I had a great time wandering through all of the aisles, looking at the dolls and eavesdropping on earnest conversations and negotiations between little kids and their parents. So sweet. I also enjoyed seeing the new American Girl display, which takes up half of the front of the store now (and has displaced the Journey Girls completely). I got to see all of the WellieWishers characters and admire the ocean-loving Camille in person (her hair looks great!). It was a wonderful, indulgent morning.
As much fun as I was having on this outing, though, I found very few new items that I was interested in buying. Then, finally, on my second sweep of the Lalaloopsy aisle, I spotted a doll I'd never seen before--jammed in between the boxes of a different brand. She had pink hair and looked vaguely like a Pullip. The box revealed that she was a Shibajuku Girl by Hunter Products. I scoured all of the doll aisles one more time, looking for this doll's original shelf. Finally I found it: a spot on the very bottom row, tucked away and easy to miss. There were five or six more Shibajuku Girls there, some of the boxes tipped on their sides, some obscured by Miraculous Ladybug merchandise. I hunkered down in the aisle and carefully inspected all of the characters. After about twenty minutes of analysis and deliberation, I left with a big smile on my face and Shibajuku Yoko tucked under one arm:
|Shibajuku Girl "Yoko" by Hunter Products, $29.99.|
When I got home from my shopping trip I looked up the Shibajuku Girls online...and found very little. There were a few dolls listed for sale on Amazon (for over $100) but nothing on the Toys R Us website (at this point, though, the dolls are available on the Toys R Us website for $29.99 and "only" cost $50 on Amazon).
I did find one informative article in my online search. It's from the Daily Mail. Apparently, the Shibajuku dolls were launched in Australia last summer and have been available in Europe ever since. They're inspired by Japanese Harajuku and Shibuya street fashion--hence the hybrid name of the brand.
According to the Daily Mail article, Madeleine Hunter (the designer of the Shibajuku Girls) tried to make her dolls stand out by giving them pretty faces, a larger-than-normal size (13 inches), and glass inset eyes. I don't believe that these eyes are glass, though. I think a lot of people say glass when they mean acrylic. This mislabeling happens in the reborn world, too, where "crystal glass" eyes are actually made out of plastic.
The dolls definitely have sweet faces and an impressive size, though. In fact, it was probably the size of this doll's box that caused me to notice her in the first place:
The cardboard box has a large plastic window that makes the entire doll visible. The brand name is written in multicolored metallic font at the bottom:
The back of the box has a description of each character's personality. My doll is named Yoko. Yoko is an aspiring writer who enjoys spooky stories and dark clothes:
I appreciate that Yoko is a writer, but I actually chose this character because of her dark clothes. I think I've mentioned before that pink and blue do not tend to photograph well with my backdrop. Having some black in the mix helps balance these colors for some reason.
There are five dolls in the Shibajuku line, Suki, Namika, Shizuka, Koe and Yoko:
These are mostly Japanese names. Suki means "one who is loved," although I gather it isn't used as a girl's name in Japan--just an expression. Namika means "wave," Shizuka means "quiet calm flower" (or "quiet calm fragrance"), Yoko means child...and Koe? There's very little information about Koe as a first name. The word means "voice" in Japanese, though.
All of the dolls are pale white except for Namika. Namika was white in her promotional pictures but the production doll is black. I'm surprised by the lack of diversity in this group. On the other hand, the dolls are so stylized it's hard to tell what ethnicity (if any) they're meant to be. There's a similar lack of diversity in the Pullip line, and even in popular Japanese brands like Hatsune Miku.
My favorite doll is Koe, but she was the only character who was not available at Toys R Us that day. She seems to be much harder to find than the other four:
I also like Shizuka because she has heterochromia iridum (mismatched eyes). She's too pale and pink to photograph well for me, though, so I did not choose her:
I ended up purchasing Yoko and then--a few days later--Namika. I'll review both of these dolls today.
The bottom of the box has the Hunter Products company logo (named for Madeleine Hunter) and some copyright information:
Yoko is attached to a flower-printed cardboard backdrop that slides easily out of the main box:
She's mounted on a piece of clear plastic and secured with long plastic ties:
This doll's large head and long hair make her incredibly top-heavy, but I did manage to get her to stand on her own for a few seconds right out of the box:
Yoko's hair is filled with large clips and decorations that are in keeping with the Harajuku fashion motif. All of the Shibajuku Girls come with hair accessories that can be shared with real people.
Here are the pieces that came with Yoko:
|Yoko's hair clips.|
There's a puffy, glittery pink butterfly:
I wish there was a more substantial clip at the back of this barrette, though. This simple slide clip does not grab hair very well (and can't grab the hair symmetrically):
There's also a very large, complex clip with two glitter-covered felt shapes and a big bow:
This small rhinestone-encrusted metal bow is probably my favorite accessory:
It's very sturdy and heavy and the tooth-like grips on the clip help hold it in place:
The last piece is a simple clip with a pink fabric slip cover:
The hair accessories are the only extras that come with Yoko. She does not have a stand--which is unfortunate.
Even though Yoko can balance on her own...
...she tips over really easily.
I found it much less frustrating to have Yoko on a stand, although she's still a tricky doll to pose and maneuver because of her large head and her thick, long hair.
This Kaiser stand worked well when I positioned it around Yoko's hips:
Yoko has pink and purple hair and bright blue eyes:
Her hair is rooted with a right side part, so there's a slightly more pink hair than purple:
There are long bangs rooted at the front of Yoko's hairline. These sections of hair are pulled to the sides in small ponytails:
The hair came with a lot of styling product in it. When I brushed the hair out, tons of white flakes rained down everywhere:
Including all over my lap:
The hair is rooted in wide rows that angle slightly downwards towards the midline in back:
The side part on the top of Yoko's head is rooted more densely than the other areas:
Here's Yoko with her hair brushed:
The hair fiber is shiny and smooth with some synthetic coarseness--especially at the ends.
I pulled Yoko's hair back into a single thick ponytail so that I could get a clear look at her face. The focused weight of the ponytail made it even harder for me to balance this doll--even with the stand:
Yoko has a wide-eyed, Pullip-like face with inset (fixed) eyes and attached lashes:
Her face is very symmetric, with both profiles virtually identical. The bridge of her nose slopes down into a low-set, undersized mouth and chin region:
She has pale pink eyebrows and faint pink shading on her cheeks and around her eyes:
She has a layer of silver glitter just above her eyes:
My Yoko has a small paint defect in her left eyebrow. Several of the dolls at Toys R Us had similar (mild) defects in their face paint.
The eyes themselves have a lot of realistic detail in the iris. They are definitely not made out of glass, though:
|Those pupils are really big.|
The curled upper eyelashes are made out of plastic and are attached into a slot in the upper part of the eyeball. The lower lashes are painted:
My doll has very pale pastel pink lips:
|And also a funny mark on her nostril...|
The other Yoko dolls at my store (and the Yoko doll shown on the box) have darker lips that more closely match the color of the hair:
I prefer my doll's pale lips and chose her specifically because of that variation.
Yoko's outfit represents the darker side of Harajuku fashion:
She's wearing a plain, stretchy black top with a matching skirt. The skirt has a lace overlay with a contradictory chain accent:
Both the skirt and the shirt close in back with a velcro seam. The edges of the shirt's seam do not lay flat:
The shirt is cut to hang slightly longer at the sides than in the front or back. It is stitched with white thread:
This is not a very interesting garment, but it's easy to get on and off and does not appear to have stained the doll's body.
The skirt has a ribbon that fits between Yoko's legs. This keeps the waistline from riding too high.
The main part of the skirt is made out of a black stretchy knit that matches the shirt. It has a simple silver print. The overskirt is cut from black lace and accented with a real metal chain:
My favorite part of Yoko's outfit is her black knee-high cat socks:
I love the little ear shapes sticking up at the top. Also, the applied face design is very crisp and clear:
Yoko is wearing little vinyl sneakers. I wish she had boots or something more substantial. Heavier footwear might have helped her stand up a little better.
Under the socks, Yoko's legs were partially-wrapped with a layer of white tissue paper:
Despite this precaution there are some small black marks on Yoko's legs:
Yoko's entire body is made out of hard plastic with the exception of her soft vinyl head and hands. She has eleven points of articulation:
She has skin-colored molded underwear with a polka dot pattern and a little bow accent:
Her back is marked with the Hunter copyright and a serial number. She was made in China:
Yoko's head has simple rotational articulation. She can't look up or down...except for the fact that when her head swivels to the side, she automatically looks up a little bit:
By the time Yoko's face is pointing backwards, her chin is tipped up about 20 degrees from where it started:
Yoko's shoulders, elbows and wrists have hinged rotation and a wide range of motion:
Both her elbows and her wrists can bend to almost exactly a 90 degree angle:
She can easily touch her head, her face and her hip:
Despite rotating hinge joints in her hips and knees, Yoko is not quite as skilled in the splits department. She stops short of doing full side-to-side splits:
And her legs do not move backwards at the hip enough for her to do full front-to-back splits:
Her legs move forward at the hip nicely so she can sit on the ground with no trouble:
Her knees have good flexibility, but don't quite bend 90 degrees.
She has smooth rotation in her knee joint, though:
Yoko can sit in a chair, but that oversized head makes her topple over really easily. She had to hang on to this slippery chair with one arm!
Yoko's knee and hip joints allow her to kneel--but only if she's leaning pretty far back:
With a lot of patience and a steady hand, I was able to get Yoko to balance on her own in this position. I snapped a picture milliseconds before she tumbled over:
Here's Yoko next to my Pullip doll, Eos:
|Shibajuku Girl Yoko, Pullip doll Eos.|
Shibajuku Girl Yoko, Pullip doll Eos.
The two have obvious similarities, but to me the most striking difference is in the eyes. Eos has an inset eye mechanism that allows her to glance from side to side and also to close her eyes or wink. This adds a lot to her personality. Yoko looks a little spacey standing next to Eos. Eos also has three extra points of articulation: torso and both ankles.
Some Pullip dolls have amazing hair, so Eos is a poor example in this department. Yoko's hair is significantly nicer than Eos' hair...and much, much easier to manage.
These few differences don't seem like enough to justify the $50-$70 price discrepancy between Pullip and Shibajuku. The clothing makes up the rest of the difference. Pullip outfits tend to be highly-detailed and exquisitely made. Shibajuku outfits are relatively simple.
Here's Yoko next to another Pullip-like doll, Tangkou's Loli:
|Shibajuku Girl Yoko, Tangkou doll Loli.|
|Shibajuku Girl Yoko, Tangkou doll Loli.|
Loli cost about $70. She has movable eyes that blink and change color. She's like a Pullip-Blythe chimera in this respect. I prefer Yoko's face mold to Loli's but I still think that the movable eyes make a huge difference in the personality of these dolls. Loli is a character...Yoko is more of a doll.
Loli also has the torso and ankle articulation that Yoko is lacking. However, the Tangkou outfits are not extraordinary, so the eye mechanism really accounts for most of the price gap between these two.
Here's Yoko with another large-headed play doll: Crystalina from the Cutie Pops line:
|Shibajuku Girl Yoko, Cutie Pops Crystalina.|
I miss the Cutie Pops. Crystalina cost $16.99 when I purchased her back in 2013, so she's about $10 less expensive than Yoko.
Crystalina does not have as many joints as Yoko, but she has eyes that can be removed and swapped with other eyes--closed or open. This feature does a nice job of economically imitating the changeable eyes of Blythe and Pullip.
I like both of these dolls, but Yoko's enhanced articulation and full head of hair make her more versatile.
For a more general size comparison, here's Yoko with a Made to Move Barbie:
|Shibajuku Girl Yoko, Made to Move Barbie.|
The torsos on these two dolls are quite similar, although Barbie has a wider chest and shoulder area:
|Shibajuku Girl Yoko, Made to Move Barbie.|
I put Yoko back into her outfit and had fun posing her and playing with her colorful hair:
When I was at Toys R Us, it wasn't easy for me to choose which of the Shibajuku Girls to buy--as is often my problem when a new line comes out. I really like all of the girls for different reasons. I settled on Yoko pretty quickly because of her colorful hair and black outfit, but I had a hard time leaving Namika on the shelf. I like that she's the only doll of color in the collection, and I also really like her sailor-themed outfit and mismatched socks. I left Toys R Us with just Yoko on that first trip, but ended up returning a day or two later to get Namika.
I love how all of the Shibajuku dolls are posed differently in their boxes. Yoko was in a knock-kneed position, as though she was trying to catch her balance. Namika comes in a questioning pose, as if to say Emily, why did you leave me in the store that first time??
|What took you so long?|
I really like Namika's character description, too, for obvious reasons:
She loves to read and is into science. Definitely my kind of girl:
Namika comes with the same flowery backdrop as Yoko:
As much as I like Namika, there are two things about her that I wish were different: her chunky bangs and the fact that her blush and lipstick are pale, pastel purple:
The purple eyeshadow looks great, but I've never been a fan of light purple lipstick...or light blue lipstick for that matter. To me, those colors make dolls look like they're sick or suffocating. I have a hard time seeing past it. Playing with unusual colors is very typical of the Harajuku style, though, from what I've read. So Namika's coloring is unique and appropriate for her style, it's just not really my taste.
I like her outfit, though, and she comes with a wild assortment of fun hair accessories--just like Yoko:
There are some parallels between this assortment of hair clips and what we saw with Yoko:
|Namika's hair clips.|
Namika has a puffy butterfly barette that's the same shape as Yoko's butterfly, but Namika's version is light pink with a smaller butterfly cut-out on the front:
Namika's large felt clip is in the shape of a cupcake:
And her little metal rhinestone bow is pink, not black:
Her pink slip-covered clip is almost exactly the same as Yoko's:
These hair clips came tied into Namika's hair with clear rubber bands. When I pulled the rubber bands out of her bangs, it left a few sections of hair sticking out at funny angles:
Namika's hair is styled in two long ponytails with a rooted center part in the middle:
The rubber bands that hold the ponytails in place are covered with sections of hair. I think this looks very polished:
Brushing Namika's hair did not create quite as large a flurry of styling product dandruff as what I experienced with Yoko.
Namika's hair is very thick and pretty. I think the extra center part in back adds nicely to the overall hair volume:
Namika has light brown eyes and khaki eyebrows. Her eyeshadow is a fun mix of dark purple with silver glitter on top and lighter lavender on the bottom:
Namika is wearing a white knit tee shirt with a crisp blue sailor collar:
In a reverse situation to Yoko's outfit, this ensemble has a complex top and a very simple plaid print skirt.
Both pieces open in the back with velcro:
As cute as this shirt is, it has some construction problems. First of all, the pink scarf that accents the collar is not held in place with thread--it's just tucked into a small loop of fabric in front. The scarf comes unfastened very easily:
Also, the sailor collar is made out of a nice woven fabric with delicate white edging, but the fabric is so stiff that the collar sticks up most of the time.
Every time I put the sailor shirt back on Namika, I have to flatten the collar. Also, whenever I redressed Namika, I usually had to re-thread that pink scarf through the hoop in front...which is hard to do.
I do admire the tiny details on this shirt, though:
I also love Namika's socks. She's wearing one blue striped sock and one pink polka dot sock:
Her shoes are the same mold as Yoko's shoes, they're just made in a bright blue vinyl. There are a lot of different shades of blue in this outfit, and for the most part, they work well together. The shoes seem a little out-of-place to me, though. I think pale pink shoes would have been better.
I also occurs to me that there's no connection between Namika's pale purple makeup and her blue-and-pink outfit.
Anyway, the socks have little feet and are surprisingly easy to get on and off:
Namika's hair looked really cute in its ponytails, but I still wanted to take it down so that I could feel the texture better and take a look at the rooting.
The center part in back is concealed beautifully when the hair is let down:
This doll has a really full, luxurious head of hair--in a gorgeous auburn brown color.
The hair fiber feels about the same as Yoko's--nice and smooth at the top with some coarseness at the bottom. Namika's hair is more coarse at the ends than Yoko's hair. It's the kind of hair that could cause tangling problems in the future.
At the sides of her head, Namika's rooting plugs look similar to Yoko's, with the rows of hair angled in a slightly different way:
As I mentioned before, it's that extra row of rooting in the back that really enhances the overall thickness of Namika's hair.
The strands of hair that were concealing Namika's ponytail holders have a lot of kinks in them. You can see these sections hiding at the back of Namika's head:
I'll probably have to boil-wash the hair if I want those kinks to completely disappear.
Namika's bangs are not as ragged as they looked in the box, but I'm still not a huge fan of doll bangs. I tried to move Namika's bangs off her forehead with the two little pink hair clips:
This doesn't work very well with the pattern of rooting at the front of Namika's head, though:
Sweeping all of the bangs off to one side turned out to be a better approach:
I like being able to see more of this doll's sweet face!
I played around with some of the other hair clips. Many of them don't stay in place well, especially if the hair is loose:
When the clips are used next to a section of tied hair (like a ponytail or braid) they work a lot better:
I tried a lot of hairstyles...some more successful than others:
This is my favorite:
I think Namika looks best in her original two-ponytail style:
The last thing I did was play around with Namika and Yoko's outfits. Of course the two dolls can share clothing perfectly, and it's fun to mix and match the different pieces.
Namika is my favorite doll, so I selected an outfit for her first. I like this mix of clothes best:
|Namika wearing some of Yoko's clothes.|
That's Yoko's shirt, Namika's skirt, Yoko's socks and Namika's shoes.
And there's no frustrating sailor collar to deal with!
This left Yoko with Namika's sailor shirt, her own black lacy skirt, Namika's mismatched socks, and the black shoes:
|Yoko wearing some of Namika's clothes.|
This is not quite as successful as the first outfit, but I like how Yoko's hair brings out the pink in the sailor shirt and the polka-dotted sock.
Bottom line? Shibajuku Girls certainly mimic Pullip dolls in a lot of important ways. They have large heads, huge eyes and creatively colorful hair. Their bodies have Pullip-like shapes, proportions and articulation. Even the Shibajuku clothing reminds me of certain Pullip outfits, the most obvious parallel being between Namika's shirt and Groove's recent Sailor Moon line. But a lot of dolls try to mimic Pullip--that's nothing new. What does seem new here is the availability and the price. I don't think I've ever seen a Pullip-style doll in Toys R Us before, and certainly not for $30. It's pretty awesome.
On the down side, these dolls are missing the eye mechanism and outfit complexity that make Groove's dolls so special. However, those omissions are certainly reflected in the price. I find that unless I'm looking at the Shibajuku Girls alongside a real Pullip, I'm not as aware of the difference in quality or personality. I'd say there's definitely room for the Shibajuku Girls on today's market. There's nothing else quite like them.
But let's ignore the similarities to Pullip for a minute and look at these dolls for what they are in their own right. I'd say that the only flaws to watch out for are some outfit missteps (like Namika's shirt), coarse hair ends, and the odd paint defect. I passed over a few of the dolls at my Toys R Us because of face paint problems that would have bothered me in the long run. Also, the dolls are incredibly top-heavy, which makes them difficult to pose without a solid stand. I'm listing this issue last because it probably won't bother kids who are going to play with the dolls--just collectors who want to pose and display them.
But with those few issues out of the way, I have only good things to say about the Shibajuku Girls. They have sweet, friendly faces that invite companionship and play. They have long, thick, colorful hair and realistic inset eyes. They have great articulation with especially expressive arms and hands. Their size (which is mostly due to the size of their heads) gives them a substantial, commanding presence. With the exception of Namika's shirt, the clothes are easy to use, have some cute little details, and are well-designed for mixing and matching. The hair clips are a neat accessory to these outfits, and they do a great job of enhancing the Harajuku fashion theme. Not only are the oversized clips fun to use on the dolls, but they could definitely be worn by real kids...although some of them don't grab onto hair as well as others.
Perhaps the best compliment I can give the Shibajuku Girls is that Namika is standing next to me as I type this--leaning up against the couch with one leg bent, her hands folded casually in front of her, those big brown eyes gazing kindly at my screen--and she's really nice to have around.
|Namika (left) and Yoko (right) Shibajuku Girls.|