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Cultural Aesthetics – Could They Affect Which Dolls You Can Purchase

Jul 19, 2010

    1. Cultural differences have always played a major role on how different societies interact with each other, but I don’t want this to be a debate or to create a heated argument about it either. I am merely inspired by a recent video game (J-RPG) title by two of my most favorite video game companies – I was truly excited when I first saw previews for this title, then highly disappointed with the decisions these companies made, based purely on assumptions and supposed “cultural” aesthetics of their potential international customers. I think this applies to this hobby because it is similar in many ways, people who are familiar with both these video game companies know that they are not necessarily known for their strongly masculine and Western-like characters, neither are most BJD-makers right now. If you play these companies’ games in a regular basis, you should know this for sure – if you are part of this hobby, you can expect just about the same from most bjd-manufacturers. However, these two video-game companies decided that in order to appeal to (I guess) a “broader” Western audience, they would release two versions of the game, leaving international audiences with no choices but only the supposedly “westernized” version as the only way to play the game (unless you speak and read Japanese which I doubt many westerners do, and can import the game for a lot more $$$, of course). So, I wondered, what if bjd-companies suddenly decided to do the same thing, purely based on assumptions based on supposedly “known” cultural preferences in aesthetics.

      As unlikely as this might seem to ever take place within this hobby, I would like to explore the concept, as it also never crossed my mind that it would be happening in the video-game world, especially didn’t expect it from these two particular companies.

      So, my questions for people in this hobby are;

      Would you be bothered if bjd companies started releasing dolls to certain markets based on those markets presumed favored aesthetics, and limited who purchased them based on whether the buyers are local or international?

      For example, Company “X” releases a “gorgeous” male doll (think of the most beautiful sculpt you could ever imagine being created) only for their native county as a limited release (only for locals to purchase), never to be exported or recreated once sold-out, and another version of the doll (same basic accessories but a lot “less pleasing” to the eyes facial-sculpt) intended for international costumers, but not limited to international buyers (so locals could buy this one as well). Would this trouble you if it did happen within this hobby? What would be your thoughts about the company’s decision? Would you find companies doing this type of thing “narrow-minded”? Would you consider purchasing from them at all (regardless of of how much you liked the company’s particular sculpts)?

      Being part of this hobby for a while now, I know that this is probably not likely to happen, but again I never saw it coming in the video game word either (shockingly more so from these two companies). So, maybe it is not that impossible that it could happen in any other hobby at all – that thought alone is a bit terrifying.

      (I don’t think that Volks’ lotteries and dolpa limited-dolls are the same thing, what I am stating is far more distinctive in terms of purposely “isolating” customers from different cultures based on assumed preferred aesthetics – which I find a bit unnerving and disappointing)

      - Enzyme ^ ^
    2. Well, it's a thing to think about, but I really doubt that doll companies could survive without an international population of customers. It is a rather niche market, compared to large video-game or other international markets. Personally, I don't really think it would turn me in any direction. It's quite likely that the 'geographically limited' dolls would end up on the second hand market for the exact reasons of scalping. :\ If people really really want it that badly, it'll happen and people will buy it at ridiculous prices.

      I don't think I hold any jurisdiction over what a company should and shouldn't do, as a consumer from half-way across the world and not a lot of money, I don't have much power. Besides, maybe the company wanted to 'reward' that specific geographic market for something, y'know? I don't balance their books and I don't know where the money comes from or who dolls go to. Maybe that country really did deserve it. -shrug-

      I don't think it's 'narrow-minded', if companies are trying to bend towards what they understand to be the demand of a particular market, in fact, I think it opposite that. Money makes the world go 'round, though.
    3. Laelen, I see what you mean, I also thought about it from those perspectives (monetarily; large-company/large-hobby vs smaller-company/smaller-hobby, as well as supposed "factual" massive-cultural aesthetics preferences). However, if a company is thinking solely on “money,” wouldn't they sell more if they gave everyone equal choices? If a bjd company released two versions of the same doll and allowed the locals to purchase directly from them either version, then why not allow all of their customers to do so as well – regardless of whether they share the same culture or not. I think that's where the "narrow-mindedness" comes, regardless of how much $$$ a company can make, if they think they can make more by limiting who can buy from them and what they can buy from them, that's simply isolating customers based on speculation, not increasing who can purchase from them (enlarging their market). If I wasn’t such a fangirl, I probably wouldn’t have purchase the game (or planning on getting the Japanese version I’ll never be able to play). It is true that it is highly unlikely to happen in this hobby, but if it was a doll I wouldn’t spend a fortune on something that would probably be mind-numbingly expensive, not to mention rare and hard to acquire, meaning a very painful ordeal altogether.

      Thanks for your comments! Very interesting. I truly do hope that it never happens within this hobby (or others).

      - Enzyme ^ ^
    4. In a way I've seen things like that happen before, the Volks 'Jewel' dolls are the first thing that comes to mind. They've only ever been released in the US and were meant to appeal to the people who like American fashion dolls, you can see how different the style is compared to all of Volks other dolls. They were made to look a lot more Barbie-ish to 'suit' the US market.
    5. Wow, here's a topic we haven't discussed before! Given the popularity of Japanese games in the U.S., it does seem strange that they'd try to alter one to market it here. I'd say the same thing about BJD's, too--they seem to be so well-received internationally as-is. Of course, that's coming from someone who already likes them. If a BJD company wanted to appeal to Americans who don't already like BJD's, it could actually be a good strategy for them to make dolls that look more like American fashion dolls. But then, there's no reason why they couldn't sell all their dolls internationally. If company image was a problem, they could just sell the different lines under different names. I guess the difference is that with a video game that gets tweaked a little, it's still recognizably the same game, and people might not notice which version they were buying, or even be aware of the differences, which would defeat the marketing strategy.

      What if the same mold was released in Asia and internationally with only small changes? Say, the international version gets a few more rugged wrinkles or something to look less Asian? :lol: But still, it's well-known that Westerners like Asian faces, and Asians like Western faces, so I don't see it becoming an issue. The only thing would be if a company neglected to release a certain doll internationally because they didn't anticipate any interest. In that case we could always petition them. Who knows, maybe you could petition the game company for an original version of the game? If it was released after the fact as the "uncut" version or something, it could actually boost their sales.

      Now I'm curious, what exactly did they change?
    6. Rikka_Mika, that is similar in a way, I completely forgot about Volks' Jewel dolls. I don’t follow Volks much, I wonder what people’s thoughts were on those. Particularly the Japanese market for Volks (which I would guess could be considered their “local” market), I wonder if they thought it was unfair, or if they liked those sculpts at all?

      Chaos_zebra, culture and how it affects people's views of aesthetics have always been very interesting to me; I thought it would be an interesting topic to discuss in a “seemingly” aesthetic driven hobby – even though it is a hypothetical situation, which is highly unlikely to occur. Maybe a less fictional topic about different cultures and aesthetics would have brought a bit more discussion, but I had a hard time redirecting the topic to a more “realistic” situation (should have waited until I had a nap! XD).

      Personally I am still not able to digest the reasons behind the decision those video game companies took considering that it is a Japanese RPG, on top of the developer and publisher behind it (it seems kind of odd). I think that if it was a doll and only minor changes were applied not many people would mind – had that been the case with the game, I probably wouldn't have even cared (the Japanese version of the game has a beautiful, young and slender version of the main character, the international version has a very old, rugged, butch-looking version of the same. As a person who buys most of my games purely based on the game’s graphics and aesthetics, this was a major disappointment for me, not to be given the choice of which version I wanted to spend X-amount of hours playing. The game/play itself is not the issue but the principals behind their decision). Personally I have never considered myself as someone who would enjoy “western” aesthetics in a game (99% of the games I play & own are Japanese), so it was a bit of a shocker for me – I have in the past read comments of people who said they didn’t want this hobby moving in a “western-oriented” direction, I can now understand where they were coming from, although I am still unsure of which BJD companies seem to be going in this direction, I think I understand the feeling.

      - Enzyme
    7. I know exactly why square-enix decided to make 2 Nier versions (I assume that's the game you're talking about). It's because for decades Japan has been the unrivaled leader of RPGs and yet as far as aesthetics, gameplay, characters, and stories, they haven't made many changes or many innovations. In Asia this is all fine and dandy since Asian audiences still like these games. but now western companies like Bioware are becoming more and more popular in the west and taking a majority of the western RPG player's business. I was a huge fan of JRPGs since the original Zelda, but recently I like many people decided that enough was enough and I really don't want to play another JRPG about a spikey haired effeminate guy saving the world despite his angsty backstory. I think it's silly to limit the availability of a game to a single country, especially since SE doesn't seem to know what the western market wants to see.At all. (They should get some advice from Hideo Kojima ^_~)

      Anyways, I think it would take a similar situation for ABJD companies to start marketing western only dolls. A western company would have to pop up and take up most of the western market with its western style bjds. Though I think in the past few years companies have been aware of the large western market, and the fact that a large portion of us want more mature, more muscular dolls. They're going to make what will sell and fortunately with dolls there is no localization to contend with, you just ship the doll to a different place. (no english voice actors to hire, translators, compatibility issues and marketing, etc...) Plus, even of you could only buy Asian styled dolls if you live in Asia, you could still get one from a shopping service or second hand (you know, old school).
    8. (Japan. It's not the girly characters that are the problem. It's the hours of repetitious gameplay and boring turn-based fighting. We didn't all learn to tolerate/adore painful repetition in cram school.)

      Anyway, haven't more dolls been getting sort of.. more westerny for a while now? I mean, they've been getting more realistic, especially certain companies... is that "more western"? XD; I know a lot of people here on DoA prefer the realistic ones to the anime-type ones.

      Is there a large enough percentage of western buyers to have swayed the market towards realism?

      Or are there a lot of Asian customers who are calling for more realistic dolls, too?

      I just looked up the Volks Jewels and.. yeeeaah.. that's really not the kind of thing I'm into.* (Ruby's eyes are almost EXACTLY like Barbie's) And from reading this, that's not really the kind of thing a lot of other people are into either. Volks! (and other companies) We like your dolls for what they are, and we pay so much for them because we don't have anything like that over here! Don't give us more of what we already have. D: I wonder if the people who designed and sculpted those dolls even liked them very much. Usually when you work outside your aesthetic, it's hard to produce something ANYONE will like, including your target audience.

      I'd be pissed if more companies started doing that. It just seems.. almost patronizing or something. I dunno. It wouldn't be so bad (if, like you said, they made 2 versions) if they released both versions for everyone though. Then when everyone from BOTH regions bought out the Asiany-style one, they'd stop selling the Barbie-looking or creepy muscle man or whatever they came up with for western audiences to buy. >:3

      ...PS Aren't there certain doll outfits that aren't available on the English version of some websites? Like Luts or something? My friend was complaining about that, but I can't remember..

      *except pearl, who I didn't see at first cuz she wasn't linked from the same page. o_O;
    9. Would you be bothered if bjd companies started releasing dolls to certain markets based on those markets presumed favored aesthetics, and limited who purchased them based on whether the buyers are local or international?

      I would only be bothered I suppose if it limited the options avaliable on the market. I like diversity and innovation in my collection and in the market. I actually like it when every now and again a company breaks away from what they are known for to take a chance. I personally LOVED the Volks Jewels. I thought they were different from what Volks typically does but still have the same great quality. I am not sure as to Volks's motivation but I thought they were lovely dolls and I actually bought both Garnet and Ruby and I think they look NOTHING like Barbie (Ok. maybe they look like a cross breed between Barbie and and SD but still way cooler IMHO :) ). I am under the impression that Ruby and Garnet are not popular in Japan but from what I understand Pearl is quite well liked. Volks also continues to pump out the cute and pretty SD Girls and Punkish SD boys. I am currently pining for their latest 2 girsl in fact. I also think that Ilpehouse (for their EIDS) and Fairyland (Chicline) have also done a great job of innovating and really breaking out and trying something new. Again, this is only a problem from my persepctive if perhaps they were to stop doing what they were known for in the first place (Volks Cute SDs, Iplehouse Pretty SIDs, Fairyland Pukis)
    10. I don't know if the realism thing is only coming from the western market, and I wouldn't say the realistic sculpts are necessarily, intrinsically, more Western. They still tend to have a fairly strong level of stylization that has more in common with the Japanese art dolls I've seen than they do with common western fashion or toy dolls. If I had to stick them somewhere on a continuum, it'd be more or less like this:

      anime figure kits - anime style BJDs - realistic BJDs & Japanese art dolls - western art dolls - western high end fashion dolls - western toy dolls

      ...which hopefully makes some sense. (Heavy painkiller day; if that needs any clarification, I'll try my hardest.)
    11. As long as the old molds that we like are still available, the company can do whatever they want.
      We couldn't really blame a company for trying to appeal to a more western crowd, if they did.
      Sure, it's frustrating for us to see such decisions made, but it doesn't really effect us that negatively as long as we don't endorse it. The Chicline has more realistic Western style faces (compared to FL's other molds) but it seems to have some popularity... Like someone else said though, we like the more stylized/cutesy/Asian-y faces, because there are no dolls that look like that domestically.
      But even if a company did start producing very unappealing culturally different looking molds after a history of producing the "usual" type molds, they'd hopefully pay attention to their sales and see that the new culturally influenced product and the classical product have huge differences in favor of the classic.

      In the end, the company is the one that takes the initiative, so they can do whatever they want. And if the product doesn't sell well, then it doesn't sell well. They either stop producing such additions, or keep experimenting and either striking out or succeeding.
    12. I played Neir Gestalt! :D (Is slapped) I just prefer (platonic) mature father/daughter realtionships to little teenage sister/brother ones since I have enough of that in my life.

      Aaaaaany, back on topic. I find the thought of the normally isolated asian cultures these doll companies are often rooted in catering to western appetites completely fine. Iplehouse did it with their manly EID men and gorgeous black women and their popularity went through the roof overnight. So, I guess it can't be all bad. There are just so many companies that offer dolls right now that even if one or two decided to make some money by hitting the culture mine I can say I wouldn't be too broken hearted. There is bound to be something out there that's perfect for everyone.

      However, only making one sculpt available to a certain market and another sculpt only available to others could be seen as a little much. I guess I can see the annoyance someone would have with such a onesided practice. Volks Ruby is a great example of that. I see here pop up on Yahoo Japan occasionally and she never goes without a bid, though. In the end, it all comes down to what the companies want to do. We are just consumers, these dolls are their creations and honestly, they can do whatever the hell they want with them. A lot of people in the bjd community have begun to feel really entitled.
    13. I agree that realism isn't intrinsically more western. Realism is what we see in the world every day, after all, no matter what country we're in. (Although there are some stylization trends that seem to be embedded VERY deep in all Japanese/Asian art, even when it's more "realistic".) But Barbie did the small-head big-boobs thing from the beginning, and the Asian style of doll seems to be sort of the opposite, but now it's going that way too. And by "anime-type" I don't just mean the ones with tiny noses/mouths no nostrils. I really mean, like.. most BJDs. Like Volk's usual, and all the Delfs and Minifees and everything. Is that what you mean by strong levels of stylization? By "realism" I really meant the heavily realistic ones like IH especially, and also Soom. (Super Gem and a lot of the monthlies) Even though Soom does still have some of that stylization, the dolls I'm seeing get popular are not really the "cute" or "young" anymore.. it's leaning more towards glamorous.
    14. Doll companies can make whatever they wish, but consumers ultimately decide if a product is successful or not. If western consumers don't buy the products especially designed for them, I think the company will abandon the idea of making separate dolls for that market.
    15. Actually, a great example just came to mind here. Though the doll is still being debated for topic-ness here, look at the Elfdoll pinup girl*. Conceptually, her designs are rooted in 1940s and 1950s pinup dolls. This is the common concept pool from which the Bild Lili comes, and from her? The original Barbie doll. Which elements remain, and which are discarded, is something fascinating to me. The differences are rather striking to me. In one, we see the exaggerated body attributes (large breast and hip, tiny waist, corseted figure, tiny feet, no notable expression) and clothing taking prominence, and in the other, the primary focus is on the face, action (the lipstick hand, rollerskates), and expression (permapout or huge smile, changing eyelid positions). Where the artist has placed the focus of their attention in the inspired work is profoundly different, even when the core source of inspiration is the same.

      *Not mentioning her as a discussion of her and whether she should or shouldn't be on topic, just mentioning her because she's a great example of how common elements are translated in different times and through different cultural lenses in comparison with the classic plastic princess.
    16. For me it wouldn't be the fact that a doll was unavailable to me that would bother me. I know they don't have to sell their doll to me if that's too much of a bother. Whatever.
      It would be the fact that they made another doll (less attractive by their apparent standards) in place of the original to sell to their perceived version of the western audience. I don't really know how to explain why that's annoying. It's like.. they like the aesthetic they produce, right? That's why they make it. To them, that's what looks good. And when they make something different-looking for us, that implies they don't think the west has good taste, maybe? XD;;;
      Like a company who makes human food and dog food, and gives the dogs the low-quality meat cuts.
      Or maybe more like a company that makes TV shows for kids and dumbs everything down so much they don't like to watch their own product, because they think kids can't understand it if it's complicated enough to be interesting to an adult. Or something.
      That's not quite it, but yeah. Maybe it's stupid to feel that way, but it was kind of my gut reaction to the idea.
    17. Thanks everyone for posting your opinions and thoughts on this subject. It would be interesting to learn more about what defines "western" aesthetics vs "Asian" aesthetics and how the two truly differ from each other. How much of it is pure speculation (preconception based on a culture’s background), and how much of it is "factual" in a more general/mass-scale sense.

      @Nefla, on the topic of the video game, I wouldn't say for sure that it was SE’s decision to make two versions as it is a Cavia-developed title(published by SE, but still developed and produced in large part by Cavia), so I am not positive how much say SE had there. As for a lot of westerners getting bored of "J-RPGs," I always thought it was due to gameplay and mechanics that most Japanese RPGs tend to "overuse," rather than aesthetics – but then again I don't frequent game forums anymore, so I could be wrong. However, based on game reviews I've read and some TV shows focused on video-games I've seen, that's what I gathered –
      that some "westerners' are bored with "JRPGs" because of the triad gameplay/mechanics (in most of them). I've never read anything about the aesthetics themselves, in JRPGS getting old. I can see how having a strong western competition could influence doll companies to target western audiences with more "western-inspired" sculpts – but I think in the end that type of competition will die out eventually (both in the game world and this particular hobby), because in general "humans" tend to get bored easily. I just wish companies didn't make decisions for everyone, especially if they have always sold a particular “style” and already have a strong fan-base and following in more international markets.

      It would be interesting to learn how different cultures interpret other cultures "aesthetic-preferences." It seems that westerners are seen by a few other cultures as "butch/macho-lovers" but as a westerner myself, I doubt I could ever learn to love the truly rugged manly-men in western games, or in toys/action-figures. I still much prefer the highly androgynous faces; although I can't say straight up feminine males are my thing either, I would go for those if given the choice of butch vs femme.

      That’s similar to my point with this whole post. If a company is known (and loved and/or/ hated) for a certain “style,” why would they go out of their way to make two versions of the same product for the “other” audiences. It seems like excluding those audiences or like saying they are not “(smart) like us” so let’s make a “toned-down” version of the same product, so they can “get it”– which to me seems like prejudice in a way.

      I never meant to say that we as customers should have a saying in what a company produces and how it sells that product , but rather wanted to know if it would bother other people if bjd-companies started to produce limited releases of their dolls to specific markets, because they don’t believe all audiences have the same “refined” taste.

      - Enzyme ^ ^
    18. To add to and clarify what I said above about it not effecting us;
      I can't see how it could "annoy" someone or put them off. A company makes a mold you find unattractive because it's culturally stylized, fine, so don't buy it. The only scenario I can really see someone getting upset or put out because of a change in style is if they were a die-hard fan of this company, holding it to a high standard and expecting consistently appealing products from it... The company releases something it thinks is culturally tasteful to a different demographic than its own, the product flops and the individual is annoyed/disappointed...
    19. Maybe the annoying thing is really that they aren't actually aiming for the western audience they already have. It's like they're shunning us so they can aim for the MAINSTREAM western audience. However, it's not going to work because that audience doesn't know about them, and they'll lose the loyalty of existing fans in the process.

      It's like Stargate Universe. The first two were so successful but then they tried to make SGU all edgy and dramatic so non-scifi people would want to watch it, but they abandoned all the themes that made Stargate so successful in the first place. (I'm not sure how well that's actually going for them though, because I stopped paying attention to the show..)
    20. I think that if this happens, the doll companies would have lost sight of an important consideration; that people like what they like, not because it looks 'western', or 'European', or 'American'....but just because they LIKE it. I have pretty mainstream western tastes, but I still like my boy dolls to have the Asian (eastern?) aesthetic, rather than looking like an American movie star. I can see what you mean about the video games; I can't imagine playing Final Fantasy 7 and having Cloud and Sephiroth look like James Dean and Al Pacino. But isn't it odd that Tifa and Aeris would not look out of place in western culture (and the same goes for female BJD's)? Now I'm wondering why the boys look so different in the two cultures, but the girls don't.