Saturday, 28 December 2019

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Ginga

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Release Date: October 2019
RRP: 6050 yen

When Ultraman first joined the S.H. Figuarts line back in 2016 there was a clear focus on the Showa era of the franchise, given how the line seemingly progressed through each series chronologically in its first few years. However things have definitely changed in 2019, as Bandai Tamashii Nations turned their attention towards completing the New Generation Heroes line up of series - running from 2013's Ultraman Ginga all the way up to 2019's Ultraman Taiga. As the final modern Ultra to be added to the now defunct Ultra-Act line, it's no surprise that an S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Ginga was going to take its time to surface but the Spark Doll powered hero has finally arrived - joining Rosso, Blu and Victory to complete the current line up as we head towards the Ultraman Taiga range.

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S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Ginga's packaging has been designed to match that of Ultraman Victory's, which debuted a new layout to signify that it was an entry from a "new" series. Of course the colours have been tweaked accordingly, with the base yellow now a bright cyan to match the crystals that adorn Ginga's body. The front of the box also features a nice big image of the Ultraman Ginga suit, which is a trait of the Ultraman packaging I will always stop to appreciate. Only one of the spines features an image of the figure itself, with many more of course then included on the back to show off just how good S.H. Figuarts are. Open it up and inside you'll find the figure and accessories housed on the usual moulded clamshell tray.

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Ultraman Ginga was released to celebrate Tsuburaya Productions 50th anniversary, and although Ginga himself might not have been designed with "anniversary Ultra" specifically in mind there are definitely certain aspects to him that seem befitting of that. This figure is based on Ginga's base form rather than the "Ginga Strium" form he receives in sequel series Ultraman Ginga S, which through fusion with Ultraman Taro adds some detailing similar to that of the sixth Ultra Brother. Ginga takes the standard red and silver Ultraman template and patterns it into something really dynamic, with the silver done in almost tribal-like patterning all across the body. The highlight though of course are the translucent blue crystals that adorn Ginga's head and body, which Bandai have captured brilliantly on the figure. The plastic is vibrant in any light, and add so much more to Ginga's already eye-catching design. Finally there's the sculpt work itself, and even though one could argue there isn't as much to work with on an Ultraman design as there is with other tokusatsu heroes that doesn't mean Bandai put in any less effort. The moulding and paintwork is super sharp, with additional detailing like the faintly defined abdominal muscles going a long way to make it feel less like an action figure and more like the actual suit. As good as the Ultra-Act figures were these are the kind of little details that are making the S.H. Figuarts versions stand out, making up for their smaller size with far superior sculpting. 

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By this point Bandai have ironed out all the creases in that base Ultraman body, so while Ginga isn't all that different than what we've previously seen we're now at a point where that isn't really a bad thing. Altogether the figure has a ball jointed head and neck section, butterfly jointed swivel hinge shoulders, bicep swivels, double hinge elbows, ball jointed wrists, ball jointed torso and waist sections, ball jointed hips, thigh swivels, double jointed knees, swivel hinge ankle tilts and a hinged toe section on each foot. A more (but admittedly not wholly) unique feature to Ginga are the additional shoulder pads, which in typical S.H. Figuarts fashion are attached to slightly raised ball joints to give them more clearance from the arms. Unlike similarly designed Figuarts shoulder pads they can't raise completely up so that the arm is unrestricted whilst posing, but they are able to be pushed up and down so that they can sit against the torso to cover up any sculpt gaps. What Ultraman figures lack in sculpted armour pieces they almost always make up for in articulation, and Ginga is able to show off some serious flexibility perfect for dynamic posing and monster grappling action.

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Ultraman Ginga comes packaged with a total of eight swappable hands (closed fists, weapon holding fists, grappling hands and a pair of flat "knife" pose hands), alternated red colour timer, Ginga Cross Shoot beam effect part and Ginga Spark Lance weapon. Despite tiny colour timers being a source of frustration in the past (it's almost impossible to change on some of the earliest Ultra Figuarts), this one is thankfully really easy to switch. All it takes it just getting something thin (I used a cocktail stick) to wedge under the timer, and then it'll lift up with ease.

It's been long enough since a generic beam effect part came with a retail-release, default form Ultraman that it's nice to see one included here again, and what makes it more interesting is that the Figuarts version of the Ginga Cross Shoot effect looks rather different to the old Ultra-Act one. Whereas the Ultra-Act version had an off-white swirl going into a translucent blue beam, this version features a more dynamic blue flash coming off of the hand it's attached to. Neither feels especially more accurate than the other due to the amount of colours that tend to flash onscreen during Ultraman finishers, but it's nice to see some variation between the two. But as nice as the beam effect may be the real winner of this set is the Ginga Spark Lance, the weapon the Ultra used to battle against Dark Lugiel. The lance is moulded entirely in the same translucent blue plastic as Ginga's crystals, but also has sections of more detailed moulding at the top. As if the colours weren't enough to make it a visually impressive accessory, a trident-style lance is just so different to what Ultraman figures usually come with it manages to stand out all the more. Beam effects are an absolute necessity to Ultraman figures, but a truly great figure is one that can feature both that obligatory part and something that feels a little more unique to the individual character - just like this one has.

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Ultraman Victory was one of the best figures in the whole Ultraman range so far, and just like the perfect companion piece he should be S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Ginga is very much the same. The original Ultra-Act is a toy close to my heart (the first Ultraman figure I bought) but this is a visible improvement in every way - with better articulation and a sharper sculpt that feels much closer to the onscreen suit. The range of accessories are equally excellent, not only showing off more of the translucent blue plastic that makes this figure so eye-catching but also covering beam and melee parts different to that of the Ultra-Act. Despite a few duds in the line up, overall the Ultraman New Generation Hero range is an absolute joy.

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