Saturday 18 January 2020

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Taro

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Release Date: November 2019
RRP: 6050 yen

For a time it seemed like Bandai Tamashii Nations' plans for integrating the Ultra Series into the S.H. Figuarts line were clear. Working from the very beginning they'd tackle a new series each year – starting with Ultraman in 2016, Ultraseven in 2017 and so on. This pattern lasted as far as The Return of Ultraman in 2018, before Bandai decided to throw all my carefully planned theories out the window at the end of last year with the release of S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Taro. Completely skipping over Ultraman Ace for the time being, Taro's surprise announcement was likely to do with his involvement in the then-airing Ultraman Taiga, where he is of course the titular hero's father. Coming at such a late point in the year Taro is currently the only release from his 1973 series in the line, however if the 2019 Tamashii Nation event was anything to go by hopefully it won't be long before he's joined by a kaiju or two.

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With more modern Ultras dominating 2019 it feels like it's been a while since we've seen a good old Showa release, but S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Taro's packaging immediately throws us back into familiar territory. The box has been done with the same swirling foil effect as previous releases, with Taro's adopting a striking silver-grey colour scheme with red foil trimming. As usual the box features a picture of the onscreen suit, which is great for comparing just how well Bandai have nailed the sculpting and colours on these particular figures. It's on the back you'll find action shots of the figure itself, showing it off in various poses as well as with its main accessories. It's also worth noting the great shot of the figure on the spine, which are brilliant if you have the capacity to line all of these boxes up for display (even if the size discrepancy between them makes it a bit of a nightmare). Inside the figure and accessories are neatly stored on the usual moulded plastic tray.

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It's always fascinating to see how Bandai have chosen to base these Showa Ultraman figures on how they look in their respective shows, rather than the more modern suits they use in the many reappearances they've made since. The differences may be slight, but it undoubtedly gives these particular releases so much more character when it comes to looks. Ultraman Taro follows suit with more muted tones of red and silver, immediately giving the figure a more aged look that perfectly matches the palette of a show filmed in the early 70s. Regardless though Ultraman Taro is just a great looking figure simply because of his design alone – a hybrid of both Ultraman and Ultraseven's distinctive design traits with a little bit extra thrown in as well. He has the colour timer, he has the protector and slugger-like head crest…but he also has horns and really vibrant yellow eyes with far more centralised "pupils" than the other Ultras. Though the intricacies of the design itself may just be localised in his head and chest, Bandai have still done a great job of getting it all accurate. All of the Ultras in this line have looked especially good, but designs like Taro are the ones that really stand out - and thus make even better figures.

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But as great as it is to see those classic-inspired sculpts again, it's not so fun to go back to the Showa Ultra body after a string of really solid modern releases. Ultraman Taro features the same articulation as his Ultra Brother predecessors, including a peg hinge head with ball jointed neck, butterfly/swivel hinge shoulders, ball jointed torso and waist sections, swivel hinge hips and ankles, double hinge elbows and knees, ball jointed wrists, thigh swivels, and single hinge toe sections. While this mould doesn't have the raised thigh pieces on the legs that can sometimes restrict the swivel, it also completely omits the bicep swivel the newer Ultras have – something that really would have come in use here. As was the case with Jack, it's a real struggle to bring Taro's arms together close enough to convincingly pull of his trademark 'Storium Ray' pose. The butterfly joint in the shoulder isn't enough to completely bring the arm across in a satisfying way, and even when you can manage it the hand itself rarely wants to rest flat on top of the other way. The ankle joints on this mould are also pretty dire, with next to no sideward tilt in them at all. If this was all Bandai were prepared to do with the Ultra line than it might not be so bad, but when there's quite literally been multiple releases since Jack with significantly improved bodies it begs the question why they won't do the same for all of these figures. With the quality on both Jack and Taro feeling a significant step up from Ultraman and Zoffy (and to a much lesser extent, Ultraseven) too it isn't like Bandai aren't making some tweaks along on the way. What Taro has is still perfectly serviceable, with these questions being more baffling really than anything else.

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Maybe it’s because of these mould shortcomings that Bandai have been kind enough to load Taro with some great accessories, many of which are small but feel particularly special. In total here there are nine swappable hands (including closed fists, various posed hands and a weapon holding right hand), three swappable left wrist parts (one naked, one wearing the Taro Bracelet and the other the upgraded King Bracelet), alternate Red Colour timer piece, Storium Ray effect part and finally his double-ended Bracelet Lancer weapon. There's also to talk about with all of these accessories, but one of the biggest successes of Taro is also one of the most minor ones – a simple and stress-free way to remove the Colour Timer. This piece has been nearly impossible to remove without damaging the figure the likes of Ultraman and Zoffy due to its small size, but here Bandai have worked out a really effective method for parts-swapping. As with attaching the Ultimate Aegis to Ultraman Zero, Taro's protector can be lifted completely off the chest by unhooking it at the back. Once removed it's just a simple case of pushing the blue Timer piece out, replacing it with the red one and slotting the protector back on. A bit of hassle for such a tiny piece, but undeniably effective.

Taro's more unique accessories are similarly impressive on the figure, but also suffer from varying degrees of being fiddly to attach in the first place. The bracelets come off easily, but when it comes to putting a different one in its place some force is definitely required to push them all the way up the arm though. Getting three different variants is a really nice touch on Bandai's part though, and a nice nod to them trying to be somewhat completist with these figures even if they do tend to come with a little less than the old Ultra-Acts did. The Storium Ray effect is one of the best yet, realised in gorgeous blue and purple translucent plastic that completely stands out from the ones that came with the other Showa Ultras. The angle of the beam can make it a little difficult to fix to the wrist at first, but a little bit of hot water/air to soften the hand should do the trick nicely. Finally Taro also has the melee weapon angle covered with the Bracelet Lancer, a small but certainly unique looking weapon. Again fitting it into the designated hand can be a little tricky due to the way the fingers/thumb wrap around it, but heat really is your friend if you're ever having trouble getting these figures to do what they're supposed to.

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S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Taro is another great addition to Bandai's ever-growing range of Ultras, but the string of near-perfect releases that preceded him really highlight how the Showa Ultras might not be getting quite as good of a deal as their New Generation counterparts. As good as Taro is, tight fittings and lesser articulation mean these guys will never be quite as good as the likes of X, Ginga or Victory – and it's a real pity. Sure the Showa guys actually get their respective kaiju to fight against instead, but why not both? The show-accurate sculpting and comprehensive accessories already put Taro comfortably on the path to perfection, but those little tweaks to the sculpt Bandai have already made elsewhere could have made him really special.


M said...

I can't wait to see your review of Son of Taro, Taiga !!!

Manpig said...

Personally in my opinion, the elbow swivel ultra figuarts use makes up for the lack of a bicep swivel, I'm not sure if you're aware, but the ultra figuarts use elbows to swivel instead due to the solid spandex shoulders. It's not a perfect solution but I think it does fine enough.