We’ve seen some very interesting and exciting new action figure concepts on Kickstarter this year, but one of the most interesting and promising was IAmElemental, which aspired to combat unreasonable representations of gender in the action figure world in the best way possible– by creating some truly kick-ass, realistically proportioned female action figures. The Kickstarter did gangbusters, and now here we are, six months later, and the first series of figures has become a reality.
As far as I’m concerned, the core concept at play with IAmElemental is a breath of fresh air in the toy industry. It’s troubling when you think about how stringent the gender barriers are with various types of toys, and how militantly this is enforced by everyone from toymakers, to retailers to society at large– dolls are for girls, trucks are for boys, and so on. One of the few increasingly grey areas in this extremely gender-segregated landscape is the world of super heroes. Thanks to the progressive work of big companies like Marvel Studios– as well as countless female and female-positive creators, artists, and writers from all over the world– super hero stories are becoming much more gender equitable. And, try as they might (see Gamora’s lack of shelf presence after Guardians of the Galaxy), eventually even stodgy old conservative toy retailers have to acquiesce, to a degree.
With that being said, I think super heroes are a smart egress for IAmElemental to launch their concept, which revolves around seven all-new super heroes, each representing an aspect of courage, and inspired by the bravery of real-life legend Joan of Arc. The individual figures– Bravery, Energy, Honesty, Industry, Enthusiasm, Persistence and Fear– are 4″ tall, and each feature their own unique accessories, a unique character portrait, as well as shields and trading cards describing their characters. Most of the accessories are snap-on backpacks or overlays, which help to change up the uniform body sculpt shared by all seven heroes, giving them a team-like uniform– but not identical– look and feel.
The sculpts here are very well done. I love the portraits, with their domino masks and slightly exaggerated white eyes. Each hero sports their own unique hair style, and each is well sculpted and current enough to give these characters a very hip, modern edge. The rest of the figures are equally well rendered, with an attention paid to making them appear distinctly feminine but never over sexualized. Their uniforms are practical and cool looking, without being illogically revealing. Their body proportions are realistic, yet remain athletic and very clearly capable of action. And they’re filled with useful articulation!
Each Elemental features a ball jointed neck, ball shoulders and hips, and half-ball elbows and knees. Each joint offers a remarkable range of motion– the motion in these hips (without interrupting the sculpt) should make any veteran toy designer green with envy– and is very sturdy, leaving no fear of breakage or damage. The good articulation and general sturdiness of the figures make them very easy to play with, and they can strike a number of good poses with ease. In future series, I’d love to see the IAmElemental team ramp up the articulation even more, with torso, wrist or ankle articulation, but for a first time out, the articulation pattern we get is very well done.
I would say the same about the paint work. While the figures are not washed or shaded, their colors are very eye catching and applied cleanly and evenly, with absolutely no spill or uneven lines. This precision helps accentuate the striking silver uniforms these heroes wear, giving them a very slick and polished look. I like the red family skin tones, as well– ranging from orange to purple, depending on the figure– which leave these heroes with a very distinct look while also not white washing them or ascribing any of them to a certain ethnicity.
IAmElemental’s figures are very well done, some of the highest quality figures I have seen in the 4″ scale, and I’m pleased to see the finished products came out just as good as the strong prototypes and important concepts. If I had one complaint, it would be the universal base bodies– I understand that sharing a body is a tooling side-step employed by virtually every toymaker, but when the main message of a toy line is to celebrate individuality and realistic body image ideals, having two or three unique body shapes– taller, shorter, curvier or thinner– could go a long way in further exploring this theme. The unique head sculpts and overlays do a good job of breaking up the same-ness of the bodies regardless… but I’d be very interested to see if the IAmElemental team will explore more options when it comes to body shape in future assortments.
Each Elemental figure is packed in a baggie, not unlike Lego blind bags. This will also be the retail packaging for the figures, apparently, which I think will further distinguish them from other action figures on the market. I like the trading cards each figure includes, as well as the shields, which can be held by the figures or worn as charms on a kid-size rubber bracelet which is included with the Kickstarter bundle or as a mail order item when the figures hit retail.
Overall, I am incredibly impressed by the IAmElemental series. For a first release from a new toy company, these figures are amazing– they easily surpass the production quality, detail and overall sense of design we’re seeing from the major companies like Mattel and Hasbro in this scale. The concept behind these characters is fresh, and I think it– and the cool, stylized character designs– will really connect with girls and boys of all ages.
More than anything, IAmElemental represents an important feminist message, and it delivers that message in the best way possible– with no preaching, no pretense and no negativity. The focus remains on these new characters, on their strengths and on their power, which is translated perfectly into their great action figures. I cannot wait to see what IAmElemental will come up with next!