Astro Toy with Rob Bricken: Bleach Wave 3 - Byakuya & Renji

by Rob Bricken,

Series: Bleach
Toyline: Bleach Wave 3
By: Toynami
Cost: ~$15 each

I don't think I'll be shocking any of you when I say that few American toy companies can make decent anime toys. In fact, most make terrible anime toys: Mattel's Naruto and One Piece figures, Jakks Pacific's Dragon Ball Z figures, those exceedingly terrible Samurai Champloo toys from Jazwares... Only one American company has figured out how to make anime toys that look like they could have come from Japan—Toynami.

Don't believe me? Check out their Inuyasha line. Especially check out their incredible Naruto statues, which are 100% accurate to the anime/manga. The nice thing about Toynami is that they give action figures to big shonen series which Japan—in its infinite craziness—refuses to make decent, normal toys for. If you want Inuyasha or Bleach action figures, it's Toynami or nothing, kids. Sorry about that. And at usually around $15 per figure, they're less than a gashapon set.

Since the Inuyasha line is long over, I thought I'd check the third series of Toynami's Bleach figures, which includes two Soul Reapers: Renji, and Rukia's brother Byakuya. Both figures stand about 6 ½-inches tall, come with a base, a card from the Upper Deck Bleach trading card game and their respective swords. Since these guys are U.S.-made, you won't have any problem hunting them down at online stores.

While Renji and Byakuya aren't Toynami's finest sculpts, they're pretty darned good. Byakuya's face is nicely placid with a hint of cruelty in the eyes, and Renji's got his normal, hotheaded grin, and his plethora of head and neck tattoos are all there. I'm hard-pressed to describe exactly how these sculpts are just a little off; perhaps the features are a little softer than Tite Kubo draws them; maybe the problem lies simply in turning the 2-D image into a 3-D hunk of plastic. Still, it's more accurate than virtually any other U.S.-made anime toys on the market, and not anything to lose sleep over. The bigger problem is that they both are looking down, for reasons unknown.

As for articulation…well, there isn't any. Okay, there's a little, but very little. See, toymakers always have a hell of a time sculpting large, bulky cloths and adding articulation—the two solutions are to 1) make incredibly ugly joints, or 2) not make any joint at all. Toynami has chosen the latter path almost exclusively. Both figures have zero articulation below the waist—it's all one solid piece, for all intents and purposes. Happily, both figures stand solidly, even without their bases, but if you wanted these guys to kneel or sit, you're screwed. Also, when you look up their pantlegs, they look ridiculous.

Both Renji and Byakuya turn at the waist, and they both have a neck joint, although Renji can only move his head about 15 degrees in any direction—but at least that horizontal and vertical—and Byakuya's head doesn't move all. I'm kind of assuming there's a joint there, because it feels like it should move. But it doesn't. At all.

The arm articulation is where things get interesting (at least if you're a huge toy nerd like myself). So Renji's left arm only has a rotating joint, but it's sculpted in such a way that unless the arm is mostly pointed down, it looks terrible. The right arm—the sword-holding arm—has two separate joints; a hinge at the elbow, which lets it move about 90 degrees, and a hinge at the shoulder, which lets his arm move back and forward. Oh, his arm kind of twists in his sleeve…a little. Basically, his sword arm has a ridiculously small range of positioning in all directions; he has two poses that don't look awkward, including holding his sword in front of him, parallel to the ground, and over his shoulder, which is clearly what the position Toynami intends for him to be in. The good news is that these weird joints mean Renji's outfit never looks strange, or has any cracks in it.

Despite Byakuya's shoulder pads, which can hide an ugly joint better, his right sword has the same movement—less, probably, because he can't get his sword behind him like Renji can. However, Byakuya's arm swivels at the shoulder and at his sleeve, which means you can pose his sword in several more reasonable positions than Renji can. As for the left arm? Toynami didn't even try. It's holding his sheath, and it doesn't move in the slightest.

One more detail worth mentioning—the zanpakuto swords you see them carrying come in two pieces, as the handles detach to let you insert them into the figures’ hands. Don't try to shove them in from the bottom—it will end in tears. Place the sword handles in the figures’ hands from the bottom, then attach the blade back on. Unfortunately, since Renji's zanpakuto is so damn big, it's a bit heavy, and can fall off with the slightest movement. On the plus side, you'll barely be moving the toy, and in my experience it's not once fallen off by itself. The sword sheaths are also separate pieces, which slide into belts or hands as appropriate, and don't seem to be going anywhere.

If you like the two poses shown in the picture at the top of the page, then by all means, get these figures. If you have desire to play with the toys (God forbid) or pose them in different ways, give up. Really, these things are more like statues than action figures. Which is fine, technically—they're still super cheap compared to imported merchandise, and they're very well-sculpted, especially the flowing robe and coat on Byakuya—but you have to think of them as statues with a bit of bonus articulation instead of regular toys.

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