Friday 3 July 2015

Toybox REVIEW: Revoltech Fraulein Yoko Sailor Uniform Ver.

Although Gurren Lagann has received some pretty spectacular figures in the last few years courtesy of Sentinel and Bandai Tamashii Nations, I can't help but feel it came out at a pretty bad time for poseable figures. The only line to complete the various forms of the titular robot (as well as do some of the other Gunmen that appeared in the show) is Kaiyodo's Revoltech line, which was pretty great at the time but has now dated horribly thanks to its insistence on using its trademark revolver joints for everything. Revoltech also produced a Yoko Littner figure for their anime girls-orientated Fraulein sub line, but even that is a far cry from the likes of Figma or S.H. Figuarts. Yamato also produced their own Yoko figure a few years ago, but other than commanding a pretty high price tag there's also plenty of stories of it being a rather flimsy and breakable piece.

Anyway, nearly seven years after its original release Fraulein Yoko has made a surprising return - but this time with a twist. Limited to only 5000 pieces and bundled with the third volume of the present-day school themed Gurren Lagann Otoko Doahou! manga spinoff (which itself is an adaptation of a trilogy of previously produced drama CDs), this version of Yoko ditches her trademark bikini top and hot pants in favour of a Japanese sailor school uniform. In this universe Yoko's full name is actually Yoko Utsuwa, and is a member (and even president) of every club in Dai Gurren Academy. As well as being the gunner for Dai Gurren of course. Some things never change.

Revoltech have never been one for exciting packaging (unless of course the figure was part of the SFX/tokusatsu subline), with most of their boxes best described as simply "white". If this was just a standard release I'm sure it would have suffered the same fate, but thanks to being something special that Kaiyodo are involved with as a joint venture a hell of a lot more effort has been put into it. The box looks amazing - it may only have a tiny window to show off the figure, but the thick cardboard, trademark Gurren Lagann style flames and gorgeous manga artwork of Yoko more than make up for it. The back only features a few small pictures of the figure since it also has a book to advertise as well, so you'll have to open it up to see the figure in all its glory.

And of course don't forget the third volume of the Gurren Lagann Okoto Doahou! manga included, which looks like a lot of fun even if you can't read Japanese (the great heart however, can be enjoyed by anyone). I'll definitely be checked out a scanlation at some point since this will never get an English release (especially the series manga adaptation was left half complete after Bandai Entertainment closed), but even jumping into the spinoff in the third volume it wasn't too hard to follow. This volume featured Kamina and Simon fighting Lordgenome and volleyball shenanigans between Nia, Yoko, Adianne, Kamina, Viral and Rossiu (whose actually a bad guy/rival in this spinoff?). Like I say, it at the very least looks like a lot of fun. Plus I'm always a sucker for spinoffs where I get to see Kamina and Nia interact.

While this quite plainly a remould of the previous Revoltech Fraulein Yoko figure, judging by the aesthetics it looks like it uses the 2009 movie version of the figure rather than the original anime release. The main giveaway would be the torso, which like the animation model is ummm...considerably more pronounced than the original figure. The hair is also a slightly darker shade of red, but that's not really noticeable unless you put the two figures side by side. The gloves, stockings and boots are all carried over from the original Yoko's wardrobe. For all their flaws (which will become more apparent further down in the review) I have to hand it to Kaiyodo - they do a pretty great Yoko sculpt. The figure has a nice chunkiness to it just like her animation model, and the new uniform is nicely sculpted around the body - the gap between the skin and clothes nicely give the impression that the top is quite literally hanging off her breasts. The only real complaint I have when it comes to the general sculpt is the smiling face, which is a little bit too lifeless for my tastes. It has this sinister creepy toy vibe about it that I can't quite shake off.

There's also the subject of why Kaiyodo felt the need to sculpt frilly panties on the figure - is it something that comes up in an earlier volume of the manga that I'm not familiar of? Is this just the butt of another Frauelin figure being reused here because they never had to worry about Yoko's underwear before? Who knows, but I guess it does add a little bit of extra detail to the figure whatever the reason may be.

But articulation and poseability is the big selling point when it comes to figures of this kind, and unfortunately this is the area that Revoltech Yoko falls short the most. Revoltech's revolver joint (which is a sort of spherical ratchet joint with two long plugs at either end, but those unfamiliar with it) is a hit and miss affair with non-humanoid figures as it is, but on a human their flaws and ugliness are only heightened. While the hips, shoulders, neck and ankles are all masked by Yoko's rather convenient clothing (and the one moving the hair actually blends in really nicely), the unsightly balls that make up her wrists show just how ghastly and unnatural these things look. And as satisfying as the clicking sound the joints make are, they're no substitute for good old fashioned ball joints. The moving parts have to be lined up in exactly the direction you want them to go to get any sort of decent movement, and more often than not this requires spending time to line up the joints beforehand. But as you're doing that, the limb is more likely to just fall off altogether. Not only is it frustrating, but the rigidness of the joints just make every pose look stilted and unnatural. Figmas and Figuarts wow collectors because of how naturally they can look despite being loaded with obvious joints, Revoltechs on the other hand always look like toys no matter how you pose them. 

Perhaps what's more baffling though is that while the elbows and knees are not made up of revolver joints in order to keep a more natural-looking sculpt, what Kaiyodo have used instead is even more limiting. Rather than go the obvious route of incorporating hinge joints (you know, like real elbows and knees have), the upper and lower sections of the arms and legs are two separate pieces that peg together at the middle - thus forming the joint. From behind it's pretty ugly, and only offers one point of articulation in each limb too.

While the body may be a remould of the movie version of Fraulein Yoko, unfortunately the accessories are identical to the original release and thus lacking the few cool extra bits she came with (loose chopsticks, alternate untied hairpiece, machine gun and a handgun). Pity as I'd have loved to have the alternate hair since I think it would have looked great with this version, but if they aren't actually in the manga I guess that's a good enough reason not to have included them. But enough about what the figure doesn't have, what it DOES have are nine alternate hands (four pairs and a peace sign right hand), alternate shouting face, alternate hair piece with goggles and of course, Yoko's enormous rifle (along with two stand pieces for it at differing angles). Nothing unique to an Otoko Doahou! version of Yoko, but given the circumstances behind this figure I think expecting anything unique would have been a bit much.

On the subject of Yoko's rifle, I'd also like to draw your attention to Kaiyodo's promotional pictures for older versions of the figure, which have the pink strap diagonally over her shoulder. I'd just like to point out that was impossible on the older figure, and it certainly isn't possible here either. The strap has absolutely no stretch to it whatsoever, and if you tried to stretch it far enough away from the rifle to get a body between them it will inevitably break (take it from someone who experienced it on the original). Over one shoulder however is fine, but even then you should be wary of just how much that brittle little strap can take.

Finally there's also a stand included among the accessories, which is pretty standard fare for figures of this kind but somehow Kaiyodo managed to mess that up as well. The personalised text on the base is a nice touch (especially since it says the figure is specifically from the Otoko Doahou! manga and not just Gurren Lagann), but the arm and connector are just one spectacular fail. The arm itself has no form of articulation so it comes up to about Yoko's neck, and then there's the confusing nature of how exactly it then connects to the figure. Rather than just have a stand that plugs into figure somewhere (like pretty much all of the Revoltech Yamaguchi line has), the revolver joint at the end instead plugs into a clip which is supposed to wrap around the figure. Of course Yoko's scarf means it can't fit around the neck, so the only place left is the waist - which of course results in the figure being posed with the feet a considerable way off the base. It doesn't really matter if you want some sort of jumping pose, but it failing at even a static pose is just a joke.

Let's be honest here, Revoltech Fraulein Yoko wasn't a particularly good toy back in 2008 and it sure isn't now either. But despite Revoltech having been well and truly left in the dust when it comes to poseable figures, there is something extremely likeable about this package as a whole. Maybe it's just my constant craving of new Gurren Lagann merchandise, but at the very least Sailor Uniform Yoko looks good (arguably better than the actual version) and for a toy that was bundled with a pretty good-looking manga (which was the main selling point and the reason this variant exists in the first place) I got exactly what I was expecting. The initial retail of 3980 yen seems like a fair price to pay, but the limited to 5000 pieces status of it is a sure sign that the aftermarket price probably won't stay that reasonable. As a poseable figurine it's practically an antique, but it's still a great shelf life and a nice reminder that even though the anime has been away for years now there is still life left in the Gurren Lagann franchise.

(Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go cry in a corner about how in eight years there's never been a poseable Nia figure.)

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