Thursday, February 28, 2013

Imported Thoughts

 S. H. Monsterarts:  The Past, Present, and Potential  Future of Bandai/Tamashii's Monstrous Line

  Welcome, loyal Import Monsters to another edition of Imported Thoughts!  Seeing as it's Godzilla Week 2013, we saw it fit to delve a bit into the flagship Godzilla-centric toy line S.H. Monsterarts!  In this two part article, we will be exploring the history, the present, and the possible future of this amazing toy line!  Tonight is a bit of a retrospective, highlighting all the releases from Godzilla himself to the most recent releases.  We hope you enjoy!

  Part One:  What Was...

  The announcement of the S.H. Monsterarts line rocked the kaiju collecting world.  Period.  Whether you love or loathe the line, there is no denying this one simple fact.  Sure, there were collector oriented lines that catered to giant monster fans before.  Kaiyodo’s excellent Sci-Fi Revoltech line (with its fantastic, highly articulated renditions of classic Toho and Daiei beasts like Anguirus, Gigan, and Gamera) springs to mind.  An earlier line, Bandai’s high end Chogokin series, also contained a few select kaiju/mecha (including the ever popular Mechagodzilla).  However, these two collector oriented lines both shared one HUGE flaw: While some monsters from Toho’s Godzilla series were beautifully represented, the Monster King himself was conspicuously absent!  Needless to say, the lines felt incomplete to many fans.  It seemed as if there would never be a high end, super articulated Godzilla figure!

  In the winter of 2011 however, Bandai’s subsidiary Tamashii Nations unveiled these mysterious prototypes:

  G-Fans were treated to highly detailed and articulated figures of Super Mechagodzilla, M.O.G.E.R.A., and no less than two variants of Godzilla!  It was obvious that Tamashii (makers of the immensely popular S.H. Figuarts and Ultra-Act series) was gearing up for a new standard Godzilla action figure series!  Many fans couldn’t wait for the official announcement.

However, it would turn out to be a long wait.  Finally in July 2011 (a full five months after the initial unveiling), Tamashii Nations announced a brand new, monster-centric figure line:  S.H. Monsterarts!  Adding to the excitement was the announcement that the first release would be none other than the Monster King himself!  He was given a projected release date of November 2011.  A second figure figure, Mechagodzilla 1993, was slated for release in December 2011.  Best of all, Tamashii's North American distributor, Bluefin Corp., made it possible for Western customers to buy the figures at retail without incurring hefty middleman fees!

In the face of this obviously huge announcement, the kaiju collecting world was instantly divided.  Many questions were raised, debates were had, and tempers flared.  Were these new figures going to render the older figures obsolete?  Do giant monster figures really need extra articulation?  Why would they start with the Heisei (or Versus) series, rather than the ever popular Showa era monsters?

Around this time, another prototype was revealed:  S.H. Monsterarts Spacegodzilla, posed with Godzilla and M.O.G.E.R.A. amid an extremely impressive diorama of the Fukuoka battlefield.  Such displays were to become the norm, with most events using beautifully crafted environments to show off the figures. 

And the much maligned Japanese web exclusive effects packs were shown for the first time.

  The hype machine got rolling full steam when a late 2011 Tamashii event debuted the prototypes of no less than 5 new monsters:  Fire Rodan (from 1993's Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II); Little Godzilla (the final remaining monster from Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla); Yamato Takeru's heroic Utsuno Ikusagami; an Aggregate form Destoroyah (from the final Heisei Godzilla film, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah); and last but not least, Godzilla's popular arch nemesis King Ghidorah (from 1991's Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah)!  This was shaping up to be an interesting line indeed.  What's more, the monsters all seemed to be adhering to film accurate scale!

The as of yet unreleased Utsuno Ikusagami

November’s release of the first figure, Godzilla 1994 (from Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla), did nothing but add fuel to an already raging fire.  Some found that the figure did not resemble the prototype closely enough.  Others condemned it for the somewhat limited articulation.  Still others defended the Monsterarts Godzilla fiercely, despite its shortcomings.  It was a surprisingly divisive first entry in the series.  It didn't help that it's sole accessory was an unconvincing atomic ray w/ stand.

  One major issue was a QC error that came to be known as "derp eyes".  Many of the S.H. Monsterarts Godzilla 1994s had misaligned eyes.  It greatly affected the overall look of the figure, especially when viewed from the front.

  The Infamous Derpzilla (left)

In early December 2011, S.H. Monsterarts Mechagodzilla 1993 was released to considerably better reception.  It came with a decent amount of accessories, and had no glaring quality control issues.  It also contained a fair amount of die cast metal, making it seem like a legitimate machine.   It wasn't without its share of issues though:  Fragile teeth and balance issues were prevalent design flaws.  And many were upset that the figure didn't come with the attachable Garuda warship.

The next two releases in the line weren't monsters at all, but web exclusive effects packs.  One contained a red beam for Godzilla and various JSDF vehicles.  The other was an attachable companion piece to Mechagodzilla, the flying battleship Garuda.  Both were Japanese web exclusives, and were only available at drastically inflated prices stateside.  As a result the aftermarket price rose even higher!  This was quite annoying to those who want Super Mechagodzilla, but skipped the preorder.

The next regular release in the line is widely regarded as one of the best (if not THE best) in the line:  S.H. Monsterarts Spacegodzilla!  Not only was the articulation greatly improved from the previous releases, but the sculpt was beyond top notch.  It was by far the best representation of the monster available.  The paint work alone was stunning, and the sharply sculpted crystals were molded in translucent plastic!   The only real drawback was that it was a tad light on accessories, coming (like Godzilla) with just a beam and a stand.

Two months after the release of the stunning Spacegodzilla, his robotic opponent M.O.G.E.R.A. debuted.  This release continued the standard of excellence set by the previous figure, but upped the ante by including an absolutely insane amount of accessories!  The box is filled to the brim with effect parts, swappable pieces, and stands.  What's more, like Mechagodzilla, M.O.G.E.R.A. contains die cast metal.

Next on the schedule was another web exclusive set, but fortunately Bluefin had it covered.  Little Godzilla was a sort of companion piece to Spacegodzilla, as he was packed with some of the big blue monster's crystals.  These crystals were articulated and came with stands so you could create a sort of prison for the mini monster.  All in all, this release was a bit underwhelming, which is no surprise...  the previous two releases were a tough act to follow.

When Tamashii distributor Bluefin announced it's San Diego Comic-Con 2012 exclusives, S.H. Monsterarts collectors were in for a surprise:  The SDCC exxclusive Comic-Con Explosion Godzilla!  Like various Godzilla figures before it, this one was molded in a translucent orange plastic with yellow highlights.  This was to simulate how Godzilla would look when lit by an enormous explosion.  However, many fans took to calling it "Meltdown Godzilla", as it resembled the monster as he appeared in a scene in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah.

  Fire Rodan was released at a perfect time:  Out of the six monsters in the line, only one of them (M.O.G.E.R.A.) wasn't a Godzilla variant of some sort.  And as awesome as the renditions were, it was beginning to become monotonous.  Fire Rodan was packed with several interesting accessories, including a spare head for Mechagodzilla and a proper Red Spiral Ray for Godzilla!  Despite these interesting pack-ins, Rodan himself was a bit of a mixed bag for some.  There were complaints about flimsy wings, heads that fell off easily, and the soft sculpt of the beak.  Still, there were those that loved the figure.  Of course it didn't hurt that S.H. Monsterarts Fire Rodan was significantly cheaper than average.

  September came and saw a release that most of the line's fans had been waiting ten long months for:  S.H. Monsterarts King Ghidorah!  Godzilla's arch nemesis was a wonder of sculpting and articulation technology...  with some MAJOR flaws.  Jaws popped out, pieces would fall off and be a nightmare to reattach, wings would sag...  and worst of all, wings would snap off (in one case due to nothing more than gravity).  It didn't help that King Ghidorah was the most expensive figure in the line BY FAR.  Fortunately,  Bluefin was very helpful with providing replacements for broken figures.  For some S.H. Monsterarts aficionados, though, King Ghidorah remains a gigantic golden stain on the line.

When it came to S.H. Monsterarts Godzilla 1995 (AKA Burning Godzilla), Tamashii threw collectors a curve ball.  Instead of releasing the original prototype (shown more than a year earlier), they opted to instead resculpt Godzilla from the ground up.  The result was a bulkier, more film accurate figure with increased articulation.  The burning patches were molded in translucent orange.  The final product was stunning.  But again, it was divisive.  Many were put off by the increased size of the joint gaps.  Fortunately, they could be adjusted for a more natural look.  This figure ended up being one of the best in the line, and for some lost faith was restored.

S.H. Monsterarts  Godzilla Junior was another Japanese web exclusive release that left many underwhelmed.   Although it was more expensive than Little Godzilla and Fire Rodan, it didn't seem justified.  Junior himself was small, and came with two tiny helicopters and some unattractive stands.  Still, it was easily the best rendition of the character so far, and it scales well with Godzilla 1995.

Well that concludes the retrospective section of this feature!  Join us in two days for Part 2!  


Import Monster News

New pictures from Tamashii Nations about upcoming products!

D-Arts Raidou Kuzunoha  @ 4410 JPY, D-Arts Blastoise @ 3990 JPY, and Ultra-Act Ultraman Taro @ 3675 JPY in June!

Review: S.H MonsterArts Mechagodzilla & UX-01-92 Garuda

Introduction: December of 2011 was an interesting time for the S.H. MonsterArts line; two figures were released, preorders for the first web exclusive shipped and preorders for the second web exclusive closed. The second release, Mehagodzilla, was expected to be a far better release than Godzilla, and even had an effects pack was planned for release in the coming months. Tamashii Nations seemed to have a lot of faith in the mechanical dinosaur... but did it pay off? Read on to find out!

*NOTE* Due to the nature of this review and the items being reviewed, the normal Import Monsters review format will be changed. The portions applicable to each figure will have [brackets] before the topic indicating which figure is being evaluated if indication is needed.

[Mechagodzilla] Package (4/5):  Overall, the packaging for Mechagodzilla helped to set the standard of the superb display of S.H. MonsterArts boxes. As typical of the line, the box actually feels as if one is purchasing something of high value and quality, the likes of which are not found in other lines. The front contains a nice shot of the suit's face, and the back contains various blurbs about the character and movie it is from.
Note the sticker on the window indicating the first release

 [Garuda] Package (4/5): There is not too much to say for the Garuda box , aside from noting the stylish foil treatment of the box. As typical for a web exclusive, it does come with the Tamashii brown box for mail order items. Overall, it is simplistic and a deviation from the normal S.H. MonsterArts boxes.

[Mechagodzilla] Sculpt/Paint (5/5): Simplistic. Cold. Even. Right. Mechagodzilla is indeed criticized by some for a few drawbacks that will be covered later, but this is something the figure does totally right. Every line on the figure is precise and the shading is amazing in the respected areas. The cheeks, thighs, eyes, mouth, fingers, metal joint coverings, everything looks right on this figure. Also, the diecast portions in the feet, ankles, and joints look almost flawless.

[Mechagodzilla] Articulation (3/5):  C'est la vie, everything cannot be perfect.

Mechagodzilla is an interesting figure in terms of articulation. What exists is fitting for the mech, but one cannot help but feel more could be done.

Starting with the head, the jaw works on a hinge joint, and the neck is on a swivel. Aside from a different neck piece, which will be covered later, Mechagodzilla cannot look up or down. Also, Mechagodzilla works with an interesting double ab crunch fixated on ball joints, allowing for interesting displays of... bending over. The arms are attached to the body with a ball joint, and the joint itself is connected to a joint that allows for the arms to be moved around on the shoulder (note: this concept is very difficult to describe and can be difficult for some to actually use. Unfortunately, without a clear video example or owning the figure, this cannot be accurately communicated ). The arms havea hinge joint at the elbow, and the hands are on a swivel/hinge combination that acts as a ball joint. Note there is no bicep swivel at all.

The legs are quite interesting. They are attached to the body on a double ball joint system, with a double hinge joint in the knee, a ball jointed foot, and a hinge joint for toe articulation. While this seems standard for almost any figure, the bulkiness of the sculpt hinders articulation. Also, as discussed later, the figure tends to have balance issues due to this.

[Garuda] Sculpt/Paint/Articulation (3.5/5):  Similar to Mechagodzilla, what is there on the Garuda is great, though it is nothing to call home about. The paint detail looks just fine, and the sculpting for the small parts is well noted. However, due to the nature of the design, not much can be done, but credit is indeed given for being able to, effectively, pull everything off on such a small figure.

For articulation, the cannons, cockpit area, and jet boosters* move in a very predictable way.

*Though this reviewer has heard these boosters move, he has not been able to move them himself.

[Mechagodzilla] Accessories (3/5): The first production run of Mechagodzilla includes everything one would need for Mechagodzilla outside of what is included with the Garuda except a plasma grenade effect or eye beams. It comes with a Mega Buster effects piece, Stage ACT 4 arm, a custom base for the effects piece, interchangeable hands, neck joint, and tail for flying mode, and additional abdomen piece to represent the plasma grenade. Everything that comes with Mechagodzilla is great, thought there is a lot that should have came with the figure, as covered in the next section.

Synergy between releases (5/5): If one is looking to complete Mechagodzilla, the Garuda is a recommended purchase at a reasonable price. It comes with the ship in question, shock anchors/G-Crusher cables, effects parts for the cannons of Garuda, interchangeable part to equip on to Mechagodzilla's back, and a special base for the stand. Overall, this piece is fantastic and really adds to the display value of Mechagodzilla.

The cables are made of a bendable wire. Though they can be bent into almost any position, do take care to not overextend them.

[Both] WATCH OUT!!!!!: Unfortunately, there is a decent amount to take into consideration with Mechagodzilla and Garuda.

1. The material they are made out of is a hard plastic. Because of this, breakage is extremely easy if either figure takes a shelf dive or if a piece of the sculpt is forced in a way that provides stress. For example, one common problem with this figure is that some people put the Mega Buster beam in the mouth, accidentally knocking teeth out. One should take serious caution and go by the promotional picture and should place the beam outside  of the mouth, as shown below. Also, shelf dives are... harmful to Garuda. One of the contributors here has experienced this first hand. Finally, the tail is held on by a clip made of hard plastic. Though this reviewer has not heard of this clip breaking, the hard plastic appears to be worrisome if one were to change the tail multiple times.

2. The legs can present balance issues on Mechagodzilla. For some reason, the legs tend to cause the figure to not seem secure while standing. This reviewer was able to fix this issue by coating a loose leg on his figure with one coat of clearcoat nailpolish one the joint, though.

3. The default pegs in Garuda's cannons are a part of the figure!!!!! This reviewer has seen COUNTLESS individuals throwing these clear pegs away! These pegs are meant to represent the cannons when they are not firing. Look at the beam effects if one has them; one will notice a similar sculpt near the base of the beams.

Conclusion: Despite a few drawbacks and showing its age, Mechagodzilla earns a 3.5/5 by itself, and a 4.5/5 when coupled with the Garuda set. While the figure is a fantastic display piece, and can be picked up for cheap on Amazon, there is not much one can do with the figure aside from posing and leaving it. Fiddling is not a big option, since one can only achieve so many poses with it, and even then, it can be difficult for the figure to hold a particular pose thanks to some balance issues. However, when coupled with Garuda, the figure has more options for display and it helps to complete the overall look. In conclusion, though, this reviewer would recommend this figure to collectors that like the design or want a Mechagodzilla in their collection.

Now, if you'll excuse Mechagodzilla, it has a score to settle with a big birdie.

Head featured here is an accessory to the S.H. MonsterArts Fire Rodan