Astro Toy with Rob Bricken: thumbnailook Bleach figuresby Rob Bricken, Mar 22nd 2009
Ichigo, Uryu, Grimmjow, Rukia, Hitsugaya and Byakuya
Cost: ~$50 (for a set of 10)
Alas, dear “Astro Toy” readers. My streak of good toys ends at “one.” And again, I had hopes! I'm a big fan of gashapon, which is a nice way of saying I have a crippling gashapon addiction that means I would rather have a fifth Urusei Yatsura gashapon set than eat for a few day. I'm a reasonably big fan of SD stuff in general. And while I'm not a huge Bleach fan per se, I've read the manga and watched the anime (well, until the last, soul-crushing filler arc on Adult Swim) and enjoyed it. This was a recipe for success. I thought.
So what's wrong with these thumbnailook Bleach figures? A lot. Let me start with why I got so excited in the first place: the art, which was used to sell the toys instead of actual pictures of the figures (never a good sign).
Adorable, right? I thought so. But here are the problems, which I'll discuss as we look at the six main figures.
Take a close look at Ichigo and Uryu. They're too SD. No, really — in the art above, the figures’ bodies are the same height as their enormous noggins, and are slightly wider than half their heads’ with. Now if you look at the actual Ichigo figure, you can see the body is a touch shorter than the head, and less than half its width.
Now, I don't have a problem with the basic tenets of super-deformation, but this is just too much, people. The first problem is that the body is so small that you can barely make out any detail. You lose a lot of the characters’ distinguishing characteristics by making the bodies so tiny, I think. Plus, the above pic was taken by setting the camera on my desk — if you are looking at the Bleach thumbnailook figures in any way other than eye level, all you can see is head. I'm quite serious — the toys might as well just be heads, because you can see nothing else. Also, and this should go without saying, but there is absolutely no way in hell that you can stand any of the figures up without their accompanying stands, which is a bummer. Please don't bother. From one who knows.
As Rukia and the fan-favorite Hitsugaya point out, the figures are… kind of boring. Rukia and Hitsugaya have the exact same expression — there's zero attempt to try and differentiate them, let alone represent the core of their individual character. Seriously, if you could swap the hair pieces, you'd never know which was the original Rukia's head and which was Hitsugaya's, which is kind of missing the point of SD figures. Yes, they're supposed to be simplified and cute, but they're also supposed to be identifiable. Incidentally, Ichigo also has the exact same expression as Rukia and Hitsugaya, and the only reason Uryu doesn't is because he has glasses instead of eyebrows; he does, however, have the same frowny mouth as everyone else.
If you look at their hands, you can tell that kind of like Lego or Playmobil figures, the thumbnailook have hands with a specified joint to hold accessories. Really, this just means a circular hole in which to insert a swords’ peg — not the handle, but a peg on the handle, so the swords just hang out in front. I guess this isn't a bad thing per se, but once I started critiquing these things, I couldn't help but wish the characters could hold their weapons like actual weapons. It's not like Bandai spent the money on sculpting or design.
The arrancar Grimmjow and Rukia's brother Byakuya make up the last two figures in the set, and they're definitely the best of the lot. Why? Well, because they have some unique design characteristic on their heads, which is the only place that matters on these figures. Grimmjow has his Hollow mask covering his cheek, as you can see, and Byakuya has his hairpiece (which is an utterly insane thing to put in your hair, if you stop and think about it for a while). When you look at the toys, and only see their enormous heads, you can still immediately identify the characters, thanks to these pieces. Still, you can see that Byakuya has the same face as everyone else, and only Grimmjow has his own unique expression of a half-smile.
I don't mean to bitch — wait, actually I do, since that's more or less what I'm paid for — but it's a crime for these figures to be so boring. I'm not a toy designer, but it's just common sense — if you're going to create a toy with a standard body, then you have to give the face more detail (see Diamond's Mini-Mates) to compensate; if you pony up for decent, individual body sculpting, then you can have a generic face (see almost every other gashapon set ever). You standardize both, and they are boring and actually kind of crappy; I can't tell you how many times I confused Hitsugaya and Grimmjow because their hair is so similar, and the same with Rukia and Uryu. That's bad toy design.
But the worst part is yet to come. You know how there's 10 characters in the toy design art up above? That's because these bottom four are variants… variants in that they have slightly different mouths than the original characters (who, as you should recall, have two expressions between the six of them). Basically, Ichigo, Rukia, Hitsugaya and Grimmjow each have a “variant” which is nothing more than to pad out the line. Behold the amazing difference between the two Ichigos:
…yeah. The second Ichigo's mouth is slightly open. Awesome. So you know, the variant Rukia has her mouth open in a circle, the variant Hitsugaya has a slightly different snarl than Ichigo, and the variant Grimmjow has an open mouth smile instead of a closed one. Forgive me if I don't show you the others, if only because unless you are looking at the characters at eye level, you can't see their damn mouths anyways.
For $50, these things are a steal — meaning they are stealing money from you. These figures aren't worth $3 each, let alone $5, because that money went nowhere that can be seen on the toys. Bizarrely, this is one of the few times I can say that these figures are worth less the more you get; if you pick one up, say at a con or something, that's not bad. One cute Ichigo would look fine on a desk or shelf somewhere. But buy them all, and then you show off how much they all look alike, and how lazy Bandai was to pump them out. Basically, buy one, or buy none.
Admittedly, Krauser thinks the more the merrier, but you can't trust what that guy says. FYI, Bandai also made thumbnailook's for both Gintama and Naruto Shippuden; the Naruto ones actually look pretty good, because they all have headbands and more distinct designs which Bandai actually tried to replicate. However, the Gintama ones look even more boring than these Bleach figures — and both sets have four terrible, inconsequential variants, same as this one. You've been warned.
You can read more of Rob Bricken's bitter, needlessly mean-spirited thoughts on toys and many non-anime subjects over at ToplessRobot.com (safe for work).
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