When I got hired at Action Figure Fury, I made a list of fifty possible names for my column. “A Call to Action (Figures)” was one, but not my first pick. I still think “Points of Articulation” is a better name, but when I googled it, I found that a toy podcast had already claimed the name. You can check them out here.
What makes “Points of Articulation” such a great name is that outside of action figures it means something to talk about, and it also refers to any part of an action figure that’s meant to move, joints. They allow for action figures to be posed, separating them from statues, models, and sculptures. They’re one of the five parts of an action figure we judge in our reviews.
While packaging, accessories, and paint are all individual categories, points of articulation and sculpt often compete with each other. Every point of articulation takes away from the amount of detail that can go into the sculpt in that spot, and sculpts can block a point of articulation from being functional.
The question is, then, how does a figure strike a balance between having enough points of articulation to be fun to play with/poseable while still looking good?
The fewest points of articulation I have on any of my figures are on my Diamond Select Dracula and my McFarlane Pinheads. They have great sculpts, but respectively two and four points of articulation, oddly with everyone being in the figure’s arms.
What gets me to cut them a little slack is being mostly still works for those characters. Dracula as played by Christopher Lee and Pinhead as played by Doug Bradley (no relation, but I wish) both rarely move. They loom over scenes, letting others react to them. Fewer than five points of articulation isn’t great, but is still more than statues have. (Nothing against statues, which are awesome but aren’t action figures.)
There are also figures that only could have two or three points of articulation. Outside of R2-D2’s legs and maybe his head, what would you add?
Five is the classic, carried over from the classic Kenner Star Wars figures. They established the action figure world we’re living in today. The five points of articulation isn’t ideal for posing figures, because typically elbows and knees are required for action shots.
That being sad, these figures are still a classic, and can be a lot of fun, especially when they’re styilized. Look at Funko’s Reaction Figures, and so many classic 90s figures.
They work, not because they’re the most flexible figures, but because they execute well and are made in such a way that it doesn’t matter how they’re posed. They’re sexy and they know it.
Then we get to the super articulated figures (eight points of articulation and higher). These are unquestionably the most poseable action figures, but the low-end ones run into two serious problems. The first is the chest joints. They’re necessary to be able to shift a figure’s weight so they can stand straight, but they’re an eyesore.
The other is that each point of articulation that gets added, the more fragile the figure becomes. It’s true for figures of all sizes (have you ever broken a figure anywhere other than at the joint?), but the smaller the figure the more extreme it becomes.
Higher-end figures avoid these problems by using sturdier materials and spending more time and money on design and production. Sometimes you get what you pay for.
The important thing in all action figure manufacturing is finding the points of articulation to sculpt balance that works for the figure you’re making. There’s no magic number that’s better. Points of articulation are massively important, but no facet of any action figure can outweight all of the others.
How many points of articulation do you think a figure should have? Did I get it right with my non-stance? Let me know in the comments!
A Call to Action (Figures) is a monthly column published in the middle of the month, chronicling my rants and raves about all things action figure. In two weeks I’ll be back with a spooky Halloween special!