Wednesday 20 July 2016

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Garo Leon Kokuin Ver.

When it comes to Bandai Tamashii Nations’ toy lines franchises can come and go in strange ways. For example the potentially lucrative world of Super Sentai Figuarts turned out to be a commercial failure, while the seemingly expansive world of Godzilla MonsterArts has recently slowed down to only cover the big G himself – and this is without mentioning at the unreleased figures seen at Tamashii Nations events over the years. Given the popularity of the Makai Kado line it’d have been easy to believe that the GARO sub-line of S.H. Figuarts died in 2011, yet here we are with the second of four brand new GARO figures set for release in 2016. Despite sticking to the Golden Knight himself, the Tamashii web exclusive Garo Leon Kokuin Ver. figure marks Figuarts’ first foray into the world of the GARO anime spin-offs. This unstable version of the suit was the one worn by the revenge-driven Leon Luis in Honō no Kokuin, also known as The Carved Seal of Flames or simply Garo: The Animation in the West.

The windowless boxes have allowed for some really great packaging over the last few years, but personally I'd definitely rate this as one of the best. While it may not offer much in the way of colours, the few it does have work so well together that it's instantly eye-catching. Couple that up with the superb artwork on the front of the box (which I can't tell whether it's an edited figure shot or an entirely new illustration) and you have something really classy on your hands. The full-figure shot on the back is a little confusing, changing the colour of the scarves from red to grey for no real reason other than to keep the box's colour count to a minimum. Part of me was worried that they'd suddenly changed the production colours without officially revealing it, but upon opening the box everything was nice and accurate.

One of the best elements of the GARO anime is that it gives the designers the opportunity to break free of the restrictions on the live-action series armours and come up with some really unique looks for the golden knight. That isn’t to say the toku hasn’t experimented with variations, but nothing as wildly as this or Raikou’s samurai armour in The Crimson Moon. This particular armour appears in the first half of the series, whilst Leon is still fuelled entirely by revenge. This results in the monstrous, burning version of the armour, which eventually rejects its user until he fully realises what it means to be a Makai Knight. Once he does it reverts to the armours traditional appearance, with a variation of this only appearing at the very end as Leon’s “powered-up” armour. Coming from an anime this figure looks rather different to any of the previous GARO Figuarts, sporting a thinner body type and considerable stylisation. As such what you get is a much more unique looking Garo figure, but one that is still instantly recognisable. The sculpting and colours is excellent, with the figure featuring plenty of definition and intricate paintwork. It's nice just to see a properly coloured Zaruba on the left hand! The headsculpt is especially impressive - evoking a rawer more organic design than the more ornate heads of the live-action armours.

Armoured sections is always an obstacle when it comes to these figures, but on the whole Bandai have done a great job with Leon's articulation. That thin torso piece allows for a great range of movement both above and below the waist, while the shoulder pads are attached to the arms via raised balljoints to move out of the way where necessary. The only real restrictions are in the hips thanks to those raised leg sections, which is a problem all of the GARO Figuarts seem to have faced thus far. The scarves can each rotate a full 360° where they attach to the body, but unfortunately can only lift upwards a very tiny amount so can't really flap upwards. Anyway forget about posing limitations - the real problem when it comes to this figure is always going to be balance. Those stylish high-heeled feet take some getting used to, and relying on those slightly wider toe sections is integral to getting this figure to hold a decent pose without suddenly toppling over.

However the most notable flaw with this figure may not immediately obvious. Cast your eyes back to the original reveal picture from the 2014 Tamashii Nations event and you'll see that this isn't quite the same figure that was on display. The display version not only featured a fierce open jaw head, but the scarves are also bended in a way that makes them far more suitable for action poses. While the closed jaw head certainly evokes a more traditional Garo appearance, the prototype's is far more interesting and really emphasises the rawness of this suit. Bendable plastic would have worked really well for the scarves too - the rigid plastic may be sturdy but it doesn't offer a whole lot of posing options. The end product is still a great figure, it just stings a bit to see what could have been.

Unfortunately this is another release where accessories are minimal, with only four additional hands and the Garo Ken sword packaged alongside the figure. The sword is noticeably longer than the version included with the Ryuga Garo, in-keeping with the anime stylisation of the figure itself. It also has all the same detail and paintwork, making it far outclass the one included with the original Garo Figuart (at this rate the only thing that has going for it is that it also had a sheathe). Now given that this is both a web exclusive and that Ryuga didn’t come with all that much either expectations shouldn’t have been high for a lot of accessories, but here’s EXACTLY where that alternate open mouth head should have come into play. The moving jaw felt like such a defining characteristic of this armour (as well as the anime in general) that to suddenly omit it seems baffling. On the upside, if you also happen to own the Tamashii flame effects then this figure is bound to look amazing with them.

Garo Leon Kokouin Ver is another solid addition to the suddenly-growing world of GARO Figuarts, offering a greater level of uniqueness and stylisation than previous entries thanks to its anime origins. But as good as it is it will sadly forever be cursed with the knowledge that it could have been far better, just in theory but by Bandai’s own omission too. However don’t let this put you off the it by any means – the flaws are minor at best and Leon looks fantastic both alone and alongside his live-action peers. And honestly nothing can truly spoil the return of GARO Figuarts, even Bandai releasing an inferior product to the one they originally showed off.

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