I think Ben misunderstood the thread he cited. And, with respect, I doubt he's ever handled an Artifex. There aren't that many in Holland.
If you're worried about whether the knife is too thick to be pretty damn good right out of the box, contact taz -- the guy who actually thinned and re-profiled the knife -- on the CKtG forum. The Artifex is extremely popular and pretty much everyone who buys one likes it quite a bit. Naturally, the CKtG forum is full of raves; so you might also want to look on the KKF (Kitchen Knife Forum), where Richmond knives sail into a pretty stiff headwind (long story).
So, of the three knives in the sub-$100, "entry-level" category, I'd go Artifex. But... I don't like the Tojiro DP because it's (a) san-mai; and (b) the handle is boxy. And I don't like the Fujiwara FKM because I don't much care for AUS-8, the blade is a little too stream-lined, and handle fit can be sub-par. So, I'm willing to put up with the Artifex's foibles of which there are a few. It's a good knife for the price, but it's very much a "for the price" knife.
I'd also choose the Artifex over the Suisun Western Inox, but -- even though the Suisuin is more expensive, and is an "improved" FKM -- it would be a much closer call.
Given your ultimate ambitions, it might be worthwhile to spend a little more money on the gyuto. $200 or more is not unreasonable. But keeping it down to $200 or less -- the "affordable" class -- the best choices are: Gesshin Uraku, Kagayaki CarboNext, Kikuichi TKC, MAC Pro, Masamoto VG, Richmond Laser, Richmond Ultimatum or Sakai Takayuki Wa Gyuto.
Of those, the two AEB-L knives -- Richmond Laser, and Takayuki Wa-Gyuto -- and the two semi-stainless knives -- the Kagayaki and Kikuichi have the best edge taking properties; the Kikuichi, MAC and Takayuki are the best finished; the Kikuichi, MAC and Masamoto will feel most familiar to you, but the MAC and Masa require regular steeling to stay true; the Masamoto and Ultimatum have the best profiles, with the Masa Sabatier-like and the Ultimatum Sabatier-clone; the Kagayaki is the value leader, with the two Richmonds close behind; the TKC and Uraku are the best, overall, middleweights; the Laser is a laser, well worth thinking about; and the Ultimatum is the workhorse -- as versatile as a carbon Sab or Wusthof going from micro-brunoise shallots for mignonette, to trimming and portioning spare ribs without missing a beat, but will feel the least familiar OOTB because it's a good sized chunk of steel coming out of a light handle, and -- not that the balance point is way forward -- the way it balances takes awhile to get used to.
They're all excellent. It just kinda depends where you place your priorities. MAC Pro is the knife I most often recommended in the past for people looking for their first, really good, stainless, western-handled, chef's knife. I still think it's a great knife, but have become more open to recommending knives which are a little less vanilla -- wa-gyuto, lasers, and so on. I bought my daughter a MAC Pro a couple of years ago; if I were buying for her now, and could talk her into a wa-gyuto, I'd probably get her a Uraku.
My Ultimatum, which isn't stainless but 51200 carbon, I'd class as good as anything I've ever used once I got used to it and began to appreciate its insane versatility. Fugly though. For your purposes, the stainless version (19C27) is probably just as good. The big problem with Ultimatums is that they sell out within minutes of coming into stock.
I should add that my list is a little unusual in that there's so few san-mai knives. I like a knife which feels very lively on the board, but san-mai blades feel very damped. That doesn't mean they aren't good knives, so much as that I don't seek them out, and since knives haven't been coming to me the way they once were, I don't know enough about any to give an empirically based recommendation. My feeling about them is not a majority opinion, but not all that uncommon either. Just by reputation, I think you might also want to take a look at the Richmond AS Laser -- which is almost laser thin, but significantly stiffer.
Extra cost knife sharpening for new knives is worth it from CKtG, but not from JCK. Korin's service is more expensive. They do a good enough job, though. JKI does it for free.
Whatever you do, don't try to learn to sharpen from Korin's videos. You can skip JCK's as well. In the world of free sharpening videos, CKtG's and JKI's are the way to go.
Now that you know the of four of the six best e-tailers (CKtG, JCK, JKI, Korin) you might as well fill it in with the other two: Epicurean Edge and aframestokyo.com. There are some other really good online vendors but the stock tends to be a little more esoteric. Visit all the sites and look at the stock. What could it hurt?
Don't just jump. Ask lots of questions.
Edited by boar_d_laze - 7/9/13 at 5:41pm