Friday 21 August 2015

Toybox REVIEW: Ultra-Act x S.H. Figuarts Ultraman

The Ultra Series hasn't just been enjoying a revival onscreen in the last few years with Ultraman Ginga and now Ultraman X - it's also been making quite a name for itself in the world of manga too. Written by Eiichi Shimuzu and illustrated by Tomohiro Shimohguchi (a pair who've also revealed they will be tackling a manga remake of Shotaro Ishinomori's Robot Detective series), the 2011 (and still ongoing) Ultraman manga acts as a direct sequel to the original 1966 series - moving things several years into the future with a brand new Ultra hero. Published in Japan in Monthy Hero's magazine and now in English courtesy of Viz Media, this new kind of Ultraman has also sparked a surprise collaboration in Bandai Tamashii Nations toy lines. While Ultraman figures are separated into their own specific line, this figure marks the first collaboration between the S.H. Figuarts and Ultra-Act toy lines. Pretty special right? Read on to find out how just much of a match made in heaven Ultra-Act x S.H. Figuarts Ultraman is!

While on first glance Ultraman's packaging might look rather plain, it's quite nifty in that it matches the layout and colour scheme of the manga's first volume - including the "bold black font on white bar" running across the left-hand side. Despite looking like a drawing the image adorning the front is in fact of the figure - intentionally stylised to look like an image from on the manga. The spines and back of the box also feature the Science Special Search Party logo - the organisation from the original Ultraman series which reappears in the manga. In terms of size its about the height of a standard Figuarts box, but a little wider than usual as well.

Also hiding behind the silver insert card along with the instructions is also a flyer promoting the seventh volume of the manga, along with a grey image of the manga's stylised interpretation of Ultra Seven. Teasing a future Ultra-Act x S.H. Figuarts figure perhaps? As for the manga itself, I can't really comment on the seventh volume when I'm still patiently awaiting the English language release of the first volume - which should hopefully be in my hands any day now. I'm considering starting up regular reviews of the series, so if that's something you would like to see on the blog please let me know in the comments section!

So if you haven't noticed already, manga Ultraman isn't your usual Ultra Series hero. Unlike the mainline Ultra's who are usually humans bonded with an Ultra alien, the manga version is a suit of armour that amplifies the Ultra Genes of it's user - Shinjiro Hayata, the son of the original Ultraman. So while the suit does have the rough look of and colour placement of an Ultra hero, the detailing is much more intricate and mechanical. As such this figure presents the perfect opportunity to show exactly what they can do when it comes to sculpted detail, and the result is just what fans were hoping for. From all the slits and grooves in the silver plating to the rigid detailing in the suit's spinal section, Ultraman looks like he jumped straight off the pages. Red and silver is an ever-winning combination, and those splashes of dark grey and the blue colour timer break the scheme up in all the right places. My one complaint is that I wish the eyes were a little bit more vibrant, because such a small area of white gets easily lost among that sea of silver.

Unfortunately articulation is where the figure begins to show off some of its shortcomings. Despite being actively marketed as a collaboration between the S.H. Figuarts and Ultra-Act lines, this figure is more or less just an Ultra-Act in terms of engineering. Limited shoulders and a horrible lack of bicep swivel are evidence of this. Getting the figure into a decent cross armed pose sure isn't as easy as the box makes it look! The ankles aren't great either - offering barely any sidewards movement thanks to the plates of armour surrounding them. Other than that though it's your pretty standard fare Tamashii Nations figure - neither line has a huge difference in joint placement so if you're familiar with either you should have a good idea what to expect.

Ultraman's wirey frame does present something of a visual problem when it comes the seamlessness of the sculpt however, and that's just how exposed some of the joint mechanisms are. The visible shoulder workings are something of a minor complaint, but the hips can be a pretty sorry sight at times. Not only the ball connectors completely exposed on the underside, but taking advantage of the figure's swing-down hips leave the crotch's inner workings completely exposed. Admittedly this is a problem with ALL figures that use this variety of hips, but Ultraman is perhaps the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) example of why Tamashii Nations were right to start phasing it out.

Ultraman features a number of alternate body parts among his accessory count, so it's crucial that these pieces can be taken on and off easily without any fear of breakage. While that can't be said for the hands (the joints themselves are pretty strong, but the hands are so awkward to take off it's hard not to feel like something is about to break), the chest and arm pieces plug on and off without any difficultly whatsoever.  

There isn't a bad range of accessories on offer here, but again it feels like a pretty standard selection that's hardly benefitting of such a notable crossover between two of Tamashii's staple lines. Among the selection you'll find there an additional two pairs of open hands (in addition to the pre-attached fists), a slightly thinner chest piece to make posing easier and two alternate pairs of arm gauntlets to swap with the default ones already on the figure. The first of these pairs feature small translucent bits of plastic running parallel with them, which are in fact Ultraman's "Light Swords". These Specium weapons can be used for attack or defense, as well as makeshift thrusters. They may only be small, but these unique weapons look fantastic when attached to the figure.

Of course it wouldn't be an Ultra-Act release without some sort of extravagant effect part, so here we have Ultraman's signature Specium Ray attack recreated in translucent blue plastic. Unlike his father or any of the other Ultraman, the manga version differs in that the beam is actually fired from the horizontal arm in the traditional cross-armed pose rather than the vertical one. Of course here there's nothing stopping you from posing him firing it from the vertical arm either, as I have displayed above. The effect part plugs firmly in the fully opened arm gauntlets, and the arms are both able to take the weight of the part well enough to hold the pose they're placed in. In terms of colour and design it's not only of the most extravagant Ultraman beams out there, but the more angular design does set it nicely apart from it's live-action counterparts.

The main problem here is that there are some really obvious things missing. An alternate chest piece but no red colour timer piece? And what about some effect parts for that acceleration ability I mentioned earlier - the promotional images were quite happy to show something like that off even if it was clearly just fancy photo effects. Or how about just a Tamashii stand to mark the first ever crossover between the lines? Maybe I'm just over estimating the importance of this figure and such a crossover, but even so there just feels like so much more could have been done here.

Manga Ultraman is a decent enough figure, but comes across as bit disappointing for a surprise collaboration between the S.H. Figuarts and Ultra-Act lines. It has most of the features that both lines excel at (sculpting, accessories etc.), but none of the ones that only one has and the other sorely lacks.  A bicep swivel (common on Figuarts, not so common on Ultra-Acts) would have made a world of difference here, and some sort of port for a Tamashii Stage to plug directly into the figure (a staple of Ultra-Acts, non-existent on Figuarts) would have been a nice, if less essential touch. As it stands the figure seems less "Ultra Act x S.H. Figuarts" and more "Ultra-Act at S.H. Figuarts scale". It's a massive shame because it really is a beautiful design, and one that I know many people have been interested in just because it's so wildly different to the classic Ultraman aesthetic. What we have here is certainly serviceable, but doesn't quite feel like it's doing the design the full justice it deserves.

Luckily for the more high-end figure fans among us, Sentinel have their own much more lucrative version in the works. At twice the size and with a price tag of 29,970 yen it certainly isn't going to be as accessible as Bandai's offering, but given the company's track record more than likely going to be a great figure. 


Carlos Campani said...

A toy collection from classic Batman TV show, Thunderbirds are Go, Ultraman, Perman and other shows and cartoons:

Annas Maulana Bagaskara said...

Hey, do you think doing some panel lining on thoa figure, especially on the head will be okay? It's different plastic from model kit, so i don't know if it will work..