Friday 28 December 2018

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Dan Kuroto Shin ~A New Joy & Anger~

Release Date: November 2018
RRP: 7344 yen

Sometimes Bandai Tamashii Nations' S.H. Figuarts release patterns can be fairly predictable, but by now collectors are fairly used to them throwing a curveball and just come up with a release that you'd never see coming. Recognising that Kuroto Dan/Kamen Rider Genm was by far and large the most popular thing (all thanks to Tetsuya Iwanga's larger than life performance) about Kamen Rider Ex-Aid was one thing, but I don't think anyone was ready for just how much love Bandai were going to give him. Web exclusive figures, event exclusive figures, numerous "display only" figures that may or may not be stuck in development hell and even repaints that came out months before the suit they were originally based on. But even more surprising than that is not just one, but  TWO figures of the man himself in his civilian guise - both of which almost instantly sold out their initial Tamashii web exclusive runs and were quickly set up for a second shipment at the beginning of 2018. Fans of the games master and one true god were given the choice between the black jacketed  S.H. Figuarts Shin Dan Kuroto ~A New Sorrow & Fun~, or the grey jacketed S.H. Figuarts Dan Kuroto Shin ~A New Joy & Anger~ - each with their own unique head sculpts and accessories.

Before you even get into the figures themselves the packaging between the two Kurotos is pretty different and unfortunately Dan Kuroto Shin is the clear loser here. While Shin Dan Kuroto is done up in a hilarious window box that mimics his Buggle Driver Zwei prison from the series, Dan Kuroto Shin comes in a rather basic black and purple windowless box done up in the usual Kamen Rider Ex-Aid style. It isn't a bad box per se and the way the colours match the various Kamen Rider Genm releases is a nice touch, but compared to the other Kuroto release you do have to wonder why this one is so plain in comparison. The back of the box features the usual selection of stock figure images, and inside you'll find the figure and accessories stored on the usual plastic clamshell tray. All except the pipe accessory that is, which is stored in a separate bag taped to the back of the tray.

But enough about the packaging, it's time to release god from his plastic prison! In terms of outfit Kuroto is a lot more basic than the previous civilian identity figures but that doesn't mean any less care has gone into sculpting him, carefully mirroring his instantly recognisable wardrobe from the series itself. The jacket is made from a soft, malleable plastic to give the figure improved flexibility as well as a variety of textures, while the skinny jeans have plenty of fabric folds moulded into them for additional depth. A minor but particularly nice touch are the shoes, which aren't only well detailed but also done up in a glossy finish just as the full sized versions will be. But the most important thing of all is of course the head sculpt, which looks to have benefitted from the continued improvement Bandai have been making to their figures over the last few years. The wild expressions might be off-putting to some, but you can 100% see Tetsuya Iwanga in there and the faces they've used do help offset the dead-eye expressions some of the previous figures have had. One interesting point of note is that the figure has a hole drilled directly into its back for a Tamashii stage to plug in, which is something you almost never see on Figuarts. On the one hand it does kind of spoilt the otherwise neat sculpting, but directly plugging the figure into a stand is so much less hassle than the often frustrating articulated claws they come with. This is a figure you're definitely going to want to use with a stand to get all the best poses out of, and the more ease you can get in doing so the better.

Kuroto uses the same base body as the other civilian style figures Bandai have released across the S.H. Figuarts line, which is a little different their standard body in a few key areas. The most noticeable of these being the elbows and knees on the figure, which are single hinge joints rather than the usual double hinges. Secondly the hips use a style completely unique to these figures - utilising an internal hinge piece that rotates as well as providing outward motion. It's not the most articulated of Bandai's systems, but when it comes to keeping a clean sculpt it really can't be beat. On top of that the figure also has a ball jointed head and neck, ball-cut shoulders, ball jointed wrists, ball jointed torso and waist sections, ankle rockers and a hinged toe cap on each foot. That sounds like a pretty good selection on paper, but if you've ever watched Ex-Aid you'll know that Tetsuya Iwanga is literally made of plasticine. Some of the poses he pulls off are just goddamn ridiculous. As such as good as this amount of articulation is, it just isn't enough to get the job done properly. If he can't do the head tilt from episode 22 to full effect, then what is the point? Jokes aside, with the aide of stand you'll still be able to get a fairly decent range of ridiculous poses out of him, though there the neck seems to barely have any movement to it at all (despite being jointed) and the torso is somewhat limited by the soft plastic jacket surrounding it.

This version of Kuroto comes with three highly expressive face sculpts, ranging from his default smiling face to a clenched teeth angry face and an open mouth laughing expression. On top of that he also comes with nine additional pairs of hands, two black Gashats and plug adaptor for a Tamashii Stage or any similar articulated stand (the figure does however plug perfectly fine into a Tamashii Stage without it so who knows why Bandai decided to throw it in). The big downside to getting this version of the figure is the lack of a more generic facial expression, and at first it was a bit of an annoyance to me as well. But having the figure in hand, you come to appreciate just how much dumb fun the sillier face sculpts are and in retrospect I'd have probably barely used a more neutral one. Meanwhile although the Gashats still may not have any printed game detail on them, a big plus about these ones is that they are properly sized. Unlike the ones that come with the Rider suits, these have properly sized cartridge sections since they're not intended to fit into a Driver of any sort. It's something Bandai should have been doing all along with these releases, and they look pretty fantastic fitted into Kuroto's maniacal hands. On the subject of hands, how nice is it to see a release with such a big selection again? S.H. Figuarts as a toy line might not be as generous as it used to be when it comes to accessories but every so often a release like this comes along that reminds you just how good it used to be. A Driver might have been nice to throw into at least one of these releases, but if you're that desperate you can always just borrow one from the myriad of other Ex-Aid releases that come with Drivers. 

But let's talk about the real reason some collectors are buying this particular version of Kuroto. While the Shin Dan Kuroto version may come in the nicer packaging and have the better heads, the Dan Kuroto Shin version comes with the most essential of accessories - the purple "continue" pipe the self-proclaimed god emerges from every time he loses a life. Contrary to what you might think the pipe is actually not a straight repaint of the ones included in the S.H. Figuarts Mario accessory sets - whereas those were solid pieces with a removable thicker top section, Kuroto's pipe is packaged in two haves that clip together vertically. The pipe also doesn't have a base like the Mario ones, but since you can only see that looking from the top down it really isn't that much of a big deal. The important thing is that the pipe is here, and it looks glorious. The "Continue" sticker looks just as it did on the show, and despite its simplicity it's just a wonderfully dumb accessory that adds so much more life to the figure. If you're only picking up one version of Kuroto, I don't know why anyone would pick the other when it lacks this.

At the beginning of the year if you'd told me that not only was I going to eventually own a Kuroto figure but on top of that there'd also be two of them, I'd have probably laughed at you. But here was are 12 months later and S.H. Figuarts Dan Kuroto Shin ~A New Joy & Anger~ is a reality, and boy is it a good one. Sure it's true that Figuarts' civilian body isn't able to be quite as expressive as a man like Kuroto Dan needs to be, but between the fantastic accessory count and the fact this figure even exists in the first place sometimes you just have to give in to the sheer absurdity of it all. Kuroto might not have been the character anyone expected for Figuarts' next civilian form figure, but for Kamen Rider Ex-Aid fans it can't get much better than this.

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