Sunday 20 June 2021

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Batman (1989)

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Release Date: 7480 yen
RRP: September 2020

It's always fun when Bandai Tamashii Nations throw an absolute curveball of a release into the S.H. Figuarts line. While they've done a fair number of DC Universe figures (mostly live action movie-based, but also a couple from Batman Ninja surprisingly), but it's definitely fair to say that they're nowhere near as much a priority for the line as the Marvel Cinematic Universe figures are. So when it was announced that they would be producing a S.H. Figuarts Batman (1989) figure, based on the Dark Knight's appearance in Tim Burton's first big budget Batman film where he was portrayed by Michael Keaton, it came as a real surprise. The figure was released as a Tamashii web exclusive in Japan, but unsurprisingly was one of the more readily available Figuarts in foreign markets as well.

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S.H. Figuarts Batman (1989) is a figure that does a lot of strange things and that starts right away with the packaging itself. As a Tamashii web exclusive figure it coming in a relatively plain windowless box is normal - in fact Bandai have done a really good job on the packaging. It's appropriately dark and broody for a Batman figure, but the plain black box goes beautifully with those classic Batman movie logos - both on the front (where it's backed by a glossy bat symbol) and the spines. What is really strange though is the figure peeking out through a tiny window pane on the back of the box, where it is accompanied by all the usual Bandai stock images of the figure. This probably isn't the only time Bandai have packed a figure in backwards, but it's certainly the first time in recent memory. To Bandai's credit they really went all out on the stock photos for this figure as well - all of which have moodily lit Gotham City street backdrops as opposed to the usual plain backgrounds. Open it up and you'll find the figure and accessories neatly laid out on a moulded plastic tray. The backing card is also gold foil instead of the usual silver, tying in perfectly with the Batman movie colour palette.

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As impractical as the 1989 Batman suit may be, it was the first attempt at doing a proper Batman film and aesthetically it looks just as great now as it did back then. The suit became all black as opposed to the grey of the comics, sporting a thick rubbery cowl that ran down into the familiar Batman emblem (though oddly shaped a little differently on this version of the suit). The only drop of colour outside of the emblem comes from the dull gold utility belt, which immediately stands out in this sea of black. While the suit might lack colour though, it certainly doesn't lack detail. As well as the very obviously moulded chest and ab section the suit also has ridged combat boots and the familiar bladed arm gauntlets. It's pretty simple by superhero suit standards, but still remains one of the most beloved movie Batman suits to this day. Since Bandai are used to moulding far more complicated looking suits than this it isn't any surprise that they've completely knocked it out of the park in the looks department, faithfully recreating every detail that the suit has onscreen. The toy even manages to make some of those details a little more pronounced too, such as the silver stud sections on the gloves.The head sculpt is to the line's usual standard - very good, but not great. It's definitely got a good likeness to Michael Keaton, but the details are pretty fuzzy (the eyes especially). 

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The cape sadly doesn't feature pliable wire running through it so sadly isn't completely poseable like some of the more recent S.H. Figuarts releases, but it is made from a thick pleather that gives it both the look and texture of the onscreen suit. But what's even more impressive about is that it has two small pocket sections sewn it at either side, each holding a thin plastic rod. These can be removed if you so prefer, but these rod's can be gripped onto by the figure, allowing it to manipulate the way the cape falls over the body as well as completely spread it out to impressive effect. It's likely similar to how the look was achieved on the onscreen suit as well, which makes it even more impressive in execution. This is a figure that has a number of hurdles when it comes to posing (as I'll get into a bit more below), but the way the cape can be posed using these rods definitely give it some incredible display presence.

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Then we come to the articulation, and that's where the problems with this figure begin to show. On paper the overall poseability of the figure doesn't actually look that bad or that different to what Figuarts usually offers. Altogether it has;
- Swivel hinge shoulders and ankles
- Butterfly joint shoulders
- Ball jointed torso, waist and wrists
- Drop down ball jointed hips
- Single hinge elbows and toe sections
- Double hinged knees
Notice anything significant missing from the above list? Much like the actual suit itself, S.H. Figuarts Batman features no head or neck articulation whatsoever. The cowl is a hard plastic that fits onto the body and doesn't allow for any moveable, and is a single piece with no joints whatsoever between the collar and the head. While the fact Bandai decided to be that movie-accurate with the figure is actually a little endearing, it definitely doesn't make the toy all that fun from a posing perspective. In fact it really makes you realise how much toy collectors probably take head/neck articulation for granted - when you don't even have a simple swivel at your disposal it really limits your options. Batman has to be looking completely forwards at all times, which can make dynamic punching poses near impossible to pull off well. The torso and waist articulation on the figure are excellent, but that really isn't enough to make a difference. The other problem with posing comes with just how thick the cape is. It's another instance of it looking fantastic in neutral and face-on poses, but attempt to do anything dramatic and you'll see just how fiddly it can be. Since it comes so far forwards on the body it drapes over most of the figure, and the thicker material means it doesn't bunch up too well at the back. You can take the cowl off to push the cape back a little bit, but it's a lot of effort and will likely stress the material if repeatedly done over time. While I'm certainly not saying that isn't great poses that you can get this figure into, you're certainly a lot more limited than you are with a typical S.H. Figuarts release. And all because there's no head or neck movement - crazy.

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The figure comes with an alternate cowl with a slightly open-mouthed face piece, which is a little strange because the mouth pieces are removable/swappable on the cowls anyway. There might be some difference in how the eyes are painted on the two cowls, but honestly looking at them close up there's barely any difference so it's really hard to tell. Swapping the cowls involves removing the emblem piece from the torso (which keeps it pinned down), lifting the cowl off of the rather large neck peg and then swapping them accordingly. When you take the cowl off you're also able to slightly manipulate the way the cape sits under it or just remove the cape entirely if you'd prefer. It's a simple enough process to do, but again doesn't really seem worth it given how little difference (if any) there is between the two cowls. Not to mention that the open mouth piece looks terrible. I wouldn't call it inaccurate, but more that it feels like Bandai just chose a really awkward frame in the film to base it off. It doesn't convey any of Batman's trademark personality at all, and combined with the lack of head/neck articulation the figure has just comes across as really awkward. The neutral expression looks fine, so you're better off just sticking to that one.

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Thankfully the rest of Batman's accessories are all pretty great. Altogether he comes with nine additional hands (mostly comprised of hands designed to hold the other accessories, but also an open pair and ones with extended triangular hand guards), a batarang, two shurikens, his grappling gun and the Foefie Gauntlet he uses whilst rescuing Vicki Vale at the Flugelheim Museum. The Gauntlet clips onto either arm, and then features moveable barrels that can be turned to either side. It, like all the other accessories, are all nicely decked out in shiny black, silver and gold paintwork that perfectly match their onscreen counterparts. The grappling gun looks brilliant too, because despite being small it's got all of that movie detailing. All of the accessories fit into their intended hands nicely, but again it comes down to the difficulty of posing the figure that determines just how well they look in its hands. Bandai may have missed the mark with that alternate face part but they really nailed it when it came to showing off "all those wonderful toys" Batman has.

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S.H. Figuarts Batman (1989) is one of the strangest S.H. Figuarts figures I've handled in a long time. By the line's modern standards it has some pretty significant flaws, but the fact that a lot of these flaws stem from how impractical the suit itself is also makes it somewhat endearing. As far as sculpting and materials go it looks fantastic (other than that awful alternate mouthplate that is), but is an absolute nightmare to pose any other way than directly head-on. With companies like NECA and Mezco also producing their own 1989 Batman figures as well, it's neither the most affordable nor the highest quality option out there either. It's a real oddity for the line that I wish was better, but at the same time feel no regret in purchasing. The biggest shame of all is that at this point in time it's probably just going to be a random one-off, because I could really go for an S.H. Figuarts Joker as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Detailed review of an iconic Batman figure...well presented pros and cons of figure. Good reasons to have this particular purchases.
Really liked the photographs well thought out showing detailin