It's that time of year again, folks! Twinkling lights are casting their glow from houses lining the streets and the Muzak version of Happy Xmas (War Is Over) is echoing through tinny speakers as I walk the aisles of Kmart. (Oh irony, you're a beautiful and tragic thing.) Christmas is nearly here, signaling not just a grumpy John (what can I say, I'm a bit of a Scrooge), but also that 2013 has almost come to an end. But it's not all gloom and doom here at Voicething. Christmas time also marks the season of countdowns, and 'round here that means I get to take a look back at a full twelve months of doll releases, judging every single doll Mattel put out, then ranking them. (Judging and ranking are two of my favorite things to do!)
This has been an interesting year for Monster High. This time last year we were wallowing in the glory that was Scaris: City of Frights and Picture Day. Well, maybe you weren't but I certainly was. From that vantage point 2013 looked boundless in possibilities; Mattel was at a creative high point and the year hadn't even officially begun. Now that the dust has settled, my feelings on MH 2013 are a little more measured. The mid-year releases seemed to sag a little creatively, especially 13 Wishes, which for me was a mixed bag at best. But most damning was Mattel's quality control standards. By mid-year they had dropped precipitously, with wonk eye at an all-time high and thin or improper hair rooting becoming more and more of a problem. Compounding things was the fact that characters whose dolls used to be "old standbys" in regards to consistent quality saw serious problems with oddly shaped eyes that went beyond wonk eye. Although no character was off limits, Cleo, Frankie, and Ghoulia seemed the hardest hit by this epidemic. Interesting indeed.
Before you go accusing me of being too negative, I have to point out that I had a really hard time compiling this year's list. Mattel released more MH dolls than ever before in 2013, and despite the mid-year lag I still had some tough choices to make in regards to what I felt were the best dolls. Some of the cuts I had to make were truly painful. (Sorry Bloodgood, you're a really cool doll but you just aren't top ten material.) The same rules as last year were applied for this year's list. Only dolls scheduled for 2013 release were considered. This means lines that we already have on shelves like Frights Camera Action! and New Scaremester aren't eligible -- they'll be on next year's list. Also, even though I've come around to appreciating the MH male dolls, they still weren't considered. Truth be told, Heath would've been the only one who had a chance, and he still wouldn't have made the list anyway. Just like last year I've included my additional 11-20 dolls, but this year I decided to officially rank them. Let's get started!
20. Clawdeen Wolf -- Skultimate Roller Maze
19. Rochelle Goyle -- Dance Class
18. Operetta -- Picture Day
17. Spectra Vondergeist -- Ghouls Night Out
16. Frankie Stein as Voltageous -- Power Ghouls
15. Operetta -- Diener Playset
14. Frankie Stein -- Scaris: City of Frights
13. Catrine DeMew -- Scaris: City of Frights
12. Clawdeen Wolf -- I Love Fashion
11. Abbey Bominable -- Picture Day
10. Spectra Vondergeist -- 13 Wishes/Party Lounge Playset
2013 was a great year for Spectra. She saw more doll releases than ever, and even got a bedroom playset. For me the best of this year's bunch was this doll (whom I've affectionately dubbed DJ Spectra), a rather simplistic take on the character compared to her other releases. For starters, she has the "old" facemold, which will always trump the new one no matter what accoutrements a doll comes with. That said, her wavy, middle-parted hair is a huge plus. Combined with her Bollywood-style top it gives her a strong retro vibe. Better still is the sleek minidress she wears underneath. On another note, I'm noticing more and more that when it comes to MH, I don't care all that much about character placement and canon compared to other fans. Many cried afoul that Spectra was included with this music themed playset instead of a specifically music themed character like Holt or Operetta. Me? Eh, whatever. They could've included Cupid or Bloodgood or whatever random character with this playset for all I care. If I like a doll I'm getting it and if I don't I'm not. It's really all about the quality of the actual dolls more than what fits "canon" for me.
9. Catty Noir
Released as a special Friday the 13th offshoot of the Ghouls Night Out line, Catty is pretty much her own thing. She makes for an interesting contrast with the typical "deluxe" Draculaura doll, seeing as she's just as loaded down with sparkles and glitter and pink. But while deluxe Ula dolls never work for me, Catty left me stunned. Perhaps it's her "unlucky thirteen" theme giving her an edge, or maybe I just prefer my sparkly pink to come with a knowing wink. Whatever the case, Catty makes this costume-y look work. Her wild eyes and jet black skin tone combine with her gaudy outfit to give her a boldness that quite literally shines. Her hair texture isn't perfect but it's extra-long and thick and fun to play with so I'm down. She's loaded with personality and, in my opinion, exemplifies what a pink-laden modern playline doll should be.
8. Lagoona Blue -- 13 Wishes
For as many things as Mattel gets wrong with MH I really do think they're pretty self-aware. Or they at least occasionally do actually listen to fans. Too often Lagoona's dolls are called samey, and while I love her to death, I don't disagree. Maybe those accusations are what lead to this doll. She's easily the most unique Lagoona doll they've made. Her loud colors mean the fan base is pretty split on this one -- you either love her or hate her. Clearly I fall on the side of love; in fact, this is my favorite doll from the entire line. (Sorry, Twyla and Gigi.)
7. Cleo DeNile -- Scaris: City of Frights
2013 was a rough year for Cleo fans. Well, it was for this Cleo fan, anyway. Truth be told, with the exception of Scaris, every Cleo doll this year disappointed me in one way or another. For the most part it was the weird change in the shape of her eyes that left me cold. Luckily they nailed it with the Scaris doll. Simple but stylish outfit, great hair, and a bright faceup all contribute to making this doll one of the year's best. But ultimately there's just something intangibly "right" about this doll. She's captivated me since I got her early in the year, and I don't see that going away anytime soon. In a sea of "Cleo disappointment" she was a shining beacon; hopefully this is the doll Mattel looks to as they continue future designs for this character.
6. Toralei Stripe as Cat Tastrophe -- Power Ghouls
Last year I broke my own rule, including Toralei's basic doll in my top ten even though she was technically a 2011 doll. I even placed her at number two on the list. Clearly I love me some Toralei! It took a while but we finally got a proper second doll (I don't count the 3-pack one), and she doesn't disappoint. Being part of the Power Ghouls line puts her at a great advantage considering it's one of the best lines we've ever gotten for MH. She comes in a beautifully designed box and includes a comic book, and thanks to the superhero setup her natural villainy is amplified. What's not to love? Her retro bodysuit and 60's 'do fit her like a glove both literally and figuratively, and if you can find one with good eyes, you've got what is basically a perfect doll on your hands. What a wonderful world it would be if every MH doll was this creatively designed.
5. Rochelle Goyle -- Swim 2013
Hmm, I seem to be picking up on some subtle consternation coming from you. Yes, I know this time last year I was all but throwing daily celebrations in honor of Rochelle's Scaris doll, who's not to be seen anywhere on this list. And yes, I know this doll is ridiculously basic, even for a swim line. In regards to the first point, what can I say, I changed my mind. And to the second point -- do I even have to say it? (Less is more and blah blah blah shut up, John!) While Swim Rochelle's outfit and extras may be simple they're also exceedingly cute (especially those sunglasses). Her faceup barely deviates from her signature doll's face at all. (It's a near carbon copy, actually.) The real strength of this doll, the one thing that landed her on this list really, is that hairstyle. It's just so perfect for this character: stylish and chic, without being fussy or requiring a lot of upkeep. It feels completely natural on her; it's pure "Rochelle". I actually like that her faceup is so similar to the basic doll's because now I can put Swim Rochelle in the basic outfit and safely consider her a worthy replacement for that doll. This is my favorite version of a character that I adore. In my heart, this is signature Rochelle.
4. Skelita Calaveras -- Scaris: City of Frights
Skelita is unarguably one of the best dolls Mattel has ever created. Her unique skeletal structure is a marvel. But beyond that, what I love about Skelita is the personality that radiates from that beautiful face of hers. She's funny, cute, and awkward all at the same time. It's very endearing. Her Mexican heritage was cleverly incorporated into her design, further emphasizing her ties to one of MH's best lines to date. As I said in my review of this doll, Skelita is what we get when Mattel is firing on all cylinders.
3. Scarah Screams -- I Love Fashion
We knew this doll would be a winner the moment we learned she was part of the I Love Fashion line. What with it's emphasis on great clothes and uniquely designed dolls, it's become a favorite among MH fanatics. Scarah has a couple more things working in her favor, as well. First, she's a mod girl so her clothes were destined to be great. (Good Lord, that midi coat is still blowing my mind!) Second, thanks to her hollow banshee eyes, she's one of the creepiest MH dolls yet. As far as general eeriness goes she gives Spectra a run for her money. Scarah is simply a great character; she's retro and weird and creepy, and thereby intrinsically cool. She's pure MH and I'm eagerly looking forward to more dolls of her.
2. Clawdeen Wolf -- Scaris: City of Frights
From the very beginning, Clawdeen has been pitched as the fashionista of Monster High. But too often her supposed stylishness has come across as more loud than fashionable. Not so here. Scaris Clawdeen is chic and sexy, with an emphasis put on lux textures and rich colors. Her faceup best carries the intensity of the silver eyeshadow we saw on all the Scaris dolls. And while her hair texture wasn't the best, over time it has relaxed into a wonderful mild wave that perfectly frames her face, accentuating those striking eyes. Over the years we've seen a plethora of Clawdeen dolls, and I love a lot of them, but this one is by far my favorite. Period.
1. Jinafire Long -- Scaris: City of Frights
We continue to number one with yet another Scaris doll. (Um, surprise?) The simple fact of the matter is that Scaris stands alongside School's Out as my all-time favorite MH line. And with Jinafire being my favorite doll of one of my favorite lines, it's hardly surprising she's number one, is it? I feel she deserves it. Jina joins Skelita as one of Mattel's most creatively designed dolls, a true high point for the entire line. It doesn't hurt that she's absolutely gorgeous, with fierce, dragon eyes, an elaborate headpiece that holds wonderfully textured hair, and a beautiful dress that reads as formal without feeling costume-y in the least. Her elaborate setup within the Scaris storyline doesn't hurt, nor do her glowing skin and dragon-inspired body mods. Basically, Jinafire is a collector's doll pretending to be playline. I don't know that Mattel will ever outdo this doll in terms of pure creativity, beauty, and uniqueness. She's the whole package, and it was delivered perfectly.