Of the many collectible figurines and statues of Japan, bishoujo figures are perhaps the most widely popular. Bishoujo (or Bishōjo, literally meaning “beautiful girl”) is the Japanese term for an attractive young girl. Bishoujo figures are collectible figurines of pretty female characters from anime, manga, games and other media, mostly from Japan. Unlike action figures from the West which are usually made to be played with, the bishoujo figures of Japan are made mainly for collection and display. Unarticulated figures tend to be sculpted with incredible detail and appealing poses and expressions that look stunning on display, while articulated figures allow you the fun of positioning your figure in a new pose to enjoy on display every day. Bishoujo figures allow collectors to enjoy the presence and sight of their favorite fictional female characters as glorious, three dimensional, full-color sculptures. Now tell us you wouldn’t want that on your desk.
How are they made?
The process begins with an illustration. Sometimes figure companies will decide to turn an existing illustration of a character into a figure, and sometimes they will have an illustration drawn from scratch. (Famous Japanese illustrator who goes by the name Tony, for instance, is known for his illustrations of bishoujo characters, and has had hundreds of his illustrations picked up and sculpted into gorgeous bishoujo figures.) The illustration chosen to be made into a figure is then drawn to scale from multiple angles in order to plot out how the figure will look in 3D. Sometimes the images are hand drawn, while in other cases they are modelled using 3D modelling software.
It is the sculptor’s job to recreate that illustration as a figure. The individual parts of the figure (the head, torso, arms, legs, etc.) are usually created separately and pieced together at the end. Nowadays, the parts can also be printed out directly using the 3D modelling data and a 3D printer.
The parts of the prototype figure are used to create molds (which are used to produce more copies of the figure). Once the colors of the figure are decided, the prototype figure, which usually starts off grey or white, is painted by hand. The product photo you see of pre-order figures is usually the hand-painted prototype.
When the figure is finalized, pre-orders open for a limited period of time, and a release date a few months from then is announced! Manufacturers gage how many figures they should produce based on the number of pre-orders received.
Then, the figures go into production! The factory receives the molds and prototypes and mass produce the figure. Every single individual figure is painted by hand (can you believe that?!) to ensure that the details are perfect. The completed figures are then sent off to distributors, from which you receive your long-awaited figure!
Most of the time, a figure only goes into production once, so if you don’t pre-order your figure within the pre-order period, welp. You can only hope to obtain one second-hand or from some other source later on. Very rarely, the manufacturer will decide to do a reproduction, meaning that the figure will be open for pre-order once more and another batch of the figure will be produced. This only happens if the figure was extremely popular.
What companies can I choose between?
Of the countless figure manufacturers out there, one of the most famous and long-standing is Kotobukiya, founded in 1953 and known as “Japan's #1 Collector Toy Company.” Kotobukiya makes scale figures and model kits of high quality and detail. In recent years they have also released their Cu-Poche series, a line of adorable chibi figures with magnetic stands and magnets on the character’s feet for stable posing. They are known for figures not only of anime, manga, and game characters from Japan, but characters from Western media as well, including Marvel superheroes, Star Wars characters, and more.
Another newer but no less well-known company is Good Smile Company. If there’s a popular anime or game, you can count on GSC to release high-quality scale figures and adorable Nendoroids for them. Nendoroid, GSC’s specialty, is line of articulated chibi figures that come with multiple face parts (expressions), hand parts, sometimes hair parts, and props, so that you can have fun posing and recreating the character in various situations.
Good Smile Company also produces many figures in collaboration with Max Factory, another Japanese figure company capable of elaborate, top-quality scale figures. If you’re looking for the centerpiece of your collection - a bishoujo figure sporting a fluid and dynamic pose, with impressive props, incredible detail, and maybe even a special stand - Max Factory and Good Smile Company’s 'Wonderful Hobby Selection' series is a sure bet. Be prepared for a price tag that matches that quality, though! Max Factory is also known for figma, their line of articulated action figures, allowing you to choose your own dynamic poses for your favorite characters.
If you’re looking for a lower price point without sacrificing the kawaii, Banpresto is a good choice. Banpresto is a Japanese toy company that makes everything from plush toys to keychains, and of course a wide selection of bishoujo figures. Known for figures with well-designed poses at low prices, usually within the 2000~ JPY (about $20~ USD) range. One of their most well known bishoujo figures are the Madoka and Homura figure set based on Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion. The two figures are posed peacefully curled up as if sleeping, and the two pieces fit together perfectly to form the image of them gracefully lying side by side. At only around $25 USD each, too! They are also known for their Chibi Kyun Chara series of adorable mini chibi figures.
Myethos is a relatively new figure manufacturer based in Hong Kong, and while their selection is still quite small, every single piece they produce exhibits incredible attention to detail and quality. They are known for their gorgeous Fairy Tale series, with bishoujo versions of characters such as Alice, the Queen of Hearts, and Little Red Riding Hood in fabulous ruffly dresses atop specially designed stands.
Other companies that you simply cannot go wrong with for quality and detail include Alter and Phat! If you’re looking for a bishoujo figure that brings the character to life, these manufacturers know just how to pose the character and exactly what details will give their figures soul. Their figures also come with price points to match, however, so be prepared to pay for the quality you get!