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NECA Reel Toys
by yo go re

To say "NECA" now is to say "McFarlane" in 1999: the company is producing a wide variety of toys that appeal to all sorts of audiences, and doing it with a great level of reliability. While Mattel, the biggest toy company in the world, is giving us reused, repainted soft sculpts that fall apart when you move them, NECA is cranking out lots of unique figures with incredible detail and unexpected articulation. They've got an impressive mixture of cult favorites and new movies, which is how we got toys based on the new movie 9.

Made out of burlap, with detailed copper hands and feet, 9 is the most physically refined, emotionally attuned of the stitchpunk beings - the closest to perfection. His curious, proactive nature causes him to oppose 1's strategy of hiding, opting instead for action and setting the stage for conflict over the leadership of the group.

Now, I haven't seen 9, but like Trick 'r Treat, I have seen the short film that inspired it. Nominated for an Academy Award in 2005, the original 9 is 10 minutes long, and entirely without dialogue. Since it managed to tell a complete story that quickly and without a single word, it's hard to imagine how another 80 minutes of celebrity voices are really going to make a huge improvement. Still, the important thing is that we're getting toys, and since the design is fundamentally unchanged, this 9 can be whichever 9 you want.

The figure stands 6⅜" tall, which, judging by what we've seen so far, could be 1:1 scale. The body is hard ABS plastic, but the curved shapes and the all-over burlap texture conspire to make you think he'd be squishy - it's very misleading. Due to the design of his body, articulation is sparse: the wrists swivel, the ankles are balljoints, and the head is on a balljoint as well. The neck honestly seems like a weak point in the design - the balljoint sticks a bit, and the neck is thin and flexible. That right there is a prescription for a joint that twists apart, so don't waste time before opening 9 and trying him out. If he's going to break, you want him to break while the store still has some and your receipt is still good. Finally, 9's arms are bendy, which gives him a small range of motion without the need for visible elbow joints.

9 was sculpted by Chris Gawrych and Jason Frailey, and there's a lot more going on here than you might expect. They didn't just sculpt the figure and press a burlp pattern into the warm Castilene; 9's textured, but the lines of the "fabric" match the weight and movement of the body. He's got a zipper running up his front, sculpted on but looking entirely real, complete with a slider and a free-hanging pull tab at the top. The irregular stitches on his arms and the back of his head really look like they're poking through cloth and holding pieces together. The eyes have the appearance of machined metal parts, and the hands and feet have small, intricate bits that would allow them to move (if they were real).

The paint is nice, with a dark brown base and several lighter colors above that. The sutures are black and brass, and the zipper gets silver apps that make it look real. 9's hands are silver, with what may be some sort of red rubber covering them. The only thing to watch out for in the package is the distribution of white and black on his eyes - it's nothing terrible, but slight variances in the paint will give the figures different "expressions," so you'll want to pick the one you like best. You can't see it in the package, but there's a large black "9" on his back.

There are two accessories included with 9, as well as one extra hand. The hand, with its fingers curled, is intended to hold the largest accessory, 9's staff. Capped with a small lightbulb and a bit of machinery (probably to provide power), the staff is 7" tall. You'll have to spread the fingers slightly to get him to hold the staff, but once in place, it looks authentic. The second accessory is the film's memory talisman, a solid mold with no moving pieces, but it's still detailed well in both sculpt and paint.

9 is a nice figure. He's not "buy it at any cost" nice, but a decent offering for what it is. The articulation isn't great, but it's really as good as it can be, and the sculpt is excellent. In fact, the only thing I don't like about this figure is how it reminds me of Mezco's canceled LittleBigPlanet toys. 9's no Sackboy, but he's as close as we're going to get any time soon, and he's a prime example of how NECA is spreading their talent around, giving us the best collector toys in the market today.

-- 09/09/09

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