Friday 24 March 2017

Toybox REVIEW: Ultra-Act x S.H. Figuarts Ace Suit

Sad news Ultra-Act fans – it looks like the line may truly be dead. Not only are the original Ultra Series characters now being redone in the S.H. Figuarts line, but the reveal of Ultraman Orb figures suggests future ones will be too. However Ultra-Act still quietly lives on in the form of the Ultra-Act x S.H. Figuarts crossover line, which so far has been solely dedicated to characters from the ongoing Ultraman manga series. The line’s fourth release (and third unique mould) is another Tamashii web exclusive – the Ace Suit (also known as Ultraman Version A), the third Ultra hero in series and heroic identity of Seiji Hokuto.

The Ace Suit comes in fairly plain packaging, however the cool thing about these Ultraman manga figures is that the front of the boxes are done up to look like the covers of the books themselves. While this one doesn’t fully match up with volume six (which features Ace’s first proper appearance), it’s certainly close enough to get the point across nicely. The back features the usual array of promotional images, nicely showing off all the additional accessories that come with the figure (and for once there’s a fair number of them!) as well as the figure alongside the previously released Ultraman and Ultraman Suit Ver 7.2.

Due to its differing origins (the suit is made from alien tech) the Ace Suit looks slightly different from the two previously released Ultramen. While it may have the same matte silver and dark red finish, the suit itself is far less armoured – with large portions of the suit looking like material rather than metal. The sculpt gets this across wonderfully, providing a nice contrast between the figure-hugging bodysuit and the more rigid armour-plated sections. Less armour doesn’t make the figure any less detailed than its predecessors, as Ace is still covered in an array of dents and fabric folds just like you’d see on any other well-produced Figuart. As was the case with the previous figures it’s a shame that the eyes aren’t a bit more striking, but at least here the surrounding red paint make the gold seem a little bit more vibrant

Straight out of the box articulation was problematic. If you’re well-versed in the world of S.H. Figuarts you’ll have probably heard the horror stories about creaking joints that can lead to limbs snapping almost instantly, and that collectors swear by Shock Oil as a fast an effective fix. Upon opening my Ace Suit I was greeted with two incredibly stiff shoulder joints and a hip joint that would barely move without heavy force. Posing this figure would have immediately led to breaking it, so for the first time I tested out the Shock Oil method and can confirm that it works INCREDIBLY. My Ace Suit now has a full set of smooth-moving joints that are able to take any pose. If you’re planning on picking up this figure, that might be worth remembering just in case your figure proves equally problematic upon first opening it. 

With that problem out of the way, the general articulation of this figure is pretty good. It’s a shame Bandai are still hanging on to the old swing-down hips, but with that style being a staple of Ultra-Act figures it makes more sense why it’s still being used here. The only real limitation on the figure is the neck, as the head has some trouble looking side to side thanks to the helmet shape and the raised collar sections raising up from the torso. The shoulder pads are a bit fiddly when it comes to posing too, but are fully moveable and can aligned with the arms once posed.

After the first UA-SHF Ultraman figure was immediately followed up with a better, “premium version” (notably including an unmasked head and special Tamashii Stage), subsequent releases have come with the fear that something better may be in the pipeline. Ver 7.2 hasn’t had this treatment yet, but with the figure lacking an unmasked head and a Full Armament version being displayed at events it seems like only a matter of time. Shockingly though the Ace Suit figure DOES come with an alternate unmasked Seiji Hokuto head, along with two different faces to choose from – one with a generic stoic expression, the other a shouting face. The ball joint used for the head isn’t quite as tight as you’d usually find on a Figuart, allowing the swapping process to be nice and smooth. Changing the faces is just as easy, and simply requires removing the front hairpiece like on any other typical anime figure. The Seiji head does look a little strange on the body, but it’s a great extra that Tamashii Nations were right to include the first time round.

Of course that isn’t all when it comes to accessories either. In addition to the extra head/faces Ace also comes with two additional pairs of hands, deployed arm gauntlets, alternate extended wrists to work with the gauntlets and a translucent yellow “vertical guillotine” effect part. Swapping out the wrist parts is a pretty involved process as it involves (in the following order) removing the hands, then the wrist cuffs and then the joints themselves, changing the red forearm panels to the deployed pieces before attaching the longer wrist joints and subsequently adding the cuffs and reattaching the hands. The effect piece then plugs into the port on each wrist, so the arms need to be carefully positioned to ensure it fits on both sides. Of course not only is all of this extremely fiddly, but nothing fits in securely either – resulting in a lot of frustration as the effect part and/or wrists pop off while posing. You can’t help but love just how in-depth Tamashii Nations have gone just for a really dynamic pose, but these pieces are just so annoying once you’ve messed around with them once you’ll want to pop them back in the box and pretend they don’t exist.

While there’s definitely still room for improvement when it comes to the Ultra-Act x S.H. Figuarts Ultraman manga range, Ace Suit is the first release that doesn’t feel like a total disappointment. The figure itself is both solid and nicely detailed, and the accessory count hefty enough that this feels like a “complete” release (as opposed to getting a better re-release somewhere down the line). If the effect part accessories weren’t so painstakingly fiddly, this would a pretty excellent package. Hopefully things will only continue to improve with the forthcoming release of Bemular, and this unique crossover line will be considered worthy to carry on Ultra-Act’s legacy.

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