Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Shibajuku Girls Mini Dolls: Shiba-Cuties!

Today I'm going to review several 6-inch Shiba-Cuties, the newest offering from Hunter Products' Shibajuku Girls collection.  I could declare that this review was part of the mini doll mini series I was talking about back in May, although I'll confess that I didn't even know about these particular minis when I had the idea to start that series.  And speaking of that series, I haven't forgotten about all of the other mini dolls that I want to review, but these Shibajuku newcomers stole the spotlight when they came into the house, probably because I've had this style of doll on my mind lately with the release of Gwen Stefani's Kuu Kuu Harajuku line.

I've been stalled in my mini doll reviews mostly because it's been too brutally hot and humid to take decent outdoor pictures.  In fact, it was brutally hot and humid the day I took the Shiba-Cuties outside for their photo shoot, but I managed to capture a few quick shots before I was attacked by mosquitoes of unusual size.  More on that later.  For now, I'll start things off by showing you one of the better pictures from that session.  It seems so calm and pleasant:

Shiba-Cuties doll, Namika ($9.90).
I found the Shiba-Cuties on Amazon while I was browsing the second wave of full-sized Shibajuku Girls.  The minis look a lot like the original dolls, so at first I thought that there was already a third wave of large dolls.  In the end, the lower price ($9.90) and simpler clothing clued me in to the fact that the newest dolls are tiny.  I was actually more excited to see minis than I would have been to see another wave of large Shibajuku Girls.  I love mini dolls.

I wrote a mostly positive review of the large Namika and Yoko back in December, but had less fun with Namika when I got her out of storage for my Kuu Kuu Harajuku review.  The Shibajuku Girls are extremely top-heavy and hard to manage, and Namika's hair gets tangled easily.  Of the two new Harajuknu-themed dolls, I prefer the Kuu Kuu Harajuku girls.

Anyway, I had high hopes for the Shiba-Cuties because I figured their small size would make them easier to manage.  My first choice was the Namika mini--so that I could compare her to my large Namika:


One thing was clear about mini Namika from the start: she does not resemble the large Namika.  Most notably, she's not dark-skinned (nor does she have bangs).  

I should qualify that by saying that mini Namika does not resemble the larger Namika doll that's sold in the United States.  From what I understand, the prototype Namika (and the version currently sold in Australia and Europe) is light-skinned.

Mini Namika comes in a pretty window box with plastic sides:


The back of the box is cardboard, and has small photographs of all the Shiba-Cuties characters:


The character names are the same as the first wave Shibajuku Girls characters, with the exception of Miki, who's new:

The Shiba-Cuties.
Namika isn't the only mini who does not resemble her larger self, either.  Some notable differences are that Mini Koe has light blonde (not yellow) hair, mini Shizuka's eyes match (boo!), and mini Yoko has completely different hair and eye colors.

Here's a picture of the larger wave 1 dolls for comparison:

The first wave Shibajuku Girls.
For reference, the second wave of larger dolls includes Suki, Shizuka, Koe, Yoko and Miki:

The second wave Shibajuku Girls.
Of these, I like Yoko best.  She has light purple hair, pretty blue eyes, and a great outfit.

Mini Namika comes attached to a flowery cardboard backdrop that slides out of the main box:

review

She was attached to a molded shell with some long plastic ties.  There were no short ties stuck into her head--thank goodness.

I had a really hard time getting Namika to stand up on her own.  Like the larger dolls, she's quite top heavy, but the bigger problem is that her legs are skinny, wobbly and warped.  Her right leg bends noticeably outwards at the knee:


And her hip joints are loose and can't hold a pose well.  This is difficult to show in still photos, so I made a quick video.  You can see how much movement there is in the hip joints when I gently shake the doll back and forth:

video

I finally got her to stand for a few quick pictures:


She has big brown eyes and dark brown hair that comes in two long ponytails:


The ponytails look simple from the front, but the hair is parted in a criss-cross pattern in the back, which is cute:


I like the crossed hair in back, but overall I was struck by the messiness of Namika's presentation.  Notice in the picture, below, how there are stray hairs everywhere, the shirt has a lot of long threads and is not closed properly, and the hem of the skirt is cut poorly:


Namika did not come with a doll stand, nor do I have one that fits her.  The best I could do was use a small Kaiser stand (with the waist grip pointed backwards) to give her something to lean up against:


Even with this support, Namika fell over a lot.  

I was able to get a better picture of the back of her outfit, though.  The unfinished edges of the pink fabric are curled outward, and the vinyl skirt has a section where the hem is cut too short, and another little tab that was cut too long:


There's very little that I like about this outfit.  It drags Namika down.  But I'll come back and look at the outfit later.  For now let's focus on Namika's best feature--her face.

The inset eyes, face paint, raised eyebrows, and overall head shape make mini Namika clearly recognizable as a Shibajuku Girl.  I think these distinct features were very well replicated in smaller scale:

review

In fact, I like the Shiba-Cutie faces more than the Shibajuku Girl faces--quite a bit more.  Here's the large Yoko's face for comparison (I'd use large Namika here, but her bangs make it hard to see her face):

Shibajuku Girls Yoko.
The two biggest differences I notice are that the mini dolls do not look quite as happy as the larger girls, and their eyes are not as circular or wide-set.

Many details about the eyes themselves are very similar between the two types of doll:


A few differences are that Mini Namika is missing the thin bands of colored eyeshadow above her eyes and there is not as much detail in her brown irises.  Here's a look at large Namika's eye for comparison:


Mini Namika has the same band of glitter eyeshadow, the same type of applied lashes (rooted right into the top of the eyeball), the same style of painted lower lashes, the same reflective dot pattern over each pupil, and a similar colored accent at the edge of each eye:


There are a few paint smudges on mini Namika's lashes, and the glitter eyeshadow is heavy-handed, but overall I think the eyes are very well done.

The Shiba-Cuties each come with one large hair clip that can be shared with the larger dolls or even with real kids:


Namika's clip is in the shape of a kitten.  The kitten is cut out of stiff pink felt and is decorated with mini pink and black rhinestones:


The clip itself is a regular metal hair clip that's been covered with pink ribbon.  The construction is a little easier to see from the side:


The clip has a tight mechanism and stays in place well, but it's so large on the mini dolls that I struggled to think up creative ways to use it with them.  It's great on the larger Shibajuku Girls:

Big Namika wearing little Namika's hair clip.
Mini Namika's long hair is parted on the right side and each ponytail is tied with two clear rubber bands:


I removed the rubber bands and let the hair down.  

There's a lot of styling product in this hair, so the strands feel stiff and coarse and they stick out in different directions:


The appearance of the hair was improved slightly by a thorough brushing:


The criss-cross pattern in back completely disappeared after the hair was brushed:


The hair is rooted in a dense line at the top of the head, to create the part, and then it's rooted in wider-spaced rows down the back of the head.  None of the criss-cross pattern is rooted into the head.


My Namika had a problematic rooting flaw on the left side of her scalp.  Basically, some of the rooted plugs of of hair from the top of her head got caught up and stuck into rooting holes lower down on her head.  Here's a look at the worst area:


The double-rooted strands of hair created tight bands that trapped other sections of hair, pinning them against the scalp in errant ways.  

This flaw made the hair difficult to brush, so I got out my smallest scissors and tried to clip all of the tight bands of hair.  This fixed the problem:


With the flaw fixed, Namika's hair is ok.  It still feels coarse and stiff and would probably benefit from a boil wash.

I tied the hair back so that I could get a nice clear look at that little face:


Her profile looks exactly like that of the larger Shibajuku Girls.  The pointy nose, lips and chin are all clustered together at the bottom of the face, dwarfed by the enormous eyes:


Here's one of Yoko's mugshots again for a profile comparison:


And here's large Namika with her bangs as pulled-back as I could get them:


And the mini Namika:


Incidentally, I'm glad that mini Namika's lip paint and blush is not purple.  That's one of my least favorite features of the large Namika.

Ok, now let's take a closer look at mini Namika's underwhelming outfit.

She's wearing a neon pink collared blouse that's supposed to look like it's been tied at the waist:


Under that, she's wearing a bulky vinyl pleated skirt...that comes almost up to her armpits:


The skirt is stiff and shiny with a plastic, imitation leather feel.  It opens all of the way down the back with a thick rectangle of velcro:


The shirt has stitched side seams with generous seam allowances.  The collar is well-sewn, too, with the seam allowances hidden under the collar--not sticking out at the neckline:


The tied section at the bottom of the shirt is a little awkward, though.  It's just two strips of fabric from the bottom of the shirt that are tied loosely together.  They come untied easily.


The skirt has a stitched waistband at the top and unfinished edges everywhere else.  The six pleats are all sewn in place at the top of the skirt, too, but they lose their shape towards the bottom:


The vinyl fabric is backed with white knit:


Under her outfit, Namika has a slender plastic body with seven points of articulation:


Namika's body is about as wide as my pointer finger.  She has molded underwear and her lower legs and feet are molded out of pink vinyl.

She has a skinny profile with very little hip or bust definition: 


Her back is marked with a Hunter copyright and a March 2017 date stamp:


The Shiba-Cutie body is very similar in shape and proportion to the larger Shibajuku Girls body--it's just missing several points of articulation.  

Here are side-by-side photos of mini Namika (left) and large Yoko (right):


They even have the same molded pattern on their underpants:


Because mini Namika will not stand easily on her own (especially with her hair pulled back and her skirt removed...), I'll try to demonstrate her head mobility while she's sitting down.

Her neck joint is great.  Her head has ball-jointed movement and can look up and down...



...and tip from side-to-side:


Her arms have only simple rotational movement.  They can spin all of the way around, but can't hinge up and away from her body:


The arms are made out of semi-soft vinyl, though, so they can bend a little bit in every direction.

I really like Namika's delicate little hands!



Namika's hip joints might be loose and jiggly, but they can't quite accommodate full front-to-back splits:


The hip joints have ratcheting hinged movement, though, so she can do excellent side-to-side splits:


Here's an up-close look at the hip joint mechanism:


The pink connector attaches to the torso with a rotating joint, and then attaches to the upper thigh with a ratcheting hinge.  The thigh side of the joint holds its position well, it's the torso side that's too loose.

Fun fact: the hip joint connector is always the same color as that doll's lower legs.  So--Namika's joint is pink, but dolls with black socks (like Yoko) have a black hip connector.

Namika has hinged knees that bed to a 90 degree angle.  The movement of the knees is not smooth, though.  Sections of pink vinyl on the lower leg tend to get caught up on the flange of the upper leg, inhibiting the movement of the joint.

Once they're bent, the joints allow Namika to sit nicely in a chair:


The knees also rotate:


Namika can kneel, but she can't balance on her own in this position:


She can also sit on the ground with her legs in a variety of positions:


This is my favorite:


Namika's pink lower legs have molded shoes with no painted detail:


My doll has something in the vinyl of her right shoe.  I have no idea what it is, but it's like a splinter--stuck right into the vinyl.  I can't get it out.


Namika has many features in common with mini Pullip and mini Blythe dolls, but she's quite a bit taller than both of them:

Mini Pullip, Shiba-Cutie, Littlest Pet Shop Blythe.
Notice that I had to clip Namika to the rod of a Littlest Pet Shop Blythe stand in the picture, above.  I really wish that--like the Blythe and Pullip minis--she came with her own stand.

In fact, playing with the L.P.S. Blythe minis for this review really made me miss those little ones.  They were among the very first dolls I ever reviewed.

Here's a close-up of one of my favorite Blythe girls:


She has a great outfit.  The contrast between this outfit and Namika's outfit is remarkable.

Blythe's cream knit sweater has realistically-gauged stitches and a tiny mock turtleneck:


The sweater opens down the back with velcro, but the velcro is nicely hidden and the seam doesn't look sloppy:


The pleated skirt fits around the doll's waist perfectly, and the pleats hang in crisp folds all of the way down to the hem:


All of the edges on these clothes are finished.  Furthermore, the tiny little boots are removable.  The feet are so small that this doesn't seem possible, but all of the L.P.S. Blythes have removable shoes.  The shoes don't really help the dolls stand on their own, but that's probably they came with stands.

These little Blythe dolls also came with full-sized Littlest Pet Shop pets and cost--if my memory serves--just over $10.

Taking all of that into account, I think this...


...is a better deal than this:


Unfortunately, Namika can't share much of Blythe's cute clothing.  Blythe's pants, for example would never fit over Namika's big shoes.

The pieces that work best are the dresses (although they're way too short):

Shiba-Cutie wearing Littlest Pet Shop Blythe dress.
And the separates (although this skirt is too short and too tight):

Shiba-Cutie wearing Littlest Pet Shop Blythe separates.
I pulled out a few other mini dolls to give you a better idea of how tall Namika is.  Here she is with a BeForever American Girl mini and a new My Life As mini from Walmart:

BeForever American Girl mini, Shiba-Cutie, My Life As mini.
The Disney mini dolls are a little closer in scale to Namika (at least if you ignore their heads...), and I also threw a Moxie Friends doll into the lineup, just for fun:

Mini Disney Elsa, Shiba-Cutie, Moxie Girlz Friends.
Elsa's dress fits Namika surprisingly well:

Shiba-Cutie wearing mini Elsa's dress.
So the Shiba-Cuties are well set up if they feel like dressing up as Princesses.

This happened seconds after I took that picture above...


...and I'm including it just because this was so common throughout the review.  Namika fell over at least once with every single pose I attempted.  I wish I was exaggerating.

Last, here's Namika with a Barbie Mini Kingdom doll and Family Corners Trista:

Barbie Mini Kingdom, Shiba-Cutie, Family Corners.
Namika cannot share clothing with these two because of the difference in their shoulder widths--Barbie and Trista's clothes are too big in the chest and shoulders.

Even though small Namika is not a perfect replica of large Namika, I wanted to get a few pictures of the two dolls together.  Large Namika did not come with a stand, either, but she can make due with a few other brands of stand, like this one from Blythe:


I decided to just leave Namika as she was for the photo, above.  Her hair is messy and her shirt collar is sticking straight up.  She's definitely still cute, but I wanted to show you a more accurate representation of what she looks like a few months out of her box.

One of her barrettes is coming unglued, too:


I struggled to get a decent picture of these dolls together.  Between big Namika's loose arms and small Namika's loose hips, one or the other of them was always tipping over:


I thought perhaps having big Namika sit in a chair would help, but her heavy head just made both dolls tip over in a different way:


Of all the dolls I've worked with, these two are among the most difficult to pose.


Even when I gave up balancing the dolls and simply held small Namika in place next to big Namika...


...the position didn't last long:




This was the best I could do:

review

It's probably clear that I was fed up with the Namikas at this stage.  The extreme heat and humidity of the last few weeks certainly didn't help.  It's much easier to be patient with an unruly doll when the temperature outside is reasonable.  I suspect that the ambient heat combined with my photography lights made it over 100 degrees in my studio.  But still.  I fight these battles a lot and am very rarely as fed up as I was with Namika 1 and Namika 2.

I wasn't extraordinarily eager to open another Shiba-Cutie doll at this stage, but I like to look at more than one doll from a new series--if price permits--simply because the flaws in one doll are not necessarily representative of the whole line.

So...I bought mini Suki: 


Suki comes in basically the same box as Namika--this box just has a different name on the front:


I was encouraged by the fact that even while Suki was still in her packaging, her one-piece outfit looked significantly nicer than Namika's clashing separates:


I also love Suki's pink hair and blue-grey eyes.

I had better luck getting Suki to stand up on her own...

review


...although I still wouldn't call her easy to balance.  Not by a long shot.


At one point I even got Suki to balance in a walking pose, which was completely impossible with Namika:


Notice how messy the hem of her dress is, though, with several unraveled threads hanging down:


Her dress also came lopsided in the back...


...but a quick re-set of the velcro seam fixed this right up:


Suki's hair has a bit of a criss-cross part in the back, but the style got flattened in the box, exposing a lot of root plugs:


Suki's hair clip has the same construction style as Namika's clip, but it's in the shape of a yellow moon:


I took Suki's ponytails out and brushed her hair.  This hair feels nicer than Namika's hair.  I think the difference is mostly due to the fact that--for some reason--there's no styling product in Suki's hair.  This hair also has a more full, wavy texture:


Suki has the same basic eye makeup as Namika, with glitter on her eyelids and pink accents at the edges of her eyes.


Some of Suki's eye glitter has rubbed off, though.

I tied Suki's hair back so that I could get a good look at her face and outfit.  

She has pink eyebrows that are set a little lower than Namika's brown eyebrows, and pink lips that are slightly paler than Namika's lips:


Here are Namika and Suki side-by-side:


It looks a bit like they have different skin tones in the two pictures, above, but there's no perceivable difference in real life.  Any variation is extremely subtle.  I suspect the colors in the hair and clothing cast slightly different shades on the pale skin.  To my eye, all of the Shiba-Cuties have the same skin tone.

Here's a photo with the two girls right next to each other.  I think it's clearer here that they have the same coloring, although Suki still looks slightly yellow:


Here they are again--zoomed out a bit and on opposite sides of the frame:


The girls have exactly the same body--right down to their pink stockings and shoes.

Suki's outfit is much better than Namika's, but it's not without a few flaws of its own.  Let's take a look:


It's a one-piece dress with a plain white tee shirt top and a more intricate rainbow skirt.  The skirt is blue on top and pink on the bottom, with a band of yellow satin ribbon in between.  There's also a band of pink ribbon at the waistline.

The hemline of the skirt is unfinished, and the thin fabric tends to curl up on itself.  In addition, as we saw earlier, the edges of the fabric are unraveling.


The fabric in the skirt is a loose, tulle-like weave with metallic polka dot accents.  The blue section of the skirt, at the top, is lined with sizing so that it's not see-through.  The lower, pink half of the skirt is unlined and so it reveals a bit of leg.

Here's the inside of the dress so you can see what I mean:


The full velcro seam makes this dress easy to remove, but the scratchy velcro also catches on the white knit fabric of the dress really easily.  The left sleeve is already snagged in a few places, although it's really hard to see in photos:


There are two snags on the front of the dress as well:


Suki has the same difficulty with her knee joints that I described with Namika.  With Suki, though, I managed to get a picture of the vinyl of the lower leg caught on the flange of the upper leg:


Here's an even closer look:


These areas of excess vinyl can be carefully smoothed or scraped off with a fingernail or the edge of a dull pair of scissors.  This improves the mobility of the knee.

I like Suki better than Namika.  Her hair is fun (and feels nice), her outfit is creative and cute, and her hip joints are tighter than Namika's, making her a little easier to pose and balance.


I also tend to like mini dolls that are replicas of their large counterparts.  In this respect, Suki is the best of the bunch.  She's a reasonably faithful miniature of the first wave large Suki--with pink hair, blue eyes, and a rainbow/polka dot outfit:


She's a colorful charmer who leaves me with a much better overall impression of the Shiba-Cuties.


Here are Namika and Suki together:

Shiba-Cuties Namika (left) and Suki (right).
The lesson I learned with Namika and Suki is that it's best to choose these dolls based on their hair and their outfit.  For those reasons, I thought mini Yoko might add some fun to the mix, with her two-toned hair and black dress:


Yoko was also appealing to me because I reviewed the larger version of this character (I no longer have her, though).  In addition, she's quite different from Namika and Suki, with black socks, a different shoe mold, and a new eye color (bright blue):


This Yoko has even tighter hip joints than Suki, and so she balances on her own without herculean effort:

review

...but she still falls over a fair amount.


In this video, I tried to shake Yoko back and forth the same way I shook Namika.  You can see that her legs don't jiggle nearly as much:

video

Yoko has the same hairstyle as the other girls: two long ponytails with a criss-crossed part in the back.  The back of Yoko's hair looks especially cool because of the two-toned hair:


I like how the dominant color from the front of each ponytail is reversed on the back:


Yoko's hair clip is in the shape of a teddy bear.  He even has a little pink felt bow tie!


I like the way the rhinestones look against the black felt of the bear.

The rooting pattern in Yoko's hair is similar to that of the other two dolls, but she has a center part along the top of her head, and a bit of a bald patch right behind that part:


Here she is with her hair down and brushed:


For the most part, the two colors of hair go to their separate sides, but there's a bit of mixing in the middle:


And that bald patch never completely goes away:


I pulled Yoko's hair back to get a clearer look at her face:


She has royal blue eyes that are not quite the same color as the large Yoko's eyes.  Also, her hair is purple and blue, while the larger doll's hair is purple and pink.

Here's Yoko alongside the larger Shibajuku Girls Yoko:


And here's Yoko alongside Suki, so you can see the difference in their blue eye colors:


Both of Yoko's eyebrows are painted purple, and she has the same silver glitter and pink eyeshadow that mini Suki and mini Namika have:


The Shiba-Cuties make no effort to replicate the outfits of the larger dolls, but there's a similarity in the small and large Yoko's wardrobe.  In other words, both are dressed all in black with some silver and lace accents:

Mini (left) and large (right) Yoko dolls.

I think mini Yoko's dress is a great nod to the larger doll's outfit without trying to be an exact copy.


The dress has a stretchy knit bodice with a tiered lace-and-ribbon skirt.  The bodice has a crooked bow at the neckline that I don't think is necessary.  The waistline is accented with a black and metallic silver ribbon that looks great and is reminiscent of the large Yoko's metal chain accent.


This dress--like the other outfits--opens all of the way down the back with a chunky (crooked) strip of velcro:


Most of the edges are unfinished on this dress, but the fabrics in the skirt (ribbon and lace) are not especially prone to unraveling, which probably makes this the most durable of the three outfits I've seen so far.


Unfortunately, the black colors in the dress have already stained Yoko's vinyl upper arms:



Mini Yoko's black shoes are molded to look like laced sneakers.  I prefer this mold to Namika and Suki's shoes.


The shoes might be part of why Yoko balances better than the other two.


Here are my three Shiba-Cuties so far:

Shiba-Cuties from left: Namika, Yoko and Suki.
I still like Suki best out of these three.  Yoko has better balance than the other two, and her outfit seems the most durable, but her outfit has stained her shoulders.  Yoko's two-toned hair and piercing blue eyes are striking, but I prefer Suki's soft pink hair and less intense eyes.

Namika, Suki and Yoko probably offer an adequate overview of the Shiba-Cuties collection, but there was one more doll that I wanted to look at.  It's the character who was so hard to find at the end of last year: green-eyed Koe: 


Mini Koe doesn't look much like the yellow-haired first wave doll or the blue-haired second-wave doll:


There aren't any obvious parallels between the mini Koe's outfit and the larger outfits, either...except for maybe the animal ears on all of the hats and hoods.  Mini Koe has no leopard print anywhere.

Mini Koe does have the character's bright green eyes, though:

review

An interesting aside is that Koe is the only Shiba-Cutie character who comes on a different backdrop. Instead of the pale pink flower pattern that we saw on the other dolls' backdrops, Koe has brightly-colored spatterings of paint on her backdrop:


It seems strange that Hunter Products would make a separate backdrop for this one doll.

Koe is also the only Shiba-Cutie who comes with two separate pieces of clothing.  She's wearing a dress with a metallic silver hoodie on top:


Koe has the best balance out of all four dolls I own.  In a strange coincidence, each doll I opened had better hip joints than the last.  Here's a video where I shake Koe back and forth...and her legs barely move at all:

video

Koe's metallic jacket looks really cute in the box, but it doesn't look so great from the back.  

First of all, the fit is too tight and so the hood pulls the rest of the jacket tightly up across Koe's neck.  Also, the hood is open in back (to make room for the hair), and my doll's hair came squished and crooked...so the whole ensemble looks sloppy: 



It was also immediately clear that Koe's knees would have the same problem as the other dolls--you can already see that the white vinyl of her left leg has gotten snagged on the top part of the joint:


Koe's hair comes in ponytails, but a small section from the front of each ponytail has been separated out and pulled back over the top of the metallic hood.  The section on the right side is decorated with Koe's cute bunny clip:


I think Koe's outfit looks really great from this angle.  The combination of pale teal and silver is very pretty, and I like the streak of white that perfectly accents the section of hair swept back above Koe's right eye.

The animal ears on Koe's hood tend to lay flat, but I got them to stand up straight for a few minutes:


I was a little sad to take Koe's cute ponytails down, but the tight jacket makes her hard to pose, and the jacket can't come off with the hair in its factory style.

The teal bunny clip came off first.  Here's a closer look:


The pieces of hair on either side of Koe's face were secured to the ponytails with the lower pair of clear rubber bands.  When I removed those bands, it was possible to slide the jacket's hood off Koe's head.



It looks like maybe Koe's hair is supposed to have the same criss-cross part that all of the other girls had, but the division of hair wasn't done evenly enough to cover the scalp and rooting plugs:


Koe's scalp came with a small rip in the vinyl just above one of the rooting holes:


The silver jacket is lightweight and unlined, with a little bit of stretch in the metallic fabric:


After the jacket was removed, I took Koe's hair the rest of the way down and brushed it out:


The hair fiber is straight and sleek like Yoko's hair.  It does not have a noticeable amount of styling product in it.  It feels great:


All of these dolls have the problem of getting their hair stuck into their long, stiff eyelashes.  The hair at the front of Koe's head tends to drift into her face more than it does on the other dolls, and so she almost always has strands of hair stuck in her eyelashes:


That seems like a small detail, I know, but picking hair out of the eyelashes every few minutes can get tiresome.

I pulled Koe's hair into a ponytail to get it out of the way:


She has bright green eyes and light brown eyebrows.  Her lips are pink, but they have more of a purple cast than the other dolls' lips.  Also, the painted area of the lips seems small on this doll, making her mouth look pinched.

Here are all four of the headshots together, so that you can see the small differences:



Koe has a few eye defects.  An eyelash on the inside of her left eye is kinked, causing it to point downwards into her eye.  Also, she has a glob of silver glitter at the edge of that same eye:


The worst defect, though, is that she has an area of white cloudiness at the edge of her left eye:


It looks like the eye encountered some strong glue or acetone.  The spot did not rub off when I rubbed it with a damp Q-tip.

Koe's teal dress has a satiny, cap-sleeved bodice and a circle skirt.  The dress opens down the back with velcro:


The dress' circle skirt is covered with two layers of glittery tulle:


This is a very pretty dress.  It's not quite as colorful or complex as Suki's rainbow dress, but it has no obvious flaws and looks great on Koe.

Koe has the same body and articulation as the other dolls, of course, and her shoes are the same mold as Namika and Suki's shoes...they're just white, not pink.

While I'm on the topic of shoes, here's a summary of the shoe and stocking variety among the Shiba-Cuties:
Namika, Suki, Koe, and Shizuka all have the same shoe mold
Yoko and Miki share a different shoe mold
Namika, Suki and Shizuka have identical pink socks
Miki and Koe have white socks
Yoko is the only doll with black socks

I tried putting Koe's silver jacket back on after her hair was down, but it still looks tight and uncomfortable:



I don't think I'll use the jacket very much.  

Here's another picture of Koe (in just her dress) showing off one of the more dynamic standing poses that are possible with these little dolls:


Here are all four of my Cuties together!

From left, in back: Yoko and Koe
From left in front: Suki and Namika
They're a fun bunch, but I definitely like some of the Shiba-Cuties more than others.  I'll summarize the best and worst things about each doll by ranking them in a few main categories.

Best Hair (color and texture): #1 Suki, #2 Koe, #3 Yoko, #4 Namika
Koe and Suki both have great hair right out of the box.  Koe's shimmery, white-streaked blonde hair is silky smooth and very fun to play with.  It's rooted a little too low on the forehead, though, and gets caught in the eyelashes frequently.  Suki's hair is not quite as sleek and smooth as Koe's hair, but the candy-like color is cheerful and flattering.  Yoko's two-toned hair is also fun, but the texture isn't as nice as Suki's hair.  The rooting along Yoko's center part is just a bit too thick, and so the hair tends to fall into two big chunks.  My Namika's hair had the misfortune of coming with a messy haircut and way too much styling product.  It feels dirty and stiff.  I like the natural brown color of this hair, but it doesn't stand out as being anything special.

Best Outfit (design and durability): #1 Koe, #2 Suki, #3 Yoko, #4 Namika
I like the appearance of Suki's rainbow outfit best, but the unraveling hem and snagged bodice diminish this dress in my ranking.  Koe's dress shows no signs of falling apart, and it also has a nice design.  The teal color is pretty and I like the playfulness of the three-layered circle skirt.  Koe is also the only Shiba-Cutie who comes with an extra piece of clothing: a silver jacket.  Yoko's dress would be among my favorites if it hadn't stained the vinyl parts of her body.  Staining aside, the dress seems durable and is a great approximation of the larger Yoko doll's outfit.  Namika's outfit is not good.  I don't really like anything about it.  The skirt is stiff and synthetic (and doesn't fit well), and the blouse has a strange design with lots of loose threads and rough edges.  Paired together, the top and skirt  create a color combination that makes my eyes hurt, and doesn't coordinate at all with the socks and shoes at all.  Namika is much cuter in a different outfit...like this one:

Shiba-Cuties Namika wearing Yoko and Koe's clothing.
Yoko's dress and hair clip (with Koe's jacket) flatter Namika's coloring and look great with her socks and shoes.

Best Face Paint (lip and eyebrow color, eye glitter): #1 Suki & Namika (tie), #3 Yoko, #4 Koe
Suki has great face paint, with eyebrows that perfectly match her hair and a pale, unobtrusive lip color.  Sadly, she has some glitter missing from around her eyes.  Namika has lovely, natural colors on her face and no defects, although I slightly prefer Suki's lips.  I don't care for Yoko's purple eyebrows (teal would have worked better) but otherwise she looks fine.  Koe's purple-ish lips look pinched, and her dark eyebrows make her look a little cross.  She also has too much glitter over one eye.

Best Eyes (color): #1 Suki, #2 Koe, #3 Namika, #4 Yoko
This is personal preference.  I love Suki's natural, blue-grey eyes.  They look great with her hair.  I also love green eyes of any kind, so Koe's eyes are a close second.  Namika's brown eyes are very pretty and natural, too, so it was hard to pick favorites among these three.  That leaves Yoko in a distant fourth place.  Yoko's royal blue eyes don't look quite right to me, perhaps because they clash with her pastel hair and eyebrows.

Best Hair Clip (color, design): #1 Yoko, #2 Koe, #3 Namika, #4 Suki
More personal preference here: Yoko's teddy bear has great detail (and I love the look of black felt with rhinestones).  Other than that, I prefer the two animals to Suki's yellow moon, and the teal bunny strikes me as slightly cuter than the pink cat.

Fewest Defects: #1 Suki (slightly loose hips, unraveling dress, missing eye glitter), #2 Yoko (body staining, bald patch), #3 Koe (eye cloudiness, glitter blob, bent eyelash, cracked scalp), #4 Namika (loose hips, weird hair rooting, shoe spot, too much styling gel, uneven skirt).
You could argue that Yoko has the fewest defects by actual count, but body staining is a pretty big defect, so that bumped her down a bit.  Suki's defects are all minor.

Overall?  Suki remains my favorite.  If I rank the rest of the dolls with the clothing they came in, Koe is my second favorite and then Yoko and then Namika.  However, if I could rank the dolls independent of their outfits, it'd easily be Namika ahead of Yoko...maybe even Namika ahead of Koe.

My grey studio backdrop hates pastel colors, so I was eager to end the review with some naturally-lit portraits of each doll, like the shot of Namika that I showed at the very beginning of the review:


Don't forget about the heat and humidity, though.  I haven't been on any long outdoor adventures lately because of this mighty heat, but I figured I could hop out for a quick early-morning photo shoot with these tiny dolls.  No sweat.

I decided to hike up a short hillside trail behind our house.  Things started really well.  I found a beautiful lichen-covered rock with rust-brown patches that brought out the hints of auburn in Namika's hair:


There was even a perfectly-sized ledge for Namika to lean against...which was great because there was no way this doll was going to balance on rocky terrain by herself:


I ended Namika's photo session after only three poses because every time I knelt down to take a picture, ants would crawl over my arms.  

I don't mind a few ants every now and then, but this was a lot of ants.  It was starting to wig me out.  There was even an ant in Namika's hair for most of the time I was taking her picture.  I'm surprised...and even a little disappointed...to see that the ant didn't show up in any of the pictures.  We could've played Spot the Ant!

Next, I ventured closer to the woods and found some bright green underbrush that perfectly matched Koe's lovely eyes!


I discovered that the deep green hues of the underbrush were even more impressive in the direct sunlight. Koe's hair sparkled brilliantly under the intensity of the morning sun:

Toy Box Philosopher

Posing Koe in the sun started to get a little unpleasant, though.  It was probably 80 degrees at this point, and so I was getting sweaty and uncomfortable in my jeans (you can't wear shorts into the Maine woods because there are too many deer ticks).

I decided that it would be more fun to pose Koe in the partial (cool) shade of a nearby moss bed:


I love how Koe's right eye is glowing in the bright sun while her left eye (and I) are shrouded by cool shadows:

Toy Box Philosopher

This gave me the idea to try and pose Yoko so that the division in her two-toned hair would line up with the intersection of sunlight and shadow.

To do this I ventured even deeper into the woods, relishing the idea of dense shade.

This was my best effort to align Koe's hair with a border of shade and sun:


But I like this picture a little better:


The shade was nice and cool, but apparently bugs prefer the shade, too, and so I was starting to get swarmed by flies.  The flies didn't bite, which was nice, but they buzzed around my sweaty head in a very unsettling way.

I hurried off down the trail in search of another place for Yoko to pose.  This ledge-like rock was perfect...


...until the flies caught up with me.

I  turned and speed-walked in a completely different direction, hoping to leave the flies behind and find a patch of colorful vegetation that would suit Suki and her awesome pink hair.  

I found a little bed of little pink-tinged toadstools that was ideal.  Suki loved the delicate, picture-perfect fungi...


...but do you see that blurry patch right above Suki's head?  Yeah.  That's a mosquito.  A huge mosquito, flying directly towards my head.

In case you can't tell what I'm talking about, I made a little GIF to recreate the sudden appearance of this beast:

AHHHHHHHH!
Every third picture I took has a mosquito in it.  And I think they were sending out some kind of "dinner time!" alert signal, because within five minutes there were enough mosquitos swarming my head (and dive-bombing into my ears) that I felt my sanity was in sudden and certain danger.

I ran. 

I mean, I literally ran full-tilt down the hill (probably making freaked-out little gasping noises with every step), swatting bugs away from my sweaty head with fisted hands that were clutching four large-headed mini dolls.  It must have been a sight to behold.  I hope none of my neighbors were watching.

But it's over now.  Deep breaths.

Let's focus on this peaceful picture that I managed to snap right before I fled:

Toy Box Philosopher

Poor Suki, though.  She's my favorite Shiba-Cutie and she only got one decent portrait before I panicked and ran. 

I felt more clear-headed when I got back to the safety of my own yard, and so I paused in front of some beautiful yellow lilies to take two final pictures of sweet Suki:



Bottom line?  When I first opened Namika's box and started looking at her, I thought this review was going to be a complete train wreck.  Trying to pose large Namika and small Namika together was the low point of my experience (even with the mosquitos)--that pair truly felt like the most unruly, hard-to-manage, ill-dressed dolls I'd ever evaluated.

But things got better.  Not all of the Shiba-Cutie dolls have Namika's wobbly hips or her over-treated hair.  None of the other dolls have an outfit as cheesy and off-the-mark as Namika's eye-burning shirt and skirt ensemble.

In general, the dolls have great hair, well-placed eyes and respectable articulation.  Their outfits have a lot of unfinished edges that might not stand the test of time, but most of the designs are cute and easy to use.  There's no skin tone diversity in this collection, but there's certainly a fun variety of eye and hair colors.  I encountered an unusual number of little flaws with these dolls (all listed under the Fewest Defects summary, above), but only two of them are character-specific: Yoko's black dress stains her arms and Suki's rainbow skirt unravels easily.  Other than those examples, the flaws are just random occurrences that will be difficult to avoid.  

It's hard to find a current line of dolls that's anything like the Shiba-Cuties.  The closest thing is probably mini Pullip dolls (although they're smaller and pricier).  Of the dolls I own, the Shiba-Cuties have most in common with the discontinued Littlest Pet Shop Blythe dolls.  Shiba-Cuties don't have the same attention to detail as the L.P.S. Blythe dolls, but they're larger and easier to dress, with a greater volume of silky hair to play with.  I really wish that--like Pullip and Blythe--the Shiba-Cuties came with display stands....but at least they're easy to carry around (even while running downhill).

I often prefer mini dolls to their larger counterparts, and that's the case again here: I like the Shiba-Cuties significantly more than the full-sized Shibajuku Girls.  Why?  First of all, the mini dolls don't have the extreme top-heaviness that makes the larger dolls so difficult to pose.  They're much easier to manage.  Also, the mini dolls have reliably nice hair, which is something that can't be said of all the Shibajuku Girl characters.  Last, I find the Shiba-Cutie faces more appealing than the larger dolls' faces; the exaggerated features are less intense in a smaller scale.  I can't claim that the lower price of these minis is much of an advantage, though, because--as you can see--it's hard to resist collecting a whole crowd these colorful little Cuties.

review

19 comments:

  1. Why on earth is mini namika white when her big doll has tanned skin?
    Did she fall in a vat of skin bleach?

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    1. They must not have gotten the memo to make her mini doll black for the US, too. It's a complicated issue. Diversity is often expected now, but all the same, is it realistic for a line of Japanese-ish dolls, or should inclusion take place regardless?

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    2. There isn't much diversity in Japan, and these dolls were made for a Japanese market. They're pale, but not meant to be white. I think the immediacy with which white people see pale dolls as white instead of considering that they may be intended to be Japanese shows how Euro-centric our world is. Narrower "almond" eyes and a yellow-tinted skin tone is the American stereotype of how a Japanese doll should look because that is how the collective "we" see the collective "them." When dolls made for a Japanese audience don't conform to that, we think that they're making white dolls when those dolls are released in America, especially when the hair isn't black and the eyes aren't dark brown, even though contacts and wigs exist and are an extremely popular part of the current youth culture. Overlooking that and expecting more racial diversity than exists in Japan are both very American-centric. We wouldn't expect a line of dolls created in Nairobi and originally intended for a Nairobi audience that got popular in the western world to start changing the races to be seen as inclusive by American and other western standards. That would be overlooking the future, just as we are right now erasing the Japanese culture from Japanese dolls by reassigning their race as white because they don't conform to how we usually see Japanese (who are we kidding...generically Asian) dolls.

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    3. The Shibajuku Girls are not actually made by a Japanese company for a Japanese audience. They are made by an Australian company for a western audience. However they clearly are intended to copy Japanese doll lines and it seems they decided to be faithful to the source material and make them mostly pale.

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  2. I think Yoko is the cutest of the group! The faces on the mini dolls are definitely a lot cuter than the ones on the full size dolls. The eyes are just so round and far apart!

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    1. Agreed. I almost kept Suki but exchanged her for Yoko. I have both the full size of her and now her mini doll.

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  3. Thank you for the review! Of all dolls, I like cotton candy girl Suki and Koe with her bright green eyes best. I love Namika's hair clip though. Too bad the quality of clothes is disappointing. I wanted a large Koe but didn't like it in person, although now I think about getting one or two minis.
    I also agree that large and mini dolls have different expressions. Koe looks a little sad, and Namika seems shy and tired.

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  4. i found a new doll line at toysrus yesterday and their called spacepopgirls. can u do a review on them?

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  5. I'm sorry that you and Suki got attacked by mosquitoes. If it's any consolation, that animated gif you made looks amazingly three-dimensional due to the slightly shifting angles. It's stereoscopic! :D

    Thanks for the review! I think that this article has pushed me more toward the full-sized Shibajuku Girls, who tempt me literally every time I'm in the toy aisle at Target. I know you said that you actually preferred the mini dolls, but they're just not my cup of tea. I can't get over those odd stocking-shoes...

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  6. Hello! The portraits you did with Suki and the mushrooms are really lovely! I love Maine scenery. I remember awhile back you did a review on Rey dolls, just commenting to say that the Disney store Star Wars Elite Series Rey Premium Action Figure has dropped down to $7.99, which is ridiculously cheap for a doll I really love- I bought one when they were $15 and she's probably my favorite doll I own hahaha

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  7. I'm so glad you decided to review these mini dolls. I purchased Koe when they first came available on Amazon and I think she's absolutely adorable. I love her size and her bendable knees. I would still love to get a full size Koe (especially the one with blue hair) if she ever becomes available in the US, but I agree with you that the mini versions are actually cuter than the big versions.

    I would also like to piggy back on what a previous commenter said about Star Wars dolls. There is a new line of Star Wars female action dolls coming out called Star Wars Forces of Destiny adventure figures. They are 11" tall and are a hybrid doll/action figure. They are articulated, have both molded on and fabric clothes and rooted hair. There's Leia, Rey, and Jyn and other characters too. They look awesome! I would love to see a review of these.

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    Replies
    1. Oh yeah the Forces of Destiny figures look awesome! It'd be really cool to see a review of those :)

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    2. Thank you for the tip, Korglady!! :) I'm off to investigate...

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  8. Hello, Emily. I have enjoyed reading your reviews for several years now. I especially loved your bio. The Lone Ranger's Silver and the Happy Family were among my most loved toys as a kid, too. I'm really glad your back this year.

    I'm looking forward to your photos of and comments about Chad, the new Maru Mini Pal boy. In case you haven't visited the Maru website lately, they are taking pre-orders for Halle, a lovely, curly haired AA girl who will have a hard vinyl body like the big dolls.

    Thanks for the time you pour into your wonderful (and fair) reviews. You always seem to address the most relevant qualities with practical good sense and good humor and your whimsical photos flatter even the most horrible dolls (like, um, Vivienne, for example).

    Sorry so long, but one last thing! I saw a 2017 Zwergnase Junior doll with (wigged) red hair and green eyes, named Abigail, that made me think of you.

    Donna

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    1. Dear Donna, thank you for the lovely note. You and I are definitely on similar wavelengths! I'm also looking forward to de-boxing Chad and photographing him (I meant to do it on my last trip to NY, but it rained the whole time!) and I've pre-ordered Halle. I'm completely in love with the Mini Pals. They need a special photo shoot. Also, I just paid off a Zwergnase (wigged! Yay!) play doll...but not Abigail. You're exactly right that I was tempted by her, though! I ended up with moody little Brooklyn--another green-eyed redhead. :D I can't wait to review these treasures!!

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  9. Hey, Emily! Last time I was at Target, I saw a new line of African American fashion dolls, called Fresh Dolls! I'm not sure if you've heard of them. There were two cheaper individual dolls and two deluxe dolls that included an extra outfit and an extra pair of shoes. I think they'd also be able to wear the new line of Barbie clothing, since they all seemed to be akin to the new Curve Barbie size. But best of all, each doll had articulated knees and elbows! (The only real downside to the new Fashionista Barbie diversity IMHO; no extra articulation.)

    I was super tempted to get one or more of them, but I'm on a budget and there are just so many tempting dolls in general right now. Regardless of my own potential purchase in the future, I'd love to see a review of them. I think they deserve more exposure, plus I'm obviously curious about how good their articulation is.

    Here's a link to Target's web page, which shows the four that I saw: https://www.target.com/c/fashion-dolls-toys/-/N-5xt8uZ11g6b#lnk=fashiondolls&Nao=0&sortBy=Featured


    I think that's all they have right now. Lynette's outfit looks better in person btw. I remember her top being a different color in the store, maybe blue, or another pattern instead.

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    Replies
    1. Excellent suggestion! I'm on it. Thank you for the great information and the direct link--you made my job easy! ;)

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    2. You're welcome! I had to look them up after I got home, because I couldn't quite remember the name. I checked Amazon first, but that turned up nothing, and I thought they might be hard to find with a Google search, so I figured I might as well include the link while I was at it. I wonder if they're Target exclusives?

      Btw, they remind me a lot of the adult Prettie Girls! I wish I'd looked at the company on the packaging. :)

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I value and welcome all opinions, but comments with abusive or offensive language will be deleted.