This is a long digression from the Mass Effect Asari Project article. It's one of those opinionated "the state of the hobby" rants in the form of an article; I haven't done one of those articles in a long time.
04/15/17- The Quarian project had used my last spare Cool Girl v2 figure. I'd seen it coming, so I began to investigate my options. I've been out of the 1/6 scale figures loop for a long time and hadn't kept up with the latest stuff. (That should be apparent since the Mass Effect trilogy ain't exactly today's news!) I don't follow forums except when Google searches locate topics related to a current interest. As a result, when looking for fodder figures, I had no idea what to get! For these Mass Effect projects, I 'd been using what I had on hand. The problem is, it's not 2010 anymore, and the old stuff isn't available like it once was, and prices sure ain't what they were. EBay is a pretty good barometer of the changes.
Takara Cool Girl: I think Takara (Tomy) still occasionally releases Cool Girl character dolls using their CG v2 figure-- I purchased their Catwoman NIB from eBay, and there were a number of Japanese media related releases that weren't around back in the day, in addition to some old figures released under the "Best of" series banner. Their Catwoman was available from several sources, including Amazon. If so, Takara/Tomy makes one of the very few all-hard plastic female figures still available today.
Blast from the past.
The Cool Girl/Cy Girl line arrived after I'd retreated into what I considered to be "safe" customizing territory when Dragon and 21st Century Toys clobbered the WWII/Military customizing scene: Risque subject matter that I thought no respectable manufacturer would touch (Babes with Big'Uns, from 1998). Was I wrong! Besides the new role for female figures as fantasy/sci-fi tech warrior, the line featured a number of innovations that are commonplace now, the main one being female figures sculpted with voluptuous curves. Prior to that, the only options were Hasbro's, Dragon's and 21CT's homely offerings. The Cool Girl v2 figure was the final evolution of the line, and featured the latest innovations in the hobby like ganged elbow/knee hinges, hands with a rotation axis in addition to the wrist hinge and ball/socket ankle articulation (which I'm still not sold on).
Manufacturers have introduced many additional features in figures since, some of which I see as being similar to the "improvements" in Microsoft Word and Excel: Novelty for the sake of novelty, to keep the gears of commerce greased.
On eBay, two of the most common keywords in current 1/6 female figure listing titles are "Phicen" and "Kumik". Of the two, Phicen (and Phicen-clone) listings seems to be the most numerous. I've purchased a few Phicen figures through the years, mainly as curiosity items. These seamless (no articulation seams) figures are the realization of what I once thought would be the pinnacle of 1/6 figure technology (back in 2000). They're great for a display doll that shows maximum skin-- no tummy articulation seams or knee and elbow joints to look ugly in a bikini or a skimpy swords & sandals fantasy outfit.
Kumik: I missed the Kumik thing, so I bought some samples to satisfy my curiosity. They appear to be a post-Cy Girl/pre-Phicen transitional design, similar to Hot Toys' female figure. They have visible articulation on their plastic limbs and sculpted rubber-skin sections covering the boobs and lower torso, including crotch. They're slimmer and more realistically-shaped than the old CG figures, with smaller (better to-scale) hands and feet, and additional shoulder articulation concealed under the rubber covering. This was clearly a step in making the figures look more sexy than the stylized hard plastic CG figure-- bare midriff skin and rubber boobies! Nipples! Nether-region detailing! Notably, they didn't choose to cover the arms and legs in rubber even though arm and leg articulation seams had been a long-standing issue for figures wearing shorts, skirts and short sleeves. Priorities!
Evidently, more-anatomically-correct was what hobbyists wanted since a slew of manufacturers I'd never heard of had jumped in to fill the void/grab the bucks: Kumik, ZY Toys, Very Cool Toys, Play Toy and others. They all have nearly the same design, features, and size. There are differences between them in quality and the use of different types of plastics. Some are made of a dense plastic. I think the manufacturers were trying to entice folks who believe that heavier means better quality (it doesn't: It just means that they're more likely to shelf-dive unless they've got beefed up ankles-- which they don't). Some have single elbow hinges with really lousy range (barely over 90 degrees) and others have the dual ganged elbow hinge.
Interestingly enough, one of the things that dates the Kumik-style design in the strata of doll-dom is their take on "anatomically correct". It seems sort of quaint given what was to come.
Phicen: If it's evolution, Phicen is clearly at the apex. They've released some really good-looking figures sets, like the Lady Death doll. They constantly work to improve their products. For my survey of modern femfigs, I also bought one of Phicen's latest stainless steel-armature figures. It's very impressive: The articulation is silky-smooth and tight. While it's a heavy figure, I know that it's authentic and necessary weight from the high-quality steel armature that you can feel through its very soft rubber. While it was more expensive than the other figures I bought, I felt that the cost was fully justified, and that it was a relative bargain, considering that it came with a high-quality head that's an optional (~$30) purchase on most of the Kumik-clone figures.
Unfortunately, the Phicen figure still doesn't meet one of my major preferences: That it be able to stand without external support. The rubber feet are too soft for that, even with articulated hard feet embedded in them. This pegs it as a doll that's meant to be displayed with a stand, like a male-oriented & adult-themed Barbie doll. It could probably be posed without a stand in a pair of combat boots, but combat boots are rarely worn with bikinis.
Soft or Hard? From the perspective of a collector, it may be difficult to imagine why anyone would prefer a primitive hard-plastic or transitional figure with articulation seams instead of a seamless figure that can wear a bikini without resorting to creative costuming. Or wear nothing at all.
That assumes that everyone is interested in sexy dolls. In this hobby, one size does not fit all. A fully-clothed doll doesn't benefit from a seamless figure underneath, and the rubber-skinned figure may actually be a liability. Rubber skins stain, pick up dirt and handling oils more readily, deteriorate more quickly, and are harder to dress since fabrics don't slide over them as easily as a hard plastic.
As a collector and fan of media properties, I like variety and I like sexy dolls. I rarely alter the store-bought character dolls, and if they come with a stand, I usually use it. When I make stuff though, I care that whatever figure I use have quality articulation, can hold a pose, and can stand on its own feet without a support stand. After that, it depends on what I'm making.
Hard plastic figures are the most "hackable": With a Dremel, razor saw, epoxy putty, and paint, hard plastic figures can be converted into almost any body type, color, short or fat, alien, even add extra arms. They can be made to show quite a bit of skin if the costuming is designed for it. It's usually possible to repair or tighten a hard plastic figure's articulation.
You can't do that as easily with soft-skinned (Phicen) figures because the skins aren't designed to be altered or repaired. The armature is embedded in the rubber body, so it's not easy to access it, repair it, and seal it back in the skin without leaving a trace of the repair.
With soft-skinned figures, you're pretty much stuck with the skin color that it was cast in. If you use regular acrylic paints on a soft-skinned figure, it will rub or scrape off. Flexbond, mixed with acrylic paint does appear to adhere fairly well, but once an edge starts delaminating, you can peel the whole paint layer off in a sheet. Theatre/film and cosplay use flexible paints, but they're more like a makeup and aren't intended to be permanent and aren't especially durable. Obviously, it can be done since painted balloons are sold. However, I believe the special paints aren't readily available to the hobbyist or general public (I think they require industrial equipment and safeguards to prevent a horrible, twitching death). Another option is dyeing. However, it's hard to know what you'll wind up with without testing, and hard to fix/touch up if there are problems.
I would use a soft-skinned figure to solve a costuming problem that could best be solved by rubber skin-- but that hasn't come up yet, and there are always creative alternatives. Julie Strain's FAKK-2 costume would look best on a Phicen full-seamless figure because of where the flesh is exposed. When I did my take on FAK-Q, Phicen didn't exist-- so I made do with a different costume design to hide the seams. Problem-solving, improvisation, and creativity are gratifying rewards of the hobby.
I thought that the Kumik-style transitional figure might work for a Mass Effect EDI doll because the torso shows no articulation seams, but the arms and legs do-- just like the EDI character. However, as I've learned, painting is a problem, so that's impacted my plans for an EDI project.
In my opinion, the seamless rubber-skinned figures aren't as versatile: They're meant to be dressed and displayed. You can change their hair style, or swap their head (and hope the skin color matches) and dress them in a different outfit. You can't pose them without a stand in an action scene (unless it's a scene that involves sitting, reclining, or those found in porn flicks). While you can make outfits and accessories for them, you can't do significant modifications to the figure itself, which limits the outfits you make. Of course, if you're making elaborate outfits that don't show much skin, why use a seamless figure?
Action figure or doll? You decide. Missionary or doggie style? You decide. (FWIW, this is the Never-Removed-From-Buttocks "outfit" as it came with the doll.)
She wants to take your job. She can't be bargained with. She can't be reasoned with. She doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And she absolutely will not stop... ever, until you are unemployed.
To be fair, soft-skinned figures are hackable: You can remove the rubber coverings from the Kumik-style body and build on the hard plastic underneath. Cut open a Phicen figure, and you've got a cool-looking animation armature. If you've got the skills and time to sculpt and cast a rubber suit, you could make a pretty cool figure (even one that stands).
As a collector and fan of popular media, I do appreciate what Phicen has accomplished. However, now that we're there, I don't consider them to be the pinnacle of 1/6 figure technology, but a different evolutionary branch: Collector dolls... errr... 1/6 replicas of sex dolls (minus the working detail)?
I don't mean to sound too snarky about this: I realize that the vast majority of folks in the hobby are collectors, and very few venture into hard-core customizing. However, I'm biased-- this website is mainly about making things and modifying the things that I buy. It's fun. I didn't always do this: Before I made things, I didn't. But the modifiable building blocks were available when I wanted to make stuff that I couldn't buy. Today, the environment's different. If the hobbyist can't modify what's available, it's hard to imagine anyone straying far from the collecting/consuming stream. It hard to imagine anyone doing anything other than a very limited range of customizations (changing a doll's clothes isn't what I mean by "customising": I call that "playing with the doll").
And The Point Of This Rant Is??? Heck, I really wanted to use a Kumik-style figure for my Samara/Asari project. I saw the writing on the wall for the old-fashioned hard-bodied figures, so I bought six of the Kumik-style suckers for testing. Most have got good articulation, can stand, and all are easy to buy. I painted a Play Toy figure blue, thinking that everything was moving along great until I noticed a delaminated edge and ended up pulling off the entire boob plate skin in one piece. Fuck!!! You shouldn't be able to do that. I've done full figure repaints many times before: Bikini'd figures with red skin, green skin, black skin, and white skin. I've never had that problem with hard-body figures.
It's my favorite blue halter top, it fits perfectly!
This was originally going to be a figure comparison article, but I abandoned that idea once I started writing and realized where the hobby has gone and is probably going. The Samara/Asari project made the article relevant again, but with a different focus. I realize that it reads like a sour grapes pre-eulogy for the old-school customizing wing of the hobby.
However, it really isn't. I see it as sort of a wake-up call. Before (and after) Cy Girls, I used vintage-style GI Joes for most of my hacking, "transgenderizing" figures before it became trendy. Actually, I recall dissecting an early CG figure and determining that it wasn't a very good candidate for radical figure hacking. The point is, customizing is about wanting to make something and using what's available to get you there. So the potential for creation isn't something that can die (unless there's a worldwide mass extinction event).
Of course, time is precious, so we prefer the quickest, easiest path. I'm glad that I bought the Cy Girl v2 figure even though it's old-fashioned and primitive, with basic articulation, nipple-less non-squishy boobs and huge articulation gaps at its legs. At least I can paint it and get on with the Samara/Asari project! I don't regret using the old-fashioned Cy Girl figure for my FemShep and Quarian projects either: It's a solid figure that does the basics. They didn't need more articulation, squishy boobs, exposed midriff, or detailed female private parts. Luckily, I was able to find another Cy Girl v2 on eBay for a reasonable price, which means that I can do one more project before having to find an alternative.
These colors don't peel. You can tell that I'm an old-school hard body by the dust on my tits.
WHERE HAVE ALL THE CATSUITS GONE?
04/28/17- Black catsuits are a very useful customizing staple. But damn, good ones are hard to find nowadays! This is another example of today's short-attention-span, trend-driven production environment: Whatever manufacturers perceive as popular floods the marketplace at the expense of variety.
Ebay is currently flooded with shiny pleather catsuits (in 2 colors) from China that appear to be for DIY "Black Widow" custom figures. (Of course, everyone needs two or three of those!) They're extremely skin-tight, to the point where they impede articulation. They appear to be strong enough to handle stretching, but I wonder about their longevity. Takara and Medicom's pleather is notorious for shedding the plastic coating and looking like shit when it ages. I've tossed yards of project pleather that seemed like interesting project material, but turned sticky as it aged.
The best catsuits I've ever run across were the ones made by Triad, but the company is defunct and their catsuits are difficult to find (and pricey if you find 'em). They fit well and don't impede articulation, are sturdy, and age well; they were available in a matte neoprene-like material and a thick spandex-like material.
Apparently, spandex catsuits aren't very popular-- Old Joe Infirmary appears to be the only one currently making/selling them. They're well-made and come in interesting colors, but the female version is sleeveless and black wasn't available when I placed my order.