27 Sep 2014

Finally some Enterbay NBA figures!!

When Enterbay first announced that they were releasing 1/6th scale Michael Jordan figures, I was so excited! I've been a Jordan fan for many years now, and watched the Bulls throughout the 1990s. But once the figures were released, there were many QC issues reported, and that scared me off for over a year on these figures.

But then recently they announced that they were also releasing Dennis Rodman, with a teaser for Scottie Pippen too! So the chance to own figures of my favourite NBA trio of all time was finally too much for me to resist.

So looking at their latest figures, I found that Enterbay had only just released the Michael Jordan "The Last Shot" version (quite a few other versions had come before it), which tied in nicely with the Dennis Rodman release in terms of box design and also NBA finals singlets. So I ordered both and overall, and pretty impressed with Enterbay's effort in these figures!

For a few photos, continue reading down the article. For video reviews, follow the links below!

Click the link below to see my full review of the Michael Jordan "The Last Shot" figure!



Click the link below to see my full review of the Dennis Rodman figure!



The packaging art for these two are actually really nice. Simple, yet elegant and classy. The Jordan box actually has an almost leather/rubber feel to it, with faux leather numbering of the "23". The Rodman box instead has a smooth glossier finish, but with a furry texture to the "91" numbering.

Either way, the general look is consistent, and I love the signatures and overall collector grade classiness of them.



The box layout design is also the same for both, with one side being the clamshell holding the accessories and the other being the foam casing holding the figure itself.

The best accessory in the Jordan set goes to the replica championship ring, which has a nice heft and shine to it.


The Rodman accessories are all pretty standard stuff, but the addition of the alternate white jersey is nice if you manage to get a second body.

One thing though. The foam cutout for the figure is I believe the same as the Jordan figure. However, the figure itself is slightly taller since Rodman is indeed taller than Jordan. But since the foam cutout is Jordan's size, the packing of Rodman was a little creative in the ankles area.

So creative in fact I thought the ankles were actually broken when I first looked at it! Thankfully the shoes were just rotated at an awkward angle and there was no breakage!


One thing Enterbay has mostly had great reviews about is in their head sculpts. I've heard quite a few bad things about the bodies that they make, but the head sculpts and facial paint apps are almost universally admired.

And after seeing the Jordan and Rodman head sculpts up close, I'd have to agree! They are definitely very close to Hot Toys quality, and certainly better than the sculpting and paint application on many Sideshow figures I've seen.


It's a shame the Jordan set only comes with the open mouth look and not the normal stoic face from previous releases. So I've already ordered one of the previous figures that was on sale at BBTS that has the regular head sculpt.

Luckily the Rodman figure comes with two head sculpts, one almost mean-looking and the other smirking. I haven't quite decided which one to use yet, but may actually go with the smirking head sculpt because Rodman was always a little weird :)



So overall, I'm pretty happy with the figures. Check out the video reviews linked at the top of the article for all my detailed thoughts. There's a closer look at the figures and some of the issues that I had too, so definitely have a look :)

For now, I'm definitely looking forward to getting Pippen and completing this legendary basketball trio.



19 Sep 2014

FINALLY!!! Sideshow opens preorder for Biker Scout and Speeder Bike!

There's nothing I love more than the release of an awesome classic original Star Wars trilogy figure. We've waited a long time for Sideshow to release another classic trooper from the trilogy, and the Biker Scout was always high on the list.

And today Sideshow has made the wait well worth it with the opening of preorders for the new Biker Scout and Speeder Bike 1/6th scale collectibles (click the links to head over to Sideshow and order)!

I still miss a classic Stormtrooper in my collection, but have the previous Sandtrooper Deluxe and Snowtrooper Exclusive figures. So the Biker Scout was definitely one that I needed in the collection to get some more OT trooper goodness in my display room! And just look how awesome the Biker Scout turned out!




Absolutely love the fabric detailing in the torso area here. This area has always looked a little off in the smaller 3.75" scale, but now in this 1/6th scale, it just looks incredible!




Speaking of detail, just love the weathering in the boots. If they can maintain that level of realism in the final production paint app, I'll be well pleased! Also loving the articulation on the figure too, where it can manage the kneeling position and also ride the Speeder Bike of course.




Sideshow appears to have announced a new concept with their figures stands in this "Scene Stealer" base accessory. I always wanted them to add some feature to the base, similar to the sand and snow texture they used for the Sandtrooper and Snowtrooper. I initially just thought they'd go with some basic grass/foliage cover for the base of the Scout Trooper, but what they have here in the little bits of rock and tree trunk etc looks fantastic!




As with most Sideshow figures these days, the Biker Scout also comes with an exclusive version accessory. This time it's an additional long rifle, much like how they included a long rifle for the Snowtrooper. Always a nice touch these little extras :)




Of course the Biker Scout would not be complete without a trusty Speeder Bike, and Sideshow delivers on that too! As with the trooper, the bike also comes with an exclusive version accessory in the plaque that has details of the bike design. Another nice little touch to go with the bike.




The detail from all angles of the bike look pretty damn awesome as well. The weathering doesn't seem overly applied, and in fact could do with a bit more, but overall it looks nicely worn in.




Loving the detailing in the console and handle bars too. Hopefully these handle bars don't suffer the same ridiculous bending of soft plastic like its smaller Hasbro brethren.




The pistons and connection components all look really nicely designed and detailed. Looks to be nicely applied weathering where appropriate too on most surfaces and edges, so hopefully that carries through to the final production version.




I especially love the mechanical details on the underside of the bike. It all just looks beautiful and will make for the perfect companion piece to the Biker Scout.






So with this announcement, I'm hoping it won't be too much longer until Sideshow open up the preorders for the other classic trilogy characters that they teased at this year's San Diego Comic Con. These include the TIE Pilot, Pilot Luke, and Threepio. I'll definitely be adding all of them to my collection.

It's just a shame there's such a long wait until actual release in July 2015 for the Biker Scout and Speeder Bike set, but I'm sure the wait will be worth it. If you're looking at getting both, make sure to click the option on the Sideshow website to order the bundle, which will give you a $25 discount. My preorder is in already :)


2 Sep 2014

The Big Debate - "Originals vs Recasts (Knock-Offs)" Part Two

OK, so in The Big Debate - Part One, I gave my thoughts around official licensing from big toy manufacturers, recasts/knock-offs of those original releases, and my take on exclusivity and elitism relating to all that. In summary, I do not support the making and selling of recasts or knock-off versions of officially released collectibles, no matter the type.

But the recent debates haven't really focused on the official licensing side of things. In fact, the most passionate arguments have centred around recasts and knock-offs of custom head sculpts created by small, niche artists that generally deal with source material not being tackled by the larger official toy manufacturers.

So why is this seemingly minor difference creating such a storm and heated debate? Hope you can stick around and read more of my thoughts and opinions on this below :)

What is a knock-off?
I want to first cover off something fundamental that generates debate in itself, and that's the very definition of what is a knock-off! I thought it was fairly clear, but many people seem to interpret it differently.

For me, a knock-off is something that is created as an exact copy or replica of a unique design. For example, if I were to take a collectible, cover it in plaster to create a mold from which I could create copies of that collectible, then I would be creating a knock-off. If I were to take some 3D design file of a collectible and use some sophisticated 3D printing machine to make a mold or sculpt from that design file, I would also be making a knock-off. Essentially, anything that is taking and replicating a unique design is a knock-off.

But then there are other people who believe that a knock-off includes non-official, unlicensed collectibles. So they believe that custom sculpts or 3rd party figures that are not licensed and don't bear official names, are also knock-offs, even if they are uniquely designed.

That is where I disagree, and this is perhaps where the grey area comes into this whole argument. For the latter viewpoint, unlicensed and custom sculpts are knock-offs because the artist/designer has not paid for the rights to create and sell collectibles based on that source material. But to me, even if the collectible is unlicensed, it is not a recast/knock-off if it is a unique design and not something copied. In my eyes, you can't create a knock-off of an actual human being playing a character in a movie!

Perhaps it is true that these customisers and 3rd party companies are doing something illegal in selling unlicensed figures. And perhaps it is hypocritical of me say that I don't support knock-offs on one hand, but also say that I support the creation of unlicensed collectibles. But in the end, it all comes down to who is using their skill, creativity, and artistry to create something. To me, a customiser who can create and sell an awesome representation of a character is better than someone who simply recasts a product that someone else created.

Third Party Companies
As I mention above, third party companies (ie. unlicensed/unofficial companies) might well be doing something illegal in creating unique designs of collectibles. But if it were truly illegal, then I'm confused as to how so many of them are able to get away with it, and actually have their products sold by major retailers.

The biggest and most obvious example of these third party companies relate to Transformers figures. The official manufacturer, Takara, will never get around to producing all the sought after characters, and so these third party companies come in and design their own unique figures based on those iconic characters.

In many instances, the level of intricate design, engineering, and production quality rivals (if not exceeds) that of official Takara products. The Fans Toys Quakewave figure is a perfect example, with many collectors acknowledging that their interpretation of Shockwave is every bit the masterpiece like others in the official line. Other unofficial figures that have been well received include Citizen Stack (aka Ultra Magnus) and Scoria (Slag) that have filled the gap left by Takara.

There is no way that I consider those figures to be knock-offs, because the company went through the exact same workflow as other official manufacturers to design, engineering, produce, and distribute that unique figure. Their own artists created unique designs, not copies of someone else's design. They are every bit as talented as the official company!

Is what they are doing illegal? If so, there must be some licensing loophole specific to Transformers that allows them to continue to produce these items, and have them sold by some of the biggest and most reputable retailers around the world! Everyone knows they are not official, as they don't bear the Transformers symbols or official names, but yet they are widely accepted.

I would love to hear from any readers if you know of any other examples in the toy industry where third party companies seem to be free to create unique designs. Again for me, I admire these companies because they are talented, and using their creativity to fill a gap in the official line for figures that they know collectors want.

Customs
Aside from larger third party companies, there are the customisers in the community who also are able to fill the gaps in collections by creating beautiful unique sculpts and figures of characters not tackled by official companies. In fact, some also create unique sculpts and figures of characters that have been officially released, but they had the talent to do better!

A perfect example of this is Kato, a now well-known custom designer of 1/6th scale clothing. I think Kato's story with his Joker suit is the perfect Hollywood styled, dream come true tale. He essentially lived the dream of many talented customisers, who through their exceptional talent was able to be noticed by the "big players" and invited to contribute officially through a major collectibles manufacturer.

When he first designed and made his Dark Knight Joker suit, it was by far the best tailored suit in that scale. That level of skill is always going to be noticed by collectors who want the best representation possible for their favourite characters. He probably posted photos and was approached by keen collectors willing to buy the custom suits, or maybe he was even business savvy enough to know he had a great product and was able to market it himself.

I'm not sure how many suits he made, but if he commanded a price and collectors were willing to pay it, then to me that's great for him. I am sure he probably spent many hours designing it, cutting the material, redesigning it, making minute adjustments to make perhaps the perfect 1/6th scale suit. That takes time, passion, skill, and lots of creativity, and it shows in the final product that he sold to collectors.

His product was so good that Hot Toys took notice, or perhaps he was savvy enough to approach Hot Toys themselves to show them his skill. Again that is great for him, and it was his creativity and skill that got him into that position, not the cheap way out of copying someone else's product.

Eventually, he collaborated with Hot Toys so that they could mass produce his Joker suit design for their DX11 Joker 2.0 figure. He advised them production team on how to replicate his suit for mass production - he did make them himself like he did with his original suits. So you can clearly see differences in his original, personally hand-made suits and those that were produced by Hot Toys based on his design.

So in the end, those collectors that bought his original customs still have the best representation of the Joker suit around. And those collectors that were happy enough with the DX11 Joker still got a great suit too. I do not think that the release of the DX11 diminishes anything from those collectors who were passionate and lucky enough to pay for hand-made customs from Kato that are better than the mass-produced suit.

Kato's story is a feel-good story on all fronts! He used his creative skills to influence a major player in the collecting community, and was able to cater for both the niche custom collector and the mainstream everyday collector.

There are other customisers who deal mainly with head sculpts or full figures, and their talent is no less amazing than Kato's. The fact that they can sell their unique designs to collectors for quite high prices is due to their own creativity and artistic skills. They are not copying or leveraging off the hard work of someone else's product. In my eyes, they are not creating knock-offs.

But if a collector, recaster, or knock-off maker takes their unique sculpt and makes a replica that they can sell at a cheaper price, then they are indeed creating a rip-off product, regardless of the fact the original item is not officially licensed! Again they are stealing someone else's unique design and I just cannot support that. In my eyes, that is no different to recasting an official product, and disrespects the hard work and creativity of the original artist.

Summary
So after all that rather long-winded rambling above, what else can I say? For me, the values that I hold highest are those that relate to the skill, talent, passion, and creativity of original artists and designers that can create these incredible collectibles. At the end of it, it really doesn't matter to me that the products are officially licensed or not. If they are unique designs, then I admire the art behind that.

What I do not support is the stealing of those designs to make a cheaper replica. These knock-offs just feel wrong to me, because the people behind these versions don't have the skill and creativity to design and make their own unique item, and therefore resort to stealing from others.

As I mentioned in Part One, this whole issue with knock-offs has been around for decades, and will continue for decades to come. It is really up to each individual collector and their own values to decide how they want to collect, and what they support. It's certainly not a black and white issue like many on either side of the debate believe it is. I'm not going to judge anyone by which side of the fence they stand on this issue. But at least people know where I stand, and can respect that too.

Thanks again for reading, and I hope you've enjoyed it. I'm open to all viewpoints, so comment and let me know your thoughts too :)

1 Sep 2014

The Big Debate - "Originals vs Recasts (Knock-Offs)" Part One

Recently there has been some interesting, animated, and sometimes heated debate on an issue that has been around for decades, and not just in the toys/collectibles industry. At its roots, the topic revolves around essentially the theft of someone's original work. In the music and movie business, this concept has been around for years with pirated CDs, DVDs, and blu-rays, and then of course the many torrent and illegal download sites.

In the toy industry, the concept has been around for decades too, with knock-off versions of original toys seemingly up for sale whilst the (usually more expensive) originals are still on the shelves! With official toy manufacturers like Hasbro, Mattel, NECA, and now even Hot Toys, it's pretty clear where things lie when fake copies are made of these figures, at least for me. Right up front, I'll say that I do not support fake copies (aka knock-offs) of genuine figures (my reasons will be explained below).

But the recent debates in the collecting community seem to be focused not so much on whether people support knock-offs of officially licensed figures, but also knock-offs of custom figures made by customisers who create their own unique molds. This is where things certainly get a little grey, a little contentious, and bring up all sorts of issues that speak to the heart of collectors around the world (and thus generates the kind of passionate debate that has been going around recently).

I've been involved in some debates in collecting groups on Facebook, and also some animated discussions in recent Google hangouts with collectors around the world. I've learnt things from both sides of the argument, and can certainly see the viewpoints of both sides. So I just wanted to write down here in this article my own thoughts and opinions on the various key parts of the debate. Hope you can stay around to read through the rest :)


Official licenses
OK, so let's start with what I think is the easy part of the debate. When toy manufacturers including the likes of Hasbro, Mattel, Takara, and Hot Toys make figures, they do so officially through properly obtained licenses and agreements with the holder of the intellectual property (IP). For example, Hasbro has license agreements with Lucasfilm for Star Wars figures, and Hot Toys has agreements in place with Marvel for all of their Marvel related figures.

The licensing fees associated with these properties are quite substantial (that's how George Lucas became a billionaire!). Even in the case of Takara, they themselves are the holder of the IP and own the rights to the Transformers (with a close relationship with Hasbro). But essentially, these toy manufacturers either own or have paid for the right to produce these official toys.

In addition to that, these toy manufacturers employ designers to go through the full design process of making toys, from initial sketches, engineering, prototype molds and materials, paint application, final manufacture, and distribution/marketing. That whole workflow costs a lot of money for any organisation, and so the companies set the figure price points such that they can recoup that investment and actually turn a significant profit for their shareholders! Of course it's also based on what the market itself can handle, and companies are always pushing the limits on price to find that fine balance between cost and sales with the number of figures they need to make.

Once the figures are released (or even before!), into the midst comes a recaster/knock-off maker that takes that original design, makes a copy of it, and then sells the replica at a fraction of the price. To me, it is pretty obvious that this is clearly theft of someone else's design, for which the original manufacturer has no benefit. In fact, in many cases the original manufacturer may be adversely affected if many people decide to buy the knock-off instead of the original.

I will never support the purchasing of knock-off versions of official figures. I work in an industry that engineers products, and a lot of resources are used to protect intellectual property, ownership, and fighting against copies and duplication of designs. So perhaps that's why I lean towards always buying official products even if there is a much cheaper recasted/knock-off version.


Exclusivity
Some throw into this argument the exclusivity of collectibles. If a manufacturer releases an official item, but only makes 300 of them, is it OK for people to buy a recast of that item at a cheaper price? I don't think that is OK either, and wouldn't support that. There are many collectibles out there that have been released in limited numbers in the past that I can no longer obtain (at least at reasonable prices anyway). If a recast of that item was to become available, I still would not get it, as that concept just seems wrong to me. For me, that is buying something that is clearly stolen from something else.

I understand that it takes a lot of skill, time, and money to run a recast/knock-off production chain. These recasting operations cater for those collectors that perhaps can't afford or can't obtain limited items that they really want. But in the end to me it's about the creative person or manufacturer that matters. Who was it that put in the time, effort, and artistic skill to generate the item in the first place? That is who I should reward with my money, not the person who manages to make a copy of it that can obviously be sold for a fraction of the price (all the creative hard work was done for them!)

Some collectors go on to say that manufacturers should make their items more available to stop recasts/knock-offs. To me, I don't see how that can be a feasible solution either. Toy makers determine how many figures they need to make and sell in order to generate a decent profit. As they're making that figure, at the same time they are already investing money designing the next figure, which will ultimately use the same factory and resources. So a company cannot simply just keep pumping out the same figure until every collector is able to get their hands on one! Finding that balance between supply and demand is always difficult, with so many figures selling out, and then so many figures also peg-warming too!

The best manufacturers will usually announce the edition size of items well in advance of preorders, so that collectors can be prepared when the listing goes up. I stayed up all night to secure one of 300 Pop Culture Shock exclusive statues recently that sold out in 10 minutes. What annoyed me most was that instantly after the preorder sold out, there were already listings on ebay for the statue at well inflated prices. I would've preferred that real collectors who actually wanted the item got it, instead of scalpers.

If I had missed out on the exclusive, I would've been upset for sure. But then I would simply be content with getting the regular version, which has a much larger edition size. We can't have it all, and never will. I've missed out on some beautiful items, but managed to get others. In some way, it's almost part of the fun (my heart has never beaten so fast in my time collecting than during that 10 minute preorder period!)

In the end, I understand why manufacturers put limits on their figure sizes, and I accept that I will sometimes miss out on items that I really want. But I would still not support a recast of an exclusive item just so I could get a copy of it at a cheaper price. That just seems like a cop out.


Elitism
Some also say my point of view above is elitist, but I don't think it has anything to do with elitism. To me, someone is being elitist when they look down condescendingly on someone else's collection based purely on criteria like scale/size, value, or source material.

I've posted in forums about my small Kotobukiya statues, only for those that collect 1/4 scale statues to state how lowly my collection is compared to theirs. That is elitism.

I've posted in forums about my 6" figures, only for those that collect 1/6th scale or 1/4 scale figures to comment on how shit my figures look compared to theirs. That is elitism.

But being against the recasting of limited collectibles so that the masses can obtain copies is not about elitism. I don't think those collectors that have items I want are any better than I, it's just they were lucky enough to obtain them when they were available!

For me it's about respecting the original artist or designer that put their creative efforts into making something collectible, something we want. I think buying a recast/knock-off disrespects that, and means you support the stealing of someone else's hard work to get an item cheaper.

In the end, people will buy what they want to buy, and there's obviously a market for these recasts/knock-offs. But for me, it just feels wrong.


Up next - Part Two!
I think my thoughts above cover the easiest part of this debate. For me, I do not support recasts/knock-offs of officially licensed products. In part two, I'll get into the grey area that has generated perhaps the most discussion - is there a difference to the argument if the original item is not officially licensed? How should we treat customisers and 3rd party companies?

Hope you can stay tuned for my thoughts tomorrow! :)