And now, Scary-Crayon reviews... Juku Couture Audrina

Figure Information Name: Audrina
Line: Juku Couture
Scale: 9 inch
Manufacturer: Jakks Pacific
Year Released: 2009
Original Price: $19.99
Purchase Price: $4.98

Last year, I developed something of an interest in girls' dolls -- largely because of Mattel. Not because Mattel did anything right with Barbie or its other doll lines, mind you, but because of something the company did very, very wrong with DC Universe Classics. Action figure collectors will remember that DCUC Wave 8 was released last year and that Giganta was the build-a-figure for that series, and longtime readers of Scary-Crayon might recall that I was especially excited about acquiring it because it would bring my Legion of Doom one more member closer to completion. Yet whereas I eventually sighted several DCUC Wave 9 figures and almost all of the Walmart exclusive Wave 10, I never had the opportunity to buy a single Wave 8 figure at retail due to horrific distribution on Mattel's part. So ever since I accepted the fact that I'd never acquire the DCUC version -- and since barefoot, nearly naked female figures are extremely uncommon among 6"-7" action figures -- I've been searching for suitably articulated dolls to stand in for Giganta at her larger size. Even if dolls' faces are generally too doll-like for me to want to display them among my DCUC figures, I figure it'd be much easier to acquire a Giganta head cheaply than to amass all of the necessary BAF pieces! I mean, I've been looking for over a year and I still have yet to find the Universal Monsters Frankenstein BAF's left leg. (If you can help me on that front, please drop me a line!)

Anyway, it was this growing interest in dolls as custom fodder that led me to give the Juku Couture Audrina doll a closer look -- and while I concluded almost immediately that the doll lacks Giganta potential, I decided I was interested enough in the doll's purported articulation and semi-gothic fashion sense to bring her home anyway. The $4.98 clearance price was also a big factor in my decision to purchase the doll, as I'm pretty confident I would have left Audrina right there on the shelf at her original price of $19.99! And that would have been a shame indeed, since I'm not embarrassed to admit that I actually like this doll a lot.

Packaging

Score: 9.5 / 10

Juku Couture -- Mix Up Your Style!Collect 'em all for more crazy-cool fun!

Have fun with fashion and mix up your style like the Juku Couture™ girls! Kana™, Audrina™, Jun™ and Hayley® love to layer and mis-match their outfits in their own unique ways. Mix up each girl's totally cute pieces or swap with friends for more crazy-cool fun!

Even though dolls don't generally appeal to me, I'll admit to being highly impressed by their packaging every time I end up in the girls' toy aisles -- and Audrina and the Juku Couture line don't disappoint in this respect. The packaging's mixture of bright and dark colors is highly fashionable and compelling, there are helpful references to the doll's "super-poseable" nature and multiple articles of clothing, the back features a fun text introduction to the line (see above) and short profiles for each of the four girls (Audrina wants to be an actress and has a pet bunny named Cocoa), and the doll is effectively showcased and posed in a way that (unlike certain NECA and DCUC figures) actually makes the product look even more appealing. On top of all of that, the box is very much collector friendly! Yes, it can be tricky to figure out just how to open the box -- it looks as if it can theoretically be opened from any side; I found success with the bottom -- and there are a few things one has to destroy to remove her from the purple tray within -- in addition to a handful of twisty ties, Audrina is held in place by a single thread at her dress and a "sewed" plastic piece at her hair -- but nothing requires one to tear or otherwise damage the most important components of the packaging itself.

The only thing wrong with the packaging -- and the reason I'm docking it a half point -- is that it doesn't say anything about what "juku" means. Are the girls trying to emulate Harajuku fashion styles with their diverse and multi-layered outfits, or does the line's name simply mean to suggest that they're prep school students? I'm thinking the former, but I maintain that any line with an unfamiliar term in its name should indulge curious consumers and explain the relevance of the term somewhere. In this case, the dolls could have gained a somewhat educational component that motivated young girls to take an interest in global fashion styles.

Visual Appeal

Score: 10 / 10

Audrina is a fantastic-looking doll! Don't you just love her outfit?Perhaps Audrina sold her panties during a visit to Japan...

As far as dolls go, Audrina is close to perfect in terms of appearance. I'm not entirely sure whether I should include her clothes here or in the accessories section (so I'll do both!), but Audrina looks fantastic with her layers of clothing in various combinations and in the multiple poses the doll's articulation allows. And whereas the proportions of Barbies and other dolls often look awkward, what with huge torpedo boobs and corset-slim waists, Audrina has a fairly realistic figure for a 19-year-old high school freshman. (The packaging notes that the Juku Couture girls are entering their first year of high school, but it doesn't say anything about their ages... so in the manner of the Tales of Seduction by U-Jin disclaimer, we at Scary-Crayon insist that Audrina is 19 years old. Maybe her overprotective parents kept her from entering grade school until she was 10 years old; maybe she's just not terribly bright. Whatever the reason, Audrina's just now entering high school at age 19. Understand?) When exposed, the joints on the body are fairly obvious and her feet are kinda tiny, but those things are to be expected. As such, I'm not docking the doll for them -- and it's worth noting that, if those issues bother you, Audrina comes with enough clothes to completely cover those areas. I do wish the doll's crotchpiece had been cast in a different color to give the appearance of panties, since now it looks as if Audrina's going commando if you want to show off her bare legs (I don't know whether I should feel worse about wishing the doll wore panties or knowing that it doesn't), but I suppose that's par for the course.

What aren't par for the course -- and what're largely responsible for Audrina's perfect score here -- are her eyes. Whereas most of the dolls in the girls' toy aisle have eyes that are simply painted or tampographed on, Audrina's eyes appear to be made of clear plastic. I wouldn't say the effect is especially lifelike or creepy -- they're far too stylized to plunge the doll into the uncanny valley -- but it does give Audrina's eyes a much more attractive and less "cheap" appearance. Those two prominent locks of hair are pretty neat, too.

Articulation

Score: 9.5 / 10

Seriously, she's 19 years old.

Whereas even today most dolls retain basic five-point articulation and the occasional waist swivel or limited knee joints, the Juku Couture line has made a high degree of poseability one of the top selling points of the dolls. It's certainly a feature that an articulation junkie and action figure enthusiast like me can appreciate -- and with an impressive 24 points of articulation, Audrina has the jointing necessary to outpose the most articulated Barbies and even a number of boys' action figures when she's strutting her fashionable stuff.

More importantly, none of the joints were stuck or broken, and with a few exceptions they performed exactly as one would expect. The ball-jointed waist mainly works as a swivel, though it does give Audrina a limited capacity to arch her back -- and while I could make questionable inferences about that (which, given that she's 19 years old, would be totally permissible), I'll let it pass. The hips are also somewhat restricted owing to the shape of the crotchpiece, as it effectively renders them V-cut hips with hinges. This is fine if you want to display Audrina sitting Indian style pretzel style (the hell with that "criss-cross applesauce" crap), but the addition of thigh swivels would really augment Audrina's ability to get into deeper and wider crouching poses. Finally, the ankle hinges are a touch loose. They're not so floppy as to interfere with girls' play activities, but a doll stand will be required to keep Audrina on her feet in certain poses for any length of time. Also, while the doll body lacks rocker ankles, it's worth noting that there's enough wiggle room in the shoes to simulate the effect -- so you could technically give Audrina an additional two points of articulation insofar as she expects service at your average restaurant or retail establishment.

Accessories

Score: 9.5 / 10

Look, Ma -- no hands! Or feet! Or panties...Few girls' dolls can perform fighting game-style taunts, but Audrina has no problem razzing her opponents.

With multiple layers of clothing that make for a variety of cool looks, Audrina's got a wealth of accessories that should delight your average little girl or doll enthusiast. Each clothing item looks great, fits comfortably, and is easily removed (provided you remove the layers atop it first), and Audrina's hands and feet are even easily detachable to facilitate the removal of her arm warmers, shirt, and tights (though this isn't mentioned anywhere on the packaging; I found out about it from this review). Moreover, at no point did I feel like I was going to break her hands or feet when pulling them out and replacing them -- which is more than I can say for quite a few action figures with swappable hands and heads! Like most dolls, Audrina also comes with a purse capable of storing pink binoculars and whatever other crap you want to put into it.

I'd have given Audrina a perfect score in terms of accessories if not for two things. One, that heart waistband should have had a velcro attachment or something. As it is, it has to be tied on -- and while little girls and women with slighter and nimbler fingers might have an easier time with this, I found accomplishing that feat to be much easier said than done. There's also a pretty glaring accessory oversight: Audrina doesn't come with a hairbrush! Now, I imagine that members of the target audience have hundreds of tiny brushes for taming their dollies' hair, but I don't... and since dolls rarely come out of the packaging looking like they just came from the salon, it would've been nice to have been able to straighten Audrina's hair a bit before I began her photo session. (And seriously, given the flesh-colored crotch, would it have been too much for Jakks to have included a pair of panties with Audrina? Given that the Juku Couture dolls presumably take their cues from Japanese fashion, panties would've been a most appropriate accessory. She could even have come with the money she'd get from selling the panties -- it would have fit nicely into her checkered purse.)

Fun Factor

Score: 9.5 / 10

"You totally love how we sparkle in sunlight."Audrina makes even the cheapest clothes look good.

I'm not even someone who enjoys girls' dolls -- though one could argue that action figures are pretty much dolls for boys -- but I'm not ashamed to admit that I had a pretty good time playing with this doll (and don't you dare read anything dirty into that). It really is fun to mix and match the various clothing items to produce different looks (it doesn't hurt that I'm a big fan of Audrina's fashion sense), and the doll's impressive articulation augments that fun with a variety of action figure-style posing options. Given how delightful I found Audrina to be while taking photos for this review, I'm thinking I might actually have to incorporate visits to the girls' toy aisles into my toy run routine! I'll probably pick up more Juku Couture dolls if I can find them on clearance, and in any case I'd like to get a few more outfit/accessory packs for use with Audrina. I really only docked the fun score because of the waistband -- trying to re-tie that thing was pretty damned frustrating.

Also, while Audrina's 9" height makes her a bit too small to hang or swap clothes with Barbie or other 11"-12" dolls, it's worth noting that she's roughly the same size and can easily wear the clothes of dollar store dolls -- so consumers who want to pad her wardrobe (and don't mind the cheapness of dollar doll clothing) should be aware of this inexpensive way of obtaining more accessories and increasing the doll's fun factor. Do be careful, though! The velcro on dollar store clothing is pretty rough, and if you're not very careful you can end up significantly snagging Audrina's more delicate tights with it. I know this from experience.

(I snipped off the huge snag that resulted with a pair of scissors, but now there's a very tiny hole in that space -- which shouldn't be all that annoying given that the tights are covered with tiny holes anyway and probably wouldn't bother a little girl, but I know exactly where this one is and it does bother me. A lot. And while I could just as easily remove the tights and display Audrina without them -- which I'd prefer to do anyway; I like the bare-legged look -- I don't feel right about that because the doll's not wearing any panties. ARGH!!!)

Value

Score: 6.5 / 10

Audrina can't quite fit Buffy's clothes, but she's far better built for vampire slaying.Ninja kick the damned rabbit!

Dolls have apparently gotten pretty pricey -- with the exception of the budget bathing suit variety (and the High School Musical dolls that frequently show up discounted at Ross), even your basic Barbies hover between $10 and $15 these days -- so doll enthusiasts can probably give Audrina an extra point or two given her impressive articulation and multiple articles of clothing. From where I'm sitting, however, $20 isn't a fantastic value for a single doll unless it comes with a stand, a pet, and an entire trunk full of clothes. That said, the Juku Couture dolls have been around since last year and don't seem to have been super popular, so you may be able to find a deal as stores attempt to clear their excess holiday stock. I got Audrina here for the clearance price of $4.98 at Target -- and at that markdown, her value score shoots up to 12 out of 10.

Review Summary

Packaging
  • Colorful, effectively showcases product, and is collector friendly
  • Lacks a proper explanation of what "juku" means with respect to the line.
SCORE: 9.5 / 10
Visual Appeal
  • Audrina and her clothes look fantastic
  • Clear plastic eyes are especially nice
  • Gotta love the hair!
  • If only she were wearing panties...
SCORE: 10 / 10
Articulation
  • Far more articulation than most dolls; allows for a high number of poses
  • Thigh swivels would further augment the doll's poseability
  • Ankle hinges are a touch loose
SCORE: 9.5 / 10
Accessories
  • Multiple layers of clothing make for a variety of cool looks
  • Comes with a purse for stashing other tiny accessories
  • Could use a hair brush (and panties)
SCORE: 9.5 / 10
Fun Factor
  • Changing Audrina's clothes is very fun... except for the stupid waistband
  • Poseability further augments fun factor
  • Can wear 9" dollar doll clothes for additional cheap fun (just be careful)
SCORE: 9.5 / 10
Value
  • Despite Audrina's wealth of clothes and articulation, $20 seems pretty expensive for a 9" doll
  • At a clearance price like $4.98, however, the doll is an amazing value.
SCORE: 6.5 / 10

Overall

Score: 9.5 / 10

Don't run, Audrina -- he just wants to be YOUR BEST FRIEND!!!

With exceptionally high marks across the board (the value category notwithstanding), Audrina falls just short of perfection -- but only just short of perfection, and dedicated doll collectors might feel compelled to give her the extra fraction of a point. For my part, I enjoyed this doll more than I had any right to, and thigh swivels, a hairbrush, and panties would have made her truly flawless. Even with those shortcomings, however, I find myself eager to buy additional Juku Couture clothing packs for Audrina and scour the girls' toy aisles to see what other articulated dolls I can find! (I'm already eyeing Liv Fashion Dolls...) If dolls had been this neat when I was a kid, I would have done more than occasionally "borrow" my sister's Barbies so that my 10" Sabretooth could undress and molest them -- I'd have skipped the odd Batman figure and purchased my own.

-- Wes --

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