The Materialistic Fetishism in (Figure) Reviews and The Group Search for Individualism

This piece was a long-time coming. The nugget of realization came early, but realizing what exactly bothered me took some more time. For those who don’t know, back in 2009-2010 this blog had regular content about anime figurines, including a few figure reviews. The topic of what to provide in my post, and the nature of how I perceive most blogs at the time to handle their take on mass-produced content also carried to why this blog doesn’t really have episodic content, and certainly didn’t in the past.

Saber Lily Nendoroid

What figure reviews look like

Look at a fan’s review of a figure, what do you see? You see them taking shots of the box in which the figure arrives, you see them unpacking said box, and then you see numerous shots of the figure that’s being reviewed. You might not get “unboxing the box”, but for most such reviews, that’s what you’re going to get. So, what’s the problem? Well, there isn’t exactly any problem, but head over to YouTube, search for a review of a gaming mouse, keyboard, or even a food processor, and you’ll see more or less the exact same thing.

That’s still not a problem, it just means that all these items are presented the same way, right? Well, here’s where we’re getting to the problem – it’s a culture of mass-producing “reviews” of mass-produced items. And like all mass-produced items, there’s not much to differentiate the items, both the products being reviewed, and as a result, the reviews themselves.

I mean, how many reviews which are mostly photographs, or unpacking of material do I need? Any number of bad ones, or one good one. I browse YouTube until I find just one that fits my purposes. If I need to know how loud a mechanical keyboard’s switches are, I might listen to a couple. But when I want to see what a figure looks like, I only need one review, and even that is just because the promotional photographs are often of prototypes, and may have different seams (more seams, or less seams).

Which brings us to the thing I’ve always found so interesting, the unboxing, and pre-unboxing. The box doesn’t really matter. When it comes down to it with most products, once we take the object out of the box we toss it away. When it comes to collectors’ items such as figures, the box is part of the object’s “purity”, and part of the consideration of price should we resell it. The box isn’t just an afterthought, but it stands for how much the item means, and in turn shares its “sacred light”. It’s the epitome of fetishism, what should be trash is considered important.

But then, in figure reviews, we got to the stage where not only the box the item comes with is reviewed, which might be important so one could identify bootlegs, but even the post-office generic brown box in which the item is received is displayed. Why is that? The item arriving to us is made to appear as if it’s the conclusion of a journey, and so we respect it by referencing that long and arduous process. Even the display of the item is teased, as we slowly undress it from all of its exterior layers of superfluous packaging.

But it’s more than that, and that’s something that took me a while to notice. Why do people post their own older figures, often nenodoroids (chibi versions) with the new figures? It’s part of the attempt to make the review their own. Yes, one’s skill with photography which one can train at certainly plays a hand, but the figure is the figure – so what can be changed is what surrounds it. The nendoroid is your attempt at delivering a joke, metaphorically, before reading from the script. Likewise, the generic brown box isn’t merely fetishizing the content found within (though it’s also doing that), but it stands for the journey the figure made to you.

Kido Hiroshi from the Barakamon anime

And yet, at some point you notice everyone’s doing it, and so the quest for individuality had been co-opted by the collective and is yet just one more example of how you’re part of a culture, but the way you manifest yourself is still individualistic.

That’s part of the reason I always focused on my thoughts. Even if there are others with the same thoughts as mine, they’re still my thoughts, and you could come and read them even when you’ve read others’ which do not obviate them. It was the case with figures, and it’s even more so with episodes of anime. There’s no real skill on display when one takes screenshots of an anime, and when you’ve come across one collection, you literally do not need others. Likewise, some writers do not tell you what they thought of an episode, but aim to merely describe what happened. Obviously, said description is mediated by what they think matters, but if you’ve watched the episode you don’t need the reminder, and if you don’t, you’d rather watch it yourself than read it.

So, what purpose do these serve? Well, none really. People come to these places and discuss the show with others who want to discuss it, while the actual screenshots and descriptions are mostly ignored. You could simply write “Show title, episode number” and be done with it. And that is why I focus on what I can bring to the table. Not just because it’s hopefully useful or interesting to people even if they’ve read others’ thoughts, but because it’s also more interesting to read.

It’s interesting, how we seek to illustrate our individualism and in so doing create and then become part of a culture, where our very search for individualism is what makes us part of the whole, and yet, in so doing, while we’re doing what others do, we still display something of ourselves.

Question: What do you look for in reviews? What makes a review interesting?

4 comments on “The Materialistic Fetishism in (Figure) Reviews and The Group Search for Individualism

  1. Sejin says:

    I generally don’t read/watch very many reviews when deciding whether or not to watch something new. I find a brief synopsis, and if it sounds interesting I watch the thing. Either that or I go by hearsay. The reason I read reviews is to see what other people think about various aspects of the show/movie in question, and only after I’ve watched the show in question myself and have formulated my own thoughts on it. I don’t read very many of those either, but when I do they tend to be somewhat like yours, where the reviewer will inject the review with their own thoughts on what they’re reviewing. Your writing tends to be the most like that that I’ve come across so far. I like it, as it’s sort of a hybrid between certain aspects of a typical review (it’s been a while since I read one of your reviews but if I remember correctly it’s usually in the vein of a brief recap of something that happened for the purpose of providing context, which you then use to as a jumping off point for your own thoughts) and an analysis, which I tend to read more than reviews.

    As for valuing the box of a figure, while I do have some attachment to it as “part” of the figure, I also have a more practical reason, which is that when I move (which will happen eventually seeing as I currently live at home but don’t plan to stay there forever), having the box and the plastic inside it that the figure fits in snugly makes it much easier to pack.

    • Guy says:

      I keep the boxes mostly because I don’t have room for my figures currently, and it’s easier to keep them without them being damaged that way.

      And yeah, two different sort of reviews – the “analysis reviews”, which I never read until after I’ve watched/played/whatever the media piece, and the “objective spoiler-free reviews”, or ones that focus more on describing how one felt of the piece, such as “There is no character growth in this series” or “This game’s music is great”, which I sometime check before picking something up. I mostly see these from big media sites for video games/movies.

  2. ChazzU says:

    I read or listen to reviews to hear opinions and interpretations. I sure as hell appreciate the reviewer describing the scene they’re about to tear into or use as a jumping board for something else or bigger – because sometimes important details can easily be forgotten – but ultimately I’m not looking for something to describe a scene I’ve already seen, I agree with you on that aspect.

    Whenever people mention an anime that I think has interesting thematics or an unusual approach to telling its story, I’m not looking for people to talk about what character A did to B – I have seen that myself for crying out loud! Neither do I want to hear about how unorthodox the directing is. Tell me both why it is different and what you thought of it. The first is still interesting, even if it is more literal than a true opinion, because it has information that interests me. It’s describing why this show strayed from the usual, and highlighting the differences, some of which I might have missed and think are pretty cool. The second is evident, I’m not interested in you telling me step by step about how Luffy helped some poor others. I’d be inexplicably more interested in why you think that their bounties reflect how the author seems to rank people in society, from determined to talented to outcast.

    To every reviewer out there: put some personal investment in your posts. A review should be about why you think I should watch it. If I wanted to know what the premise is I’d just read the damn premise on the back cover.

  3. Carol says:

    What makes a review interesting is to find the feelings and thoughts an episode arises in others (in this case, you). To find other person’s point of view, I like that. Plus you like to “philosophate” and you do it well, you don’t just retell the story.

    As for reviews about items, they are not “interesting”, they are informative, for instance, a person may want to know the difference between two brands or models of an item to decide which one he needs, and may even not choose the best or most sophisticated because he needs it for its real purpose (lets say, the person has an old cellphone because he really uses it for phone calls, as he prefers to browse the Internet with a computer).

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