SOTA follows up Ryu in Series 1 of its Street Fighter line with his counterpart, Ken Masters. Ryu and Ken trained in martial arts at the same dojo, and became good friends. However, they're often at odds, since Ryu (a native of Japan) is solemn and disciplined while Ken (a native of the United States) is cocky and flashy.
Ken and Ryu are throwbacks to the video game character design process known as "palette-swapping": take a character you already have, change his color palette, alter his design a bit (or, if you're the designers of Mortal Kombat, not at all), cook up a new backstory, and voila, a new character! Since Ken and Ryu trained at the same dojo, it makes sense that they would both dress in a traditional gi and know the same moves... but it's anyone's guess how they managed to be exactly the same height and build as each other.
SOTA has said that they wanted to make Ken look as different from Ryu as possible, so they took design elements from throughout Ken's Street Fighter history, including gloves with finger holes and a gi with straight-cut shoulders and legs (as opposed to Ryu's more open gloves and tattered gi), and amalgamated them into one figure. Additonally. they removed the Japanese characters seen on Ryu's belt. Other than these differences, Ken's body is pretty much identical to Ryu's, and there's a lot of re-use going on with the arms, torso, legs and feet. None of this is a problem though, since the characters look almost identical and the original Ryu sculpt is exceptional.
Of course, Ken's head is new, and it looks great with its smug half-smile and luscious blonde mullet of spiky anime hair. The only issue is that the sideburns are painted on rather than sculpted, and the color of the skin and sideburns are so similar that they tend to disappear unless viewed from up close.
When color is the major thing separating one character from another, the figures' paint is important. Ken's gi is a deep, flat red to contrast Ryu's white outfit. The red is accented with a dark maroon wash, and it looks very eye-catching. His skin, incidentally, is a slightly lighter shade than Ryu's. The paint applications are all done neatly and cleanly, but in multiple places on my figure the red paint of Ken's outfit rubbed off on the flesh-colored areas where the two parts had been touching in the package. My guess is that the figure was packaged before the paint had completely cured, and the wet paint stuck to itself.
The articulation in this line has been pretty standard, with the only main deviations being the double-jointed elbows of the female characters (and Vega). Ken doesn't stray in this area, and shares Ryu's articulation of a balljointed head, balljointed shoulders, peg biceps, hinged elbows, peg forearms, hinged wrists, a hinged torso, peg waist, balljointed hips, peg thighs, double-hinged knees, hinged ankles, and a mid-foot joint. Like Ryu, the upper part of Ken's gi is a separate piece made of soft plastic to accommodate the figure's torso hinge. Also like Ryu, Ken does not feature peg joints at the bottoms of his pants, which would seem like a no-brainer. Oh, well.
To accessorize your Ken, SOTA has included an interchangeable head, two alternate right hands, and a fire effect to recreate Ken's dragon punch move. The extra head represents Ken from Street Fighter Alpha and features a long ponytail hairstyle, not to mention a grimace worthy of the Four Horsemen's He-Man. Fanboys have complained that Ken's "Alpha outfit" was more similar to Ryu's with a tattered gi and open gloves, so the alternate head doesn't make sense on this body. Boo hoo, just be happy SOTA gave us a second head at all. The alternate hands let Ken either give a thumbs up, or a seductive "come hither" gesture. The fire effect is made of translucent red plastic and fits over Ken's right fist. Tragically, Ken's left hand is neglected entirely.
SOTA has done a nice job of making Ken as different from Ryu as possible, but there was really only so much they could do. If this was any other line, the differences might not be enough to merit purchasing another figure... but this is Street Fighter, and Ryu just looks incomplete without his Western colleague.
Ken | Blanka | Cammy | T. Hawk | Vega
Who's your favorite palette-swap? Tell us on our message board, The Loafing Lounge.