No, I Don't Want a Figurine of Kyoko in a Yukata; Here's Why
Well, Facebook sure knows usually how to part me from my cash. Being a fan of things means you usually are predisposed to buy products related to those things. I have purchased fan art at conventions of many of my favorite characters. I have more ponies than I could shake a stick at. I have a Panty and Stocking binder I bought at a con a couple of years ago.
But what you'll notice I don't usually buy a lot of are dolls or figurines. But I never had a real moral objection to those things existing before I saw this Otaku Mode figure of Kyoko Sakura, a character I love and have cosplayed as, posing in a cutesy manner in a yukata (a kind of cotton kimono worn at festivals, as I explain here). It kind of bugs me to see it, as well as figures of the other Puella Magi Madoka Magica characters in yukata. It bothers me to see dolls with the same empty, generically cute facial expressions from other shows I watch. I hope that this article can explain, and help me understand, my misgivings.
First of All, I Get It
I get it, okay. Anime studios have a hell of a time making money, and without money, they can't make such high-quality shows with satisfying storytelling and good animation. Selling their characters off as tiny objects clad in bikinis or cat ears or French maid outfits to the more perverted/lonely segment of the anime fan population has always been part of the anime business. Hell, I should be happy because this yukata set is more classy and less sexualized (I mean, they're middle-school aged girls, after all!) than other figurines. It's a quality product as well, and the attention to detail in the sculpture is really nice.
But, Here are My Issues With It
Well, first of all, that face is hardly true to the character or story. I couldn't see Kyoko Sakura going to a festival in a yukata and fitting in with everyone else like a normal girl.
This isn't Azumanga Daioh or K-On! or Lucky Star, which are all just about happy girls being friends with each other and dealing with silly awkward situations. This is PMMM, and I feel like whoever made this figurine did not possess an understanding of the show's unique characteristics. Kyoko Sakura is a lone warrior, living in an abandoned church after her wish led to the deaths of her entire family. With no one to rely on, she is the most fiercely independent of all characters in the show. So, I really could not see her fitting this "moe" mold and being another cute girl in a yukata.
There's no "festival episode" in PMMM. Not only that, but it's not a "cute festival episode" type of anime. Maybe I'm taking this too seriously, but PMMM is a show filled with grief and pain. But secondly, I don't think anime should be too merchandise-driven. I think the financial solution to anime studios is to encourage payment for anime, and to make anime easy to purchase in the U.S. (I talk about some good sites for paid anime subscriptions here), not to fetishize your characters and sell them as objects. I feel this way about Neon Genesis Evangelion and a few other series.
Basically, it comes down to whether you think anime should be about money or taken seriously as an art form/storytelling medium. If you feel the way I do about anime, the way some people feel about film, it doesn't elevate the art form to take away the humanity and uniqueness of your characters and grind them down to fit a cheerful moe mold. I think there is a such thing as going too far to please the fanbase. They don't need you to cater to their every desire. I don't like that anime studios sometimes adopt a "the fans are always right" model, because it always gets in the way of the pure action, adrenaline, psychological interest, philosophizing, and other enjoyable aspects of many anime stories. It turns good shows into trash whenever the studios start deciding to cater to the lowest common denominator.
I guess I need to just get over it and accept that boobie mouse pads, body pillows, and cutesy, stupid-looking moe and fetish dolls are going to be part of being an anime fan. I don't have to like it but it's going to probably keep existing as long as it makes money, and I do want my favorite studios to make money.
But, I just think that anime characters in a show as deep and complex as PMMM deserve a little bit more of a better treatment, and that there is no need to make Kyoko or any other of these characters into something they never were originally just to sell a product.