the ST design looked a lot uglier. To be honest, any elbow seamline at all bothers me, but it's easier to hide an unobtrusive seamline than it is to hide big gaping holes.

The Wrist Hinge and Hands
These are great, although Hot Toys shouldn't really get full credit here. I believe the dual-axes recessed ball wrist hinge design was first seen in Takara's Cool Girls doll (Dragon's and Sideshow Toys' dual-axes designs weren't nearly as slick). Besides the utility of the dual axes, the genius of this design is that it blends very naturally with the forearm, regardless of how the wrist is posed. Dragon should get credit for the Gumby-like poseable fingered hands though. They're fun, although not firmly poseable because the wire is fairly ductile. Hot Toys gives you an extra set of more traditional fixed pose hands (trigger finger right hand, grasping left hand). These are the right hardness to separate and pin fingers if you want more control over the pose. Hot Toys gets credit for bringing both of these borrowed features into one product, and for giving you an extra set of hands.

Torso Articulation
The torso has two multi-axes articulation points: Between the chest and abdomen, and between the abdomen and hips. Both feature rotation, although they tighten as you rotate them near the point at which humans would break-- but if you want to, you can do the Exorcist head thing with the torso. The front/back articulation is pretty full range in both joints, although they may feel stiff initially; the chest/abdomen joint has a pretty full range side-to-side articulation. The range of articulation is acceptably close to what humans can do, considering that we have many more articulation segments in our spinal column. I guess that sort of varies according to your state of health though.

The articulation has a fairly good feel to it, although there are certain favored positions and the hold is somewhat soft at extreme positions. I believe that this is mainly due to the difficulty of modeling the spine function as a three segment exoskeleton shaped like the human body. Rotation works best when mating sections have a circular, not oval cross-section. However, the human waist (of the studly dude they've modeled) doesn't have a circular cross section. Similarly, the ideal shape for front/back and side/side articulation would be spherical; the abodmen section can only be made slightly spherical or it will look comically stylized. Clearly, rotund figures would have the best torso articulation.

The chest/abdomen joint uses ganged ball/socket articulation, with a dumbell-shaped rod connecting between the sockets in the lower chest and upper abdomen. The sockets are lined with some kind of "goop", it's slightly sticky and spongy, and gives the upper torso articulation its slightly springy feel. As with the neck articulation, the fixed ball/socket design introduces a gap between the body segments (since they're not pulled towards each other). Thankfully, this is kept fairly minimal (fig. K).

The abdomen/hips joint uses a spring-tensioned mechanism, similar to the way Dragon and other manufacturers implement their torso joints. The forward/back cut track in the lower abdomen gives this joint its front/back poseability; the lack of a side/side track is what restricts that poseability.

The Hips
The hips follow a fairly common modern design pattern: The hips house the leg rotator swivel (legs front/back), and the swivel is hinged at the other end for leg extension (legs out/in to sides). The legs can rotate via a rotator pin, similar to the design of the biceps rotator.

The Knee Hinge
The knee hinge is similar to the elbow hinge, except it faces towards the back and is constructed in a different "sandwich" sequence. The thick center plugs into the leg segments and is therefore fixed, relative to the leg segments. The thin screw-side part is like a washer. The other thin side part is an extension of the kneecap piece and is what actually rotates relative to the leg segments. That part widens to form the back of the kneecap at the center. Because of this design, it would be very difficult to reduce the opening at the leg segments-- the back of the kneecap backs into the opening to get full deflection of that hinge. The back is typically the "who care?" side of the figure, so it's really not that big a deal. However, the design of this hinge leaves big openings from the front side on either side of the kneecap, when the knees are bent. Hot Toys gets demerits for this, since their gap is larger than almost every other manufacturer's I've seen (except BBI's Perfect Body figure-- except theirs only has the huge gap at the top).

That said, the hinge works great and I don't think I've ever seen an exposed articulated doll kneecap that looked natural and didn't scream at a casual glance, "LOOKIE! I'VE GOT KNEECAPS!!!".

The Ankles and Feet
I think the ankles are the weakest part of the design. The feet are attached to the legs by a dumbell-like rods; the end balls fit into the sockets in the foot and leg stump. I've expressed my concerns about that ball/socket design in the Head/Neck section. Here, it's more important because the ankles support the weight of the figure and costuming. Here, we have two of this style of assembly per leg, which is twice the risk for a floppy joint per leg. If just one of the two is floppy, the doll won't stand on its feet very well. How often do you need that level of subtle ankle poseability? This seems like a case where Hot Toys just wanted to increase their articulation count. I'm inclined to say the same thing about the toe articulation. Most boot and shoe soles are too stiff or rigid for the toes poseability to do anything, and it sure looks ugly for a barefoot look. However, I concede that this extra articulation might come in handy when trying to fit some stiff boots.

Overall Impressions
This is a great "workhorse" figure to have around, especially if you've got some older dolls that you want to upgrade. Bear in mind that it's a relatively tall figure-- a full 12" -- so some outfits may not fit. Even though we refer to the hobby as 1:6 or 12" scale, many dolls aren't 12" tall, just as most humans aren't exactly 6' tall. The vintage-style Masterpiece Edition Joe (fig. N) is 11.25" tall, for example.

I'm interested in using this in a "slice & dice" project someday because I like the smooth feel of the hinges and the overall body proportioning. It would need some work, and I'd probably gut some of the articulation to better fit my preferences. I consider it one of the best figures to have come out so far, and plan to stock up... (because I just have this feeling...)

 

--10/28/07