Tuesday 7 May 2019

Toybox REVIEW: Meisho Movie Realization Samurai Taisho Darth Vader

Release Date: December 2014, November 2016 (Reissue)
RRP: 9504 yen

Though its scope is much more limited and releases much fewer than other Bandai Tamashii Nations toy lines, it didn't take long for the Meisho Movie Realization line to mark itself as one to look out for. There are dozens of companies out there making Star Wars figures, but ones reimagined as if they walked straight out of feudal Japan? It's amazing that it took this long for a toy company to think of it. This line is to Star Wars what Super Imaginative Chogokin is to Kamen Rider, and just like SIC some of the ideas they come up with are nothing short of ingenious. Designed by Takayuki Takeya and sculpted by Junichi Taniguchi, Meisho Movie Realization Samurai Taisho Darth Vader is the one the one that started it all.

Samurai Taisho Darth Vader comes packaged in a lavish two-piece box, with a smooth pristine finish akin to that of the S.H. Figuarts Shinkocchou Seihou range. Whether this means Tamashii Nations hold the Meisho Movie Realization line in similarly high esteem is up for debate, but personally I like to think that it's not just a coincidence. The top/black half of the box features a nice big image of the figure alongside its name and the Star Wars/Movie Realization logos, while the underside/white half displays the usual layout of stock images that would have been made available at the time of the figure's original solicitation. Open it up and you'll find the figure and its accessories stored upon a single moulded clamshell tray, but my favourite touch on this packaging continues to be the "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…" text printed on the lid's underside. Just shows how even the littlest touches can go a long way in making packaging feel extra special.

If there's any character that's going to kick off a line of feudal-era Star Wars figures, of course it's going to be Darth Vader. Lucas' Japanese influences when creating the original film are well documented, and the fact Vader's iconic design was inspired by Japanese armour is perhaps the most obvious of them all. Some versions of the story even cite Goranger's Warrior Mask as the initial inspiration. Either way it's so clear that it's no surprise that the translation works so brilliantly here, and Samurai Taisho Darth Vader is every bit as striking as his movie counterpart – so much so that this could almost pass as real life armour if you didn't know any better. Elements such as Vader's padded bodysuit and chest panel have been perfectly incorporated into the design, along with new unique flourishes to make it that little bit more historically accurate. Take the helmet for example, which retains the distinctive angular shape but extends and widens back panelling, as well as reimagining the mask's mouthpiece to have moulded teeth just like a traditional samurai helmet would. Another really nice touch is although the body uses both gloss and matte blacks to give it varying shades and textures, the design also throws in other bits of colour. The helmet and skirt sections sport orange and purple stitching that holds the panels together, but more significantly they're also emblazoned with golden Imperial insignia. The cape is made of soft plastic, which despite not always being the first choice of materials does its job to no real complaints here. Everything just works so well that it's hard to believe this isn't Darth Vader's default design.

In 2015 Bandai released a second Movie Realization Darth Vader figure, featuring new armour sculpting and a new helmet which is much closer to the movie design. This version may be slightly more preferable to those who aren't on board with this version's teeth look, but it also swaps out the Imperial insignia for a comically oversized Death Star crest that just doesn't mesh with the rest of the design. While your mileage will ultimately vary on which one is worth adding to your collection, personally I find the fact this was the version that was eventually reissued speaks volumes.

Being a Tamashii Nations figure this Vader is certainly no slouch in the articulation department either. Altogether it features ball joints in the neck, waist and hips, ball-hinge shoulders, double hinge elbows and knees and also ball-hinge wrists and ankles. The back of the figure even has a levered ball joint sticking out of it, which plugs directly into the cape to give it some movement even when it's held firmly in place. Of course there are limitations to designs like these when certain parts are made of plastic rather than their real life equivalent material, so you don't quite get the full range of motion that's potentially on offer. Thankfully these limitations and mostly restricted to the legs, with the skirt pieces obstructing the hips and the knee joints only able to do about a 90 degree bend despite being double jointed. But at the end of the day the Movie Realization line (as well as similarly scaled and stylised figures like SIC or Manga Realization) are sold on being dynamic the same way S.H. Figuarts and the like are, with the imagination and sculpting behind them being their key selling points. With that in mind, Vader's articulation is still pretty great and the added heft of this scale makes those potentially fragile (i.e. wrist) joints feel considerably more reinforced.

Vader's accessories are fairly minimal, but among them are the arguably the most essential Darth Vader pieces so it's a pretty good start for the first of the line all things considered. First up is Vader's lightsaber, which like the rest of the figure has been slightly redesigned to properly fit the samurai aesthetic. Though it features the same colouring and detailing the hilt has been flatted to better resemble a traditional samurai sword, and in turn the blade (still moulded in that all-important translucent red plastic) has been reshaped into the shape of a traditional katana. An additional hilt is also included that clips onto Vader's belt when not in use. On top of that the figure includes three extra pairs of hands (in addition to the closed fists already attached in-package), which include a weapon holding pair, a force choke action pair and then finally a pair of widely opened hands with the fingers spread. The first two pairs feel pretty much a given for any decent Darth Vader figure, but the final pair are a little more interesting. Not only are they great for other force action style poses, but they're also useful for more traditional Japanese style poses as well. A nice little touch that further amplifies just how well this figure leans into the samurai aesthetic. So again while this might not be a whole lot of accessories in the grand scheme of things (especially compared to some of the figures that came later in the line), it's definitely enough to get the job done without there being any glaring omissions.

Going back and visiting the first in a line years after its inception doesn't always yield positive reception, but it’s clear that right from the very start Bandai Tamashii Nations knew exactly what they were doing with this line. Nearly five years on and Meisho Movie Realization Samurai Taisho Darth Vader is still as incredible a figure as ever. While the design meant it was never going to be as articulated as some of Tamashii's other figures (though the framework is still there), the figure completely makes up for it in size, sculpt detailing, shelf presence and just sheer imagination. The newer Death Star Armour Vader might offer more accessories and a look that's a bit closer to the movies, but this version will always come out on top when it comes to fully embracing that samurai look. The Meisho Movie Realization range is quickly becoming one of my favourite Bandai Tamashii Nations lines, and just like so many of the others it seems impossible to just stop at one.

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