2011 In Review & My Five Favorite Figures of the Year

2011 has flown right by, and as usual, here is the wrapup for this past year. I’ll start off with my five favorite figures of the year and then talk a little bit about what some figure makers did in 2011.

#5. Sasara Kusugawa

Sasara Kusugawa from To Heart 2

Volks’s Moekore figures are hit-or-miss in my experience. Sasara, fortunately, is a fantastic figure, exuding confidence and sexiness in equal measure. Of all the To Heart 2 figures out there – and there’s a helluva lot of them – Sasara ranks as among the best, and given the price premium this figure is commanding on the secondary market, I’m surely not alone in that assessment.

#4. Lacia from BEATLESS

Lacia from BEATLESS

The newest figure in my collection, her inclusion in this list wasn’t certain until today but it was by no means a hasty decision. I’ve been looking forward to this figure since the sample reviews went online and it’s as good as I hoped it would be. Her outfit is tremendously appealing, particularly the high heels, which she makes look right despite how incongruous they ought to be, and I’ve also got this thing for purple hair.

#3. Saber Alter from Fate/stay night

Saber Alter from Fate/stay night

As good as Sasara is, I don’t think she’s even the best armored girl figure to be released this year. That honor goes to Good Smile Company’s Saber Alter, which forgoes Sasara’s leg-baring sexiness and replaces it with badass attitude. Is this the best Saber figure ever? I think it’s either this or Saber Lily; who you got?

#2. Rin Tohsaka from Fate/stay night

Rin Tohsaka from Fate/stay night

Collectors expressed doubts about Good Smile Company’s Rin Tohsaka – her shirt was too glossy, the eyes on her prototype were badly misaligned. However, in the end GSC came through and the final figure is absolutely beautiful. Her sculpt is stunning, her attitude is defiant, and the result is, I think, one of the best figures ever made. Any other year, I’d call it my favorite. But not this year.

#1. Dizzy from Guilty Gear X2

Dizzy from Guilty Gear X2

This one is a fairly obvious choice, though I did have to think about it for a little bit. Truthfully, if I had never played Guilty Gear, I might’ve picked Rin here instead. Objectively, I like the Rin figure a bit better; the sculpt is a bit more appealing and Rin’s size is much more attractive than Dizzy’s, who has one of the smallest 1/8 scale bodies Alter has sculpted. However, Dizzy is one of my favorite video game characters and that’s all the tilt that this decision requires. Dizzy is my favorite figure of this year. Looking forward to 2012, a Mu-12 figure would be pretty cool, wouldn’t it?

Overall, I think it’s been a great year for figure collectors. Last year, the list wasn’t too hard to put together – though in retrospect, I might’ve bumped Momohime off the list, added Sora Kasugano, and if I had received Kiriko Hattori earlier, that figure would’ve been #1. This year, I had to put some thought into the ranking and it was very difficult to leave off figures like Fate Testarossa, Junko Hattori, Chie, Matabei, and Triela.

Let’s take a look at what a few individual manufacturers did during this last year.

Alter

Alter is, by general consensus, the best manufacturer of scale-size anime figures, and they had a pretty good year. However, I can’t say I was as excited by their product range this past year as I have been in years prior. Consider the source breakdown of their 2011 lineup:

2011
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha – 4 figures (+2 re-releases, +1 limited edition)
Strike Witches – 3 figures
Bakemonogatari – 2 figures
A Certain Scientific Railgun – 2 figures (+2 re-releases)
K-On! – 2 figures (+2 re-releases)
Fate/stay night – 2 figures
Guilty Gear X2 – 1 figure (+1 re-release)
Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls – 0 figures (+2 limited edition)
Okami-san and her Seven Companions – 1 figure
Shining Wind – 1 figure
Working! – 1 figure
Yosuga no Sora – 1 figure

Here’s the thing: almost all of these properties have someone else making figures of those characters right now. Good Smile Company is making figures of the Bakemonogatari characters that are at least as good as Alter’s figures, and quite possibly superior. I get Kotobukiya’s Strike Witches figures confused with Alter’s all the time. Same with their casual clothes Nanoha figures. And the same with their Railgun figures. Wait; I take that back, I can remember the difference between the two Saten figures, because Alter’s Saten-san has a head shaped like a melon and Kotobukiya’s does not.

Compare that lineup to their product range from 2009:

2009
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha – 4 figures (+2 re-releases)
Tower of Druaga – 2 figures
Teppen Toppa Gurren Lagann – 2 figures
Zero no Tsukaima – 2 figures
Bamboo Blade – 1 figure
Beat Blades Haruka – 1 figure
Demonbane – 1 figure
Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls – 1 figure
Kara no Kyoukai – 1 figure
Makai Tenshi Djibril – 1 figure
Penguin Musume Heart – 1 figure
Persona 4 – 1 figure
Sengoku Rance – 1 figure
Xenosaga – 1 figure

You used to be able to count on Alter to produce figures from eroge, obscure shows, and other sources that you’d never heard of but recently, most of their figures come from very mainstream series. Houmei is possibly the least-known character they made a figure of last year, but every figure collector has heard of Shining Wind. Dizzy is possibly the least-known character they made a figure of but one can’t really call Guilty Gear an obscure series, being that it’s on a half-dozen platforms and is internationally renowned.

What’s Alter got on tap for next year? Another Nanoha figure, another Strike Witches figure, and another Samurai Girls figure, among other things. Hopefully they’ll mix things up and surprise us.

FREEing

FREEing has made a bunch of 1/4 scale figures in the past, mostly of Lucky Star characters, but they’ve recently released a number of 1/4 scale ero figures, including a couple from Freezing (Satellizer review is pending here) and two figures of Shiratori Amane (review also pending here). That’s a great trend and I hope they keep it up – but I also hope that they make some of those Freezing figures stand up rather than lie down, because I’ve got no shelf space available for Satellizer, let alone the entire West Genetics student body.

Good Smile Company

What a difference a year makes. In 2010, I bought only one Good Smile Company figure – the Animation Version of Black Rock Shooter – and immediately regretted it because her price plummeted to 2,500 yen a few weeks after she was released. And then there was that problem with the star … which I still haven’t placed on her ass, by the way. But they’ve had a great 2011. Their Fate/stay night figures are amazing, Junko Hattori is, in my view, the best Queen’s Gate figure, and Triela and Nadeko Sengoku are also superb. They’ve also reached out to the international community, offering an English version of their company blog and taking overseas orders in their store. Maybe the biggest dud in their catalog are the actsta figures, which are rather undersized and hugely overpriced for what you get, particularly given that you can get a Figma for about a third of the price. Oh wait, there was one other dud, a most mysterious one that still demands clarification:

What the shizzle? And yes, that is an actual tweet from the Doggfather hisself. So what’s that about? Where’s my 1/8 scale Snoop Dogg figure? Lacia needs an owner, you know.

Kotobukiya

Kotobukiya is perhaps the most consistent of all figure makers in that their stuff usually isn’t terrible and it usually isn’t outstanding. A curious thing is how similar their product lineups are to a couple of other manufacturers: Alter does Nanoha figures in casual wear, Kotobukiya does figures in casual wear. Max Factory does figures of Shining Wind characters in swimsuits, Kotobukiya does figures of Shining Wind characters in swimsuits. They pretty much did what they’ve always done: pump out nice but not particularly ambitious figures of popular characters.

A second interesting trend is how hard they’re pushing their Bishoujo line. They must be pretty good sellers for them but personally, I think I like Yamashita’s artwork more than the figures themselves. On that note, one wonders if they’re monopolizing all his time or something, since it seems like they’re the only ones making figures based on his artwork now.

Orchid Seed

Every Wonder Festival, Orchid Seed shows up with a bunch of artwork showing off what they plan to make figures of. We’re still waiting on a lot of those. They had a really quiet year; Super Sonico was nice and Eleanor Mercer was very cute, but lately, they’ve been scheduling recolored versions of older figures. One wonders if effects from the calamitous earthquake or some other problem is disrupting things over there. It seems like we’ve been seeing that figure of Ignis in the wedding dress with the bouquet-hilted sword forever, and I’m still hoping they’ll make that dark elf figure from Lineage II.

Yamato

Perhaps the most eclectic manufacturer in the hobby, Yamato’s catalog is more diverse than the We Are The World rehearsal and less consistent than Tim Tebow. They’ve got mecha toys, including some of the best Macross Valkyrie toys out there. They’ve got big-ass vmf50 dolls, of which I’m a big fan. They’ve got PVC anime figures of wildly varying quality and polystone figures based on Western fantasy art, also of wildly varying quality. They’re bringing back 1/7 or 1/8 scale poseable figures. I think I have more affection for Yamato than most collectors, but I didn’t buy many of their figures. I did get Heat Blade, which was finally released after a very lengthy delay. I also got Yukihime, whose review is still pending. Most of the Yamato stuff I got was vmf50 clothing. And although it’s not a Yamato product, this is a good time to bring up the tentacle stand again, just because it’s that awesome.

That’s that for 2011. Happy new year everyone. Next review goes up in a few days but for now, here’s some bonus pictures for the photographers out there.

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17 Responses to 2011 In Review & My Five Favorite Figures of the Year

  1. Wieselhead says:

    Sasara Kusugawa would be my number one from your top five and Saber Alter would be second, even though I didn’t bought any of them ^^.

    This year I didn’t bought many popular figures, my purchases of new figures this year were more or less divided equably on the different companies, I bought 4 from Max Factory, 4 from Orchid Seed, 2 from Kotobukiya, 2 from Alter and 1 from GSC the rest were from different companies.

    I agree that Alter should get more creative again with their choice of characters, Dizzy was a pretty figure of them this year, but I can’t remember much more outstanding from them.
    Well, their Black Haneka figure was quite appealing.

    And Orchid Seed could be a bit faster with releasing their products, I just payed more attention to them in this year, so I don’t know if they were faster in the past, aside from that I found a big liking to their figures ;)

    Happy New Year, thx for all the interesting reviews and inspirering photography of yours in 2011.
    keep up the good work, Im looking forward to your Lacia figure.

    • Tier says:

      Looking back, I got seven Good Smile Company figures last year, which surprises me because I’d only bought one of their figures in 2010. What’s even more surprising to me is that all of them are amazing figures – Lacia, Saber Alter, Rin, Strength, Nadeko, Triela, and Junko Hattori are all great. I got six Alter figures but of those, I really like Dizzy and Matabei, but the other four are pretty good but not jaw-dropping amazing. That’s sort of the reverse of what I expect because in the past, Alter has made a lot of figures that appeal to me while GSC … well, not so much so. Truthfully, last year I was kinda wondering whether GSC would scale back their scale-size stuff to concentrate on nendoroids but thankfully, they did not.

      Happy new year to you too! I’m really hoping to write more posts on the photographic side of things this year but first, Lacia needs a review. And so does Amane.

  2. Adam says:

    I would swap the ordering of Rin and Dizzy, but otherwise they’re my top two as well.

    Regarding Guilty Gear, I think it’s still a pretty niche series. It seems like my friends, most of whom are admittedly not hardcore gamers, were all familiar with the Street Fighter games whereas none of them seemed to know what Guilty Gear was when I tried to explain the significance of BlazBlue. And if you look at the tournament scene like Evo, it seems like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue are always a side show rather than the main event. A Mu-12 figure would probably be pretty sweet, but I’m partial to Nu-13 myself, having played only the first BlazBlue game.

    No mention of Max Factory? I know they’re pretty focused on figmas these days rather than scale figures, but I still consider them one of the major players.

    • Tier says:

      I think that if I knew nothing about either character, I’d swap those two as well. Rin’s a lot bigger and I think the pose is a lot better. Dizzy gets the nod mainly because she’s one of my favorite video game characters … though I did like Rin in Fate/extra which, oddly, is the most exposure I’ve had to her character, being that I don’t remember her at all from the Fate/stay night anime.

      Yeah, I’d agree with that. I remember chatting with one of the employees at the local Gamestop when I was in school and he started talking about Heavy Gear, which confused me till I realized he meant Guilty Gear but was getting the names mixed up. It definitely doesn’t have the stature of Marvel vs Capcom 2 or SF4 or, uhh, Super Smash Brothers. Maybe not even Third Strike. I have the sense that GGX and BlazBlue mainly appeal to players who are both anime and fighting game fans, versus something like SF4 or Mortal Kombat or even Tekken. A couple of friends from college weren’t big anime watchers but they enjoyed playing Tekken Tag Tournament.

      I thought about including Max Factory but I didn’t have much to say about them. I wrote about Miku Append not too long ago so I didn’t want to write more about that figure, and they had a bunch of K-On! and Shining Wind stuff that I’m not too interested in. However, I did look back at their product catalog and it’s odd to see how eclectic their character selections were. One of my very first anime figures was their 1/6 scale Kasumi, and one of the figures I regret not ordering was their Fasalina. I also really like their Eukanalia figure. Their history makes for an odd contrast with their Figma stuff, which seems to focus on characters from very popular series or properties.

  3. nagisa says:

    As I can see, figure makers are continously pumping out great stuff, which will be contunued this year. Figure collecting has become more and more mainstream these days, and the quality is getting better. The competition for our wallets will be intense. I bet there would be many surprises for them, so I am looking forward to it (Including your first review for 2012).

    • Tier says:

      It’s definitely heartening to see how strongly the collecting hobby has progressed. Back when I was started collecting figures, the selection was considerably more limited and the quality was quite a bit worse. Nowadays, you can get some really amazing figures that nobody could have dreamed about just five years ago. The only thing I can really complain about is how much worse the exchange rate is compared to back then; I really miss the days when you could get 100 yen for a dollar.

  4. Great idea for a post; I might do the same thing with my blog, only with those tiny chibi figures you dislike so much.

    I’ve also been waiting for word of a Snoop Dogg figure and often wonder what props he would have. Some gin and juice and a blunt? A part of me still can’t believe GSC would do this, but then I remember that this same company made Billy Herrington figmas …

    Anyway, I really enjoy your posts, and in addition to your always fantastic photos, I appreciate your clear, uncluttered writing as an editor. I look forward to what you do in 2012.

    • Tier says:

      A good plan, nendoroids deserve love too. They just won’t get none here … but don’t tell anybody, but I was seriously thinking about getting those Queen’s Gate Spiral Chaos Puchitto figures because they’re all characters that I like. They’re really expensive, though, and I feel like if I bought those, I’d have to question everything I think I know about myself.

      That’d be awesome, some Phillies, a Glock … how about a lowrider Impala? Didn’t they make some Figma-sized bicycles? If they can make a bike accessory, I think they can make a car. Man, Snoop Dogg figma in a lifted ’64, with a Lacia figma (if they make one) riding shotgun. And Miku Append lying in the backseat. It’d be awesome.

      Thanks for the kind words! And thanks for visiting XD

  5. Devastator001 says:

    Kotobukiya is definitely improving their sculpts lately and that’s a good thing. Also for Orchid Seed definitely been waiting on the the release date for Ignis of the the Endless winter Fig ^_^. Also would love to see a proto of the dark elf fig in the next wonderfest (I hope… )

    • Tier says:

      That’s one I’ve been waiting for, too. It seems like we’ve been seeing it for a while; hopefully they’ll put it up for preorder soon. The dark elf one is one that I really would like to see; GSC’s dark elf female figure is one of my favorites but I’d like to see a figure with blue skin like the dark elves in Lineage II have.

  6. Asa says:

    I have Rin and Dizzy, and generally agree with your assessment. However I’ve never played Guilty Gear but she is still my favourite Alter figure of the year. Granted, she’s only the third Alter figure I have, but I still follow Alter’s work and I find Dizzy to be a stunning piece.

    As for manufacturers, I have to say I grow increasingly disappointed with GSC. Way too much focus on nendos and figmas. I want more scale figures. I have absolutely no interest in figmas, and only a passing (regretful) interest in nendos, but the majority of their work is on these now. They still do beautiful scale work, of course, but it seems they’re doing a lot less of it now. At least from following Mikatan, anyway. The vast majority of previews are for things I have zero interest in.

    It was, overall, a good year indeed. I spent >$6500 (¥516,551 pre shipping, as I note list price not final invoice) on figures and had to spend nearly $1000 on a new display case to house them. Which will very soon be full, so I need another already. Woe is me.

    I hope you continue to do wonderful reviews, and shoot breakdowns, and random thoughts and opinion pieces you ran through 2011. It’s been a pleasure reading these, and it was, in fact, your Dizzy photos that brought me here. Our shared #1 figure. :D

    • Tier says:

      Yeah, Figmas and nendoroids aren’t really my thing (nendoroids moreso), but I liked a lot of the stuff they released in 2011. I thought Max Factory didn’t release as many products that appealed to me as they have in the past, which is sort of a shame because when I started collecting, they made some really outstanding figures, including a bunch that I regret not buying, like Fasalina, I-no, Kotona Elegance, and the gekisou version of Haruhi Suzumiya.

      Space is always truly a huge problem. I’ve got this 1/4 scale figure of Shiratori Amane that’s in the mail and I am not quite certain where to put her, since my shelves aren’t large enough to accommodate a figure of that size.

      That is the plan! Thanks for visiting and commenting XD I’m hoping to write more stuff on the photography side of things since, curiously, although there is a huge community of figure photographers out there, there’s not a lot of discussion about figure photography.

  7. You know? 2011 was one of those years which just trucked along, though I personally felt that it took its sweet time. 2010 flew past though!

    I’d probably put Rin first on my list but I’m not a Dizzy guy. Jam was always my preferred character in GG. Saber Alter is pretty nice but isn’t it just a modified sculpt of their regular Saber?
    And I’d say that your critique in Alter is kinda harsh. They have diversified a fair bit this year with their Altair and AlMecha lines. OK, the male characters get zero interest from us and the Almecha lines would be fantastic if they weren’t so damn expensive but they have tried!
    They’re still my fave figure company and I’d rate them higher than GSC when I compare their figures together. GSC figures seem a little more flat to me. Their Strike Witches figures are definitely better than the others, esp when it comes to dynamic poses, and this comes from a guy who doesn’t even like strike bitches! The top 20 best selling GSC figures list makes for depressing reading. You have to go down to #13 before you get to an actual figure! The rest are just nendos and figmas…

    I just want Volks to do another great 1/4 scale GK. When was their Saber Lily released again? Oh and the Noel Vermillion release better not suck!!

    • Tier says:

      Nah, their regular Saber had her jumping up in the air swinging her sword like a lumberjack axe. I liked it but from what I saw, her mouth was partially covered up from some viewing angles and I didn’t like that much. Still kinda regret not picking it up when it was dirt-cheap, though.

      I’ll give them that, but I don’t think that affects my contention that they’re looking primarily at mainstream sources for figures, particularly sources that other companies are also making figures of. I’m interested in diversity in the product selection that I’m interested in – which is female PVC figures – not their product range outside of that. They could start making Gundam toys or Ninja Turtles or tentacle stands and I don’t think that would be relevant to my argument. They’re still my favorite figure maker, though. I’ve picked an Alter figure as my favorite figure each year that this site has existed (and if I’d started this site in 2008, T-elos might’ve won in that year, too).

      Yeah, I looked at GSC’s sales list and I was very disappointed with how slanted it is towards nendoroids and figmas, though I’m sure the lower prices have something to do with that. At least they don’t seem to compromising their scaled-size PVC figure production.

      Man, it’s been a while since Volks has done a 1/4 scale kit, hasn’t it? I got the feeling that they’re mostly concentrating on, uhh, helping people ascend to parenthood. If someone thinks about buying one of their dolls and decides not to, would you call that an abortion?

      • Meh, Alter are pretty much falling into the same trap as GSC and the other big figure makers. Afterall, their figure ranges are limited by the current state of the anime market. And with the anime market still stuck in “moeblob” fandom mode, they can’t diversify into more obscure series in case they don’t sell. One gets the feeling that Alter would be hit hard at the margins if the choose the “wrong” series to back while GSC always has the BRS line to fall back on. Figures are now “serious business” so risks from most companies are very few and far between. Alter could probably take more risks if they made their figure less dynamic and easier to produce, but then, they wouldn’t be alter!!

        Koto are relying heavily on their bishoujo line and selling them to the west and Orchid Seed have a niche completely to themselves.with their eromanga figures. But the whole nendo and figma thing really does depress me when I look at them. Some have no right to exist!!

  8. Phil says:

    I’m glad Rin finished near the top. Due to your pics, she is sitting on my desk now, and Triela is on the way right now! I am glad GSC is getting their act together, it forces Alter to keep on the ball. I see it this way…..Alter is consistently good, but GSC drops bigger bombs, though infrequently.

    I still am trudging my way through the anime, for me, the original visual novel is much more compelling. I already finished the Fate route and deep into UBW.

    • Tier says:

      Rin’s a great figure, and now I’m kinda wondering if she should’ve been #1. This second-guessing may be influenced by the fact that she’s up on a higher shelf, where I can look up her skirt.

      I gave up on the anime after like the tenth episode or so, and hardly remember any of it. I’m enjoying Fate/zero a lot more, more so since there isn’t anybody as moronic as Shirou in it.

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