In Real Life

Kotobukiya And The Art Of Kick-Arse Figure Making

Lots of countries make statues and figurines. Lots of countries make excellent ones too. Yet, there is something about Japanese sculpted figures of game and anime characters that’s so damn good. In particular, Kotobukiya’s figures are top notch. But why?

Previously, Kotaku touched on Japan’s fascination with sculpted characters and the influence of traditional Japanese sculpture on those figurines that live on people’s desks and shelves.

The nuts and bolts of modern Japanese figures helps ensure that makers churn out high quality figures. Take Kotobukiya, which puts each new design through at least three — though, sometimes more — stages of approval. Each test sample is checked at the Kotobukiya head office before being sent off for production.

“Most of our statues and kits are made at a factory that we co-own, which specialises in our products,” Kotobukiya’s Robert Paske told Kotaku. The assembly lines are checked daily for quality control.

Granted, not all Japanese figure makers employ such strict quality control and not all of them co-own the factory. Japanese sculptors do excel at bringing 2D characters to life. According to Paske, “I think you can really see the difference in some of the statues based on anime, where our Japanese sculptors really show off their work.”

Kotobukiya’s sculptures think they fare better at portraying female characters and show a meticulous attention to detail, but note that within the last decade or so, Western sculptors are coming into their own, pulling off dynamic poses and innovative arrangements. Chinese and Hong Kong sculptors continue to win over collectors with skilful pieces.

“I think you can really see the difference in some of the statues based on anime, where our Japanese sculptors really show off their work.”

High quality doesn’t come cheap, though. According to Paske, several factors effect the price: from the size, the complexity, the scale, and even the materials. Other factors come into play, too, such as licensing fees for anime or game characters as well as transportation costs — factors that also impact toy makers.

“Our commitment to quality, the famed Kotobukiya craftsmanship, is another factor in our pricing,” said Paske. You get what you pay for. Kotobukiya doesn’t melt down old models to make new ones, because inevitably, the old models will contain dust, which will then impact the material’s quality. The extra quality control and Kotobukiya’s use of high-grade materials not only means more expensive statues, it also means better ones.

So what makes Kotobukiya’s figurines so different? According to Paske, “It’s a combination of Kotobukiya’s experience, quality and the skill of our sculptors, as well as the care taken during the production process to ensure that everything carries over from the initial design to the final product.”

It might just be a Japanese thing. Then again, it might just be a Kotobukiya one. But is it enough to fend off rival Western figure companies and Hong Kong outfits like Hot Toys?

Culture Smash is a daily dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome — game related and beyond.

Photos: darkhorse/Gigazine