Saturday 21 December 2019

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts R2-D2 (A New Hope)

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Release Date: July 2017, November 2019 (Reissue)
RRP: 4620 yen

If you're going to make Star Wars toys, then making droids is a must. Battle droids, Astromech Droids, Protocol Droids - it doesn't matter where you go with it, much like doing troopers it's an excuse to produce repaint after repaint without anyone batting an eyelid. But strangely it doesn't feel like something Bandai Tamashii Nations have taken full advantage of with the S.H. Figuarts line, and it took them two years since starting the range to get to the droids that kicked the whole saga off. S.H. Figuarts R2-D2 originally arrived alongside his best friend and compatriot C-3PO back in 2017, but after a few years off the market has been reissued on his own in the lead up to the release of  The Rise of Skywalker. Not only is this perfect timing from a promotional standpoint, but unlike the previous films in the sequel trilogy the plucky droid has a far more prominent appearance in this film. And about time too.

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S.H. Figuarts R2-D2 comes in the standard packaging Bandai have been using for their Original and Prequel trilogy figures, which focuses on showing off the figure through that large front window rather than going overboard on pictures and other design flourishes. The fact R2 is small enough that you can see the whole figure makes it all the more effective, with that gold Star Wars lettering in front acting as the icing on the cake. As well as the character name the box also makes reference to this being R2 as he appeared in A New Hope, and the Bandai logo in the corner will be red or blue depending on whether you purchase the original or reissue release of the figure. Making up for the simplicity of the front, the back of the box features plenty of images showing off the figure and its features – even including a guest appearance from S.H. Figuarts C-3PO.

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Though the shape and size of R2-D2 seems completely out of S.H. Figuarts' usual comfort zone, Bandai certainly didn't treat this figure with any less respect than they do their larger, more detailed figures. The sculpting on R2 is extremely crisp, and the added paint wash really brings out all of that panelled detailing across the body. Naturally the dome is the section your eyes are immediately drawn to (not without good reason!), but other highlights include the vents in the middle of the body and the copper wiring running across the feet. The paint application is equally sharp, and the shade of metallic blue Bandai have used on the toy is nothing short of fantastic. 

S.H. Figuarts as a line is something that often skews more towards "collectibles" rather than "toys" in the conventional sense, but there are a lot of features to R2-D2 that you'd more associate with the latter. The most significant of these is the central third leg, which is spring-loaded and pops out of the base simply by first pressing it upwards. Usually this is the kind of thing you'd expect to see as a completely different piece, so kudos to Bandai both for trying it and pulling it off so well. Secondly all three of the legs sport two free-rolling wheels on their undersides, allowing R2 to glide along surfaces just as he would in the films themselves.

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Perhaps the most unexpected feature of the figure is the swappable sensor light gimmick Bandai have built into the dome. Pressing one of the blue panels on the top of the head will switch the front sensor light between red, red/blue, silver and blue. Similarly pressing another panel (the one with the knob on it) at behind it will swap the back "light" between red, silver, yellow and green. Even in its simplicity it still isn't the kind of gimmick one would usually expect from S.H. Figuarts, but it's been executed so well I can't help but wish they did this kind of thing with more figures. It's one of those basic R2 functions that are so easy to forget about, but to have it right in front of you just makes the package that much better.

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With very few "limbs" to speak of there isn't much to say about R2 in regards to articulation, but the most important thing is that the figure has all the movement it needs to. The dome and ambulatory struts on either side of the body can rotate a full 360 degrees, while each of the three "feet" are hinged so that they can be angled correctly when the middle one is deployed. The two on each side also have a tiny little bit of sideward tilt movement as well, but honestly doesn't seem to do a whole lot overall but makes the feet a little more stable and - more importantly, durable. Weirdly the dome can pop off the body really easily, as there's no solid joint (like Figuarts' sometimes notoriously tight ball joints for example) holding it in place. It's not loose to the point that it's going to fall off nor is it in any way a design flaw, but it is a rather surprising quirk of the figure that doesn't seem to really add anything either.

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An Astromech droid is a literal Swiss army knife of tools and tricks, and rather than include these as separate accessories Bandai have gone so far to feature them in the figure itself. The vertical panels on either side of the body can open to reveal a manipulator arm (one for opening doors, and the other for shocking unsuspecting Jawas), and the blue horizontal panels just below the dome can also open for that shocked/paralysed look (the Jawas get their revenge). The former is an R2-D2 staple, and the other is a nice additional touch that helps tie the figure specifically back to A New Hope. The manipulator arms are thin but durable enough to survive being launched out of the panels and then folded back in for safe keeping.

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Since the figure itself is loaded up with gimmicks there isn't a whole lot left to be included as additional accessories, so Bandai have simply settled for a pair of alternate leg covers that add ridged silver sections just below R2's base. Rather than be something specific to Star Wars canon, these are actually the pieces the crew used to cover actor Kenny Baker's legs during filming of A New Hope. Given that a lot of people (myself included) probably didn’t even know these things exist, that's some very impressive adherence to accuracy on Bandai's part. They aren't parts I personally am ever going to use outside of doing this review, but they're the kind of left-field addition that'll make the Figuarts R2 stand out from all the other ones on the market.

But while all the things that the figure itself can do certainly make up for the lack of accessories, Bandai could have easily done more with this figure if they weren't so insistent on having all their Star Wars figures each come from a specific film. It makes sense for characters whose appearances change between each film, but for ones that stay the same (or at least near-identical) it does end up limiting them a bit. If they'd opened it up a bit, this could have come with the periscope or jet boosters and basically been the definitive R2-D2 figure. While this really doesn't put a huge downer on what we did get, you'd have to be a pretty hardcore collector to buy multiple R2s just for the different parts – and there's no guarantee Bandai will ever do the other ones either.

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Given that their expertise lies in highly articulated humanoid figures I was sceptical of what Bandai could do with S.H. Figuarts R2-D2 to justify the price tag when feasibly the Black Series figure could do just as much for less. But damn did they manage it. Sporting unbelievably crisp moulding and paint apps along with an impressive array of build in gimmicks, this is a droid worthy of the S.H. Figuarts name. Being specifically tied to A New Hope might make it less definitive than some collectors might like, but this is undoubtedly THE best R2-D2 figure at this scale. But maybe best of all, with the discounted prices most Japanese retailers offer this really should set you back much more than the Black Series figure would. What's not to love?

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