When many people think about dolls, they think if toys meant for little girls, or porcelain collectors items meant to remain only on a shelf. While this may be the case some of the time, the people who collect Asian ball-jointed dolls know that there can be much more to it than just collecting, and you certainly don't have to be a child.
What Is a BJD?
Asian ball-jointed dolls, or bjds, are resin cast dolls which are fully articulated with ball and socket joints and whose pieces are held together with elastic stringing. They range in size anywhere from as small as 11cm (around 4 inches) to as tall as 80cm (around 2.6 feet) with many varying sizes in between. The dolls are fully customizable with interchangeable hair, eyes, makeup, and clothing. Some companies who manufacture bjds even sell interchangeable hands, feet, arms, or legs.
The History and Companies
The first company to release modern Asian ball-jointed dolls was the Japanese company Volks. The first doll was sculpted by Akihiro Enku and was made to look like a 57cm tall version of his wife. The executive director of Volks noticed the doll and wanted to release them in larger numbers. In 1999 the first set of bjds were released and called Super Dollfie. At the time the line only included four female dolls, now known as the Four Sisters as all four dolls shared the same head mold. In 2001 the first male SuperDollfie, Licht was manufactured in a very small quantity with only 50 pieces made. Licht was later re-released two times. Since this time many other male and female dolls have been sculpted and released by Volks, also including a few androgynous Seirei (genderless "angel") sculpts.
While Volks was first to release this particular style of resin doll, they certainly weren't the last. Following in Volks example several other companies have emerged on the market and are mass producing an array of unique and creative dolls for the enthusiastic hobbyist. Following in Volks footsteps were several more Asian doll companies such as the Korean companies Custom House and Cerberus Project. Today there are several dozens of doll companies located in Japan, Korea, and China.
Modification and Customization
One of the major aspects of the bjd hobby is the customizability of the dolls. From hand painted makeup and facial features (called face-ups), to the changeable parts and wigs people can easily create a doll that suits their style. While customizing dolls to the taste of the individual is popular, there are also several limited edition dolls released by companies that can fetch a large sum of money. Even these however have been known to be customized to suit the tastes of the doll owner.
When first researching the bjd hobby all the information and options can actually be somewhat intimidating. Deciding what size doll you want, what resin color, what type of wig to use, what size wig is needed , eye type, and a large variety of other options a person can easily find themselves overwhelmed. With a bit of research however most of these questions can easily be answered, and if not there are several communities online that exist in order to help teach all there is to know about the hobby.
Of the customizations available the face-up is probably the most frequently used to give dolls a unique look all their own. People can choose to buy a factory face-up, which although hand painted will not vary much from the display photos on the manufacturer or distributor's website. Manufacturer face-ups tend to run at least $50. If you would like more control over the appearance of the face-up there are a large number of artists willing to take commissions, or you may attempt to do your dolls face-up yourself.
For people just beginning to integrate themselves into the world of ball-jointed dolls, a bit of confusion when faced with all the terms and shorthand is common. For example, if a person describes a doll as a "NS CP El" they mean that the doll is in the normal skin tone (other options of CP dolls may include WS - White Skin, or Tan). Other terms such as Face-up, which is all the painting done of the head of the doll including features and makeup, blushing, which is used to describe if painting has been done on the body in areas where skin color varies, and many other terms may be used when referring to the aesthetic services performed on the doll.
One of the biggest shocks to people unfamiliar with the hobby is that of the cost of these resin figures. A single 60cm doll can run anywhere from $400 to $5000 depending on the make, age, rarity, and customizations done to the doll. When it comes to bjds, just because a doll is a few years old that certainly doesn't mean it is worth less than it was at the time of purchase. The secondhand market for these dolls is quite large and bustling.
Because of how much money is spent on the dolls themselves (most dolls come without wig, clothing, or face-up. Some may not even include eyes), thoroughly researching and deciding what doll best suits your tastes is necessary. Wigs made of synthetic fibers tend to run at least $30, eyes made of glass are bound to be at least $25 (though lower quality glass eyes can be found for as low as $10) and there is also the option of the usually less expensive acrylic eyes, silicone eyes, or the significantly more pricey urethane eyes. Clothing prices vary greatly according to style, quality, and production costs. Doll clothing costs are easily comparable to people clothing costs. One pair of doll jeans can easily cost $70.
Culture and Community
Just like with other hobbies there is a large community of bjd enthusiasts present online. From this large Internet community many smaller more tightly knit communities have emerged. In many cities around the world "meet ups" are arranged where fans of the hobby can gather to discuss and take photos of each others dolls.
While there certainly aren't any restrictions on who can enjoy the hobby there are some common elements present at many doll gatherings. Because of their Asian production and aesthetic, many bjd collectors are fans of Japanese culture in general. Anime, Japanese fashions, and even the usage of Japanese language are frequently observed.
Dolls as a Form of Art
One of the things that draws people to the bjd hobby is the intricacy and creativity so many people put into their dolls. Not only are the sculpts extremely detailed and sometimes quite lifelike, the painted faces can convey many different effects and concepts. A large part of the doll hobby for many is the photography aspect. Many people take high quality and original photographs of their dolls, placing them in realistic, fantastic, or simple settings and using these photos to convey feelings and emotions through their dolls.