Thursday 21 February 2019

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Blu Aqua

Release Date: December 2018
RRP: 5400 yen

When you're marketing a superhero series that has two co-leads, the worst thing you can do is not release both characters at the same time. Clearly Bandai Tamashii Nations recognised this when they moved onto releasing figures from Ultraman R/B, with S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Blu Aqua arriving the same time as his big brother Ultraman Rosso Flame. Just why exactly these couldn't have been released as a two-pack I don't know (since not many people are going to be buying one without the other), but I guess that's just not the way Bandai roll anymore. Still, to get both figures before 2018 was out and on the same month no less is some pretty timely manufacturing on Bandai's part for sure.

(As this figure is largely identical to S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Rosso outside of sculpting and colours, this review will be mostly identical with changes only made where appropriate)

While the Showa Ultraman Figuarts releases have stuck to the same box design throughout multiple series, the newer characters have been mixing up the style with each new show. S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Blu Aqua introduces a new style for the Ultraman R/B, which quite nicely mixes the style of the R/B promotional art with some classic Figuarts packaging colours. Though it's probably coincidental (as these are the core colours of the suit after all) the silver corner and spine feel very reminiscent of the all-gold boxes of some of the earliest Figuarts releases, and looks great with the watery blue background and nice big image of the Ultraman Blu suit. On the back of the box features a selection of images of the figure (along with his brother Ultraman Rosso) in various poses, and inside you'll find the figure and its accessories spread across a single moulded clamshell tray.

If you've already checked out my Ultraman Rosso review you'll have seen that I wasn't particularly impressed with the colours and QC on that figure, and though at their core they may be the same figure thankfully I feel a lot more positive about Ultraman Blu. The metallic shine of the blue paint is far more prominent throughout Blu's body (as opposed to Rosso where it's only really noticeable on the head), giving it a much more consistent look and one closer to the actual suit. The waves on the arm gauntlets also look and feel far more ornate than Rosso's chunky flames, however I am a bit concerned that they'd be more prone to breakage if you're not careful handling the figure around that area (not always an easy task when swapping the hands!). However the (admittedly minor) problem with the segmented bodysuit still remains, and on the whole it just doesn't feel as sharp as any of the other Ultraman releases there's been thus far.

As far as articulation goes Ultraman Blu features a peg hinge head, ball jointed neck, ball jointed shoulders, double hinge elbows, ball jointed wrists, ball jointed torso and waist sections, hips, upper leg swivels, double hinged knees, hinged ankle rockers and a hinged toe cap on each foot. The hips are particularly interesting as they're the same kind used on civilian figures like Takeshi Hongo - internal hinged pieces that provide outward motion which can also rotate to provide the forward/backwards motion (I genuinely don't know if these joints have a specific name, so if they do please let me know!) The shoulder pads are also on their own raised ball joints, so can be moved freely of the arm to remove any restrictions when poses. The hips provide an excellent range of outwards and forwards motion, but backward movement is nearly non-existent - limiting just much much you can do with something like a running pose. 

For accessories Ultraman Blu includes an alternate red colour timer, eight additional hands in various poses (including neutral, grappling and weapon holding hands) and the brothers' signature R/B Slugger weapon. In package the Slugger is in its combined "R/B Slugger Blu" sword formation (complete with the blue glow on the larger blade), but can be split apart into the twin daggers used by Ultraman Rosso. It's a nicely moulded weapon with details and colours that match the onscreen version and roleplay toy, but as an accessory it's pretty small and ultimately feels lacking compared to some of the things that have come with previous Ultraman figures. What's far more impressive however is the alternate colour timer, as it seems Tamashii Nations have FINALLY learned from their mistakes and come up with an effective way to switch these tiny pieces around. Like with Ultraman X the front chest place can be completely removed, making it much easier to poke out the cylindrical colour timer and pop the other one in its place. It's so simple to do that it makes it even more annoying that the older releases are just so impossibly fiddly by comparison.

But on top of all that, Ultraman Blu also comes with two initial run bonuses in the form of designated display bases for the brothers's aqua and ground forms. As the bases don't specifically refer to either brother, that makes them technically suitable for use with either one of them (though at the time of writing Tamashii don't seem to have any plans for an Ultraman Rosso Aqua form). Instead they both simply have stylised kanji for "aqua" and "ground", along with the English text and Ultraman R/B written underneath. On the surface they seem like nice bonus, but like the figures themselves feel pretty underwhelming when you think about them a little more. The bases themselves are incomplete as neither of them come with an articulated display arm, and unless you're planning to go completist on the line you may find yourself with a Wind stage that you're not going to use for its intended purpose. It's even more irksome when you consider that the forthcoming Ultraman Ruebe Figuart comes with beam effects for both Blu Aqua and Rosso Flame - parts that could have easily been included with their original releases. A complete aqua stand or a water beam part - either of these would have been far preferable alternatives to two incomplete display bases.

S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Blu Aqua is marginally better figure than Rosso thanks to its better QC and sharper paint apps, but ultimately they're pretty much the same thing figure so the wider problems are exactly the same. The busier suit design doesn't translate as well to a segmented body quite as well as some of their simpler predecessors, and while the minimal accessory count isn't annoying on its own when combined with the "cool but ultimately unnecessary" first run bonuses and knowledge of crucial parts coming with another (web exclusive) figure you definitely get the sense that Tamashii Nations could have done better with these releases. Both Blu and Rosso are passable and relatively inexpensive releases so are great if you're just looking for representations of these characters and/or to fill out your Ultra ranks, but it's pretty sad that the best figure from the R/B range so far is the event exclusive black repaint of a one and a half year old figure from an entirely different series.

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