November 6, 2014

Purist Ramblings: Crappy Action Figures!

...Oh, you knew this one was coming!

Those who have been following my recent posts can tell l I've been going through something of an anti-articulation fit, as of late, even with some enthusiasm towards Rise of the Beasts, and maybe it's come to a head with the leaked releases in Mystical Warriors of the Ring: Evolution.  I've questioned the motivation behind exploring the limits with keshi, here and there, but I haven't really dived into it fully yet.  Let's change that.

So before I go into too much, I want to state a couple things first.  One:  Yes, I know there may be a bunch of double-standards and exceptions in parts of my explanations.  Two:  Yes, I am fully aware my opinions are unreasonable and are of the crazy minority.  Three:  Yes, I understand it's just toys and I should lighten up about it and stop being so strict with purist expectations.  I get all that.  I know I won't have a perfect argument, nor will it be sensible, but here it goes nevertheless.

It all starts and loops back here:  my thoughts of what keshi are, and rather, what keshi should aim to be.  These expectations, as warped and/or strict they may be, is what causes all this conflict in my head.

Keshi are one-inch to two-inch rubber figures, that originally found themselves in Japanese gumball machines.  They were single-mold figures, also called slugs, and unpainted.  You would every reason to believe this was to cut costs on a toy line with high production quantities, and because these inexpensive treats found so many hands, a cult following of collectors emerged and keshi slowly found themselves in collectable sets and promotionals.  People loved the small silly figures enough to still make them relevant collectables twenty-something years later.

But now it's twenty-something years later.  Could one argue that's enough time making keshi minifigures the same old traditional way?  One could make that point, and I'll be honest, it wouldn't be an invalid one.  I could see how tired and worn out some studios or artists are with binding their creativity and business model to the strict necessities of standard keshi.  Keshi collecting is niche market for sure, that's a fact.  When you create a line that is a throwback and a love letter to something so long ago, you might only be selling that product to people with ties to that history.  I understand that might be something of a silly business choice, if you're looking for a successful toy line.  It certainly would be smarter to broaden the demographic then to cater to a smaller niche market, but then, I would wonder, why involve keshi at all?

Keshi in no way is all that sophisticated.  Usually made with cheap rubber or rubber-like material, unpainted, and made generally with a price point of coins, these guys had so much more appeal than playability.  They were collectable items, maybe because they were so inexpensive.  It allowed you to gain pile of them with little investment, and that's fine.  Where keshi failed, other toys went.

In the 80's and 90's, there was an enormous action figure boom.  I'm sure I have to remind no one of all the awesome lines that came out then, between He-Man, TMNT, Ghostbusters, and millions of others, but these lines all evolved and moved away from what keshi was.  They were harder material, with moving pieces, and they were painted.  They were larger, with more detail, and they had just so much more playability.  They were great and there were so many beloved toy lines that came out then.  Even if I identify myself as a keshi collector, I still have my fair share of Ninja Turtles, Gundam, and Transformers.  Love them all, but for different reasons.

How I would judge a Transformer action figure is vastly different than how I'd judge a Transformer Decoy keshi, and rightfully so.  As a keshi lover, I could say it's not about the playability that makes a great keshi minifigure.  I would suggest it's judged upon how well is succeeds with how little options it has.  I would argue it's minimalism inside the toy world.  It's the sushi platter.  It's about perfecting the most basic form of toy design and manufacturing.  This is why I would consider it very much art.

Traditionally, keshi is single-mold, so this creates a challenge in sculpting.  You can't have certain poses or even certain dimensions, without heavily damaging your mold.  Traditionally, they are also unpainted and small, so some detail might not pop out as much as in other forms.  These are all enormous challenges for the teams behind these toys, but challenges I love seeing taken head-on and accomplished in brilliant form.  Creativity and ingenuity is a must.  The artist has to have the vision of their production, even before anything is sculpted.  There are a million easier ways to create a better-looking, more appealing, keshi-inspired minifigure, but you run the risk on no longer being keshi.  It's a trade-off between art and production, tradition and evolution, and sometimes I wonder if some artists get worn out or frustrated, and just burst out of the box instead of perfecting what's inside.

Glyos is amazing stuff.  For those who don't know, Glyos is a sci-fi toy line with keshi roots.  It's single-mold made, like keshi, but each piece is made individually with interlocking pegs.  The final result is a pseudo-keshi PVC figure, sometimes also unpainted, but with playability, articulation, and interchangeability.  I like Glyos stuff, but for me, in my twisted opinion, it stretches out a bit too far out for me.  I can see how inspired they were by old keshi toy lines and the production methods, but I suggest when you stretch far out of the category of keshi into something else, what is it?

Are you an action figure now?  I hope not, because action figures have a tremendous amount of joint articulation, superior paint applications, and much more, even with lower production costs.  Pulling out of keshi towards that may make your unpainted, slug-mold, abomination, just look like a crappy action figure.  If not action figure, then maybe a PVC statue, but just a little more customization and articulation?  If so, I wonder if the demographic that loves statues really care to have those features.

So here I believe it all lies, in this purgatory between toy designs and collectors.  It's neither this or that, and really no better than anything else in any category.  It's merely inspired by everything and has become some sort of mediocre mass of everything, with no particular strength other than inside itself in it's own category.

And really, to some effect, it's become that.  There are Glyos fans by the bunches that love the mixed inspiration.  They love to pull apart their figures and create their own from their minds, and that's just great.  I love seeing how excited they are in that sort of stuff, and they can really create some awesome stuff, but in the same breath, that's very much not the passion that's in keshi.  It's something else.

The first series of Mystical Warriors of the Ring was amazing.  I certainly don't have the sales numbers to say it was a smashing success or a complete flop, but I enjoyed them very much.  I can't say the team involved found a lot of trouble producing them the way they did, or was no happy with the final product.  All I know is how I feel about keshi, and if Evolution is the way of the future for Mystical Warriors of the Ring, like my views on Mutant Mania, I will watch it pass me by.  I'll be done collecting it.


  1. I sure wouldn't mind getting some Gylos stuff someday; I love their art direction and use of translucent colors! (The translucent green ones look so awesome!)

    ...But at the same time, I know I wouldn't mind having some translucent keshi of varying color! Keshi of video game characters sound amazing as well!

  2. I think you hit a few points really well. As an indie keshi sculptor the limitations of the standard molding and casting process are both fun and difficult at the same time. The normal size limitation poses the same challenges. For me i don't see articulation or a size increase as an evolution of keshi at all. It's not an improvement or even a change. It's simply a different kind of toy altogether. Which isn't a bad thing at all. I get the disappointment when you feel that a keshi type line might abandon that platform totally and become mini action figures instead. For a purist collector it could feel like the death of a toy line. While for an action figure collector it could feel like an all new line they enjoy. Luckily for us there will always be people who love and continue to create classic types of keshi figures. With so much history and nostalgia behind that kind of toy it won't ever die no matter how many people quit or move on to other things.

    1. Hey, thanks for visiting and reading my insane ramblings! I appreciate it a lot. I never expect to see anyone here but myself, so I hope you stop by again.