Thursday, May 14, 2015

[DC011] Sci-Fi Revoltech Series No. 010 Woody: Plastic Databases

Previous: [DC010] Pixar's Woody: Normativity in Toy Story

                Sci-Fi Revoltech Series No. 010 Woody (“Revoltech Woody”) was released for sale in Japan in July of 2010 as part of a series of Revoltech figures modeled after Pixar characters. Of course, Pixar's Woody is a computer animated representation of a cloth doll, which is itself a representation of a wooden puppet from the fictional TV show Woody's Roundup. Therefore, when we talk about Revoltech Woody, we are talking about a plastic representation of a computer simulation of a cloth doll version of a fictional wooden puppet - which is itself constructed to recall the cultural ideal of the Wild West Cowboy. Strictly speaking, Revoltech Woody is an imitation of an imitation of an imitation of a fictional imitation of an inaccurate portrayal of a semi-historical group of human beings.

                Kaiyodo has taken great care in making Revoltech Woody an accurate representation of Pixar's movie character. As the blurb on the back of the box states, “Pixar's CG toy becomes a real toy!” Care has been taken to tie the toy to the movie character by attention to the smallest details - Andy's name written on the right boot in a childish scrawl, an empty gun holster. Perhaps the only major departures from the toy depicted in the movie is a difference of materials (a plastic toy instead of a cloth doll), size, and the lack of a pull-string voice box (although a non-functional string is included).

"I'm a real toy!"
                Revoltech Woody figure comes in a cardboard box decorated with images of the toy and diagrams of its accessories and functions. A text blurb on the back explains briefly who Woody is, accompanied by a technical breakdown: what scale the Revoltech model has been crafted in, its size, its number of posable joints. Another blurb on the right side extolls the virtue of the “Revolver Joint System” which gave the Revoltech series its name and allows for their wide range of posability and customization.
Inside the flap
                 A flap on the front opens, revealing the toy itself (behind a plastic window). The other side of the flap has an essay on Woody's role in the Toy Story movies by manga artist and essayist Yamamoto Naoki.    Beneath the essay is a series of images from the movies, with explanatory footnotes.  The essay begins with a nostalgia-inducing speech about the plastic models and toy robots of youth. Yamamoto uses the bulk of the text to outline Woody's personality and important events in the Toy Story trilogy. Beneath the text are images from the movies, with further explanatory text. Revoltech Woody is placed side by side with Pixar's Woody, showcasing the iconic scenes which the consumer can reproduce with the Revoltech toy.

                Additional notes detail the movies' release dates, director, production company, and other details of a distinctly historical nature. This reflects Kaiyodo's concern with models as a tool for transmitting “cultural heritage.” The box serves both to appeal to potential consumers, but also as a vehicle for preserving and conveying cultural information. So then, contrary to what we might expect from a toy aimed at supposedly postmodern, animalistic otaku, the box text takes care to record Woody's historical context.

                The packaging does not just put Woody (the character) into a historical context, it also takes pains to establish the historic position of value of Sci-Fi Revoltech Series No.10 Woody. While Azuma's Third-Generation otaku supposedly place no special attachment to the position of author, artist, or creator, Woody's packaging proclaims the toy to be “sculpted by Matsumoto Eichiro”  no less than six times (four times in English, twice in Japanese). Describing Woody as “sculpted” frames it less as a toy and more as a work of art, echoing Miyawaki Osamu's “art plastic.”

                The concern with historicity also manifests in information which assures the consumer of Revoltech Woody's exact technical specifications. The box lists the toy's size, scale in relation to the original character, and number of movable, posable joints. These posable joints are a particular point of interest, since the box boats that Revoltech Woody is a “realistic model with the ability to be put into any pose imaginable.” This posability (along with the accessories) fulfills a historical function, in that it allows the consumer to reproduce Pixar's Woody with the highest possible accuracy.
The Revolver Join system
                As opposed to traditional sculptures (or plastic models and garage kits), which reproduce a figure in a single point of time in a static pose, Revoltech Woody has the ability to be constantly recast as an almost infinite number of “Woodys.” It attempts not just to reproduce an accurate physical likeness of Woody, but rather a dynamic emotional likeness of Woody, mimicking the original Pixar character's full range of expressivity.
                This attention to detail is surprising, given Azuma's claim that Third-Generation post-modern consumers are animalized, ahistorical beings. Not only is fictionalized history from the Second Generation present in Yamamoto's essay detailing the world of Toy Story, First Generation concerns are also addressed by defining Toy Story's place in real-world social history as the world's first fully computer animated feature-length film. 

                However, the packaging does not simply present Revoltech Woody as an accurate representation of Pixar's Woody. It also takes pains to establish it as part of the Revoltech brand. This second appeal is, if anything, more strongly made than the first. The word “Woody” appears 17 times on the entire box (5 times in English, 12 in katakana), including Yamamoto's essay and the captions for the accompanying pictures.

                In contrast, the word “Revoltech” appears 28 times on the box (18 in English, 10 times in katakana), not including the usage of similar words such as “Revolver Joint.” The entire bottom and right sides of the box are given over to advertisements/explanations of the Revoltech brand, with no reference to Woody. In fact, the only surface on the box which does not prominently display the Revoltech name is the inside flap with Yamamoto's essay. The Revoltech brand name is even more important than the Kaiyodo company name, which appears only 10 times total.

                This emphasis, this repetition of the Revoltech name is not simple advertisement of a brand name, but an attempt to emphasize the unique functionality of Revoltech toys. The bottom of the box has a series of four diagrams and explanatory text on “How to make poses like the ones on the package.” The right side of the box is dedicated to a full explanation of the Revolver Joint system, specifically mentioning that parts from one Revoltech figure can be swapped out for those of another. 

                The back of the box details all of the different parts and accessories included with the figure - different hands, faces, articles of clothing and so on which can be swapped out to create the consumer's preferred version of Woody. This is the essence of the appeal to Revoltech; it is not a simple appeal to brand loyalty, but a promise of flexibility, customizability, and adaptability. To say that a figure is “Revoltech” assures the consumer of a certain level of control over the consumption experience, the ability to easily create and recreate infinite versions of a character through the Revolver Joint system.
Options and accessories
                The toy itself provides any number of examples of this. Revoltech Woody has fourteen primary Revolver Joints (neck, right shoulder, left shoulder, right elbow, left elbow, right hand, left hand, waist, right hip, left hip, right knee, left knee, right ankle, left ankle). The hands can be removed and replaced.  Revoltech Woody comes with seven different hands, one of which “belongs” to Buzz Lightyear.

                Revoltech Woody also comes with two faces, one with a normal expression and one described as the “evil plan” face. The faces can be removed and the positioning of the eyes can be adjusted to “look” in any direction. Finally, Revoltech Woody comes with a detachable cowboy hat, a microphone, and “Lenny,” another Toy Story character that Woody uses as a pair of binoculars.

                What we have in Revoltech Woody is a figure custom-made for the Third-Generation consumer. Whereas garage kits come as a set of dissected pieces meant to be assembled into a pre-determined whole, Revoltech Woody comes as a pre-assembled whole intended to be dissected. The arms of a garage kit model must be carefully cut from a plastic frame, painted, and glued into place. Revoltech Woody can be disassembled and reassembled in seventeen different places with the absolute minimum of effort. While the packaging presents Revoltech Woody as a vehicle for cultural information, the figure itself resembles nothing so much as Dejiko - a simulacra made up of database elements which can be switched around at will to cater to the particular tastes of consumers.

                In Millennial Monsters, Anne Allison defines the “polymorphous perversity” as consisting of “continual change and stretching of desire across ever new zones/bodies/products” (277). While Allison points out examples of this in diverse Japanese media products from Power Rangers to Pokémon, this quality of polymorphous perversity is perhaps most clearly seen in the Revoltech line. Whereas a Tamagochi may be gender-queer and Pokémon may take place in a deconstructed, ultra-fluid postmodern environment, the Revoltech system has the capacity to break down media properties that started with social narratives (such as the morality of play in Toy Story) and convert them into polymorphous perverse collections of database elements. 

                The Revoltech line is not simply a brand to which consumers are meant to form an affective alliance with. It is a physical database of moe elements, the Tinami search engine rendered in plastic. While First and Second Generation consumers may be attracted to the cultural and historical information provided by the packaging, the toys themselves consist of continual change, of an infinite variety of possible bodies which can be easily assembled and disassembled.

                Whereas a garage kit consists of a limited number of parts intended to be assembled into a single “correct” finished product, a Revoltech figure comes with too many parts. No matter how a consumer puts together Revoltech Woody, he or she will still have “left overs,” extra hands and faces. Revoltech Woody is not designed to be completed, he is designed to be eternally “incomplete.” Like a split atom, his power consists not in wholeness, but in the released energy of separation.

                One of the main features of Azuma's Database Model is that it has a “double-layer structure of information and appearance” (33). The underlying information forms the database, which is “read up” by consumers into individual small narratives. Kaiyodo Woody has the exact same structure. First, Pixar's Woody was converted into the underlying structure, the “accumulation of encoded information” comprised of the individual Revolver Joint pieces (32). From these pieces, any number of small narratives can be constructed, of which the “historical” one presented in the essay or Toy Story are only one option among many.

                 Whereas Toy Story presented physical disassembly as an act of horror which destroys a toy's ability to speak, the Revoltech system presents physical disassembly as a means of creating any number of Woodys suited to the consumer's particular tastes. Instead of destroying a toy's ability to communicate, the Revolver Joint system, with its excess of hands and faces, allows for the toy to “communicate” a much wider array of potential emotions than a traditional, static toy.

                Unlike Sid, who dissects his toys from a position of egocentric non-recognition, postmodern animalistic consumers engage in recombinative play because they feel an emotional attachment to characters and to the moe elements from which they are constructed. Like the gamers Azuma describes, who “break” the code of their favorite visual novels so that they can create new scenarios and engage in further play, animalistic consumers of Revoltech Woody are able to pull him apart and reconstruct him in order to engage in an almost infinite array of emotionally engaging play scenarios.

                Like the toys in Toy Story, Revoltech Woody comes with a pre-constructed corporate narrative. In Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear internalizes the marketing blurb that appears on his package, a short description of his role as a Space Ranger. Kaiyodo's marketing blurb far outstrips this message both in length and in detail. However, while Buzz Lightyear struggled to create a new identity distinct from his built-in blurb, Revoltech Woody has had no such trouble.

                In a sense, Revoltech Woody is a microcosm of Kaiyodo and of Azuma's three Eras. He addresses Grand Narrative concerns of historicity and technical accuracy while also functioning as a Database-driven simulacrum. Here we see Miyawaki Osamu's concern for plastic models as art and as vehicles for cultural heritage, Miyawaki Shūichi's concern for accurate representation of fictional characters, and Third Generation concern for polymorphous perversity in a single product. Consumers can relate to Revoltech Woody in their own manner of choosing.   

                While Pixar's Woody was clearly from the Era of Fiction, the international response to Revoltech Woody leans more toward the Era of Animalization. By breaking down Pixar's Woody into a series of Database elements, Kaiyodo transformed an Era of Fiction character into an Era of Animalization toy. It should not surprise us that Third Generation consumers were able to easily repurpose a toy with parts that can be interchanged with hundreds of other Revoltech figures away from its original corporate narrative to an original one. It may surprise us just what form this new, consumer-driven narrative took.

Next: [DC012] Creepy Woody: Polymorphous Perversity

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