Sunday, December 17, 2017

SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO - Bandai Kikan Taizen 1/2000 scale starship

I love starships. Always have. One of my first true loves was the Space Battleship Argo, from the Americanized Star Blazers cartoon of the late 1970's. Taken from the Japanese Space Battleship Yamato, Star Blazers featured a gorgeous starship that I drew over and over again throughout my youth. I have several versions of the Argo/Yamato in my collection, including a Taito Super Mechanics version, the stupendous Popynica BPX-01, and a tiny Cosmo Fleet Collection blind-box miniature. But the new Bandai Tamashii Nations Kikan Taizen 1/2000 scale model that arrived on my doorstep this past week is my current favorite! Based on Space Battleship 2202 (or Star Blazers 2202), Bandai's new starship measures just about 6" long, but comes complete with an astounding list of features!

The ship comes in an attractive box COVERED in writing. Unfortunately, it's all Japanese, so I can't make heads or tails of it. There are a couple of dark shots of the model, and one really nice outline of the ship, as well. It's striking just how compact the box is when you first see it, and it's a pretty good indication of just how small the model is. The Kikan Taizen line purports "big model detail" in an affordable, "small model" size. So, many of the kinds of features you'd find on the big Popynica or Soul of Chogokin models are here, as well: working lights (with 2 separate, tiny switches) for the wave motion gun, wave engines, bridges and hull lights, rotating main turrets, and a slew of display stand options. No Black Tigers or Cosmo Zero at this scale, of course, but you still get plenty of fun in a small package! The lights work well, though the main Wave Motion gun glows white rather than blue or red, and there is some slight bleed at the rear (I get some faint yellow coming through the paint at a couple of places, but it really isn't too noticeable). There's also a tiny bit of gapping where the parts are joined towards the front of the ship's hull. The lights are controlled by two switches on the underside - you have to remove a panel VERY carefully underneath to reveal the switches. This whole thing is so small that Bandai has actually included TWO tools for manipulating parts: one is for digging into panels to aid in their removal, while another is for rotating the smaller gun turrets.

The ship itself measures 6 & 1/2" in length, and is beautifully sculpted and lovingly painted, with tons of detail and a bit of weathering. Faint airbrushing highlights hull panels on the sides, and the deck is shaded with a teak wood color. There are missiles in the stack, but (of course) they can't be retracted or extended. Everything is scaled appropriately, and this really does come across as having the same level of love and attention that the S.H. MonsterArts line had at its outset.

Everything is housed safely between a pair of clamshell trays. The antennae and various sharp protrusions of the starship are all present in their thin, delicate form. It's very challenging not to poke yourself or break anything when handling her! Yamato sports two thin panels on the hull that can be removed to install the wings in deployed mode, and one transparent part can be substituted to allow an arm to plug in as part of the display stand. The stand is, in fact, the one part I think I could do away with. It's extremely over-engineered. There are two mirrored rectangular faces with a plethora of transparent arms to attach over the top face, there's a leg for the back of the vertical face, and everything has adjustable cradles. It sounds wonderful, but the simple fact is that the ship sits too close to both faces for them to really reflect anything you'd want to see, and everything is so close to the table top upon which it would stand that it never really looks like it's flying, anyway. I'd much prefer a standard figma-style base with a simple adjustable arm that can plug into the side of the ship. In fact, I will probably try to substitute a different stand to do just this. Don't get me wrong- I really admire Bandai for trying to do something amazing here with this display stand. I just think that there's something to be said for Occam's Razor so far as this particular design goes.

Overall, I love, love, love my new Kikan Taizen Space Battleship Yamato, and frankly I CANNOT WAIT for the release of the second ship in the line: Space Battleship Andromeda! I've seen some images of a standard Space Battleship as the third ship of the line, and I'd really love to see the line go deep, with versions of Yukikaze and Gamilas destroyers and Space Carriers, as well! The scale and size does make it absolutely affordable both in terms of money and shelf space, so I say, "Bring it on, Bandai!" I can't wait to see what they've got in store...

Saturday, December 9, 2017

TOMB RAIDER Starring Lara Croft - Varner Studios 9" resin maquette

I recently picked up the older Varner Studios Lara Croft statues, and am really pleased with both! Today I'm taking a look at the smaller "Evening Gown" statue...

Varner Studios does a really nice job with the box. The photos all match the final product closely, and do a nice job of giving you a clear idea of what you are getting. The real unique aspect, though, is the pair of "diary entries" featured on the back. One entry gives a story of an adventure as Lara tells it, and while the second describes an interaction between Lara and Varner Studios, telling about their interest in developing a statue of her. The whole this is quite fun, and I enjoy the playfulness of it all.

The statue itself stands atop a thick rocky base. The texture and detailing of the base is excellent, and the edition number and certificate of authenticity are stenciled onto the underside. Lara's sculpt is simply gorgeous. I'm not sure how, exactly, but it captures the simple, blocky look of the in-game model while simultaneously being sleek and curvy. The dress alone is a wonderful work of art. It's thin enough to look convincing, while still clearly being an additional layer. Speckled glitter throughout the dress and gloves add a nice touch to the overall look, which could otherwise have been fairly plain. The pose is likewise simple, yet elegant. I keep thinking it might have looked a tad more natural with her left hand on her hip, rather than posed the way it is, but I like the look overall. The one place where the statue falls down a bit is the handgun. It's very thick and blocky, looking more like a toy than a handgun.

The face is painted perfectly, with large, wide-set eyes. The lips have a bit of gloss added to them for a very faint shine. Lara's braided ponytail drapes over her left shoulder, giving the illusion of  ever-so-slight movement to the whole piece. The entire statue is a gorgeous take on Lara Croft. It looks amazing on the shelf as part of the collection, or as a stand-alone piece. My only real wish for the piece would be a little more work on the pistol to make it more refined. Otherwise, this one's a real gem!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

LARA CROFT and the Temple of Osiris - Gaming Heads Tomb Raider Statue

It's been an incredibly long wait, but the new Gaming Heads Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris Tomb Raider statue is a real beauty! I originally pre-ordered this in 2015, cancelled that pre-order, re-pre-ordered from a different site, and then subsequently cancelled that pre-order as well. When I saw that the statue was finally released, two years later, and was largely sold-out, I had instant "cancellation remorse" and tried to find a place that was still taking orders. Luckily, my go-to site got a re-stock and I jumped on it. Ten days later, the most expensive collectible I have ever bought made it to my which point I promptly dropped the giant box down the stairs! I'm thrilled to report that neither the statue nor its box were damaged in any way, and this statue looks amazing on my shelf...
Advertised as a 1/4 scale statue, this version of Lara is in scale with the previous Gaming Heads "Survivor" statue release (though that one stands significantly taller because of the difference in poses of the two pieces). The pictures tell the story better than I possibly could. The pose is dynamic and seemingly gravity-defying (she's held very securely in place via a peg in each foot). She looks amazing from nearly every angle, though with her chin tilted downward and her arms stretched out before her, getting a good look at her face can be a little tricky.

The sculpt is terrific, with lots of different textures giving the viewer plenty to take in and enjoy. Starting at the base and working our way up, Lara comes on a thick circular disc base measuring 11" across and 2" high. There's a "hieroglyphics" themed rock section sandwiched between 2 frames of dark brown. The glyphs are carved nicely and are not repetitive, while the material is mottled with darker spots, giving it a "sandy" look. The top of the base is designed to look like the floor of a tomb of some sort. A medium sized rock protrudes from the ground to Lara's right, and she appears to be leaping from the outcropping beneath her boots. An ancient column juts from the sand behind her right leg. The column has some hieroglyphs, as well, and golden scroll work. Darker airbrush sprays give the ground an added layer of depth. It's a beautiful and quite substantial base, which accomplishes both the tasks of holding the statue securely, as well as framing it as a moment in time quite well. There are small raised pads underneath, as well as the necessary information and edition size. My one issue with the base is the same as it is with the overall statue, and it's a difficult one to articulate: the sculpt is gorgeous and is nicely detailed, while at the same time appearing slightly "soft". What I mean is that there a plenty of details, and they are sculpted in, but they are not sharply delineated. So, for instance, the places where the rocks protrude from the sand should be sharp and clear, rather than looking like they are all connected, with a bit of paint to set them apart. I feel like this is the case with the entire statue. Where the shorts meet her thighs, or where her holster straps wrap, all look like one part of the same piece, rather than as separate items layered on a person. It's a very small nit, and really doesn't detract from the overall look of the statue, but it is noticeable on close inspection.

The sculpt and paintwork on the figure itself are simply gorgeous. The boots are amazing, with four or five different greys and browns chosen carefully to highlight different sections of the boots. The tiny buckles are done in gloss black, while the rest is matte. That's the level of care that was put into these! There's a speckling of dirt or mud around the soles. The thick socks underneath add another layer of texture and of color. Her skin is absent of texture, and is completely smooth. It's got a nice coloration to it, with some additional airbrushing to add some depth. The holsters have a very subtle leathery texture to them, but them the cargo shorts have none, with just the wrinkles to give them some realism. The top is a beautiful color, with a ribbed texture (that, again, could have been just a touch sharper), and the highlighting paintwork here is great.

Lara's arms are tipped at slightly different angles, which looks both realistic and eye-catching. There's an ever-so-subtle hint of her triceps muscles, but I feel like the dimples at her elbow aren't anatomically accurate. The dual pistols are, quite honestly, disappointing, and are the weakest aspect of the statue for me. They are painted fine, with a mostly silver slide and black overlays, but there's nearly a complete lack of detail: the slides are entirely smooth, with a couple of protrusions to represent the hammer, sights and such. Even the barrels are not bored out. Mezco does better with firearms in a 1:12 scale for 1/5 the price.

And then, there's the head. It pops into place securely with a very strong magnet at the base of the neck. The fit is so perfect that it's nearly impossible to tell it's a separate piece once it's in place. The hair actually has some of the sharpest detail of the entire statue, with strands sculpted in throughout. I like the way the ponytail is sweeping to the side, adding to the illusion of motion, but the bangs don't look quite right to me. They are very long, and seem too thick in relation to the rest of the hair. The face is beautiful, with sharp paint applications to the eyes and lips. The eyes themselves have a light gloss applied to give them a wet look, and there are very fine lashes applied below. The brows are stern, and there's a bit of mascara above the eyes. The forehead is slightly pinched between the eyebrows, giving her a determined expression. I do find the reddish spray around the eyes, at the high cheekbones, and lower forehead, to be too strong. Lara comes off looking like she hasn't had enough sleep. That said, it's still a terrific sculpt and really completes the statue nicely.

Statues are intended as art. To me, that means something that causes a viewer joy and amazement, along with the potential for new discoveries, each time they view it. Personally, I think that's a tall order, and would wager that the majority of collectibles fall short of that standard. Gaming Heads' Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris statue is a beautiful addition to any Tomb Raider collection. There's plenty of detail to warrant return visits on the shelf. The pose is striking, the sculpt is excellent, and the paintwork is impeccable. There are a few flaws, as would be expected with any mass-produced item, but the overall look shows care and professionalism. I like the final product more than their earlier "Survivor" statue, as I feel it comes closer in final form to the prototype than that statue did, and I like the face sculpt more on this one, as well. Together, they make a striking pair! I hope to see Gaming Heads continue their work on the Tomb Raider license, and pray we don't have to wait another 3 years to see it!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

MOTOKO KUSANAGI - Alphamax Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. 2nd Gig Statue

I currently have 8 versions of the Major in my Ghost in the Shell collection, and Alphamax's 2nd Gig statue is easily my favorite. This beauty was released in 2011 and seems to be in a 1/6 scale, standing just under 11" tall without her base. The statue is made of polystone, and she stands affixed to a small "crumbling walk" display stand.

I love nearly everything about this statue. The sculpt is gorgeous, from the beautiful anime-styled face down to her boots. The pants, where they meet the hips, are done as a separate piece, giving the illusion that they are layered atop a body underneath, and they wrinkle appropriately, as well. The belt and loops are additionally sculpted for added depth. Even the top is sculpted in such a way to give the impression of an added piece (there's an ever so slight separation at the straps near the chest). It's terrific.  
The paint is beautifully done, as well. The skin tone is perfect, as are the various shades of purple used throughout. Everything is clean and professionally applied, but it's really the great airbrushed shading at the creases and serve to bring out the details of the sculpt. It's a wonderful statue, and is the centerpiece of my Ghost in the Shell collection.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

GODZILLA 2000 - Art Spirits Plex Hyper Solid PVC figure

I was so taken by my first Art Spirits Godzilla figure (Shin Godzilla, reviewed earlier on the site), that I decided to go ahead and purchase their earlier, first release: Millennium Godzilla 2000. I did so with some trepidation. Despite the fact that it's been out for several years now, there isn't much in terms of reviews or comments about the figure that I could find online. And most of what I did find seemed lukewarm, at best. So, I sort of lowered my expectations as I awaited the figure's arrival. I am, however, very glad to say that I'm quite happy with the figure. It's not as impressive as Shin Godzilla (the Art Spirits version is currently my favorite Godzilla in my entire collection), but it's really a rather nice addition, and the two look great alongside one another.

Much like their Shin Godzilla, Art Spirits Godzilla 2000 is a creature of pure action. The figure leans forward, mid-roar, legs spread in a wide stance. His arms frame the upper torso, with his tail whipping up in a tight curl. Even the tail seems to be pushing forward. The pose is striking in the sense that it is much more dynamic than the film version could ever hope to be. The head is similarly "stylized", not really matching the on-screen Godzilla. It's got a distinctly cat-like appearance, with slitted eyes and pointed ears swept back in a threatening hiss.

The texture of the figure is excellent, with plenty of detail and roughness for any Godzilla fan to appreciate. The throat and neck is particularly eye-catching. The purple spines are razor blade jagged, while remaining rubbery enough not to cause injury. The figure comes with a circular black plastic base to peg into, so there's no danger of him toppling forward. There's a small nameplate fixed to the base, written in Japanese (I'm guessing it says "Godzilla 2000"). The figure is noticeably smaller than the Art Spirits Shin Godzilla, coming in just a bit larger than the SH MonsterArts figure. That said, I think the two Art Spirits figures might be in scale to one another.

The figure is really nice, though not as nice as their Shin Godzilla. The head/face sculpt might throw some, as it differs quite a bit from the film version, and the toe and finger claws are not as detailed or well painted as they should be (the Shin Godzilla nails are fabulous in comparison, so I'm guessing they learned a bit from this initial release), but otherwise this is an excellent Godzilla figure. There's another version of this figure with glow-in-the-dark dorsal spines, sold as a Bandai Premier Website Exclusive figure in case you are interested in searching out every Art Spirits figure released.

The eyes don't look as bad in person...

Art Spirits Pair

With Shin Godzilla

Alongside S.H. MonsterArts Millennium Godzilla

Texturing from above

Sunday, September 17, 2017

ZANGIEF - Storm Collectibles Street Fighter V Action Figure

After years of absent or poor quality Street Fighter figures, fans are finally enjoying a flurry of fantastic options from several companies! S.H. Figuarts released their second wave (Cammy and
Rashid) earlier this past month, and Storm Collectibles' Zangief arrived on my doorstep this past week. Zangief is the fifth different Street Fighter figure released by SC this year, and he is by far the largest! Zangief comes in a package that matches the earlier releases in terms of design and functionality, with the exception being that it is larger and thicker, by necessity. This guy is going to take two hands to carry!

Zangief comes with 3 interchangeable heads (grimace, teeth bared grimace, and shouting), 5 pairs of interchangeable hands (fists, karate chop, fingers splayed, splayed with more curl, and pointing finger extended), a display stand and 2 effects parts to clip onto his hands. The head
sculpts are absolutely amazing, with all three matching one another in terms of proportions and design, while looking different enough to make each worthwhile. My favorite is the teeth bared look. The paint is equally impressive, with the eyes having a glossy sheet to them, pupils aligned perfectly, and no slop whatsoever, even around delicate parts like the lips and teeth. The mohawk is sharp, with a bit of five-o'clock shadow around the hair. One of my three heads has a small blip on the underside of the beard where the paint was not applied, but that's not likely to be an issue beyond my own figure.

The hands are truly hunormous, as my four-year-old would say, and are made of the same slightly-flexible rubbery plastic as seen on previous releases. There's a very slight difference between the two curling fingers pairs, with one having the index and pinky fingers more curled, while the other has the pinky and the one right next to it more curled. I guess one might be better for gripping and the other for motioning. Personally, I'm going to stick with the fists on my shelf.

The rest of the figure is equally as impressive, in terms of both paint and sculpt. The flesh tone is perfect and uniform, with no bleed or overage at any of the many scars (which are sculpted as raised details) adorning his body. The laces, boots and boot tops are amazing (and considering the level of slop on the Figuarts Cammy's boots, are worthy of high praise), as are the clean yellow and red lines of the wrist bracers. Overall, the figure is gorgeous to look at. If sculpt and paint are your primary reason for buying into this line (as for me), you will be very impressed and happy with Zangief!

The articulation is present, though it may not have as wide a range of motion as one would like. As with previous releases, the upper portion of the torso and the trunks are made of rubbery plastic, allowing for additional flex when posing. The joints on Zangief are a bit quirkier than those on the other figures: my standard head is bobbly, with the socket being just a tad too large for the ball in the neck, and the torso separates at the waist pretty easily if there's any strain put on the joint by a twisting pose, as does the arm at the shoulder. It's the kind of reaction that many of my S.H. MonsterArts figures would have if the joints are extended to their maximum. The girth of Zangief makes him a little tricker to pose, but as you will see from shots around the internet, he can achieve a wide variety of them.

The effects parts are cool translucent plastic sprayed with a bit of white, and clip onto his fists securely.

For my purposes - a shelf of beautifully sculpted and painted Street Fighter action figures - Zangief is a perfect hit. If you are someone who loves action poses or who expects a great deal of articulation out of their figures, you might find him more restricted. That said, given his look and design, I'm not sure how the articulation could be worked any differently - Storm seems to have done the best they could, given the circumstances. Zangief really pushes the boundaries of price, though, with a final shipped cost of $115. I'm thrilled that I have him, but I'm also hoping we don't end up with any other figures in that price range. Otherwise, I'd have to start making some really hard choices.

Alongside SOTA Toys Zangief

The Storm Collectibles Street Fighter V Collection so far...