While the state of action figure collecting in the U.S. has been stagnant, in my opinion, there’s an action figure renaissance happening in Japan. Companies like Tamashii Nations, Medicom, Kaiyodo, Square Enix and the Good Smile Company are putting out some of the most incredibly detailed, aesthetically pleasing and accessory loaded figures we’ve ever seen.
Once criticized for their over-the-top stylized interpretations of characters, Japanese toy designers have shown they can achieve the realism American collectors desire and Tamashii’s S.H. Figuarts Star Wars and Avengers lines and Medicom’s MAFEX Batman and Spider-Man lines are evidence of this. As American toy-makers bow to the demands of the bottom line, collectors are getting figures with reduced articulation, sloppy paint applications and fewer accessories. Conversely, in Japan, toy engineers are leading the way in creating nearly seamless silhouettes with limitless articulation, pinpoint paint techniques that are consistent from figure-to-figure, and accessories that ensure your figure can achieve every possible representation of the character it represents. Even the stylized figures that we once balked at have evolved to a whole new level. Just look at some of the Tetsuya Nomura designs in Square Enix’s Play Arts Kai line.
There are those who argue that the price of Japanese designed figures is cost prohibitive and a barrier to entry for them into collecting imports. To this I argue that while the price is higher, typically $10 – $20 more, the value is also greater. When you buy a figure from a Japanese toy maker, you know you are getting their best effort at that character. The figure will be engineered meticulously, painted consistently and loaded with accessories. There aren’t going to be dozens of “re-dos” over the years because a previous version of a figure was made in a half-hearted effort.
Need more proof? Just ask any Star Wars collector how many farmboy Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader figures they have in their collection. When you calculate the number of figures and tally the price paid for each, you’ll almost surely get a number greater than what you would pay for a Japanese import figure. When you spend $35 for a Japanese figure, its a one-time purchase and you can rest assured that a revised version of that figure, with a minor updated, won’t be released 3 month later. The bottom line is with Japanese figures, you’re not in a vicious cycle of buying the same thing over-and-over again so you don’t end up with a collection comprised of countless rehashes.
An interesting trend we’re seeing U.S. toy makers are adopting–and evidence that they recognize the value in Japanese figures–is the window box style packaging for individual figures. Long a staple packaging style for figures in Japan, U.S. toy makers are using the window box to boost the perceived value of their collector range figures. It’s a nod to their Japanese brethren and further evidence that the center of the action figure universe is, in fact, in Japan.
So what is it about the Figma Sherlock Hound that makes it a must buy for me considering I’ve never seen the Hayao Miyazaki directed anime? Why it’s elementary; the figure’s aesthetic caught my eye especially seeing how the design doesn’t compromising poseability. Furthermore, the pipe, magnifying glass and pistol accessories look fantastically detailed and the inclusion of the classic car just sealed the deal. The Figma Sherlock Hound will set you back about $70. I’ll be getting mine from HLJ.com, where it’s now available for pre-order.