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Dragon Base set

Ikki Tousen
by Artemis

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is one of the seminal works of classic Chinese literature. An epic historical adventure penned in the 14th Century by Luo Guanzhong, the 800,000-word masterpiece is set during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history, 18 centuries ago, when the dissolution of the Han Dynasty led to a time of such violent intrigue and unrest that some estimates suggest that China's population was more than halved in almost a century of perpetual warfare. Combine that with non-stop panty shots, and you've got Ikki Tousen.

Now, I'm a fan of anime with plenty of goofy fanservice - not just for its own sake, but also because it tends to keep the creators from taking themselves too seriously - but I'm really not a fan of blind-packing, which these figurines suffer from. Fortunately - I can't speak in general, but this was the case with the set I bought from - there are six figurines shipped in sets of eight, so your odds of wasting money are a lot lower than Magic: The Legend of the Five Pokemons or whatever those daft card games were. Thanks to a cooperative comicshop, I even skewed the odds by buying the figurine they'd opened to put on display, whereupon they'd open another one for display, and I'd buy it, and so on until we hit a duplicate. As it turned out, I got the other duplicate, but she's a variant, so it didn't bother me overmuch. I still detest blind-packing, though.

The characters in this set are from the second series of Ikki Tousen, called "Dragon Destiny" - I only have the first, "Battle Vixens," on DVD, but some of them are the same, and it's not like anyone really cares who the kung fu schoolgirls are anyway. Each of the six figurines is packaged in pieces, individually sealed in plastic wrap, and (with one exception) they're simple and straight-forward to assemble - which is just as well, since the only instructions are the finished photos on the box.

Kanu Unchou's a tough broad - the main character in Dragon Destiny, Kanu features briefly in Battle Vixens for a brief display of invincibility, but doesn't take any further part in the action. Well, fair enough - it's not like she's got anything to prove, since she took out Ryomou after having her arm broken, and then defeated Hakufu just for show.

Kanu's posed in mid-whirl, with her super-long hair swirling around her body, her skirt flapping up, and inevitably her breasts in mid-bounce. She's sporting a midriff-baring version of the girls' regular uniform, along with loose leggings on her shins, and - characteristic of her - her left eye is hidden by her hair, although it's sculpted and painted properly if you tilt her up to check.

With her ginormous spear pointing out in one direction and her base going off in the other to counterbalance her, the complete Kanu figurine is the largest of the six in terms of how much desk space she takes up. Her right foot sports a rod that sinks into the base, and while it does a good job of keeping her upright, with only her tiny toe footprint set into the base, there's not a lot to keep her foot from turning in its socket. Apart from that she's well-designed - even her multi-part spear managed to make it through shipping without being bent somewhere or other.

Sonsaku Hakufu is the protagonist of Battle Vixens, though that's one of a large number of words she wouldn't know the meaning of. Although she harbours an immensely powerful dragon spirit, she clearly doesn't have two brain cells to rub together in her head, and remains oblivious to all the intrigue and politicking surrounding her and the pivotal role she plays in the destiny of all fighters. She just really likes beating the crap out of people.

True to form - the anime really is just one long panty shot - Hakufu's figurine captures her winding up for a kick, which necessarily involves hefting her leg up in the air and giving the whole wide world a good look at her crotch. To keep her balance she's flinging her arms around in a wide arc, twisting her whole upper body, and naturally her boobs are bounding off at right angles to one another.

With her column-like base Hakufu is the tallest of the figurines, maxing out at 6½" all told. Her left foot has a peg with a squared-off section to fit her to her base and keep her from turning around accidentally, which is does quite well (better than Kanu's anyway), and although the base is hollow, so not particularly heavy, she's fairly resistant to falling over. Her costume may be just a straight-forward schoolgirl look, but the design of her pose is very dynamic - there's a great sense of motion in the way her hair and skirt and sculpted.

Chouun Shiryu is a new one to me, not appearing in Battle Vixens at all, but research indicates that she's quite a badass, since not only does she defeat the hell out of pretty much anyone who gets in her way, she does it without bothering to open her eyes. She's also pretty much the only fighter, so far as I know, never to have gotten her clothes damaged in a fight - and in Ikki Tousen, where everyone's uniforms are apparently made from tissue paper, that's downright extraordinary.

Naturally her figurine depicts her with her eyes closed, in spite of being in the middle of drawing her sword to cut somebody's head off. Her silver hair (sadly rendered as a rather nondescript gray) is swirling around counter-clockwise, which from her body looks like the opposite direction it should - but then again, peoples' hair tends to move however shows them off best in anime, so it's no big deal. Her sword is simply painted in metallic silver, but there's wavy application of brighter silver on its leading edge, which is a nice, if simple, bit of attention to detail.

Her base is bigger than Kanu's, but with her broad stance putting one foot at nearly each end of it, Chouun is far more centred, and takes up a lot less room. With both feet down she's firmly plugged in, and can be more or less picked up and waved around without coming loose of it. One part that is a bit flimsy is the sword, which is a single piece with its scabbard, and fits into both hands with only the grip of the fingers, and a tiny plug into the left palm, to hold it in place. It won't fall out on its own, quite, but with both hands above rather than beneath it, if you bump it gravity will generally take its course.

Ryuubi Gentoku (the packaging says "Ryobi", but that's a brand of power saw) is another one who didn't appear in Battle Vixens, but she didn't need to - one look at her and you know her character type, the hot, insecure bookworm. Though Ikki Tousen being what it is, she's inhabited by a savage and malevolent dragon spirit, and on the rare occasions she is provoked into cutting loose and fighting, she more or less massacres anything within range. Makes you wonder what she's been reading. (In the show, an in-joke near the end is that she reads Romance of the Three Kingdoms itself.)

Since she's meek and mousey - in the heroically hot way popular media bookworms generally are - Ryuubi isn't flailing around with her hips up above her head, and in fact she's the most modest of the figures by a huge margin, with only her head and hands bare (though her lime green stockings don't quite reach her skirt at the corners). Though since whoever sculpted these knew their market, she's still got all the necessary detail underneath her skirt, and naturally she's got breasts the size of beachballs.

She's also got glasses, which is an interesting challenge for such small figurines - and all in all, they're not done too badly, with the clear plastic lenses (no frames) a single piece that's pre-assembled in between her head and her hair. They've wound up sitting a bit further away from her face than they're meant to on the right side, but front-on you don't notice it. Since she's sitting flat on the ground, she doesn't need any peg to remain on her base, and it sports just a shallow impression of the shapes of her legs to get her settled into the proper position.

Kakouen Myousai isn't even trying to look like a schoolgirl - in fact she looks like a mix of a circus acrobat and Chun Li - but she's an assassin, so it's not like anyone's going to argue with her about her wardrobe. Not if they value having a working spine, anyway.

Kakouen's all poise rather than action - she's got both feet flat on the ground (making her another exceptionally stable figurine like Chouun) and she's basically just standing upright, twisting her body around but not really moving. Her twist is to the right, and for once her hair's behaving itself, whirling back around to the left, although the trailing drapes on her costume are being teased by another one of those aesthetic breezes, wrapping around her left leg for no real reason.

The join between her right leg and the hip/left leg piece isn't as smooth as is generally the case on these figurines - especially unfortunate since she's not wearing a skirt, so the gap between the pieces is really obvious. Her right arm's a problem as well - it looks fine, but the structural design intends for it to be held in place only slightly by its shoulder socket, and mostly by contact with the strands of hair resting against her elbow. Since the hair itself is attached to the head, not the torso, the degree of error mounts up a bit, and the resulting friction between hair and arm evidently isn't what was hoped - the arm falls out at the drop of a hat.

Ryomou Shimei is pretty iconic in the Ikki Tousen line-up of battle babes - she's not the main character, but that lets her be a lot more interesting since she doesn't have to carry the plot by herself. Typically dressed in an eccentric maid's outfit and wearing an eye-patch (her eye's inhabited by a demon or something), she's brutally good at fighting, but not so good as to be boring - Kanu defeated her, after all, despite having been beat to hell in the process - and her position on the side of the storyline lets her move about in interesting ways, starting out as Sonsaku's apparent rival and ending up her Han Solo.

Granted her maid costume was eccentric in Battle Vixens, but just because it was a maid's costume, which you don't expect to see in a schoolyard rumble. The Dragon Destiny version of her takes it right over the top, replacing her simple dress with a gigantic mass of frills and lace including, inter alia, a colossal multi-layered skirt, and the world's tightest corset. How she's supposed to fight in that I can't imagine; I have trouble just touching my toes in mine. Anyway, all that fine (if bizarre) detail is sculpted and coloured well, relying on cast-in-colour pieces where it can but managing adequately with paint apps elsewhere.

Ryomou's the exception to the easy-to-build trend I noted earlier - her huge falchion is intended to be kept in place by extreme friction, so both the plug holding the left wrist to her arm, and the rod which extends from the top of the blade into her right palm, are angled away from the ports they're meant to fit into. With no printed instructions, it almost seems as if it might have been designed wrong, but it will fit in place - you just have to be willing to apply force, which is a tense experience with a figurine this small and fragile.

All six bases fit together - though despite this being called the "Dragon Base" set, only Ryomou's base has anything draconic on it, a large serpentine bit of dragon neck/body that she's standing on. The rest seem intended to be clouds or mist or something; they look a bit like tangled-up bedsheets waiting for laundry day, to be honest. Kanu and Chouun's bases fit together very tightly, and Sonsaku's base slots into a special groove in the back of Kanu's base, while the others, though they fit well, don't have anything holding them in place.

The set of eight boxes I chose from had one duplicate Kanu, but thanks to the shop being awesome I avoided her; the other extra was a second Ryuubi, but she's a variant so I'm not too peeved. She's the same figurine and base as the regular Ryuubi, but painted black with a heavy drybrush of bronze paint, which I suppose it meant to make her look like a statue - it's not great paintwork, but it's good enough to pass. Her glasses are cast in reflective bronze plastic, rather than painted, making them much brighter and shinier than the drybrushed surfaces around them, so they look more like snow goggles than glasses.

Finally, all of the figurines' skirts (except for Kakouen, who doesn't have one) are separate pieces to their hips and torsos, so they can be assembled sans skirts if you want an Ikki Tousen panty shot display. Well, it's appropriate to the show.

I still detest blind-packing as a practice - when you strip away all the ad-speak, it's basically stealth gambling - but since the allocation in my case proved to be six figurines, one variant, and one duplicate, at least the odds aren't as abysmal as other such products (especially if the shop lets you pull that "open for display" trick). And while the price tag is a bit more than a comparable mainstream toy, well, that's imports for you - if you collect Japanese figures, you get used to it - and the girls are bright, cheerful, nicely varied, and quite decent quality work when you examine them closely. I wouldn't go around buying this kind of thing at random, the way I do with regular action figures, but seeing as I am a fan of the show - if giggling at its silliness counts - I'm a happy consumer today.

-- 07/23/09

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