Monday 22 January 2024

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Blazar

S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Blazar 01

Release Date: November 2023
RRP: 7150 yen

For the last few years both Ultraman and Kamen Rider fans have been able to enjoy the newest (titular) S.H. Figuarts releases at a lower price than what Bandai Tamashii Nations usually demand, meant to act as a sort of "gateway" entry to a new range and entice collectors to pick up more. Sure said releases are usually missing key accessories that end up getting packed in with other releases, but if you were planning to pick up more than one character anyway it's not a bad money saving opportunity. However those days might just be coming to an end though, with both the latest entries from both franchises bucking that trend. With the forthcoming Kamen Rider Gotchard it's likely due to that chrome finish, but with S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Blazar it's a little less obvious. One of the last Ultraman releases for 2023, this retail release is more along the lines of your average S.H. Figuarts purchase. Is there enough here to justify that? Let's find out!

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S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Blazar uses the standard packaging design we've seen across all the modern-era Ultraman releases for several years now, giving the design a light blue background that's presumably meant to mirror the crystallised section on his head. In addition to the window section showing off the physical figure there's a nice big image of the Blazar suit on the front, along with a bookend-style shot of the figure on the one side. More shots of the figure in various poses can be found on the back, and then inside Blazar along with his accessories are neatly stored in their moulded plastic tray. As seems to be standard with nearly every S.H. Figuarts release now (unless Bandai are being VERY generous with the accessories), the instructions are now printed on the inside flaps of the box rather than a separate sheet of paper.

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While Ultraman Blazar is still undeniably an Ultra hero, it's fair to say in terms of design this one is a little more out there. The general silhouette is still there, but the silver/black body with pronounced muscle moulding is a far cry from the more superhero shape of standard Ultras. The traditional red/blue colouring is packed almost entirely into Blazar's left side, with markings running all across his body. In the centre of his chest is the traditional colour timer, though both larger and flatter than usual. Then of course you have his head, that typical Ultraman shape amplified by a crystalline scar running across the right side of his face and just above his left eye. Even without seeing what he's like in battle, his look definitely conveys Blazar as a far more feral (and alien) Ultraman. It's a design that packs in a lot of detail despite the colours being designated to specific areas, and Bandai have done a great job at packing it all in. The translucent blue plastic on the head sculpt just looks INCREDIBLE, as does the metallic red and blue paint running down the body. and that prominent colour timer. There are also lots of other cool details on the suit that could easily go unnoticed, such as the more skeletal spinal "fin" running down his back or the prominent toe-shaping on the feet.

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Truth be told there's been very little variation in Ultraman articulation for some years now (particularly among the modern-era releases), but Blazar bucks with some wild changes. Not all of them are necessarily better, but they're certainly interesting. Altogether Blazar features;
- Hinged ball joint head 
- Ball jointed lower neck, torso, waist, wrists
- Swivel hinge shoulders and ankles
- Butterfly joint shoulders
- "Drop down" ball jointed hips
- Double hinge elbows and knees
- Upper arm, elbow and thigh swivels
- Single hinge toe sections
The one big change worth noting here is the return to the older style drop-down hips, which offer a much wider range of motion but come at the cost of breaking up the flow of the sculpt in a rather unsightly way. Presumably Bandai felt it was necessary to return to this engineering to pull of some of Blazar's wilder caveman-like poses, and while there's no denying the figure does to this well that drop gap can be pretty ugly if you don't take the right measures to hide it when posing. On a more positive note, Blazar has some pretty incredible butterfly shoulders, with the arms being able to pull out towards his chest with ease. That too can also lead to some noticeable joint cuts, but the abundance of black plastic in that area makes it a little easier to hide. But it's the upper neck/head joint on this figure that's truly bizarre - designed exactly like the moveable shoulder pads you usually find on S.H. Figuarts releases. Again great movement, but also very easy to make it look like Blazar's head is beginning to float away from his body. In some ways it feels a bit "functionality over form" with this release, but given some of the wild poses you can pull off with Blazar it was absolutely the right way to go. Still wish the Ultras had bicep swivels, but the little bit of swivel you can get from the elbow cut does alleviate things a bit.

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If it isn't the little bit extra that's gone into Blazar's tooling and paintwork that's upped the cost of the figure, then it's definitely the fact that Bandai actually included a proper accessory here too! There's the usual selection of alternate hands (five extra pairs in total - giving him closed fists, weapon holding hands, relaxed hands, knife-strike hands and two different variations of posed open hands) and a replacement red colour timer, but there's also the Tilsonite Sword. Fun fact: Bandai initially held back on revealing that the figure came with this because it hadn't debuted on the show yet. The sword is very nicely detailed, with a bandaged brown hilt, metallic paintwork and even translucent blue blade. Just like on the show and the DX toy, the "Garadama" below the blade can rotate. but there is no working lever to do it properly. It's a nice accessory and arguably far more interesting than the typical beam attack you'd usually get with an Ultraman figure, but is it the right accessory for this release? Even though the gimmick sword becomes his default weapon on the show, Blazar's Spiral Burrade abilities are far more unique and interesting. Sure moulding a double-helix energy spear (which would almost certainly need to be clear plastic) might be complex, but if third-party companies can do it why can't Bandai? The Tilsonite Sword could have easily been bundled in with Earth Garon instead, and it wouldn't have felt like such cash-grab on Bandai's part either since the Ultraman Blazar range seems to be fairly limited. In fact, Earth Garon not coming with anything at all for Blazar seems like a very odd move on Bandai's part. There's bound to be a few more Blazar releases before Bandai consider the line done with (I'm expecting a Firedran Armor Blazar and an add-on pack for Earth Garon), so maybe we will get Blazar's base abilities somewhere down the line.

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While I'm not necessarily convinced that S.H. Figuarts Ultraman Blazar does enough to justify a "standard" Figuarts price tag compared to the years of cheaper Ultras we've gotten, it's certainly a more interesting release than the past few years. Though the changes made to the articulation set up do have their drawbacks they certainly benefit Blazar in that he's able to pull off those wild poses you'd expect of him, and the combination of paintwork/clear parts in the sculpt and the inclusion of an actual accessory definitely give the feeling of getting more bang for your buck. And with Ultraman Blazar having a smaller cast and next to nothing in terms of additional forms, it's not a range Bandai are going to be able to milk too many figures out of. Maybe that's the real reason why this one is a little more expensive in the first place.


M said...

Can't wait for your Blazar Series Review

Oar said...

The sword is nics but I actually would have much preferred the energy spear! Still, its plenty nice that he has an accessory like that!