by Michelle “Ms. Geek” Klein-Hass
The first thing you absolutely, positively need to know about Asian Ball Joint Dolls and Asian Vinyl Dolls is that they should not be confused with those full-size silicone rubber Love Dolls. Totally different concept here. Some don't get the distinction. Please don't be one of them.
OK, disclaimer is out of the way. Let’s talk about the dolls I saw and the event I attended last weekend.
Volks is a company in Kyoto, Japan, which makes Asian Ball Joint Dolls (Super Dollfie) and Asian Vinyl Armature Dolls (Dollfie Dream). They initially started as a hobby shop in Kyoto that made “garage kit” models out of plastic resin. Volks made models of planes and tanks and things like that, with a great deal of masculine appeal but hardly anything interesting for 51% of the population. So, to attract female fans to their operations, they began experimenting with making dolls.
Victorian antique porcelain doll Super Dollfie
Their original “Dollfie” (a contraction of Doll and Figure) was very Barbie-like. A 27 centimeter fashion doll. However, Volks began experimenting with direct resin casting of sculpted large-scale dolls, with an aesthetic like the European porcelain dolls of a by-gone age. The Super Dollfie was born, and Volks went from obscurity to an internationally-known maker of high-end Asian dolls. Volks still makes model kits, but dolls are now their biggest stock-in-trade.
Dollfie Dream is very different than Super Dollfie. Firstly, the materials are different: vinyl instead of plastic resin. Secondly, the internal structure is very, very different. Super Dollfie and its offshoots are strung with elastic cord on the inside, a very traditional way of putting a doll together that goes all the way back to porcelain dolls. Dollfie Dream, at least beginning with the second version of the doll body, has an engineered hard plastic internal frame. Super Dollfie and Dollfie Dream differ not only in construction materials and design, but also in aesthetic. Super Dollfie has a very classic look reminiscent of old Victorian porcelain dolls.
Dollfie Dream is based on an anime/manga/JP video game aesthetic, with large, cartoony eyes and looks that suggest a 3D rendering of the archetypal 2D anime girl. Many of Volks’ Dollfie Dreams are licensed from anime and from visual novel games. The doll pictured above is based on Sasara, from the Visual Novel Game/Manga/Anime ToHeart 2. She's not wearing her original outfit, which might throw some people expecting her outfit from the game/manga/anime.
Volks has "Dolls Party" (Dolpa for short) events on a regular basis in Japan. They have also had a couple in New York a few years ago. But this is the first Dolpa that has happened in the Los Angeles area since 2007! An almost 10 year gap. So right away, I knew I had to go.
The Dolpa was held at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott. It's convenient for Volks, because not only did they have to fly some of their staff in to LA from Kyoto, Japan, but their American operations are still in Torrance, only a few miles away.
What amazed me was how so many of the people attending had also flown themselves -- and their dolls -- in to the event. The attendees were from all over the US, and some had come from other countries to attend. Most were women, but there were a few guys there. And some of the best parts of the event weren't even on the schedule, but were spontaneous gatherings where people could show off their pretty little vinyl and resin friends.
And you'd never know whom you were going to run into, including this person wearing clothes as elaborate as her doll's clothes. Part of the reason why the Asian Ball Joint Doll became a phenomenon was its connection to Asian fashion subcultures like Lolita and Harajuku.
The main event was a mad tea party for dolls and their owners. The theme was Alice In Wonderland, and part of the festivities was a cosplay contest.
(photos by Elizabeth Pease)
Will it take 8 more years for another Dolpa in Los Angeles? I'm hoping not. This was lots of fun and I'm hoping we get a chance to meet again.
(photo by Ksusha)