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An Interview with Figure Sculptor Momiji

Date: Sunday February 27th 2011 [14:00] | Posted By: Priss

Last year, the second annual MCM London Expo returned to bring together a myriad of media and popular culture exhibitors and merchants. It is an exciting occasion for anime fans who attend to meet, mingle and fight their way through the melee of merchandisers and organisers.

Expo is an event that I attend on the front line behind the dealers' tables as an assistant for sales. I am predominantly positioned ready and waiting to serve customers who are on the hunt for anime, manga and figures from the store United Publications. It is an intense and demanding event and catering for the volume of visitors is often a challenge that affords little time to explore the wonders of the wider event. This time, however, I had to make the exception for a remarkable appearance amongst October's exhibitors.
Full Story
It was thanks to my friends who related with great excitement that a Japanese sculptor, a creator of "garage kits" was positioned in a few aisles away from where I was standing! Garage kits are a small scale industry, they are figures built completely from scratch and sculptors will often sell moulded casts of their works to be assembled and painted by figure fans. It is an intricate and demanding hobby for both creators and consumers. I was handed a number of beautifully produced promotional photos and a business card for a collaborative team of artists (in Japan, these are called "circles") called Aikido. As soon as I got the opportunity to escape from my table, I took the time to meet Aikido's representative, Momiji who presented a small but perfectly formed display of hand crafted, fully painted garage kits.

Despite their small stand the artists of Aikido supplied great variety in their selection. Mecha and moe made for an interesting juxtaposition of styles set to appeal to a number of tastes and otaku addictions.

Momiji's own work is the embodiment of smart design, both in style and in function. In the works he displayed at Expo, simply entitled "Ms. Glasses Case" a beautiful woman stands sculpted to perfection. Dressed in a white shirt and black pencil skirt, her svelte body is the model of professional elegance. A split in the back of her skirt invites the eye to follow the curve of her stride, while her body stands raised on a platform that serves a purpose – to work as a holder for glasses. The artistic innovation adds another level of experience for the figure fan, beyond simple indulgence and pleasure, she works for her owner as a useful addition to a cluttered collection. The completed composition is a great celebration of the attraction of bespectacled beauties!

Ms. Glasses Case

Ms. Glasses Stand has soft and beautiful facial features that are counterbalanced by sharp and sexy secretarial dress style. In contrast to the muted tones of her outfit, her eyes sparkle with vivid colour while a subtle yet coquettish smile crosses her lips. In tribute to the great allure of women in spectacles ("megane" in Japanese), her lips the teasingly touch the tip of the glasses she holds so delicately in her hands.

Ms. Glasses Case

Momiji's works are evocative of the style of works executed by mass production figure companies such as Alter, who bring to the market the finest reproductions of lithe and beautiful women from a multitude of series from Fate Stay Night to Persona.

After expressing my interest and admiration for Aikido's formidable creative talent, I was determined to find out more about these exceptional artists. I was delighted when Momiji agreed to talk to me about the life of being a figure sculptor in Japan.

Priss: Momiji, it really was a surprise to see you representing Akindo at the MCM London Expo this October. How did you hear about the event?

Momiji: My friend, OZ, told me about this event. He had heard about the event from his friend who has lived in the UK for about two years.

P: What made you decide to attend?

M: There are two reasons why I decided to attend the convention. The first is that there are no Japanese sculptors who go to events abroad. While there are many good sculptors at Japanese sculpture events, this is not the same in the UK. I know by comparison that my skill level is not so high at Japanese events where the competition is strong. I thought, however, that there would be potential to get attention for my work abroad.

Second reason is that I want to know the possibilities are for my work in foreign countries. I thought that the best way to find out would be to attend the Expo.

P: So, following your experience at the Expo and meeting so many fans, do you feel that there is the potential for you to sell your works to the international market?

M: I think I have possibility to sell our works. However I need to carry out more market research. I am not sure of the market price for completed models by sculptors.

P: Did you enjoy the event?

M: Yes, of course, I could hear the real voices of the people speaking in another language.

P: Completed models are intricate and fragile. They are also one of a kind. Were you worried about bringing your original works to the UK and displaying them at such a busy event?

M: Yes, I worried about it. The event is not sculpture event such as Wonder Festival. So I prepared the small board which is saying "do not touch please". However, there were still people who wanted to touch our works. I think the notice board may have been too small.

M: I think we had good reactions. There were many people who asked "How much is this work?"

P: I think I may have been one of those people myself! Completed figures by real Japanese sculptors are a very rare commodity in the UK and my friends who were attending the Expo all came to discuss your work with excitement.

M: Really? Thank you very much!
I think Japanese sculptors have a workmanlike tendency. They express themselves through their works. Of course, they attend Japanese event and chat with consumers but to do this at events abroad this presents an obstacle – speaking English.

P: Are you surprised by how many people in the UK are interested by Japanese culture and that would even proudly call themselves otaku?

M: Yes I was very surprised. It seeds that British people are enjoying their own otaku life. I am also enjoying my otaku life in Japan, but it is limited to otaku social groups only. British otaku culture is more open-minded.

P: Otaku life is very different in the UK as it is a fandom based on something that is not commonplace in British culture as it is in Japan and does not have the same reputation. Japanese popular culture, such as anime and manga is often perceived as enticing, exotic and even fashionable. In recent years, the industry has grown into the mainstream and titles such as Bleach, Naruto and One Piece have been extremely popular with high school students. As there are so many fans from different walks of life, UK otaku are not confined to enjoying their passions from the limits of marginal cult status. They are also proud and can express their interests without the feeling social pressures that perhaps Japanese otaku experience.

M: I was also very surprised that there was huge number of costume players at the event.

P: Speaking as a cosplayer in the UK, I would be interested ask if your opinion regarding our native cosplayers. Costume play in Japan always seems to be of a very high standard! How do the efforts of UK cosplayers compare?

M: I'm not so familiar with the world of cosplay but I thought that UK cosplayers have the advantage of their race. Many games and animation have the foreigners as the main character. Japanese cosplayers must have high quality costumes to cover the racial difference between themselves and the character. As the result, they prepare high quality of hand made clothes, items and so on. On the other hand, to see British people in cosplay made the distinction between reality and animation harder to see, even if they do not wear same costumes of the same skill level as Japanese cosplayers. I did feel that the passion of becoming the favourite character for a UK cosplayer is same!

P: Have you exhibited your work in any other countries?

M: Not yet. The last London Expo was first time I attended an event abroad.

P: At Expo, you were not selling but just promoting Aikido's figures. Are any of them for sale in either kit form or as completed works?

M: The aim of attending last the London Expo was that we wanted to establish the possibility of getting demand for our works, thus I just displayed our work to gauge interest. As the reception was not bad, I hope to bring kits to sell next time.
I am concerned, however, that the consumer needs a level of artistic skill to paint and build up the kits to finish completed works. On the other hand, prefinished work will be expensive. Both sides have their drawbacks. If the Expo organisers allow us, it might be interesting to hold an auction of our works at the event.

P: An auction might be very exciting. The other potential for auctions are the fan conventions that are organized throughout the year in the UK. These are dedicated otaku events and often have auctions. Figures and dakimakura often sell very well at auctions!

M: Really? I am interested in the conventions. In addition, my friend who lives in the UK suggested I should sell on auction sites such as E-bay.

P: Can you tell us more about the creative circle Aikido?

M: The circle Aikido made up of three people; OZ, Kenohe and myself, Momiji. I am a currently a student on a sculpture course. The other Aikido members are my senior friends. We met each other after I started my student life. Together we wanted to explore the possibility of taking our work abroad and so we arranged to attend the Expo.

Usually, we attend Japanese event in different groups. The circle Aikido was organized for just for the London Expo. I am not sure if this circle will continue but I hope that we can attend next event too.

Figure by OZ

Figure by OZ

Figure by OZ

Figure by OZ

Figure by Kenohe

Figure by Kenohe, photo by Mickolas

P: I think a lot of people hope so too! It is so exciting for UK fans to see real Japanese artists and companies attending events here.

Aikido has a motto "Strange Kids who loves the Analog Industry" please could you explain your ethos for our readers?

M: Our works are categorized as garage kit. You might think that garage kits are difficult and inconvenient when compared with the finished mass production figure such as those made by Alter. However, there is no difference in quality in original models between our works and mass production. I think all sculptors love hand crafted works as you can understand the form, shape and construction of the figure when you are building garage kit.

P: Do you believe that as a result of having to build a piece by hand the kit provides a more intimate relationship with the figure for fans?

M: Yes, I believe it. I am not sure that mass production companies have the motivations as me because they have the demands of their business. However, at least my case, I can take over two months to create one original model. I cannot spend this time without love for the character. On the other hand, when you build up a garage kit, you need time and love also. With the garage kit I think both sculptor and consumer can share the value of love for the character.
In addition, you can make your own unique kit. It is only one in the world.
I know that you need skill and time to build garage kit but it also holds the possibility to create better quality finish than a mass production figure.

P: While I, myself have an artistic background, I have never built or assembled a kit. I'm not discouraged by the effort it involves but I don't have the confidence that I would to achieve a high standard with my skill. I would want to honour the beauty of the garage kit and the original sculptor's work. I for example, have always wanted to own more of Vispo's original works particularly this piece:

Vispo's Figure

I would be terrified to make a mistake due to my inexperience, especially as it is such a rare and desirable kit. I can understand a special relationship might develop with a piece if I had built it myself from the kit. One day I would love to achieve this dream!

M: I know that works by famous sculptors have high prices because they are very rare.
In my case, when I do not have time to do full painting, I use just pencil to draw the figure's eyes. I know that a fully painted completed figure has a very strong impact, but I feel that this creative style is also good as we can use our imaginations to make the works attractive.
I think it is good way to spend time in your life looking for the potentials and possibilities in any activities.

P: Which hobby events in Japan do you attend?

M: Mainly, we attend sculpture event such as Wonder Festival. We also attend art event such as Design Festa.

P: Do you find Wonder Festival exciting? Do you buy many figures and kits yourself?

M: Yes, it is very exciting for me. The event has many positive aspects. I can socialise with customers and my friends who are figure creators. In addition the event is battle field for me. It is no exaggeration to say that all Japanese sculptors come to the event to debut their latest works.
I check my favourite sculptors' websites before the event and I buy the kits I want when my works are sold.

P: What inspired you to become a figure sculptor?

M: Firstly I was impressed by famous Gundam plastic model builder Seira Masuo. Even if the original plastic model is mass production, he applies his own taste using remodeling techniques. I wanted to create same type of works. However, while I spent time as a sculpture student, I found that figures built fully from scratch figure have wider possibilities.

P: Seria Masou is famous for his skills in remodeling mecha, are you personally more interested in creating the human figure or the mechanical figure?

M: Now, I am interested in the human figure but I need the skills I learnt from making mecha to create my figure bases.

P: How long have you been sculpting and painting figures?

M: Two and a half years.

P: Wow! That is remarkable and very impressive considering just how skilfully your works are produced!

M: Thank you, but I know there are many sculptors who create better figures than me, even if they have learnt to do so in a shorter time than me.

P: Do you have any favourite figure sculptors or artists yourself? Is there anyone that you aspire to as an artist?

M: I love the sculptors Mr. Satoshi Toda, Mr. Bubba and Mr. Piece. But there are so many good sculptors in Japan, I cannot pick all of my favourites.

P: Works by Satoshi Toda and Bubba are also popular here! As the market for mass production figures in the west rarely focuses on the artists but the characters and the companies that produce them, these names are not so famous but their creations are. One of the most popular works from last year was Satoshi Toda's Saber from Gift. Piece is a name that is new to me. Would it be possible to see some of his works?

M: These photographs show some of Piece's works. I am very attracted to his Alice series. His world and his works are so beautiful! In addition, the photographer, is also Mr. Kon the web master of the site figuephoto. He is also famous amongst Japanese sculptors. He takes photos of the most famous sculptors, such as Mr Toda.

The White Rabbit
White Rabbit Figure


The Cheshire Cat
The Cheshire Cat


The Mad Hatter
The Mad Hatter

Photos by Figuephoto

P: Could you tell us more about your original character, the beautiful woman with her megane? Does she have a name and a story?

M: Sorry. She does not have any story. The concept was that I wanted to create my works as usable figure. As you know 3D works take up space in home. In addition, Japanese houses typically have little space, so I thought figure should take meaning though using limited space. Thus, the base is shaped so it can be used as a glasses holder.

P: So your work is both beautiful and conceptual! This is a great idea and it makes me want to own one of your works even more! I have glasses that would suit holder very well! I think that otaku in the UK empathise with the issue of limited space due to the volume of character goods they own! I am the same! This is an old picture of my own collection:

Old Figure collection


M: Wow! You gave me the list of the figures you own but this photo gives me more of an impression! I would like to know your favourite!

P: My favourites are often by the maker Katagiri Katsuhito (aka) Vispo:

Vespo Figure


Vespo Figure

but I love Kurumoto Ikuma:

Kurumoto Ikuma Figure


Chieri:
Chieri Figure


Chieri Figure

I also like depictions of characters that really convey their personalities. I favour that most of all but appreciate dynamic and exquisite costumes. I like to feel the sculptor's passion for the character figure they are creating.

Favourite Figures


Favourite Figures


Favourite Figures


Favourite Figures

P: I have a weakness for megane characters myself, do you?

M: Yes, I truly have a weakness for megane. In addition there is one more my weakness in my works. If possible, please find it.

P: A challenge to discover another moe point in your works? Okay, is the second weakness office ladies or secretaries? How about pantyhose?

M: Actually, I have a weakness for skirt slit. Ms Glass case is wearing a skirt with a centre slit. My next work will have side slit.
Ms Glass Case


P: Do you enjoy any anime, manga or game series in particular?

M: Yes, of course. When I was young age, I loved Nadia and Saint Seiya. More recently, I love Bakuman, the series of ~toaru...

P: You have great taste! If I am correct in thinking that you refer to the Toaru kagaku no Railgun and Toaru Majutsu no Index I particularly enjoyed these two! I think Misaka and Kuroko are extremely attractive and amusing characters.

M: Yes, you are correct! I love them. The characters are very attractive, and the background of the world is extremely well developed and considered.

P: I heard that you were once scouted by the figure makers Alter. Would you be willing to tell us more about this?

M: I think this is not such positive story. As I mentioned, I am student of a sculpture course. I had the chance to pass an industrial tryout which was introduced by my school at last February. My work passed but my age was not suited for Alter. It was very sad event for me. However, now I have the ambition to be scouted by them again in spite of my age.

While that event was not so good for me, I found that I could get other opportunities such as attending London Expo! Looking back, I think that experience gave appetite to my ambitions. I think it is good for me.

P: Would you like to see your figures mass produced one day?

M: Yes, if possible. Mass production offers the benefit of widening the exposure of my work.

P: What do you wish to express in your creative works?

M: I want to create my work that makes you feel it's "a bit strange, but this work is attractive". In addition, I hope to create usable work. My friends say to me that my works incorporate the idea of product design.

P: Yes, I would love to know what other ideas you have for usable works and I hope to see more in the future!

P: Now for some more general questions about you, yourself. Is there anything from British/Western culture you love?

M: I am not sure that it can say as culture. I think British/Western culture have the tendency of respecting individuality, if compared with Japanese culture. I think this is good point for artists.

P: I think that the UK does have the potential to be extremely open minded. I do feel very fortunate for that and my individuality is something I cherish and have been able to cultivate in my culture. It is not always easy to live this way and conformity is perhaps something that every culture seeks to impose upon people.

P: It is interesting that you feel that our culture must be good for artists. I think perhaps, more in their personal freedom than commercially, however, as there are few commercial creative art industries as powerful and diverse as that in Japan. As a UK artist and a fan, it makes me long for that kind of environment.

P: You told me that studied in Wales. What did you study?

M: I was student of University of Wales, Bangor. I lived there 4 and half years. My major study was Management with Accounting.

P: Did you enjoy your time in the UK?

M: Yes, of course! I feel that UK is my second home country!

P: What is your favourite cuisine?

M: I love Japanese pickles, chocolate. I also love chips sprinkled with salt and vinegar. It reminds me my student life in Britain. Unfortunately, I cannot eat it in Japan. I once tried to cook chips for myself, but I could not reproduce the same taste. Maybe it relates to the UK's farming environment and my nostalgic feelings.

P: What are your plans for the future as a sculptor?

M: I hope to be one of the best sculptors in this Otaku world. But, there are so many competitors. It will be hard work for me.

P: I can see why Bakuman would be an inspirational work for you. There is a lot of risk, passion and energy that goes into producing creative work and getting it recognized by the world! Works like Bakuman help us understand this. I wish you every success in achieving your ambitions.

M: Thank you very much. I will do my best to meet your expectations.

Extra Notes:

Thanks to Mickolas for allowing us to use a photo of Kenohe's figure.

Priss has posted a review of Momiji's Ms Fan Stand on her blog.

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