The term "dollfie" is a contraction of the words "doll" and "figure". The original Dollfie dolls are Barbie sized vinyl figures, and the term Super Dollfie was introduced to distinguish the larger resin dolls.
Super Dollfie dolls are made to be easy to customize. The hair is a wig that can easily be changed. The head can be opened to change the eyes and adjust the stringing. The face paint can be removed and the head repainted. Optional hands and feet are available, and heads and other body parts are removable and interchangeable. The resin parts themselves can be carved or sanded to reshape them.
Super Dollfie are not widely distributed, and, with a few exceptions, new dolls are only available directly through Volks own events or stores, either online, or through their brick and mortar stores called Tenshi no Sumika (angel's nest), located throughout Japan , in South Korea and Los Angeles, California.
Super Dollfie are collectible, customizable dolls marketed to adults. They vary in price from about 30 000 yen (about US $300) for the smallest, unassembled standard models, up to about 150 000 yen (about US $1400) for the most exclusive larger limited dolls that come with outfits and accessories.
On the secondary market, limited and skillfully customized Super Dollfie often fetch a price far higher than the original. There is a thriving second hand market online, where dolls are bought and sold on auction sites, as well as fandom forums.
New models are regularly released at Dolls Party, or Dolpa, promotional convention-like events organized by Volks several times a year in locations around Japan. Here fans can buy and sell limited and customized dolls, accessories and clothes. Dolpas have grown in scale over the years and the Dolls Party held at Tokyo Big Sight regularly has 15 000 attendees.
Tenshi no Sato (angel's home) in Kyoto is Volks headquarters and Super Dollfie museum. Here exclusive doll models are sold, and events are held where special limited editions are released. Doll repair services are also available and classes are held teaching various customization methods. Tenshi no Sato is surrounded by a traditional Japanese garden where visitors can photograph their dolls. To gain entrance visitors have to book reservations in advance.
The introduction of Super Dollfie has led to the creation of an increasing number of other Asian ball-jointed doll companies, most of them based in South Korea. The number of companies has grown rapidly since 2003.
The first Super Dollfie was designed in 1999 by the sculptor Akihiro Enku. Enku sculpted a one-off doll for his wife, 57 cm tall, in what would become the Super Dollfie size and style. An executive director at Volks noticed the doll and wondered if they would be made in larger numbers.
The first Super Dollfie release was four different models, Kira, Nana, Sara and Megu, which all shared the same head mold, the standard SD Four Sisters head.
At this time Volks was a producer of resin figure kits, and the early Super Dollfie were made and sold similarly to resin kits, in very small quantities (almost build to order), and in parts, for the customer to assemble. Volks has stated that they were trying to create a female market for resin kits, which were male dominated up to that point.
The first generation SD bodies were highly detailed, but had some difficulty remaining standing, and their ball joints were very prominent.
All Super Dollfie dolls were female, until 2001 when the first boy doll, Licht, was released. The first release was a limited run of only 50 dolls, but sales were so successful that the doll was rereleased two times, and many other male dolls followed.
In 2003, Volks released a new 'skin type' (resin mixture) of the dolls called "Pure Skin". Pure skin has a less plastic and more skin-like, translucent look and feel. The Super Dollfie body was improved with better poseability and less conspicuous ball joints. During the change, Volks gradually phased out production of "old skin" dolls in favor of pure skin.
Old skin body parts were available separately, so buyers could easily get pieces and assemble their own custom doll. After the change to pure skin, only certain hands and feet are available to buy as optional parts, and only a few pure skin head molds and body types are readily available as completed standard models. The majority of Super Dollfie models are now only available as limited editions, already assembled, painted, and fully clothed.
Volks USA has been holding Dolpa events in New York City every summer since 2006.
In 2008 Japan Today reported that Volks annual sales were $50 million and that they have about 30 shops worldwide.
There is a sizeable fandom community dedicated to Super Dollfie and other ball-jointed dolls. The largest English BJD forum has over 17 000 members as of June 2008.
Members of the fandom customize their dolls and share photos and photo stories online. The dolls are usually named by their owner, and sometimes assigned individual characteristics and personality traits. In the West, fans organize offline doll meetups and conventions, which include other BJDs along with Super Dollfie. In Japan, Volks hold Dolpa conventions and Tenshi no Sumika store meetups. These are exclusively Super Dollfie events, and other BJD brands are not allowed.
Volks hava a history of collaborating with Lolita fashion designers going back to 2002, when they released limited edition Super Dollfie with clothes designed by Baby, The Stars Shine Bright, Black Peace Now and Atelier-Pierrot.
The character Momoko from the Lolita fashion themed movie Kamikaze Girls was released as a limited Super Dollfie, wearing a Baby, The Stars Shine Bright outfit, coinciding with the release of the movie in Japan in 2004..
Baby, The Stars Shine Bright have created several other Super Dollfie outfits as well. Some sold separately, some with limited edition dolls. They have also made matching human and doll sized outfits, like the outfits worn by the limited edition Toppi and Luna released in early 2007.
The Gothic Lolita fashion designer H. Naoto created an exclusive outfit for a limited Super Dollfie in 2006, and have since created several other Super Dollfie outfits.
Super Dollfie are heavily influenced by the anime style, but they also have some direct ties with anime and manga.
A fashion shoot with Super Dollfie was featured in the November 2007 issue of Vogue Nippon.
The virtual band Mistula is composed of customized ball-jointed dolls, several of which are Super Dollfie.
The 2006 Kawaii episode of the British TV series Japanorama featured a segment on Super Dollfie.
Super Dollfie, or SD, was the first model, introduced in 1999. The current pure skin models are about 55 cm tall, while the original version was slightly taller at 57 cm. Sometimes referred to as Super Dollfie 10 or SD10 to specifically refer to the size versus the whole line of dolls.
Super Dollfie 13, or SD13, are more mature and slightly taller than the plain Super Dollfie, SD13 boys are 60cm, and girls 57 cm. When they were released in December 2001 they were an improvement on the original SD body, with less prominent ball joints.
Mini Super Dollfie, or MSD, are more child-like and shorter, about 42cm tall. They were introduced in September 2001
The standard names SD, SD13 and MSD, or just "mini", are sometimes used to describe the size of BJDs from other companies as well.
Yo-SD, from the Japanese , are only available as limited editions, but they have been released several times. Younger looking than MSD, they are 26.5 cm tall, and were first released in 2004.
In addition to these models, there are also the limited edition SD16 and SD17, which are more mature than SD13 and about 65 cm tall, and SDCute, which are about as tall as MSD, but more mature. The regular SD versions are anatomically correct, but there are also limited genderless Tenshi, or angel, editions. Sei-Tenshi and Rei-Tenshi are smaller than Yo-SD and not for sale, but only given out at promotional events.
Super Dollfie buyers can also create a customized doll with the Full Choice System, or FCS. Through FCS, the buyer selects from various options including body type, head mold, eye color, wig style, and cosmetics style, and the doll is then assembled by Volks.
Different FCS head molds are distinguished by numbers, not names like the pre-assembled models, with for example F-16 being a popular mold.
FCS is not available online, but only through Volks physical Tenshi no Sumika stores or through Tenshi no Sato, where the FCS service has additional options.