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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Throwback Thursday review: Bratz Tokyo-a-Go-Go Collector's Edition "May Lin"

Warning:  this post will be setting an apparent theme for the next few weeks, as I seem to have developed a fondness for all things Japanese or Japanese-themed.  Also, I know that there are a few of our followers that are not Bratz fans.  To those of y'all I say sorry, but this week's doll is a Bratz doll.  Now that that's out of the way...I tried hard to stick to a "One Bratz Doll" rule during my teenage years (I had and loved my single Jade), but oh, how I loved to look at the others!  There were a number of these saucy, spicy dolls that caught my eye during these years, and the ones that got away may make an appearance here in the future, so consider yourselves warned.  Today's doll is from the collector's subcategory of the Tokyo-a-Go-Go line, and her name is (drum roll, please) May Lin!
Now if you're an ignorant bumpkin like I am, then you may be scratching your head and saying "Mmmkay, what's the big deal?"  Well...there are a couple of issues with May Lin, stupid things that MGA Entertainment could've avoided if they'd done their homework.  This is lengthy, but bear with me.  The Tokyo-a-Go-Go line had a Japanese theme and was thus one of my favorite Bratz lines.  The playline subcategory had several characters, but the Toys R Us-exclusive collector's line had only three:  Tiana, Kumi, and May Lin.  Kumi was and still is a favorite character of mine, but I digress.  The trio of girls were dressed in kimono and came with accessories to match the theme.  They're very pretty, well-made dolls, so what's the problem?  Names.  Yeah, names.  The dolls have a Japanese theme and are clearly meant to look Oriental, but only one of them (Kumi) has an authentic Japanese name.  Tiana's name can sort of be explained away, as it has a number of meanings and it appears to be popular among many cultures even before "The Princess and the Frog" hit theaters.  Maybe Tiana is Japanese-American and wants to embrace her culture a little?  But May Lin...oh my.  "May Lin" is a Chinese name, period.  It can't be bent or modified to fit a culture like "Tiana" can.  Even more problematic is that "May Lin" is an anglicanized version of "Meilin," a stereotypical Chinese name.  To add to the culturally inaccurate goofiness, May Lin's Wikia page gives her personality and it's a hot mess of Japanese references, stuff like enjoying Japanese fairy tales and eating sushi.  But I think the name was what raised hackles, not the personality. And because I is ignant my hackles aren't raised much at all; I'm merely documenting the reason why May Lin was a doll that lifted eyebrows.

Due to her problematic name and the controversy surrounding it May Lin was very quickly axed.  It must not have been a tremendous stink since I only learned about it years after the fact, but apparently it was enough of a stink to get May Lin canceled.  Both Kumi and Tiana survived and were included in a few more lines, but as far as I know May Lin only got one doll.  Said single doll got a relatively sort run, meaning that May Lin is sort of the Bratz equivalent of Mimic.  She has subsequently become something of a collector's item, and thus I'm darn glad I found her for a good price.  Granted, my particular doll is not NRFB and I think she may be missing an accessory or two, but I can live with that because I HATE leaving stuff NRFB.  What's the fun of having something if you can't play with it a little???  Anywho, May Lin bears a strong resemblance to two of my other dolls, Jade and Maci (who are cousins, according to the Wiki).
As far as I know Jade and Maci were never given a specific nationality.  They both like sushi, a dish commonly associated (once again) with Japan, but lots of people like sushi so that really tells me nothing.  Anyway, May Lin looks a lot like both Jade and Maci.  She has shiny black hair like them, and since she's supposed to be a geisha the style is an elaborate one.  Geisha are permitted to wear their hair in a handful of elaborate styles, and this one looks to me like...well, truthfully this hairstyle is no authentic geisha hairstyle at all, but it appears to have gotten its roots from the taka shimada (worn by full-fledged geisha) and from the momoware (worn by maiko, or apprentice geisha).  It has a slightly messy bun on the top...
...and the tail of this bun tucks into a twisted strand along the back of the bun like so.
Both sides have tendrils hanging loose, both of which need a little gel to keep them from being so flyaway.
Even if I were able to smooth these tendrils down a bit I don't think it would be worth the effort.  May Lin's hair doesn't feel as coarse as an early Bratzillaz doll's hair, but it's not soft and smooth like the hair of most Bratz dolls of the time.

All geisha wear hair ornaments called kanzashi, but they are particularly copious on the maiko, whose garish makeup and clothes are supposed to do the communication for her.  These come in a number of shapes and forms, and they have a number of meanings.  May Lin doesn't have all the kanzashi a real maiko would have as that would've been a lot more labor-intensive, but she does sport two permanently attached hana kanzashi on either side of the top bun.  The word "hana" means "flower," and thus hana kanzashi always sport flowers of some sort.  May Lin appears to be wearing pink hibiscus.
The right kanzashi (seen above) has three beaded dangles, while the left one has two beads that stick straight up in addition to the dangles.  Hana kanzashi need not always dangle, but younger maiko like May Lin usually have some sort of part that dangles or flutters.  
Usually maiko only wear a single hana kanzashi, located on the left side of the head, but they can also arch across the head or be placed on other parts of the hairstyle.  The right side is reserved for another of my favorite kanzashi, the bira-bira or bira-kan, which makes a pleasant jingling noise when the wearer moves about.  May Lin unfortunately did not come with any bira-bira, but she makes up for it with two separately packaged kanzashi.  This first one is called a "makie" kanzashi and I can't find much information about it.  I do know that these are usually rounded to fit the wearer's head, which mine is not (it's flat).  The painting is impeccable on this, though.  I can see not a single error anywhere.
This other one looks like a hybrid of a hirauchi, which has a round, flat top at the end of one or two prongs, and a miokuri, which is similar to the hirauchi but isn't always round.  Here again the paint job has been done well, though it's not as perfect as the paint on the makie; the centers of the blue flowers are not precisely done, though that wouldn't have been easy anyway.
I'm unsure yet if May Lin can wear these, or even if they were intended to be worn.  I was able to shove the miokuri into her hairstyle just above her forehead, but it looked dumb so I took it out.  If May Lin can't wear these that'll be a mega-bummer, because what's the point of having awesome baubles like that if they can't be worn!  I am pleased that May Lin has kanzashi at all though, since it's not every day a doll comes with such things.  I do have one other doll that wears kanzashi, but it's not on a scale as small as May Lin is.  My yo-SD girl Chloe wears wears a white hana kanzashi when she's in her wa-lolita garb...and it has jingle bells!
Aside from having a few flyaways May Lin's hair is in reasonably good shape.  I can probably smooth some of this back into place, and if absolutely necessary I can probably take the whole shebang down and redo it again, but I hope I don't have to do that.  Hairstyling has never been a strong point of mine; the most elaborate style I ever achieved with myself was fishbone braids.  May Lin isn't LOSING hair though, and that's a good thing.  Maiko do sometimes develop a bald spot during the course of their training due to the constant styling, but in May Lin's case I'm glad this detail was omitted.  Also good is the fact that May Lin predates the travesty that is nylon hair and has soft saran locks.  She also has one thing that none of my Bratz dolls have:  a widow's peak.
May Lin is the only Bratz I own with a hairline like this, and one of only two that I can name with a widow's peak.  The other is one of May Lin's fellow maiko, Tiana.  Kumi sported the full set of bangs commonly found on Bratz (but not on geisha).  Not all geisha have widow's peaks, by the way, but a fair amount of them do.  Also, fun fact and digression:  the geisha in the linked images is the same girl at different stages of her training.  Her name is Mamechiho, and the pictures were taken four years apart.  Just thought I'd throw that out there and show how far she came in those four years.

Now to the iconic Bratz face we go.
For this segment I'll be dragging out some of my older dolls to compare notes with.  May Lin has what I like to call the old-school look, the aesthetic that all Bratz dolls had before the first reboot in 2011.  Her eyebrows are medium brown instead of the black eyebrows that probably would've been more accurate for her ethnicity.  MGA no doubt learned from second-wave Jade that black eyebrows can look very harsh on a doll.  Underneath the eyebrows May Lin has heavily lidded eyes with long eyelashes and brown, nude, and mauve eyeshadow.  The irises are tricolored with a brown rim, a lighter brown interior, and a gray ring around the pupil. 
In addition to the usual light cluster common to all Bratz dolls, May Lin has stars in her eyes.  Overall the eye area is more detailed on May Lin than it is on other Bratz of the era.  Here's a close-up of Jade's eyes for comparison...
...and Sasha's eyes.  This particular Sasha came out after May Lin did, but she still belongs to the time frame before fish lips.
While May Lin's eyes are a little more detailed than those of the average Bratz doll, her lips are a little less detailed.  They lack the shimmery top coating that the vast majority of my old Bratz dolls have.  They're a lovely shade though, glossy salmon pink with a darker rim, plus a narrow band of teeth.
Again, let's compare May Lin's lips to Jade's...
...and to Sasha's.
The lack of shimmer on Bratz lips didn't really become commonplace until the reboot a few years back.  Remember that my Study Abroad Raya had no shimmer, nor did Miss Emily's custom doll Sadie, nor Purple Monkfish's Hello, My Name is Jade.  May Lin's face compliments the saucy but still approachable visages of my oldest dolls, Jade and Meygan...
...and it provides an interesting contrast to Movie Starz Cloe, arguably the most temperamental of my Bratz dolls, and Study Abroad Raya, who lacks lip detail and looks spacey compared to her older compadres.
I think May Lin and Cloe share a head mold; both of them have a tiny indention in their lower lip, something that the closed-mouth Bratz and the Style It! line lack.  In general May Lin has nice face paint that fits the Bratz aesthetic to a T.  It's free of flaws, but it's not authentic to her desire to be a geisha, especially one who is still training.  I'd guess that May Lin is about sixteen years of age, and if so then she probably would still be in the maiko stage of her geisha training.  Maiko usually look like this young lady, with full white face paint and rosebud lips.  But then again, full maiko face paint might have been off-putting for consumers...or it might have provided another route for MGA to make dumb mistakes.  Thus leaving May Lin relatively bare-faced was probably a smart move.  It is also possible that May Lin is a lot older than she looks; a proper geisha NEVER gives her age (LOL) so May Lin might be a full-blown geisha...but then that would render many her clothing details inaccurate.

Ah, clothes!  This is going to be fun!  This color palatte looks familiar, and I happen to remember where I've seen it.  The pale pink/peach sateen has also been used on...what a surprise, an Oriental doll!  Lonnie, my Descendants doll, wears a dress in this color.
For some stupid reason I half-expect these two to throw off their long dresses and start singing "UFO."  Don't worry, they won't be nude under their discarded garments, just as Pink Lady was not.  LOL, now THAT is an obscure reference if I ever heard one!  Poor Pink Lady, big in 1970's Japan, but an obscure footnote in television history here in the U.S., thanks to that stupid Pink Lady and Jeff show.  The only thing good about that show WAS Pink Lady, and they weren't even allowed to sing their Japanese hits most of the time.  Their original material is actually pretty good (linked song is another version of "UFO"), but as usual I digress.  May Lin is not wearing a black and gold flapper dress or a silver bodysuit under her garb, so I won't be showing those things.  Here's what she does have.
Maiko usually wear brightly colored kimono to help establish the fact that they are still in training, and May Lin's kimono is certainly colorful.  At first I had it labeled as a furisode given the wide sleeves (tomesode sleeves are narrow) and the presence of a pattern above the waist (tomesode are usually plain above the waist).  Indeed, I've seen pictures of geisha in both furisode and tomesode (both extremely formal types of kimono), but in this case I turned out to be wrong on both counts.  May Lin is wearing a type of kimono that only maiko and some other stage performers wear, called a hizikuri.  Hizikuri are similar to furisode, but they trail on the ground...which May Lin's kimono is doing.
Regardless of the type, this kimono is wrapped the correct way, with the left side overlapping the right.  Kimono usually fasten shut with internal and external ties, but this one relies on Velcro...not the best choice for an outfit made out of sheer fabric like this.
Remember, kids:  kimono, no matter how formal or informal, are only wrapped right over left when dressing a corpse.  I had to learn this when my ball-jointed dolls started wearing yukata, the most casual kind of kimono.  Moving on, this fabric is satin or sateen or something like that, smooth and soft to the touch but easy to snag on unkempt fingernails.  It looks like it's made of brocade, but the designs are neatly printed on instead of sewn.  Most of the exterior of May Lin's hizikuri is made of dark rose fabric with little huts and cherry blossoms printed in orange and purple.
The lining utilizes the same slinky fabric but is of a completely different color and print.  The background is dandelion yellow with flowers of blue, green, pink, and purple printed on.
May Lin's ginormous sleeves have both fabrics with a band of blue piping dividing the two.  The sleeves go almost to the floor, typical of both furisode and hizikuri, though hizikuri are also made with shorter sleeves.
Now, the obi, which is an integral part of the kimono.
According to one source only girls before the maiko stage (called shikomi) wear chouchou musubi, but I don't know how reliable that source is, nor do I know if maiko can wear that knot or not.  It's a nice obi though, made of the same satin/sateen/whatever-this-fabric-is as the kimono.  The color and the pattern are different, being the same floral-on-yellow as the edges of May Lin's sleeves.  I thought at first that May Lin's obi was sewn to her hizikuri, but that turned out to be an optical illusion, as there is a band of pink fabric below the yellow.

 I'm not sure if May Lin's obi is tied authentically or not, but I do know for a fact that it's not the darari obi that maiko often wear.  Rather, it is tied in an apparent chouchou musubi, or butterfly knot, which is quite pretty and an accurate way to close a kimono...but I don't know if maiko wear this knot or not.  Regardless, this particular maiko does wear a chouchou musubi, though it's not really tied.  Underneath the knot is Velcro.
Velcro...not the best choice of fasteners when sheer material like satin is involved.  If I'd been designing these dolls I would have put in snaps, given the fact that this doll is supposed to be a collector's doll and not a toy...but I wasn't designing this doll so there's that.  I probably should have pointed out that the knot in the back is both accurate and a good thing since knots in the front are typically associated with pre-WWII prostitution.  Nowadays connotations are slightly less negative, but geisha and maiko always wear the knot in the back.  The obijime, on the other hand...well, it turns out that obijime can tie in either the back or the front, so the fact that May Lin wears hers tied in the front is no biggie.
May Lin's obijime is made of blue satin/sateen/whatever-this-fabric-is, and at first I thought it might be a touch too wide to be a proper obijime, but as it turns out they come in narrow and wide varieties.  Furthermore, the images I've found of real maiko show both, so I guess I need to just shut up and move on.  Underneath the obi and the hizikuri is the nagajuban, this yellow bit here.
The nagajuban is actually supposed to be the undergarment worn under the kimono, not a skirt like this, but a full nagajuban in this material would've been VERY bulky underneath the kimono.  So May Lin's nagajuban is simulated with that yellow skirt, and also with this yellow band of fabric at the neck of the hizikuri.

Unlike regular underdrawers it's acceptable for the nagajuban to peep out a little, and since maiko are supposed to be a feast for the eyes it's allowable for them to show their nagajuban a bit more than usual.  Indeed, maiko are allowed brightly colored nagajuban for this very purpose.  The nagajuban always shows a little when a maiko walks anyway, especially if the maiko is wearing her long-skirted hizikuri, which has to be tucked up in order for the maiko to walk.  May Lin's nagajuban or skirt or whatever is an appropriately bright color, but it has no pattern on it to prevent it from clashing with the interior of the hizikuri.  It fastens with...oh goody, more Velcro to catch and snag.  I can think of no better alternative here since a snap would have been very bulky.
May Lin's skirt has a pair of underbritches sewn in; these keep the skirt from riding up too much.
May Lin's shoe-feet are just as interesting as the rest of her outfit, as they are a pair of okobo, the special shoes that only maiko wear.  Okobo have a huge platform and are designed to elevate the maiko so her kimono doesn't drag on the ground.  They're also difficult to walk in, as is the case for many platform shoes.  In addition to her okobo May Lin also appears to be wearing tabi, white socks with a separate big toe that are usually only worn for special occasions.  Geisha and maiko wear tabi more often than non-geisha do, but civilians do wear these as well.
Tabi are unique among socks in that they sometimes button at the cuff (these apparently do not).  As for the shoes, they too tell a story.  Not only is the mere presence of okobo significant, but the colors of May Lin's okobo are significant as well.  The black base is worn strictly during summer for reasons I don't know, and these shoes in particular are painted with flowers.  I don't know if actual okobo ever have flowers painted on the sides, but as with May Lin's comb these flowers were printed with extreme care.
The red straps are also significant, as they mean that May Lin is still pretty new at the maiko thing.  Yellow would signify that she's further along in her training, though still an apprentice.
Actually, now that I look closer I see that these straps are pink, not red.  I don't know if real life okobo straps come in any other colors besides red and yellow, but this shade of pink is close enough to red that I can pretend it's red.  Kumi's okobo straps really are red, while Tiana's straps are purple.  This was done to match the shoes to the clothes the dolls were dressed in, but it annoys me to see yet another inaccuracy perpetrated for the sake of color coordination.

When I got May Lin fully disrobed I was surprised to see that she's wearing a body stocking of sorts.
God only knows what this thing is for, unless it's to keep the stand from scuffing May Lin's waist (she does have a stand, which we will see shortly).  Whatever this stocking is for, it Velcros closed in the back and is tagged with the Bratz insignia.
Early Bratz had a reputation for very well-made (if scanty) clothes, and May Lin's outfit is by far the best I've ever seen.  This fabric should be a minefield for loose ends, but I saw none anywhere.  Most of the details are right, including the presence of a faux nagajuban at the neckline, and the fit is right for the most part.  May Lin's collar even fits loosely, which is accurate for a geisha.
Oh yes, May Lin also wears this black plastic stand.  It's unique among black plastic stands, though at first glance it looks pretty ordinary.  It holds May Lin by the waist...
...but it also has hollows in the base for May Lin's sizeable shoes.  Nice!
May Lin's body is typical of all Bratz bodies before the first redesign, with a bit of an hourglass shape going on.
Posing is the same as well.  May Lin has ball-jointed shoulders that move laterally and back and forth...
...and she has hips that allow full front-to-back movement but no side movement.  Sitting is no trouble for May Lin...
...and splits are a cakewalk as well.
The knees bend, but the motion is mediocre.  They click to three positions but only hold two:  straight and this forty-five degree bend.
Lastly, May Lin's neck can turn and tip, just like most Bratz dolls.
Average doll body.  Not high, not low, gets the job done without falling apart.

Now, accessories.  These geisha Bratz came with a fair amount of accessories, and unfortunately I think May Lin may be missing some of hers.  The mint-in-box dolls have little parasols, but May Lin's is missing.  She has her other items, though...and the way this fan is constructed gives a possible reason for its absence.  It's a pretty fan, made of gold paper with a plastic frame.  The paper has a floral design printed on the front, one that matches the design on the sides of May Lin's okobo.
The fan looks like it should fold, and indeed the plastic frame folds up...but I only know this because the frame came unglued from the paper.  I can reglue this easily, but it makes me wonder if May Lin's parasol fell apart long ago.
May Lin's bag is called a kinchaku, and it's made of the flowered stuff that lines May Lin's hizakuri.  The drawstrings really work.
Both men and women are allowed to carry these, if y'all can believe that.  Yukata are still widely worn during summer, and yukata have no pockets so kinchaku are acceptable accessories for both men and women.  Today these hold small items like cell phones, wallets, money, makeup for the women, Kleenex, and the like.  They can also double as small lunchboxes, carrying bento boxes and eating utensils.  Since May Lin's kinchaku functions like a full-sized one does, I use it to store her kanzashi and her little mirror.  The items fit in there nicely.
Oops, the mirror!  I thought this was a battledore at first, but it's very clearly a mirror.  The back of the mirror is ornately and impeccably painted, just like the kanzashi are.
Lastly, May Lin carries a shamisen, a traditional Japanese instrument that geisha often play.  Again, the front has molded and ornately painted decorations, while the back is plain and hollow.  Notice the three knobs at the top of the instrument; the shamisen usually only has three strings, as opposed to four or six for a guitar.
The presence of this instrument makes me giggle, as my father hated these with a passion.  "I think they're the most ugly-sounding instrument on the planet," he said.  Well...I'll have to admit that the sound is a bit of an acquired taste for Western ears, but to each their own.  The shamisen is apparently a very difficult instrument to play, and that alone makes it worthy of respect.

I keep May Lin in her box when I'm not fooling around with her, so let's take a look at it briefly.  The box is very sturdy, made out of buttery yellow cardboard in the shape of...of...heck, I don't know what this shape is.  The front has the name of the line and some cherry blossoms and butterflies printed on, along with an illustration of May Lin herself.
The sides of the box are also printed (inside and outside) with May Lin's name and image.
And the back...the back is designed like a window!  Something for May Lin to peep through and look cute.
Well, that's quite a bit to mull over, innut?  Time to sum it up!

BAD
*I very rarely list names as a flaw since a doll can be renamed, but if you're overly sensitive to cultural appropriateness beware of this doll.
*NOT FOR KIDS!!!  Most Bratz are/were intended for children, but not this one!
*Hair is very elaborately styled and would be difficult to put back up.  It also doesn't feel very nice to begin with.
*Clothes fasten with Velcro, which could be a potential nightmare for the smooth fabric the kimono is made from.
*Some of the accessories are flimsy.  I'll have to do some minor repairs to that fan.

GOOD
*Vere detailed.  This doll comes from an era where Bratz in general were gussied up with accessories and nicely made clothes, but being a collector doll May Lin took these bits to the extreme.
*Clothes, as I noted above, are well made.  May Lin's kimono is made of better stuff than my other kimono-clad doll, Midori, even though both could be considered collector's items.
*Face is well-painted and has that wonderful Bratz attitude...but not too much of it!
*Accessories, with the exception of the fan, are wonderfully made.  The fan can be easily repaired, so that's not a huge problem.
*Different from the other Bratz.  May Lin stands out in my crowd due to her elaborate traditional outfit, but she's still clearly a Bratz doll.

Most of May Lin's flaws are things that can be remedied or overlooked.  Leave her hair alone, leave her clothes alone, treat her like the collector's doll she's supposed to be, and she'll be fine.  No, the only problem I can think of really...is that name.  I'm by no means a liberal pansy, but...GEISHA DON'T HAVE CHINESE NAMES!!!  THEY DON'T!!!  Even the Chinese women I can name who became geisha had to choose Japanese names.  Hats off to Rinka for stepping up, by the way; honest-to-God geisha are becoming few and far between.  It is entirely possible that May Lin is so early in her training that she has not yet picked out a name for herself.  Indeed, I don't think maiko are allowed to pick a geisha name until a certain stage of their training, but again I could be wrong.  Bottom line, if the name doesn't bother you then this doll would be a great addition to a Bratz collection, particularly if you're one that grows weary of all the skin/vinyl that Bratz show.  May Lin's traditional garb all but covers her, and yet she still makes an appealing doll.  Don't care for May Lin's color scheme?  Kumi or Tiana might fit that bill!

As a last interesting little tidbit, my May Lin apparently isn't the only doll out there with that name.  Once upon a time, Takara Jenny had a friend named...well, it isn't spelled the same way, but the doll's name IS a variation, Mei Len.  Jenny's friend has a bit of an excuse though, as Takara has made friends for Jenny with a wide array of names from a wide array of places, and it would thus make sense that Jenny's friend Mei Len would be Chinese.  Still, my May Lin is not alone in the name department.

Cheers,
RagingMoon1987