Wednesday 28 November 2018

Toybox REVIEW: RIOBOT Iron Giant

Release Date: September 2018
RRP: 15000 yen

Each year this site hosts a lot of different toy reviews (mostly from the same handful of lines, but I digress), but every so often something comes around that's really special. Despite receiving critical acclaim upon its release way back in 1998 and achieving cult status since, The Iron Giant is a film that's never really received much in the way of high end toys. However recent years have sought to change that, and with the film and character recently coming back into the public eye because of its 20th anniversary and cameo appearance in Ready Player One high-end mecha manufacturers Sentinel are finally adding the star to their lavish Riobot line. Now Riobot isn't a line known for it's low prices so this is one that'll also set you back a fair bit, but at half the size and half the price of Mondo's Iron Giant it's definitely one fans have been waiting on for a long time.

Riobot Iron Giant comes in some rather basic packaging, but its professional layout and high quality finish are perfectly suited to a high-end figure such as this. The front of the both simply features a grey-scale image of the toy alongside the movie logo, while the back throws in a few more promotional images of the toy along with the Riobot logo and designer credits. The real charm are the spines, which not only feature some nice forestry graphic design but also that all-important 'You are who you choose to be." quote. Inside the figure and its accessories are neatly laid out across a single clamshell tray, along with a nice little instruction leaflet that clearly illustrates how all the different parts connect. 

The design The Iron Giant settled on was wildly different to the one described in (or illustrated on the cover of) Ted Hughes' original 1968 novel, but given how loosely the film adapted the source material it isn't surprising that they took it in a different and more visually appealing direction. It's also such a wonderfully elegant and immediately iconic design - perfectly capturing the look and feel of the late 50s/early 60s sci-fi aesthetic the film goes for. It's a design I could praise for paragraph after paragraph, but the important thing here is just how well Sentinel and the team who worked on it were able to capture it and shrink it down to a 160mm (1/80 scale) figure. And the answer is of course immaculately. Despite seemingly like a very basic design that's primarily one colour the toy perfectly captures every angle, panel and rivet along with various shades of grey and dashes of black that give it so much more depth. The toy is the perfect balance of diecast metal and plastic, giving it the weight a high-end toy like this should have put also not turning it into a predominantly metal mess. The torso, crotch, feet are arguably the key areas of diecast, however the thin sections of the arms and legs are also made of metal to give those spindly limbs more support.

If the sculpt alone wasn't enough to impress, then just wait until you see the kind of poses this figure of capable of. The Riobot Iron Giant features a ball joints in his head, neck, shoulders, torso, hips and wrists, along with bicep and leg swivels as well as hinged elbows, knees, feet and "toes". The ankles also have a rocker joint implemented to give it lateral motion separate from what the front-facing hinge provides. Additionally the hands also have their own unique hinge joint (similar to the ones seen on older Figma figures) in addition to the arm-mounted ball joint. Of course, the head also features a movable jaw perfect for all sorts of expression. When you add it all up it's nothing out of the ordinary for a high-end figure like this, but why it works so well comes back to that perfect balance of plastic and diecast. The weight distribution on this figure is spot on, allowing it to pull off all manner of poses comfortably and without any risk of suddenly falling over. Getting the figure to properly squat without falling over backwards is a particularly satisfying moment.

Riobot Iron Giant comes packaged with two additional pairs of hands, three alternate heads each with lines across the eyes to denote various expressions and two alternate jaw pieces with exposed teeth. On a pricey figure like this one could easily imagine that swapping out the parts would be troublesome and should be avoided as much as possible to avoid any accidental breakage, but Sentinel have made everything as fluid and hassle-free as possible. The hands simply peg into the wrist balljoints, the head pops out of the neck's socket like a charm and finally the jaw nicely slots into place in the grooves on each side of the head - held in place securely when the head is attached to the neck. As for the teeth, the upper set is just an additional piece that slots into the head itself while the bottom jaw is an entirely different piece you swap out with the regular one. Praising a figure for something as basic like easy parts swapping may seem like bias, but given how many toys like these require some sort of force to pull the pieces apart such flawless swapping really is a joy to behold. Additionally on first glance it might not seem like there's a whole lot of difference between the four heads, but those little expression lines on the eyes go a long way and together with the teeth they give an already dynamic figure so much more personality.

The final accessory included with this release is a simple one, but one that every Iron Giant figure undoubtedly needs - the robot's carefully crafted "S" plate so that he can feel more like his comic-book hero Superman. If you haven't seen the film, all you have to do is say "Superman" to someone who has just to know how important it is to the character. Given that the torso section is made of metal I originally wondered if the piece would attach to the figure via magnets when looking at the promotional images, but in fact it actually clips on - fastening just under the torso and sitting comfortably on top. Once clipped, the circle can be rotated to the desired position. I was a bit concerned that clipping it on and off too much might lead to scuffing the torso, but a little bit of care when doing so and there's absolutely nothing to worry about. Again, it's such a simple accessory but it adds so much more character to the figure, and to be able to recreate one of the film's most iconic scenes is an absolute pleasure.

So that just leaves one big question - why doesn't this release come with any of the various weapons and war machine parts? The obvious answers are that including all these additional parts would drive the price tag up pretty significantly and Sentinel already seem to be planning another release down the line (though whether this will take the form an accessory pack or all-new release is currently unknown), but in other ways not including them with this initial release just feels right. One of the core messages of The Iron Giant is that the titular robot "isn't a gun" despite housing so many weapons within his chassis, and it does feel like the toy is intentionally carrying that message. All of the heads have that all-important "memory loss" dent and the toy (along with its accessories) just feel overwhelming friendly, so adding giant gun parts into the mix might throw that off just a bit. It all sounds like senseless justification and toy companies trying to coax buyers into double-dipping should never be justified, but when you have this toy in hand you don't think about what this toy could have come with - you just enjoy what is has.

The Iron Giant is one of my all-time favourite films and a high quality figure is something I (along with many other fans and toy collectors alike) have wanted for a long, long time. Mondo's spectacular effort almost fit the bill, but its size, price tag and limited nature immediately priced many buyers out of the market - and that's before getting into the QC issues the figure also had. Sentinel's offering certainly isn't cheap either, but it's certainly far more palatable. Riobot Iron Giant is an absolute triumph in toy design, taking that incredible design and imbuing it with so much life through the perfect distribution of build materials and fantastic articulation. It's such a simple design yet effect design that it's very difficult to get anything truly wrong, but Sentinel have excelled on pretty much everything here. There's still one month to go with plenty of amazing releases still to come, but I'm fairly confident in calling this my toy of the year for 2018. It's the Iron Giant toy we've all been waiting for.

No comments: