Essay by: Isaiah Child
It isn’t uncommon for Anime fans to enjoy toy collecting as a side hobby. It’s thrilling and satisfying to see one’s favorite character in 3D. Statues and pose-able toys gives fans fresh data to work with, allowing them to let their imagination run wild. It quite literally adds a whole new dimension to the character. Toys like Revoltech and Figma are suited for dynamic action poses, while companies like Kaiyodo create statues that present a dynamic approach to a memorable scene, or proposing enticing “what-if” situations. However, most of these examples present a facsimile of the character from the original material, or a very specific alter-version. It wouldn’t make sense to actively want products that knock-off the character, unless of course that is what is interesting to the collector. What if two very distinct interests crossed over into a hybrid figure? Would that product make sense thematically and aesthetically? Is this product from both realms, or is it turned into one, singular entity?
Both Blythe and NGE have experienced similar trials and tribulations. As Blythe grew and coined the term “fashion doll,” more and more copycats were being produced with an identical motive. Dolls like Pullip and Odekochan vied reap the benefits of this new cultural niche. Blythe satisfied toy collectors that had an itch that could not be satisfied with conventional dress-up dolls. Barbie and Rika-chan, the previous queens of the doll world, had to learn to adapt to the new environment that Blythe pioneered. By giving full control to the consumers and encouraging customization, Blythe became more than just a doll; she became an entity. Blythe fans are an eclectic bunch. From one end of the spectrum to the other, the range of subcultures her fans are involved with is staggering. Blythe is the name of the doll, but not every Blythe doll they own is “Blythe.” She is not just a doll with an extra set of clothes, but a catalyst for fashion and style. To those who love her, she is an icon. She has a name, but with every set of clothing and every customized eye chip, she becomes a completely different entity from the last. She is Audrey Hepburn on her wildest escapades, she is Rihanna on stage with the strobe lights flickering, she is Kuriyama Chiaki with bloodlust in her eyes. If it weren’t for the fans, for their creativity and their camaraderie, Blythe would never have come this far. There is a reason why Blythe is doing so well more than 30 years after her first release.
After working on Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water for two years, NGE creator and director Anno Hideaki became increasingly depressed, unable to relate with his core audience, the so-called “otaku.” He considered their state of being as a sort of self-imposed autism, people who are intentionally unable to connect unless it is with material that enlivens their hedonistic world views. He created NGE as a sort of snare to catch them off guard, and to make them question their state of being. In order to do so, he needed bait.
Ayanami Rei was a revolutionary character. Her seemingly cold exterior would be widely imitated and caricatured for a decade after, becoming firmly ingrained in pop culture. She could be described as stoic, unfeeling, or even “doll-like,” although the last description is specifically contested by Ayanami Rei. Anno Hideaki describes her central theme to be “Thanatos”, or the desire for death. She is a clone of Ikari Shinji’s mother who has despairingly accepted her disposable nature. There are hundreds of others just like her floating in a tank who could replace her at a moments notice. Without a second thought, she will selflessly sacrifice herself if the lives of her friends are at stake. Although she is absolutely terrified of being expendable, she considers this to be her best method to connect with others, especially Ikari Shinji.
The gap between her calm exterior and passionate, hard-working character gripped the hearts of her first fans and didn’t let go. As speculation and imaginations ran wild as to who she actually was, how she thought and felt, the character called Ayanami Rei seemed to lift herself out of the screen and become the entity called Ayanami Rei. She was obsessed over and talked about, customized and affecting each person who she came in contact with. Many characters have been based on her in tribute, parody, or just plain copying. She became a muse, a goddess, and the dream girl of many adolescent boys and girls of that decade. She was a role model showing the will to protect, to connect, to change -- an icon for those with a cry for help hidden in their chest.
Fans of both Blythe and Ayanami share a trait: they both want their voices to be heard. Their love of their icon fuels their creativity, whether it’s to create a new pattern for a Lolita dress for Blythe, or to build garage kit’s of Ayanami in the entry plug of EVA Unit 00. They want their love to be seen, and to be able to have conversations with their comrades. They want to share and to spread the word. People can say that Blythe in Ayanami Rei’s plug suit or the Revoltech Ayanami Rei, is a collaborative product simply meant to create another doll and exploit the name of the Evangelion franchise. Her fans understand though, that this is more than just a cross-over product, but a rare moment when two worlds overlap to create a single entity. That she is both Blythe and Ayanami Rei at the same time.
↓The views, opinions and positions expressed by the authors and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of CWC, Junie Moon or Blythedoll.com.