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Lightning

Final Fantasy XIII
by Artemis

Everyone has their price, goes the saying - normally it's a matter of how much Robert Redford would have to pony up for you (assuming he wants to - we're not all Demi Moore, after all), but it works the other way around as well. How much lighter would your wallet be willing to get for a night with Demi? More than Scarlett Johansson, less than Jennifer Connelly. Along the same lines (but dragging things back to action figures, which we're in theory here to talk about after all), how good does a toy have to be before money simply is no object - before it doesn't matter what the price tag reads, you're just going to end up staring at it muttering "it will be mine" under your breath?

Depends on the toy, of course, but Play Arts are evidently intent on finding the upper limit with this latest doozy of theirs. The Shiva sisters - Shiva Stiria (the one with dark skin) and Shiva Nix (the paler one) - are a pair of... I dunno, weird robot-demon-warrior-spirit things, that Snow can summon in Final Fantasy XIII, and they turn into a motorcycle, and possibly try to beat him up at some point. Don't look at me, I don't own a Wiistation 360 or whatever you need, and the packaging's no help. To be fair, it's not strictly necessary - there's only one selling point this baby really needs, and that's the big window on the front, giving passers-by a good clear view of a gigantic liquid-nitrogen-powered Giger-steampunk god-bike made from a 50/50 alloy of weapons-grade awesome and cyborg lesbian sex. That is enough to trigger the Wayne's World response.

The Shivettes are part of the new "Kai" line (they're not bothering with the hyphens anymore, so I won't either), which as discussed in the FFXIII Lightning review is all about taking the existing Play Arts figure style and rebuilding it even bigger and better. In scale with the 8½-9" figures, the Shiva sisters stand well over a foot tall each - a bit over 16" for Shiva Stiria, the one with the taller head-crest thing, and around 15" for her sister (if they were human, without all that extra junk stuck on, they'd top out at 13½", still taller than the previously-tallest figure in my collection, Victoria Silvstedt). Compared to Lightning and Oerba Dia Vanille, the other Kai figure I own, their lack of clothes (conventional ones, anyway) means they rely far more on a single sculpted surface, rather than the layered soft rubber the smaller (i.e. normal) figures enjoy. They remain fantastically detailed, though, with intricate sculpts on every piece picked out by precise paintwork.

Each sister has her own style. Shiva Stiria (or Styria, depending on which wiki you ask) is the most conventionally cyberorganic, with her jet black body morphing into gleaming copper and steel that starts off as a kind of armour around her torso and upper limbs, but overtakes them completely further on. Her hips are encircled by a kind of angel-wing-themed loincloth design, protruding strangely in front, and behind with an engine attached kind of like a bustle. At first glance the jutting wing-thing in front looks strange (not to mention liable to cause jokes at her expense), but the whole thing - the whole figure - is so stylized and strange that it blends in. Her forearms are heavy gauntlets, with mechanical clawed hands extending from them - as well as rotating scythe blades attached at the elbows - and from the knees down, her legs become exhaust pipes, on which she balances ballet-style.

Her face is marked by a striking white tattoo covering her right cheek and temple - the rest of its paint is more subdued, but high caliber nonetheless, with clear blue eyes and a shine on her coal-black lips. Rising up and back from her face is the gigantic crest comprising the nose of the combined motorcycle form, smooth and menacing like a xenomorph head, with a clear (and tattooed) windshield piece sunk into it, and the bike's handlebars folded up on either side. The massive front wheel is suspended behind her neck and shoulders - and when I say massive I'm not kidding, each of the bike's wheels is over four inches in diameter, and an inch thick, with weighty rubber tyres.

Her sister Shiva Nix is a more naturalistic creature - by their standards, anyway - with much of her armour, or mechanical parts or whatever, strapped onto her body rather than outright built into it. Her pale blue skin and grey metallics give her a less striking contrast than Stiria's copper-and-black, and overall she's slimmer and sleeker. Her arms are fully human (or whatever) right down to the hands, though adorned by armour-like chassis parts, though her legs are artificial, changing at the knee from strapped-on clothing to pure metal, with sharp-ended struts replacing her feet. In the game art I've seen Nix's wheel detaches from its arch when she's in human mode, but for structural stability reasons (and because any attempt to have her hold it in her hand would tip her over sideways) the figure leaves it where it is.

Her face mirrors Stiria's, with its dark blue tattoo over her left eye, and similarly precice paintwork on her eyes and mouth. Perhaps it's just the effect of the paint, but I fancy Nix has a lighter, more humorous face - Stiria looks very get-down-to-business, while Nix has a ghost of a grin, like she's pleased to see you. The colossal hunk of motorbike hanging off her head angles lower down, behind her back, but she has a crest-like framework attached to the front of it, giving her a similar silhouette to her sister. She also has the option of two swappable pieces for the armour plate on her forehead, allowing it to be retracted, or extended (and changed shape somewhat) to cover her eyes. With the faceplate down, she looks rather creepy, as you'd imagine.

Those huge wheels define a lot about the figures, starting with their bases - neither is even remotely capable of balancing on her own (nor would she be if she were in sensible shoes, rather than cyborg dominatrix ballet boots), so the bases are tear-shaped, with a heavy pylon extending up behind the figure and ending in a hollow arc to support the weight of the free-spinning wheel. With that done, the actual figure can be made to stand - the surfaces of the bases have a geometric design sculpted into them, providing ample edges to prop the narrow feet against to keep them in place. With their wheels at different angles to their heads, the sisters each have a base with their own specific height of support pylon, Stiria tall, Nix shorter.

Articulation is also heavily affected - the sisters' necks are very stiff and solid swivel joints, since anything else would be unworkable given the amount of weight relying on them. Their arms are fairly standard Kai limbs - swivel/pin shoulders, swivel biceps, wide-range pin elbows, although due to the differing designs only Nix has swivel/pin wrists, with Stiria's hands being built into her gauntlets. The legs sacrifice some joints to structural stability though, with only pin knees beneath the swivel/pin/swivel hips - it's a shame, especially in Nix's case, not to have ankle joints, but if they did, they'd be too weak to hold the bike form together.

Compared to a Transformer, the Shiva sisters aren't quite up there in terms of complex transformations - indeed, they don't so much reconfigure as just wrap their legs around each other and rely on being half-bike to begin with. Stiria's hip joints are the main feature at this stage - there's a second pin joint hidden in each inner thigh, allowing the whole leg to swing out and up, widening the span of her hips enough to let Nix's legs fit between her them. From there, it's just a matter of plug-and-play - Stiria's feet attach to Nix's wheel surrounds, and vice versa, with an additional attachment between Nix's shins and the motor beneath Stiria's back. Stiria's arms fold up by her sides, while Nix pulls hers up over her chest, cradling her face in her hands. Swing out the handlebars et voila, you've got yourself a bike that suggests a different definition of "autoerotica" than the one in the dictionary.

The combined Shiva bike is around 19" long, and damn if it's not a sweet-looking ride. Roughly symmetrical, the main weight of it is the two head crests, now the dangerously curved front and rear of the chassis - the front adorned with chains and charms around the wheel. The different body postures the girls adopt in forming the bike give it a sense of which way is forward, with Nix's upright body behind the rider, and Stiria leaning backwards (one is tempted to say invitingly) in front. Lacking Nix's faceplate, Stiria's face is left uncovered, staring up at whoever's riding her - presumably, aesthetics aside, she's the sat-nav.

The handlebars are mounted on long arms, with horizontal swivels at the handle end, and vertical at the bike end - any Kai scale figure will have no trouble holding them, Harley-style, while leaning comfortably back against Nix, with their legs either side of Stiria. It's a weird bike, it really is. It balances well, though, thanks to the wide wheels, or if necessary the scythe blades on Stiria's arms can be folded out as a kind of kick-stand.

If you've got the kind of money you'll need to walk home with this thing - never mind if you should spend it, just if you could - it's fair to say you'll probably want to. The question is, should you - once you're at home figuring out whose thighs wrap around who to get back to bike mode, and wondering how you're going to raise the money to buy food for the next month, was it a satisfying purchase? Given the asking price (sadly I did find out, not being quite quick enough to ask the cashier at Kings Comics to just not tell me) it's a big question. I'm inclined to say yes, she's worth it - once. If Play Arts turn up six months from now with another psycho lesbian transformer, she's going to have to be unique and special in her own right, because I think you'd have to be mad to buy two of these. But as a one-off, a big present-to-self that you accept means you're going to have to go light on luxury purchases for a few months after - it's worth it. It's that good.

-- 05/27/10


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