The modern BJD market began with Volks line of Super Dollfie in 1999. Super Dollfie, or just Dollfie, are sometimes erroneously used as generic blanket terms to refer to all Asian BJDs regardless of manufacturer. But Super Dollfie is a registered trademark for Volks line of BJD, and Dollfie is the trademarked name of their line of Barbie sized 1/6 scale vinyl dolls, which are not proper ball-jointed dolls at all.
European and Egyptian articulated dolls made of wood and other materials date back hundreds of years. The modern era ball-jointed doll history began in Western Europe, particularly France and Germany, in the late 1800s. From the late 1800s and to the early 1900s French and German manufacturers made ball-jointed dolls with bisque heads and strung bodies made of composition, a mix of pulp, sawdust, glue and similar materials. These dolls were sized between about 20 and 40 inches., and they are now collectible antiques.
During the 1930s the German artist Hans Bellmer created dolls with ball-joints and used them in photography and other surrealistic artwork. Bellmer introduced the idea of artful doll photography, which continues today with Japanese doll artists, as well as the BJD fandom.
Influenced by Bellmer and the rich Japanese doll tradition, Japanese artists began creating strung ball-jointed dolls. These are commonly made entirely of bisque and often very tall, sometimes as tall as four feet. These dolls are art, and not intended for play or even the hobby level of collecting usually associated with dolls. They cost several thousand dollars, up to several hundred thousand dollars for older collectible dolls from famous artists. The art doll community is still very active in Japan, and doll artists regularly release artbooks with photographs of their dolls.
The history of commercially produced Asian resin BJD began in 1999 when the Japanese company Volks created the Super Dollfie line of dolls. The first Super Dollfie were 57 cm tall, strung with elastic, ball-jointed, and made of polyurethane resin, similar to garage kits, which were Volks main product at the time. Super Dollfie were made to be highly customizable, and to create a female market for garage kits. Around 2003, South Korean companies started creating and producing BJDs. Customhouse and Cerberus Project were among the first Korean BJDs to be marketed internationally. In 2005-2006, beginning with Dollzone, Chinese BJD companies started creating BJDs and selling them on the international market.
BJDs have a strong influence from the anime esthetic. Prominent BJD companies, Volks with Super Dollfie, Cerberus Project with the Delf line, as well as the Japanese artist Gentaro Araki with the U-noa line, all have backgrounds in anime style resin figure kits.
Modern Asian BJDs are fully articulated and highly poseable. Most have ball and socket joints in the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles. Some are double jointed, with two joints at elbows and knees for example, and some also have one or two joints in the torso, and more rarely even in individual fingers. Body elements are held together with one or more thick elastic cords that attach to hands, feet and head, creating tension and friction between the parts.
BJDs have comparatively large feet, contrasted with fashion dolls like Barbie, and a lot of BJDs are capable of standing on their own, without a stand or other support. While BJDs follow a distinctly Asian view in their aesthetics, the designs are diverse and range from highly anime-inspired to hyper-realistic.
Ball-jointed dolls are initially modeled in a substance such as clay. When the sculptor is satisfied with the result, the hardened clay body parts are used to form molds for multiple parts to be cast in synthetic polyurethane resin. Cured resin has a hard, smooth, porcelain-like feel, but is much more durable. Unlike porcelain however, polyurethane tends to turn yellow and decay over time depending on exposure to UV light and heat.
BJDs have more or less prominent seams along the body parts and sometimes other traces from the casting process. Some choose to sand the seams down, and some companies do this for the customer.
BJDs are readily customizable. Wigs and eyes are easy to remove and replace, as well as heads, hands, and feet. A doll may even be a hybrid of parts from different companies. Some BJD owners or customizers even re-shape existing parts by sanding them or applying epoxy putty to them.
The resin material is easier to paint than the softer and more slick vinyl often used for other types of dolls. BJD face paint is usually referred to as a faceup, to note that it's not just make-up, but all the facial features that are painted and customized, including eyebrows, lips and blushing to enhance features. Some BJDs are delivered without a faceup, leaving it entirely up to the owner or a customizer to paint the doll.
Faceups and body blushing are usually done with with acrylic paint (applied with a regular brush or an airbrush) or soft pastels, which are coated with a sprayed-on layer of clear matte sealant to protect it from smudges or ultraviolet damage. BJD faceups, even from large companies, are always painted by hand, and it takes considerable skill to do professional level faceups.
BJDs are sold as anything from complete full sets to kits. Most Korean companies sell BJDs assembled but it is up to the buyer if they want the company to apply a faceup before delivery.
Full set BJDs are often, but not always, limited and come fully assembled, painted and with clothes. Unlike many other collectible dolls though, the wig and clothes are usually included separately. Owners of even limited full set BJDs often use a different wig than the default, and different clothes than those included.
A few companies sell BJDs as kits, which are just the bare parts, similar to a garage kit. Sometimes a wig or eyes are included, but neither is attached to the doll, which have to be strung together, painted and dressed to complete it.
BJDs can also be bought in parts. Some companies sell heads and bodies or other parts separately, and separate heads and bodies are often available on the second hand market. A few BJD creators sell just heads, in size and skin color to fit with doll bodies from other companies.
Some BJDs are collectible, and limited editions, or skillfully customized dolls can fetch prices much higher than the original in the second hand market, sometimes as much as US $5000.
While some BJDs are collectible, the customization and personalization aspects are usually more emphasized in the BJD world. Even collectible limited-edition BJDs are played with and used as props in photoshoots, and even dolls that are no longer in mint condition can command high prices in the second hand market.
BJDs are usually named by their owner, and sometimes assigned individual characteristics and personality traits. The dolls are often used as subjects of artistic work, such as photography or drawing. Some use their dolls and characters for roleplaying.
There is a sizeable international fandom community dedicated to BJDs. The largest English BJD forum has over 17,000 members as of June 2008. Drawings, photos and photo stories are shared in the online fandom forums. Fans also organize offline BJD meetups and conventions, like BJDC in Austin, Texas and Dollectable in San Francisco.
Doll manufacturers sometimes base BJD on popular characters in anime or manga. Owners can achieve a similar effect through customization, creating one-off representations of these characters, or those from books or movies.
The Delf line, and some other BJDs have elf ears and there's some overlap with the fantasy and elf fandom.
There are also some BJDs with visible vampire fangs.
Many BJD owners use their male dolls to stage yaoi style photoshoots.
Doll Master is a Korean horror movie that sets dolls as theme.
The main characters in the manga and anime Rozen Maiden are all BJD-like living dolls.
The virtual band Mistula is composed of customized BJDs, Super Dollfie and Delf dolls.
BJDs have been produced in many different types and sizes as the market has expanded. There are roughly three main size categories for BJDs, full SD size, mini and tiny. Compare with Super Dollfie Models.
Fullsize BJD generally begin at US $500 but can easily reach more than US $1,000 for limited-edition dolls.
Typical full size BJD examples:
There is also a range of slightly larger full size BJD, from 68-80cm tall.
Minis are sometimes referred to as 1/4 scale, but accurately there are two major categories of minis, those that are roughly in the same 1/3 scale as full size dolls and are meant to look like children in scale to larger dolls, and the mature minis which are meant to represent fully grown adults and are closer to the 1/4 scale.
Typical examples of child-like minis:
Typical examples of mature minis:
Any BJD under roughly 30cm tall is referred to as a tiny. These are available in many different types and scales. Tinies are usually in the area between US $100-300.
Some tiny BJD are made look like toddlers or babies next to full size dolls, these are about 25 cm (10 in) tall.
There are also even smaller childlike dolls, tiny tinies, these are usually not made to be in scale with any larger BJDs. These tinies are more often than other BJDs housed in a dollhouse, and some are in scale to the standard dollhouse sizes.
There are also tiny BJDs with mature bodies, which are in the same 1/6 scale as Barbie and other fashion dolls, about 21-30 cm tall. They can share clothes and accessories with fashion dolls.
Humanoid anthro animal BJDs are usually in the tiny size scale.
There are also some ball-jointed animal dolls that are not humanoid, but stand on all four, and in scale as pets for larger sized dolls.
Dollzone was the first Chinese company to release their own original sculpts in high quality polyurethane resin, in late 2005/early 2006.
Chinese BJD are cheaper than their Japanese and Korean counterparts, with mini size dolls prices starting at around US $200 and fullsize dolls starting at around US $300-$400.
There are resin ball-jointed fashion dolls like the Sybarite. They differ from the typical Asian BJD in several ways. Their main influence is from the collectible American 16 inch vinyl fashion dolls, like Gene Marshall by Ashton-Drake Galleries and Tyler Wentworth by Tonner. Ball-jointed fashion dolls are usually around 16 inches tall, closer to 1/4 scale than the typical 1/3 scale of Asian BJDs. They have more realistic proportions, smaller heads and eyes, and less child-like, more distinctive facial features.
There are several types of larger 60cm vinyl dolls in Japan. These are in the same scale as fullsize BJD and with similar proportions. Their facial features tend to be more highly stylized after anime and less realistic than the typical resin BJDs.
The two most common types are Dollfie Dream (ドルフィー・ドリーム) (from Volks) and Obitsu (オビツボディ). Some of these dollls are occasionally loosely classified as BJD. The first Dollfie Dream body type was strung and had classic ball and socket joints, but the current body has an internal skeleton of hard plastic, as does the Obitsu dolls.
Vinyl dolls are easier to manufacture, machine-made and injection-molded in soft vinyl, and thus lighter and often less expensive than their hand-cast resin counterparts. These vinyl bodies can, sometimes with some modifications, be combined with a resin BJD head.
Paper Moon dolls are five feet tall life-size dolls cast in resin. They have pronounced anime features, and have specially constructed joints that are superficially similar in appearance to ball and socket joints. But due to the inherent difficultiy in stringing such a large doll with elastic, internally the joints are hinged. Unlike many other lifesize dolls, Paper Moon dolls are not sex dolls.