Saturday 28 February 2015

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. MonsterArts Gamera (1996)

S.H. MonsterArts Gamera (1996)

As much as I love Godzilla, when it comes to giant monster movies my heart definitely belongs to Gamera. Sure Godzilla has had the more illustrious film career, but the Heisei era Gamera Trilogy don't just rank as some of the best kaiju flicks you'll ever find - they're some of my favourite films of all time. The suits and practical effects are among the very best you'll find in modern tokusatsu, and the plots and characters are pretty damn good too! So imagine my excitement when Bandai Tamashii Nations announced that they would finally be visiting the Gamera franchise in their S.H. MonsterArts line - starting with the 1996 version of the character that appeared in the second instalment of the trilogy, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion. While the Gamera franchise did receive some love from Revoltech's SFX/Sci-Fi/tokusatsu subline a few years ago, this was a chance to see Bandai give it the same high quality treatment it's given the likes of Godzilla, King Kong and even the Alien/Predator franchises.

Box Front

Box BackInsert Tray

Like any good S.H. MonsterArts releases, Gamera comes packaged in a suitably humongous box. That being said, you can see without even opening the thing up that Gamera himself only takes up about half the space in the clear plastic tray - with the rest filled up by his rather hefty accessory pieces. The box utilises a fiery red/brown/black colour scheme, with the window section cleverly surrounded by what are supposed to look like scorch marks. The back of the box features some particularly cool images of the figure against photoshopped backgrounds as well as the usual signature Tamashii Nations grey backdrop. Of course one of these images also led to many people wrongly speculating something about one of the figure's features, but we'll get into that a little further down in the review.

Roaring triumpahntly

Gamera side viewGamera front viewGamers back view

Ready to attackKaiju stomp!More posing

As the box states, this particular Gamera is based on the 1996 suit used in Attack of Legion, which features notable differences from the one previously used in Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. These differences included taking on a more wrinkly, weathered appearance as well as growing bone-coloured elbow spikes. Even though the MonsterArts line has suffered from some notably poor quality control in recent months (particularly the 2014 'Legendary' Godzilla figure), Gamera has come out on top over the King of Monsters with a spectacular line debut. The sculpting is near flawless, with the figure covered in wrinkles true to the costume design (double bonus for both looking like a suit and a giant turtle!). There are some visible cuts on the arms and legs to allow for the articulation, but as long as the pieces are all aligned properly they could quite easily be passed off as skin folds on the body rather than just unsightly gaps in the sculpt. Finally the paintwork is also on point, featuring a nice variety of tones and shading on the claws, elbow spikes and tusks. While in terms of MonsterArts figures he isn't all that tall, he certainly makes up for it in wideness and weight to justify that 9,504 yen (RRP) price tag.

Thanks to a segmented neck, Gamera is able to look upwards as well as straight on for all sorts of great roaring poses. The arms and legs are broken up into sections connected by ball joints, which while somewhat limited get exactly the amount of articulation the suit itself would have been able to achieve (plus some nifty swivel action thanks to the connection points). They do have a habit of popping apart when you try to bend them in a way they won't agree with, but ball joints popping apart easily is far more more agreeable than having pieces break apart in a similar situation. Rounding off the articulation is a hinged jaw, as well as a segmented tail with it's own limited range of movement. 

Plasma chest power!

More plasma chestOpen chest front viewVictory pose


However Gamera also includes a special surprise built into the body of the figure! In each of the Heisei Gamera films the giant monster uses a different ultimate attack in order to defeat his enemy once and for all. Gamera: Guardian of the Universe sees Gamera unleash a "high plasma" fireball to destroy Gyaos, while Gamera 3: Revenge of Irys has him lose his hand only to replace it with a fiery fist-construct. Attack on Legion meanwhile features a much flashier technique. Absorbing a vast amount of energy from the planet Earth, Gamera's shell opens up to reveal a Plasmo core - firing an "ultimate plasma" blast that not even the mighty Legion can stand up to. 

As such, the underbelly of the figure is made up of a variety of hinged segments which open up to reveal a glossy plasmo core. Promotional images of the figure (specifically the image used on the back of the box) led many to believe that the core would include some light up feature, but unfortunately this has turned out to not be the case. There are figure customisers out there that have managed to build a LED gimmick into the core, but for the less skilled amongst a solid plastic core is the best we're going to get. Incorporating it into the body rather than making it a swap-out piece was a clever little bit of engineering on Bandai's part, but it does come with a bit of a downside. The shell panels which cover up the plasmo are INCREDIBLY fiddly, and need to be carefully aligned in order to not make the chest look like a total mess. They are have the annoying habit of popping off their joints whilst being aligned, so as you can imagine making your Gamera's chest fit together properly often takes considerably longer to do than it should. But when you do manage it, you have a fantastic looking Gamera figure that's hiding an extremely cool feature inside of him.

The flame effect parts

Flaming the cameraFlame breath downMore breathing fire

More flame breath

Then we come to the accessories, which are always particularly exciting when it comes to S.H. MonsterArts releases (and as you could see above, sometimes take up more tray space than the figure itself). With the line already having produced some pretty spectacular effect pieces for its various Godzilla releases, it's no surprise that the first of Gamera's accessories is a giant fireball breath effect. Naturally requiring its own stand to be used effectively, a flaming base piece and clear vertical arm have also been included. Should you prefer to have the fireball blasting at an angle, the arm can also be switched out for a regular Tamashii stand. While the fireball doesn't plug into Gamera's mouth directly, the end is moulded so it fits around his open jaw perfectly as the stand takes care of all the weight. This is my first experience with MonsterArts effect pieces, and I can honestly say they're as excellent as everyone says they are. With the first Revoltech Gamera coming with more basic (dare I say cartoony) effect pieces, this realistic-looking piece of translucent doom is a breath of fresh air. Some sort of fireball should be an essential part of any Gamera release and Tamashii Nations certainly haven't disappointed!

Getting ready for flight!Taking flight

More flightAnd some more flight

The second portion of accessories cover Gamera's other most notable ability - flight. While Gamera has been endowed with the power of flight since his very first outing in 1965, he does have a few different ways of going about it. Sometimes he spins like a UFO while jets of smoke pour out of the holes in his shell, while others he flies around a bit more like a superhero. For the MonsterArts figure, Tamashii Nations have gone with the latter - including a pair of flipper-shaped wings (which swap out with the arms) and an alternate bottom half which replaces the legs and tail with Gamera's "jet-engine" ports. Of course without any legs the figure is completely incapable of standing up, so a second stand piece has been included for the figure to lay on in a sort of "lift-off" pose. It's a novel idea, the only downside being that the arm isn't especially long. So if you're trying to create some sort of diorama or simply want Gamera soaring above the rest of your MonsterArts figures, you're going to be better off relying on a Tamashii stage. Still, the sheer size of the flippers make them feel less like "accessories" as such and more like a vital part of the figure.

Gamera vs GiganGamera vs Gigan part 2

Gamera wins

When the Revoltech line was pumping out kaiju in it's SFX subline I couldn't get enough of their Gamera: Guardian of the Universe figure. In a time before S.H. MonsterArts, it felt like the poseable Gamera toy I've always wanted. Fast-forward to five years later and it's shocking just how much superior this version of Gamera is. The sculpting, the accessories, the colours - it trumps the Revoltech Gamera in every single way. The Attack on Legion version probably wouldn't have been my first choice, but a Hesei Gamera figure of this quality is long overdue. Not only will this titanic terrapin look fantastic with all of your other S.H. MonsterArts figures, but he's good enough to stand on his own two giant feet as well.

I may be selective about what MonsterArts figures I buy but if Bandai can consistently provide this level of quality then I'm all in Gamera releases. Gyaos, Legion, Irys, any of the Showa era stuff - I want them all. 


Toys Distributor Australia said...

Excellent post ! Thanks for this sharing blog.

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for all the info, very helpful. Can you tell me the hight of Gamera - the site I'm buying off only has the package measurements.

Alex said...

Hi, sorry for the belated reply! The figure is about 5.5 inches tall, which may sound short for a MonsterArt but the bulk certainly makes up for it!

AR said...

Cool ! I like the dynamic you gave in the fighting giants :)