When I first set out to buy nice brushes, I was recommended the Hakuhodo J5523 as an upgrade to the 217 or the sigma e25. I bought a few Hakuhodo brushes and used them all the time, but the 5523 was scratchy on my hypersensitive eyelids. I thought the 217 would be even worse, so I didn't bother trying it until I needed something that shape in my travel kit. I bought the 217SH (Short Handle) and I was amazed at how *not scratchy* it was! So the next time I had a MAC code, I bought the full length version, and again, much softer than my 5523. Since then, I've put the 5523 in my backup drawer and switched to the 217. I feel like MAC gets a bad rap much more than they should, because I love so much from the line, and this brush is a perfect example of how MAC is unjustly maligned these days.
Update- this review is for the natural hair version. Since MAC switched to synthetic, I have not tried that version, nor do I intend to. I have multiples of the natural hair version, though, and still love them. Oh, and for the record, MAC's goat hair brushes were made in Japan, not China or Bangladesh, but I do believe the synthetics are from China. If you need a substitute for the natural hair 217, I recommend the Wayne Goss 18, or if you really want a treat, the Sonia G Worker One or Worker Two brushes are like a luxe version of the 217.