Saturday, October 3, 2015

"Tsumugi Kotobuki" Pure Neemo doll by Azone International

I've been hearing about the Azone International doll company for a few years now.  Both Jessica (from the first Photo Mission) and Charlotte (from Milklegs Dolls) have listed these Japanese dolls among their favorites.  I was curious about this highly-articulated brand from the first time I heard it mentioned, but it took me a really long time to choose a doll to buy.  It often takes time to get acquainted with a new doll company, but I found the Azone doll selection particularly overwhelming.  One obstacle is that there are several different sizes of doll made by this company.  To name a few, there are 1:3 (18-20 inch) Original Series dolls, 1:12 (~6 inch) Picco Neemo dolls, and a wide array of 1:6 (9-12 inch) Pure Neemo characters.

Even after I decided on the 1:6 Pure Neemo size range, I still had a lot of options in front of me.  First of all, there's size variation within the 1:6 scale.  These dolls can be XS (extra small, 7.2 inches), S (small, 7.76 inches), M (medium, 8.43 inches) or L (large, 8.86 inches).  There's some chest size variation, too.  In addition, not all Pure Neemo bodies are articulated in the same way.  I ended up with what's called a regular Flection body, but there are also Flection Advanced and Flection Full-Action bodies...the latter of which I probably would have liked better than the one I bought.  However, I got distracted by the characters of the dolls and didn't pay enough attention to articulation until it was too late.  I was fascinated by the characters because many of the Pure Neemo dolls are based on Japanese anime series.  I didn't want to buy a doll without knowing her backstory, so I watched quite a bit of anime.

After browsing and deliberating, I decided on a doll from the K-On! anime collection.  The K-On! manga and anime follow a group of Japanese high school girls who belong to a rock band. My doll is named Tsumugi Kotobuki (Mugi for short), and she is the band's wealthy and kindhearted keyboard player:

Pure Neemo 1:6 "Tsumugi Kotobuki" by Azone International.
One of the daunting things about the Azone dolls--at least for a newcomer like me--is that the names of the dolls combined with the names of the anime can get really complicated.  When I first saw the description, "K-On! Tsumugi Kotobuki Pure Neemo Flection," it was like reading another language (like Japanese).  The "Flection" title of the body was especially confusing because it's a creative re-spelling (or translation) of "flexion," which is a real word.  Also, Pure Neemo is often written out as all one word--Pureneemo--which adds to the complexity.

Some of the other dolls on my list had even more elaborate names than Mugi, though. For example, another anime series I watched is called Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai, which translates as We Still Don't Know the Name of the Flower We Saw that Day. This title is often (inexplicably to me) abbreviated to Anohana, though.  Furthermore, the redheaded character who I like the best is named Anjou Naruko, but she's called Anaru for short.

On the sillier side of things, another doll I was considering is called Snotty Cat Koron.  Koron is the character's name, but Snotty Cat is the brand of clothing she wears (I think).  The icon for the clothing brand is a cat's face with an actual drip of "snot" coming out.  It's disgusting...and also pretty hilarious.

Learning about Azone International felt a lot like immersing myself in a new world (like Japan).  It was pretty fun, and there were probably ten dolls that I was seriously interested in.  Eventually, I had to just make up my mind, though, and that's how I ended up with Mugi--my medium-sized Pure Neemo Flection doll from the manga K-On!


Mugi came in a pink cardboard box with no plastic window.  The box is decorated with a little bit of writing (both in Japanese and English) and some graphics.

The back of the box has little pictures of the five main characters from the K-On! manga.  All of these girls are available as Azone dolls:


What's neat is that these dolls come with their instruments.  I was tempted by all of them--especially Ritsu and her drum set.

The front of the box has a pink sticker with a photograph of Mugi and her keyboard accessory:


The sides of the box have K-ON! in huge capital letters. Incidentally, the title K-On! is an abbreviation of the word keiongaku (軽音楽) which means "light music."


I also purchased the first book in the K-On! manga series. This volume has Yui (the guitar player) on the cover.  Mugi isn't featured on a cover until the 4th volume (I didn't make it that far).


This is a very lighthearted, humorous manga series.  Not much happens in the first volume, so I didn't get wrapped up in the plot enough to buy the second book.

The manga is mostly drawn in black and white, but there are a few color panels.  Here's one of the larger color pictures of Mugi serving tea--which is what her character tends to do at band rehearsals:

Because tea is so rock 'n' roll.
In some of the black and white panels, the style of drawing changes dramatically.  The girls are frequently reduced to more simplified, white-eyed versions of themselves.  This style reminds me of the original Little Orphan Annie comics.


I love this example of the simplified drawing style, with Yui trying to learn how to read music:


If you look closely at the panel at the very top of the picture, above, the book Yui's reading is called Chords Even a Monkey Could Learn.

The strange thing is that this manga can go from funny moments about monkeys straight to randomly-inserted pictures that make the girls look very sexy:

Sex, tea and rock 'n' roll!
I don't read a lot of manga, but I understand that this style of drawing is part of the culture.  I actually got pretty caught up in learning about different themes and traditions in manga.  Here's one article that I read about gender and gender relations in manga and how they relate to Japanese culture.  I found it very helpful and interesting.

Mugi's cardboard box opens down the middle and is held closed with a small rectangle of velcro:


The box opens to reveal plastic windows on each side that showcase the doll and her keyboard:


Each side of this box is essentially its own separate box.  The sides open at the top with a simple, unsealed flap:


Mugi and her keyboard are gripped by molded plastic cases that easily slide out of the box.  There was also a pamphlet and a loose item of clothing on Mugi's side:


I was especially interested in this pamphlet because my knowledge of Azone International is so limited.  The writing is mostly in Japanese, but the pictures show a nice selection of other available dolls:


I can't read any of the doll maintenance tips, but I love the pink-haired doll shown on the left side of this page:


And the cute brunette on the right looks similar to my Mugi:


These two girls are cute, too, and show off some of the different hand shapes:

Does her shirt say "Fanny Fanny??"
I'll take a look at Mugi first and then unpack her keyboard a little later.  

Mugi was held inside of her plastic shell with a molded plastic brace that covered her waist and hips.  The brace was taped in place but there were no rubber bands or plastic ties.  Mugi was extremely easy to de-box.


Hiding behind Mugi inside the plastic shell was a bag of hands!  I'd noticed the variety of different hand shapes available on these dolls, but I didn't realize that Mugi came with all of them.  It was a great surprise.


Here's the bag of hands up close:


The other bagged item is a cream-colored knit vest:


Mugi doesn't come with a stand, but she doesn't need one.  She balances very well on her own.


Mugi's weight is part of what gives her such excellent balance.  She's much heavier than other dolls that I own in this scale.


Another thing I noticed as soon as I got Mugi out of her box was that her arms are hard to move.  I expected to be able to bend her arms all around, but I actually couldn't get them to move at all.  I was able to move Mugi's legs, though. As you can see in the picture, above, she has very large hinge joints in her knees, and these are easy to bend.

I didn't want to try and bend the arms any more without being able to see how the joints are supposed to move.  These joints were well-concealed by Mugi's thick blazer, so I decided to take the blazer off before trying to manipulate Mugi any further.


I think Mugi has an adorable anime face, but I also decided to wait and take a closer look at her facial features once I had the outfit--with its detailed collar and tie--removed.


Mugi is wearing a white collared blouse, a navy blue blazer and a pleated grey skirt.  This outfit is consistent with the school uniforms drawn in the K-On! manga, although the manga skirts are plaid.


The blazer has decorative gold buttons (glued in place) but actually opens with a single metal snap and a hook-and-eye attachment:


I tried to slide the blazer off, but Mugi's splayed-finger hand made it impossible:

review


Without even trying very hard to get the blazer off, Mugi's lower arm came loose and started to fall down through the blazer sleeve:


At first, I was worried that I had broken Mugi right out of the box.


In order to get the jacket all of the way off, though, I had to remove Mugi's left hand, too:

She's disarming.
This gave me an early opportunity to inspect the design of the arm joints.  Mugi's elbow joints have a peg-and-hole hinge style that is meant to come apart (and comes apart way too easily):


Mugi's body is from 2010 and the elbow joints were improved in the later versions of the regular Flection body, so these arms are not what you'd get in the 2015 dolls.

The hands are attached with thick pegs that stay in place really well:


The blazer itself is made out of a deep blue woven fabric:


It has great tailored details, including side seams and little darts at the sides of the chest:


There are two tiny gold buttons on the cuff of each sleeve:


There's also a fully-stitched notch lapel collar:


The jacket is not lined, but it has great seam allowances and looks well-made:


Underneath the jacket, Mugi is wearing a short-sleeved white blouse with a turquoise ribbon tie:

review


The blouse comes tucked into the skirt...and a little flattened in back:


The blouse is extremely well-fitted, with pretty darted sides and applied white plastic buttons down the front:



At first I was worried that I would have to untie the bow on Mugi's turquoise tie in order to get it off...

review

...but fortunately the tie has a hook-and-eye closure in the back that's easy to use and well-hidden by the collar of the blouse:



The blouse opens all of the way down in front with a long strip of velcro:


The grey pleated skirt is simple, but nicely-made with crisp pleats and a single metal snap closure:



To complete her outfit, Mugi is wearing white knee socks and brown vinyl penny loafers:


The shoes are all one color, but they have some realistic molded details:



Mugi is also wearing a simple pair of white bikini underpants:


And finally--here's the Flection Pure Neemo body without any clothes:


I think the body is made out of dense, solid vinyl, but there's a resin-like quality to how it feels in my hands.  It has a wonderful, smooth heaviness to it.  The color of the body is also natural and very uniform.  As an aside: it's possible to purchase the Pure Neemo bodies separately for around $35 dollars.

Mugi has an impressive eighteen points of articulation.  This doesn't end up being quite as impressive as it sounds, though, because many of the joints can only move in one way.


Before I take a look at all of Mugi's joints, let me quickly show you her face and hair.  Her blonde hair is very shiny and feels great.  It comes in long waves with shaggy, asymmetrical bangs.

There's not much hair styling gel to speak of, but there are sections on either side of Mugi's face that come plastered into clumps.  The picture below on the left shows the hair as it came, and on the right is the hair with the clumps brushed out:


Brushing the styling product out did not produce any white flakes, thank goodness.

The hair has a silky, fine feel to it, but the rooting is sufficiently dense.  The scalp is painted pale yellow to match the hair:


I tied Mugi's hair into a simple ponytail and then tried to pull the bangs out of the way with a single clear rubber band:


Mugi has large oval blue eyes with very little eyelash detail.  She has thick brown wedge eyebrows that are accurate to the manga character:


The slanted black lines at the inner corners of Mugi's eyes can make her look angry from some angles, but I think it's just meant to suggest the eyelid crease.


The face paint is nicely done.  The colors are vibrant and there are no defects.

I think the red lines under Mugi's eyes are patches of blush.  The character often has these in the manga:


Other than the oversized eyes, this doll has extremely minimal features.  Her molded nose is tiny and her mouth is depicted with only two small straight lines.



In this mouth picture, below, you can see some granular texture in the vinyl of Mugi's head.  This reminds me of the Frozen knock-off dolls I bought from China (but it's much, much less obvious).


Mugi's ears are often hidden by her hair, but they are also quite small and simple:


Ok, now let's take a look at the articulation.  I'll tell you right up front that it isn't like anything I have ever seen before.


Mugi's head is very soft and squishy compared to the rest of her body.  It can tip from side to side...


...and also up, down and all around.  She has excellent head movement.


Mugi's shoulders have very simple peg articulation.  They can only spin around:


In fact, the peg attachment comes apart pretty easily.  You can see the large gap in the left shoulder as the arm threatens to fall out:


It's really easy to pull the arms off at the shoulder.  Here's what the attachment site looks like:


Here's the severed arm:


What helps Mugi's arm articulation a little bit is that there are extra joints at the tops of the arms that provide some additional rotation.  This allows Mugi to turn her lower arms in and out:


These upper arm joints aren't immune to coming apart, either.  You can see in the picture below that Mugi's right arm is coming loose at this site:


As I discovered early on, Mugi's elbows have peg hinge movement with no rotation.  However, the hinged elbows combined with the rotation at the top of the arm allows for some fun poses:

review





Mugi's lower arms fell off a lot during this photo session.  That elbow joint is extremely fragile.  I ended up thinking in terms of assembling Mugi's arms into different poses rather than moving them into different poses.

The arms fell off so much that at certain points later in the review (when I was also swapping hands) I got the two arms re-attached to the wrong side.  The arms seem interchangeable at some level, but if you look closely, they are not.

Below is one lower arm attached to the wrong side (left) and then attached to its correct side (right):


I investigated the details of the attachment a little.  The upper part of the arm has a grooved track for movement of the lower arm:


The lower arm pieces have small notches to fit the track in the upper arm.  These notches are the same for the left and right lower arm pieces:


So, the lower arm pieces are technically interchangeable, but they just don't look very good when they're swapped because of the slightly different overall shapes of the two arms.

Mugi comes with a total of six different hand shapes:


In addition to the splay-fingered hands that she's wearing in the box, Mugi has these fun "I love you" hands (which remind me of Extra Special Grace!):



She also has a pair of gripping hands:


The fingers are not very flexible, so Mugi is limited to grasping things that happen to fit in between her thumb and fingers:


There are two pairs of fisted hands.  These look fairly natural...


...and would be good for knocking on doors or just propping a hand up against a hip:


These other fisted hands, however, are a bit more awkward:


Here's one of them next to the more natural-looking fists so that you can see the difference:


I find myself thinking of these as the Monty Python hands--for anyone who has ever seen a Monty Python "Gumbys" sketch:

I am a brain specialist!
They're also decent fighting hands...although Mugi doesn't really strike me as the fighting type.


Update: Many thanks to April and Kat, I now know that these are cat hands!  Mugi is meant to hold them up close to her face to look like an adorable cat.

My favorite hands for Mugi are these relaxed, graceful hands:


They look like perfect keyboard-playing hands!


Most of the hands are easy to snap on and off, but a few of them are more difficult. There's one hand that's actually loose whenever it's in place, and two others that are so difficult to pull off that the pegs get stretched.  For the most part, however, hand-swapping is easy and fun.  This is kind-of what I thought action figure hand-swapping would be like, but I have yet to encounter an action figure whose hands are this easy to exchange.

Mugi also has a joint in her torso.  This joint is cut at an angle, so it sits perfectly at Mugi's waist in the back:


But it slants upwards towards the front:


This joint allows Mugi's upper torso to twist all of the way around:


Which starts to look a little silly when she's facing straight backwards:


I like this joint best when it's tilted just slightly to one side:


Mugi has hinged hip joints that only move forwards.  They do not move backwards or apart at all. This means that she can sit on the ground really well, but she cannot do front-to-back or side-to-side splits.


However, Mugi has rotational joints at the tops of her legs that allow her to rotate her knees and feet inwards or outwards:


This rotation makes it even easier for her to balance when she's standing upright:


Mugi's knees are simple hinges, and the joints are very obvious in the back:


The front of the joint is much more attractive, with an angled shape that's lower on the inside than it is on the outside:


The front of the knee even looks good when it's bent--and it can bend just past a 90 degree angle.



Mugi's leg articulation makes her great at kneeling:


And at sitting in a chair:


She can also kneel with her feet rotated outwards...


...or even sit all of the way down in this position, which I tend to think of as a very anime-type pose.  Not sure exactly why.


Mugi can't sit with crossed legs very well, though.  This is what happens when she tries:


Mugi also has hinged movement in her ankles:


Mugi's knees and ankles don't hold poses as well as the rest of her joints--they're slightly loose--but she has yet to collapse and fall down because of this.

She can strike a great running pose (although she can't balance on her own in this position):


She can balance on one knee, though:


And she even balances when most of her weight is focused on one foot:


Mugi is a fun doll to pose, but her fragile elbows and limited shoulder movement hold her back from being incredible.  

Posing her feels more like assembling a building kit than manipulating a doll.  In fact, the whole time I was posing Mugi (especially her arms) I kept thinking about one of my son's old toys:


This T-rex model is actually a hard vinyl 3D puzzle.  The company that makes (made?) these is called "4D Puzzles," but I could never understand what the fourth dimension was.


This guy looks like he has articulated arms, but it's just that his arms come off as part of the puzzle:



It's a bizarre comparison, granted, but I find that if I think about Mugi as one of these 3D puzzle models, she comes across as really fun and surprisingly well articulated.  Perspective is everything.

Anyway, I've read (on this beautiful site) that the newer Full-Action Flection bodies have wonderful shoulder mobility and more stable elbows (even some side-to-side movement at the hip) so I would really like to have a chance to review one of these bodies some day.  I bet they're amazing.

Mugi's 8-inch height makes her about the same size as Barbie's Stacie:

Azone Pure Neemo doll (left), Barbie Stacie (right).
Even though Mugi has a curvier figure than Stacie, any of Stacie's stretchy clothing should fit:


Here's Mugi next to my Licca-chan doll:

Azone Pure Neemo doll (left), Licca-chan (right).
I love Licca-chan, but I'm struck by the contrast between these two dolls' bodies.  Mugi's shape is so beautiful and natural in comparison.  Now I understand why collectors like to put Licca's head on an Azone body.

These two dolls are also about the same height, but Licca-chan has a much wider chest, tiny hips, and short arms compared to Mugi.  Still, Mugi can wear Licca-chan's dress, even if it is loose in the chest area:


Here's Mugi next to my J-doll Josephsplatz (who also shares a body with Pullip and Hestia dolls):

Azone Pure Neemo doll (left), J-doll (right).
Even though the J-doll has better arm and hip articulation, I find myself preferring the Pure Neemo body because of its wonderful weight and appearance.

J-doll clothing is a little loose in the hips on Mugi, but I couldn't resist trying this piano-themed outfit on her:


The style suits her perfectly!


My J-doll can also wear Mugi's outfit pretty well:


The quality of the clothing is similar between the J-dolls and the Azone dolls, too, which makes clothes-sharing more rewarding.  This would also be true of Pullips and Hestia dolls.

Here's Mugi next to my Juku Couture doll, Hayley:

Azone Pure Neemo doll (left), Juku Couture doll (right).
Hayley has better articulation in general, but again--I like the appearance and feel of Mugi's body much better.  

Mugi cannot wear Hayley's tops, but she can wear the Juku skirts.  Because Hayley is a little smaller, she can wear all of Mugi's clothes.


I searched around for other dolls who might be similar in size to Mugi, and decided to try my Moxie Girlz, Kellan:

Azone Pure Neemo doll (left), Moxie Girlz (right).
These two have pretty similar torso sizes and can share clothes to some extent.  Mugi's shirts are too tight on Kellan, though, and cannot be closed all of the way in front.


I also wondered if older Bratz dolls would be about the same size as Mugi...especially in light of my recent Create-A-Bratz review.

Azone Pure Neemo doll (left), 2012 Bratz (right).
The proportions of these two dolls don't match perfectly, but Nadine can wear Mugi's outfit really well.  Mugi, on the other hand, can't get Nadine's shorts pulled up all of the way.


Mugi is quite a bit shorter and smaller than dolls like Barbie, but here they are together for reference:

Azone Pure Neemo doll (left), Barbie (right).
Even though Ever After High and Monster High dolls are significantly taller than Mugi, it's the differently-sized torsos that prevent these brands from sharing clothes.

Azone Pure Neemo doll (left), Ever After High (right).
I re-dressed Mugi in her uniform and tried on the cream-colored knit vest that came in its own separate bag:


The vest opens all of the way down the back with velcro, which is fantastic.  It would definitely have been possible to get this vest on and off without the opening in back, but I much prefer this design.


The vest is beautifully knitted--with tiny little stitches and ribbing--but it has some trouble laying flat around the neckline:


I'll admit that one of the main reasons I chose Mugi was her keyboard accessory.  K-On! was not my favorite manga and Mugi was more expensive than many of the other Azone dolls I was looking at, but the keyboard just looked so realistic...I had to see it in person.  I'm an out-of-practice piano plunker and my son is an accomplished jazz pianist, so keyboards are pretty special in this house.

Here's Mugi using her grip hands to unpack the keyboard:


The keyboard is made out of plastic and comes with a fold-down stand:


The stand is made out of two frail pieces of plastic that join in the middle with a pin hinge.  It's very easy to open the stand:


The keyboard itself is hollow, but has more weight and substance than the stand:


All of the painted details are on the top of the keyboard, but there are a few molded features on the back:


The left side of the keyboard has a printed screen and a collection of knobs and buttons:


The screen is bright blue and looks like it's illuminated, but the writing is impossible to read.  I can only make out the "TRITON Extreme" brand at the top:


The controls on this side are very detailed and include four gold dials and a series of buttons that are labeled "real time controls."  A lot of the tiny print is hard to read:


The buttons to the right of the dials are a little easier to read and say things like, "media," "s. play," "sampling," and "global."


The right side of the keyboard has a different selection of buttons and dials:



These labels are a little easier to read and include sampling buttons, a sound bank and some tempo dials:


The piano keys can not be pushed down, but the black and white pieces are molded separately, which adds to their realism:



The keyboard is impressive, but the stand is flimsy.  My stand is also incredibly lopsided:


Here's a better angle:


It didn't seem to me like the stand should come apart, but towards the end of my photo session it fell apart, so I was able to explore ways of making it more stable.  The two pieces are held together with a metal pin that has a tiny black plastic cap to keep it in place:


I re-attached one side of the stand upside-down (so that the two horizontal braces are different sizes) and this actually made the stand more level:



Here the re-configured stand holding the keyboard:


That's a lot better.

Here's Mugi playing her keyboard.  This is actually before I fixed the stand, but it's hard to tell:


I think both Mugi's splay-fingered hands and her more relaxed hands are good for playing the piano:


I was really excited to sit back and have some fun with this doll.  I wanted to see what her unique articulation could do, and try on all of her outfit combinations again.

Here's Mugi in her uniform and vest:


I wish the vest lay a little flatter around the neck, but I like this look on Mugi.


One of the poses that Mugi has trouble with is resting her hand on her hip.  She can only accomplish this with her elbow pointed straight back.  She has a similar problem when she's reaching up to touch her head.


I was curious to see if Mugi's jacket would fit back on over the blouse and vest--since she was not packaged wearing the vest.  

I used Mugi's Monty Python weird fisted cat hands to attempt this because some of the other hands don't fit through the blazer's sleeves:


The blazer actually does fit over the vest without looking too bulky...

The snap can be closed, too.
...but the problem is that her arms don't stay in place well enough to handle the manipulations necessary to get the jacket on.


The other problem is that once the arms fall off, it's hard to get them back on underneath the jacket.  I struggled to get the elbow joints aligned when I couldn't see what was going on.

Once I had the arms and the jacket on, though, I wanted to make good use of the strange-looking fisted hands.  Turns out they're actually quite good for carrying the keyboard!



I eventually figured out that if I held the elbow joint in place with one hand (through the jacket), I could take the hand pieces on and off using my other hand.  This made it possible to change hands without removing the jacket.


I had a lot more fun posing Mugi when she was wearing just her short-sleeved blouse and skirt.  It's really easy to manipulate her arms when she's like this, and I also think she looks adorable.


review




One thing I haven't mentioned yet is the price of this doll.  This is as good a time as any: Mugi retailed for 14,000 yen (~$120) when she was first released back in 2010.  This is at the higher end of the current price range for 1:6 Pure Neemo dolls.  The 2015 Character Series dolls seem to cost about $100 (without shipping).  However, because Mugi has been discontinued for so long, I had to purchase her on the secondary market for almost twice her retail.  In general, 1:6 Azone Pure Neemo dolls on the secondary market cost anywhere from $95 to over $1,000.  

I will evaluate Mugi as a $100-$130 doll. This price makes her comparable to dolls like Pullips, J-dolls, select Tonner and Integrity lines, a basic Phicen doll...and I'd say Makies, too, except they've just been made cheaper (yay!).

Here's Mugi back in her full outfit (minus the vest) for some final pictures:









Bottom line?  If Mugi had the new Pure Neemo articulation, with improved shoulder joints and elbows that do not fall apart so easily, I'd have few (if any) criticisms of her.  I'd love to see one of the newer Azone dolls, but in the meantime, I actually find that I like Mugi just the way she is.

Mugi's upper body joints feel more like a 3D puzzle than an articulated doll.  Her arms fall apart very easily at the shoulders and at the elbows.  This style of articulation makes it hard for me to pose her when she's wearing long sleeves.  Because she has so many joints, it seems for all the world like Mugi should be able to lift her arms away from her body and move her legs from side to side...but she can't.  I kept subconsciously trying to move her limbs this way during the review, which only contributed to the number of times her arms fell off.  However, I eventually got used to the strange articulation.  It simply requires a different mindset for posing: you have to assemble the doll into the pose you want--not move her into that position.  Actually, by the end of the review the uniqueness of Mugi's articulation was starting to feel like a bonus.  I've seen a lot of dolls, but I've never encountered a body like this.  

Beyond the articulation, I find the Pure Neemo Flection body to be beautifully and realistically shaped with nice contours and a substantial weight.  The contrast between Mugi's body and lighter-weight dolls like Licca-chan, J-doll and Pullip is striking.  The dense vinyl of Mugi's body is also very smooth to the touch and has creamy, uniform coloring.  I also appreciate the range of hand shapes that come with Mugi.  I've purchased a few action figures that have interchangeable hands, but I've never received so many hand options with one doll.  Mugi's hands are also much easier to swap than any action doll hands I've ever owned.  Mugi's head is soft and squishy compared to the rest of her body, but she has a well-painted and lovable anime face that's true to the K-On! manga character.  Her hair is silky, shiny, well-rooted, and easy to brush.  Mugi looks and feels like an expensive, high-quality doll.

Mugi comes with a multi-piece outfit, and all of the pieces are well constructed and perfectly tailored.  Mugi's clothing is roughly equivalent to clothing from other brands in this price range.  I don't marvel at the little details in Mugi's uniform the way I do with Integrity outfits, but the pieces are as good or better than some of the J-doll, Pullip and Tonner clothes I've seen.  Mugi's keyboard accessory is great.  Even though the stand is horribly crooked and fragile, I found a simple way to improve it.  The keyboard itself is highly detailed and looks real from a distance.  It would be amazing on display or as an accessory for a 1:6 diorama.  The keyboard makes me extremely curious about the other instruments in the Azone K-On! series.

For me, Mugi is worth $120--especially because of her amazing keyboard and the novelty of her body and articulation.  However, if I could do it all over again, I would not spend $200 on her (unless I was a huge fan of the K-On! manga).  Instead, I would seek out one of the regularly-priced dolls with a Full-Action Flection body.  Better yet, I might just spend $35 to get the headless Full-Action Flection body all by itself.  I know some collectors who enjoy how this body works with Licca-chan heads....and it would certainly be fun to try it out with some other doll faces that don't have the body they deserve.

I find quest-like, multi-media explorations into unfamiliar doll brands to be one of the best things about the doll collecting hobby.  The thing is, despite all of the fun and excitement associated with these ventures, I usually wander back to my old doll habits--content with a single example of whatever new brand I was investigating.  In the case of Mugi, Azone International and the world of Japanese anime, however, I think I'll stick around for a while.  I'm captivated both by Mugi and by some of the anime stories I've watched during the past month.  I'm left feeling like I've barely scratched the surface in this exploration of Azone dolls, and I can hardly wait to see what else this fascinating branch of the doll world has to offer.


37 comments:

  1. The "weird" hands are Cat Hands. Anime girls hold their hands up in front of the chin with palms facing out to look like a cat-girl. ;)

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    1. Thank you so much, April! That makes a lot of sense. Now I want to see if I can get her to do a cat pose! :)

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  2. The weird fists are "cat fists", a hand gesture made to imitate paws. In Japanese culture there are a lot of shape-shifter demons, animals who can turn into humans. In manga and anime they manifested as cat-girls, who are adorably sexy. So the that hand position is meant to make Mugi look like a cat-girl.
    Don't want to post a link, but if you google "neko girl nya", you'll know exactly what I mean :)

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    1. This is great information, Kat! My anime adventure continues. Thank you so much! Better than Monty Python hands, that's for sure. ;)

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  3. Oh, damn. Didn't see April's comment. Sorry for duplicate information :)

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    1. No worries at all! I'm very happy to have the help and the extra background.

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  4. You should totally rebody her on a full action body. It's much more sturdy and posable. I think you'd really like it.

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    1. Me, too, Lisa. After seeing pictures of the full action body, I feel silly for not buying that in the first place...but I do see a lot of charm in Mugi's current body. It's also neat to see how the body design has evolved with this company! Azone seems to be listening to criticisms and fixing them.

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    2. Luckily the full action is just as graceful, even with more posability. Oftentimes doll bodies lose grace when they're more posable, but I think the full action keeps its grace even in getting more posability. The elbows stay in way better too. I think the balance of grace and posability is why azone doll bodies are my favorite. Maybe I could email some pictures of my azones to you?

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    3. That would be awesome if you sent me some pictures, Lisa! Thank you. I know exactly what you mean about increased articulation making dolls less graceful. So glad to hear that this isn't the case with the newer Azones! I can't wait to see one in person some day...

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  5. Mugi! :D How delightful! I love Japanese toys and dolls. The attention to detail is always amazing. I just got a 1:12 Cardcaptor Sakura action figure yesterday (I've mostly collected Japanese figures/gashapon in the past, this was my first human action figure) and found a lot of the same quirks in her articulation. So many joints, but they all moved in only one way each and your puzzle analogy is perfect for explaining the experience. I really was missing the ball/hinge type of articulation in my Monster High dolls by the end of my time playing with Sakura. The world of anime (and Japanese collector toys) is so huge and full of fun delights, I'm sure you'll enjoy your exploration of it! If you need any help or recommendations, I'd be happy to help - and it seems like, from the folks who beat me to explaining those unusual fisted hands to you, that you've got plenty of other readers able to answer that call, as well ;)

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  6. Such an interesting review - I've seen these dolls around, but I've never know where to start when it comes to the different types and sizes and so on, so you've answered most of the questions I had (and I few I didn't realize I'd been wondering about).

    Love the detail on that keyboard as well - shame about the flimsy stand, but even so it looks like a fabulous accessory.

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  7. I love K-ON! This review made my day! Such a beautiful doll.

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  8. You should review the Sailor Moon SH Figuart.

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  9. I'm pretty sure that's an Obitsu head. See toward the bottom of this page http://junkyspot.com/obindex.html
    I have been looking at these bodies for a loooong time and have been so confused by them. Thanks for clearing some of this up. I kind of like the look of the smaller cartoonish looking figures as seen on this blog. http://eternalwinter.org/azone/reference/neemo_lineup009.jpg
    I might just be brave enough to order one now...

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  10. Thanks for the review. I' ve bought Pure Neemo bodies for my Blythes but never thought of getting a whole doll. Your doll is very pretty but I especially like her clothes.
    My PN bodies have stayed rather tight except for the hand joints but painting the pin with a coat of matte acrylic varnish, waiting 24 hours for it to be absolutely dry before using them added just enough thickness to keep them from falling so easily.
    Despite that hassle it is such a beautiful doll body that think only the Phicen you featured a while ago can equal it. But then the price is also very different.
    The new shoulder joint for PN is a big improvement and worth getting.

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  11. wow- she is gorgeous. Her body mold is amazing. I love her proportions and shape. I really wish we'd see some US dolls with bodies like this. She's slim but incredibly soft and lovely looking.

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    1. Sorry, I know you were directing this at Emily, but I just wanted to say, you completely took the words out of my mouth. I get so frustrated with western dolls generally having bodies that are so awkwardly sculpted. Even nicer dolls for collectors often have really odd bodies. Arms often seem like an after thought, and are just shaped like twigs and there is so little harmony of the shapes making up the bodies. And often with the females the waists are ridiculously shrunken. I get that's supposed to make it look "attractive" but at a certain point it just seems silly, especially when the rest of the body is trying to be realistic. I wish more doll designers would keep in mind that even with articulated dolls, the body parts should look like they all belong together. That's why azone bodies are my favorite doll bodies of all time, because even with articulation, the body is still artfully sculpted.I wish they came in more skin tones, but I guess where their primary market is, there isn't much demand.

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  12. Love her! I would say those aren't "hang ten hands" but, sign language "I love you" hands. The 'shaka' (hang ten) is the thumb and pinky extended...I have a surf crazed family. :) I lovery reading your blog!!!!!
    Sharob~daytona beach, florida

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    1. Good call! Thank you so much for this correction! I should have known this because they're the same as Extra Special Grace's "I love you" hand! I went back and corrected this in the review. Many thanks again! :D I also like learning the other name for the hang ten hand. Shaka sounds better!

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  13. What a surprise review! It's really interesting to see reviews of Azone dolls because they're so different Western dolls with the concept of an entirely seamless body!

    I've been watching this company for a few years now, from the days when the Flection body was first coming out and came with a plethora of problems The first bodies even had a loose peg for the feet, which was completely useless and the feet would pop off at the slightest movement. Lots of shoes with feet inside!

    I own one of those original bodies (a Secret Wonderland Lien, who is currently bald and in pieces!) and I have to say the minute I opened her, I was waiting anxiously for the full action body to come out! There were many different prototypes (including a body that had a ball-socket joint at the shoulder which I LOVED the look of but it never got released) and you never knew which body was going to come out until the Full Action was released a few years ago. This company is very different in the fact that they don't really seem to test out the new body before releasing it- they just kind of change it as they go along, sort of like Pullips.

    Quality of these dolls is hit or miss- clothing is always wonderful, the faces are perfect but the body and hair often have issues. They use Japanese Saran, which (even though I thought it all came from the same company) is actually much thicker than American saran hair, and Azone is not the best at curling it.Actually, scratch that. I've NEVER seen a Japanese doll with this hair that didn't need to be fixed up some. But in Azone's case, my Secret Wonderland Lien had super frizzy ends, almost like they were melted to keep the sausage curls in place! The pink haired girl you pointed out- Secret Wonderland Chiika- is notorious for this issue. I've seen many reroots of her!

    I'm also glad you reviewed Tsumugi! She's one of my favorite characters from the Anime. Her eyebrows are hilarious compared to the average thin-anime bows. There's even a scene where they turn into caterpillars and crawl away! (It was a dream sequence!)

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    1. That's so funny about Mugi's eyebrows! They are definitely much thicker than normal. The sense of humor in K-On! is really goofy and fun. I read a description of Mugi somewhere that gave a special name to her eyebrow shape, but then I forgot what it was or where I read it. :/ It's great to hear your thoughts about these dolls, Connor, since you've clearly been collecting data for many years! I'm glad to be warned about the hair, because Mugi's hair is wonderful and I never would have thought to be cautious about future dolls! On the other hand, Pullips have this inconsistency, too. Thank you again for sharing your experiences--it adds a great dimension to the review!! :D

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  14. Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai
    Ano hi - that day
    Mita - saw
    Hana no namae - flower's name
    Bokutachi - we (for boys)
    Mada - not yet
    Shiranai - do not know

    Ano hana just means That flower.

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    1. You are awesome, Jamie! Thank you for the break down of this name. :) I really like this anime, despite its sad themes.

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  15. Those awkward fists are made to do an aegyo (or be kawaii, since I believe it's a japaesse doll?), like here (huuuuuge link): https://yellowslugreviews.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/aegyo-the-bane-of-k-pop-and-my-existence-kinda-sorta-maybe/

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  16. I actually got one of the Picco Neemos (D version, with the oversize hands and feet) earlier this year with the intent to customize it - mine has an Obitsu 11cm head. That amount of articulation in a mere 6" of body should probably qualify as sinful. It's so much fun to pose, and since it's been sitting on top of my desk waiting its turn everyone who's visited can't resist picking it up and fiddling with it. I agree with you about the nice weight of these; something about that coupled with the...compactness, I guess?...of the figure itself appeals to me the same way the 'little sister' molds in the Monster- and Ever After High lines do.

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  17. I don't have any full dolls, but I love the Azone bodies. I rebodied all my Licca and Skipper type dolls on them. I especially love the legs, the full calves just look really cute to me for some reason! You can use pastel to add shading to them, the same way as you can with resin BJDs, too which is a big plus. I had one of those novelty Monster High Frankie Stein pens and put the head on a picco neemo body I shaded green with pastel. She looks really cool! :)

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  18. She's awesome. Thank you for the neat review. I really like how you do the different poses and comparisons between dolls and the sharing of clothes.

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  19. Where did you buy her from?

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    1. Try amiami, hobby search or hobby link japan, but you can only buy or preorder new releases there only. Secondary market is yahoo japan auction, mandarake and ebay. But trust me, buy the newer releases, you'll save a lot of money that way. ;)

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  20. Dolls released after mid 2013 got the full flection bodies, there are three packs of hands too, although only set A came free with their dolls, usually. They based their anime dolls on their anime look so that might explain the skirt difference, oh, and Ritsu didn't come with a drum set, just an extra costume.

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  21. Hello Emily, long time no see :) Still loving your in-depth reviews and beautiful photos
    K-ON! was, strangely enough, one of the first animes I've watched so it has a special place in my heart x) Tsumugi is a sweetheart, but I think I'll go check out how well the other girls look in this doll version (especially my favourite, Ritsu :D)
    It's a little disappointing how weirdly articulated this doll is. I suppose it's meant more for display on some otaku's shelf than play but I can't help but wonder how cool it would be to not have it drop limbs for little to no reason xD

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  22. It's lovely to see an Azone International review from you. :) I originally stumbled upon your blog for Monster High reviews, but I've enjoyed reading about various different dolls as well. Your reviews are so detailed and informative, thank you so much for making them!

    It looks like these K-On!! dolls are from the era with the first type of elbow joints. The early Azone Pureneemo Advance bodies didn't have joints at the elbows and knees at all, and when they first came out with the Flection bodies in 2010, they had these types of elbows that come off very easily. Later they upgraded the elbows to ones that stay on better. A friend of mine has a good information package about Azone dolls and the different body types in her blog: Pureneemo Diaries.

    I'm sure you'd enjoy Mugi more if she had the newer type of elbow joints. :) I've been lucky in the way that I've only had one doll with these old type elbows (Pureneemo Sahra's a la Mode White Kiss Maya), and needless to say, I switched her to a Flection Full Action body rather quickly. I've switched out all the Flection type bodies of my Pureneemo dolls, actually. The range of movement that the shoulder joints have in Flection Full Action bodies, and the fact that you can spread the legs to the side on those bodies, brings so many more possibilities in posing the dolls. When I took some reference photos of the different sized bodies a while ago, I also did a small comparison of the posing capabilities. If you're interested, you can view those photos here.

    If you end up either getting another Pureneemo doll with the Flection Full Action body or just the body itself for your other dolls, I'd love to read your thoughts on it!

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  23. They are all a little stiff at first. A bit of movement should loosen her joints.

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  24. Also worth mentioning, she seems to be on a Small body. If you ever decide to get another body for her, you could be able to experiment with any size you wish. Her head should still fit on XS/M/L as well as S bodies while looking natural. Medium bodies with an LL bust should be no exception as well. The only issue comes with skin tone. There is a skin tone known as fair, a.k.a. white. Mugi is the normal skin color, so a white body would not suit her well. Sorry if any of this is old info to you though. Just figured it might help since this is all stuff I wish I knew when I started.

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  25. I actually just recently got an azone doll and she happens to be Yui hirasawa from K-on! I love her so much! Our dolls should meet someday!
    Great review!

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