Friday 6 November 2015

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Darth Maul

Between all the hype surrounding The Force Awakens and Disney seemingly giving merchandising rights away to anyone who wants it, it's safe to say that the world is in the grips of Star Wars fever right about now. And for toy collectors S.H. Figuarts are right at the heart of this, as Bandai Tamashii Nations seem to be putting their all into an expansive range of figures that cover the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy and the forthcoming Episode VII. After warming up the line with favourites in the form of Darth Vader, Stormtroopers and Luke Skywalker, Bandai are tackling the prequels for the first time with the character a lot will have been looking forward to see - Darth Maul. Now say want you want about the overall quality of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, but you can't deny that Maul was one hell of a cool character. Underused and ultimately inconsequential yes, but with that horned, tattooed head and double bladed lightsaber he still managed to leave one hell of an impression. So much that he was even resurrected as a recurring villain for the Star Wars: Clone Wars CGI series. As easily one of the most popular elements of the prequel trilogy, Maul was pretty much a no-brainer to one of the first characters from that side of the franchise Bandai tackled.

Maybe it's because Star Wars is a brand that can sell itself, but the packaging has been pretty basic across the whole range of Figuarts so far. Darth Maul comes in the new style slimmer boxes, with the front of the box mostly consisting of a large window with the franchise logo printed across it in gold. What little card the front has is plain black with the character name written across a silver box along with the usual company logos. The back features some really nice shots of the figure (including some great closeups of the facial detail), while the left and right spines feature another image and clear window segment respectively. Simple but elegant.

There are a number of things that could have easily gone wrong with this figure. Tamashii Nations's track record is pretty mixed when it comes to live-action headsculpts, and their determination to use plastic rather than fabric when it comes to robe-like pieces could have also spelled disaster when it came to getting the maximum amount of articulation. However to their credit Bandai have really excelled themselves here, overcoming both those shortcomings and producing a really solid figure. Let's start with the headsculpt, which not only features brilliant paintwork for the red and black markings but also for the horns and eyes as well. At this scale getting the eyes to look remotely lifelike can be a pretty difficult task but it's been pulled off superbly here.

Moving down to look at the rest of the body, Maul's robes are made of a combition of hard and soft plastic with the latter being used for the pieces that drape down below the waist. As well as having all the necessary baggy folds sculpted into the main body, the different costume pieces all have a different texture in order to differentiate them as different pieces of fabric. As far as articulation goes nothing is majorly hindered by the baggy outfit or the soft plastic skirt pieces. There may be some slight restriction in the hips, but certainly nothing that stops Maul being able to balance in a kick or perform some of the more versatile poses he's known for. But in addition to that Maul has a ball-jointed head, neck, shoulders and waist (although that is admittedly mostly limited to a swivel motion due to the belt) along with ankle-tilts and double jointed elbows and knees. With no bulky hard plastic capes to weigh him down like Vader, Maul is free to pull off exactly the kind of poses you'd want out of him.

But on top of that great figure there's a good variety of accessories on offer here as well. Naturally the double-bladed lightsaber is a given, as are a selection of alternate hands - three extra pairs in addition to the close fists, which include two sets of weapon holding hands as well as a more expressive open pair. The crown of the selection though is the alternate head, which swaps out the stoic expression for a menacing expression. This head features all the same excellent paintwork as the other one does, but with the addition of Maul's blackened teeth poking out. After seeing the comical way the Avengers' angry/screaming faces turned out it's actually quite surprising to see how well this one turned out in comparison. Maybe it's because the extensive paintwork needed on Maul's head makes the desired effect easier to achieve, or maybe it's because Bandai just REALLY brought their A-game when it comes to the Star Wars guys.

However the double-blade lightsaber it as far as weapons go, as Maul also comes with two smaller hilts to replicate his last moments in the film where Obi-Wan breaks them in two during the fight. Here the cut is a lot cleaner than it would have been in the film (simply looking like two hilts that could connect together rather than two that have been broken apart), but it gets the job done nicely. Plus who's to say that his lightsaber didn't have that functionality anyway? As with the other Star Wars figures the lightsaber blades are separate pieces to the hilts, so can be unplugged from either version and reattached with ease. Of course it also means that either hilt can serve as inactive versions as well.

With the double-blade being one of Maul's more defining features I don't fully expect these to be a staple of many displays, but it's great if you want to recreate that "Duel of the Fates" battle with the forthcoming Episode I Obi-Wan figure. Especially since you can make a pretty clean split down the middle of Maul too...

Between the Figuarts and the Black Series, it seems Darth Maul has had some pretty good luck when it comes to figures recently. There really is little else to say other than just how fantastic this figure is - well surpassing Vader in terms of quality. Between the incredible headsculpt, impressively unhindered articulation and respectable accessory count, undoubtedly this is THE Darth Maul figure to own at this scale. Don't get me wrong the Black Series figure is definitely no slouch either, but Hasbro just can't match up to the superb effort Bandai have put in here. If like me you are being selective on the Star Wars Figuarts because of the sheer amount of characters that can come out of it, this is one figure that you really don't want to miss out on.

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