Jin Saotome Custom Elseworlds Parallax

As long as there have been action figures, there have been custom action figures. In fact, Captain Action from the 1960's was really my first 'custom' action figure. You bought the good Captain in his basic outfit, and then bought sets to dress him up as anyone from Batman to the Green Hornet.

But while kids tend to customize their figures with permanent markers and lawn mower blades, adults tend to do it with a little more precision and intent. Some customizers are so good, they regularly sell their work on Ebay, are featured in magazines, and do contract work for wealthy collectors, looking for that one character the toy companies never gave them.

Like many collectors, I tried my hand at customizing, and while I had fun, I was never going to be great. While it might seem simple in concept - take an existing figure and/or parts, add some sculpting and paint, and voila! You have a new figure! - it is far more difficult in practice. Obviously it requires talent in terms of sculpting and paint, but it also requires a vision to take the right base body and parts to create the right figure.

I've been one of the judges for the Custom of the Year awards since it's inception a few years ago, and I own my fair share of custom action figures and statues. And yet I've never 'reviewed' one, and I'm not quite sure how to go about it. But when Jin Saotome, a terrific customizer who largely works in the 6 - 8" scale with superhero figures, sent along his Elseworlds Parallax, I figured I'd give it a shot!

Since I haven't done any 'custom' figure reviews before for you to compare this against when reading the categories, and since Jin asked to have this specifically compared to a mass market toy, that's what I'll be doing in my review.

Packaging - Bupkis
While you might think that packaging for a custom is a silly thing to mention, there are some customizers that go to great lengths to produce intricate and attractive cards or boxes for their stuff. While I don't consider that necessary, and in the case of Parallax it will have little to do with an overall score, it's worth noting for those of you who are shopping around for customs or interested in starting to work on your own.

Sculpting - ****
The first trick to any great custom is selecting the right base body. For Parallax, Jin went with a Marvel Legends 10 Mr. Sinister. Now, this was a cool figure then, so it's no real surprise that he turns out even better with a few sculpting enhancements.

Jin used a variety of parts for the shoulder armor, including a He-Man chest plate and X-men Classics Archangel hip plates, along with his own sculpting work. The tiny details, like the great face mask, the very tiny power ring on his right hand, and the belt and bracelets, were all sculpt additions by Jin as well. He added a cape from a magneto figure, and presto chango, you have a great looking Parallax!

Combining hand sculpted pieces with mass produced plastic can be tricky, since the textures rarely match. Hand sculpted items, no matter how good the sculptor, tend to have some amount of texture and roughness to them, whereas mass produced products that come out of a steel mold tend to be extremely smooth. For a customizer, getting these textures to match is half the battle to a great sculpt. Jin has done an excellent job here, and it's very hard to make out visually which parts are original and which parts are custom creations.

Paint - ***
For many customizers, the painting is their favorite activity. A paint application done by hand, when it's the right hand, blows away anything done by machine or factory worker. Not because it's cleaner, and in fact it usually isn't. Machines and templates make for cleaner lines than even a steady hand. But a well done hand application has a life and artistic feel that a machine can't copy. Customizers obviously take more time getting it right, adding subtlety and style to their work, and focusing on quality.

Jin has done just that here. There is a little bleed, and the cuts between colors are not quite as sharp as if a template or mask had been used. But the white strips are smooth and bright, and there's none of the lower color showing through. Jin uses several washes as well, but none of them over done. Had he used a dark wash on the armor, it would have appeared shadowed, but instead he added a lighter, brighter green wash to the armor and weapons, giving them more of a glow. Both the face and black body suit have washes as well to help bring out small details, but neither is so heavy as to appear sloppy.

The paint on the joints of custom figures often wears off due to the plastic rubbing as it moves. To avoid that, Jin sealed the paint in these areas with super glue, and it worked extremely well. I posed him in many different ways playing around with him for the photo shoot, and I didn't have any trouble with paint damage.

This paint job compares favorably to a specialty market or mass market toy in this category, which is tough for someone to do when painting exacting lines and fine details.  If I were comparing it to other customs, it would do even better in this category, because the paint work is often the toughest thing for customizers to get completely clean.

Articulation - ****
The articulation junkies will be happy to see the use of the a Marvel Legends base body, with it's 762 points of articulation, or something like that. Jin hasn't hurt the existing articulation to much with his changes, and this is a figure that you can pose and play with.

The armor over the shoulders reduces some of the range of movement on the ball joints of course, but that's about the only effect of his additions. The joint he's worked on to make the swappable right wrist is built with Apoxie Sculpt, and is extremely hard and sturdy. 

The paint on the interiors of the some of the joints, like the knees and elbows, were sealed with super glue, so that moving the joint wouldn't damage the paint. There's some unintentional benefits to that in terms of the articulation as well, because the often times loose Marvel Legends joints are tighter on this figure, making it quite easy for him to stand in lots of poses, and maintain the weight of the cape without any issue.

Accessories - ****
Customizers usually provide one or two accessories when appropriate. Here, Jin has created three very cool, very character specific accessories. Two of these are all swappable right hands, and include a nifty sword (chopped up from an Evangelion Eva kit), a huge 'claw' (from and old Snowman figure), and a cool lance (from an ARMS Knight figure). The lance and claw has a screw post used to do the swapping, and this screw post is super glued into the attachment for extra strength.  The sword can be held in either hand.

These hands pop on and off surprisingly well, and look terrific on the figure. To make this possible, Jin had to alter the normal right hand from Mr. Sinister to be removable with one of these screw pegs as well, and all four 'hands' stay tightly attached with no gapping when they are in place.

Fun Factor - ***
Unlike many customs, Jin's really can be played with. He starts with highly articulated base bodies, adds some of his own touches like the swappable hands, and does it all in sturdy, tough way.

Value - N/A
Hmmm. I got this figure for free, so I'd say that's a tremendous value! Of course, most folks would have to buy one off Ebay, and Jin's works usually run in the $50 - $100 range, but occasionally can cost several hundred depending on the character.

Since these are not mass produced items, but hand created by the artist, they are truly art, and you'll have to determine what they're really worth to you just like any other true piece of artwork.

Things to Watch Out For - 
Not really a thing. I think it's a good idea to take some real care when popping the hands on and off, but Jin has used a material that's so hard and solid in casting the wrist pieces that it's pretty unlikely that you'll break anything.

Overall - ***1/2
In all fairness, you can't compare a custom to a mass produced figure. A well done custom will always own any mass produced figure, because of the individual artistic effort put into the sculpt, paint and accessories. The only things a mass produced figure could have over a custom is the amount of articulation, the exactness of painted details, and the long term appearance of the paint. Jin has addressed most of these issues by working with a highly articulated base body and reducing very little of the original articulation, and by sealing his terrific paint work to ensure it's long life.

Now, if you compare one customizers work to another, or even different figures from the same customizer, you'll get a much bigger range of what's really good and what's really bad. I'm confident though that Jin's work stacks up extremely well against others in this scale and format, because of his attention to quality, and play value.

Most importantly, you can easily place a custom like this next to the regular releases in production lines on your display shelf, and it would be difficult for an observer to realize it was a custom, and not an actual released figure.

Score Recap:
Packaging - Bupkis
Sculpt - ****
Paint - ***
Articulation - ****
Accessories - ****
Fun Factor - ***
Value -  N/A
Overall - ***1/2

Where to Buy - 
You can always check out Jin's auctions on Ebay, or hit his site to contact him directly.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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