Monday 24 December 2018

Toybox REVIEW: Robot Damashii Strelizia

Release Date: October 2018
RRP: 5184 yen

SSSS.Gridman may be the Studio Trigger anime of 2018 that everyone remembers, but earlier in the year they co-produced a show that anime fans were far more divided on – and in some cases most people would rather forget. Nevertheless Darling in the Franxx was still a thing that happened, and between being a highly publicised series and featuring mecha designs from Shigeto Koyama (Star Driver, Captain Earth), merchandise was pretty much a given. And it was Bandai Tamashii Nations that turned out to surprise fans, not only announcing the Franxx mecha for their Robot Damashii (Spirits) line but also human pilots in the S.H. Figuarts. Though it's looking less and less likely that Bandai will be completing the main cast in either line, at the main bases have been covered with the Robot Damashii Strelizia figure.

Robot Damashii Strelizia's box is pretty unique when it comes to Tamashii Nations packaging because it's backwards! That's right, the transparent window section that shows off the figure inside is actually the back of the box here, with the front instead taking the windowless approach with a nice big image of the figure against a silhouette of co-pilot Zero Two. The silhouette itself is then made up of shots of the anime, which is a really nice touch and adds an extra bit of flair to the otherwise plain packaging. Also note that the packaging chooses to label the figure as "Strelitzia" (the actual spelling of the flower the robot is named after) rather than "Strelizia" – the spelling all the official Darling in the Franxx materials have used (and as such I'm using for this review). The back of the box also features a selection of images of figure in various poses, and inside you'll find the contents spread across two plastic clamshell trays.

One of the big hallmarks of a Shigeto Koyama mecha (especially in the last decade or so) is that it barely looks like a conventional piloted robot at all - they're usually practically human in shape. Star Driver is at one end of the spectrum with the extravagant and spindly-limbed Taubarn, while Captain Earth's Earth Engine is at the other end as more of an armoured behemoth. Strelizia meanwhile sits somewhere in the middle of the two, mirroring Taubarn's humanoid shape but featuring more armoured and mechanical sections akin to the Earth Engine. Perhaps the most unique departure of all is the robot's face, which unlike the others is fully expressive and humanoid. But the big thing that connects all these robots together is their matching white and red (with the odd dashes of blue and yellow/gold/orange) colour schemes, which Strelizia pulls off extremely well. The majority of the colour is actually in the plastic itself, with the majority of the paintwork kept to the head and torso. This gives the Strelizia and extremely clean finish, and lessens the chance of sloppy paintwork varying from figure to figure. The shade of metallic gold used for the hair and shoulders is also magnificent, standing out perfectly against the far more basic white and red. 

All in all the Strelizia is a fantastic looking toy, but the problems arise when you try to stand the damn thing up. A spindly bodied robot with high heels and giant shoulder pads and arm gauntlets might make for a great 2D design, but not so much a practical 3D action figure. You only need to take one look at those feet to see that standing this thing up is going to be a struggle, and it is exactly that. It can handle the very basic of poses, but anything more extravagant and action-packed than that and you're definitely going to need a display stand.

It's such a shame that the design of the robot inevitably causes significant balance issues, because the level of articulation the figure has is pretty damn impressive. Body-wise the figure sports a ball jointed head, shoulders and shoulder pads, bicep swivels, hinged elbows, lower arm swivels, ball jointed wrists, a ball jointed torso, ball jointed hips, upper leg swivels, hinged knees, and even ball jointed heels. That's without counting all the articulation on the additional flair, as each of the four hair pieces on the back of the head are individually ball jointed, as are the the array of thrusters that make up the skirt area. Both the left and right sides of the skirt are attached via a ball joint, and then on top of that the two thrusters on the front are individually jointed. A ball jointed waist would have been nice just to top it all off,  but given how spindly the body is you can see why Bandai probably decided to omit it. That's a pretty wide range of articulation, however some of it doesn't quite work to full potential. For example, the torso joint is only really capable of forwards/backwards motion and the wrist sections on the hands are so deep that it several limits just how much the ball joint can do. That said, it's comforting that so many of the joints are simple ball and socket joints as it means that if something accidentally pops off, it'll pop back on just as easily. So while the Strelizia is capable of all sort of great poses, just be sure you've got a stand on hand because odds are it probably won't be able to stand up whilst doing it.

Robot Damashii is another line that can be fairly generous on the accessory count when it wants to, and with the Strelizia Bandai seemed quite intent on making sure collectors got their money's worth. Also included with the figure are three additional hands (a pair of closed fists and a weapon holding right hand), two alternate face plates (featuring smiling and shouting faces), left arm shield and of course its signature Queen Pike lance weapon. The Queen Pike is a hulking piece of weaponry, taller than the robot itself when fully assembled and connected to the robot at the back via a cable of malleable plastic. Unfortunately it isn't a particularly tight fit in the one weapon holding hand, and the lack of a second left hand to add additional support means the balance issues quickly become even more troublesome. Swapping the faceplates is also particularly fiddly on this release, as to do so you first need to remove both the horn and headcrest, and then after taking the faceplate off also take off the chin piece which slots just under it. None of the pieces particularly feel like they're going to break (though the chin piece is tiny, as are the faceplates really), but it's just overly cumbersome for something that should be a relatively simple switch. Thankfully attaching the shield is a much more simple affair, though it requires an additional piece which clips onto the arm as well as providing the shield itself with a ball joint range of motion.

But perhaps the most important accessory of all (especially in light of all of those balance issues) is a circular display base, nicely decorated with the Darling in the Franxx logo's crossing red and blue lines. The base has a single raised peg just off centre to plug the figure straight into it, but also has a whole to fit a standard Tamashii Stage articulated arm (not included with this release) for more extravagant poses. You can of course use the claw piece these stands come with to hold the figure, but alternatively you can also use the special grey adapter piece Bandai have included. This plugs straight into the top of the arm, and then comfortably clips onto a piece on the back of the Strelizia. Not only does it offer a far more secure and unnoticeable connection, but if the figure were suddenly fall off the stand or any other accident happen its more likely that the back piece will just come (naturally apart) from the figure rather than any actual breakage happen. It's a shame about the figure's inability to barely stand up without support but at least Bandai have tried to compensate for it by included a display base, and personalised ones are always a much better accessory than generic ones.

Darling in the Franxx may have turned out to be a massive disappointment, but my deep love for Shigeto Koyama's mecha designs meant I was never not going to buy Robot Damashii Strelizia. As far as taking that very distinct design and shrinking it down to action figure scale Bandai Tamashii Nations have done a typically fantastic job, but it's when it comes to functioning like an action figure that the figure falls short. It's inability to balance in anything but the most basic poses without support is a huge knock against it, and on top of that the sheer amount of fiddly pieces make it a toy that's a lot of fun to look at but not so much to play with. If you're looking for a unique robot to add to your collection then this fits the bill pretty perfectly, but like the show itself the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

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