Dakimakura Unboxing: Hanako Ikezawa by Shadowgrave

A pre-intro preview of this post’s product (click to view full-size).

Back in 2020, I purchased my first dakimakura cover, which featured Nishikino Maki from Love Live! School Idol Project. I went through quite a bit of work to obtain that one, which I detailed in a previous blog post.

I enjoyed the decoration of that cover for well over a year, but while I did use the Maki cover itself for weeks at a time, I ended up spending various months with the solid blue overcover installed either over or instead of the Maki cover. Obviously, I typically put the overcover on when guests visit, but I also found myself reluctant to actually sleep with the exposed Maki cover because covers do get damaged from normal use (due to nails, hair, and rough skin). The Maki cover was essentially a limited-edition item, and as such, some would say it’s more fit as a collector’s item than as a daily-use item.

In 2022, I began considering additional dakimakura covers from the two legitimate print-on-demand websites that I knew of: Dakimakuri (where I purchased my inner pillow and overcover) and Cuddly Octopus. Unlike other print-on-demand websites, which tend to be bootleggers, these two sites maintain their own original catalogs of artwork, working with artists and buyers to commission designs to sell.

I’m going to go much further in-depth about Cuddly Octopus in a future blog post, because I ended up commissioning an original design through their service. However, I at least wanted to check out the quality of their products before committing to an entire commissioning project, and this second cover purchase was a logical opportunity to do so.

Picking my Next Cover

Browsing through the site, I found numerous designs that I liked (albeit with small details here or there that I’d personally change), and many of them were attributed to an artist going by the name of Shadowgrave. One of Shadowgrave’s designs that caught my eye was of Hanako Ikezawa, a character from the visual novel Katawa Shoujo. Some of his other designs were also characters I recognized, such as Ruby Rose, Hatsune Miku, and even a Nishikino Maki design that I’d considered before I purchased my first cover.

The thing that drew me to Shadowgrave’s Hanako design was the art style. Artwork in anime or manga can come in a variety of styles; many popular shows have distinctive eye shapes, line thicknesses, and shadings of color that are easily recognizable even out-of-context. An artist who I’ve previously mentioned on this blog, Tiribrush, created an excellent piece demonstrating this by drawing Hatsune Miku in twenty different styles:

Hatsune Miku in 20 different styles, by Tiribrush (click to view full-size).

Different art styles can take some getting used to. When I first saw a screenshot of the visual novel My Girlfriend is the President, I thought I’d never be able to enjoy that game because the characters’ eyes were just too wildly big. However, after being exposed to a lot of other visual novels and gradually getting used to the typical anime feature of larger-than-life eyes, I ended up not being quite as put off by them, and I was perfectly used to them by the time I finished playing the game. Similarly, I was initially put off by Katawa Shoujo‘s less glossy and more sketch-like style (along with the crinkly shape of Lilly Satou’s hair, which I didn’t realize was simply because she’s half-Scottish), but I later grew fond of the style after watching the Mikecast play the game and then playing it myself.

Personally, when I look at Shadowgrave’s art style, it’s almost quintessentially “anime.” Everyone’s going to have their own image of what that term means (based on when they started watching anime, how much of it they’ve seen, and other factors), but for me, the 2010’s slightly glossily-shaded look is the “default” style that I picture. When I look at other styles, like the loose & flat 90’s style of Akira or the minimally-shaded colors that Nijgasaki High School Idol Club brought to the Love Live! franchise’s latest shows, I find myself describing them relative to a baseline that’s very close to what Shadowgrave does.

Art styles are obviously subjective, and not everyone’s going to like seeing characters portrayed in every style. Shadowgrave created a design of the Final Fantasy character Y’Shtola that I personally really liked, almost considering buying it even though I haven’t played any of the Final Fantasy games; but a post on the Final Fantasy XIV subreddit from someone who purchased that design was heavily downvoted, with the only popular comment being “Each day, we stray further and further from the source…” After looking up what Y’Shtola actually looks like in the game, I can understand how a hardcore Final Fantasy fan probably wouldn’t think this art style does the character justice.

Fortunately, I think Shadowgrave’s style does a Katawa Shoujo character a much greater justice. Katawa Shoujo was a low-budget visual novel created by visual novel fans, with art contributed from half a dozen volunteer artists. The characters went through a few design iterations, but given that all of the artists had to make their works match cohesively enough to fit together in the game, their focus had to be more on the characters’ defining features than on expressing their own individual art styles.

The final product of Katawa Shoujo’s character sprites definitely had a distinctive style, but Shadowgrave’s own style, while generic in the grand scheme of anime, actually matches Katawa Shoujo’s style pretty well. The body and facial proportions are similar– more similar than a lot of post-game fan works created by rtil, who actually worked on the game (no disrespect intended!) The biggest difference is probably that the lines and shading are just a little bit cleaner in Shadowgrave’s art than in the game’s, although those kinds of details varied even between different characters in the game.

Ordering the Hanako Cover

With all of that said, I’ll get back to the point of this post, which is the Hanako cover that I ended up purchasing.

The Cuddly Octopus product page for Shadowgrave’s Hanako design.

The cover comes in two variations: one all-ages variant, and one R-18 variant. (The all-ages variant, as is common for dakimakura designs, has one side fully-clothed and one side partially-undressed, but doesn’t show any actual nudity.) I’m obviously not above owning dakimakura covers with nudity, but I’m also not stuck on it, since these covers are more of a decoration and less of an erotic material for me.

Although I just got done singing Shadowgrave’s praises, I had a couple of problems with Shadowgrave’s 18+ rendition of Hanako, which is pictured below.

The R-18 version of Shadowgrave’s Hanako design (hover to view).

Most of the problems boil down to playing “spot the difference” between the two sides of the cover:

  • On the back, Hanako’s got a bra that’s unclipped but still on; so why isn’t there a bra below her open shirt on the front?
  • On the back, she’s holding down her tights, with panties visible beneath them; so why is the legwear stockings with a garter belt on the front, and why is she going commando?

The front and back are similar enough that it seems it’s supposed to be a progression from one to the other; but there are clear chronological errors that mean the front and back “photos” couldn’t have been taken in the same situation, so to speak.

The other big problem I have with the R-18 Hanako design is that, going from the clothed version to the undressed version, her face gets more uncomfortable. Now, this is Hanako we’re talking about, and I’d expect her to be embarrassed while she’s taking off her clothes in front of someone… but at the same time, if she’s in the situation of taking off her clothes in front of someone, then I’d hope she’d be more comfortable than what her facial expressions suggest above.

(Somewhat ironically, her only sexual CGs in the actual game weren’t much more comfortable than this, but that’s because the game’s story included a sex scene where the characters actually weren’t entirely comfortable. It’s an important part of the game’s plot, but it’s not something I’d want to see on my bed every morning.)

Considering all of that, I had absolutely no problem going with the all-ages version for this cover. Hanako looks more comfortable (if still reserved), and the clothes actually match between the front and the back. Furthermore, having one all-ages cover around is nice because it’s still somewhat more presentable than the lewd Maki cover, and keeps the place looking generally more decent even when I’m alone.

I placed my order on 15 November 2022. With the $75 cover and $15 for economy shipping, the total came out to $90. Cuddly Octopus works on a period system where they collect orders for multiple weeks, then send them to their printer in bulk before shipping them out. My order finally shipped out of the factory in Baiyun, Guangzhou, China on December 30th.

From there, it boarded a plane in Shatian, Dongguan, China. It arrived in the US and cleared customs on 2 January 2023, and was shipped from Los Angeles to Denver on the 4th, finally being dropped off at my doorstep on January 6th. That’s just over a month and a half from ordering; it’s not the longest I’ve waited for an international shipment, by any means.

Unboxing & Installation

The package arrived in the form of a white plastic envelope with USPS First-Class postage. Interestingly, the return address on the USPS label was in New Jersey; a different sticker next to the label contained the word “China,” but not the entire address of the package’s origin. A third sticker with the same “CN” tracking number (plus a barcode) can be faintly seen through the USPS label, leading me to believe the package was physically forwarded through New Jersey, even though that doesn’t make the most geographic sense.

Inside, the daki cover was sealed in a clear plastic bag, similar to how the previous one I got was packaged. This bag was twice as large as the one the Maki daki came in, which means it was folded once less. On the other hand, I could see through the bag that the folding wasn’t quite as precise.

After removing the fabric from the bag, I found it folded around a plain white piece of card stock.

The complete cover greeted me once it was unfolded. (My lighting unfortunately wasn’t great for these photos, but I’ll have better ones later.)

While installing the cover onto my pillow, I noticed that the zipper at the bottom of the cover didn’t extend all the way across the edge; it stopped about an inch inward from each side. That made it slightly more difficult to stuff the pillow into the cover (and to get the cover back off later). I also noticed inside the cover that the zipper extended slightly past the point where it was sewn onto the fabric.

With those two points in mind, if there’s one place where the build quality noticeably suffered in Cuddly Octopus’s Chinese factory compared with the Japanese cover I ordered last time, it’s the way the zipper’s attached.

Fortunately, I was still able to get the cover on regardless of those imperfections. Since the inner pillow wasn’t brand new this time, it looked a little lumpier than when I first applied the Maki cover, but it still looked nice.

I waited to take further photos until I had some sunlight to work with. (If I was smart, I probably would have waited before opening the package in the first place, but it was waiting for me when I got back into town from a holiday trip, and I was excited to see it that night.)

Long-term Review

Starting with the quality of the printing, I found Cuddly Octopus to be perfectly adequate. The lines weren’t really any fuzzier or lower-quality than those on the Japanese-produced Maki cover. The colors also seemed plenty vibrant.

In the above side-by-side (which I performed no post-processing on), you may notice Hanako’s hair is more colorful on the back of the pillow than on the front, at least at the top of her head. This confused me while I was editing my photos to publish here, but you can actually see the same difference looking at the preview on Cuddly Octopus’s website, so the discrepancy is simply part of the design (and is neither a printing issue nor a photography issue).

The purple gradients shining off of Hanako’s white linen backdrop are both very subtle on first glance and very noticeable on closer inspection. Holding the pillow close-up, there were times I actually thought the cover may have been getting dirty from normal use, but it was just the purple shadows that I was seeing.

One particular part of the printing I was impressed with was the texture of the black tights Hanako’s wearing. Nylon tights in anime artwork often have a visible pattern that lets you see the denier, with detail varying between different artists. I thought the texture might not come through as well when printed on fabric, since the cover’s fabric would naturally have its own texture. On the contrary, the orientation of the fictional fabric’s weave (following the angle of Hanako’s hips and legs) was clearly visible.

Even upon close inspection, the texture of Hanako’s tights overtakes the daki cover’s physical texture (click to view full-size).

Speaking of texture, the actual feeling of the material was a bit different between this cover and the Maki cover. The Japanese-produced cover I previously obtained was made of a 2-way tricot material called A&J Liketron. While Cuddly Octopus also uses 2-way tricot, it’s a slightly cheaper brand that isn’t quite as soft. The Cuddly Octopus FAQ doesn’t elaborate on exactly where they source their materials, only acknowledging that it’s “not as good as those from the most common Japanese printers such as A&J, P80, and Fules,” and saying they “have priced [their] covers at what [they] believe to be a fair amount for the quality.”

With that said, for comparison, the cover is still significantly softer than the solid-color overcover that I bought from Dakimakuri previously (and have also slept with many times). That overcover is rougher than the actual linens on my bed; the Cuddly Octopus tricot is softer than my actual pillow, sheets, and comforter.

The softness does come with some fragility; only about a week after I started sleeping with the cover, I noticed a scratch on Hanako’s leg. I’m assuming this came from a nail, although it’s a little high up for that, and I’d generally been sleeping with socks on around this time.

Whatever the cause, that scratch was fortunately the only major damage I’ve encountered after many months of owning the cover. The very top of the cover has started to generally fray a bit from my facial hair, but I’ve observed that even with the solid overcover, and it’s generally to be expected. (Besides, the point of buying a print-on-demand cover was that I can damage it without feeling bad that I’m ruining one of the only copies in existence, since myself or anyone else can order a replacement at any time.)

A Project for Another Day

That just about concludes my review for this Hanako dakimakura cover. It’s great to have merchandise for one of my favorite characters from my favorite visual novel, and it’s also nice to have a fully-clothed character cover as an option for decoration. On top of bringing more color to the room, my dakimakura also remains a helpful part of getting a comfortable night’s sleep.

The Hanako cover adorns the increasingly “anime” corner of my bedroom (click to view full-size).

I mentioned that it was difficult to pick out a cover, and also that there were a couple small details about the Hanako designs that I wished I could change. In fact, when browsing covers, small details (whether it’s the art style, the clothes and accessories, or the background) are commonly what keep me looking for other options. During all of this, the possibility crossed my mind of commissioning my own dakimakura cover, which would let me choose most of those small details myself… check back soon for a post about how I did exactly that!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *