Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Bemular -the Animation-

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Release Date: February 2020
RRP: 7700 yen

The release of Production I.G.’s anime adaptation of the ULTRAMAN manga created an all-new interest in the ongoing series, and with Bandai Tamashii Nations having already produced the cast in figure form back in 2015 this was the perfect opportunity to get those toys back on the market. Whilst previously the manga versions of these characters had been produced under the collaborative S.H. Figuarts x Ultra-Act banner, the dissolution of the former line some years ago means that these new anime versions (featuring new tooling and alternate paint jobs) are strictly Figuarts. The range kicked off last year with the reason of both Ultraman and Ultraman Suit Ver 7, and now they’re joined by S.H. Figuarts Bemular -the Animation-. The mysterious entity that identified itself as “the first enemy” (taking its name from the first kaiju the original Ultraman battled in the 1966 series), Bemular is shrouded in mystery - showing hostility toward Shinjiro and his father but also an interest in developing the former’s Ultraman factor. His connection to Ultraman is another mystery yet to be solved. This figure was the first and currently only one in the anime range to be a Tamashii web exclusive, and its arrival leaves the Ace Suit as the only character only available via the original SHFxUA release.
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Bemular’s packaging isn’t too dissimilar from the original S.H. Figuarts x Ultra-Act version’s, with design flourishes like the SSSP logo boxed off on each of the spines kept intact. The solid blue colouring has been replaced with a far more ominous black though, with a nice big body shot of the figure (complete with glowing eyes) adorning the front. The packaging (as well as the rest of Tamashii’s promotional material) refers to the character as BEMLAR rather than Bemular, however since that is the generally accepted Western spelling of the name and what’s used in the manga it’s what I’ll be using throughout the review. The box is also keen to note that this is the “animation” version of the character rather than the manga one, with the Netflix series’ logo also printed on the bottom. The back features the usual array of Bandai stock images, and inside the figure and accessories are spread across a moulded plastic tray. As well as the figure being in a rather amusing wide-legged pose items of note include open hands being attached in-package rather than the more commonly used closed fists, and a Tamashii stage bagged and taped to the back of the tray.

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As already suggested in the review S.H. Figuarts Bemular is an extensive remould of the previous S.H. Figuarts x Ultra-Act Bemular figure released back in 2017. While Tamashii might not have released a detailed image highlighting the changes like they did for the previous two figures, a quick look at any side by side comparison shot will tell you everything. On top a of a completely new head sculpt the animation Bemular sports revised gunmetal colouring and reworked proportions. The body is covered in new blade pieces with more curvature than the original, and the hips now have three of these blades either side rather than two. It’s a fantastic likeness of the CGI model used in the show, and a much better looking figure overall. Interestingly the solid abdomen sections used on the SHFxUA figures has been kept on here, whereas the Ultras received new builds with segmented armour. This version of Bemular might be a far cry from his namesake, but the design certainly has more impact - sinister and foreboding, particular with its implantation of common Ultraman design traits. The grated mouth poking out at the bottom just makes it all the more terrifying. 

Of course the biggest thing to note about this figure is the lack of feet! Bemular’s legs slim down into flat hoof-like surfaces, which can make balancing this figure without a stand a real hassle. Initially I assumed Bandai might have come up with some clever workaround like hinged sections that could fold out and work like ankles, but anime accuracy was clearly prioritised over functionality. It’s just as well that the figure comes packaged with an articulated Tamashii Stage, because putting this figure into any standing pose other than the most vanilla positions is incredibly tedious. Odds are most will want to display Bemular hovering as he is typically depicted anyway.

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Bemular features a ball jointed head and neck, swivel hinge shoulders with additional butterfly joints, double hinged elbows, ball jointed wrists, ball jointed upper and lower torso sections, "swing down" ball jointed hips, double hinge knees and hinged "feet" sections. Calling those feet articulated is being rather generous as they can only manage a very small bend thanks to all the surrounding armour, but the joint is there and it's enough to make the legs look a little more fluid. It's when you break the articulation down you can really see how much of this is a carry-over from the original figure, since there's a lot of things done differently here to what you'd expect from a current-day Figuart. The absence of bicep and thigh swivels is one thing (though admittedly they're still not standard across every release), but the main offender here would be those drop-down hips. Again they're still something you'll find on current Figuarts from time to time, but the huge gap they leave when pulled down is classic Figuarts through and through. Looser hips that leave big gaps was a notable problem on those SHFxUA releases too, and already I can see how Bemular's hips might loosen over time - especially if the legs are hanging down as the figure is held up by a stand. But for now all the joints seem to be relatively tight, and even if getting Bemular to properly balance in the poses is near-impossible they aren't short of movement for dynamic mid-air ones.

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In addition to the aforementioned Tamashii Stage Bemular also comes packaged with three additional pairs of hands (closed fists, posed open hands and a pair of knifehand strike hands), two laser blast effect parts and finally a light bullet effect part as well. With the exception of the knife and open hands all of these accessories are carry overs from the original SHFxUA version, however there the effect parts were moulded in translucent blue plastic rather than orange. The SHFxUA release also came with a separate chest piece that featured a red colour timer in place of the usual blue, however that has been omitted here in favour of the wider hand selection. It’s a really nice array of parts, especially since effect parts and energy blasts are integral to any good Ultraman release. All three of the effect parts come pre-fixed to hands, so it’s a simple matter of swapping out hands as you normally would rather than having the connect and position them correctly on the body. The additional hands also make a huge difference, making each pose far more sinister/ominous/mysterious than the original’s meagre selection. The overall inclusion of effect parts may have lessened when the Ultraman range moved from Ultra-Act to S.H. Figuarts, but these anime releases are certainly keeping its spirit alive.

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While I personally haven’t felt the need to upgrade any of the old SHFxUA Ultras, Bemular was the one figure I missed out on and I certainly don’t regret that now. S.H. Figuarts Bemular -the Animation- is a marked improvement on the original in terms of proportions and sculpting, and shares a similar enough build with the older figures that it doesn’t look at all out of place amongst them. The lack of feet (or alternate method of balance) may be frustrating, but since Bemular is a character that’s usually in-flight including a Tamashii stage was all Bandai needed to do to make up for that. There may be a few little hang-ups from the old Ultra-Act mould, but overall this a great figure that any fan of the ULTRAMAN manga or anime would be pleased to own.

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