Kotobukiya: Liara T’Soni

It’s not too often when my hobbies collide, particularly when it comes to gaming and anime figures.  While there have been many figures based upon video games, they’re usually Japanese domestic titles that I have not much knowledge of.  So it was a real surprise when I saw that Kotobukiya was coming out with a figure from one of my favourite games ever, Liara T’soni from Mass Effect!  It felt like forever when this figure first announced and I mistakenly chose SAL rather than EMS for the shipment, so it took another two weeks to receive since her release.  On the bright side, it gave me some extra time to finish Mass Effect 3 and enjoy some of the multiplayer portions of the game, the downside is that I stopped taking photos for awhile so when it came to taking photos of Liara, I had a bit of a hard time getting back into the groove.

For those that haven’t played Mass Effect before (and shame on you if you haven’t), Dr. Liara T’soni is an Asari, one of the alien races in the Mass Effect universe.  She’s also one of the mainstay female characters in all three games and one of Commander Shepard’s optional love interests.  The Asari is a “female” only species with an insanely long lifespan and affinity in biotics.  I say “female” due to their feminine features, but they are mono-gender so I guess you can’t really classify them as male or female.  They are able to reproduce with any gender of other species, which makes Liara a love interest candidate for either a male or female Shepard.

Liara is first encountered by Cmdr. Shepard on Therum in Mass Effect 1, stuck in a biotic field (aka the bubble), and has been a crucial part of the trilogy’s storyline particularly in Mass Effect 2′s DLC, Lair of the Shadow Broker.  Liara expresses her interest in Cmdr. Shepard rather early on in the series but I, as a player, didn’t pick her as a love interest.  I’ve always felt Liara’s character is more like a very close friend, one that you share a special bond with.  Though there’s “best bud” Garrus, I think he’s more like a brother-in-arms than a friend that Shepard confides in (emotionally).

Kotobukiya’s figure is based on Liara’s representation in Mass Effect 3, the outfit is a blend of her scientific outfit with that of armour.  Technically, the outfit is based on what she wore in the Shadow Broker DLC but it was carried over to ME3.  I really like this tactical look that Bioware went with, it definitely suits the more combat oriented theme nearing the end of the series.  It says “I’m a scientist, but I can still kick ass” – which Liara definitely can do – she’s come a long way since Shepard first met her on Therum.  She’s much less naive.

Now, you might be wondering why the figure looks so different from the actual character, there’s a simple answer in two words: Shunya Yamashita.

Kotobukiya brings you a new art collection designed by Shunya Yamashita – a well known Japanese illustrator and game designer, famous for his beautiful female characters.  Or so it says on the side of the box.  I had a little chuckle after reading this description - maybe it’s because I am already acquainted with Yamashita’s work.  This is the first time I’ve seen Kotobukiya put a description like this on their box, I assume this is because part of the intended target for this figure also includes those say … in North America.  Let’s face it, anime, figure collecting, cosplay type stuff aren’t really all that mainstream here, though it’s gained quite a lot of popularity it’s still somewhat shunned upon.  Maybe shunned isn’t the right word to use, but versus good ol’fasion football (hockey here in Canada), beer with the guys at the bar, night out at the peelers – dressing up as a Sailor Moon character at a cosplay convention just isn’t something you’d announce to the world.  You get the picture.  And for those that clicked on that link, I’m sorry – here’s something that might help ease the pain.

For those that aren’t familiar with Yamashita, he’s known for his distinct art style, mainly the character faces – they all look the same (much like Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball characters).  As with some of my more recent reviews of Christie and Lucy, you can see that their faces are very similar to Liara’s.  I’m not that much of a fan of this style, but it is signature for sure – one look and you know it’s Yamashita’s work.  As for Kotobukiya, I would say they’re fairly well known for their anime figures and plastic models and maybe more-so recently with their Bishoujo line of figures which concentrates on DC/Marvel comic characters and video game characters.  Though the quality of their figures aren’t the best, they’re not bad and I would say they’ve improved a lot especially in recent years.  Though Alter remains my favourite figure company, I have quite a few Kotobukiya figures in my collection – I’m guessing it may be due to their price and the fact that they branch out and come out with figures that isn’t Hatsune Miku or Nanoha.  LOL  Case in point, here we have Liara from Mass Effect!  I do wonder how Bioware ended up with Kotobukiya and Yamashita rather than other companies such as Alter, GSC, Max Factory, etc.

I didn’t realize that Liara came with a DLC code for Mass Effect 3′s multiplayer – though later I saw that this was announced in Bioware’s blog/store.  I actually didn’t even notice that the Bioware store was selling this figure, though it doesn’t come as a shock.  The DLC is a Premium Collectible Pack which I think really just equals to a Veteran’s Pack with some uncommons and chance for rares.  It would’ve been nice if it came with ultra rares or even promotional N7 weapons like in the Commendation Packs, but I guess that’ll piss out some gamers out there who can’t or aren’t willing to get this figure.

Back to Liara, she comes to us in the usual PVC material scaled by Kotobukiya as 1/7 like the others in the Bishoujo line.  I don’t know why Kotobukiya keeps rating these figures as 1/7 scale when they seem more like 1/8.  From head to toe, Liara is just slightly under 22cm in height, so unless Liara is around 154cm in height, the scaling is way off.  But I digress, the topic of anime figure scaling is never ending – it’s an enigma that’ll never make sense.

Up close, you can see Liara’s facial feature has become more anime-like and the face more slender.  Her eyes and eyebrows are thinner and longer, the lips colour is dark blue rather than purple.  Also, missing on Liara’s face are her freckles - but unlike most anime figures, Liara’s nose is much more pronounced, even for the Bishoujo line.  Though if Liara looked like this in the game, I wouldn’t have mind.  =)

My Liara, unfortunately, came with a light scar just above her left eye – I guess that’s Kotobukiya for you!  Though to be fair, I only noticed it through the macro lens and from certain angles – it’s not clearly visible to the eyes.

The “hair” remains fairly true to the Asari design (and Liara), though it appears a bit too smooth. The white spots, though looking nice, is no where like the game.  I’m not really sure what to call it, and I don’t recall if the game mentions anything so I’m just going to refer to her head tentacles as “hair”.  ^_^’  For Liara (the character), the hair appears more scale-like and the white patterns run all the way to the back.  You know how zebras look white with black stripes but really are black with white stripes?  I think that’s the best way to describe Liara’s hair in this case – but on the figure, the head is represented as blue hair with white spots fading upwards.  While the game Liara does appear to have the white-ish spots appear to fade towards the back of her head, it’s not as obvious as how the figure makes it out to be.  Is this inaccurate representation a bad thing?  I honestly can’t say it is – I think it would be pretty hard to put that kind of detail on a PVC figure and to paint (even when compared to Alter’s standards).  Yamashita and Kotobukiya did a pretty good job with the representation of the head given what they had to accomplish.

When Liara’s prototype was first displayed, there was a bit of criticism from the fans that the sculpt of her breasts were too large.  Since it was based upon Yamasita’s illustration, that’s not surprising.  But concerns were taken into consideration and the production figure now comes with the size reduced – though some people now complain it was reduced too much.  LOL  As I’ve said, you just can’t please some people!  I don’t really have an opinion on the sculpt of Liara’s breasts, though I think the lost the roundness of the prototype and became more perky.  Liara always seemed to have rounder breasts rather than perky breasts in the game though.  But anyway, I think the interesting part is that the zipper of her outfit is pulled down to just below her breasts, providing the illusion that her breasts are popping out.  It also gives Liara a more relaxed look in conjunction with the expression on her face.  Maybe if she dressed like this when she asked my Shepard about his feelings towards her, his answer might’ve been different.  In the game though, you see Liara dressed more conservatively and the zipper is zipped above her breasts.

 

Another aspect of the figure that’s different is the size of her head.  The figure seems to have a larger forehead reminiscent of Tweety bird or Tyra Banks - I can’t recall whether this was an issue for the fans too, but personally I don’t mind.  It adds to that “alien” feel of the figure, not that the blue skin or tentacle hair isn’t obvious enough.  The size doesn’t look as emphasized in person as it does in the photos though.

A minor complaint, however, is the blue paint that Kotobukiya used – it looks thick and slightly rough.  As if the painter or machine isn’t used to painting blue skin colour and didn’t know how much paint to apply.  It definitely doesn’t look as smooth as some of the more recent Kotobukiya anime figures (like from the Shining series).  The blue also has a slight glimmer to it, like they added some silver into the paint which makes her head fairly reflective if you shine a light directly at her.  Her head becomes almost metallic-like, maybe it’s armour plated too like her gloves and boots?  :)

 

A lot of times, figure sculptors are faced with the difficult task of making a 3D rendition of a 2D illustration, particularly when the illustration lack artwork of additional angles.  Though Yamashita’s illustration only shows the front, there are numerous images of Liara in all angles, as well as Bioware’s concept arts.  If that wasn’t enough, play the game – there’s a 360° model of Liara right there!  So there’s really no excuse for a bad sculpt for Liara and luckily there really isn’t.  The sculptor for Liara is Busujima Takamaki, who also sculpted Asuka (of Tekken Tag Tournament 2) for Kotobukiya’s Bishoujo line, but that figure looks awful – the prototype looks like a cheap bootleg.  That said, I’m not sure how much involvement Bioware had in terms of this figure’s development, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they had a few say in it, especially when they’re selling this in the Bioware store as well.  Plus the fact the sculpt was changed to accommodate feedback from the fans, that’s not a very common occurrence in anime figures.

There’s not much to go on about the back of Liara’s outfit, it is undoubtedly familiar to the players (not that the rest of the figure isn’t).  Typically, this is the part where I compliment the illustrator, character designer or the sculptor – but since this is based on Bioware’s design and something we’ve seen in the game, I guess all I can say is kudos to Bioware’s design team!  Because there’s not much to say about the design, I’ll just talk about Kotobukiya’s work on the figure.  For the most part, the paint work is clean and within the lines, not perfect, but typical of current Kotobukiya standards.  The white is solid and lacks shading - dependant on lighting to cast shadows and creases in the outfit.  The white paint appears a little thick as well, as if it needed a couple of coats to cover the base colour (the typical gray from the mold).

There is a very slight sparkle effect in the white paint (like the face), if you look really closely, you can see the slight metallic feel to the white.

One thing I never really noticed about Liara’s outfit is her leg armour and the way it’s strapped around her legs.  It looks cool and sturdy – but if it was real life, it must be annoying as hell.  Ever wear a drop leg holster before?  It’s quite similar to what Liara’s wearing here - after moving around for awhile, it tends to get lose and slide around which makes it annoying and cumbersome, especially when you don’t have time to re-adjust or tighten.  Liara is usually part of my squad in Mass Effect, and we do a lot of running around…

One of the things I like about this figure is Liara’s boots and the way her bodysuit wrinkles behind her knees.  The boots have a really cold metallic look about them, almost makes me think they might feel cool if I touch them.  The amount of wrinkles behind Liara’s right leg may be a bit overkill, but it still look pretty nice nonetheless.  I wish the sculpt put in a bit more wrinkle detail where the thigh straps are though, that would’ve made the bodysuit a bit more realistic looking and add to the overall presentation.

As for Liara’s armament, she has an M5 Phalanx in her hands and a folded M3 Predator holstered.  The sculpt on these weapons are done well and reflect the actual game model.  Mass Effect enthusiasts will instantly recognize these weapons just by looking at them, just as they will recognize the big blunder on the pistol.  While, the right side indicates M5, the left side is reversed indicating 5M.  That may not be Kotobukiya’s fault, however, as that’s how Shunya Yamashita drew the illustration – it shows 5M in the source picture.  Kotobukiya could’ve stepped up to the plate and fixed this error on the figure, but they didn’t.  I’m sure fans had voiced their concern about this when they saw the painted prototype too, but unlike the breasts, this wasn’t changed.

Another small deviation is the way Liara’s hands are cupped together – Yamashita’s illustration has Liara’s left hand cupping over her right hand.  But on the figure, the hands are side by side rather than on top of each other.  I assume this was more of a manufacturing practicality choice rather than a sculpting oversight – having the one hand over the other would’ve slowed down assembly, painting and aesthetics.  If the hands were on top of each other, it may very well have become one piece instead of two in terms of the mold – that would’ve also been problematic for the gun to fit in her hands.

Last small issue which is just a pet peeve, really, is her trigger finger.  Come on Liara, the Shadow Broker ought to know better!  ;-)

Holstered to the left of her belt is the M3 Predator heavy pistol, in case you’re unfamiliar with the game and are wondering how that thing is a pistol, click here.  The majority of guns in Mass Effect folds up to a nice compact rectangle when holstered, which is pretty cool.  I’m not sure what the decision was to give Liara two heavy pistols – I would’ve assumed she would at least have an SMG and a pistol, typical of an Asari biotic / commando.  Adding to that, you only get to equip one type from each weapon class in the game, so you can’t have two kinds of pistols at the same time – but you can have a rifle and pistol.  I’m a little surprised by this and didn’t realize it until I was taking pictures of the figure - I kept thinking that was the M4 Shuriken SMG.

Now, you might also be wondering why this picture below is so different from the others and that it has a purple backlight.  I was playing around with a bunch of lighting, thinking to mix things up a bit so all the pictures look a little new and refreshing.  Problem with that is a lack of consistency – when picking the final pics to upload, I deleted all the other photos with the purple backlight leaving only this as I didn’t like how those turned out.  So now I have this one purple lit photo out of a batch of blues and greens.  The blue and green backlights are a bit more subtle, but the difference is still there.  Hey, blue, green and purple – does that sound familiar?  Granted, this was just a coincidence, it would’ve been perfect if I had used red instead.  [lulz]

An interesting design from Kotobukiya lately is the inclusion of changeable logos in the bases – at least for their Bishoujo line anyway.  Liara came with two transparent inserts, one with the N7 logo and one with the Mass Effect 3 logo.  While the N7 logo is nice, it just didn’t make sense with Liara as she isn’t an N7 Operator – though I can see how this will work with the upcoming female Shepard figure.  The other issue with these logos is that if you place them horizontally, Liara’s feet will block portions of the text, making Mass Effect 3 read Ass Fect.  So I decided to rotate the logo so it sits in between Liara’s feet – but it just doesn’t feel natural.  Maybe it’s best to leave the base transparent instead.

There’s really not much to complain about with this figure, if anything, one can argue about the face sculpt compared to the actual game Liara.  But that is really an artistic design rather than a manufacturing screw up.  Another issue might be cost, if you’re not used to collecting anime figures then the price for Liara might be a bit of a shock to you – Liara retails for 6800 JPY which is roughly just under $80 CAD – then you add another $20 for shipping.  It’s definitely an expensive hobby, but for me this purchase was much more justifiable than some of the other figures I’ve collected.  With Mass Effect being one of my favourite games and the bond created with the characters, I didn’t need to think twice about getting her.

Liara was a little hard for me to photograph for a few reasons.  For one, it’s been awhile since I’ve taken photos of a figure so I was a little rusty, then there’s the issue of setting up the shoot – I had some ideas of what I wanted to do, but I just couldn’t produce what I saw in my head.  I also couldn’t get the lighting right (and to my liking) so a lot of the photos overexposed or have too much contrast.  I wanted to get a little futuristic feel with the background but as you can see that didn’t turn out well either.  Here’s hoping my shoot with the upcoming female Shepard will be much better!  LOL

I think I put more pressure on myself for this shoot because of the connection I had with the character – that and the fact I didn’t have much time to spend on the pictures and really wanted to put the review up before I procrastinate too much.  The N7 Operation weekend (ME3 multiplayer) events didn’t help with things either – I had to skip Operation Exorcist to get some of this done.  =P

Liara is also a very slender figure, she doesn’t take much horizontal space – which also made the majority of my photos portraits.  I normally prefer landscapes, but there were just too much negative space.

Well, enough self pity and bitching, the review is up and the photos complete, even if half-assed.  At least now I can concentrate on other tasks and sleep easy – at least until the next N7 Op weekend…

Oh and one last thing, where the hell’s my Miranda figure?!  ;-)