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Among all the Hare Hare Yukais and time-traveling esper aliens, there is not often another anime series that generates as much buzz and a huge fanbase like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Since its debut in 2006, the anime adaptation of Nagaru Tanigawa's light novels has swept up a horde of otaku in a wave of Haruhi-ism to make it one of the most spectacular (or over-hyped) series to come out of the Japanese animation system in a while. However, regardless of what one might think about the series, there is no denying that the over-whelming popularity of it has made it into a phenomenon across the anime world. And as is the case with a lot of these kinds of series, the merchandising is also ripe. The boom of releasing new stuff every year is almost on the level of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and one of the most notable areas is in the figure collecting section, with the three main girls of Haruhi, Mikuru and Yuki getting new figure releases coming all through the years. Of these, the leading contenders are of course the main manufacturers like Atelier Sai, Alter and Max Factory. It is the latter of these that has probably managed to get the most popular in terms of fan response of these figures out, with their standard Haruhi one being particularly celebrated to even get a second run to answer the demand.
After having done the main three ladies in their initial character run, the company then set their eyes on the minor characters, of which Ryoko Asakura is one of. Despite only making a brief appearance, her's was also one of the most dramatic in the entire series. Ryoko first comes across as an intelligent, friendly and athletic young girl with remarkable social skills that quickly makes her extremely popular and lands her the duties of being class president in no-time. However, it is soon revealed that she in fact is an alien humanoid interface like Yuki and acts as Yuki's back-up, sent there to observe Haruhi's behaviour. But feeling frustrated about the apparent lack of progress in finding anything observable in Haruhi, she decides to elicit a reaction out of her by killing the main character Kyon with a combat knife, stating she doesn't quite understand the concept of death with organic lifeforms, but wanting to see what Haruhi will do if Kyon dies. However she is stopped as Yuki interferes and, after an intense fight of wooden stakes and such, Yuki deletes her from the physical world, Ryoko going out with a smile and a wink. Despite this brief stint, her dramatic final exit was enough to create a small fanbase for her and there are many who also list her as one of their favourite Haruhi characters.
Still, as far as figures go, there has not been too much offerings for Ryoko, with Max Factory's version being the only one produced in the large 1/8 scale thus far. With a height of around 20 cm, Ryoko most certainly lives up to the quality that can be expected from Max Factory and I must say, of the Haruhi line-up, she is one of the best of the bunch. Dressed in her usual school uniform, the figure is as standard a Ryoko as you can get and I'm happy for that. The first thing to note is the pose, which is extremely dynamic, with her left leg being slightly bent, her arms hooked behind her back, her body leaning back a bit, and her head leaning in the opposite direction, giving a palpable sense of movement to the figure, as if she is demurely shasheying towards you. This is further emphasised by the sway of her long hair and the sculpted movement of the little red ribbon coming from under her sailor collar, neither coming across as too chunky or ungainly. Her face, likewise, perfectly compliments her personality, with a small smile on her lips and a generally friendly and welcoming look on her face nicely disguising the fact that she could become a psychotic killer in a moment's notice.
The eyes in particular are something that strike me with how translucent they look. The blue of the iris with all the reflections and detail really make them stand out from the lightness of her skin, yet are not upstaged to stick out badly thanks her large eyebrows and the similarly blue-ish fringe of her hair that casades nicely down to her forehead like the waves of an ocean. The hair itself is given lighter, nearly gray-ish highlights that work exceptionally well in bringing more depth and texture to the shininess of her flowing hair. To this can be added that the paintjob is exceptionally well done, with the skintones having enough variance to not make everything look blanched out or flat, which also extends to the uniform itself with its subtle toning of the drapered skirt, the little silver clasp of the belt and white of the shirt with its different creases and details. As is usual for the Max Fac Haruhi figures, there are two optional ways to display her. The first has her holding her school bag behind her back for those everyday normal excursions to school, or then you can replace her bag-holding hand with a one holding the combat knife if you want to channel some of that edgier side to seep into her innocent appearance, thus creating a sense of menace to the otherwise sweet smile on her face. Unlike many other Max Fac Haruhi figures, Ryoko is still fairly easy to find from different hobbystores and even Hobbylink Japan still has her in stock for 28 euro. Certainly, this is one of the very best figures I've ever got my hands on and thanks to her being more strengthened due to the leaning pose, unless you display her under direct sunlight, there is little fear she'll be keeling over any time soon. Definitely a true winner and a fitting addition to any figure collection. Highly recommended indeed.
© berlioz, 2008