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Volks Report

Amy Lipkowitz, General Reporter

Old-School action figure and Gundam fans will remember Volks, Inc of Japan for their high quality model kits. Over the years, Volks has been bringing its signature attention to quality and detail to the world of dolls and figures, as shown in their amazingly articulated, beautifully sculpted Dollfies.

As the name suggests, the Volks Dollfie is a fusion of traditional fashion dolls and traditional action figures, bringing grace and form to articulation and durability. Their 1/6 scale Dollfies are available in a variety of size-classes, ranging from the child-like EB Mini to the slightly taller Beauty Midi, to the approximately 11 1/2 inch tall standard EB figures. Customizers can choose dolls based on height, level of articulation, and most famously, body shape. The dolls generally come with a blank head that customizers add hair and eyes to, although separately-sold heads include rooted hair in a variety of colors. There are also a variety of head-shapes and plug-in hand and feet options available, making Volks Dollfies the physical real-life equivalent of popular internet doll-making programs.

Their other signature product is the Super Dollfie (often abbreviated to SD), a high-quality resin ball-jointed doll originally created by master sculptor Akihiro Enk for his wife, a doll-collector and customizer. The Super Dollfies are a totally different creature from the 1/6 scale Dollfies. While 1/6 Dollfies use a variety of joints to show off poseability, the Super Dollfies feature elastic-tension jointing, much like composition dolls from days of yore. The Super Dollfies' glass eyes and wigs give them a remarkably life-life look, as well as providing countless opportunities for customizing at a moment's notice... say, changing the direction of the gaze, or changing the eye and hair color.

Volks Dollfies and Super Dollfies have enjoyed great popularity within Japan, but also outside of Japan through many fan-sites and fan-based communities. Super Dollfies are hand-crafted in limited batches in Japan, with multiple checks along the way to ensure perfection. This has resulted in many Super Dollfie models being produced in extremely limited quantities, ranging in the low hundreds. These dolls are in such great demand that they generally sell out within a day or so of release. Thus far, overseas fans have had to rely on secondary market or very generous friends and family to obtain their beloved dolls.

Volks is aware of their fans and grateful for the support, and currently plans are in place for a three-pronged approach to the US:

  • Volks dealerships, or physical doll shops where Dollfie and Super Dollfie fans can see the dolls in person. In addition, the store owner will be able to advise them on how to care for the doll (both types of dolls require some degree of "finishing", such as sanding seams, customizing eyes and hair, etc) and even repair the doll, should the unthinkable happen.

  • A US online shop, or virtual store where customers can shop from home. Volks currently has a Japanese and International webstore where various items can be purchased, but shipping from Japan can be prohibitively high. The US-based online shop would carry slightly fewer items than the Japanese shop, as Volks sees what the potential market is like, but shipping would be much lower for US residents.

  • A physical doll boutique, date and location currently unknown. Volks currently has ten "Tenshi no Sumika" (literally, "The Angels' Nest" or "The Angels' Den") doll boutiques in Japan, plus one in Seoul, Korea. These boutiques serve as more than just one-stop shopping for these dolls. They're also beautiful display spaces for the dolls and their accessories. Volks plans to start with one physical store in the US to begin with; further store openings would depend on consumer interest and fan response.

Volks' relatively cautious approach to the market is based on many factors. The dolls are made by hand in Japan, using fine quality materials. The in-house production of the dolls and even the glass eyes is due to Volks' policy of never compromising their standards. The doll-crafting is treated as an art, a personal connection between the creator and the eventual owner. This artisan approach means that the dolls can take longer to reach the market, especially if the dolls have been custom-made. Both prospective owners and prospective Volks dealerships would need to understand why this is necessary, and why traditional measures used to cut costs and reduce production time (factories in developing companies, assembly-line work) are simply not an option.

When asked about the variations in head-size caused by the many types of Super Dollfie available, Mr. Akihiro Enk (the sculptor) stepped in to say that with each doll, there's a certain image that Volks wishes to create... and in order to translate that image faithfully into a physical form, they will change the head size and proportions as needed. If they tried to make the heads all the same size, that would lead to them working within a frame, and they want to work free of constraints.

Encouraging creativity is a large part of Volks' philosophy. Their Dollfie dolls are, in large part, blank slates upon which customizers can draw to their heart's content. Even Super Dollfies are fully customizable, although some MIB ("Mint In Box") collectors might quake at the thought of touching something so close to perfection.

At their flagship boutique in Kyoto, called Tenshi no Sato ("homeland of the angels" or "village of the angels", depending on your translation), Volks holds Classroom events, learning lectures in which students can learn directly from a Volks artist on how to customize their Super Dollfies using "meiku" (short for make-up) or as it's known in English, "face-ups". Face-ups are the application of paints and pastel-chalks to the Super Dollfie to create a custom look. The Volks Classroom events are intensive sessions with a low student to teacher ratio. Besides face-up lessons, Volks Classroom events can cover various topics involving the care and upkeep of a Super Dollfie, such as sanding down seams, tightening the jointing-elastic, changing glass eyes, and so on.

Volks' growing fan base has been clamoring for a greater presence in the US for many years. Let's hope that this great demand can be comfortably balanced with Volks' drive for perfection!

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