Friday 14 August 2015

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Captain America

Considering that they've be pumping out Iron Man figures since 2013 it's surprising that it's taken Bandai Tamashii Nations so long to hit up The Avengers in the S.H. Figuarts line. Last year often-too-close-for-comfort rivals Figma hit up their own versions from the first big Marvel Cinematic Universe crossover, but the lack of Hulk is surely something that's left many fans sour. Now Bandai are ready to give their go at it, basing their figures on the team's appearance in the recent Age of Ultron movie. First up to the bat is Captain America, who was released alongside the Hulk at the end of July. Iron Man's mark 45 armour will follow in August (the Mk 43 being previously released in April), and then Thor rounding things off in September.  

After some brief dalliance with thinner boxes, the Avengers: Age of Ultron range sees the S.H. Figuarts line return to its classic style of window packaging. As should be the case with a release as hyped up as these, the box art has also been amped up a notch too. Not only does Cap's box feature some sharp graphics on a very fitting shade of blue (it seems fair to assume each Avenger's box will have their own specific colourscheme), but it also features two clear window tampos in the form of the Avengers logo and Cap's shield. The back also follows the usual style of Figuarts packaging, but now comes with added buzzwords such as "BACK STYLE", "MOLDING", "MOVABLE" and "OPTION PARTS". Not really needed, but they do somehow make the pictures look sharper and I suppose give it a little bit extra Western appeal.

Along with the usual instruction sheet inside the box you'll also find this cool little flyer featuring a promo shot of the whole team, which is quite clearly a not-so-subtle ploy to get you to buy the rest if you haven't already preordered them. However the other side also features a teaser for the forthcoming Tamashii web exclusive Hulkbuster Iron Man figure, which while might sound mighty tempting comes with a pretty hefty 34,560 yen price tag. The bright side is if you can find a middleman that doesn't need payment up front (or you don't need a middleman at all) you do have until January to save up for it.

After the seemingly lukewarm reception to Captain America’s more comic-like costume in the first Avengers film, The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron saw the hero return to a look closer to the WW2-style uniform he wore in The First Avenger – albeit with a much needed bit of modernising. This Age of Ultron version has the same kind of padding as the classic 1940’s look, but said padding is now more like body armour. And as far as costume sculpt goes Bandai have REALLY managed to nail the look – Cap is covered in all sorts of surface and fabric detail which really make the intricacies of the suit shine. The headsculpt is also worthy of praise as well, which sports a definite likeness to actor Chris Evans. It’s perhaps not quite as dead-on as some collectors might like, but considering the scale and price point of the figure I think they’ve done an excellent job here.

The articulation is equally fantastic, but does lead to some rather noticeable sculpt breaks in the shoulders and hips. The hips are of the traditional Figuarts swing-down variety so the breaks here are nothing new (although I do wonder why the line continues to use this kind of hips when they've started using much better ones), but the shoulders are a curious case. Still, the level of poseability on this figure is a treat for veteran Figuarts collectors and newcomers alike. Ball joints cover the neck, shoulders, wrists, torso and hips, double hinged elbows and knees, ball cut ankles and then a toe joint at the end of each boot to top things off. I can't think of any Captain America figures on the market at the moment in this scale that have all that on offer.

Similar to Figma's Captain America figure released last year Figuarts Cap has a moving eye gimmick, however Bandai have done it in a much more interesting way. Rather than give each head spherical eyeballs which you can move yourself, included with this figure are three eyeball "cartridges" looking in different directions (one left, one right and one straight ahead). These cartridges plug into the centre of the head, and the head cannot be attached to the body without them as they also house the socket for the neck's ball joint. This does however mean the eyes alone can be attached to the neck for hilarious results.

This novel approach to moving eyes has both pros and cons. While it's considerably less fiddly than the Figma's variation and gives off a much more natural look, it does feel extremely limited by comparison. If you're someone pretty good at posing eyeballs then this might come as a bit of a disappointment, but with it being I've never been particularly good at I'm quite content with this trade off. 

In addition to the aforementioned eye pieces there are also a few other accessories loaded with this figure. There’s the usual array of alternate hands one would expect from any Figuarts release (Cap coming with a respectable five pairs), as well as an alternate “shouting” head. Now it’s quite clear what the designers were going for with this sculpt and it’s a commendable attempt, but pretty laughable. “Unfortunate” would be a better word to describe it rather than bad, and much like the face that’s made Revoltech Woody an internet sensation the out of context potential of this face places in a kind of “so bad it’s good category”. I realise by calling it that I’m instantly contradicting myself, but hopefully I’ve still managed to get across the point I’m trying to make – the face is great, but not for the reasons it should nor the reasons intended. 

But of course the main accessory of any Captain America figure is the shield, which despite being a pretty simple piece to do comes with a load of variables which aren’t always pulled off so well (having the figure hold it, can it fit on Cap’s back etc.). Thankfully Bandai seemed to have looked at all this issues and come up with a rather nice solution for them all. Out of the box the shield has two lowered handle parts plugged into it, which can then be switched out for larger parts which come over the figure’s forearms. The handles which the figure holds onto are actually moulded into a pair of hands, so there’s no chance of the handle suddenly falling out or having to squeeze it into the hands. Both sets of handles peg into the shield really firmly, so once attached you’re free to move the arm as usual without any worry of the shield suddenly popping off. Finally there’s also another handle piece with a tab to plug the shield into Cap’s back, which also requires removing a piece to expose a hole for said tab. Take note though that this piece is TINY – possibly one of the tiniest pieces I’ve ever seen on a Figuart. Be REALLY careful – if you lose this the chances of you ever finding it again seem incredibly slim.

Of course one set of hands included is also to accurately replicate Cap's throwing/catching pose, but being wary of how difficult this might be for a figure to hold Bandai have also thrown in a little bit of extra wrist support. The shield itself slots into the hand just like you'd expect, but then there's a clear plastic clip which slots into both the shield and the bottom of the hand, as well as clamping around the entire wrist. Not only does this ensure a much more stable hold of the shield, but it also means theres no chance of the wrist suddenly going limp either. Some photographs might make the whole system look a bit cumbersome, but the truth is the clip has been done in a way that it remains pretty well hidden even if the underside of the shield is exposed. You've just gotta love how much effort seems to have been put into getting every aspect of a single accessory right.

Direct comparisons aren't something I usually tackle on this blog, but following my decision to completely replace my Figma Avengers with the Figuarts versions (mainly due to the added Hulk, but I digress), I thought this might be a good send off for them - especially since Figma Cap is still a pretty great figure in his own right. In terms of likeness to Chris Evans both figures feel as close as they're ever going to get to a perfect likeness, but the Figuarts very slightly has the edge thanks to using a much harder plastic than the Figma's ABS and PVC. Articulation-wise the Figuarts wins again, but the Figma wins points for having no fiddly bits that can suddenly pop off at a moment's notice. Accessories is where the Figuarts REALLY takes home the gold though, not only an additional head but also a far more robust strap system for the shield. Costume-wise they're so different it's impossible to call - some might prefer the drab, armoured look Cap has in Age of Ultron, while others might prefer his cleaner, more colourful get up from the first film. It's all going to be down to a matter of preference.

The most important thing to take away from this is that S.H. Figuarts Captain America is a fantastic figure. While Bandai's real-life sculpts might not be quite at stage everyone would like them to be at just yet, this figure makes up for it by providing all the other things the line does so damn well. A detailed sculpt, great articulation, good accessories - it's all the reasons collectors buy other S.H. Figuarts properties, but now with an Avengers flavour. If you're in the market for a great movie-verse Captain America at this scale, chances are you aren't going to find anything better than this.

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