No, I'm not talking about Kathy Ireland or Claudia Schiffer. I am not even talking about Japanese models (though I don't even know of any) or even idol singers, etc. What I am talking about are plastic representations of your and my favorite anime characters. This concept was introduced to you, our loyal readers, by Cameron Chien in an article earlier this semester, and if that caught your eye, this is the article for you.
The first question you might ask is, "What's so great about having a plastic model anyway?" Well, that depends on you. For myself, I think that it's really cool to have a model or two of your favorite character, not only because it's fun to build, but because it's fun to look at. A model can capture your favorite scene or a scene which did not occur in the anime at all but looks good. Perhaps you just fell head-over-heels in love with Ayanami Rei, despite your friends telling you that she is not even really human in the anime, and you want to be able to look at her at any time, day or night, because you can't live without her (deep breath here). One of the most interesting aspects of models is that sometimes you can get a character which is only implied in the anime; for example, in Eva, it is implied that Eva Unit 4 is destroyed in an explosion in the USA. Well, you can actually get a model of that Eva (it's actually a silver-plated version of Unit 3) as a model made by Bandai.
If you are wondering what to expect when searching for a model, things are fairly simple. Models come in pretty much all shapes and sizes. You can get a model which is nothing more than an action doll (something like the American G.I. Joe, but made by Sega) for around $15, or you can get a super-complicated, ultra-realistic model about 3 feet tall which will run you about $1000 (you'll have to do some searching on the web to find this one), and everything in between. You also have a few choices with regard to the quality of the model. Several grades of models exist. The lowest-grade model that you actually put together, LM grade, is a snap-together kit (about 15 parts) molded in colored plastic (no painting required) and is probably not poseable at all, or very restricted at best. The next-higher grade (LM-HG) has more pieces, is generally larger (about 10 inches tall), may require painting (but not necessarily), and is probably very poseable (moving joints). The highest grade (no real name for this grade, and by the way, the other terminology is only what Bandai uses) has a lot of pieces which will include several weapons, optional heads, and hands. These models will require a lot of work, will definitely need painting, and are highly poseable. Generally, there are tradeoffs when buying models. A large model which is not terribly expensive (you will be able to afford food next month) may not be very detailed or poseable. A highly complicated model of the same price will likely be much smaller.
Models can also be made out of resin or vinyl. Vinyl models are usually a vinyl skin stretched over a plastic frame and fleshed out on the inside with something puffy, which will prevent the skin from collapsing. Accessories are then attached to the vinyl skin. If you want a model of a character (as opposed to mecha), resin is what you are looking for. Resin models (a.k.a. garage kits) usually come as several pieces of rubbery stuff (you guessed it, resin) which are glued together to make the figure. The whole thing is then painted as you see fit. Resin models sometimes require a bit of hard work, since the seams where the pieces meet need to be hidden, as well as any imperfections in the actual resin (bubbles, unevenness). Keep in mind that resin does not necessarily mean fixed pose. Resin kits can be moved by warming up a joint in warm water and bending it. Some kits also come with several choices of clothes, so you can make one of several different variations of the character. Of course, the best models out there really don't require any work on your part at all. These are highly-detailed, large-scale completed models which are made by professionals for anime fans who are way too busy watching anime to stop long enough to put a model together. The coolest I've seen is a model of Eva Unit 5 (you'll see these in the movies when they are released), which has a wingspan (yes, it has wings) of about 20 inches, which are cast from a single piece of resin.
Well, what about prices, you might ask. Prices are unfortunately the problem with models. If buying a mid-price model (LM-HG) in the US, you may expect to pay $40-50 + shipping and handling. Better models may be as high as $90, and resin kits, particularly rare ones (Iria resin kit or Lina Inverse resin kit) are usually $120 plus. You can order models directly from Japan, in which case you will get more for your model-buying buck, $26 for an LM-HG grade model. Shipping is not so bad either; Hobbylink Japan will send over a small model for 800 yen -- about $5.50 to you. A general piece of advice when ordering from Japan: get together with friends and make a large order; you will pay less for shipping. You can also look for something called a recast. These are cheaper knockoffs of the original Japanese models. Keep in mind that the quality will be lower (especially for resin kits), and that you are probably hurting somebody's business by buying these (often illegal) copies.
For more information on models, look up these informative pages:
U.S.: Anime Nation, http://www.animenation.com/, under merchandise section.
Japan: Hobbylink Japan, http://www.hlj.com/, sci-fi section, more models of every type than you will ever want to see again.
And when you finally finish your model, just remember, SHE'S NOT REAL!