Tuesday 22 August 2023

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Absolute Tartarus

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Release Date: May 2023
RRP: 7700 yen

If you've been following the Ultra Galaxy Fight web miniseries/specials for the past few years you'll know that the Ultras currently have their hands full fighting against the Absolutians - a race of powerful aliens looking to subjugate the Land of Light and turn it into their new home. Their story first kicked off in Ultra Galaxy Fight: The Absolute Conspiracy, and has continued on into The Destined Crossroad, Ultraman Trigger, Ultraman Regulos and more. With how much of a presence it has in current Ultraman continuity, it was only a matter of time before the release of S.H. Figuarts Absolute Tartarus. The fact it's also a retail release just shows how much confidence both Bandai Tamashii Nations and Tsuburaya Productions seem to have in it.

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S.H. Figuarts Absolute Tartarus comes in longer square packaging - the kind of box that used to be standard for the line but is seen much more rarely these days. The artwork uses the same two-tone colour scheme as all of the "modern" Ultraman releases, this time combining the standard black with a fitting gold gradient. The front of the box features a nice big image of Absolute Tartarus as he appears in Ultra Galaxy Fight, with the logo underneath specifically noting it as from The Destined Crossroad. In addition the usual book-end style image on the one side of the box you'll find stock imagery of the figure on the back, showing off the figure in a handful of poses as well as the accessories include with the release. Inside Absolute Tartarus is neatly held down on his moulded plastic tray, with the portal effect slotted into a loose bag underneath. As has become standard with S.H. Figuarts with minimal accessory counts, the instructions are printed on the inside flaps of the box rather than a separate paper leaflet.

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From a purely aesthetic standpoint the Absolutians are a pretty interesting foil to the Ultras. Their faces are similarly "alien humanoid", but whereas the Ultras are relatively slim-line with minimal armouring the Absolutians veer off in the opposite direction - emphasising bulk and muscle in addition to an array of armouring and clothed detailing. Their gold colouring also emphasises their grandiose nature, playing into the idea of their near-invincibility. As strategist and de-facto leader of the Absolutians we've seen in Ultra Galaxy Fight so far, Absolute Tartarus was the obvious choice of them to get an S.H. Figuarts release first and as usual Bandai offer a likeness to their typically high standard. Absolute Tartarus is lavishly detailed, with that shimmering gold and silver paint job bringing out all that armoured plating and muscle definition beautifully. Those colours work really nicely against the rest of his matte black body, areas sporting much less detail but working to not make the overall design too busy. Around Tartarus' waist are coat-tails made of soft plastic, which can be bent and moulded to some extent but not in a way that it could be considered articulation as such. The head sculpt looks great too, but it's a shame a brighter blue wasn't used for the eyes as the shade here gets a bit lost in amongst the silver. In a range whose villains are most kaiju or inhumaoid aliens, a figure such as this that isn't directly a dark Ultra is a nice change of pace.

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Unfortunately articulation is where some of the figure's issues begin to show. On face value Tartarus doesn't seem all that different from any other humanoid Ultraman figure, with his body being made up of;
- Ball jointed head, neck, torso, waist and wrists
- Swivel hinge shoulders, hips and ankles
- Butterfly joint shoulders
- Double hinge elbows and knees
- Bicep, forearm and thigh swivels
The shoulder pads are connected via their own separate ball joints to give them additional movement, however these are connected to the torso rather than the top of the arms (which is what you'll typically find with Figuarts). It seems pretty great, but a few minutes playing around with this figure quickly makes you realise that it just isn't designed very well for posing. The biggest offender here is of course those coat tails - despite being made of soft plastic they still get in the way of doing much with the legs. If it isn't the hips they're getting in the way of, it's knees as they hang down low enough to impact on those as well. Moving up the body, the arms can only move about 90 degrees in either direction before those shoulder pads start getting in the way and the movement the butterfly joints offer is pretty minimal as well. The additional forearm swivel is pretty neat, but it doesn't offer enough to negate all the other flaws. Granted Absolute Tartarus is a character that can largely get away looking grandiose in fairly neutral poses, but it would have been nice for the figure to pull off some fighting moves as well. As a side note, my copy's right arm has a regular habit of popping off with even the slightest bit of movement - which may not be a widespread issue is sure annoying for me.

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Accessories are another area that's a bit of a mixed bag, with Absolute Tartarus coming alongside 11 additional hands (five matching pairs and then an additional pair where the hands are moulded together) as well as a large "Narak" portal with accompanying clear stand pieces. Now the range of hands on offer here cannot be faulted, featuring the usual generic selection as well as a fair few unique pose hands as well. The joint hand piece can be a little bit difficult to work with since those butterfly joints aren't all that great, but they're workable nonetheless. What IS annoying but these hands though is that for the five standard pairs Bandai have inexplicably decided to go down the Kamen Rider Saber route, including only one set of hand guards that need to be removed and switched between whichever hands are being used at the time. One can only assume that the budget for metallic red paint must have been pretty low on this figure, because there's not enough detail on them to justify this (that said, Saber's weren't exactly detailed either). It isn't a dealbreaker by any means, but it is tedious and small parts like that are always difficult to lose if you aren't too careful. With no beam or other attack effect parts to speak of, that just leaves the portal - a nice, if fairly standard, Figuarts accessory piece. It's not anything that hasn't been done elsewhere before, a print on a sheet of clear plastic which then plugs into a clear plastic base piece. It isn't anything special, but it does add a bit more personality to the figure when posing. No beam effect pieces is pretty disappointing though, especially when Tartarus has plenty at his disposal. A nice gold beam would have gone with this nicely.

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Much like how I feel about the Absolutians on Ultra Galaxy Fight itself, I want to like S.H. Figuarts Absolute Tartarus more than I actually do. Despite boasting a fantastic sculpt and some gorgeous paint application, the figure just isn't all that fun - struggling to do much more outside of fairly vanilla poses and frustrating with some poor design choices. While it's really nice to get an Ultraman villain that's a little different to the norm for once, Tartarus feels more reminiscent of some of the range's earlier releases rather than the string of heavy hitters its pumped out in the past few years. With the way Tsburaraya are spreading out this Ultra Galaxy Fight story like it's far bigger than it actually is this figure was bound to happen eventually, so hopefully it's just teething issues and subsequent Absolutians will be much better.

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