Star Wars Action Figures

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Yodasnews Review:  Yoda on Dagobah (Vinyl Model Kit) 

Review and Photography by Jeffrey A. Gouse (SithLord0498) 

Review Date: October 20, 2008



Undeniably, the Star Wars universe is a deeply embedded facet of modern global pop culture, but the films alone cannot take full credit for this.  Star Wars’ endurance on the cultural radar owes just as much (if not more) to its gargantuan merchandising machine.  For many years, that machine was powered predominantly by Kenner and Hasbro’s 3.75 scale toy lines. 

In the wake of the Original Trilogy Special Editions and the prequels, Star Wars merchandising exploded exponentially beyond its previous confines and expanded into areas such as high-end replicas, sculptures, and artwork.  Additionally, the international market (specifically Asia) took a more mainstream role through the involvement of companies like Tomy, Medicom, and Kotobukiya.  Of those three, Kotobukiya and its artists have made the most impressive mark with their highly detailed and dynamic ArtFX soft vinyl model kits. 

Today’s review marks the beginning of a series devoted to showcasing a wide array of Kotobukiya’s models and examining how their artists have combined realistic detail, excellent craftsmanship, and a distinctively Asian influence into a product line notable for its relative affordability and consistently high quality control. 

Without further ado, Yodasnews is pleased to present our in-depth analysis of the Empire Strikes Back-era Yoda soft vinyl model kit. 


SCULPTING:  Excellent 

One of Kotobukiya’s greatest strengths is their artists’ ability to capture a wealth of emotions in a single portrait.  Yoda’s expression perfectly embodies his personality in the Original Trilogy—peaceful and wise yet mischievous.  Extreme attention to detail is another one of the company’s strengths, and Yoda does not disappoint here either.  The most impressive aspect of the portrait is how very lifelike the wrinkles look due to their naturalistic depth and flow on Yoda’s face.  The sculptors did a particularly phenomenal job with the way they etched the wrinkles pulling back and away from Yoda’s aged eyes.  Just as impressive is the cracked “dried skin” effect found both on Yoda’s hands and behind his ears.  With regards to facial features, the eyes, nose, and ears are virtually spot-on accurate with the screen puppet.  The sculptors even made sure to include the mole over Yoda’s eye, a detail that is sometimes overlooked by companies.  The last notable feature of Yoda’s portrait is Kotobukiya’s superb rendition of the cranial bone structure.  The area stretching from brow to skull cap is meant to be a series of subtle square-shaped ridges, and Kotobukiya’s sculptors successfully replicated this.  Other higher-end sculpts tend to exaggerate the depths of the ridges. 

The lower area of Yoda’s face is where accuracy diminishes.  The Kotobukiya version has a tightened mouth and leaner jaw whereas the screen puppet has a puffier mouth and a plumper face.  It looks as though the sculptors leaned toward an idealized version of Yoda by combining the emotions and aged look of the Episode V Yoda with the facial structure of the Prequel Era Yoda.



While not as detailed as the portrait, Yoda’s outfit enjoys the same high level of detail yet misses the mark a bit more with regards to accuracy.  Kotobukiya’s artists simulated the coarse material of Yoda’s robe by applying a crosshatching pattern across the entire area, varying the size, depth, and spacing in order to create randomness.  The end result is a realistic texture that combines with the sculpted wrinkles and folds on the sleeves to create a convincing illusion, and effective sculpting of wrinkles along with a well-executed tattering effect allows Yoda’s brown jumpsuit to beautifully complement the robe.  The outfit steers a little bit off-course in terms of accuracy because of the robe’s tattering.  The sleeve on Yoda’s right arm has a beautifully sculpted tear running down near the wrist.  However, the tear in the movie rips clean through the cloth, revealing Yoda’s skin.  The model, however, does not, and that is a noticeable distraction from an otherwise realistic outfit.


The final area of sculpting to examine is Yoda’s “accessories”: the gimer stick molded directly to his hand and knee and the removable blissl that hangs around his neck.  Kotobukiya’s artists produced an excellent replica by matching the gnarled shape of the cane as well as the deep lines of the tree bark.  As for the musical “blissl” Yoda wears, there is a substantial amount of detail to be seen.  Unfortunately, it is grossly inaccurate to the screen prop—unless the prop was able to be folded in half.  It also lacks the coloration of the prop.  Those looking for a more accurate replication should look no further than Gentle Giant’s forthcoming Yoda statue.  However, it is more than passable when viewed casually and not compared against a reference picture.  The other downside is that the plastic is a magnet for dust (as the pictures clearly show), but you would need to hold it up against a light source to see this.


PAINT APPLICATIONS:  Excellent (Bordering on Above Average) 

A superior sculpt is nothing without an equally exceptional paint application, and many collectibles have been wrecked because the painters managed to butcher the sculptors’ work.  Thankfully, the craftsmanship so prominently promoted by Kotobukiya comes through (mostly) in the painting of this model.  First and foremost, the shade of green used for Yoda’s skin is perfect.  Too many times, the Jedi Master is painted in shades that are either oversaturated or too dark, but that is not the case here.  The remaining applications on the portrait are excellent as well.  Up close, the eyes are not as crisp as one would hope, but they still successfully convey the proper emotions.  Yoda’s wispy white hair has always been difficult to capture in solid sculpture, but Kotobukiya’s approach of using a gentle paint wash produced a much better result than other companies’ attempts.  The key to this success is in the effective use of fading out the paint where the “hair” meets the scalp.  Kotobukiya’s painters also did an excellent job in blending light and dark shades of brown on Yoda’s lower jumpsuit, resulting in a weathered look that takes on an added realism when light and shadow interact with the sculpting. 

The hands and feet are where Yoda’s paint applications falter.  Whereas the portrait shows how well Kotobukiya can wield subtlety to their advantage, the extremities demonstrate a certain level of laziness.  First, the edges between nail and skin lack any clarity or crispness, and the paint runs on an uneven track along those boundaries.  Furthermore, the paint has been applied unevenly.  It is very thick in some areas while other areas are painted so thin that the green skin obscenely shows through.  Given Yoda’s extreme age, one would expect to see dirt and grit on the nails, but one solid color is all there is.  The only reason these glaring gaffes do not impact the score more heavily is that the superior painting on every other element captures the eye’s attention more.


DISPLAY BASE:  Excellent

Traditionally, display bases are included for one function: to keep the main subject of the piece from falling over.  Sometimes, a decent amount of thought and care gets put into their aesthetic appearance.  In some rare cases, display bases become just as integral to the overall presentation as the main subject.  The gnarltree display base on this model falls into this sparsely populated latter category.  The sculpting is nothing short of unimaginably fantastic.  A few areas of particularly impressive note are the crater-like top and the knobby outgrowths trailing down the length of the warped tree, and the texture of the molded vines and moss also add an immense level of realism.   Paint applications beyond the base brown are minimal because the majority of the realism is achieved (yet again) by the interplay of light and shadow on the sculpt.  Ultimately, pictures convey Kotobukiya’s massive success better than words can describe.



Considering the model is only seven pieces, this is an easy kit to put together.  Assembly takes around a minute, and collectors who have assembled a Gentle Giant Bust-Up will be quite familiar with the mechanics of these Kotobukiya kits.  In fact, these are actually easier due to the larger pieces.  As far as durability is concerned, this is a very stable item once built.  The pieces go together easily, but they require twice as much effort to disassemble.  Most collectors, though, will not have any reason to take this model apart unless they need to store it in a compact fashion.




Most Kotobukiya models average around $100, but Yoda is an exception.  His retail price correlates directly to the reduction in size and clocks in around $40 to $50.  In addition to the easily digestible MSRP and the space-saving size, the Kotobukiya vinyl model is among the classiest and most realistic Yoda collectibles in the modern Star Wars market.  Its only real flaws are the sloppy painting of the hands and feet, but the superior work dramatically overshadows any shortcomings.  Lastly, the solid execution of both a dynamic yet natural pose and the successful emotional aura makes this a very intriguing addition to any collection—whether it be Star Wars, models, or even assorted knick-knacks.  With this model kit, Kotobukiya certainly lives up to their pledge of superior craftsmanship.


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