Friday 24 September 2021

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Ultraman (Shin Ultraman)

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Release Date: June 2021
RRP: 5500 yen

While the cinema release of Hideaki Anno's Shin Ultraman may be postponed indefinitely due to the ongoing pandemic, the merchandise train still steams ahead! With the film celebrating the 55th anniversary of Ultraman originally due for release in Summer 2021, there are already several different options out there for collectors wanting to get a hold of the titular hero. One such example is the S.H. Figuarts Ultraman (Shin Ultraman) figure, with Bandai Tamashii Nations being one of the first to announce a highly poseable option for their ever-expanding flagship line. Between this and the kaiju figures Bandai have put out in their vinyl toy range, you might not be able to see the film any time soon but at least you can recreate how you imagine the scenes will play out in the comfort of your own home!

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Just from looking at the packaging you can see that S.H. Figuarts Shin Ultraman is a rather special release, as it discards the usual design seen across all previous Ultra Series releases and instead opts for something very different. With a red and white colouring purposely done similar to Ultraman's own body, the front of the box breaks trend for a retail release and adopts a windowless design. Instead the front features a single image of the figure, posed the same way we were first introduced to "Shin" Ultraman in the very first teaser image released for the film. Accompanying it is the Japanese Shin Ultraman film logo, as well as the various Bandai Tamashii Nations and S.H. Figuarts logos you see on all Figuarts packaging. Both spines feature further images of the figure, and then it's only when you turn it round and look at the back do you get a look at the figure housed inside. This isn't the first time Bandai have put the window on the back of a Figuarts box - most recently they did the same for their Batman (1989) figure. The window only takes up a small section of the box, leaving plenty of room on the side for the usual array of stock images showing off the figure in various poses. Open it up and you'll find Ultraman, along with his small selection of accessories, neatly stored on the usual moulded plastic tray.

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Instead of taking the design of the iconic hero in a wild new direction for his film instead Anno has taken Ultraman back to his roots, harkening back to artist Tohl Narita's original designs for the character that lacked the now-iconic colour timer. Proportionally the design also pays homage to Narita's 1983 painting "Incarnation of Truth, Justice and Beauty", which gave Ultraman more slender and less human like-proportions. With the overall design and colour layout of Ultraman barely changing from the original 1966 version the result is a character that looks familiar, but very different at the same time. It's no wonder that Ultraman himself will be a CGI creation in the film, because those long, slender limbs just wouldn't be able to be recreated to such effect with a traditional suit actor. Shin Ultraman truly looks alien, and that's what makes him stand out from the original. With no suit actor required, the eyes have also lost those black circles from the bottom - giving him a slightly more vacant and eerie expression overall. The figure itself isn't actually that much taller than the original Ultraman release, however the redesign in body shape gives it a very different silhouette. The colours are also quite different as well, with the Shin version using a much shinier silver as well as a darker more maroon red - creating much more of a contrast between the two colours. Overall it's a really striking design, and one I've got far more appreciation for after handling as a figure. The teaser only really gave us glimpses of Shin Ultraman, and while pictures are nice it's great to have a poseable figure in hand that really gives a sense of how the character will look and move.

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A long thin body means small joints, and in most cases that would definitely be cause for concern when it comes to poseability - whether it's the overall stability or just whether or not the joints are likely to break or not. But while there are some really tiny joints on Shin Ultraman (the wrist pegs are particularly small), it's surprising just how solid this figure feels. Nothing ever feels like it's particularly fragile or about to break when moved. The result is a figure that may look different proportionally, but has all that quality articulation we've come to know and love from the S.H. Figuarts line. Altogether Shin Ultraman features;
- Ball jointed head, neck, torso, waist, wrists and hips
- Swivel hinge shoulders and ankles
- Butterfly joint shoulders
- Double hinged elbows and knees
- Single hinge toe sections
- Thigh swivels
That's pretty much the same as you'd find on a typical Ultraman figure, though Shin immediately stands out from the Showa Ultras thanks to the addition of a ball jointed head (whereas the others tend to have a peg joint to make the head easier to remove). While comparison videos have proved that the poseability isn't quite as good as its closest rival (Medicom's MAFEX figure), overall you're still getting a really solid range of movement from this figure. What's particularly great is just how easy it is to cross the arms into that iconic Specium Ray pose, because on previous figures it's been a lot harder than the box images suggest. The only real curiosity here is that Bandai released stock images of Ultraman in a flight pose, with the head fully raised up so he's looking forward. No matter how much I tried to push the head and neck it just wouldn't go that far back - maybe I'm just missing something there though. Other than that all your basic needs for an Ultraman are neatly covered with this figure - whether its grappling kaiju or just posing dramatically. 

There have been some reports of poorer QC with this release, but it really seems to vary from figure to figure. While the paint on my copy is very good, it does have an extremely loose left wrist joint - so much so that it's pretty much impossible to remove the hand without pulling the whole joint out its arm socket as well. Given how small it is on this figure that could very easily be cause for concern, but again it's amazing just how sturdy these pieces are. A little bit of heat (and sometimes extra help from a pair of tweezers) and the hand will just pop straight off the joint with little to no fuss. Whereas on previous figures this would have easily been a dealbreaker (and likely resulted in me eventually breaking the joint), Bandai have somehow managed to turn it into a mild annoyance. I'd rather not have to plug the joint back in every time I replace the hand, but I never feel like I'm suddenly about to break it.

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The downside to Shin Ultraman not being released yet is that no one quite knows what this version of Ultraman is capable of - and that includes Bandai themselves. This is a release that was purely intended to get out early and capitalise on the hype for the film, so as far as accessories go it's about as bare bones as you can get. Since this version of Ultraman doesn't even have a colour timer, it doesn't even have a replacement one as a generic accessory. Instead all you're getting here are an additional three pairs of hands - giving you closed fists, open finger-splayed palms and of course those iconic Specium Ray-pose hands to compliment the generic open hands attached in-package. While Shin Ultraman is of course going to fire a Specium Ray at some point in the film, we have no idea what said beam is going to look like so it makes sense that Bandai have just omitted it entirely for the time being. I fully expect Shin Ultraman to get the Avengers: Endgame treatment, where the initial release of the film is paired up with standard figures whilst more 'definitive' versions come a little bit later. The figure itself is so much fun that you can help but to want a little more, but it coming with as little as it does comes as no surprise.

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Despite being a relatively bare bones release with a few minor QC issues to speak of, S.H. Figuarts Ultraman (Shin Ultraman) is pretty great figure. The real pleasure comes from just how different this version of Ultraman feels - looking so familiar yet that elongated body turning it into something truly alien. That spindly body might not look like it can withstand much, but rest assured this guy is just as tough and sturdy as any other Figuarts release. The only real downside to Shin Ultraman is that this is definitely a "preview" release in every sense of the word, and not long after the film's release (whenever that may be) Bandai are almost certainly going to release a more complete version once they've been able to see him in action. On the other hand, if the film is as good as this figure then maybe it'll be worth a second purchase.

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