Friday 17 November 2017

Toybox REVIEW: Laputa Robot Soldier [Full Action Ver.]

Release Date: October 2017
RRP: 7560 yen

Despite having produced some the most popular and well-known anime films in the world, it seems Studio Ghibli have never been the biggest fans of action figures. You can find plushies, stationary, papercraft models and all manner of other merchandise, but when it comes to poseable figures of their heroes, heroines and other iconic characters there isn’t exactly a lot to choose from. Which is exactly why Bandai’s Laputa Robot Soldier [Full Action Ver] from their 1986 film Laputa: Castle in the Sky is such a big deal. Having previously produced two versions of the robots as a static figure in 2013 and 2015, Bandai are all about articulation the third time around. The downside? This figure was released as a Premium Bandai store exclusive, with a sizeable price tag even before you factor in things like middleman and shipping fees. Still, as a rare chance to own a proper Studio Ghibli action figure this may not be an opportunity for some fans to pass up.

Bandai have absolutely excelled themselves on the box, which features some absolutely gorgeous art of the robot against a backdrop of the titular castle in the sky. Said art takes up most of the space, with the figure only visible through a corner plastic window. It’s not enough to get a full look at the figure or its accessories, but more than enough to get an idea of what you’re in for. The box’s spines feature some images from the film itself, while the back sports a nice selection of stock images against a variety of backgrounds. Inside the figure and accessories are on a single plastic tray, but the blue backing tray complete with ancient Laputa markings gives it an extra bit of colour and flair.

As an added bonus the film description on the box is a real treat, and Bandai-brand Engrish at its finest. It starts off well, but seems to descend further and further in madness as the paragraph goes on. Brilliant stuff.

As a Bandai collectors’ figure (and a Premium Bandai one at that) there shouldn’t be any doubts when it comes to the sculpting quality of this figure. The colours and proportions are spot on, and the few surfaces that do have moulded detail have been done so with precision. The red light-piping used for the eyes (which matches the gem on the chest) is also a nice little touch. However the presentation of this figure comes with two problems, both of which relate back to the price. The first one is scale – for 7560 yen (approximately £50 or $67 for context) one might expect a toy that’s around a similar size to the S.H. Figuarts or Super Robot Chogokin lines, about 5-6” inches in height. However the robot soldier is more like 4.5”, which isn’t especially small but still smaller than you might expect. However this wouldn’t be so much of an issue if not for the second problem – paintwork. This figure features next to nothing in the way of paint apps, moulded in brown and black plastic with only the tiniest bit of silver around the eyes. So while the colours are accurate, they feel pretty flat. This figure is just crying out for an dirtied up, mossy paintjob, which is something I refuse to believe is something that would have upped the cost significantly when I own £10 Dalek toys that have successfully pulled off a similar look. Fixing one or the other of these things would have gone a long way to make the figure feel more like it’s worth the asking price, and it’s a real shame their a problem because everything else this toy has to offer is incredible.

Take the articulation for example, which is where the toy really shines and is almost enough to make you forget about said annoyances. This small toy features an incredible 54 points of articulation, most of which have been packed into the robots “watch strap link”-esque limbs. The arms are made up of eight links each, while the legs have five links. Each link has its own pin joint, providing multiple points of sturdy articulation. Then on top of all that there’s also a ball-joints in the head, neck, torso, crotch, wrists, fingers and hips as well as double-hinged shoulders, bicep swivels, hinged toes and forwards/backwards movement in the section connecting the neck to the body. It’s worth noting though that while the fingers and thumbs have hinges moulded onto them, they are in fact solid pieces and only moveable at the knuckle. Nevertheless with all this articulation the robot soldier is capable of a staggering amount of poses, from recreating movie scenes to doing handstands or break-dancing with its impressive balancing abilities. It really is one of the most articulate toys I’ve handled in my years of collecting and carries so much personality as a result.

The soldier’s accessories include an alternate pair of winged arms a charging plug with three bendable wires and an articulated stand to display the figure in flight and mid-air poses. The stand’s circular base also has the same blue markings that can be found on the box’s insert card. Though the wing arms naturally don’t have quite as much articulation as the standard ones, the translucent purple “wing” sections are beautifully presented and both the hands and fingers remain fully poseable. Meanwhile the charging plug piece fits directly into a port hidden behind the Laputa royal crest panel on the figure’s back. Getting the figure into an accurate inert pose is extremely tedious and fiddly, but does further add to the already wide variety of display options the figure has.

The Laputa Robot Soldier [Full Action Ver] could have easily been one of the best toys I own. The fact alone that it’s a proper poseable Studio Ghibli toy is worthy of praise, but the personality and articulation that Bandai have packed into this little guy is an incredible feat. That said, for the 7560 yen Premium Bandai exclusive asking price both the size and (lack of) paintwork are disappointing. One or the other would have been perfectly acceptable, but without either this toy lacks the “premium” edge that would have made it really special. However the sheer fun factor this toy has cannot be understated – Studio Ghibli fans should definitely seek it out, and for anyone else in need of an unique looking, highly poseable robot toy this is definitely what you’ve been searching for.

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