Wednesday 17 August 2022

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

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Release Date: June 2022
RRP: 5500 yen

Unless you're someone happy to dive into spoilers, much of Shin Ultraman remains a mystery for Ultraman fans outside of Japan. But given the film's overwhelming success in its home country merchandising has begun to ramp up - and with it come the spoilers. One such example was the release of S.H. Figuarts Zōffy (Shin Ultraman), confirming the character's appearance in the film as well as his wildly different appearance and (very slight) name change. The second Shin Ultraman Figuarts release from Bandai Tamashii Nations following on from Ultraman himself, Zōffy is a figure that may not look all that different to Ultraman but is extremely significant nonetheless.

(WARNING: Some text and images in this review will contain spoilers for the film.)

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S.H. Figuarts Zōffy (Shin Ultraman) comes packaged in the same unusually styled box as Ultraman himself, which see the figure visible through a window at the back rather than at the front. It isn't the only time the line has used this kind of box (Batman 1989 immediately springs to mind), but it's still a pretty rare sight. The box has been separated into blue and white sections, with the blue part patterned in a way that's meant to mirror Zōffy's body markings. It's strange that Bandai decided to make the box blue and white rather than black and gold, but the colour scheme works quite well with that of the figure. Each side of the box features images of the figure in various poses (with the front also sporting the Shin Ultraman movie logo in nice gold lettering), and then inside the figure/accessories can be found on a moulded plastic tray.

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The first thing that's immediately noticeable about Shin Ultraman's interpretation of Zōffy is that striking gold and black colour scheme, which (despite there being Ultras of multiple colours these days) feels like unlike anything that's either from or inspired by the Showa-era designs. This colouring is said to be based on Tohl Narita's NEXT and Ultraman Divine Change illustrations. The changes that have been made to Zōffy for Shin Ultraman are well worth reading up on, with Anno and Higuchi showing a whole new level of obscure trivia when it comes to this version of the character's conception. Sculpt-wise Zōffy shares the same body as Ultraman, but with a brand new neck and head sculpt. While the pair sharing the same body type isn't strictly accurate to the movie, in toy form it isn't really noticeable to matter. What's impressive though is the attention to detail when it comes to the head sculpt, which sports a slightly open mouth as well as asymmetrical eyes - qualities that were taken from the Ultraman Jack mask Zōffy's face was based on. Like the original version of the character Zōffy sports slightly different body patterns from Ultraman, but lacks the stud-like medals along the shoulders. The colour scheme alone makes Zōffy a really unique piece among Ultraman Figuarts, but there's also just something wonderfully unsettling about it. Shin Ultraman may look a lot more alien than his predecessors but the red and silver is still a familiar (and as such comfortable) colour scheme. Zōffy's is something new, making it that much more eerie.

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Despite some slight alterations Zōffy's articulation works largely the same as Ultraman's, which is well-suited to that slender alien body. Altogether that includes;
- 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 said there are definitely some quality improvements here. Leading the charge is the slightly revised neck joint, which allows for a better range of motion as well as a more natural look for that iconic Ultraman flight pose. It's a pity that Ultraman himself couldn't have been blessed with it, but I remain convinced that Tamashii Nations will put out a more "complete" version somewhere down the line that uses this tooling. In general it also just feels like there's much better QC with this release, particularly as Zōffy lacks the frustrating loose wrist joint that continues to plague my Ultraman figure. Given all the good that the mould originally had, it's impressive that these slight improvements still make all the difference. 

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Unfortunately much like Ultraman, Zōffy is pretty sparse when it comes to accessories. All that's been included here are four additional pairs of hands - three of which are the same that came with Ultraman (closed fists, knife-strike hands and grappling hands) along with a new pair of open hands that differ to the default ones. Without having seen the film it's hard to directly comment on what else this figure should have come with, but Bandai definitely could have done more if they wanted do. Scenes from the Zōffy-focus trailer suggest he could have come with compacted Zetton, but even if he didn't come with any character specific accessories something for Ultraman wouldn't have gone amiss. After all, the forthcoming Fake Ultraman figure is coming with an Ultra Slash effect part. It's possible that, given the fairly minimal changes required to make this figure, that Zōffy's production was too far along by the time more details of Shin Ultraman were made public, but it's unfortunate nonetheless.

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S.H. Figuarts Zōffy (Shin Ultraman) might not seem like it offers that much more than Ultraman did, but a solid figure given a striking new colour scheme as well as little changes and improvements naturally makes for another great release. It's a shame Zōffy wasn't released far enough after the movie's release to offer a little more in terms of accessories, but hopefully that's a phase we'll have moved out of going forwards. As far as uniquely coloured Ultraman figures go, there aren't going to be many more unique than this.

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