Monday 2 January 2017

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

2016 was the year that GARO made a huge comeback in the world of S.H. Figuarts, with a total of four brand new figures (one of which is a repaint, and five if you include the Seimei FiguartsZERO) released after years of inactivity in favour of the more intricate Makai Kado line. After tackling the Ryuga armour from Yami Wo Terasu Mono/The One Who Shines in the Darkness, Bandai Tamashii Nations then moved on to the GARO anime projects with Leon's initial armour from GARO: The Animation (aka The Carved Seal of Flames). Rounding off the year was Raikou's own unique armour from the second anime series GARO: The Crimson Moon, which saw the traditional golden knight reimagined into ornate samurai armour to fit the show's Heian setting. S.H. Figuarts Garo Raikou Ver. was a Tamashii web exclusive, originally released in November 2016.

Garo Raikou Ver. comes packaged in the same styled box as the previous GARO releases of 2016, featuring a stylised image of the figure on the front which brings out the huge amount of detailing the armour has. The back also features a couple more images of the figure with the saturation turned down in all areas except the gold, leaving an image which might feel initially confusing as it lacks the draw of the bright red belt pieces. As a pretty hefty figure the box is slightly thicker than your usual Figuarts packaging, but still the same width and everything still manages to be packed in onto a single clear plastic tray.

The Crimson Moon's spin on the Garo armour is perhaps the most detailed yet, as not only does it add a whole lot more bulk to the suit but also a much bigger and more intricate level of detailing to match. Although the series itself is largely considered to be pretty terrible, the design itself is excellent and the getting to see it realised in figure form was a pretty exciting prospect. Unfortunately, the figure itself hasn't turned out very well at all. While the Ryuga and Leon figures were incredible advancements of what had previously been done with GARO Figuarts (the Ryuga suit being one of my favourite figures of 2016), Raikou's armour feels like a step backwards. The detailing is all there on the figure, but the downsize has resulted in much of it becoming smooshed up and cheap-looking, particularly in the headsculpt which feels very flat in comparison to previous offerings. This armour also tries to strike a strange balance between looking realistic and looking like an animated model, which also means the detailing isn't quite as sharp as it could be. The Leon armour fully embraces its animated origin, and so the more minimal detailing and angular surfaces feel far more fluid and a part of the design. Finally the gold finish looks great, but once again the head suffers and has the same gummy look/feel as the original Garo figure did. 

Overall the sculpt is pretty seamless and looks great in all manner of poses, however under those raised kneecaps is an EXTREMELY exposed joint, and when fully bent exposes a huge unsightly gap between the top and bottom of the legs. The additional plates on the sides of the legs do a good job of covering it up from the outside, but it honestly isn't a good look for the figure and when posing it's recommended that knee-bending is kept to a minimum to avoid ruining the look of the toy.

Unfortunately things only get worse when you move onto articulation. With such huge armoured pieces hanging off almost every important articulation point of the body, what exactly this figure is capable of is extremely limited compared to that of a standard Figuart. Even the head can barely turn in a full side-to-side motion thanks to the extended back piece and raised collar sections. Thankfully the shoulders and hips are much less limited than they look, but any decent outstretched or raised arm poses can almost immediately be discounted because those shoulder pieces have minimal articulation of their very own. The bigger problem with the hips however is that those pieces are just plain annoying. They're held on by the tiniest of ball joints that give next to no support, resulting in them falling off almost every time you move the figure's legs. Even in just taking the figure out of the box both pieces immediately fell off. Basically all the usual S.H. Figuarts articulation points are here, but how much you can actually get out of them is less so.

To top things off the design also makes switching hands a massive pain. Because of the way the forearms are designed the wrist joints are sunken in, surrounded by a circle of plastic that makes connecting different hands all the more difficult. Admittedly it isn't a huge deal, it's just frustrating when the wrist joint keeps moving downwards and is a pain to move back into an outward position because it's gotten wedged next to the plastic surrounding it.

The Raikou armour is also fairly low on accessories, which to be fair is a complaint shared among all GARO Figuarts but for the most part they all come with everything they need so it isn't a huge issue. Included here are only three additional pairs of hands and the Garo Ken sword, which like the other new versions is both huge and nicely detailed. All three new Garo figures also come with their own unique Garo Ken sculpts, which is commendable on Bandai's part when they could have easily just tried to reuse the same one for all three. It might not seem like much but it's enough for this figure to get by on, especially when the problems with the figure itself far outweigh any lack of accessories. The most important thing to get right with most Garo figures is a good looking sword, and this release has at least gotten that right.

With GARO Figuarts having taken two steps forward in the past year, with the Raikou armour it feels like they've taken four steps back again. A figure that's more akin to the five-year-old original release than it is the newer Ryuga and Leon figures, Raikou's armour is a mess of terrible articulation and underwhelming close-up detailing. The design itself is still gorgeous and undoubtedly the only good thing to come out of The Crimson Moon, but this figure just doesn't do it justice. While GARO fanatics may still want to pick this up, it's a shame that the quality of the figure also matches the quality of the show.

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