Tuesday 29 May 2018

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Jack

Release Date: April 2018
RRP: 5940 yen

Even though it might not be celebrating its 50th anniversary for another four years, Bandai Tamashii Nations' journey through the Ultra Series continues with its annual cycle as the S.H. Figuarts line delves into 1971's The Return of Ultraman. Though it may have been the first Ultra series produced without the leadership of creator Eiji Tsuburaya, the series is notable for being the first to introduce a shared continuity to the franchise – with both Ultraseven and the original Ultraman appearing by the show's end. As you'd expect the best way for a new range of Ultraman Figuarts to kick off is with its hero, as S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Jack joins his fellow Ultra Brothers as a retail release figure.

All of the Showa era Ultraman Figuarts releases have maintained the same packaging style save for colour, but for the Ultramen themselves the boxes have been near identical – all sporting the same red and silver colouring with the only differences being the images, series logos and (in Zoffy's case anyway) the size of the box itself. S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Jack is no exception, with the windowed-packaging sporting a big image of the onscreen suit as well as a Return of Ultraman logo tucked away in the bottom left corner. The back of the box features a rather extensive selection of stock images as there is quite a lot of show off with this release, and inside the figure and accessories are neatly spread out across a single clamshell tray.

One of the biggest rites of passage for any new Ultraman fan is that moment they become able to tell Ultraman, Zoffy and Ultraman Jack apart on first glance. With Zoffy it's a little more obvious because of the "medal" stumps, but for the other two it requires paying a little more attention to the body patterns. The biggest indicator is Jack's butterfly-like chest, however there's also the surrounding silver strips that help differentiate the two a little bit more. Of course there's also the matter of Jack's Ultra Bracelet, but since he might not always be wearing that knowing the pattern differences never hurts either. Anyway Bandai have done a great job shrinking Jack down for the S.H. Figuarts line, with the biggest surprise being that this isn't just a straight repaint of the Ultraman/Zoffy mould! Ultraman Jack sports a slightly altered and better proportioned frame, which immediately makes the other two feel quite dated by comparison. The colours are also a big improvement, using more muted shades of red and silver like Figuarts Ultraseven rather than the brighter tones of the other figures. Not only is it a much nicer-looking finish, but it also feels far more accurate to original 70s version of the suit rather than just a catch-all version you see in the modern iterations. It might not be preferable to everyone, but when suit accuracy is something these Ultra releases seem to be going for it's certainly something to be commended.

But while the sculpt may be a little different, the articulation is pretty much the same as the previous releases. This isn't a particularly bad thing though, as Ultras have the luxury of getting to enjoy all that Figuarts' brand articulation without any additional armour hanging off to hinder it. S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Jack sports ball joints in his neck, shoulders, torso, waist, wrists and hips along with a peg joint head, double hinge elbows and knees, ankle rockers and the usual hinged toe section to cap it all off. That's a really nice selection that gives Jack plenty of range, but when you try to put the figure in the signature Specium Ray pose it becomes immediately obvious that it's lacking something crucial - bicep swivels. Even with the additional movement provided by the shoulders being able to pull forwards, the arms simply can't cross in a manner that does the pose justice. It seems to be able to manage it fine on the box images, but trying to get it anywhere close to that is a struggle. One day it might make sense how Bandai decide which Figuarts get bicep swivels and which ones don't, but for the time being this is just another example where that extra pair of joints could have made a huge difference.

While collectors can argue non-stop about whether the Ultraman S.H. Figuarts range is an effective replacement for the old Ultra-Act line, there is one area where Ultra-Act definitely has the newcomers beat - accessories. Ultra-Act figures seemed to come with everything they needed plus more (usually in the form of nifty effect parts that would look good with any figure), whereas S.H. Figuarts have done a fairly decent job but nothing that ever quite matches up to that standard. However Ultraman Jack could be the figure that changes all of this, coming with a truly impressive array of accessories that not only includes all the standard parts every Ultra should but also a few other pieces specifically unique to him. Of the more "generic" accessories we have seven additional hands, a Specium Ray effect part, an Ultra Slash effect part and an alternate red Colour Timer piece. The Specium Ray is a completely different to the one included with the original Ultraman, not only in terms of colour but also moulding as well. The inclusion of the Ultra Slash is also a particularly nice touch, given that this was omitted from the original Ultraman and not rectified until the release of Alien Mefilas some time later. As is usually the case both effect parts are permanently fixed to alternate right hand pieces, but that doesn't mean you can't get some great looking poses out of them. Finally there's the case of the Colour Timer, a piece that was nothing but hassle on the original Ultraman but here switches in and out exactly as it should. It isn't like Bandai have really changed anything either, but here the cylinders pull in and out of the torso with relative ease - making it far easier to switch between a fully charged Ultraman Jack and one whose energy levels are reaching critical point.

But that's not all either, as things get a little more unique with the inclusion of Jack's Ultra Bracelet arsenal! The Ultra Bracelet was a weapon presented to Jack by Ultraseven in episode 18 of the series, finally giving Jack the edge to beat Bemstar in battle. As the name suggests the Ultra Bracelet is usually worn around Jack's left wrist, but when removed transforms into both a cutting weapon (the Ultra Spark) and the larger Ultra Lance. The Ultra Lance is then later upgraded into the rather self-explanatory Ultra Cross, which replaced the bladed tip with a cross. All three weapons are included here in this release, along with an alternate left hand glove piece that has a moulded Ultra Bracelet fixed onto it. This gives you the option to accurately pose Jack with or without it worn around his wrist, depending on whether he has a weapon deployed or you're just imagining him as a pre-episode 18 Ultraman Jack. Each weapon is perfectly moulded and painted, so despite them not being all that complex look absolutely fantastic both in and out of Jack's hands. And honestly it's these accessories that really help make the figure special - almost every Ultra comes with some sort of beam effect, but its the ones that include those AND something a little more unique that really catches the eye.

While the various aliens and kaiju of the Ultraman S.H. Figuarts range have generally been going from strength to strength in the past few years, the actual Ultraman figures have often fallen short of true greatness. Ultraman Geed isn't too far behind, but S.H. Ultraman Jack is the closest the silver giants have come to hitting that sweet spot. Between the significantly improved sculpt, show-accurate colours and impressive (but more importantly unique) accessory count Ultraman Jack is a rather surprising little release that isn't quite as predictable as one might think. The lack of bicep swivels to pull off a decent Specium Ray pose is an annoyance for sure, but at least this is one Ultraman figure with plenty of other options to make up for it. As far as suits go some may struggle to tell the difference between Ultraman, Zoffy and Jack but when it comes to the Figuarts Ultraman Jack is definitely the one that stands out.


Unknown said...

Great review! I've been planning to pick up this version and finally did. I bought him along with the recently released twin tail. I was actually more impressed with Ultraman Jack. Leaps and bounds more better than the orginal figuarts Ultraman and Ultraseven. Glad I skippes Joffy.

Rewbott12 said...

The Ultraman Figuarts line could have opted for the rotating elbow joints found in any character/series (Street Fighter, Kinnikuman, WWE, etc.) using the "Fighting Body" design type. Having owned Ultraman, Seven and Jack, yes I'm aware of the rather strange choice for Bandai to have the Ultramen use "primitive" elbow joints, which in effect, make certain poses difficult to pull off.

An Exception I'd like to state would be Zarab, due to his rotatable shoulder joints.