Review by Sanjeev
I think toys are a very personal thing to all of us here at CDX. And I'm sure that goes for most of you out there (otherwise you wouldn't be reading this!). I'm actually really pleased that I get a chance to write about these things I'm passionate about. This act of sharing the hobby is what really makes it all worth it.
This particular toy holds a lot of meaning for me. Unfortunately for you, that means you're gonna have to sit through a bit of mushy autobiography! ;)
I was born in Boston, Massuchusetts to Indian immigrant parents, and I was raised Hindu. That's not to say I necessarily believe in god--I am, in fact, an atheist--but I hold pretty strongly to the philosophical tennants of Hinduism (Hinduism being really more a Way of life, than a religion or ontological doctrine). Anyway, I've only been to India twice and it gets tough to hold onto your roots when you're immersed in a culture that doesn't always understand you (to put it mildly).
About a year ago, at the New York Comic-Con 2008, our good friend, Matt Doughty from Onell Design, told me that he saw an Indian guy selling toys from the Indian epic poem, the Ramayan. I was intrigued and soon met with Mahender Swami Nathan, head of Kridana...and I was amazed by what he was doing. [Be sure to check out Toybreak's interview at NYCC08.]
What Mahender is creating is far from Ramayan 3392 AD. He's not trying to make a quick buck by exoticizing Indian culture. And he's not trying to make the classics "hip" because he thinks young people lack the intellect or attention to follow anything that isn't loud or flashy like MTV. What he's trying to do is bring a culturally relevant and authentic vision of the Ramayana to today's generation of children.
In Mahender's own words, he is "bringing the Great Indian Epics to life for children. These extraordinary tales have been shared across generations through almost every medium imaginable -- stories told orally, books written and illustrated, paintings, sculpture, music, and dance. Through our unique action figures and comics, we’re now sharing these timeless heroes and their incomparable adventures with our youngest generation in step with the 21st century...
"As a child in the US, Mahender always wondered why he could play with Transformers and GI Joes, but couldn’t act out the fantastic stories of the Ramayana that his Grandmother shared with him. Why was it that he couldn’t take Rama and Hanuman to his friends' houses to play and save the day?" Yup. I had that. Only, it was my mother who told me the stories of the Ramayan and the Mahabharat growing up.
Hearing those stories may have been just about the only thing my mother did right, but I think it was a really important one. Being raised in a white-centric culture is hard on a child of immigrants...especially a child so obviously not white (and that's to say nothing about the parents, themselves!). Those stories helped me remember that there actually were people who looked like me, who ate the foods I did, who thought the way I did about the world...
Being Indian-American too, I feel like Mahender gets that. And what he's come up with as a result of this understanding is something great.
One of the most important figures in Hinduism is the warrior, Hanuman, one of a race of ape-like humanoids known as the vanara. In the stories, the vanara are known for their intellect and bravery, and Hanuman is a paragon of these virtues. In fact, throughout the Ramayan, Hanuman symbolizes loyalty and perseverance above all else. He befriends Rama, the hero, and fights alongside him and his brother, Lakshman, as they seek to rescue Sita, Rama's wife, from the demon-king, Ravana. Yeah. Ya don't need to take place in 3392 AD to be badass.
Anyway, this toy is one of the two released in Series #1 of the Kridana Epic Ramayana Series; the other figure being our hero, Rama. As you can see above, the packaging is nicely done: thick cardboard window box showing off the figure and his accessories, with a fun bio of Hanuman on the back. Inside, there is a clear plastic tray to house the figure, a slide-out cardboard backing for the tray, and a comic drawn by M.C. Breton, who was nice enough to sign the boxes of my figures (the comic's cover art was done by Michael Turner and Peter Steigerwald).
When freed from his plastic imprisonment, Hanuman shines. I was honestly very impressed with this figure. The material is a very stiff PVC. There's a little give to it; on one hand, it doesn't feel rubbery at all, but at the same time, it's definitely not brittle.
The joint design is perfectly laid out. It's not over-articulated, thus leading to overstress on certain joints and, thus, a floppy toy. It's no Spawn figure, though: there's enough articulation to strike some very cool poses and have some fun with the figure. The knees, hips, and elbows have pin joints. The wrists rotate and the head and shoulders are ball-jointed. All the joints are super-tight, but not fragile, and there are no glaring interferences or spots where the paint will rub off.
His tail and tabbard are made of a much softer PVC, so they're very flexible. The only way to improve on the tail would've been to insert a metal wire and make it "bendy"! The tabbard is just fine--the flexibility insures that it won't get in the way of any leg movement.
The paint application is flawless. I mean, it's damn near perfect. There's no signs of overspray, air bubbles, or other messiness. The selected colors are nicely matte and fit the character beautifully. The best part is the subtle drybrushing of grey over the brown fur on his body. Very nice touch that adds depth to the figure's surface.
Next up, we have the accessories. First, there's the crown that looks fantastic. At first, I was worried about the fit because the crown seems to sit so precariously on top of his head. Because of the injection molding process, PVC is known to have minute dimensional variances that could totally throw off a subtle fit like this. Fortunately, the crown was designed perfectly! The inner surface is molded perfectly to the top of Hanuman's head, and it fits in such a way that it grips his head pretty sturdily.
The mace is done almost, but not quite, as nicely as the crown. The handle on mine is ever so slightly bent and one of the fins on the business end is slightly warped. There's that "dimensional variance" again! Still, it's just his mace. It fits in his right hand solidly and it looks great!
Lastly, as I promised on the main page, one last accessory and one last bit of info about me.
In the story of the Ramayan, the final battle to rescue Rama's wife, Sita, takes place on the Lanka, the demon-king Ravana's island fortress. During the battle, Ravana's son, Indrajit nearly kills Rama's brother, Lakshman, with a magical arrow that can kill any victim. Rama is obviously overcome with grief and, desperate for a cure, Hanuman is sent to a far-off Himalayan mountaintop, Dronagiri, to find a mystical herb called sanjivani that is said to be able to cure anything.
Fortunately, Hanuman can fly! Incidentally, he's also super-strong, can change is size, and has limited shape-shifting abilities!
Anyhow, the peak reaches above the clouds, but when Hanuman finally arrives, he has no clue what the damn plant looks like! Again, as a paragon of determination and cleverness, he simply grows HUGE, tears off the peak of the mountain along with all the vegetation on it, and flies the whole thing back to Lanka!!
The battlefield physician is able to retrieve the plant from the mountain peak now plopped down on the tropical island, and Lakshman is promptly revived! This plant, sanjivani--also spelled "sanjeevani"--is where I get my name from! I'm a magic healing herb! ;)
So Hanuman's left hand has a peg in the palm that fits into a tiny Dronagiri accessory--complete with clouds. On that mountaintop is sanjivani, of course, so this is technically a toy of me!
Well, that's it for this review. I was really pleased to have been able to bring it to you guys. Thanks for letting me share a little about myself, as well as this great toy with you. 'Til next time!
Comments15 comments posted
This is pretty incredible. I can relate to in many ways - I'm American-born Chinese and have always had issues with cultural assimilation, feeling a dichotomy between ethnicity and nationality. But one thing that has always been very important to me is the Chinese novel, "Journey to The West" and the character of Sun Wu-K'ung, the monkey king, who's based off of Hanuman. There have been a few figures that were planned for release previously of Wu-K'ung, ones not based off of a movie or TV license, but have never actually made it to shelves. Congratulations on finding not only a figure of Hanuman but a well made one as well. I may have to pick this one up.
Also the Ramayana is stupendous.
And Virgin comics sucks.
Thanks for sharing this, Sanjeev. Your momma did okay with you, it seems. It's nice to get the cliff notes version of both a cool set of toys, and their culturally sound history,and inspiration for manufacture in the first place. Nice balance of both in this review. Not just "It's RAD, git it,git it!"
I'm sure many people try to get a little bit'o info on the religious beliefs of their neighbors, but sadly the cultural history,and folklore stories rarely come to attention. So, thanks again for doing just that, with a cool toy!
BTW, was this same guy at NY Comic Con this year?
BBTW, can we still poke fun at each other for all other reasons? Not going all weepy boy on us are ya?
This almost sounds like a Modcineaste review: sharing a bit of yourself with the toy review itself! ha ha
First these toys are fantastic, I wouldn't be surprised if these get popular as they are so different than anything else on the market and they look so well manufactured and the painting is great. This review just came out of left field between Super Sentai reviews and Macross Reviews. Thanks for pointing these out and I hope people learn a bit of your cultural history in the process. My history of India class was one of my favorites in College and I remember reading a comic book that we were supposed to read for class that were based on real people in Indian History featured a great Joan of Arc type military leader that defeated a bunch of invading armies. That would make a great action figure as well.
Southern California will always have its connection to its New Spain roots but with own developed culture thrown in for good measure. My latino background roots were never far away. It's not that I had any problems relating to cartoons that didn't feature latino characters but I though it was extra cool that the lead characters in the Mysterious Cities of Gold were from Spain and Native Americans. It was just another reasons I loved that cartoon so much!
CollectionDX Staff Writer-West Coast Bureau
Thanks so much for the comments guys! As y'all could tell, this was an important review, and getting feedback like this means a lot to me!
Jetjagaa, I know what you mean: being a child of immigrants in the US is such a weird experience. It's tough to feel like you belong fully to either culture sometimes. And stuff like cultural appropriation is so enraging (I feel it, for example, whenever I see the Yoga studio in every rich, white, liberal neighborhood in Boston). So, I'm totally with you about Virgin comics.
I'ma have to check out "Journey to the West". I've obviously heard of it many times, but I'm still very much backlogged on my Chinese classics. Still trying to get translations of Romance of the Three Kingdoms... Anyway, good luck with finding a Sun Wu-K'ung figure! I'll definitely keep my eye out...afterall, there're Guan Yu toys available, so it's definitely possible!
repairtechjon, you make a brotha blush! ;) Visibility around one's cultural heritage is never that easy--especially for Asian Americans, so it's cool to get opportunities like these...and actually have people engage in the conversation! As for Mahender being at NYCC this year, I honestly don't know. Nekrodave and I just sorta floated back and forth between a few spots. I know I didn't get a chance to walk the whole floor--just not enough time! If Mahender was there, then I'd feel a bit like an ass for not finding him to say hi!
Incidentally, I'm told that Mahender and the rest of the Kridana crew will be at the New York Toyfair next week! If you're around (and can get in), stop in!
Leonardo, always a compliment to compare my reviews to yours! You're right--they are very unique toys and from what I hear, they're garnering a lot of attention back in India! I'm hoping this leads to TONS more figures, including a super-improved Rama. Anyway, I, too, hope that people get a better picture of me because of this review. You should start reviewing toys of Latino characters, man! ;),br>
By the way, can you find out about that Joan of Arc person? I'm not aware of any prominent female military leaders in Indian history, but that sounds VERY cool!
I walked around quite a bit on Sunday and, although I wasn't looking for it, I didn't see any of these toys. I'm guessing he wasn't there, although it's possible I missed him.
Great review, though!
"This must be settled the way nature intended....with a vicious, bloody fight!"
Principal, Flatpoint High
"And stuff like cultural appropriation is so enraging (I feel it, for example, whenever I see the Yoga studio in every rich, white, liberal neighborhood in Boston). "
Not to start an argument or anything,but isn't that kind of how we on CDX and other websites treat Japan's culture?
I don't think this treads on starting an argument at all. In fact, I think it's a pretty important topic, actually!
I don't see Japanese toy fandom in the West as cultural appropriation at all...at least the way we do our thing around here. The term "appropriation" implies a sort of colonization. Nothing is being "claimed as our own" here. The folks on this and our sister sites have a genuine appreciation for Japanese robot and monster toys. This love is sincere and it's deep...not a passing whim or fancy. Most of us grew up with these toys and cartoons, and we cherish these memories.
For example, most USers who appropriate yoga or karate (pronounced kuh-RAH-tee, of course!) at their "studios" or McDojo's may believe that they love/respect what they do, but few demonstrate a sincere desire to learn about the culture these things come from...the history, the spiritual side, etc. And even fewer seek to build actual relationships with Indian or Japanese folks still traditionally practicing these Ways. God forbid! ;)
You can see this when talking to them. You can read it in their organizations' publications. It's subtle, but if you spend enough time interfacing with folks like these, you'll see that the emphasis of what they're doing is routed in consumerism. They're trying to "buy" culture...to possess it or otherwise "own" it. (Think "New Agers" or hippies...)
Japanese toy fandom--at least around these parts!--isn't routed in consumerism, ironically (tell that to my wallet!). It's routed in a deep respect for the toys, the fiction from which they spawn, and the people who produced them (and what they've gone through to get here). I see it as true appreciation of these toys...almost as one would appreciate art. (Not to get into the toys-versus-art debate, however!)
I welcome other perspectives though...
Yeah,that makes sense at least if we're just speaking from CDX's standpoint. I've been running into some serious weeaboos on the net lately,and sometimes I forget that the weird ass people so prolific on the web are only a small,small fragment of anime fandom as a whole.
Ah, well there ya go. It was my understanding that "weeaboo" basically means a Western otaku trying to "be Japanese". If that ain't cultural appropriation, I don't know what is. And I know we've been dancing around saying it bluntly, but it has to be said: cultural appropriation is a form of racism.
So both a surface interest in another culture and an interest so deep that you try to become that culture are both cultural appropriation and therefore racist somehow? Is a complete lack of interest safe? If so, I think I'm good.
"This must be settled the way nature intended....with a vicious, bloody fight!"
Principal, Flatpoint High
Tricky, no? ;)
On the surface, it looks as simple as you make it sound...that's what makes it so damn frustrating! I guess that's why George Carlin (RIP) said that we should all just...boink...until we're all one color! :P
Jetjagaa, I just found this Medicom RAH of Sun Wu-K'ung, as he was depicted in some Japanese prime time soap opera that was made into a movie. Dunno if that's really what you had in mind, but other than that, I think cloth puppets/dolls are the only other game in town...
Hah! I WILL engage in a mutually respectful, rational discussion, so THERE!
Boy did this toy get some jabberjawin'. Awsome! (all *boinkn'* aside)
Hehe...just hang around with us some more...we're like this all the time! Just unedited. ;)
I enjoyed this educational & entertaining review.
I was raised Christian but I ain’t a religious bigot & I truly enjoy learning about our planets various belief systems, religions, ETC.
I might get this dude. He’d fit perfect atop a Gargoyle statue I have.
He looks like a very well done figure that has good articulation!
I enjoyed hearing some about your culture too!
I ain't a atheistic but at the same time, I just ain't sure just WHAT to believe anymore! Whew!