Monday 22 August 2016

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Ultraman 50th Anniversary Edition

The Ultra Series has been particularly notable amongst the various tokusatsu properties covered by Bandai Tamashii Nations because its the only that's ever had the honour of its very own distinct toy line. For the past 16 years the Ultra-Act line has covered a wide range of characters from Tsuburaya Productions flagship franchise, but despite nearly approaching a total of 80 different releases it seems the line's time is finally up. Ultra-Act had slowly turned to renewal figures rather than unreleased characters, and a crossover between the Ultra-Act and S.H. Figuarts brand was shortly followed by the news that Figuarts was soon to have its own selection of Ultraman figures. This meant the same classic characters once again in a whole new scale, so it's no surprise that not every collector welcomed the news with open arms. For many however this was an exciting new direction for both Figuarts and the Ultra Series, and the timing couldn't be better with Ultraman celebrating his 50th Anniversary in 2016. Such an occasion meant not just one, but two releases of the new S.H. Figuarts Ultraman figure - a standard release and a special anniversary variant that also shows off Tamashii's latest offshoot - Option Act.

A release celebrating something as big as a 50th anniversary deserves a special box, and that's exactly what Ultraman got. Not only does he come in lavish wide "iPhone style" box/lid packaging with a glossy finish, but the lid features a gorgeous sketch of Ultraman in his Specium Ray firing pose complete with "50" printed over it in vibrant red. A second sketch in the same style is also printed on the inside of the lid, depicting Ultraman in his signature grappling posture. The back features several images of the figure in various poses (with his iconic transformation pose front and centre) just as any normal Figuart box would, but everything just feels so more neat and official here. A lot of it probably has to do with the plain white background, as well as the thin serifed writing used for "Ultraman: 50th Anniversary Edition".

Inside the figure and accessories are spread across the usual clear plastic tray, with many of the additional pieces also taped to the back of the tray in various plastic bags. There really is a whole lot of stuff going on with this release - just as you finish tearing open one plastic bag another one seems to turn up in its place!

It's important to note that Figuarts Ultraman isn't just a scaled down version of the most recent Ultra-Act figure, it's an all new mould more in line with the current Figuarts body build (although admittedly the two lines have always had close parallels outside of scale). The biggest difference between the two is that while the Ultra-Act seems to lean towards a more modern "poseable figure" aesthetic, the Figuart looks to replicate the actual suit as closely as possible. This isn't just apparent in the eyes, but even the silver paint has a matte finish to it that feels oddly nostalgic. On the whole the paint job is pretty good, however mine unfortunately suffers from a splash of silver paint on the neck which is very visible if the head is posed looking upwards. Scale nuts are also probably going to take issue with this figure, as Ultraman is definitely on the short side - especially when put alongside other tokusatsu firsts like Kamen Rider 1 and Akaranger. What's a bit more unsettling however is just how much the manga Ultraman towers over him. The Ultra-Act definitely has it beat in the size department, but generally I'm perfectly comfortable with the size of the figure. It fits into a predominantly Figuarts display far bettter than an Ultra-Act, and if the two lines are being blended into one display the whole "giant" element of Ultraman is pretty much lost anyway. To summarise: milage will definitely vary, but its something to take into consideration nonetheless.

With a skin-tight bodysuit free from any armour pieces, in theory Ultraman should be able to perform everything a good Figuart should. To some extent this is true, and the fact the figure uses the new style Figuarts hips definitely works to its favour in the lower body department. The torso area also has a good range of motion, and the figure is more than able to replicate Ultraman's hunched combat poses without any issues. The most problematic area are the shoulders, which in this particular figure's case were incredibly stiff and prone to creaking when moving the arms about. This of course could be something that varies figure to figure though, and even if its a widespread problem hopefully a bit of lubricant should be able to fix it. On the whole though its your typical range of Figuarts motion, and while the lack of body armour does provide a wonderfully flexible torso/waist it doesn't offer anything else that is particularly outstanding.

Ultraman's accessory count can be broken down into two sections - those that come with both versions of the figure and those unique to the 50th Anniversary Edition. Those that come with both are all the option and effect parts for the figure itself, while the exclusive ones are intended for a larger diorama. So looking at the basic accessories first, Ultraman comes with four pairs of hands, an alternate right hand with Specium Ray effect part attached, an Ultra Barrier effect part and finally a replaceable red colour timer for the figure's chest. While I can understand why Bandai feel the need to include colour timer pieces with their Ultra figures, they really need to find a better way to do it. Changing them on the larger Ultra-Act figures was difficult enough and here its almost impossible as the blue timer is firmly embedded into the chest. Pulling it out isn't only difficult, but it also risks scratching the finish on both the timer and the torso. When something is this difficult to switch out what's the point? Really Bandai should either be including an alternate torso part (which they've done for other figures in the past) or not bother at all.

The actual attack effect parts are thankfully much better. Just like the figure itself, the Specium Ray tries to echo how the attack looked on the show as much as possible rather than making it a flashy piece like on the Ultra-Act. This definitely adds an extra charm to it, making it feel far more unique as well as far more accurate. Meanwhile the Ultra Shield may only be a translucent sheet of plastic with a base, but it really does look excellent with the figure. That said, the Ultra-Act figure was far more generous with accessories - the renewal figure coming with nine hands, Specium Ray, ground effect parts AND an Ultra Cutter piece (something sorely missed from this release). If Bandai were hoping to persuade the Ultra-Act crowd to double dip on this release, you have to wonder if this is enough. For anyone else though, it's a pretty great package overall.

However the big draw of opting for the 50th Anniversary Edition over the standard version are these additional accessories, with are also a crossover with Tamashii Nations' new Option Act Building sub-line. Also include is a two grey baseplates, road plate, four "Special Colour Ver" buildings in various sizes (two in brown plastic, two in tan), connection parts, a standard Act 3 Tamashii Stage and finally an in-scale Baltan spacecraft. The Baltan spaceship has a port for the stand arm at the back, and said arm can also plug into one of the buildings by removing the top section. Figuarts Ultraman already came with a decent array of accessories, but these bonus 50th Anniversary pieces really help sell this edition of the figure even more. It's also the perfect way for people to dip their toes into the growing world of Tamashii Nations effect parts, getting a taste of what they can add to a display without forking out for a specific set. 

The buildings included here can also be combined with additional (sold separately) sets that have been released, which currently come in both standard and damaged varieties. With the opportunity to create some really impressive city dioramas, these sets are going to look great alongside the future Ultraman releases as well as select S.H. MonsterArts figures as well (though the scale might be a little bit out). Giving fans a taste of these things alongside a popular figure was the perfect move by Bandai - I feel more inclined to buy a few more sets now, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that mindset either.

S.H. Figuarts Ultraman is the perfect example of how a so-so figure can be elevated with just the right amount of accessories. Tamashii Nations took a risky move shunning their established Ultra-Act fanbase in favour of the more mainstream Figuarts line, and whether they'll successfully persuade those people to plunge that kind of money into these characters all over again is yet to be determined. For those who prefer the Figuarts scale or are only now getting their first taste of Ultra Series figures, Ultraman is a serviceable release that may not push the brand to its very best but still manages to be enjoyable. The standard variant might not be worth it to some, but the 50th Anniversary Edition is undoubtedly a package that will fondly remembered. A decent figure with good accessories, bolstered by some even better accessories and beautiful packaging? The perfect way to celebrate a 50th anniversary in style.

1 comment:

Sant01's Review Archive said...

definitley gonna miss the ultra act line (unless the garo sh figuarys sindrome hits it) this is by no means a bad figure, let's just cross our fingers and hope zoffy will be good