So I took last week off to work on my up-coming art show. While taking a sadly brief tea-break among my half-finished doll limbs, I found myself pursuing a borrowed copy of “Hobby Japan” magazine. And that is where I found her.
There she was, in a full-page spread in the center of the magazine, sprawled on the ground with her legs in the air, wearing only socks and strategically placed bandages. Her blue hair was tousled and her eyes stared out from the page seductively. She had luscious curves for a girl of such short statue…and I do mean short, because she couldn’t have been more than three inches tall.
So who was my mystery girl? A painted resin figurine of Rei Ayanami from the Gainax anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion”. I was in love. Every bit of her was beautifully sculpted and finely painted. Even in the full page photograph her manufacturing seams were almost invisible. She was beautiful, a perfect example of the Japanese anime figurine.
Anime figurines come in many forms and sizes. They run the gamut, from tiny capsule toys to foot-tall works of art with price tags to match. They can be run-of-the-mill manufactured models or one-of-a-kind garage kits. But no matter their style, there are many common characteristics. All anime figurines are immobile, although they may have accessories that can be added or removed. Also, the vast majority of these figurines are depicting cute and/or sexy female characters. Any casual flip through “Hobby Japan” will tell you what the fan base desires: miniature robots and miniature girls.
The uniquely Asian fantasy of the miniature girl has always puzzled me. A related phenomena- a fetish for super-large women who destroy cities with one high-heeled footstep- has world-wide appeal as sci-fi cult films such as “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” attest, but the miniature girl fetish seems to mostly exist in Asia. From anime such as “Midori Days” where a girl magically shrinks and becomes attached puppet -style to the right hand of the boy she has a crush on (wanking jokes ensue) to the slightly creepy wedding photography trend in Japan and Korea where the bride is shrunken to doll-size through the magic of photoshop, the tiny woman is a visible trend.
“But Beth!”, you may say, “You are reading too much into it! Some anime figurines are meant to be sexy, but there is no tiny- lady fetish involved! Besides, most figurines are just for fans who love the characters, there is no sexual element at all.”
And I agree, to an extent. I used to collect anime figurines myself, just so I could have beautiful toys of all the characters I loved. But then I began to notice a few things- finding figurines depicting male characters was difficult, as the majority of figurines were of cute or sexy female characters. And while male figurines had limited detailing in areas that would not normally visible, female figurines were detailed everywhere. Even if the character’s undergarments were not visible from any normal perspective, they were still lovingly detailed so that the quality of the figurine was not diminished if you happened to be looking at it from an *ahem* unusual angle.
I realized then that these figurines, although made to stand on a shelf, had another, unspoken purpose. They were meant to be picked up, manipulated, and examined very closely, although their lack of joint articulation indicated that they were not meant for traditional play. These qualities are the same qualities that explain the appeal of the tiny woman fantasy- she can be manipulated because she is so tiny and she is unable to protect even her modesty from prying eyes due to her diminutive size. Although it is physically impossible to love her as a normal woman, it is this same caricature of fragility and tininess that gives men a feeling of control and vast superiority. ( The related fantasy of the giant woman is the same but reversed- she makes men feel dominated while also providing panty-shots best viewed through binoculars.) I’m sure that both of these fantasies say something about the psychology of those who possess them, and there may be cultural elements at work here as well.
These anime character figurines are not the first dolls created to cater to traditional male sexuality, nor are they the most blatant in this aspect. The Western cousin to the anime figurine, the super heroine action figure, also possesses a sexual aspect. She is designed to appeal to the American ideal of big boobs, small waist and “round thing in your face”, but she is different from anime figurines in a major way. Not confined to a pedestal and possessing of basic joint articulation, she is meant for imaginary a$$ kicking, not just eye candy, while the frozen nature of the anime figurine does not allow for traditional play of any kind, just for voyeurism.
So are anime figurines objectifying women? Certainly, but no more than other forms of soft pornography. The positives and negatives of these figurines come down to the pornography argument and what side of it’s fence you happen to fall on. But no one can deny that they have an appeal due to their likable characters, detailed paint jobs, and sensual poses. And there is the artistic element to consider as well. Many of these toys are very well designed with sculpts and paint jobs that put all but the very top-end American toys to shame. So despite the issues that “Feminist Beth” has with these toys, “Artistic Beth” is drawn to them for their craftsmanship and attention to detail. So as a female anime fan and toy lover, I’m conflicted. Do I love them? Do I hate them? Do I question myself to much?
But when it comes down to it, who would object to being seduced by a three-inch tall Rei Ayanami? Certainly not me.