Wednesday 21 September 2016

Toybox REVIEW: Ultra-Act x S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Suit Ver 7.2

Ultraman may have scaled down and joined the S.H. Figuarts line but Ultra-Act is not dead quite yet – hanging on by a thread with figures based on the ongoing Ultraman manga series. However these are not straightforward Ultra-Act releases like some might expect, instead branded as a special Ultra-Act x S.H. Figuarts crossover. The second character to arrive (and third release in total) is Ultraman Suit Ver 7.2 – the Ultra suit worn by no-nonsense SSSP operative Dan Moroboshi. As the character’s name would suggest, this Ultra Suit is of course based on Ultraseven – reimagined in a more mechanical fashion. Unlike manga Ultraman who originally saw release at retail, Ultraman Suit Ver 7.2 is a Tamashii web exclusive figure.

Ultraman Suit Ver 7.2’s packaging has been done up to resemble volume 3 of the Ultraman manga, which marks the suit’s proper debut. As well as the name being done in the same “black text on vertical white block” style, the main image has the figure in exactly the same pose as the cover – complete with rather fitting sketch-style effects laid on top. The back has a far more basic approach to things, featuring a number of unedited images of the figure against a white backdrop sporting the manga’s SSSP logo. Both the front and the back also feature the S.H. Figuarts and Ultra-Act logos to show off this rare crossover of lines.

If there’s one thing that Tamashii Nations have pulled off brilliantly with these Ultra-Act x S.H. Figuarts releases, it’s the level of detail they have. Unlike the show Ultras who (for the most part) have smooth simplistic bodies, the manga suits are bulky and mechanical – their bodies awash with armour plating and various other bits of intricate detailing. The sculpt really doesn’t let any of that detail go amiss, even if the colours used on the figure leave a bit to be desired. While the maroon colouring looks fantastic (I’m SO glad they went with that rather than the brighter shade used on the second U-A x SHF Ultraman release), the silver/grey is so dull it looks almost unpainted. The visor, despite being cast in translucent plastic, doesn’t really stand out as much as it could either and doesn’t give off the striking look it perhaps should.

Meanwhile the articulation, while certainly not bad, isn’t the best either line is capable of either. With the advent of new and better hip engineering the old-style swing-down hips just feel outdated on new releases, although admittedly the gap they leave isn’t half as egregious as it was on Ultraman. Further down the ankles also suffer from the surrounding armour, which can make balancing tricky when that huge scabbard is also connected to the figure. In general the shoulder articulation is much better than that of Ultraman’s (hence why he can with an alternate chest piece), but getting that trademark manga cover pose just right without having the sword bend is a real chore. The skeletal plating also makes getting a Tamashii Stage to hold onto him tightly an issue, which brings into question why this line isn’t using the alternate plug port pieces that came with the Ultra-Act figures. It may only be a tiny piece, but it really makes a difference when getting a good mid-air pose. 

Despite these complaints though, it would be unfair to call the articulation flat-out bad. Disappointing for a Figuart is still pretty good, and Ver 7.2 is more than capable of plenty of badass action poses. It’s just that when you hear “Ultra-Act x S.H. Figuarts” you expect something that brings out the best elements of both lines in one great package, and this doesn’t really do that.

With the 7.2 suit using physical weapons as opposed as energy based ones the accessories included with this release feel a little more basic than what was included with Ultraman. Altogether he comes packaged with six additional hands, “Specium Sword” katana, scabbard and a throwing knife which resembles Ultraseven’s trademark Eyeslugger. In the manga these knifes are stored on the back of the suit, but unfortunately the figure has no such function. The Specium Sword is thin, bendy and completely unremarkable – but that’s just how it is in the manga as well. A working scabbard is always appreciated though, and it also connects to the figure via a double jointed hinge to give it a decent range of motion when posing. 

In different circumstances this wouldn’t have been a bad accessory count – it’s not special by any means, but the figure comes with everything it needs to. The problem is that almost immediately after the release of Ultraman Tamashii Nations went and announced a web exclusive “special version" – sporting shinier paint, a personalised stand and a range of new accessories (the most important of these being an unmasked Shinjiro head). Given the absence of a Dan Moroboshi head here, it feels like Bandai will be pulling the same stunt again in a few months time. This figure is already a web exclusive, it shouldn’t have to be milked any further than that.

Why exactly the Ultraman manga line feel the need to desperately hold onto the Ultra-Act moniker isn’t quite certain (being slightly taller isn’t a good enough reason), but these releases certainly aren’t doing the dying line any real favours. Much like the previous release, Ultraman Suit Ver 7.2 looks spectacular but doesn’t have any real appeal outside of that – failing to fully capitalise on the strengths of either parts in this crossover range. The minimal accessory account is also pretty disheartening, presenting the looming inevitability of a yet another “special” version. Ver 7.2 makes for a nice companion piece to Ultraman, but doesn’t really have a whole to offer outside of looking pretty good on a shelf. Here’s hoping that the forthcoming Ace Suit can finally get things perfect, especially as he’ll be the first one to come with an additional unmasked head from the get-go. Third time’s a charm after all.

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