Saturday 7 January 2012

1/8 Houmei (Alter)

A long time ago, I made myself a promise. If Alter's Houmei ever goes on sale, I decided, I'mma buy that expensive son of a bitch gun. She went on sale. I bought her. Then I patted myself on the back for a purchase well made.

But at close to $150 Canadian, was she really worth it? I pride myself on being able to predict what will and won't be worth my money. Did my senses proclaim victory? Or was this one of the rare moments they failed miserably?

Seeing as Alter almost never bothers with cast-offs, I was curious to discover what sort of beast I was dealing with. The answer came swift and strong: A nasty one. Alter, if you're listening: NEVER make another cast-off again, please, this humble hobbyist implores you. 

Houmei is the rare sort of figure who's enjoyment varies depending on which stage of acquisition you're at. To illustrate her time-enjoyment relationship more clearly, I've created a graph.

First, there is the waiting period, where enjoyment (or anticipation of enjoyment thereof) increases steadily as we approach the point of acquisition.

Second, there is the moment of acquisition, where enjoyment remains high. You see her box. It's simple and pink, with her original art on the side. It looks good. Not too crowded. The box amuses you (bust up angle, really?). This is also good. You'll notice Alter's made Houmei look older, which is appropriate considering her apparent lack of pants. 

Third, Houmei looks amazing as soon as she leaves the box. Dressed in a red qipao and "riding the dragon", she already radiates movement and allure. The glory of her fully robed form is almost palpable.

So, you ask, what ARE Alter's cast-offs like?

They're more modest than most. It's not like we see anything naughty. I guess it's nice to have the alternate display option. As usual, Alter puts details where no one expects them. It's astonishing the amount of work they gave to her dress and midsection considering it'll all be moot once her robe goes on.

Oh, and her base. Usually semi-transparency usually reminds me of gel, but it's surprisingly nice as a water substitute. The dragon head is extra cool (+10 points). It's not often that a figure's base is as dynamic as the figure itself. Alter earns full praise on this one. Enjoyment peaks. Alter's done it again, so it seems.

But not all is gold and glory.

Fourth, (this is where things go wrong), you must assemble her. This is where enjoyment plunges into the dank depths of hell, where the concept of happiness retreats into prenatal inexistence. Houmei is so intricate to dress that her instructions span the awful width of two pages. They're IKEA in nature and almost indecipherable. Intimidated, I disregarded them, which was probably why I had to dress her thrice. They weren't joking when they said she was a bitch to put together. I rage quit twice. The third time, I attacked her with a pair of pliers. It was the most effort I ever spent on dressing a girl.

WHAT is this travesty and WHO approved it?
In fact, Houmei is so notoriously hard to assemble that Alter put up seven instructional videos to aid distressed hobbyists. Can we say "LOL"? Yes we can!

Fifth, and finally, the struggle is over. Tears have been shed. Blood too, if you're unlucky. Houmei looks glorious on her fluid pedestal, and enjoyment spikes to its original level (or beyond). She is, after all, one of the most complicated figures ever made. Fully robed Houmei is a jewel to behold. And she has whoosh. So much god damn whoosh.

Now that we're done with the assembly, we can begin properly assessing the figure.

Houmei looks fantastic for her age. Time went easy on this 3000 year old priestess. When most people are infinitesimal specks of carbon, she's still supple and sensual. Seriously, what magical cream does that woman use? Whatever the brand, she translates into a dynamic, and (for a lack of words) totally awesome figure. I, for one, am glad Alter decided to mature her, given the generous view of her (beautiful, pale) legs. Is it just me, or does Alter make some damn alluring legs?

With toes pointed, Houmei's certainly catered towards the foot-fetish crowd.

There's been some grousing about not having enough pictures of her feet on the good ol' net. Never fear! Jenn, the ever eager crowd-pleaser, hears your cries! Houmei's feet are oddly adorable. She has chubby little toes, slightly curled. I don't usually find feet appealing, but Houmei's are smooth and soft and tolerable. If you're a detail freak like me, you'll also notice Alter painted toenails.

Houmei's outfit is truly a spectacle to behold. The beautiful gradients, the pale colours, the glittering patterns, the pure sweeping glory—she's an eyegasm of pastel pleasure!

If you're looking for an example of an exemplary paint job, Houmei's robes are the way to go. The sheer amount of colours Alter managed to include without making her garish is astounding (I see blue, purple, green, yellow, gold, white, black, pink and brown). They made her sweeping bottom reminiscent of pearl inlay, and it's gorgeous. The peacock carved into her cloak is one of my favourite aspects of this figure (I'm going to call it a cloak even when it's not, just for simplicity's sake). Every piece of clothing is different, whether in pattern or translucency, yet Houmei's design is congruent enough to hold together as a whole. Kudos to Tony Taka for her character, and extra kudos to Alter for her immortalization.

Another one of my favourites off this figure is her fan. It's tough to balance and falls out easily, but holy moly is it detailed! At first I thought she was fanning herself with bills. How befitting, I thought rather sarcastically, for a woman so stately to fan herself with money, but on second thought, they're probably charms of some sort.

Now we're going to move onto the less delicious areas of this figure. I have thought and thunk, and concluded that all issues related to this figure come from her cast-off option. In retrospect, it was an asinine idea given the cast-off doesn't even reveal anything special (the qipao is nice, but the robe is 10x nicer). It would have saved collectors time and effort to simply pack her robed and ready for display. Why bother with the nitpicky challenge of dressing her? I'm lucky I have puny, girlish fingers, and even then I still resorted to pliers in the end. I can't imagine a man trying to wrestle with such tiny parts.

Besides hurting ourselves and breaking Houmei, another serious risk comes with making her so difficult to cast-off: Paint transfer.

In the process of dressing her (thrice) left unbecoming streaks along her arms and thighs. Sure, the robes cover them, but the knowledge that they're there haunts me at night. Houmei's not a figure for the frugal. The fact that I inflicted imperfections in her otherwise flawless paint job relentlessly gnaws at my conscious.

Ugh, but that's not all.

While Houmei's paint job is something to admire, Houmei's sculpt could be better. Very dark lines run along her sleeves and chest. The seams can't be seen from a front angle, so it's not as big of a disaster as it could have been, but nevertheless, seam lines, especially avoidable ones, are never a welcome sight.

You can also see the peg that connects the front of her robes. It's not a clean fit. Why Alter decided to make her robes hug so snuggly to her body is beyond me. Come on man, give us some slack. While on the subject, Houmei's pegs are not always compatible with her holes in the first place. I had to whittle down the pegs on her sash and manually enlarge the holes on her front to connect the two pieces. This was the first time I had to damage a figure to put her together, and it was horrible on my poor heart. I never want to take metal to PVC again.

And strangely enough, there's some roughness in her hair! Minute roughness, relatively speaking, but I've come to expect such spotless quality from Alter that this comes as an unpleasant surprise.

Thankfully, thankfully, the rest of her hair is spick and span. I was nervous after reading a few reviews that mentioned paint stains in her hair. After careful inspection, my Houmei seems to be ok.

Moving back to happier areas.

I've always been a fan of white hair despite its tendency to be undershaded, or overshaded, and I'm happy to say Houmei's hair has just the right amount of depth. The sculpt of her hair is also magnificent, with all the proper pull lines and strands. I'm especially happy with her bangs, which, unlike many of Kotobukiya's Shining girls, give the impression of being full and thick.

Now we come to an all important factor in figures, the make-or-break point. All other minor inconsistencies can be forgiven, but manufacturers must get a figures face right. Nothing's more off-putting than a lazy eye, or badly rendered mouth.

Happily, Houmei's face is a delight. Her lowered face and slight smirk give her a perfect blend of mischievous and sexy. This is a confident woman. She knows she can kick your ass, but chooses not to. A million enigmas are written in her gaze. At first glance, her gaze is teasing. On second glance, it radiates something...deeper. Her smirk is not an overt sneer. Her gaze is alluring, but not all seductive. She's giving sass, but not in the hip-jutted, Oh-no-you-didn't sort of way. As expected of a 3000 year old priestess, she knows more than she's willing to reveal.

Another great aspect of Houmei's face is how the slightest difference in angle seems to change her expression completely. Sash over mouth, she seems cautious, or shy.

Sash away from mouth, and her eyes become more piercing, and her face, more devious.

Oh-ho ho!
In addition, Houmei has a wonderful profile. Not all figures can boast a lovely frontview as well as a lovely profile (I'm thinking of Nanoha Stand-by here), but Houmei is beautiful from all angles.

Her crown is magnetic.

Houmei is rather small for a 1/8 figure, although "small" might not be the best way to put it. She takes up much more room than her diminutive frame implies. Houmei as a character is small in her own right, but then again, so is Momohime. Placed together, it seems Houemi was built on a slighter scale (especially when comparing their head sizes). Of course, I could be imagining it.

I thought Houmei and Momo could chill together because of their similar colour schemes, but once side by side, it's apparent that Momo has much more contrast. 

And yes, despite her initial impression, she does have underwear.

And also a very suggestive groove...
I had a hard time judging Houmei. On one hand, she's exceedingly beautiful. Her pose is one of the best I've ever seen (she ties with Mercedes at having a levetation pose that looks natural). I don't usually go for pastel figures, but her colours were simply too good to pass up. On the other hand, her cast-off option cripples her otherwise perfect design. It introduces unecessary seam lines into her otherwise decent sculpt. The frustration in assembling her isn't easy to forgive either. Do I penalize her sculpt for faults in her design? Do I judge her for what she is rather than what she could be?

Houmei is one of my most expensive figures, so naturally, I expected much more of her. Did she disappoint? Not really, but the difficulties I experienced while dressing her killed the mood somewhat. I don't think I'll ever undress her, given the trouble I had. I guess like all good things, we have to suffer before we reap the rewards. I have a feeling I would have been disappointed if she wasn't on sale, but as they say, "Sales heal all wounds" (...or was that time?). Overall I'm happy with her purchase. I've had my eye on her for a very long time.

The Run-Down
Box: 6/10 (Simple, relatively attractive, feels a bit flimsy though)
Base: 10/10 (Creative and beautiful)
Pose: 10/10 (So much whoosh it hurts!)
Sculpt: 7/10 (Excessive seams, some roughness)
Paint: 10/10 (Alter-standard paint job, a.k.a. perfection)
Overall: 9/10 (Ffffffff-that assembly job!)

Manufacturer: Alter
e: 11 800 yen
Purchased from: AmiAmi

Till next thyme!

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