Seasons change, clocks turn, and before we knew it, Hobby Hovel is three years old! This past year has born witness to a dizzying amount of changes for me, both within and without the blog. Of course, these changes need to be chewed up, digested and expelled into the cauldron I prepare only once a year. That’s right my lovelies — it’s time for another anniversary post!

(Artist:  にわ子)

Returning from the Dead

When I wrote the second anniversary post, the future of Hobby Hovel seemed uncertain, and for a while it really seemed that way. After the Revoltech T-Rex review, it took us no less than nine months to post another review.

Ashlotte bemoaned of how well-recieved this “no-effort” shot was. It was hilarious.

Thankfully, we got back into reviewing with renewed vigour with a long series of weekly posts. Ashlotte ended up shooting photos for a bunch of reviews he’s written prior, and no matter how much he insists his photos were mediocre, I still think they look great.

I’ve started to use a black glass setup that produces some really nice reflections, and I’ve been trying a number of new things to avoid the same old routine I’ve repeated for so long. Gone are the days when an image being good enough simply by being clear — my current goal is to impress and stand out in a growing figure community full of talented individuals. You can tell by the considerably more aggressive post-processing methods I’ve been using. Whether or not I am successful in impressing people is another story, but I feel the need, which is both encouraging and intimidating at the same time.

I’m currently playing around with out out-of-focus objects as backdrops. In this photo, I used crinkled tin foil.

Asides from the black glass, I’ve had some favourable results with coloured lights. Currently I’m playing with the idea of using out of focus objects in the backdrop for interesting results. Most importantly, I feel like I’m making progress, and that’s what excites me the most going forward.

News-worthy?

I’ve dabbled twice in the world of figure news in the past year — the Double H podcast and writing as an associate editor for Tomopop. For Double H, Ash and I pulled out certain pre-orders that went up over the past week and bounced our opinions against them in audio format, and for Tomopop, my job was post figure news (mostly new pre-orders), which also consists of me giving opinion of figures to varying degrees. Neither of these two ventures took off after the initial novelty wore off, and there are several reasons for this.

The first reason is simply that opinion and news don’t mix. Traditional news writing is not supposed to be loaded with opinion, and when it comes to figure news, I really don’t think it’s even necessary — anyone with a working pair of eyeballs can make up their own opinions about a figure, so why would I (or anyone else) care about what some random bloke thinks of a figure when I am perfectly capable of making up my own mind?

Figure news is not like  figure reviews — in the latter, the reviewer has hands-on access to the subject and is able to provide information and content  that others might not have. But in case of figure news, everyone has access to the same half dozen promo photos, and this inherent problem bugged me more and more as time went on.

Secondly, figures have always been a fun hobby to me, yet when forced to spout off opinions about pre-orders, there is often a lot of negativity. This was natural, given how picky I am with my purchases, and it certainly got amplified when discussing figures with Ashlotte, who is very vocal about what’s wrong with a given figure/figure maker/figure industry. I wasn’t a fan of this; putting a such a negative tone over the hobby just made it seem so needlessly serious. Regardless of how valid the negativity is, at the end of the day we were just complaining about a bunch of plastic tits, and when I put it that way, doesn’t that sound kind of sad?

Of course, the alternative was to fake positivity. I tried to play a bit of good cop to offset Ash’s bad cop in Double H, but I mostly struggled with this in the Tomopop posts. I don’t always get to write about the figures that I want to, and trying to muster up positivity (or even just enthusiasm) for some mediocre Griffon figure or the umpteenth Nanoha figure is hard. When I read the old reviews I’ve written, I usually do so with a smile on my face, but some of these news posts make me cringe.

Ultimately, I think the best way to go to present figure news outside of the barebones approach would be to use a humorous and light-hearted tone. This is also something I’ve attempted to do. The problem was that it made the task substantially more difficult and time consuming because humour doesn’t come naturally for me, and when you’re spending two hours to churn out a pre-order post for Tomopop, you know something’s not right.

By now, you probably think Tomopop and Double H have been horrible experience for me, but that’s not true. Of anything in the past three years, Double H probably got the most excitement out me of. Driven partly by illusions of grandeur, trying to become internet personalities with Ashlotte was not only new and refreshing, but also really fun in the early stages. The same could be said for Tomopop — I enjoyed being a part of something that was much bigger than myself. I was proud to say that I work for Tomopop, even though most of my close friends are not fans of the site. And let’s not forget that my Tony Luka figure is a review sample provided by HobbyLink Japan through Tomopop, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed shooting and reviewing that figure.

Does this mean the end of the road between me and Tomopop? Not necessarily — though I doubt I’ll be doing much in the way of figure news in the future, there might potentially be something new I’ll be working on. I don’t want to spoil it since the idea is still in its infancy, should it ever see the light of day, I’ll be sure to let you know here.

Life Outside

PARTICLE EFFECTS: THE GAME

2012 has been the year of MMOs for Ash and I. Starting off with Star Wars: the Old Republic back in December, we’ve rolled through TERA Online and Guild Wars 2. In retrospect, the most fun I’ve had with was in TERA when we teamed up with the Otagamers and Plastic Parfait crews and cleared quests and dungeons together — at least until most of us go bored of the game. Overall, I feel that SWTOR was the most enjoyable out of the three, if only because how much personality and immersion the extensive voice-acting gave to the game.

As I mentioned in the room post, I’ve also moved out of my parents’ place. Life has been good as the flat continues to take shape, now with a 46” TV on the way. Between work, chores and other interests, I don’t have as much time for figure or even weeaboo hobbies in general — hell, I’m not even up to date with what’s being released sometimes. However, now that I’m more interested in photographing  figures, it kinda balances out. I still might not post as often as before since I’ve becoming more demanding of myself, but that also translates to less plain black backdrop sets in the future and more experimentation.

The Status Quo

Traffic to the blog has risen over the past year. Unique visitors per month averaged at 4,530 per month, peaking at 6,497 in August, up from 2,539 in the second year. Page views have also risen from 9,275 to 12,754 per month, also peaking in August at 17,519. This came as a great surprise to me, since participation on the blog has fallen noticeably. There are less comments on reviews and there also hasn’t been a lot of new faces on Twitter.

Unsurprisingly, the most-viewed pages have been the gunpla reviews. This is because Gundam models are rarely discontinued, thus reviews for these products remain relevant. I do find the fact that the top coat tutorial has overtaken the home page in terms of views hilarious.

As for the dip in active readership, I can speculate about the cause all day. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been venturing outside my small circle of blogging friends (with whom I chat with every day on Skype), thus limiting my participation in an already small community. Maybe it’s a result of MFC’s growth and the shift of the figure community from self-run blogs to a hub-site like MFC. Maybe it’s because we stopped posting reviews for nine bloody months. Hell, maybe people left after being repeatedly subjected to the sound of my voice in the Double H podcasts — who knows?

Though I occasionally dwell on this subject, my game plan remains unchanged. I’ll continue to make contents that I enjoy making and I think my readers would enjoy, be it the usual reviews, or new things like videos and whatever else that comes to my mind. The most satisfying way to elicit a response is through the merit of the post itself, and to that end I want to improve further, especially as a photographer.

Ashlotte has had some tough luck over the past year. He’s been out of a job for a while, and he’s been selling a lot of his figures, partly to give himself more financial breathing room and partly to prune his large collection. Given the circumstances, it’s natural that he hasn’t been as active on the review front as before, but I was glad to see him finding new interest in his visual novel recommendation posts, which have been very well-received. Being thousands of miles away, there’s not much I can do for Ash, but I hope his luck turns for the better in the coming year.

Acknowledgements

As always, I’d like to thank the readers for continuing to follow our misadventures, even when we lapse into periods of inactivity.

I’d like to thank Luth, Zai, Miette-chan, Exilehero, and Aka for being great pals and a goldmine of advice, figure-related or otherwise.

I’d like to thank Hamstercorp for being a great guest and a great host. It might have only been two long weekends, but your visit to Toronto and our trip to Otakon have made this summer truly memorable.

I’d like to thank Ashlotte for being a good friend and my harshest critic. Without your blunt but fair criticisms, I bet I would still be shooting everything in front of plain backdrops. Having you as my partner-in-crime has driven me to try harder at photography, if only to avoid being completely outdone by Hobby Hovel’s grumpier half.

I’d also like to extend a special thanks to Wara Zashi on Google+, who has repeatedly recommended our posts to the figure community he’s been fostering on Google+. His #figurefriday events have been great fun and a great alternative to the photoshop comic-loving crowd of MFC. At first I joined Google+ solely as another way to whore out the blog, but lately I’ve been enjoying sharing for sharing’s sake, not bothering with linking back to the blog, and I think that’s very important. If you use Google+ or is thinking of joining, be sure to add him give #figurefriday a whirl.

Annnd that’s it for this annual excessively long reflection. +1 internet cookie to you if you actually sat through all that. If you cheated and skimped…well, a cookie to you anyway for being here!