One of the most unique entrants to Japanese soft vinyl this year was an enigmatic company by the name "Yamazakura." A flowery name belies, however, their dark and complex toy designs, which are heavily influenced by religious and historical themes.
The one thing we do know about Yamazakura is that their toys are produced by Mori Katsura of RealxHead. His design influences are present to an extent in their toys, particularly as they have the same 'fight figure' proportions as RxH toys. I like to think of Yamazakura's designs as primitive RxH characters. Sort of like how historic paints and sculptures depict stylized renditions of humans.
Yamazakura's first toy premiered at the Shinto After-School Club event in 2009. Its name is either Niouhone or Nioubone [仁王骨]- I'm still not quite sure how the characters read in that combination. I see a lot of people calling it Nioubone, but I think that started because of the skeleton design reference. The "Niou" portion of the name refers to the guardians of Buddha, who are often represented as a pair of great statues that stand at either side of entrance gates for certain temples. Incorporated into the Niou reference is the dual nature of the sculpt; one half is humanoid and the other half skeletal. "Hone," of course, refers to bone. I think a reasonable translation of the name is "Bone Guardian."
Yamazakura has gained notoriety for his unexpectedly bold color combinations. That's unfortunate in a way, because it ignores the strength of his sculpt. Every part has an understated elegance that suggests layers of musculature or skeletal structure beneath the visible surface, enhanced by the pooling of light and shadow on its surface. Masterfully done. This is a refreshing change from the 'crude kaiju' trend that seems to overshadow new vinyl toys.
The unpainted black Nioubone was sold originally at the San Diego Comic Convention in 2009. He seemed to have quite a few of these as they were sold at later shows in Japan as well.
A clear unpainted Nioubone with GID vinyl shards in the body was sold at Design Festa 30 in October 2009. This was sold via a blind-pull method; the other possible items were unpainted GID, unpainted clear filled with multi-colored tubing, and empty unpainted clear
Orochi-Oni, Yamazakura's second toy, reuses the body of Nioubone with a new head sculpt. "Orochi" typically refers to an eight-headed serpent from Japanese mythology; however, the characters can also be read simply as 'giant serpent.' "Oni" means 'demon.' The likely meaning of the name is "Great Serpent Demon" or something similar. Orochi-Oni seems to be more favored among U.S. collectors than Nioubone. I attribute this to the popularization of the Hannya mask imagery.
I'm not sure how the half-skeleton body relates to Orochi-Oni, but Yamazakura continues the split sculpt into the new head as well. This one is interesting because the skeletal and fleshed portions of the head are split by a straight cut, almost as if it were slashed open with a sword. A matching body would have been nice, but at least the angular head sculpt does not clash too noticeably with the smoother body.
This Orochi-Oni was a lottery prize from Yamazakura's booth at Superfestival 51, which was held in January 2010. It is unique in that it has a chrome-painted eye. I wonder how he did that.
Much as we all want to see what Yamazakura will do next, the real question is... who is he??
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