|11/12/17- I mainly collect
12"/30cm/1:6-scale Ultraseries figures, but these are lean times
for hoping to stumble across the old and the new stuff that isn't
sold out on the day that it's released. This gave me an excuse to
satisfy my curiosity about the hyper-articulated, small-format Ultra-series
figures that I'd mentioned in a few previous articles. Back then,
Bandai seemed to be going strong with their 6" Ultra Act
line. I wasn't very interested because most of their releases were
the post-'60s Ultra hero characters, and very few of the old Ultraseries
monsters and aliens. Medicom had started doing this with their 30cm
RAH line, which is when I stopped buying.
Enter the Bandai Tamashii Nations Simple style Heroic action
Figuarts Ultraseries Figure (a.k.a. BTNSSHAFUF)... After a long
run, Bandai discontinued the Ultra Act line last year, and
replaced it with the slightly smaller format S.H. Figuarts
line. If I'd invested in the Ultra Act line, I'd be mightily
pissed by this: Who wants their Ultra heroes displayed with the
new undersized monsters and aliens? Why didn't they just keep them
the same scale? The cynical conspiracy view is that the reboot will
motivate some Ultra Act collectors to buy the newer, shorter version
of the same figures again: More $$$ for Bandai.
The good news (for me) is that I didn't buy into the Ultra
Act line. So far, the SH Figuarts Ultraseries lineup
is a mix of heroes (Ultraman C, Ultraman A, Ultraman Zoffy, Ultraseven),
monsters (Gomora, King Joe), and aliens (Baltan, Zetton, Mephiras,
Dada, Zarabu, Metoron, Gatsu) originally from the vintage '60s shows.
That's the stuff I'm interested in.
Fool Me Once... I've already got 30cm versions of these
guys, but because the SF Figuarts line is relatively inexpensive,
doesn't take up much space, and I like articulation, I'm willing
to pay to play. I don't intend to get very invested in the SF Figuarts
line (no exclusives for me) in part because I don't trust that they'll
get very deep into the vintage lineup before they move on to the
post-'60s Ultra heroes. And then maybe reboot the line...?
If this comes to pass, you can't blame them. They're in this to
make money, and what they make is driven by what toy collectors
buy. Variety keeps things fresh, but too much can be challenging
for business: Considering how many Ultra heroes and monsters/aliens
have appeared in 50 years of TV shows, it's understandable why they'd
limit their scope to the heroes (which are always popular with collectors)
and the most popular monsters/aliens. Since the shows serve as a
marketing evangelist for toy-makers, it's probably not a coincidence
that many newer shows regularly feature the return of popular iconic
monsters/aliens from the original series.
I call these "hyper-articulated" to distinguish them
from the simple, low-count articulation of the vinyl toys that dominate
the toy kaiju landscape. A hyper-articulated toy has a high parts
count and is considerably more difficult and expensive to design
and produce than a vinyl toy with basic articulation. That may explain
why Bandai has been able to produce an incredible variety of simple
vinyl Ultra series figures for so long, and why X-Plus keeps chugging
X-Plus Will Roam The Earth Long After We're Gone... While
X-Plus is like the Ferrari of kaiju toys, most of the appeal for
fans is in the quality of the sculpts and their paint ops, not the
articulation: They're not very complicated products and don't have
very many parts, so design, tooling, and production costs probably
aren't as high. As long as dedicated fans keep preordering and buying,
they can keep digging deeper and deeper into the lineup without
as much risk from producing an obscure monster/alien from a lackluster
episode. Hell, the've even made Goldon from Ultraman! Hardcore
fans snap that kind of stuff up. When Bandai decides to invest in
production of a SH Figuarts product, they're not likely to choose
a monster that will appeal only to the most hardcore fan. Medicom's
RAH Ultraseries line appears to have gone down this path... and
the company has since moved on to greener pastures.
Ultraman Arrives! I ordered the barebones Ultraman figure
instead of the deluxe version with buildings and other accessories.
Nevertheless, nice packaging: It's an attractive box with the familar
clear plastic trays that probably appeals to the toy collector who
keeps the boxes on a bookshelf. I don't care about the boxes and
store the spare parts in baggies... but still feel obligated to
keep the boxes in the attic.
The accessories: Extra hands in different poses (useful), a red
color timer (doesn't look easy to swap), a clear plastic beam with
hand for simulating his oft-used monster-smiting Specium
beam, and a printed clear acetate sheet with stand for simulating
his beam-blocking shield. The stylistic representations of beams,
shields and explosions are meant for frozen-in-the-moment diorama-ish
displays. They must be a fairly popular feature because they're
standard accessories in many of the Ultra Act and SH Figuarts
products. Personally, I think they look kinda cheesy and are just
one more thing to store, but respect that they're a signature part
of this genre of product, similar to clear stands and other gimmicks
that simulate levitation and flying.
Freed from its packaging, the most obvious but unsurprising observation
is how tiny and light it is. It's close to 6"/15cm tall, but because
the way scaling works, it's much, much smaller and lighter than
a 12"/30cm version.
I have to admit that the weight of the figure did contribute to
my initial impression that it's just a cheap little figure... despite
my ranting that for 1/6th scale it's a misguided perception (A heavy
figure needs good joints or a stand, and the weight doesn't indicate
Once I got past that, I appreciated that it's nicely sculpted,
detailed, and painted (although mine had scuff marks around the
color timer)... and it's a nifty bit of small scale engineering!
It's far more complex and designed with tighter tolerances than
the 6" Bandai vinyls and the old articulated 3-3/4" GI
Joe figures. It's impressive that they've scaled the articulation
of a typical 1/6th scale figure down to such a small size, even
doing toe articulation... without compromising proportions. Simply,
they've done a nice balance of articulation and cosmetics.
A lot of the articulation is ball-socket articulation, which feels
different than the way the same part feels on a 1/6th scale figure,
if that makes sense. I think some of the feel difference may be
due to the difference in materials (like the knee hinges being made
of PVC), but maybe also because of the physical effects of scaling:
A small ball-joint socket is going to have a thinner wall to retain
the ball, and thinner plastic is more pliable. It's not a problem
in this case because small, light parts don't demand as much from
a ball-socket joint. The hip joints are relatively floppy, but that's
not as big a liability as it would be for a 1/6 scale figure because
the figure's so light.
Seams are the price of articulation, but the tight design tolerances
minimize the distraction of articulation seams (there are no gaping
openings) without impeding the articulation too much. Of course,
that's dependent on the pose and view: From the front, a crouching
Ultraman helps hide the hips-legs seams that are pretty obvious
and distracting when he's standing up straight. Same for the elbows.
I'm biased and can't help but compare this to the 12"/30cm Medicom
rubber-suited versions. The little guy is better for posing because
he's not wearing a rubber suit, but obviously less faithful to the
1:1 scale costume because of it.
The small size can be seen as a plus, because you can collect
and display more if you don't have a lot of space. However, diorama
display accessories at that scale are harder to come by, offer less
detailing and variety, and are relatively expensive for what you
get. Compare the Bandai buildings to model railroad N-scale buildings.
If you aren't too fussy about the scale, the SH Figuarts figures
look pretty good in photos with N-scale buildings.
Then there's the price-value. A comparison is tricky because the
price of toys has been rapidly ratcheting up, plus there's a lot
of price distortion in aftermarket sales. I can't help but think
of how much I paid for the Medicom figures back then (which
I thought were overpriced), and the price of the SH Figurarts figures
now (which seem affordable). When I think about that
price difference, I'd gladly pay that difference to get the larger
format figure-- they have a much more impressive "presence"...
but that's just my bias towards the stuff that I've been collecting.
[02/14/18- Since I wrote this article, I've found that some "previously
owned" Medicom RAH figures in the Japanese market occasionally go
for only twenty or thirty dollars more than the SH Figuarts version.
IMO, this is a no-brainer. In many cases, the Medicom RAH armature
can be replaced with a stainless steel Phicen/TB League armature,
which has far better articulation than the SH Figurarts figure.
Also, many of the 30cm/12in/1:6 figures have enough interior space
to be retrofitted with lights and sound effects. (Medicom's Metoron
Seijin, King Joe)]
In either case, it's usually much more expensive when you're late
to the party! Realistically, if I were starting a collection now,
I'd probably go with the SH Figuarts line because they're much easier
to find and buy, and they look really good.
Baltan Seijin: After unboxing, the first thing I noticed
was how impressive the paint ops were, and how good the figure looked.
This wasn't as noticeable with the Ultraman figure because of his
simpler costume design. Baltan Seijin's costume design is a good
showcase for this, with lots of detail, colors, patterns, and gradients.
There's one curious flaw, which seems to be baked into the production:
The serrated teeth pattern mask starts tilting at the top of the
right leg and continues into the crotch. I don't think that this
is a case of carefully modeling a flaw in the original costume,
unless it's modeled after a screen suit that I'm unaware of (which
is always possible).
There aren't any accessories-- just the figure. This is a little
surprising after unboxing Ultraman, but there aren't any appropriate
accessories that I can imagine them including: It doesn't need replacement
hands, although I guess they could have included some sort of beam
thing. For me, it means that there are no extra parts to stow.
This one has the same amount of articulation as Ultraman, but
less poseability. Poseability depends on the design of the costume,
and the limitations it imposes. In the shows, the suit actor didn't
assume aggressive attack stances and the memorable poses are mainly
about the positioning of the huge claws. The same limitations apply
to the little figure (although you could twist its torso around
180 degrees, why would you?).
The costume design lends itself to hiding most of the articulation
seams; again, the most obvious ones are at the legs/hips, and can
be made less obvious with a crouching pose (although that's not
an iconic Baltan Seijin pose).
Despite the top-heavy costume design (when its claws are pointed
upwards, a common pose), the figure stands well because it's so
light and has long feet.
Zetton: This isn't my favorite monster suit design, but
it has grown on me. Bandai did a great job with the sculpting and
paint ops, so it looks just like a miniature version of the screen
costume. It comes with two double-handed beam effects (replace the
hands with the single piece hands+beam effect).
My observations about articulation and poseability apply here
as well. While it has the same amount of articulation as the other
figures, it's even less poseable because of the costume design;
the biggest limitation is that its legs can only do a wide or wider
spread stance. In this case, the rigid plastic thighs and crotch
can't compress to narrow the stance, whereas the screen actor's
rubber suit could. This in turn limits the utility of the knee and
feet articulation. The most useful poseable articulation is the
arms, which have adequate shoulder articulation and excellent ganged
hinge elbows. Because of the costume's detailing, the articulation
seams are barely noticeable.
Gomora: If the box size is any indication, this is a more
ambitious product, and therefore was the most expensive of the four...
but you get quite a bit more. Firstly, it's a hefty reptilian monster
with a fat, long tail. That's unique for a hyper-articulated Ultraseries
product. Medicom didn't do a single one in their 12"/30cm RAH
line and the only one that I know of in that scale is Medicom's
old Combat Joe Godzilla. This is a hopeful sign, since many
of the kaiju-of-the-week in the original Ultraman series were big
reptilian monsters with tails. Red King would be an obvious choice
(already done in the Ultra Act line), and I hope they produce some
of the Baragon-derived daikaiju.
This required a fresh approach to the articulation design since
it's not a humanoid template figure. The tail has 10 ball-socket
articulated segments, the arms have 4 each plus the hands, the legs
have 5 each plus the feet, the neck has 2 plus the head (with articulated
jaw), and the hips/torso has 3. That's a lot of articulation! Even
better, it's mostly useful articulation that can reproduce a wide
variety of iconic poses. The costume's many wrinkles and folds help
make the seams less noticeable.
The set comes with a pair of spare hands, plus a tail and front
horn stump to recreate Gomora's battle-damaged appearance in part
2 of the show. Most collectors will probably prefer to display the
undamaged form and store the battle-damaged parts, but they're a
nice inclusion because Gomora was tailless for half of the show.
I think it's also a reminder of how brutal (and memorable) the old
shows could be, compared to the forgettable, kid-friendly way that
modern incarnations of the show dispatch kaiju.
Ultraseven: There isn't much to say that hasn't been mentioned
already; this one comes with lots of extra hands, 2 beam effects
and a spare "Eye Slugger" (the slicer crest that detaches
atop his head). The suit design makes it very poseable, and this
one (my copy at least) has tight hip joints.
Metoron Seijin: This is another one where the costume
design limits the poseability, and in this case, pretty severely
at the arms/shoulder. The arms can't be posed parallel to the body,
and the lack of a rotation swivel at the elbow hinge (it's only
at the shoulder) is sorely missed. The legs have much better poseability
than Zetton's, but in mine, there's a tendency for the leg pieces
to become unplugged (which disassembles the leg) if you push it
to the limits (which is far too easy to do). It's a
major pain-in-the-ass to reassemble. The easy pop-off-ability of
the joints can either be a blessing or a curse.
Final Words: These are certainly a big step-up from the
old ubiquitous Bandai 6" vinyls that started my adult journey into
collecting Ultraseries stuff. Because the SH Figuarts hyper-articulated
Ultraseries figures are relatively new, we don't know how deep into
the lineup that Bandai will take it. If they stop short and if you
don't mind the scale mismatch and quality difference, you could
display these and the vinyls together, using the vinyls to fill
gaps and build the collection. That's what I've done with my 12"/30cm
collection, using Billiken and CCP vinyl models/figures for the
reptilian daikaiju and others that Medicom didn't make.
Old Bandai King Joe, Marmit Pitto
Seijin & Shapuray fit the size format; many were oversized or looked ultra-funky.
I've noticed that "scale" is rarely if ever mentioned in Ultraseries
product descriptions. They're often referred to as a "non-scale"
item, and identified by a general height measurement for the line.
And there are many, many lines, of many different sizes. Ideally,
within a manufacturer's line, the products are properly scaled to
each other...but that's often not true.
Bandai Geronimon, about the same
size as SH Figuarts Gomora.
So far, one of the good things about this series is that the monsters,
aliens, and heroes appear to be scaled to each other: Ultraman doesn't
tower over any of the antagonists, and Gomora is beefy enough to
believably kick Ultraman's ass. For me, the "tell" is
that the shoulders are all about the same height. Aliens and monsters
with big or tall heads should tower over Ultraman, because
that's the way that the costumes were constructed. (Of course people
are different sizes so there are exceptions to this, like using
smaller female suit actors for smaller aliens.)