It’s been a few weeks since I Thunk Deep, so it seems about right to try my hand and brain at something a bit new and completely different than the last Let’s Think Deep article. As you may recall, last time was an elementary foray into quantum physics.
This time I’ve been thinking more about action figures and exactly what about them makes them so wonderful. Generally you’ll hear the phrase “points of articulation” thrown around like it has some sort of inherent meaning. But hey, does it? How many points of articulation does an action figure need? Can you have too many? Let’s Think Deep, shall we?
A Trip Down Memory Lane
When I was a kid (it really wasn’t all too long ago, assuming I ever stopped being one), I wasn’t all too concerned about how pose-able my figures were. I had my Ninja Turtles, some G.I. Joes, and a random assortment of toys from everywhere. For the longest time things were good. I didn’t have any sort of rules for playing in terms of what could and could not happen. If I wanted something to fly, then sure, it could fly. I was under the concept that any of my figures could gain flight whenever they put their arms up, though that was only during specific plotlines or if they had trained to do it and such. Anyway, I’m on a random tangent there. Let’s get back to thinking deep.
The point I was going toward is that posing my toys was never very important. Heck, even having them stand up wasn’t required most of the time, as usually they’d just be lying down when they weren’t in my hands. Besides, it’s pretty difficult to make an action figure stand up on pillows or a mattress. It was very rare when I’d throw a fit about one of my figures failing to stand up when I wanted it do, and even less when they couldn’t bend to my needs. I controlled them well enough, so what more could I ask for?
Bust A Move
Well, after a while I demanded a bit more move-ability from my “actors” so that they could pull off more complicated actions and illicit slightly more emotion in dramatic scenes (“But Goku, Shredder just killed Spiderman! We can’t let him get away with this!”). I found myself wanting a few basic points of articulation (oh, and so there’s no confusion here, “articulation” relates to any place on the action figure that can bend and move). Here’s what I needed to be happy: The arms needed to move up and down and bend at the elbow, the hand needed to be capable of gripping a weapon or item, the head needed to be capable of turning left and right, and the legs needed to move at both the knees and the hip. That was the standard, though I later started to refine my needs further.
Suddenly just up and down wasn’t enough for my arms and legs. I wanted them to be on a ball-joint so that there was full range of mobility when arms and legs met with the torso piece. Also, I wanted a swivel at the waist so the legs could turn in a separate direction from the arms for more dramatic poses. As of now I like to have the head and chest on a ball-joint, feet to be on ball-joints as well, and hands capable of rotating at the wrist and elbows. All of a sudden I was demanding a lot, but it wasn’t to last.
I got into the Marvel Legends line of action figures and suddenly I discovered that articulation looked somewhat ridiculous when applied to some characters. I got a Daredevil action figure that could move at just about every point that you’d think a person could move a thing, which was a selling point for me when I bought it. But when I got it home things didn’t seem so great. He looked absurd being able to twist around to any pose I wanted. Nothing looked natural for him, no matter what I did. Part of this problem may have been that his limbs were on the small side and thus the awkwardness of him stood out all the more. I later got a Beast figure from the Marvel Legends line and found him to look better, but still, something about the crazy amount of articulation messed with me.
It got me thinking more about what I really wanted. I think it came down to what I needed the figure to do. When I was a kid I got a toy from the movie Small Soldiers, which if you remember correctly is about toys that are implanted with computer chips and become sentient. I saw that the toy has knee and elbow joints on him, so I bought it thinking the toy would be just as cool as I remember it being in the movie, (though I was aware it wouldn’t move on its own). When I got it home and out of its wrapping I made a startling discovery: The articulation wasn’t real. The knee and elbow joints were only a decoration indented in the plastic since the toys in the movie looked like that. I felt pretty ripped-off, but whatever, I had a new toy. His arms and legs still moved, but they couldn’t bend. He was also taller than my other toys, so all of this combined to mean that he was a villain that had very little brainpower but was incredibly strong and deadly. I was forced to adapt my needs to fit him into my scope of fun. I never could have any real fun with my Daredevil action figure though.
Where does the line get drawn? What do toy companies consider articulation? A classic Ninja Turtle action figure has seven points of articulation according to my count (arms, wrists, legs, and head), whereas a G.I. Joe has twelve (arms, elbows, wrists, head, waist, legs, and knees). Most of my Dragonball Z figures had between five and fifteen points, but my plastic army men had zero. What constitutes one point of articulation anyway? Does a pivot joint count as multiple if it can move up and down and side to side? If so, does Stretch Armstrong have infinite points of articulation, or just one big point? At what point does the whole concept of articulation break down?
And why exactly do we want our toys to articulate anyway? What’s the need? Part of it is to pose the figure in a stance, though part is to recreate a specific motion that the character may be known for. If you have a Goku action figure, you probably want it to be capable of posing in the Kamehameha stance (hands cupped together off to one side before forcing both hands forward). However, of all the Goku action figures I had, not a one was capable of replicating that pose. Not even anything close to that stance, either. Somehow I had G.I. Joes that could do Kamehamehas but not the actual character known for doing the attack. I also had a bunch of Pokemon figures that were literally chunks of plastic, meaning they couldn’t move whatsoever. That didn’t stop me from having Pokemon battles with each and every one, somehow replicating the hundreds of attacks from the video games using a large amount of imagination and learning to settle at that.
I’m not sure if we can ever really get action figures to a point where they can pose in all the ways we’d like them to. The human body is a miracle of function, whereas an action figure with a chest joint is a revolution in articulation. The best I can do is decide what I do and don’t want in my toy. I don’t need finger and toe joints on action figures, but I do need the head and neck capable of looking upward. I don’t need the knee joint to actually be a kneecap connecting two joints together, but I do want the foot to be able to bend up and down at the ankle. I’m very picky at this point, but I know I’m not the only one, otherwise we wouldn’t have deluxe versions of action figures costing more than the regular versions that can hardly move at all.
So where does it end? Where does it start for that matter? What do you want to see an action figure do and what could you do without? Time for you to leave a comment and let me know.