Monday 16 December 2019

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Blastoise -Arts Remix-

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Release Date: October 2019
RRP: 6050 yen

Not all that long ago Bandai Tamashii Nations had a toy line named D-Arts, featuring articulated video game characters from the likes of the Pokémon series, Digimon, Megaman and more. However as many lines do it eventually went defunct, and was swallowed up into the much larger entity we know the S.H. Figuarts line as today. Although Pokémon continued to see a handful of releases through Figuarts, the older D-Arts releases quickly began to climb in price on the aftermarket – particularly Mewtwo and the three evolved Generation One starters. Charizard was soon rectified with a special Tamashii web exclusive release, but it wasn't until 2019 that these original D-Arts returned under the guise of the -Arts Remix- range. Following on from Mewtwo earlier in the year, S.H. Figuarts Blastoise -Arts Remix- is the second Pokémon to get this special reissue treatment – with a few new surprises also thrown in to make this more than just a simple reissue.

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The D-Arts Pokémon figures already came with some fantastic looking packaging, so Bandai definitely had their work cut out for them if they felt they could improve upon it with this release. The Arts Remix version takes a similar approach by featuring some great artwork on the front of the box, only here this new piece is in colour where the D-Arts version was greyscale. The window is also smaller, to the point where Blastoise feels best viewed from the side rather than the front. Of course as a Japanese figure, it's worth mentioning that the box refers to him by his Japanese name of "Kamex" rather than Blastoise. Similarly it's the Japanese Pocket Monsters logo on the front, rather than the Pokémon one the rest of the world is familiar with. The back of the packaging features the usual range of promotional images showing off the figure, while the spines also have some cool silhouette images as well as an obligatory Pokéball design. Inside, the figure and accessories are stored on the usual moulded clamshell tray.

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As previously stated S.H. Figuarts Blastoise is essentially a reissue of the D-Arts figure, however the "Arts Remix" was added to convey there have been some changes to this release. The feet have been remoulded to include three white claws at the end of each foot rather than two, and the inside of the mouth now has six teeth added – two on the upper jaw and four on the bottom. The extra claws are a big plus for the figure in terms of design accuracy as even though the placement of the third claw seems to vary depending on the image (sometimes it's on the back of the foot), it's always there nevertheless. By comparison the teeth are a far less essential addition, but similarly they add so much more to the sculpt and give Blastoise that menacing look that the D-Arts figure arguably lacks. Finally the default head sculpt has been slightly altered, with Blastoise now giving a sideward glance rather the eyes being directly centred. The bulk of the figure remains largely the same to the original release though, and there doesn't seem to have been any sort of colour alteration like there was with the Arts Remix Mewtwo. But over six years later and looks-wise the sculpting is just as good as ever. Bandai have captured that cartoonish charm perfectly, and the smooth finish feels completely different to the kind of figures you usually find in the Figuarts line.

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Being a big ol’ turtle admittedly there wasn’t a whole lot Bandai could have done in regards to articulation, but nevertheless they’ve gone out and done their best. Blastoise features a ball jointed head (complete with a hinged lower jaw) and neck section, along with ball jointed shoulders, swivel hinge elbows, swivel joint wrists and claws and then finally ball jointed hips and feet (again with moveable claws). The cannons are also connected to ball joints, giving them a circular range of motion. Admittedly due to the body shape some of the joints (particularly the arms) end up just looking like a group of shapes bunched together, but at the very least it allows you to get some poseability out of the figure. No knee joints is disappointing, but with so little leg to work with no all that surprising. Personally my bigger grievance is the shell, which Bandai could have very easily designed to have closing cannon hatches - the parts are even separate and have some movement! Yes the cannons would need to be completely pulled off their joints for it to work, but it’s such a simple thing that the figure would have really benefitted from. The cannons are Blastoise’s trademark, but one that could retract and do the whole rapid spin thing would be pretty nifty as well.

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Blastoise comes with three accessories, the first of which is an alternate head with the same forward-staring eyes of the D-Arts release. The head itself is just as excellently sculpted as the default one (complete with the same toothed mouth and opening jaw), but swapping between the two definitely presents some problems. The heads connect via a standard ball joint, which is attached to a lever-like piece connecting down inside the body to another ball/socket. Getting the heads to firmly pop onto the joint is frustrating enough, but the bigger issue (for me at least) was the neck piece that surrounds the joint. At first it rattled around uncontrollably while I was trying to put the head on, and then once I'd done that it just got completely stuck inside of the shell. As far as I can tell it was still attached properly, but the piece just did not want to move unless I (with some difficultly) prodded it out to cover the gaps. While maybe not a deal breaker, it was a bit of a reminder just how dated some of the aspects of this figure are.

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The last of Blastoise's accessories are a pair of water blast effect parts, which plug directly into the Pokémon's cannons to represent its signature Hydro Pump attack. The effect parts are actually carry overs from the original D-Arts figure, however whereas before they were moulded in an off-white translucent colour they are now a far more striking translucent blue. The parts are really nicely moulded and fit into the cannons perfectly, but sadly because of the angle the cannons are pointed their range feels unnecessarily limited. Despite the cannons being fitted on ball joints they're constantly pointed upwards, with the only wide range of motion coming from the sides. They can't be angled directly forwards, which makes firing at other Pokémon a bit difficult unless they happen to be in the air. Thanks to Blastoise's stubby legs and the sheer length of the effect parts, hunching the figure over isn't really an option either. While the parts themselves are great, their implementation into the figure just highlights another flaw that Bandai could have easily fixed before re-releasing it under the Figuarts banner.

Unfortunately there was one accessory from the D-Arts figure that was omitted for this release – the special Pokéball Tamashii Stage that was included with the previous range of Pokémon figures. This shouldn't come as that much of a surprise though, since it didn't appear alongside Arts Remix Mewtwo either. As a unique stand piece it is sad to see it go, but on the other hand Blastoise is easily the figure that needed it the least. There's nowhere on the body for a stage arm to feasibly work, so all it really would be is a glorified display base. Personally I'd much rather practical accessories than an oversized base that takes up a lot of display space, but your mileage may vary.

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With prices having skyrocketed in the years since the D-Arts' release, S.H. Figuarts Blastoise –Arts Remix- finally gives fans a second chance to own one of the most popular first generation Pokémon and that's certainly cause for celebration. That said, it's hard to praise the figure too much for its (albeit needed) cosmetic changes when there are still a fair few functional ones. Minimal articulation is an unfortunate byproduct of design, but it really wouldn't have taken much to give the figure a better neck joint, a folding shell or at the very least cannons that can actually tilt downwards. Just a bit of fine-tuning, and this could have easily been brilliant. Still, here's hoping this isn't it for the Arts Remix range – after all, poor old Venusaur needs some love too.

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