Monday 28 October 2019

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Monsterarts Gamera [1995]

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Release Date: August 2019
RRP: 10800 yen

It isn’t very often we see something that isn’t Godzilla related in the S.H. MonsterArts line these days, but every so often Bandai Tamashii Nations creeps something through that reminds fans just how much untapped potential the line has. One of the most pleasant surprises in 2015 was S.H. MonsterArts Gamera [1996], based on the titanic turtle’s appearance in the second of the Heisei era Gamera trilogy - Gamera 2: Attack of Legion. Though sadly an accompanying Legion figure never came to fruition a version of Gamera based on the 1999 instalment Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris eventually arrived in 2018, and now in 2019 the trinity is finally complete with S.H. MonsterArts Gamera [1995]. Based on the monster’s appearance in Shusuke Kaneko’s epic Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, this is the only of the three Gamera figures to have been a Tamashii Web exclusive.

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Whereas the 1996 and 1999 versions of Gamera came in bold orange boxes that reflected the monster’s fiery abilities, the 1995 S.H. MonsterArts Gamera bucks the trend by arriving in a box with a stormy blue and black colour scheme. As a Tamashii web exclusive the box is of course windowless, so the front instead features a nice big close-up of the figure inside – along with the name and various company logos. It even has a foil Kadakowa Studios sticker to go along with the Tamashii Nations authenticity one! The back features a further selection of stock figure images, not only showing the figure itself off in great detail but also the numerous accessories packed along with it. Inside the figure and some accessories are stored on a deep moulded plastic tray, with a second smaller tray tucked underneath to hold the rest of the accessories. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s another piece bagged and taped behind that. The huge box isn’t just to hold a bulky MonsterArts figure – there really is a lot packed in here.

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Over the course of the Heisei trilogy Gamera’s look slowly evolved to be spikier and more ferocious-looking, but back in 1995 his general appearance was more along the lines of what you might expect from a giant turtle kaiju who’s friend to all the children. Though he still looked like he could dominate a fight his overall appearance was rounder and smoother, which is particularly apparent in both the head and shell. S.H. MonsterArts Gamera [1995] is a remould of the base Gamera body used in the previous figures (using the solid chest undershell from the 1999 version) that accommodates these changes with fantastic accuracy. The differences from the other two figures is immediately apparent, and more significantly Gamera doesn’t seem to suffer from the poor QC that has plagued most Godzilla figures in the line. The paint apps are flawless, with Bandai having done a particularly great job on those big round eyes and huge jaw of teeth. The nice solid chest means this release is a lot less fiddly than the 1996 version, so while it may lack the plasmo core gimmick not having to repeatedly realign the chest panels is a huge plus.

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Sadly monsters aren’t the most articulate of creatures, especially those whose origins lie in a heavy rubber suit. So true to the screen MonsterArts Gamera isn’t the most poseable Tamashii Nations product you’ll ever get your hands, but it still certainly packs in all the expression you’d expect from them and at the very least can pull off as much as the suit itself. All of Gamera’s limbs are made up of segmented pieces connected together by ball joints, offering a wide range of motion in theory but in practice somewhat limited by the body shape and various pieces covering said connections. The neck has a particularly good range of motion for roaring action, whilst that hinged jaw opens wide enough to get a good look at all that sculpted detail inside the mouth. The arms of perfectly capable of slash and grappling action, and thanks to those huge feet balancing the figure should never prove much of an issue. The segmented tail also offers some movement to give poses a bit more personality, but since it’s much too small for Gamera to really use as a weapon it feels like more of an added extra than a function. Basically what’s on offer here isn’t likely to wow you, but it’s more than enough to make a good Gamera toy.

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Though both previous MonsterArts Gamera figures included different fire effect parts (the 1996 version had an impressive fireball effect part, and the 1999 one the plasma hand from the film’s climax), when it came to flight parts they pretty lacking. Both figures included alternate flipper-like arms to simulate Gamera gliding through the air, but any fan will tell that’s not the way they remember Gamera taking flight. Sadly the 1995 version doesn’t have any specific flame effect part, it more than makes up for it with the flight options. The first of these is the iconic “jet-booster” look, where Gamera tucks in his legs and tail and fires flames from the leg cavities. With how wonderfully ridiculous the idea of a rocket powered turtle kaiju is, no wonder this is the version everyone remembers most fondly. Getting Gamera into this formation requires removing the whole lower section of the body (to which the legs and tail are attached) and replacing it with a limb-less dummy version, just as you had to on the previous two figures. From there a thruster-like effect piece plugs directly into the two leg cavities, and the now horizontal Gamera balances on top of a display stand with the same translucent orange flame base included with the other figures. I’ve found this makes for a decent fire breath effect if you’re lacking anything better, but it clearly wasn’t designed for that as it only works when Gamera is lying flat. Taking the figure apart to swap the pieces is really simple, and not once does it feel like anything might suddenly break off when doing so. The colours on the thruster effect are nice and vibrant, and along with the orange display base really turn this iconic Gamera look into a colourful and eye-catching display.

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That isn’t the only way Gamera knows how to fly though, and this set also includes parts to recreate the spinning UFO-like movement the monster does over the course of the film as well. In addition to using the alternate lower half needed for the rocket flight, this display also requires removing Gamera’s arms, head and neck as well. The exposed neck joint is plugged up with a dummy piece that makes the torso look as though the head is retracted, and then each of the limb sections is filled with one of four translucent blue jet effects. The arm ones connect via ball sockets (and are labelled L and R to make things nice and easy), while the smaller two leg ones simply plug in the same way the propulsion effect does. This particular display uses a completely different stand, consisting of a circular display base which attaches to a longer pole on which a plate attaches for Gamera to lay flat on. On this the figure can also spin to replicate that unique motion of movement, though with the risk of it falling off if you spin too hard you might want to avoid this. While personally I find this mode to swap out too many parts of the figure to keep on display, it is pretty great to see this more unique form of Gamera flight finally be represented in the line. 

Given all the parts required just for these two flight poses, it’s no surprise Bandai decided to omit any sort of flame breath effect from this release. I’m still a little sad about it, but a generic fireball piece can probably be picked up anywhere – these effect parts are much more unique and interesting. However it would have been nice to see Gamera’s retractable elbow spikes included here somewhere, since they were used fairly prominently in the film. Of all of Gamera’s abilities though it is probably the least forgettable though, so if anything was going to omitted it was those. Not to mention that the sequel film figures have those covered, where the spikes were permanently extended.

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Though the differences on S.H. MonsterArts Gamera [1995] might not be enough to convince someone with one of the other two figures to double dip, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe
is my all-time favourite kaiju film so this my perfect Gamera. What you’re getting here is the same solid figure with a slightly new look, and though the lack of a flame effect is a little sad what replaces is far more interesting and uniquely Gamera. The one flaw I was originally going to point out was the price, but despite being a web exclusive this is actually only 1256 yen more than the 1996 version was on release and the same price as the 1999 one – both of which were general retail items. So considering that along with the sheer quantity of what you get with this release, that isn’t actually a bad deal at all. Pick whichever Gamera you choose, they’re all winners.

1 comment:

Oar said...

I love this tortoise! This figure is honestly perfect in my eyes.