Sunday 22 February 2015

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Master Asia

S.H. Figuarts Master Asia

For S.H. Figuarts collectors, there are few stories more infamous than that of Master Asia. The figure was originally revealed by Bandai Tamashii Nations all the way back in 2008, alongside fellow Mobile Suit G Gundam star Domon Kasshu. But while Domon got his release, Master Asia went on to arguably become the poster child of Bandai's "will they/won't they release it" tactics, appearing in magazine scans and multiple shows since with never any indication of an actual release. But when 2014 rolled around and Tamashii Nations started hitting up G Gundam for their Robot Damashii line the unthinkable happened - Master Asia got a release date. No longer the "Unreleased of the East", Master Asia was confirmed for January 2015 and as a mass release figure no less. So before we even begin the review there's a moral here - if Master Asia can get released after nearly seven years, then there's hope for every Figuart.

Truly the Undefeated of the East indeed.

Box front

Box backInsert tray

Of course, had Master Asia come out all those years ago he's probably come in a plain gold box just like Domon Kasshu did. But now that it's 2015 and the age of more unique Figuarts packaging, he comes in a box that's a little more fitting of his reputation. While still relatively plain with its solid black, red and burgundy- the fonts and style of the front aren't just evocative of a 90s show like G Gundam - they're also pretty fitting for a representative of Neo Hong Kong. The back is a little more shameless in it's promotion, capitalising on the fact he was released alongside the Robot Damashii Master Gundam with an image of the figure thats almost as large as the one of the Figuart itself. Judging by this and one of the accessories included here, Bandai were clearly hoping people would pick these up as part of a set.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the packaging though is the insert card behind the tray, which is a little more than the usual shiny silver backing. Instead it features a fiery sunset adorned with Japanese text, which while I can't read I can imagine is Master Asia's signature "the East is burning red" speech. Not just a great addition for the packaging, but would look pretty great as a backdrop for the figure too if you've got the room.

S.H. Figuarts Master Asia

Figure frontFigure back

Tensing upCalm Master AsiaFighting stance

So surely the burning question when it comes to the long-awaited Master Asia is: "Has the sculpting/engineering of the figure changed at all over the last seven years?". When I reviewed Domon Kasshu last year, it was quite obvious just how much the figure had aged (and being among the very first Figuarts, it isn't all that surprising) and that kind of quality would never fly on a Figuart in 2015. But while I can't fully determine just how much has changed with the figure over those long years, I can safely say that Master Asia seems to have received some updating in that time. The paintwork is sharper, the joints are tighter, the figure has a really nice matte finish rather than a tacky gloss one - just put the figures next to each other and the quality difference is clear without even having to handle them. Sucks for Domon, because now he definitely deserves a better figure. One can only hope that the new normal clothes version seen at Tamashii Nations 2014 doesn't take ANOTHER seven years to come out.

Admittedly my experiences with anime Figuarts are few, having only previously handled Domon and Star Driver's Takuto Tsunashi. But Master Asia is how I imagine the Dragonball Z figures to be in terms of quality - solid, sturdy and with minor differences to the tokusatsu hero releases. The elbow joints for example are a little thicker than those on all of my other Figuarts. The articulation is absolutely superb, offering everything you'd expect from a modern Figuart along with a soft plastic section around the waist to make sure none of that hip movement is hindered. Another little cool feature is that the ponytail is actually attached to the head via a small balljoint, meaning it can be moved around as the poser sees fit. The only thing that feels oh so slightly off is the face - not so much in terms of paintwork but up close just feels a little bit TOO neutral. Master Asia was a pretty disciplined guy, but a slight smirk or something would have worked much better at not making him look completely dead inside.

Accessories posing

Asia sans beltMore accessory posingFlying kick!

Unlike Domon's accessories which largely revolved around how awesome he looked inside his Gundam, Master Asia's accessories are all about the man's skills as a fighter....kind of. Amongst his additional pieces are an alternate screaming head, four pairs of swappable hands, his seemingly indestructible belt cloth "weapon" and an additional abdomen piece to switch out when the "weapon" is in use. All the pieces are swappable simply by popping them on and off of the figure's balljoints, with thankfully none of them feeling fragile enough to break in the process. It might not sound like a lot on paper, but what is here is surprisingly sturdy. For example, it's nice for the alternate head to be a whole head rather than just a face plate (as is the case with the majority of anime-based Figuarts). The loose belt is made up of two pieces, which then plug quite firmly into either side of the fist chosen to hold them.

There is one major problem with this accessory count though, and whether you'll notice it depends on how much you were paying during Master Asia's lengthy hiatus between reveal and release. During the early years, prototype images also teased a few other things - most notably an alternate "hair down" head and open shirt torso to replicate as he looked during his final battle with Domon. Things obviously changed over time and these accessories never came to be, but it's such a massive shame because these would have been amazing additions to give the figure two very distinct looks. Figuarts accessory packs so exist so there may be hope for these pieces in the future, but for now I sadly wouldn't hold your breath.

The bonus Robot Damashii headFun with the RD Head

The final accessory included with this release is a bit of an oddity, as rather than be something for Master Asia himself it's a bit of cross promotion with the aforementioned Robot Damashii Master Gundam (which was released the same month as Asia himself). Rather than all the cool things the figure has been seen with over the years, we get an alternate Master Gundam head where the face has been replaced with Master Asia's - just as the show does for dramatic effect in his and Domon's final face-off. I can't deny that it's a really nice piece (the Master Asia face looks great considering it's a fraction of the Figuart's size), but unless you were planning to buy the Robot Damashii there's absolutely no use for it whatsoever. I'm much more of a model kit person when it comes to Gundams, so if I ever get around to buying a Master Gundam it'll be the HG kit rather than the figure. And as that probably won't fit on the gunpla, this head is useless to me unless I want to take hilarious pictures of Master Asia looking like a freak of nature.

That said, if I WERE ever going to buy the RD it would be specifically to put this head on it so maybe Tamashii Nations did kind of know what they were doing all along. Either way, I'd have happily taken more accessories for the figure itself and left this as something that came with the Robot Damashii instead.

Master and Student reunite

Master vs pupilReadying the GundamMaster vs Domon round 2

Master Asia's final moments

Master Asia is a figure who's always going to be remembered by reputation rather than quality, but that reputation shouldn't overshadow the fact that this is a pretty damn good figure. Bandai could have easily just thrown out the original sculpt and called it a day, but it's reassuring to know that he hasn't spent all that time just forgotten about. The little tweaks here and there to bring him up to modern standard are very much appreciated, and other than the disappointing lack of previously teased accessories he's pretty much everything you could want from a highly poseable Master Asia. While we celebrate the fact that he's FINALLY been released, let's just hope this isn't just a one-off thing and the Rain and Allenby Figuarts get their shot at the limelight too.

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