A ball-jointed doll is any doll that is articulated with ball and socket joints. In contemporary usage when referring to modern dolls, and particularly when using the acronyms BJD or ABJD it usually refers to modern Asian ball-jointed dolls. These are cast in polyurethane resin, a hard, dense plastic, and the parts strung together elastic. They are predominantly manufactured in Japan and South Korea, and in 2006 Chinese manufacturers entered the market followed closely by American companies. BJD design is both realistic and influenced by anime with proportionally large heads and big eyes. They range in size from about 60 cm (2 feet) for the larger dolls, 40 cm (16 in) for the mini dolls, and all the way down to 10 cm (4 in) or so for the tiniest. BJDs are made to be easy to customize, by painting, changing the eyes and wig, and many feature interchangeable hands, feet, and even ears.
The modern BJD market began with Volks line of Super Dollfie in 1999. Super Dollfie, or just Dollfie, are sometimes erroneously used as generic blanket terms to refer to all Asian BJDs regardless of manufacturer. But Super Dollfie is a registered trademark for Volks line of BJD, and Dollfie is the trademarked name of their line of Barbie sized 1/6 scale vinyl dolls, which are not proper ball-jointed dolls at all.
The history of ball-jointed dolls is many centuries old, with European and Egyptian articulated dolls made of wood and other materials dating back hundreds of years. The modern era ball-jointed doll history began in Western Europe, particularly France and Germany, in the late 1800s. From the late 1800s and to the early 1900s French and German manufacturers made ball-jointed dolls with bisque heads and strung bodies made of composition, a mix of pulp, sawdust, glue and similar materials. These dolls were sized between about 20 and 40 inches, and they are now collectible antiques.
During the 1930s the German artist Hans Bellmer created dolls with ball-joints and used them in photography and other surrealistic artwork. Bellmer introduced the idea of artful doll photography, which continues today with Japanese doll artists, as well as the BJD fandom. Bellmer’s dolls were the inspiration for Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. Influenced by Bellmer and the rich Japanese doll tradition, Japanese artists began creating strung ball-jointed dolls. These are commonly made entirely of bisque and often very tall, sometimes as tall as four feet. These dolls are art, and not intended for play or even the hobby level of collecting usually associated with dolls. They cost several thousand dollar, up to several hundred thousand dollar for older collectible dolls from famous artists. The art doll community is still very active in Japan, and doll artists regularly release artbooks with photographs of their dolls.
The history of commercially produced Asian resin BJD began in 1999 when the Japanese company Volks created the Super Dollfie line of dolls. The first Super Dollfie were 57 cm tall, strung with elastic, ball-jointed, and made of polyurethane resin, similar to garage kits, which was Volks’ main product at the time. Super Dollfie were made to be highly customizable, and to create a female market for garage kits. Around 2003, South Korean companies started creating and producing BJDs. Customhouse and Cerberus Project were among the first Korean BJDs to be marketed internationally. In 2005-2006, beginning with Dollzone, Chinese BJD companies started creating BJDs and selling them on the international market.
Modern Asian Ball-Jointed Dolls Edit
Modern Asian BJDs are fully articulated and highly posable. Most have ball and socket joints in the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles. Some are double jointed, with two joints at elbows and knees for example, and some also have one or two joints in the torso, and more rarely even in individual fingers. Body elements are held together with one or more thick elastic cords that attach to hands, feet and head, creating tension and friction between the parts.
BJDs have comparatively large feet, contrasted with fashion dolls like Barbie, and a lot of BJDs are capable of standing on their own, without a stand or other support. They follow a distinctly Asian view in their esthetics. The designs are diverse and range from highly anime-inspired to hyper-realistic.
BJDs are readily customizable. Wigs and eyes are easy to remove and replace, as well as heads, hands, and feet. A doll may even be a hybrid of parts from different companies. Some BJD owners or customizers even re-shape existing parts by sanding them or applying epoxy putty to them. BJD face paint is usually referred to as a faceup, to note that it's not just make-up, but all the facial features that are painted and customized, including eyebrows, lips and blushing to enhance features. Some BJD are delivered without a faceup, leaving it entirely up to the owner or a customizer to paint the doll. BJD faceups, even from large companies, are always painted by hand, and it takes considerable skill to do professional level faceups.
BJDs are sold as anything from complete fullsets to kits. Most Korean companies sell BJDs assembled but it is up to the buyer if they want the company to apply a faceup before delivery. Fullset BJDs are often, but not always, limited and come fully assembled, painted, and with clothes. Unlike many other collectible dolls though, the wig and clothes are usually included separately. Owners of even limited fullset BJDs often use a different wig than the default, and different clothes than those included.
A few companies sell BJDs as kits, which are just the bare parts, similar to a garage kit. Sometimes a wig or eyes are included, but neither is attached to the doll, which have to be strung together, painted and dressed to complete it. BJDs can also be bought in parts. Some companies sell heads and bodies or other parts separately, and separate heads and bodies are often available on the second hand market. A few BJD creators sell just heads, in size and skin color to fit with doll bodies from other companies.
BJD Culture Edit
Some BJDs are collectible, and limited editions, or skillfully customized dolls can fetch prices much higher than the original in the second hand market, sometimes as much as US $5000. While some BJDs are collectible, the customization and personalization aspects are usually more emphasized in the BJD world. Even collectible limited-edition BJDs are played with and used as props in photoshoots, and even dolls that are no longer in mint condition can command high prices in the second hand market.
BJDs are usually named by their owner, and sometimes assigned individual characteristics and personality traits. The dolls are often used as subjects of artistic work, such as photography or drawing. Some use their dolls and characters for roleplaying.
There is a sizeable international fandom community dedicated to BJDs. The largest English BJD forum has over 17,000 members as of June 2008. Drawings, photos and photo stories are shared in the online fandom forums. Fans also organize offline BJD meetups and conventions, like BJDC in Austin, Texas and Dollectable in San Francisco. There is also a considerable overlap with other fandoms, like anime, cosplay and Gothic lolita.
BJDs have been produced in many different types and sizes as the market has expanded. There are roughly three main size categories for BJDs, full SD size, mini and tiny.
- Full size - Large full size dolls, sometimes referred to as SD size from the Super Dollfie size range, are around 55cm or taller. Roughly 1/3 scale, they usually represent fully grown teenagers or adult body types. Full size BJD generally begin at US $500 but can easily reach more than US $1,000 for limited-edition dolls.
- Mini - Mini size dolls, sometimes referred to as MSD size from to Mini Super Dollfie size range, are about 40cm tall. Minis are often around US $400-500. Minis are sometimes referred to as 1/4 scale, but accurately there are two major categories of minis, those that are roughly in the same 1/3 scale as full size dolls and are meant to look like children in scale to larger dolls, and the mature minis which are meant to represent fully grown adults and are closer to the 1/4 scale.
- Tiny - Any BJD under roughly 30cm tall is referred to as a tiny. These are available in many different types and scales. Tinies are usually in the area between US $100-300. Some tiny BJD are made look like toddlers or babies next to full size dolls, these are about 25 cm (10 in) tall. Humanoid anthro animal BJDs are usually in the tiny size scale.
- Fashion doll - Fashion doll-sized BJDs are similar in size and style to Barbie. They run about 12 inches tall. There are also larger fashion dolls that are about 16 inches tall.
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