Saturday, 6 February 2021

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Z Alpha Edge

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Release Date: December 2020
RRP: 3850 yen

Thanks to its worldwide release via Youtube, Ultraman Z was the most accessible Ultraman ever on release and that certainly did good things for merchandise sales as well. Not only could fans across the globe see these pieces in action on the show freely and legally, but Tsuburaya's uploads also included actual toy adverts just to help seal the deal. Once Bandai Tamashii Nations had announced the S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Z Alpha Edge they were also able to get in on this, with multiple episodes featuring onscreen ads for this latest New Generation Hero release. Like his predecessor Ultraman Taiga, Ultraman Z Alpha Edge was intended to act as a sort of "gateway" release for fans of the show/new collectors by sporting a much lower price tag than a typical figure from the line - something the line has been doing with the Kamen Rider series for a good few years now. 

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Whereas packaging design for Kamen Rider releases tends to differ depending on the series, the Ultraman range has for the most part settled for two separate designs - one for the older Showa era releases, and another for the New Generation Hero offerings. As such if you've been collecting these figures for a while now, Ultraman Z's will look all too familiar as it's exactly the same as what we've been seeing the past few years - only this time in blue to match Z's base colour. Like all the Ultraman releases, the front of the packaging is particularly nice as it features a nice big image of the actual suit alongside the window rather than just one of the figure. For the usual array of figure images you instead have to turn to the back, as well as the rather fetching bookend-style spine that gives the packaging some display appeal even when opened. Inside you'll find the figure and accessories neatly laid out on a moulded plastic tray.

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The combination of Ultraman Zero, Ultraseven and Ultraman Leo, Alpha Edge specialises in space martial arts and effectively acts as Ultraman Z's default form throughout the series. While Z does have a standard base form, whilst merged with Haruki this is the form Z usually starts with whenever he grows to giant form. It's a nice combination of the three Ultras, but definitely leans most toward Ultraman Zero when it comes to aesthetics. It's a very close match to Zero when it comes to both colour scheme and placement, albeit with a far more elaborate protector design that stretches out from his chest and also covers his shoulders and thighs. Straight off the bat it's a pretty striking design since it sports much more varied and solid sculpting than your average Ultraman figure, and Bandai have done a stellar job on it. Zero proved that red, blue and silver were a winning colour combination and that certainly hasn't changed here. In the centre of the chest is that Z-shaped colour timer, with the translucent blue almost emanating outward as the rest of that area shares a similar metallic light blue colouring. Atop those shoulders is the form's unique head sculpt, sporting three sluggers to match both Zero's twin pair and Seven's central slugger. The sluggers aren't removable but they are really well defined, with the whole head sharing that same quality sculpting the body should be commended for. All in all it's a solid start for Ultraman Z Figuarts, and hopefully bodes well for future releases.

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Ultraman Z boasts an impressive range of articulation, with a body consisting of;
- Peg jointed head
- Ball jointed lower neck, torso, waist, wrists and hips
- Swivel hinge shoulders and ankles
- Butterfly shoulders/pecs
- Double hinge elbows and knees
- Elbow and thigh swivels
- Single hinge toe sections
Ultraman figures have constantly been able to impress when it comes to articulation thanks to their sleek, unarmored bodies which allow the joints to all move without any hindrance. Of course, for some people those designs can in turn be slightly off-putting as they aren't quite as technical as other tokusatsu heroes. In Alpha Edge form Ultraman Z has much more of an armoured look, which certainly makes him more eye-catching but also proves to be a bit of a downfall when it comes to articulation. Those raised pieces on the top of the legs really cause some issues when it comes to hip movement. When moving the hips the top of the leg is supposed to slide into the hip section to give it a full range of movement, but here that raised section mostly just bashes against the crotch and stops the leg in its track. While it is still possible to  properly pose the legs through careful movement to slip those raised sections under, it's nowhere near as fluid as it is on other Ultraman figures and will almost certainly lead to paint rub with repeated use. However it isn't all bad though, as the shoulder pads are quite the opposite and actually well designed. They're attached to the shoulders via raised ball joint, allowing them move separately from the arm and lift up when lifting the arms upward. Combined with the excellent butterfly joint movement those shoulders are actually a lot more mobile than you might think. Other than that, everything else is to that smooth S.H. Figuarts standard. There's some especially nice movement in the torso and waist, and unlike other releases the elbow swivel isn't horrifically stiff fresh out the box. When it works properly it's actually understandable why Bandai often opt for this rather than a bicep swivel. As the space martial arts form, Alpha Edge needed a suitably mobile body to pull off its key poses and for the most part this figure definitely delivers.

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While these sort of gateway releases are fantastic for those looking to pick up the figure on a budget, the offset is that accessory counts are fairly minimal. Altogether Alpha Edge comes with three additional pairs of hands (two different knife-hand strike pairs and one grappling, in addition to the closed fists) and an alternate red colour timer piece. In comparison, Ultraman Taiga came with four pairs of hands and colour timer despite being slightly cheaper (although Z is definitely more detailed than Taiga, and the colour timer is a much bigger piece). So unlike most Ultraman releases there's no beam effect or other weapon included, although if Bandai's previous practices are anything to go by one will probably come with another figure. Holding back key accessories to bundle with future releases is something I'm in two minds about - I'm all for making figures cheaper and more accessible, but if you're going to hold a piece back it has to be included with something with wide appeal. For example - older Kamen Rider releases missed the mark bundling weapons in with seldom-used bikes, but was on the right track putting Zero-One's sword in with Vulcan. Bandai also got it right with Ultraman Taiga, as his Strium Blaster part came with Tregear. Moving back to Alpha Edge, it's now been revealed that S.H. Figuarts Jugglus Juggler (New Generation Edition) will include the Z Riser. A nice accessory for sure and a good choice of character to include it with, but not without its problems. For one Juggler already has more limited appeal because he's already been released once (arguably Sevenger would have been a better choice), and secondly it's just the Riser itself included and not any of the effect parts to show off its weapon capabilities. With his Zestium Maser, the Alpha Burn Kick and nunchuck/bola-style Z sluggers at his disposal, Alpha Edge is hardly short of options and it'd have been nice to see one of those somewhere as well.

(For those interested though, third party store SHF Upgrade are currently taking preorders for a rather nifty effects set for this figure, so even if Bandai let us down there are still fans picking up the slack). 

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As we've come to expect from the Ultraman range by now S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Z Alpha Edge is another solid release, with only a few nitpicks that can largely be justified by that low price tag. I totally understand the logic of holding back accessories to both allow that lower price and entice buyers to continue collecting, but it'll always have more limited appeal and definitely needs to be done with caution. Alpha Edge had plenty of different options, and with just how accessible Tsuburaya made the show (and in turn, advertised the figure), I think S.H. Figuarts would have been happy to pay a little bit extra to get a little bit more. Nevertheless, this is still a great figure and a perfect entry point for newcomers looking to see what the line has to offer. And if this Figuarts fan has learned anything in the last decade or so, it's almost impossible to just stop at one.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Alex. While I know this is off topic, when are you reviewing the Toei Spider-Man series? I think you said you were currently watching it.

Ink'd Kaiju Dude said...

Thanks for the link to that 3rd party effects set. Nice.

Oar said...

His spinning-laser nunchucks are some of the coolest thing I've ever seen so I'm glad that 3rd party effects group has that covered. All in all, this looks like another solid figure. Alpha Edge as a design has grown on me a lot since it first appeared, and it looks pretty splendid next to the likes of Zero and Taiga.

Alex said...

I am, I’m just being really really slow with watching it. I will have a review up for it soon but currently no ETA

Alex said...

No problem!