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NYCC 2015: On The Floor With Bandai Tamashii Nations / Bluefin

NYCC-Bandai-Tamashii-featBluefin has quickly become the premier action figure booth at New York Comic Con. Over the years their impressive portfolio has expanded from anime and video game mainstays to movies, comics, and musicians. We finally have full-on Bandai Tamashii Nations products that directly compete with the domestic, child-friendly equivalents sold stateside. For the collector who thinks that it’s a slam dunk from our friends in Japan, you may think twice, given their surprising execution.

There is little doubt that Bandai Japan is a force to be reckoned with. While these are action figures in the truest sense of the word, saying you can play with them is truly a mistake. These are meant to be posed and then displayed. Small pieces can snap with too much pressure. The edges are sharp. The paint is crisp and expertly applied. The articulation is meaningful and functional; believe me, they put the “fun” in functional. The detail is meticulous, from Bruce Lee’s distinctive face, to Goku’s energy aura, nothing is left to their exacting standards. They look as impressive standing still as they do positioned in their character-specific stances.  They are models more than toys, but models that are largely limited only by your imagination.

For those that enjoy their collection small, cute, and neatly displayed together, Bandai Japan is expanding their Tamashii Buddies line of figures. Each figure is a chibi (Japanese for “small”) version of their subject found in various anime and video games. New additions include Sailor Moon’s Sailors Uranus and Neptune, as well as other hot properties like Mega Man X, Attack on Titan, and Naruto.

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F’s S.H. Figuarts display was quite extraordinary (how do we get that spaceship diorama?). Unfortunately, folks like me who wish to snatch up Frieza, Vegeta, or Krillin are late to the party. We will have to wait for a re-issue if available.  While there is no Whis in sight yet, we are still seeing the likes of flighty yet imposing Beerus, the weak-willed galactic patrolman Jaco, and the final forms (to date) of Goku, Gold Frieza, and Vegeta.

Equally eye-catching is Sailor Moon’s display. At last, Sailor Moon is surrounded by all of her planetary protectors in S.H. Figuarts. At last, Sailor Pluto and her Garnet Orb arrive to give Usagi the power she needs to transform into the newly-released Super Sailor Moon. It’s a family affair, too, as she’s joined by her diminutive child of the future Sailor Chibi Moon and boyfriend/perpetual hypnosis victim Tuxedo Mask. Also coming soon is Sailor Venus’ original alter ego: Sailor V. With all of her girls alongside Sailor Moon, where does the collection go from here? The gender-bending Sailor Starlights are a safe bet, along with Super versions of the soldiers. One can hope that Bandai Japan will see the wisdom in releasing the main baddies of the series: Beryl, Nehelenia, and Galaxia.

Bandai Japan’s individual celebrity releases may not appeal to a wide crowd, their offerings are still given the same attention and specificity of their most popular brands, and that has to be applauded. Bruce Lee is an outstanding piece. His hair, his pants, and his weapons are made with extreme care. His body looks tailor-made for the articulation they use. The Legends Series’ Queen’s Freddie Mercury was a surprise hit, with his signature yellow jacket and striped white pants. Also included appears to be a microphone and stand. The backdrop of the audience was a nice touch, but it wasn’t clear if it was meant to be an included diorama.

Super Mario Bros.’ S.H. Figuarts have met their match. For a collection that should rely on the villains as much (if not more) than its heroes, I was happy to see in-person the debuts of Bowser, the Hammer Brother, Lakitu, and Spiny enemies.  The Mushroom Kingdom has gotten a lot more dangerous. As happy as I was to see them, their inclusion introduces a bad trend. I will be the first to admit that I will pay handsomely for a “perfect” action figure I never have to purchase again. This collection was shaping up to be something special. I say “was” because as on-model as that Bowser is, he is literally half the size of the correctly-scaled Jakks Pacific Bowser figure. The latter may have rounded edges and sloppier paint, but I think fans would sooner pay $15 for a Bowser that looks in-scale to the line than one half its size but almost four (4!) times the price. I am concerned that Bandai may mistake the lack of sales to being “unpopular” versus being “less adequate than a cheaper domestic alternative”. It also has BETTER articulation than the S.H. Figuarts version, a statement I should NEVER have to make. Speaking of which, in a toy line that trumpets articulation and display options, the enemies “Set E” goes against the mission statement on both counts. Each enemy is comparable in size to Mario, but with zero articulation to speak of. They easily could have had swivel shoulders, neck, and hips, but none are to be found. Lakitu in particular was an unfortunate miss, because he is permanently in the cloud ready to launch a spiny egg at those meddlesome plumbers. He has no relaxed arm, no alternate faceplate, and no way for Mario to ride that same cloud. Bandai Japan maybe spoiled me, but that warrants the $40+ they are asking for these glorified mini-statures. These new pieces set a very scary precedent for the future of this line.

Speaking of bittersweet additions, we finally have REAL 80’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles S. H. Figuarts at long last! This is a dream come true for many of us, and it’s a fantastic first attempt, but Japan may not understand their appeal here in the USA. At first glance, they are immediately recognizable, with their character-specific colored headbands and weapons, really to party hard against the Foot Clan (coming soon if the iPad surveys were filled out accordingly). They look like they stepped out of our lunch box, backpack, t-shirt, vending machine sticker, or video game.

All of the above is great, but the design cues for the figures (the crossed eyes, light-green skin, and silly facial expressions) were clearly taken from the cheesy and goofy marketing that was pervasive at the time. Just because it was ubiquitous, doesn’t mean it’s the desired aesthetic. While they are based on the series, they didn’t follow the cartoon’s more popular renditions of them such as the opening credits (either/both the original seasons and/or the first CBS opening credits). Certainly the series had their sillier moments, but paying fans take the subject matter seriously. And for many of them, they want figures they remembered being cool, instead of being wacky.

The other less-obvious issue is their height. Bandai’s TMNT action figures are the exact scale of a standard humanoid S.H. Figuarts figure. That’s fine if the objective is to stand them on their own or alongside other American 1/12 scale figures. They’ll be fantastic additions to one’s shelf. However, they are self-described “4-foot tall talking turtles”. The scale of these action figures is too tall for these characters. They are at least a head-length shorter than April or Shredder. If the line wishes to branch out to their allies and enemies — and all signs point to most definitely — the scale issues need to be ironed out. This expansion does impinge on the success of these initial figures, so of course I will do my part and buy a set (or three) in the hope that we see newer, re-sized turtles with olive skin, weapons that can be stowed, grey buckles and the heroic, determined faces and I grew up loving when I watch the original series. Bandai is so close and yet so far! J

As excited as one can be (go ahead, be VERY excited) for Bandai Japan’s upcoming releases, my enthusiasm is slightly tempered. I love more of the same from Naruto, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and the Bruce Lee action figure. My two favorite properties are Super Mario Brothers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and we cannot downplay how gorgeous these pieces are. That said, the Super Mario S.H. Figuarts enemies Set E and Bowser unfortunately set off major red flags with their lack of articulation and very high price point. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles look fantastic and does capture the selected style perfectly. But seeing that the line follows the TV series and will eventually include the likes of April O’Neill, Krang, and Splinter, Bandai needs to dig deeper to work out the incoming obstacles created with these four toys: the aesthetic and scale. The Bluefin booth makes me smile from ear to ear with an excited and enthusiastic staff, trumpeting about their exciting product that pretty much sells itself. I certainly don’t wish to deride their beautiful offerings. I express my critique in the hope of getting something better. With Bandai Tamashii Nations and Bluefin, you always get the best.

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