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Maj. Motoko Kusanagi

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
by Artemis

Consider the Apollo program, or the Concorde, or the Veyron: each, in their own ways, examples of an instance in a particular field, be it exploration or aerospace or automotive industry, when someone somewhere decided that near enough wasn't good enough, and set out to be the best of the best. And - in all three cases - the world sat up, took notice, politely applauded, then decided it was too much effort and went back to doing things the crappy way they were before. It's a sad truth of innovation that stick-in-the-mud resistance from the old guard doesn't do half the damage to progress that lazy apathy does - sad, in this case, because it means we're probably not going to see a whole lot more action figures like this one any time soon.

"There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries."

I'm not big on anime fandom - I'm working my way through Witchblade and rather enjoying it, I've got the first season of Ikki Tousen for sheer hilarity value, and like everyone else on the planet I've seen Akira and not really worked out what was going on. I don't dislike the genre on principle, it's just low on my to-do list. So, having seen about half an episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which I don't think even had Motoko Kusanagi here in it, all I can tell you is what the internet tells me: she's a cyborg of some kind, and she may be a lesbian. Well, yay.

In action figure form Motoko stands an eye-catching 8½" tall, putting her head and shoulders above the average US figure, and in the range of Japanese-derived PVC statues like the Witchblade set and that crazy Rainbow Mika one. Her costume is a kind of superhero-meets-biker-chick ensemble of a pale lilac strapless bustier and stockings, made a bit more serious by a heavy leather jacket, fingerless riding gloves, and armoured boots. Not a lot more serious, but there's only so much you can do when the starting point makes Wonder Woman look modest.

Her physique is the anime-favourite mix of athletic fitness with sensuous curves, like one of Rubens' models after a couple of months working out. The sculpt is uniformly sharp and precise, but with a well-judged sleekness to it, favouring flowing lines more than hard edges - from some angles she looks almost like a CGI creation who's stepped out of the screen for a breather.

She's a mix of painted and cast-in-colour parts, but the matches are very good - even with a photographic flash there's little difference between, for instance, the painted upper hips and the cast thighs, and to the naked eye they're impossible to distinguish. There's much subtle airbrushing in evidence, most noticeably on the lilac costume to pick out the seams and add muscle definition on the flats - she's got great abs - but also on the bare skin to gently enhance her figure, such as on the inner thighs.

Her face has all the usual anime hallmarks, but she's distinguished by a slightly longer than usual chin and nose, which offsets her stylishly ruffled hairdo and keeps her from looking too girlish. Her lips are small as usual, but so are her eyes - well, by anime standards - which have a fairly intricate multi-hued red colour to them. Unless there's a light shining right into her face, her fringe tends to keep all but the cheekbones in shadow, so the bright red eyes look a lot more subtle. Her bob hairdo comes to points either side of her face, which float free rather than resting on her shoulders - it could be the result of one of those convenient breezes that artfully play with action figure hairstyles, or maybe that's just how she looks. It's navy blue, so clearly there's something artificial about her hair; her eyebrows, by the way, are pale lilac. Cyborg stuff, I guess.

Now, if you take a glance at that figure in its "rest" pose, you'd think it's got a fair few joints to it, but nothing special for this scale. Wrong - Motoko's as flexible as a rubber-skeletoned gymnast, and the genius of the figure is how well it hides all that articulation. The neck is a balljoint, of course - the short hairdo doesn't get in the way anywhere - and she's got a sternum balljoint as well, which is all but invisible under normal lighting with her jacket on, but lets her twist around in all sorts of ways. She's got three-axis balljoint shoulders, which are frankly less visible than a swivel is on most figures, swivel/peg joints tucked in beneath the ends of her sleeves, and balljoint wrists.

Her hips are three-axis balljoints as well, largely hidden by the free-floating belt which is sized to sit just where the gaps between the hip and thigh pieces are - even in dramatic poses the hip joints have far less aesthetic impact than lesser joints on other figures. The close housing of the hip balljoints doesn't allow for a full range of twisting swivel, so she's got swivels at the stocking tops, then double pin knees, and - this is especially good - double three-axis balljoint ankles, with the "collar" of the boot concealing a rod connecting an upper and lower ball joint. That's a grand total of 46 axes of motion packed into Motoko - Street Fighter can kiss her shapely ass.

So far as accessories go, her big guns are a pair of swappable upper arms, allowing her jacket to be removed. The arms pop off the shoulder balljoints - which I've done several times with ease, yet they show no signs of loosening - and the sleeveless vest of the jacket then slips off backwards. The lower arms, from the above-elbow joints downwards, then detach from the jacketed upper arms and go onto the bare upper arms; the articulation layout remains unchanged, though obviously the bare arms have a greater range of motion from the same joints. Losing the jacket makes the sternum joint more visible - though it's incorporated into the costume as a rigid seam, so it's not that big a drawback - and also reveals a nicely sculpted pair of shoulder blades, which isn't something a lot of figures bother with much. The bare shoulders, without the jacket vest's overhanging lip, don't hide their balljoints so well, but since there're those swivels beneath the biceps, you can tilt the upper arms towards the front (or whatever viewing angle you choose) to optimize her looks.

Wardrobe alterations aside, Motoko has two accessories, a handgun and an assault rifle with an optional silencer. Both guns are cast in matte black and subtly augmented with a deep blue-grey coat of paint on their casings - to the naked eye they look pretty much black all over, but the two-tone variation gives them a sense of solidity. The silencer for the rifle is a meaty piece of kit - you don't deaden the report of a fully automatic easily, after all - and fits snugly over the barrel tip. Motoko's apparently right-handed; with her jacket off, her arms have the range to hold the rifle two-handed.

She comes with a plain circular base in smoky grey transparent plastic, with a "VMF" logo cast into its underside and showing through the surface - it's for "Variable Motion Figure," which is evidently the moniker given to this style of action figure by whoever comes up with these things. The base has a single peg, fitting into either of the boot heels; the drawback is that it's not very big, and with the figure being fairly large, anything but a closed stance will have one foot off the edge. Luckily the double-ball ankle articulation makes it supremely easy to keep Motoko stable by herself, no matter what crazy pose you put her in.

You see various attempts to strike the aesthetics/articulation balance in action figures these days - DC Direct provides good-looking semi-poseable statues, Marvel Legends aims for the middle ground, SOTA's Street Fighter went for joints aplenty in the hope that quality sculpt and paint on the parts will outshine the obvious joints holding them together (until recently, anyway), and McFarlane mostly didn't realise there was a balance. Motoko here is your Concorde moment - this is a figure that makes you realise that all the other solutions are half-assing it, and that with nothing more radical than elegant design, you can have a figure that looks like a statue and moves like a breakdancer. She has shown us the way - and now, in all likelihood, everyone else will just say "Eh, too much effort," and keep on trucking as before.

-- 12/23/08

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