Thursday 18 April 2024

Toybox REVIEW: SJHU Project Shin Universe Robo

SJHU Project Shin Universe Robo 01

Release Date: January 2024
RRP: 21,000 yen

"There was an idea...The idea was to bring together a group of of remarkable people to see if they could become something more. To see if they could work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that we never could." 
- Nick Fury, The Avengers

The Shin Japan Heroes Universe is a collaborative project between Toho, Studio Khara, Tsuburaya Productions and Toei that brings together the works of Hideaki Anno for all manner of merchandising and special events. During and following the production of his Rebuild of Evangelion film series, Anno went on to reimagine the tokusatsu juggernauts from his childhood in three critically acclaimed films - Shin Godzilla, Shin Ultraman and Shin Kamen Rider. As part of the project, Bandai unveiled one of most ambitious and bizarrest pieces of crossover merchandise you'll ever find. SJHU Project Shin Universe Robo - a Premium Bandai exclusive figure which takes Evangelion Unit 01, Godzilla, Ultraman and Kamen Rider and combines them in a classic style giant robot. As if the sheer insanity of the toy wasn't enough, further hype was built around the project with the production of a special web commercial directed by renowned special effects director Hiroshi Butsuda - showing off a full CG transformation sequence before showing off the robot in all its glory with a practical suit. Toys rarely get much stranger than this.

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The SJHU Project Shin Universe Robo comes in a somewhat smaller box than expected, but Bandai certainly knew how to make it eye-catching. The front of the box features a vertical image of the combined toy standing amongst a forest diorama with a blue sky - an image not too dissimilar to how the live-action suit looked in the promotional video. While one side of the box features images of each component against different coloured backdrops, the other side features the logos for each of the films in bold white text against a solid black background. The back of the box however is perhaps the best element of all, featuring some incredible illustrated artwork of Shin Universe Robo on the attack. Simply calling the art "poster-worthy" would be underselling it, but Bandai should definitely be using it more in their marketing and merchandising of the SJHU Project. Inside the box each of the four components (and instructions/accessory parts) are bagged and neatly stored on a moulded plastic tray.

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The "Shin Universe" began life back in 2007 with the release of Evangelion Shin Gekij┼Źban - better known as the Evangelion New Theatrical Edition or Rebuild of Evangelion. These were a tetralogy of films released between 2007 and 2021 initially as an alternate retelling of Neon Genesis Evangelion, before evolving into something more. As such the first component of the set we're looking at is Evangelion Unit 01, which might just be the stand out figure of the set. While all three of the larger figures have had some compromises made to their designs to work as transformable robot parts, Unit 01 is perhaps the one closest to how it appears on screen. While it still has a bit more of a visible gut and thicker legs (along with a number of visible joints), it definitely looks the part with that superb colouring. The purple plastic used is vibrant, while the black, silver and luminous green stand out on it beautifully.

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Looking at both the individual figures and the combined Shin Universe Robo it's clear that Bandai were going for a certain aesthetic with this set - promoting a chunky, DX toy look over a sleek, high-end toy with lots of show accurate parts. That isn't all that surprising given it's a straight Bandai product rather than a Bandai Tamashii Nations one, since the latter is a lot more in their wheelhouse. With that in mind it's a pleasant surprise just how much poseability some of these figures have - Unit 01 particularly impressing with;
- Ball jointed head, hips and ankles
- Swivel hinge shoulders
- Double hinge elbows and knees
- Bicep and wrist swivels
In addition to that the shoulder pylons, knee fins and foot guards all have their own individual movement that allows them to be moved independently from the body. While the very nature if the design means this was never going to be the most expressive figure ever, what has been engineered is still capable of some very good poses that give it worth as a separate figure. This is also enhanced by the fact Unit 01 also has some unique accessory pieces - a pair of swappable open hands and a translucent orange plastic AT Field effect part. The combination of open hands and closed fists give Unit 01 a bit more variety when it comes to posing, while the AT Field is a nice little piece that really enhances display.

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For tokusatsu fans however the Shin Universe really began in 2016 with the seminal Shin Godzilla, which took the King of Monsters and reimagined him in a modern political red-tape disaster setting. This version of Godzilla was truly the stuff of nightmares, with the design really emphasising the nuclear mutation with disproportioned limbs, beady little eyes and a tail quite literally made from skeletal humans. Shrunk down into a chunky little toy some of that body horror has been lost, but it's good to know that no matter what form Shin Godzilla takes he's still creepy as hell. Making up the main body of the combined robot, Godzilla is the largest piece in the set - predominantly made from dark grey plastic but with metallic red paint detailing on the chest, dorsal fins and tail. The head sculpt is particularly striking with those tiny little (staring) eyes and painted teeth. Since the body does do a lot of parts-shifting in the transformation the sculpt is broken up by all the various joints running along it, but overall its still a fairly solid toy that gets the design and proportions of Shin Godzilla across well.

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While not quite as articulated as Unit 01, Godzilla still has plenty of moveable parts to make things interesting. These include;
- Hinged head/jaw and neck
- Arm swivels
- Ratchet swivel hips
- Ratchet hinge knees
- Ankle swivels
Unlike Unit 01 where there was a sense that you were getting a lot out of the figure given the design, Godzilla feels a little more in-keeping with what you'd expect from a DX style toy. The sound of those ratchet joints in the hips and knees are satisfying, but don't offer a great deal of poseability over all. You can get some poses out of him (and the large but sadly immobile tail helps with balancing), but overall he's fairly limited. That's okay though, because Shin Godzilla is hardly the most athletic of Godzilla variants anyway. Simple as it is it's the moveable head/jaw that's perhaps the most satisfying part of the articulation, as you can't really beat a Godzilla posed mid-roar. While the hinged neck can add to that, it's only pinned at the back so lifting it does break up the sculpt quite a bit. Unfortunately Godzilla was also shafted when it came to individual accessories, with none featured despite an atomic breath part being both an obvious and perfect addition to the set.

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Next came Shin Ultraman in 2022 - a modern reimagining of the original 1966 Ultraman series and my personal favourite of the Shin Universe films. As the other arm/leg component of the combined robot Shin Ultraman shares a very similar mould to Unit 01, however without all the sculpting and flourishes that the Evangelion has the changes made to the proportions are a lot more noticeable. The Shin version of Ultraman is particularly notable for his slender, more alien-like look however this rendition is chunky and funky. The chest and legs in particular are thick to say the least, which is quite the contrast to his thin arms and tiny head. Proportions aside though Ultraman is pretty simple in the way of design and colour scheme so there wasn't a lot for Bandai to get wrong here - the red and silver colouring is sharp and instantly recognisable as the iconic giant of light.

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Sharing the same engineering as Unit 01 means Ultraman also shares the same articulation, which again consists of;
- Ball jointed head, hips and ankles
- Swivel hinge shoulders
- Double hinge elbows and knees
- Bicep and wrist swivels
Granted the significant change to Ultraman's proportions means he can look pretty strange in some of his more iconic poses, but the fact he's able to pull them off at all feels like a feat in itself. Ultraman is another component that was also lucky enough to include some unique accessories - namely a pair of Spacium Beam pose hands as well as a translucent blue Spacium Beam effect part. The inclusion of alternate hands for Unit 01 and Ultraman is a really nice touch, particularly in this case since it allow Ultraman to properly pull off his most iconic pose. The Spacium Beam doesn't attach to the figure in any way, but does include its own unique display stand piece to hold it up. It's also got a pretty good size to it too, which is fitting considering how ridiculously long the beam could get in the film itself.

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The quartet of Shin Universe films rounded off in 2023 with Shin Kamen Rider, so to round off the set we have a figurine of Kamen Rider 1 riding his Cyclone motorcycle. Not being a giant like the other characters naturally Rider 1 is a considerably smaller component, but still larger than he would be if these things were actually to scale. Despite the size it's a nice little representation of how Rider 1 appeared in Shin Kamen Rider - sans the now-iconic overcoat but still featuring the right level of colouring and detail to be identifiable as that version of the character. The Cyclone also looks pretty good too - not terribly detailed but well-moulded. The bike also holds together surprisingly well considering how many joints and moving parts have been built into it for the transformation.

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Unlike the other components Kamen Rider sadly doesn't have any articulated parts, although the figurine itself is only attached to the bike via the handlebars so can be slightly repositioned for stunt poses should you so choose. Both wheels are free-rolling though, which makes this a nice little push along Kamen Rider figurine akin to the kind you might see as a budget or McDonalds Happy Meal toy as such. While perhaps not as interesting or versatile as the other components, it still has merit among them. In fact it's quite fun to put this in jumping poses (with the aid of a stand) or alongside various effect parts even if its functionality (outside of the transformation/combination) is limited.

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Put them all together and you have the Shin Japan Heroes Universe! Although obviously the big draw of this set is that they can combine into what is possibly the dumbest (but also greatest) super robot of all-time, there's a surprising amount of fun to be had from the individual components as well. Though they certainly aren't any replacement for screen-accurate articulated figures of these iconic characters, they have a surprising amount of character and poseability (particularly Unit 01 and Ultraman). The latter is especially interesting given that Bandai have gone for more DX toy engineering as opposed to high-end collectible with this release.

The transformation and combination into Shin Universe Robo isn't particularly complicated, but definitely requires the instructions at least first time around to understand all the eccentricities of it. Unsurprisingly it features a fair amount of parts forming, with Godzilla's back and feet needing removal as well as both Unit 01 and Ultraman separating to become both arms and legs. Other than that though it's a pretty simply process to turn them into designated body parts, then clipping them all together with some fairly solid peg joints. Transforming Rider 1's Cyclone into the robot's head is perhaps the fiddliest part of all, due to the small size of the piece and the amount of panel-folding required. Once the head has been attached, the only thing left to do is remove the centre piece from the AT field effect part, and then opening the larger part to create a chest piece that Godzilla can poke his head through. 

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Where do you even start describing the Shin Universe Robo? It's a design that walks the very thin line between genius and insanity, combining four things that were never meant to be bought together in this way. It's not something that's going to be to everyone's tastes, but if you're onboard with the madness of it all then it really is a sight to take in. Godzilla works particularly well as the "core" of the robot not just because of its mass, but also because the design is more organic than the others. Of course Ultraman and (to some extent) Unit 01 are both organic too, but their bright colouring works well to give the design that familiar combined robot colour placement. Other than the fact it just has all those heads staring at you, the most fun aspects of the design are definitely Godzilla poking through the AT Field and Rider 1 essentially piloting the mecha from atop the robot's head. While he might not have had as much to contribute to the combination as the other Shin Universe Heroes, Kamen Rider definitely got pride of place here. While Bandai could have tweaked the design in a way that highlighted the differences between Unit 01 and Ultraman a little more (rather than have them sculpted the same to produce exactly the same kind of limbs), it's clear that the design was meant to evoke an ol-school simplicity which it does to good effect. There's still no denying that it's stupid as hell, but it's also fun as hell - which was exactly the point.

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As previously mentioned numerous times in this review already, the whole execution of this set gives off big DX robot vibes. But much like the individual components themselves, the combined Shin Universe Robo has a surprising amount of articulation loaded into. Now how well it can make use of it all is another question entirely, but altogether it features;
- Ball jointed head and feet
- Butterfly joint shoulders
- Swivel hinge shoulders
- Single hinge elbows 
- Double hinge knees
- Waist, wrist and thigh swivels
- Ratchet swivel hips
In addition to that, the tail "wings" part on the back of the robot are also hinged, so the angle can be slightly modified for specific posing or simply to balance the figure out a little better. Overall it's a pretty impressive array of articulation, with points like the waist swivel and butterfly joint shoulders particularly surprising given the usual standard for DX style robots. Not all of the joints are amazing (the knee joints are both a little strange looking and somewhat limited by their design), but there's enough going on here to get more than just a vanilla pose out of the set. However the issue with posing the figure dynamically doesn't come from the articulation - rather it's the stability that's the problem here. To start with, as large as they may be Godzilla's rounded feet are shaped well enough to properly balance the robot in a variety of poses. Despite attaching via ball joints to give it some level of ankle tilt, it doesn't take much for the robot to topple. A simple way around this would have been to add some pop out heels on the backs of the feet, which would have added a little more (not to mention flatter) surface area for balancing. Secondly there are elements to the design that could be more secure. The head for example attaches to the body via a tiny ball joint, so turning the head often leads to it popping straight off. The tail piece at the back doesn't slot in very securely either, and being one of the larger pieces in the combination it falling off can further affect balancing when posing. It's particularly frustrating because the limbs themselves all fit onto the body really securely, it's just those pieces that seem to miss the mark. I maintain that no one is going to look at a picture of the Shin Universe Robo and expect a highly poseable toy, so while there was certainly room for improvement what you're getting here is still more than you'd probably expect.

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Shin Universe Robo's accessories include an AT Field shield that slots onto its left arm, as well as the powerful Spacium Beam sword. The sword is made by slotting the Spacium Beam effect part into the removed back/dorsal plate section of Godzilla, which becomes the hilt. Not only is the robot having a sword made from Godzilla's dorsal plates extremely cool, but it also ensures that there are no leftover pieces from any of the components in the overall combination. Though the sword can be comfortably held and posed by the robot with no support, since it is a little on the large side this can be difficult - as such the AT Field display stand piece can also be used here for extra support. While it's still a shame that the set didn't come with an atomic breath part for Godzilla as well (especially as the Robo was also shown to fire it from its chest in the promotional video), the sword definitely completes the look to sell just how gloriously over the top this thing is. All giant robots need a big sword, and this one is a Spacium Beam laser sword - could it get any more perfect?

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SJHU Project Shin Universe Robo is a difficult toy to give a final verdict on because recommending it comes with so many caveats. To start with, there's no denying that at 21,000 yen the set is really expensive for what it is. That said, even with Bandai having their hands in all four franchises this thing must have been a logistical nightmare to license, so in that respect it's incredible that exists at all. More importantly though Shin Universe Robo is a novelty item - something where if you don't completely buy into the sheer incredulity of it, you're not going to enjoy it. That all said, no the toy isn't perfect. Licensing feats aside it's  a toy meant to evoke a certain aesthetic, which means compromising on certain aspects. Despite having way more articulation than I expected it to, its stability can be questionable. But oh my god is it FUN. I own a lot of toys, but rarely to they ever take me back to my childhood days the same way this did. It's exactly the kind of thing you'd dream up as a child, but never in a million years think you'd physically hold in your hands. There's never been a toy quite like Shin Universe Robo, and I'm not sure if there'll ever be one again.

2 comments:

Manpig said...

As someone who bit the same bullet. Objectively? This toy is a huge waste of money. There are so many products at far higher quality that demand less money. For what's effectively a DX toy, this thing costs so much. Most of the cost clearly comes from all the IPs and licensing needed.

Subjectively? It's the best thing I own. I don't care about its flaws, it's perfect.

Alex said...

Finally, someone else who gets it!