Sunday, 22 March 2015

Where is Barbie?

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Barbie Millicent Roberts

Age   55 but looks 20
Eyes  Blue
Hair   Blond
Distinguishing feature
          Controversially unrealistic body proportions

Barbie has been known as a fashion icon since the 1960s. She was created by Ruth Handler for her daughter Barbara, whom Barbie was named after. Ruth wished to make a doll that little girls could dress and engage in pretend play with, much like how the paper dolls that were popular at the time were used. The concept of Barbie was inspired by the German doll Bild Lilli.

Barbie has been seen over the years with many different friends and family members. Her one true love, however, continues to be Ken.
Barbie’s occupation is ever changing. She has had as many careers and jobs as she has had outfits. In addition to fashionista, Barbie has been architect, astronaut, computer engineer, and the U.S. president.

Barbie has had her share of controversy. She has been widely criticized as being a bad role model for young girls and society in general for her influence in setting unrealistic body standards in women. The recent emergence of Lammily, a doll created to celebrate the average sized female body, has been seen as a reaction to Barbie. Lammily has been referred to by many as the anti-Barbie.
Barbie has been noticeably absent in doll reviews on YouTube. She was not among the top toys listings of 2014 that appeared during the Christmas season. Among retailers such as Toys R Us, her shelf space has shrunk in half over recent years.

Why? Where is Barbie?
According to an article from The Daily Beast, “Barbie is out, Monster High is in.” This article from October 21, 2014 describes how Barbie sales have been declining and that the young girls who once were Barbie’s core demographic are gravitating towards Monster High dolls and digital toys.

Many theories for the fall in Barbie’s popularity are presented in “Barbie is Out, Monster High Is In”. One theory is that parents may be making a conscious decision to steer their children away from Barbie due to “antiquated, sexist, and unrealistic representation” and that she sends “mixed messages” to girls, telling them to “be whatever you want to be” while also holding up a “ridiculous body image.” Barbie collector and dressmaker Nikeeyia Howell opines that the lack of diversity and progressiveness is a problem. She notes that, “the black version of the doll” she regularly encounters on store shelves has “very light skin [and] if you want a darker skin, black Barbie, then you have to get one from the S.I.S. line.”
While some may say that Barbie is losing in the toy wars because of the lack of realism in her image, I have a different take. Since when have kids been concerned with reality when it comes to play? Elements of reality definitely come into it, of course. Kids are often imitating what they see adults do. But along with the “real”, there also needs to be some aspects of creativity where imagination is stimulated. Barbie is missing the fantasy science fiction ingredient that Monster High has.

In the last decade, popular culture has seen a growing fascination with monsters, vampires, and the supernatural. Adults love to immerse themselves in the paranormal world. Case in point: television shows and movies such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, Vampire Diaries, The Walking Dead, and Supernatural. Kids also love this otherworldliness.
Oddly enough, while working on this blog post, there seemed to be a sudden resurgence of Barbie appearances on YouTube. It seems that there was an unveiling of new varieties of dolls from the Barbie line at Toy Fair 2015 in New York. What was noticeable was the diversity among Barbie and friends. The Mommy and Gracie Show posted a video on YouTube of their visit there with the comment, “Holy Diversity Batman … They have so many new skin tones and hair textures.” Among those seen were an Asian character, bi-racial character, and even a character with semi-shaved head. I have also seen reviews of dolls with articulated ankles so that Barbie and friends can now wear flat shoes and take a rest from their high heels. It appears that Mattel is attempting to respond to some of the criticisms and complaints.

Here’s a look at some of these new dolls in the world of Barbie:
Bi-racial doll from Barbie Fashionistas line on “Jason Robert Keef” YouTube channel:

Check out Barbie’s friend with semi-shaved head in “Doll and Playset Reveals from Toy Fair 2015” on “Mommy and Gracie Show” YouTube channel:

Monday, 16 March 2015

My Little Pony

My Little Pony is a brand that I have referred to in previous posts but have not discussed in much detail. The My Little Pony phenomenon is huge. Almost every YouTube toy channel I have visited seems to feature these colorful ponies. There is an annual convention called BronyCon, where fans come together to celebrate these ponies. Not only do the attendees purchase huge amounts of My Little Pony themed merchandise at this gathering, many of them also dress as their favorite character. There is even a term for adult men who enjoy My Little Pony: Bronies.

If you frequent toy review channels on YouTube, it is hard to not know something about My Little Pony, even if you are not a fan. I am one of these people who fall into that category. I have watched many videos featuring these toys, out of curiosity and also wondering if someday it will just click on why this craze exists.
It still hasn’t happened yet. I no longer watch the videos, as readily available as they are.

Monster High is another brand that I knew was popular but did not “get”. However, after watching a few episodes of Monster High with my niece, I clued in a bit about the appeal. The characters, personalities, and relationships between these monsters in high school are what captivate viewers. The monster appearances and qualities of the characters add unique elements which create special twists to their storylines.    
I know bits and pieces about My Little Pony: There is Pinkie Pie, Scootaloo, Big Mac, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity. Cutie marks are symbols located on the pony flanks which indicate something about the pony personality. There are also ponies called Cutie Mark Crusaders.

As you can see, my knowledge is limited and scattered. I don’t know what the storyline is, having never seen one episode of this cartoon. I figure that maybe this would help me gain some understanding as it did with Monster High.
I decided I needed to delve a bit deeper into the world of My Little Pony. I heard that “Friendship is Magic” is the slogan for BronyCon so I started by watching some clips on YouTube which I found by googling “my little pony friendship is magic”:

·       May the Best Pet Win
·       Hula Hoops
·       Twilight sees how Celestia banished Luna
·       Fluttershy`s Rainbow Reflection
·       Bats Song

From watching the clips, I learned the ponies have child-like characteristics. They seem to be in the equivalent to elementary school-aged in humans. They are presented as very cute with high voices. Cutie marks represent talents that have to be searched for and discovered. The ponies are not born with them. The episodes contain a lot of teaching moments when it comes to morals and kindness and this makes it seem like it is geared towards younger children. I am not really into cartoons so each of the clips I chose to watch was under ten minutes long.
This is what I learned about the overall storyline and plot from Wikipedia :

The show follows a studious unicorn pony named Twilight Sparkle as her mentor Princess Celestia guides her to learn about friendship in the town of Ponyville. Twilight becomes close friends with five other ponies. Each represents a different face of friendship.
The "Mane Six"
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This is what I learned from Wikipedia about the Equestria Girls, a related line of dolls I have seen reviewed on YouTube:
A companion film, titled My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, premiered on the FamilyDay of the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 15, 2013 ... the film follows Twilight Sparkle on a mission through a magic mirror to recover her stolen crown. She ends up in a world populated by humans while being transformed into a teenage girl herself, and must overcome the difficulties of her new body and interacting with students of the nearby school as she looks for the culprit.

After the above bit of research, I’ll say this: I still don’t get it. First of all, I am not really into cartoons. The only reason I ever watch one is because I am with my niece and she wants to watch it. Second of all, unlike Monster High, the storylines for My Little Pony seem geared towards very young children. If the love for the ponies is due to enjoyment of the cartoon, then I guess I will not be a part of that group. All the dolls that I have liked were not due to a cartoon or movie. They may have storylines associated with them, but I do not really follow any of them. My enjoyment is mainly based on the appearance and details of the dolls themselves.

In conclusion, although I have learned a bit more about My Little Pony, I still do not have insight about why there is such a big fan base. It still remains a mystery to me. Does it really matter though? To each his own.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Candy kits

Candy kits seem to be a uniquely Japanese concept. At least, I am not aware of North American versions of it. These are “do-it-yourself” candy kits that create edible versions of miniature foods.

I became aware of these candy kits while watching videos on the YouTube channel “studiolorien”. This is one of a group of channels hosted by a young Japanese couple. On these channels, they introduce elements of Japanese culture such as toys, foods, and crafts. The primary host is Abi, the female of the duo.
On “studiolorien”, Abi posts videos of cooking and food. Playlist titles include “Tasting”, “Culture & Vlogs”, “Candy Lab”, “Cooking”, “Japan & Kawaii Lovers Group”, and “Cooking Toys”. Most of her videos are under the category of “DIY Candies”, many of which involve making edible doll-sized foods. These kits contain labelled pouches of powder which contain the ingredients and plastic trays in which the candy foods are made.

The process involved in making these candy kits is pretty simple. Water is added to a specific powder in a specific compartment of the plastic tray. The water-powder mixture becomes a mushy substance that is pressed into the molded compartment so that it is formed into the miniature food shape of the mold. Each water-powder mixture is in an appropriate color for the particular food item. The plastic tray contains many compartments that are molded for different parts of the food items being made and often has a corner that can be cut out to form a scoop to measure the water in. Sometimes the tray has been designed to contain mixing or molding utensils that can be cut out of it.

Most of the time, the molded items are baked in a microwave to harden. Often pouches of sauces or jelly in the kit supply the finishing touches to these mini candy foods.

I’m not sure what these candies taste like. I suspect they all taste the same. I think that the appeal to these kits is not in the candy aspect but in the active creating process. In addition, the final product is usually very cute. It’s a satisfying feeling to have had a hand in producing the miniscule foods.
One kit that I have seen on multiple YouTube channels is the Happy Kitchen Hamburger set. This kit contains all the supplies needed to make two cheeseburgers, a package of fries, and a cup of soda. Individually created buns, meat patties, cheese slices, and ketchup sauce are put together to make the cheese burgers. Surprisingly, the buns seem be the texture and consistency of bread. According to the video posted on the YouTube channel “TheHollycopter” , the fries actually taste like potato and the burgers taste like the kids meal burgers from McDonald’s. The meat smells like meat and the cheese smells like cheese. I am very surprised by this. In addition to the food items, there are also plastic flags for the burgers, plastic cup for the soda, and a plastic sleeve that can be made for the fries.

I have posted the links to a few of these videos on “studiolorien”, including Abi’s video for the Happy Kitchen Hamburger set. Enjoy!

“studiolorien” videos:
DIY Candy Happy Kitchen Donut Kit

Popin’ Cookin’ Waffle CafĂ©

DIY Candy! Renewed Popin' Cookin' Sushi!

Happy Kitchen Hamburger



Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Making doll accessories with polymer clay

In previous posts, I have described my collection of miniature food, re-ments, and how these forms of miniatures differ from one another. I recently learned that re-ments were what spawned the art of making miniature food using polymer clay.  A variety of tools can be used to apply many types of texture to polymer clay to design amazing details. When baked, these creations become permanent.

When browsing on Etsy, I always marveled at the different types of miniature items that were shown. The different food textures and amount of details were impressive. At first I wondered if these pictures were accurate portrayals of what I would receive if I decided to purchase them. How could such small items be created? I was delightfully amazed when I discovered that what I had seen was what I actually got.

I have viewed YouTube videos that demonstrated how to make different items with polymer clay. These included miniature candy, fast food, and drink items. It was surprising to learn that textures could be created using simple tools such as a toothbrush.
I recently did some research on how polymer clay works. I thought I would share what I learned here, as it is the basis of many doll accessories.

Polymer clay is a type of hardenable modeling clay. This is how it is created: a liquid, called a plasticizer, is added to dry particles called polyvinyl chloride resin (you will likely be familiar with the term PVC) until it achieves gel-like working properties.
Why do plasticizers make polymer clay soft? It has to do with how plasticizer molecules interact with PVC molecules. Think of the PVC molecules as a group of friends going on a holiday cruise. In its rigid form, the attractive forces between the molecules bring them closer to one another so they behave like a clique. They want to stick with one another and do the same things all the time. They are inflexible. Plasticizer behave like the activity directors on the cruise. The plasticizer molecules fit in between the PVC molecules and weaken the forces bonding them together. They encourage the PVC molecules to try new things and be more flexible. It is in this flexible, adventurous form that we can have fun with polymer clay. We can now play with this sociable group of molecules and shape this substance to create doll accessories.

Once we have finished forming the polymer clay into the miniature item we want it to be, we heat it to make it a permanent item. When you heat polymer clay, the number of plasticizer molecules is reduced so that the PVC molecules can once again move closer to one another due to the forces of attraction between them. We can view this as the end of the holiday cruise. The fun has ended and it is mostly the original group of PVC molecules that leave with one another. However, their experiences during their holiday has forever changed them and they are now in a different form then before they started their holiday adventure.
I hope you have enjoyed learning a bit about the science behind polymer clay. While we are creating art, it seems that science is also at play.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Department 56

In my first blog post, I mentioned a line of ceramic buildings from Department 56 . These buildings were what started it all for me. It was the beginning of my fascination with dolls and all things miniature. As a student (meaning no money), I admired them and gazed upon all the intricate details of the village settings in store displays. I took delight in all the little scenes that were created in the groupings of little people among the snowy landscape. I coveted them like I had never coveted anything before.

Today I will go into more detail about my Department 56 collection. Not only do I own various building that light up from within, but I also have many accessories from the Department 56 line that help create a miniature city decorated for the Christmas holiday season. These accessories include people such as city sidewalk shoppers, a vehicle wrapped up in a ribbon bow, street lamps that actually light up, many types of trees and other landscape greenery, and powdery snow.
Department 56 features several series of villages. Alpine Village Series, Dickens’ Village Series, New England Village Series, and North Pole Series are the names of a few of the collections. The series that I love and collect is called Christmas in the City. I have also added a few things from some of the other series but Christmas in the City has been my main focus. Do I need to explain why I chose this particular collection? I think the name says it all. Christmas is that magical time when we dress up buildings and trees in lights and colorful ornaments. It contains those moments when the fresh white powdery snow blankets everything in the city. It also encompasses the excitement of kids looking forward to the magical day.

Speaking of magic, I would like to share some of my favorite pieces from my collection and describe some of the details that make them so enjoyable.

Here is an overview picture of my village display:

This is my own personal photograph of my collection.

In the front row, from left to right, there is a corner bookstore, old-fashioned style house, and frozen pond complete with skaters. There is a car wrapped in gold ribbon that is tied up in a bow directly in front of the house. It looks like someone will be receiving an extravagant present for Christmas. In the back row of buildings, from left to right, there is a school, coffee shop, and toy store. All of these buildings are set on brick patterned streets with various types of city people interspersed among them. The people include shoppers carrying bags, a businessman carrying a briefcase and newspaper, a man walking his similarly dressed dog, and a family watching the skaters go through their paces. There is also an assortment of busy city workers such as a policeman, a group of tree trimmers, and street food vendors.

My favorite building is Jenny’s Corner Book Shop.  Here is a close-up picture:

My own personal photograph.

There is an amazing amount of detail. A building solely devoted to books is wonderful in itself, but the various features of this particular one are really fun to look at. As a whole, the shop is very colorful and is decorated with Christmas greenery. Set within the main front door, a smaller children’s door is halfway open. On the sidewalk out in front, there are shelves holding a colorful assortment of tiny books. Hanging from the building are a store sign in the shape of a book and a birdcage. All of the windows have partial openings in them to allow the light produced from a single internal light bulb to be visible. However, to me, the piece de resistance is what lies at the back corner of this shop: there is a wrought spiral iron staircase.

Another building with great features is Scottie’s Toy Shop. Here are two pictures:

My own personal photograph.

My own personal photograph.

Once again, this building is very colorful. The brick and window awnings are in rich tones of burgundy and blue. The shop is festively decorated with Christmas wreathes and other trimming. All of the windows have partial openings to permit light from within to be visible. There are two very cool features that come with this toy shop. The first feature is that the wrought iron bay window front is opened and contains sculpted miniature toys. There is a toy soldier, beach ball, teddy bear, and rocking horse. These miniature details are amazing. The second feature that I want to point out can be seen standing in front of the shop. It is a horse ride for children. It is beautifully painted with red, yellow, and green harness and saddle. The horse stand contains a spring coil so that the horse can bounce up and down just like a real children’s ride.

I could go on and on about the details of numerous other pieces in this collection. I have only mainly described the buildings but the people and other accessories have their own charming characteristics. I hope this close-up look has shown some of the reasons why I chose to collect from the ceramic village pieces of the Department 56 line of products.


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Funko Pop vinyl figures

Today I will talk about a line of popular collectibles that I have been seeing on YouTube. These collectibles are the Funko Pop vinyl figures. These vinyl figures represent characters in pop culture, whether it be movies, cartoon, toys, or dolls. They come in varying sizes but are uniform in certain characteristics.

I am going to be upfront about this. I am not a big fan. But I wish I was because these figures are everywhere and seem to immortalize everything that is popular. There are so many groups and series of Funko Pops. The most popular series by far, at least among the YouTube channels I subscribe to, seem to be My Little Pony. I have seen many video reviews of these. The My Little Pony figures seem to come in many variants. Here are a few pictures:
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Why am I not a fan of Funko Pop? It stems from what I like about miniatures. The main things about miniatures that appeal to me is this: viewing details on an unusually small scale. For me, the most realistic the detail, the better. The Funko Pop vinyl figures are known for their big square-shaped heads that outsize their bodies. This uniform shape of head limits the amount of detail and realism that is captured in the character of popular culture that is being portrayed.
My Little Pony is perhaps not the best example to use because these are cartoon characters so realism is not really something that comes into consideration for this series. Ghostbusters is another series of Funko Pop collectibles. This is a well-known movie with characters portrayed by actors that are human beings. Let’s take a look at these figures:

Ghostbusters car
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Ghostbusters group
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Other than the ghost and monster aspects of the movie and the way the ghostbusters are dressed, the figures are not that realistic looking to me.
In addition to the uniformly square shaped heads, there is a lack of articulation with the limbs and waistline of the bodies. The heads can move from side-to-side and there are also figures who are bobble-heads. But other than that, versatility for displaying and posing is non-existent. I suspect that this may be why these figures are so popular. It is due to their uniformity and oversized heads. Uniformity is one element that may make something a collectible. The item will be compatible and fit in with other items in a collection due to similarity in appearance such as size and shape. I also think that the oversized head adds an amusing comical effect for the collector. The appearance represents a memory of something the collector enjoys but presents it in a new funny way.

Funko Pop figures are more recently established collectibles, with the Funko company being founded as a Bobblehead company in 1998 . So I was surprised to view a video in which Funko Pop figures from the 1980s movie “Sixteen Candles” were displayed in a store. I supposed it shouldn’t be that surprising to me since there is a series from the movie Ghostbuster although I consider Ghostbuster more of an iconic movie than Sixteen Candles. Those of you who are under a certain age have probably never heard of Sixteen Candles but are familiar with the Ghostbusters franchise.

Cast from Sixteen Candles
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Jake Ryan from Sixteen Candles
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Samantha Baker from Sixteen Candles
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Many YouTube channels post video reviews of these types of figures, with some actually being primarily devoted to Funko Pops. The following are a few channels featuring Funko Pops:

Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I still like to watch these video reviews and I do like to check out the store in my neighborhood mall that has an entire wall display of Funko Pop vinyl figures. I am hoping that perhaps just the right movie will be featured with just the right amount of detail. Then I may become part of the Funko Pop craze.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015


In my previous post, I talked about Hello Kitty and Rilakkuma, two kawaii characters. Today I will talk about something that is strongly associated with them.

Re-Ment is the name of a Japanese company which produces detailed accessories for play and collecting. The name Re-Ment comes from the slogan “Reform the Entertainment”, which I believe came from the desire to create more variety in toys at a time when miniatures were largely action figures geared towards boys. Re-ments are hyper realistic items in 1:6 scale, which is also known as playscale.  Every two inches in doll world represents one foot in the real world. To put this explanation in simpler terms, a 12 inch Ken doll represents a six-foot tall person in real life. To sum it up, re-ments are accessories in a size suitable for Barbie-size dolls.
Re-ments can be purchased online:

Most re-ments are detailed food and kitchen items. Many of these are either shaped as or decorated with features of certain cartoon characters or made to accompany these characters. From my time on YouTube, the most popular characters for re-ments are Rilakkuma and Hello Kitty. I have also seen Mickey Mouse re-ments but the Japanese characters seem to be more common.
What makes these miniatures different than the miniature food collection I described in a previous post , is that along with realistic details such as food textures, these food items are usually in colors and shapes of the Japanese characters. They will also incorporate features of the characters, for example the hair bow of Hello Kitty or the ears and nose of Rilakkuma. The cartoon colors and features add to the kawaii quality while somewhat diminishing the realistic appearance of the items.

Re-ments are usually sold as themed sets. One example is the breakfast set pictured below.

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This Rilakkuma breakfast set includes breakfast food items, plates, utensils, and cooking implements such as the frying pan and skillet. Each item is very detailed. Most are either decorated with a Rilakkuma logo or picture, or are actually shaped as this bear character. You can see that the realistically textured omelet, set on a red and white gingham patterned plate, has a red Rilakkuma drawing on it. The fried egg in the red frying pan is in the shape of Rilakkuma’s head with its bear ears. The slices of bread topped with egg are also realistically textured and are in the shape of Rilakkuma. They are accompanied by some lettuce and cherry tomatoes. The plate holding these slices of bread is also in a bear head shape. There is a very detailed realistic looking spatula and even a bottle of ketchup complete with Rilakkuma label.
The following is an example of a Hello Kitty re-ment set.
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This set includes kitchen items such as a rice cooker, food thermos, coffee thermos, loaf of bread, basket of buns, sugar container, and rolling pin. As you can see, the rice cooker is very detailed and has a lid that actually opens. It is decorated with Hello Kitty pictures and logo. There is even a rice scoop. Both the food and coffee thermos are decorated with pictures of Hello Kitty. The bread basket contains Hello Kitty and mouse-shaped buns. The Hello Kitty logo is printed along the rolling pin. Miniature baking tins, one of which is embossed with the bobtail cat’s head, are very kawaii finishing touches to this set.

The following are pictures of more re-ment sets:
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These re-ments can be used to create diaromas or scenes. The following are miniature diaromas from
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Two YouTube channels that feature video re-ment unboxings are:
I became familiar with re-ments and Rilakkuma while watching videos on these YouTube channels. In fact, most of the re-ments reviewed feature the “relaxed bear” character. I suppose it is the relaxed nature of this bear which lends itself perfectly to being a mascot for miniature food.