SF3D Ma.K MANIA 2011
Part 4 - World Building
A world built with diamond cutter nipples
11/10/11- I've rambled on about "world building" many times before, but it bears repeating as an explanation for the raping and pillaging that follows...
For me, a big part of owning and making 1:6 stuff is to mentally "play" with it. I'm not talking about taking dolls out in the backyard and blasting them with BBs or 7.62x39, but using them for their storymaking and visualization potential. The modeling approach-- i.e., creating a static model with an elaborate diorama base-- does a similar thing, but captures a single time slice of the story and details a small portion of the world environment. Diorama-making is more about the gratification of model-making and artistry than storymaking potential; A diorama represents a story moment frozen in 3-D, but such high level of artistry isn't necessary for storymaking. For that, the flexibility to change or depict other scenes of the story is more useful. Another difference is that modelmaking seems to have a definite endpoint, whereas the storymaking thing can go on and on and on.
Stories are character-driven, so you get more storymaking bang-for-the-buck by separating the characters from the environment and developing them separately. The physical and geographical environments of a story can be huge and diverse, so you're unlikely to physically model them completely, as tempting as that may be. However, you can visualize them through your mind, drawings, paintings, photos, or even different scale dioramas and mentally superimposing the characters into them. The characters themselves express a much more manageable environment through their costuming and "look". Small props and "furniture" are practical ways to suggest additional details of the environment. They don't take up much space and can be quickly changed to fit a changing story. You fill the gaps with your imagination.
The characters and props both create and are created from the backstory. You can start with a basic backstory and make stuff to fit it, but then change the backstory to fit what you've made. This doesn't require any set-in-stone stories or plots, and doesn't require construction of the physical environment; the storymaking potential grows from this. It's sort of like constructing characters and props for a Role Playing Game reference book, minus the stats and bio verbiage; the "look" suggests the backstory, which serves as a basis for mental masturbation... errrr... "storymaking".
My current jag started with the 1:6 scale SF3D/Ma.K models; specifically, building the Nitto Fireball kit. The modeling part was fun, but there were things that I wanted to do my way, that deviated from the official way. Like most people, my first instinct is to build within the established story, but that can change as I bump into things that I don't like. Although I like the look of Kow Yokoyama's designs, I wasn't particularly interested in the backstory involving a future struggle between the Mercenary forces and the Shuttoral/Strahl (Google it if you're interested). To be honest, it seemed awfully loose anyway-- there isn't definitive agreement about whether the pilot's arms should be in the hardsuit's arms or not, for example. It's set in the future... so why WWII-style uniforms? The bottom line is that you shouldn't think about it too much: The niche started as a photoseries of Kow's WWII-inspired kitbashed designs, which branched out to become cool-looking models, toys, and books. The backstory seems to have been incidental, developed to fit the series' influences and the artist's interests.
I needed to decide on the pilot's costuming for my Fireball kit. The original SF3D product line seems to be inhabited by craggy characters with retro WWII costuming; the more recent releases seems to be sporting a modern, sci-fi look with hot babes wearing skin-tight flight suits and futuristic helmets. This told me that I could do anything I wanted to; in fact, it would be easier to invent my own backstory to glue things together in a more-or-less consistent manner than trying to guess how they might fit in correctly in the SF3D world.
That opened up many other possibilities and led to some major sidetrackking of the Fireball project. I looked outside SF3D into the world of Paolo Parente's Dust; that world isn't very fleshed out, but I liked the look (especially the Mechs), and the basic premise-- an alternate WWII history fueled by alien technology, pitching a heroic Soviet tanker babe against an evil & wacko Nazi scientist woman. SF3D's grungy individualized hardsuits with their cast hull texture seemed to go well with the Soviet/Russian motif.
The Soviet motif was nudged along by the fact that I couldn't find any old-style leather flight helmets (and I was too lazy to make any). However, I did find some Soviet cloth tanker helmets that looked retro and fit the general mood. It coincided with the realization that I wanted to use small female dolls as pilots (so they'd fit easier in the hardsuits); and having found uniforms that fit from Dragon's Svetlana doll. Finally, the Medicom/Toy's McCoy pilot has asian features that wouldn't look out of place considering the varied ethnicity of the old Soviet Union.
Since I was making up my own backstory, why not haul out old stuff with similarly dismissable (sorry... malleable? Just IMO) official backstories? I'd originally mothballed my old Dragon Jin Roh doll because it wasn't very interesting standing on a shelf all by itself, in its own tiny stagnant universe. Since it shared the same sci-fi WWII-inspired genes as the SF3D and Dust properties, why not shoehorn it in there? Same for the ZMDC stuff. Although it's not noticeably WWII inspired, it fit the huge powersuit genre and was similarly isolated by an obscure official backstory. For me, it's much more interesting to see all these properties under one umbrella than as shrines to stories that I had only a tepid interest in. It also let me (once again) recycle the diamond-cutter nipple doll (above) who's been with this website almost since the beginning. How green is that?
Yep, it's kinda cheesy to adopt stuff from an established series for your own world-building. Even though there are probably only a handful of folks out there who have even heard of ZMDC, it's still someone else's design and borrowing it wholesale feels dirty. "Cheesy" is what comes to mind when I recognize a Starship Troopers helmet and armour in a low-budget sci-fi movie, or recognize Tamiya tank, Cylon Raider, and Star Wars Imperial Walker model parts in an SF3D kit (and knowing exactly which model kit they originally came from). Ironically, Star Wars borrowed pretty heavily from WWII weaponry and didn't go to much trouble to disguise those origins. Sci-fi tolerates a lot of inbreeding and recycling...
Using existing building blocks is just a time-savings device when creating a larger vision. The borrowed parts in an SF3D kit aren't meant to be the focus; the focus is the overall look of the design. Similarly, a movie that reuses props and costuming does it to save time and money; the focus is intended to be the storytelling. It's a matter of degree, and ideally, every design would be new and never seen before, and always be scratch-built from the most basic and generic building blocks. In the real world though, very few people brew their own plastic.
So again... since this is just for personal wanking and since I'm not in love with the official ZMDC, Jin Roh, and SF3D backstories, I'm okay with re-purposing this stuff. Obviously, I like the designs, but it's not worth my effort to create/scratch-build new designs or make major changes to the designs in an attempt to disguise their origins. I'm content to make minor tweaks to conform to the way I think things should be in a backstory of my own making (whatever that is!). Anyway, I thought it would be a fun and worthwhile goal to merge several properties that share some similar characteristics.
Whew! Major rationalizations!
Protect Gear Revisited The Protect Gear/Panzer Cop/Kerberos/Jin Roh "look" seems to be distinctive, but is largely derivative. The defining features are that of a WWI German soldier wearing a helmet and gas mask-- that captures the essence of what makes the look so fearsome. The Kerberos saga built upon that look and cemented it into a series of manga, movies, anime and toys. It's hard to tack down what actually defines the Protect Gear look: There's the German WWI/II helmet, a gas mask with red circular lenses and "teeth" (like a Star Wars Tie Fighter pilot helmet), heavy body armour with a small rectangular shield affixed to a forearm, lotsa black, and a hip-fired WWII German MG-34. There are exceptions to those "rules", including gray and green armor, different main weapons, different patterns of armor and gasmask design. However, like the original German WWI soldier, the overall mix of costuming elements conveys the cold, faceless power of an automaton. That's probably why the look has been targeted by sooooo many sci-fi creations, going back to Star Wars' Darth Vader. It's unclear why it seems to be frequently credited as the "Jin Roh" or "Protect Gear" look. Obviously, the originator's credit goes to the Germans, whose design sense for war-stuff is well-known (and why WWII German stuff remains so popular). While the official SF3D/Ma.K universe hasn't co-opted this look, I say, bring 'em on... and smoosh 'em together!
I finally watched Mamoru Oshii's Jin Roh animation; It's a ponderous, dark and artsy angst-fest that's not for everyone... Dare I say it? Though some consider it a masterpiece, my tastes are low-brow, juvenile, and simplistic: I thought it was tedious and slow-moving. Different stokes, folks. I suspect that most who buy Jin Roh dolls aren't looking to recreate the tortured human dilemma or dwell on the evils of fascism in 1:6th scale: It's just a bad-assed, mean-looking doll with a big honkin' gun. And it looks German and robotish. Bam!
I retrieved my Dragon Jin Roh doll from storage, dusted him off, and was immediately reminded of why it was never one of my favorites. By current standards, Dragon made crappy figures back then: They frequently folded at the hips which made them great for bowing, but not so good for standing. The suit has a lot of bits and straps, but the chest armour is too soft and spreads out across the chest, with all the aesthetic appeal of a road-flattened toad. The hose was stiff so the head couldn't turn much without the hose popping out, and the armour pieces felt very tentatively attached. Despite all this, it conveys that faceless automaton quality of an evil army dude.
This convinced me to finally unbox my female Protect Gear doll (Takara's Midori Washio) that I'd purchased a long time ago. Now this was a rare treat: It's an extremely polished production where all the armour parts go together cleanly and easily. It includes several extra armour pieces so you can customize the look. Unlike most of the Protect Gear guys, she's got an MP-40; not quite as imposing as the MG-34, but smaller, lighter, and goes better with her smaller stature. Like most of their late Cool Girl line, the figure has good proportions and tight, smooth articulation. It poses perfectly without a stand, and without endless fiddling to get it to balance. Overall, it just looks great, and it doesn't get much better than this: Belated kudos to Takara.
Based on that, I had to see what I'd missed out on in the years between, so I could build a bigger force of guys and gals wearing black German helmets with gas masks. I had no idea that there were quite so many 1:6 releases: I bought Medicom's 2007 Red Spectacles version and Takara/Tomy's Chuichi Koshiramaru male Protect Gear dolls. They'd released several different versions with different armour patterns, but they've all been discontinued and are hard to find nowadays (and pricey, when you do).
Medicom's Red Spectacles doll has some good and bad qualities. It's clearly the least ambitious of the bunch-- the MG-34 has practically zero working detail (other than the removeable cover that holds the ammo belt in place), the Broomhandle Mauser doesn't come with a fancy holster, and the helmet and mask aren't removeable (Well, they aren't intended to be removeable). The helmet even has a parting line running down the center-- heck, nobody does that! The figure itself seems dated and bizarre-- it's a bit too loose, doesn't stand well, and the removeable hands and feet don't have the third articulation axis that most modern figures have; they also decided to put the hinge axis 90 degrees from the norm.
That said, the doll looks good: The costuming fits the doll well and has an appropriately menacing profile that's diminished in Dragon's version with its slumped shoulder pads. The costuming is intended to be an accurate representation of the movie's costume, right down to the old-timey calculator and the name tag on the chest armour-- it's funky-looking and a little too movie-specific, but not worth replacing the cuirass over. I covered them up with some styrene panels. This one didn't encourage me to pick up Medicom's other Protect Gear dolls...
The Takara/Tomy Chuichi K. Protect Gear doll mostly lived up to my expectations; the elbow hinges weren't quite as tight as I'd have liked, given the constricting nature of the suit-- their female version seems a bit better in this regard. The MG-34 is especially cool though, with a flip up sight, replaceable barrel and a fully articulated bipod that manages to stay in place better than most. The ammo drum on the back looks great. Even though I'm not using the MG-34, the drum stays. The armour design, fit, and profile is excellent and the only thing I didn't like were the side wing protectors at the knees. The Protect Gear armour is basically a high-tech looking version of traditional knight's armour. The side wings, meant to protect the back of the knee from sword slashes, carry that similarity farther than necessary, in my opinion (otherwise, why not also protect the crook of the elbow?). I thought they compromised the aesthetics, so I pried them off.
The hoses are all very soft, which is good-- but an eBay listing for a used one mentioned rotting and cracked hoses. Although mine were all in perfect condition, I think this may be a sad eventuality for all these cool toys with flexible rubber parts.
With all these Protect Gear releases, the only thing that's (mostly) common to the Protect Gear look is the black German helmet (although some have numbers on the back and large vent holes, others don't). Details of the armour design are all different, and even the iconic gas mask design varies between the different versions, save the round red lenses... Sorry, one of the Takara/Tomy releases' mask has four red LED-looking things, and looks kinda bug-like. Anyway, change the shape of the lenses and you've got "Fallout: New Vegas". Change the color of the lenses and you've got background baddies in the "Dust" comic. Can you blame 'em? Like I said, the "trademarked" Protect Gear look is all over the place, so there's not much to hang a lawsuit on.
For my German-helmeted-gas-mask-and-black-armour-wearing guys, I wanted to do something completely different and use a gas mask from an old FDNY set. They don't have round red lenses and don't have the Tie pilot "teeth" either. For that matter, I removed the Kerberos-badged forearm shield too. And did away with the MG-34. The MG-34 is one of the coolest and most imposing looking WWII weapons, but too frequently "borrowed" in the realm of sci-fi props. Since the SF3D hardsuits have futuristic beam weaponry, that opened up the possibilities for other types of weapons. As a practical matter, the MG-34 is awfully unwieldly, as the ammo belt has to be posed and dealt with when posing the doll. (It also seems silly to stow the weapon laterally across the backpack: Not very accessible and would make walking in tight areas problematic.)
I think having gas masks on both the regular German soldiers and the armoured ones reinforces the evolutionary relationship between the two; the differences suggest the experimental nature of the armored ones and help explain the allocation of conventional and oddball weaponry.
Ah bin workin' at the Kremlin with a three-headed dawg...
ZMDC Revisited Da Joint's armoured Zero Metal Defence Capsule (ZMDC) Jui Gang (Bai Bing) Zing-Zang (Bonk Pow) Trooper from around 2003 may have been influenced by Kow Yokoyama's SF3D but the influence is pretty subtle. At the time, it seemed to get lumped in with SF3D, even though it has very different stylings. It may just have been temporal proximity, or that the mech suit concept was relatively new to 1:6 scale at the time. These days, not so much. If the NFL's Cleatus toy were 13" tall, he'd fit in about as well. Nevertheless, I rescued mine from storage to see if it might find a place in whatever world I was cobbling together.
As I politely hinted in my 2003 review, the included Da Joint articulated figure is crappy. That's an easy fix-- I replaced it with a Hot Toys True Type, and it poses much better. The oversized arm laser can now be posed pointing level. Once I made the change and it was poseable, my opinion about it changed: It's actually pretty cool as a generic oversized futuristic armoured doll. You can imagine it as a powersuit worn by a human, or as a robot wearing armour doo-dads, like the original Cylon costume. I liked it so much that I bought a second one (not an easy feat considering the vintage).
In a sense, it too is a very generic look. The design borrows here and there from a long history of robots, cyborgs, and powered suits. The ZMDC story is probably unknown except to readers of the Hong Kong comic and 1:6 scale sci-fi hobbyists, so other folks would probably assume that it was a weird variation on Fox's NFL mascot, Cleatus. They're both a similar style of large shoulder-padded form, although the surface details are very different.
Stylistically, it's eye-catching, but there are a number of design details that I'm not particularly fond of (surprised?), like the wierd, wing-like mounting of the long shoulder pads. The feet are also weird-looking and look slightly out-of-place, although the hinging and pistons are cool-- that's probably the suit's most iconic feature. The surface detailing has a number of design doohickeys that don't appear to serve any functional purpose: For example, the thigh coverings have recessed zigzag lines that don't appear to be there for any reason and don't repeat a motif found enywhere else on the armor. As a general rule, I believe that detailing like that shouldn't be there "just because"... it should serve a purpose (even if it's an implied one or part of a design motif), or it should look really neat. Otherwise, it's probably best to leave if off. Fortunately, those details aren't ornate or overblown.
Besides replacing the figure, I couldn't find much else to change or modify. I replaced the long shoulder pads with shorter ones and mounted them closer to the arms. I added big fat hand-gloves (from a Hasbro Apollo 11 doll) since they seemed to fit the proportions better than the skinny gloved hands. I painted the mirrored doohicky on the front because I thought it looked funky and gimmicky. I didn't mess with the arbitrary detailing or oddball feet design because it seemed like a lot of extra work. My objective wasn't to disguise the ZMDC origins, but fix things that I didn't like. Oh yeah... the helmet too. The original one is a great design, but didn't fit in as well.
Da Joint's ZMDC Moon Girl Urika Gagarin This was a "why not?" purchase; I'd originally passed on this because I couldn't envision a use for her, even though I thought she looked like an interesting mix of white spacestuff and sex-appeal. However, since she was still available after all these years, I spent the bucks, not really knowing what to expect. If nothing else, I'd be able to use her big heavy gun for one of the ZMDC armoured guys.
The vintageness shows in the quality of the figure; it's basically a Cool Girl body with some extremely heavy racheting installed in her leg joints. It's puzzling why they did this since she's not outfitted in a particularly demanding way, and isn't constrained by a tight rubber suit that would make posing her legs difficult if they weren't ratcheted.
The worst part is probably her tall, tall boots which make her much taller than her body proportions would suggest. Between that, the ratcheting, and the tall stiletto heels, she've quite difficult to pose standing. Fortunately, the boots are removeable (with heat), and that leaves behind ankle stumps with no feet. Cool Girl feet won't fit since the stumps are set up to accept a skinny pin, similar to the Cool Girl's or Dragon's wrist pin. And that's what I ended up using-- her feet are wrist nubs from Dragon gloved hands. They fit easily in a pair of boots and the wrist hinge keeps the boots on the "feet". If I had lots of time and cared enough, I'd putty them to resemble feet.
I didn't find much to salvage from the doll. The accessories-- backpack, belt, and weird joystick thing that affixes like a strap-on dildo --are interesting but weren't very useful to me. The parts and straps are made from shiny white flexible plastic which doesn't take repainting very well. The rubber straps are a bit too thick and don't hang or drape realistically, either. It's similar to the funky Hasbro way of doing things, back in the day.
Nevertheless, I did find a use for her. I actually like her stylized headsculpt, which doesn't in any way resemble the realistic stuff that they're putting out nowadays. It's not nearly as caricatured as Ashley Wood's Tomorrow Queen either (not my cup 'o tea).
(Oddly enough, one of Da Joint's promo pictures shows her posed atop a futuristic gizmo which looks suspiciously like a heavily-modded Nitto SAFS kit.)
"Ich bin ein Kowlunar"
I like their original headgear, but changed it to unify the look.
World Borrowing While I was pondering all this stuff, I saw the recent movie "Captain America" and rewatched the older "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow". Both are in a similar vein, tapping the fusion of the retro world, fantasy, and futuristic technology. Fun stuff.
Not having seen all the Protect Gear movies or immersed myself in the ZMDC and SF3D backstories, I'm not really qualified to diss them quite as much as I have. Sorry. Basically, I only went as far as my interests led me, and no deeper. Of all the properties I've discussed, Paolo Parente's Dust backstory seems to be the most congruent with my interests and tastes, and best-suited as the glue to hold all this stuff together. It has several things in its favor: It's light and over-the-top simple sci-fi fantasy, and doesn't take itself too seriously. It's just good blast 'em up fun with diamond cutter nipples; it doesn't try to remake Casablana with a cast of Smurfs. Dust's alien-fueled alternative WWII scenario is compatible with varied fashions and technologies, even if you don't invoke alien technology-- humans have invented a lot in a very short span of time, and it's plausible that there are some really, really smart folks out there who can think a few technological generations ahead. That's easier for me to accept than a future filled with advanced but retro-looking technology and fashions adopted from the distant past.
Basically though, it's all about whatever turns you on, and whatever makes sense to you.