Hot Toys- 20th Century Boys; Friend figure
10th Anniversary Limited Edition

   "The following is a guest review.  The review and photos do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Michael Crawford or Michael's Review of the Week, and are the opinion and work of the guest author."

Jeff is back tonight with a look at another of those elusive 10th anniversary Hot Toys exclusives - take it away, Jeff!

Were rattling those limited edition anniversary set reviews out, so hot on the heels of Mikes detailed look at the ‘Beat It’ Michael Jackson review, here’s my thoughts on the last remaining figure. And after my low-down on the `Batman Begins’ set here we are now with the figure of Friend from Naoki Urasawa’s seminal Manga 20th Century Boys. It has to be said that the selection of figures chosen by Hot Toys to be released as limited editions at the Tokyo event organised to celebrate their first official ten years of business proved contentious, for very many reasons.

And I have to admit, that like many people (especially those in the West) I was pretty mystified when I first saw the pictures of the proposed ‘Friend’ figure from 20th Century Boys. I had never seen the character, and I wasn’t aware of the story he was from. However the cool iconic mask design with quasi-Masonic undertones got under my skin and it made me interested enough to go away and do some research. In so doing I found out that not only was the Manga a hugely popular and multi award winning publication (I’ve started reading it, its freaking excellent), but that it also inspired a trilogy of big budget hit movies (I watched the first in the box set, but want to read the rest of the Manga before I go any further) that were released back to back between August 2008 and January 2009. It’s a sprawling epic of a story that takes in multiple international settings and spans decades. Essentially it’s the story of a group of friends, Kenji, Otcho, Yoshitsune, Maruo, Yukiji and Donkey who when still young boys (and a girl) form a secret society. They draw up a ‘Book of Prophecy’, design a symbol and discuss ways that in an imagined future, they will stand as bastions of justice and do battle with the forces of evil that would destroy their world.

They then take the ephemera of their gang and place it in a time capsule (well, an old coffee tin), which they in turn bury in a secret location.

Years later one of the group ‘Donkey’ is reported to have committed suicide, while simultaneously a mysterious cult lead by an enigmatic leader known only as ‘Friend’ starts to become prevalent. It soon becomes apparent that this group are plotting to destroy the world on New Years Eve 2000, but the attacks they carry out are following a pattern foretold in the ‘Book of Prophecy’, and the symbol that Friend has adopted matches the one the kids used many years before.

The hero of our story ‘Kenji’ is working in his families ‘King Mart’ store while trying to care for his sisters baby girl ‘Kana’, she was thrust upon him just before his sister mysteriously disappeared, and no one knows who the father is!

Kenji is the first to start piecing the jigsaw together that surrounds the mysterious cult of ‘Friend’, but it’s fast becoming a race against time to decode what parts of the Book of Prophecy that ‘Friend’ will use next, where his next attack will be and just who the hell he actually is.

Well hopefully that might wet your appetite, but if not check out the trailers for part 1 (teaser), part 2 and part 3 or just go and start reading the Manga (I’d recommend this first). I’m just starting part 3, but I still have 19 volumes to go (but the English translations are only up to book 16 at the moment, so I have a feeling I may catch up with them soon!).

So, if the story caused such a big stir in Japan and even inspired Hot Toys to make a figure of Friend as part of their 10th Anniversary celebrations, does it mean the figure will be of any interest to you?

Packaging - ****
All the 10th anniversary boxes have been pretty stunning, but this is my personal favourite of the bunch! Why?

Well the devil is in the detail, and the whole package just has an edge for me. From the fact that the slipcase is the only one with the enclosed back panel, making it in effect a full box rather than just a tube. The front has the metal Hot Toys badge set into the bottom and a surround sticker letting us know this was limited to a mere 500 units for Hong Kong (and I believe 2000 were made for Tokyo). The front also has the “20世紀少年’ logo spot varnished out of the matte black background, while the rear has the ‘Friend’ symbol treated in the same way, then the interior of the slipcase has a montage of black and white images lifted straight from the original Manga.

Inside the slipcase there’s the rather spiffy clean white inner box with that super cool logo utilised once again on the front, this is set in front of a light grey monotone image of Friend. It has a minimalist aesthetic that gives you a sense of unfussy purity, and it suits the subject matter perfectly.

Like the other figures, the inner box opens with a tabbed opening flap. Inside the figure and his numerous accessories are all held securely by the die-cut black foam surround.

In short it’s just about perfect, and makes the whole ‘opening up’ experience even more rewarding. It was designed by Zel Chiu & Monster Jr and is reminiscent of the kind of classy, cool packaging you get with limited edition Tashen books or even designer Swiss watches… if you end up with one of these in your possession you will love it, NICE!

Sculpting - ****
I’m giving this guy a high score, and I’m sure some will wonder why?

I mean, how can this guy merit a full score when compared to the likes of the recent T800’s from Yulli, or the outstanding work KoJun did on the likes of Aldo Raine or MECH test Tony Stark!

Well, they are all amazing portraits, made all the more notable for the pervading fact that they look strikingly like the flesh and blood real life people on which they are based. This however is based on a Manga/comic book character, so it could be argued that the source material is easier to realise convincingly than a real life person. And I have to say in some ways I agree, but that’s not to undermine that when something matches the source material this well, it should be recognised and rewarded accordingly, so I have and I will… sue me!

He comes with no fewer than three heads, the white masked one with the symbol is the one he is fitted with in the box, and it’s also the one I plan on displaying. Its formed to mimic cloth pulled taut over the head and shows some nice creases and folds, the next is literally a smooth metallic egg shape (I haven’t gotten this far in the story yet so don’t know what it represents) while the last one is a portrait of Fukube, but I’ve only just been introduced to him in the Manga so I’m kind of in denial of having seen it. However the story is so twisty turny and full of red herrings that I’m still not sure if Fukube will turn out to be Friend or not (I have my theories, but who knows?). The Fukube sculpt is by Hiroki Hayashi, a man with a noted history of creating beautiful female head sculpts, but he obviously has an eye for bringing 2D Manga/comic characters to 3D life as well!

So taking into account that this is meant to represent what we see on the pages of the Manga, then its pretty much spot on!

Paint - ***1/2
OK, I was willing to roll with the sculpt being top notch, as it ticked all the relevant boxes in looking convincingly like the Manga its supposed to be based on. And I guess one could argue that the paint here does the same job, and I’m sorely tempted to concur.

However, as we are so used to seeing JC Hong give us paint apps that make us look on in disbelief, then this isn’t quite hitting those lofty heights. But it’s also worth baring in mind that the original Manga was in black and white, so part of me feels kind of mean marking down at all, as the representation here, particularly on the Fukube head is still very strong.

You don’t actually see Fukube until half way through the third book, which is handy, as at the time of writing this I am half way through this volume and he has just been introduced as a character at a school reunion, and I can verify that the look they have gone for here is definitely him. I guess what I’m saying is that because we made the jump from black and white Manga without an anime version between, then I’d have liked to see JC just paint this as realistically as possible. It might have looked spooky… but hey, this is a spooky character!

The rest of the paint is relatively straightforward by HT standards, but again it all manages to look pretty much faultless, the symbol on the Katsumata head being particularly crisp, so I’m saying it’s about as close to perfection as you can get, while not actually being 100% perfect!

Outfit - ****
Over the years Hot Toys have made quite a few figures in traditional suits, and each new suit seems to be a slight improvement on the last. The changes in cut and tailoring are often subtle and slight, but they are improvements nonetheless. Whether it be in the repositioning of a lapel or the improved way in which the garments hang.

Here we have a two piece suit based on a classic Italian cut rather than Savile Row (no vents/flaps at the back). The trousers have a velcro fly, single pleats and working pockets both at the hip and on the rear, there is also a working black pleather belt fed through the belt loops and they have a beautifully crisp seam ironed into them. The jacket has working pockets, and just like in the Manga is only secured by the top button (nice observation), the second lower button is there, as is an indicated buttonhole, but its left undone. The chest and flapped cut pockets are also all working and the jacket is fully lined, in fact the cut and fine tailoring make this look like the best traditional suit I’ve seen from them yet. Under the jacket he wears a white cotton shirt with a patch pocket on the left (ideal for positioning the Space Special Investigation Corps badge) and a red neck tie. The tie is tied properly rather than being on elastic, and the collars are sewn down so as to look more convincing. Lastly he wears a pair of high-sided black loafers, I guess some sock tops would have been cool, but to be fair, the high sided boots coupled with the  long cut of the trousers mean they would never be seen anyway.
In short there is nothing here to fault, but plenty to praise.

Articulation - ****
You all familiar with the score by now, or at least you should be. Friend here is built around the classic True Type that we all know and love. I’ve given a few low-down’s on the different variations that the base body takes, like here but suffice to say the fabric suit hardly limits the poseability at all, so the full potential of the body can be utilised to make this figure stand naturally in virtually any position.

Accessories - ****
So, just what do we get in the box that made this figure so much of an instant classic when he was released. Basically it would seem that for anybody growing up in 70’s Japan, or even to people just into the pop culture of this period, then this guy is a walking pop icon! The impressive haul includes-

- One Fukube character head
- One Katsumata symbolic head
- One metallic ‘egg’ head
- One “Ninja Hattori-Kun” mask
- One “National Kid” mask
- One pair of relaxed hands
- One pair of gesturing hands (can also hold the remote control)
- One pair of hands with pointing fingers 
- One left hand for holding gun
- One right hand for holding spoon (or badge)
- One laser (razor) gun
- One giant robot remote controller
- One bent spoon
- One “Space Special Investigation Corps” badge
- One Book Of Prophecies
- One New Book Of Prophecies
(both are made of card, paper and wires, with original Japanese contents)
- One “Weekly Big Comic Spirits” magazine,
- Figure stand with Friend nameplate and Manga title in Japanese

With the recent 10th Anniversary expo in Tokyo looming, the Japanese magazine Figure King ran a full feature on the Hot Toys back catalogue. And even with some stiff competition from the likes of Resi 4 Leon and the DX Bruce Lee, this guy still got voted as having the best and coolest selection of accessories EVER! And to be fair it’s easy to see why. Sometimes the best isn’t about grand gestures but more about subtlety and observation. And so, for any fan of the actual Manga from which this is based will be bowled over by the masks, spoon, books, ‘razor’ gun and all the other minutely realised ephemera. Both of the masks have elastic on them so they can be worn over the Fukube sculpt. The only slight annoyance is that both the symbol and egg heads come with the neck post attached, but the Fukube one doesn’t, it means you have to remove the post from the symbol head if you want to display it this way. So if you do, remember to get those needle nosed pliers out and heat up the plastic good ‘n’ hot, it’ll make life far easier for you and also save any tears before bedtime. The hand selection is impressive, he comes with a full 8 different ones, in the positions listed above, it’s a shame not to display more of the pieces all at once. I was hoping to maybe pick up a second outfit, but the rarity of this figure means it is unlikely to be parted out on eBay, so unless you repose and change your display regularly, most of these cool bits and pieces are destined to end up kept in the box.

The remote has a cool vintage Atari vibe and the joy-stick can be moved into different positions using some creativity with the various hands. I also noted that the tight gripping hand is now improved as the thumb is now seamlessly part of the whole thing rather than being stuck on as a separate afterwards, as was the case with Goemon and other figures that featured this position, and it can hold the bent spoon and tiny badge. The tiny printed booklets are very well put together too, featuring miniaturised artwork as used in the Manga and held together with metal spiral bindings. Then lastly there is the laser (or razor as Kenji miss-spells it when he’s a kid) pistol. The detailing here matches the images in the comic perfectly, even having the webbing strap and clip hanging from the underside barrel, and it fits into the gun grip hand well.

There is also a classic black figure stand with the logo in Japanese, but we all know how I feel about stands. A necessary evil for some figures, but when not 100% needed mine always remain boxed.

So, an outstanding well thought through choice of items, fabricated beautifully. Not just a good selection, but also undoubtedly one of the finest Hot Toys have done!

Fun Factor - *** 1/2
This guy is not really intended to be posed in any extreme action poses, even though he is more than capable of them.

Friend is far more about transcendental world domination and subliminal mind control than the sordid use of personal violence. After all wasn’t it Howard Hughes that said “why work hard to make a million dollars, when a million people can work hard to make you one dollar each”, and so, why use violence on someone when you can make a million other people be violent for you.

However, when it comes to effortless cool, then this guy stands head and shoulders over much of his competition! Competition that quite frankly works just a little too hard to be seen, while this guy just stands there, exuding ‘evil’ cool from every pore… FUN! Oh I think so!

Value - ***
At the event this figure was JP¥ 18,000, which (based on the exchange rate on 14/03/11) works out as $220, which is a lot of moolah! Of course the economy in Japan is such that everything is more expensive ‘relatively’ than it is in the US, Europe or Hong Kong for that matter.

As a comparrison I looked up the price of the Prince of Persia: Dastan figure which has an asking price of  JP¥ 20,000 ($245) in Japan compared to an RRP price of $170 in the US. So I guess the price for Friend if he ever does make it to the west will be about $150 to $160 per unit.
But right here, right now I’m basing it on the Tokyo price converted to US dollars, which still seems a little steep.

Overall- ****
I posed the question at the end of my intro blurb as to whether this character will be of any interest to you as an uninitiated ‘20th Century Boys’ reader/viewer. Well I 100% guess that will be down to whether you make the effort to read the Manga (please do) or seek out the trilogy of movies (also worth a look). But having recently immersed myself in the story I can honestly say he’s one of the coolest figures in my collection. His Asian cult status yet nonchalant underground ‘domestic’ notoriety gives him an aloof shelf presence, and at the end of the day, a guy in a suit, wearing a simple mask with quasi-Masonic undertones is just plain spooky in any language, it freaks me out anyway!

Where to buy
Well these were officially exclusives made for the Tokyo exhibition, with extras made for the loyal collectors in Hong Kong. As such, unless there is a batch made at a later date for a Western event it looks like the secondary ‘grey’ market is the only option. Some Hot Toys retailers did manage to score a few sets for there best customers, I know Onesixthbruce in the UK got a limited amount of the MJ and Batman begins sets, but supply was never ever going to meet demand. So its time to go hunting, they are all still out there, its just a matter of how much you are willing to spend!

This product was provided free for the review by the manufacturer. Photos and text by Jeff Parker.

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