Wednesday 9 March 2016

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Garo Ryuga Ver.

Once upon a time Tamashii Nations released three GARO figures in their S.H. Figuarts toyline – Garo himself as a mass release figure, and then Zero and Taiga as Tamashii web exclusives. Despite the Figuarts being the perfect upgrade to the old Equip & Prop figures and offering great likenesses of the in-show armours, the line suddenly came to a halt as Bandai instead pressed forward with their larger and more stylised Makai Kado figures. Years passed and no-one ever thought they would hear from GARO in S.H. Figuarts again, until the Tamashii Nations event in 2014 revealed it would be making a grand return. It’s been some time since that initial announcement, but kicking off 2016 in style is the release of S.H. Figuarts Garo Ryuga Ver. – based on Ryuga Dougai’s darkness-tainted version of the suit that appeared in the third GARO series, Yami o Terasu Mono (aka The One Who Shines in the Darkness). Though another web exclusive Garo Ryuga Ver. is a comeback nobody quite expected, making this release all the more special.

Although the new, smaller style packaging might not provide as much surface area for artistic flare as Figuarts packaging used to, the absence of a transparent window certainly makes up for it when it comes to web exclusives. Garo Ryuga Ver. comes packaged in a stylish matte white box, complete with a stylised photo of the figure in a pose used for much of the series' promotional materials. Meanwhile the back uses a blacker backdrop with similarly edited pictures of the figure. It's very stylish, and makes a nice contrast to the (similarly stylish) black boxes that the original GARO Figuarts came in.

The One Who Shines in the Darkness was a series that kicked off many changes to the GARO mythos, taking the story into a different time with a new Golden Knight and a different armour design. Unlike Kouga where his ascension to Garo status was hereditary, Ryuga was a knight who claimed the mantle after a long period of absence. Tainted by the darkness it had collected over the years, Ryuga’s armour was a murky metallic colour with only traces of its former golden shine glistening through. Throughout his battles in Vol City Ryuga would continue to use this version of the armour until it finally regained its golden shine and he was fully accepted as the new Golden Knight. 

The Ryuga variation of the Garo armour is the perfect way to kick off a new range of GARO Figuarts, with the colour scheme offering a little more than just the basic golden shine that can’t be replicated quite as easily in plastic form. The metallic gunmetal greys of the armour look absolutely spectacular, with the bright golden helmet and chest plate standing out beautifully in contrast. The sculpting is equally superb – a compliment not just limited to all the textured armour plating but also the muscular, almost organic undersuit poking out in select areas. With that particular season of the show limiting its armour usage to almost entirely CGI, this is a great opportunity to appreciate the craft that went into the design and fantasise how good it would have looked onscreen as a fully-realised suit.

From the comparison pictures above you can see that Ryuga Garo is 100% a brand new figure, not sharing any parts with the original Garo Figuart from 2011. With the armour shots in The One Who Shines in the Darkness being so fast and fleeting you don’t really get a chance to appreciate just how different the two armours are other than the colours. The overall style and aesthetic might be the same, but side by side the two suits share very little in common when it comes to the finer details. This is great news for the new Figuart, because as you can imagine the original is beginning to show its age at this point. It might have diecast metal feet, but that isn’t quite enough to overlook the gummy hands, looser hips and dated sculpting on the old figure. As a figure Ryuga Garo is sharper, tighter and objectively better in every single way – demonstrating how much difference a five year absence from the franchise can make.

You only have to take one look at any GARO armour to realise that when it comes to scaling it down to a figure there’s going to be some restrictions in regards to articulation, the big question is just how have Bandai tried to get around that the best they can? The head, shoulders and hips are all particular areas that come with their own challenges. The head and neck are unfortunately somewhat limited by the suit’s collar piece, but can still pull off just as much movement (if not more) than anyone wearing the full-sized suit could. The shoulders and hips however are a little cleverer. The shoulders not only feature larger hinged shoulder-pads that are connected to the torso, but also smaller ones underneath that provide a layered effect. Thanks to this the arms are still able to raise surprisingly high before having the larger pads brought down back on them. Further down the hips use Figuarts’ standard swing-down ball joint system, but also feature diagonal swivel cuts in the upper leg to ensure the extended leg armour doesn’t get in the way. 

The rest of the body is of course up to the usual standard for the line, with Garo also sporting bicep swivels, a double waist joint, ball-jointed wrists, double hinge elbows and knees, ankle rockers and toe hinges to cap it all off.

However one area where the original Garo figure still comes out on top is the accessory count. While the original came with extra hands, the Garo Ken sword (with sheath) and a cape the Ryuga version simply comes with seven additional hands and the Garo Ken. The lack of a sheath is both surprising and a little bit disappointing, but given how the Ryuga Garo armour didn’t get a cape until Gold Storm -Sho- getting nothing in place of that should be expected. That said, the Garo Ken is vastly superior to the original’s version – longer, better sculpted and featuring a number of originally missing paint applications. It outclasses the original’s sword in every way and gives a real sense that quality was more important that quantity with this release.

Many GARO fans have hoped that the franchise would one day return to the S.H. Figuarts line and the Garo Ryuga Ver. figure certainly doesn’t disappoint. Combining a beautiful sculpt with excellent paintwork and engineering that allows for maximum poseability despite the cumbersome armour, this is the Garo figure the line has been waiting for. It’s only real flaw is how bad it makes the original look in comparison, which all of a suddenly feels like a dated, floppy mess. With the line set to continue with the Leon version of the suit from Garo: The Animation in the coming months, here’s hoping Tamashii Nations have an opportunity to squeeze a renewal version of the original into their 2016 line-up.

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