Wednesday 6 February 2019

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Darth Vader (A New Hope)

Release Date: April 2018 
RRP: 6480 yen 

The announcement of Star Wars S.H. Figuarts was a huge moment back in 2015, and in the past few years Bandai Tamashii Nations haven't wasted in any time in putting that license to good use. Though there are still dozens of main characters still be released (many of which have also been on display at various events), the line has done a good job of balancing releases between the three trilogies and anthology films. Given all the Stormtroopers there are it's a brand that's never shied away from variants though, and now Tamashii return with a second S.H. Figuarts Darth Vader. Whereas the previous 2015 figure was based on the Sith Lord's appearance from Return of the Jedi, this newer release is instead based on the version seen in A New Hope.

S.H. Figuarts packaging often changes between different series and/or over the years but Star Wars has maintained a fairly consistent design over the last three years – so much so that there is very little different to speak of between this and the Return of the Jedi version. From the front the box design is almost identical, the only real giveaway between the two (other than what's inside of course) being the fact this version has "A New Hope" written next to the character name. Naturally the promotional images used on the back and spine are different but the layout still remains pretty much the same, right down the glossy black and silver foil finish. Opening the figure up you'll find Vader and his accessories housed on a single plastic clamshell tray.

Darth Vader has always been interesting in that while figures can often wildly vary in appearance when you put them side by side, rarely do you get something that's so off that it looks flat out wrong. S.H. Figuarts A New Hope Vader isn't really any different in this respect, and despite an immediately striking sculpt there are a few minor imperfections that may or may not bother you. The most obvious of these is the cape chain, which is both much larger than it should be and coloured silver instead of black. On the actual suit the chain should be small enough to sit just under the helmet base and hide practically out of sight, but there's no chance of that happening here. So if you're looking for a really accurate Vader figure that could be a bit of a deal breaker, but personal preference might be enough for you to overlook it - I personally think it kind of works, and I do love that it's a metal chain. The other issue is the head size. It isn't immediately obvious from every angle nor does it detract from the figure in a significant way, but it's definitely been elongated out in certain areas. If you aren't a complete diehard for Darth Vader suit accuracy then you probably wouldn't even notice these things because to the untrained it just looks like a very good Darth Vader figure, but I wouldn't be doing this review justice if I didn't at least point it out for those reading that do care about such things.

In terms of comparing this version of the suit to the ones seen in the later films, the big difference is that in A New Hope Vader wore his Sith robes over his body armour, while in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (as well as Revenge of the Sith) this was changed so that the armour sat over the robes. As a result this figure has much less of the body armour on show, as well as a cape that draped over the shoulders more. Areas such as the chest's control panel and belt also went through changes between each film. But back to the quality of the figure itself, Bandai have done an incredible job with the sculpting and finish. The moulded padding on the bodysuit is just sublime, with the matte finish nicely mirroring the material used on the actual suit. Compared to that you have the smooth but equally detailed finish of the body armour and robes, the latter coming complete with various billows and wrinkles for extra effect. Even the chest panel is beautifully moulded - close up the switches look like the could genuinely work! Despite the apparent size issues the head sculpt is still nicely done, not skimping out on any detail and giving the eyes that red hue they should have but often seems forgotten about. But the coup de grĂ¢ce is that fabric cape, lined with a bendable wire so that it can be contorted into more realistic shape. It's a little hard to get used to at first since the cape is made from a pretty thick fabric, but the wire is able to hold the shape well without any risk of it breaking. Bandai have only just started playing around with pliable capes in the last year or so and it's been a LONG time coming, immediately making a difference to the overall quality of their figures.

However whatever your issues with inaccuracies may be there is no denying that it's still a big step up from the Return of the Jedi Darth Vader. On his own it wasn't so much of a big issue, but the scaling of original figure was COMPLETELY off – so much so that it was around the same height as both the Stormtroopers and Jedi Luke. This new version returns Darth Vader to that towering presence he's always been, not just making him significantly taller but also filling out the rest of the body in a way that makes it look so much more imposing. Though there are notable sculpt differences between them because they're based off different suits, all the detailing on the A New Hope version is considerably sharper. However the biggest difference here is of course the addition of the pliable fabric cape, which offers a lot more posing options that the Return of the Jedi one's permanently windswept soft plastic version. But on a similar note, the one area the original does beat out this new figure are the robe's skirt sections. Whereas the Return of the Jedi Vader had windswept ones to match the cape, A New Hope Vader has ones that lay flat alongside the legs. They may be better for neutral poses, but they don't allow anywhere near as much movement in the hips as the windswept ones did. If Tamashii Nations had gone for bendable fabric pieces like they did with the cape it would have been perfect, but since they've only recently done that for the first time with Shinkocchou Seihou Kamen Rider Wizard it probably wasn't even a possibility at the time.

But despite the significant improvement in build quality, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot changed here when it comes to articulation. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing though, because the previous Darth Vader was pretty damn mobile. Altogether the figure sports a ball jointed neck, ball jointed shoulders (with extended ball joint shoulder pads to allow freer arm movement), bicep swivels, double hinge elbows, ball jointed wrists, ball jointed torso and waist sections, pull-down ball jointed hips, double hinge knees, ball-hinge ankle rockers and a hinged toe cap on each foot. It all sounds pretty impressive on paper and on most figures this would be an incredible range of movement, but as you move down the body the figure does begin to show some flaws. The waist joint isn't very mobile, but in the grand scheme of things that isn't a huge problem since the torso section makes up for it. The bigger problem are those blasted soft plastic robes, which really restrict what you can get out of the legs. Since they're laying almost completely flat against the legs, there isn't a lot of area for them to move around in. You can of course bring the legs forward and tuck the pieces behind them (as evidenced by the pictures on the box), but it's a lot harder to do than it sounds and often results in the legs just popping off the joints. You just have to take solace in that the figure is still capable of some decent (if limited) action poses, and that in the movies Darth Vader isn't a hugely dynamic character to begin with. Even at the end of Rogue One it's more about his overall presence than choreography, and in that regards this figure fits the bill pretty damn well.

In terms of accessories there isn't a whole lot of difference between this and the Return of the Jedi version, with both figures only including alternate hands and lightsaber parts. A New Hope Darth Vader features an ignited lightsaber with removable blade, an inert lightsaber hilt (pegged to the figure's belt in-package) and seven additional hands. Since the scale is different between the two figures it means this newer Vader is turn has slightly bigger lightsaber hilts, which due to the size share the same sharper sculpting the figure itself does. While the Return of the Jedi one had a damaged right wrist stump as its movie-specific accessory, this version has a force choke right hand. This may sound a little less extravagant, but it's definitely far more fun.

It's funny how many options Star Wars fans have when it comes to high-end figures, but between S.H. Figuarts, Mafex, Revoltech and the Black Series none of them have quite hit the bulls eye with Vader yet. S.H. Figuarts Darth Vader (A New Hope) is a great figure that in many ways improves upon the earlier Return of the Jedi version, but doesn't beat it in everything like it probably should have. Inaccuracies like the helmet size or cape chain may bug accuracy purists, but the far more universal issue is just how much better this figure would have been if the robes had been treated the same way the cape was. But hey, since an Empire Strikes Back version feels like an inevitability at this point maybe third time will be the charm for Bandai. If not, this is still a very solid figure well worth picking up as part of your Star Wars collection.

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