Monday 2 July 2018

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Blood Stalk

Release Date: May 2018 
RRP: 5184 yen 

Every so often Bandai Tamashii Nations will make some baffling choices when it comes how they choose to release S.H. Figuarts, and more often than not these can be put down to how characters can be perceived at the very start of a series. In its early episodes Kamen Rider Build featured Night Rogue as its main villain so he subsequently gets a mainline release, followed by Blood Stalk arriving later as a Tamashii web exclusive. Fast-forward some episodes later, and the Night Rogue suit has all but vanished from the series and Stalk has been revealed as the true mastermind – with that suit hanging around far longer until its eventual upgrade/replacement. But the important thing here is that the wait for S.H. Figuarts Blood Stalk wasn't a long one, nor is it a typical one – with the figure also coming packaged with some rather nifty Tamashii Effects steam cloud effect parts.

After writing nearly a hundred S.H. Figuarts reviews you'd think there wouldn't be much left to say about the packaging that hasn't been said previously, but Blood Stalk's box is a little different than the norm. While from the front it appears to be the usual style of Tamashii web exclusive windowless packaging (complete with a nice big image of the figure and a colourful backdrop done in the Kamen Rider Build aesthetic – the little scientific "cobra" symbol is a particularly nice touch), the back isn't the usual array of stock images against a plain backdrop. Instead it solely advertises the Tamashii Effects Steam parts bundled with the figure, with the colourscheme and general aesthetic completely different from the Blood Stalk half. It genuinely looks like two different box halves have been stuck together, giving it a rather unique look amongst the line's usual offerings. Inside you'll find the figure and accessories fitted onto a single clamshell tray (with the weapons stored underneath the figure to save on space), with the steam effects taped underneath the tray in their own segmented bags.

When the Night Rogue and Blood Stalk Figuarts were first announced there was some backlash as collectors pointed out that neither figure quite matched up to the proportions of the onscreen suits - so much so that even Tamashii themselves addressed it and said that the sculpts would be tweaked before release. The finished product is something that might be a little bit off proportion-wise if you looked at it from a certain angle, but certainly nothing that's truly worth complaining about - because S.H. Figuarts Blood Stalk looks damn good. The Transteam System have a really distinct industrial aesthetic to them that clashes brilliant with the smoother look of the Rider system, and the red and brown of Stalk's suit really bring out those qualities. It's quite a busy design with lots of padding and buckles, all of which have been nicely moulded to the usual S.H. Figuarts standard. Of course on top of that you have the chest armour, shoulder pads and arm gauntlets throwing in some gunmetal grey spikes and pipes as well as that immediately striking metallic blue cobra emblem on the chest. The crowning glory here though is that head sculpt, complete with translucent blue visor that when viewed close up reveals some rather sinister looking eyes sculpted underneath. Much like the antennae on most Rider figures the extended part of the visor is fragile and could easily break if you're not careful, but there's plenty of room to handle the head around it so can easily be avoided. All in all its a pretty fantastic-looking figure that definitely does the overall look of the suit justice, even if you are a little iffy on the proportions.

With a character as expressive as Blood Stalk, articulation is everything and that's another area that the Figuart thankfully manages to deliver in. The figure sports a ball-jointed head and neck, ball-jointed shoulders (complete with hinge/ball combo shoulder pads), double-hinge elbows, ball-jointed twists, ball-jointed torso and waist sections, "swing down" ball-jointed hips, double-hinge knees, ankle rockers and of course that hinged toe cap section to round it all off. There are some areas that perhaps aren't as quite as they should be (the elbows for example are a bit more restricted than your average Figuart) but overall its more than enough to get Blood Stalk into the appropriate range of poses. Can he do sass? You bet his can. Action poses? Most definitely. Sitting down, chilling and thinking about the Pandora Box? No problem. Even the torso, with its bulky armour-plated chest piece has a fantastic range of motion. 

One other little complaint I have is that the elbow pads tend to pop off a lot, which isn't anything new for Figuarts but Blood Stalk's are tiny - meaning if you don't notice they've come off you could very easily end up losing one.

Blood Stalk's main accessories include three additional pairs of hands and his Steam Rifle, which can then be split apart into its two components - the Transteam Gun and the Steam Blade. Often with Figuarts it'll be hit or miss as to whether splitting/combining weapons is a fiddly process or not, but amazingly with Blood Stalk's arsenal it couldn't be simpler - just split apart and reassemble accordingly. This doesn't just give the figure a whole load of options when it comes to posing, it also means that swapping things up is never a hassle. Both weapons are beautiful moulded (but sadly painted on only one side even if it's show accurate), with the Transteam Gun especially good with its translucent purple Cobra Full Bottle jutting out of the bottom. The bottle itself is also removable, but given its size and the lack of any proper hands to hold it the function does feel a bit like an invitation to inadvertently lose it. All of the weapon formations also fit nice and snuggly in their designated hands, which is always a big plug when it comes to two-handed rifle poses. These may all be weapons that were previously included with Night Rogue, but look just as good (if not better) in the hands of Stalk.

Finally we come to the final "half" of this set – a pair of steam cloud effect parts that for all intensive purpose fall under the wider "Tamashii Effects" brand. The two clouds are both different in size and shape, and come together with two fixed position stand parts to display them at various heights. However if neither of these are to your liking, the clouds also have alternate ports to connect to a standard articulated Tamashii Stage as well. Like previous Tamashii Effects parts the clouds are really nicely moulded and look absolutely fantastic with the figure, whether you display the steam pouring out of the suit itself or out of the Transteam Gun as a makeshift "mist match" pose. Of course these are pretty universal effect parts too, so there are plenty of other characters and brands they'd look great with too (Attack on Titan was one that immediately sprung to mind). With Tamashii Effects usually running 1500-3000 yen on their own, it's pretty incredible to be getting these as a pack-in bonus with Blood Stalk at what feels like no extra cost. Tamashii Nations could have easily just included the weapons and called it a day here (because let's face it, they do it for plenty of other releases) but really went the extra mile on this one.

S.H. Figuarts Blood Stalk isn't a perfect figure, but when you consider that this has been bundled with its own unique Tamashii Effects (which usually run for a fair price on their own) AND still somehow managed to only cost 5184 yen it is pretty much the perfect package. A few minor complaints about the mould don't stop Blood Stalk from bring a highly expressive and superbly finished figure, then of top of that you have great accessories perfect for both this figure and wider use with other figures. Anyone who's watching Kamen Rider Build will tell you that Blood Stalk is a firm fan favourite, and with the figure being a Tamashii web exclusive you'll want to be sure to pick it up while you still can.

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