Thursday, December 18, 2014

Toy Review – Pacific Rim Kaiju Comparison: Trespasser vs. Axehead from NECA

I love Pacific Rim. I think it’s an absolutely incredible movie. Visually it’s breathtaking every time I see it – and I’ve watched it several times now. I saw it in the theater by myself and then went back so my son could see it on the big screen. I want him to have big movie memories like I do. He loved it.

Side Note: I do wish there were Pacific Rim toys for kids. These NECA toys look great, but they are fragile and chock full of dangerous, pointy parts. 
 
People that are generally unhappy with life talk about Pacific Rim having a weak story or poor character development or whatever other problems such people like to come up with to attribute flaws to things that are fun, but I think it was perfection in storytelling. This movie was not about building a cast of characters that would be remembered in the annals of great cinema for centuries to come. If it had been about that it would have been boring as shit and I wouldn’t have liked it.

Pacific Rim was about giant robots punching the shit out of giant monsters and it did that better than any other movie ever has. And it did manage to feature some great characters. Tell me Stacker Pentecost isn’t a huge, memorable badass. Heck, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, and Ron Perlman all had fun, memorable characters, too. 
 
I suppose I can’t mention all of this without saying something about the recently announced sequel. 
 
First of all, of course I want a sequel. I’m not entirely sure how it’s going to work since they blew the invaders to hell and sealed the breach, but whatever. I want more giant things fighting other giant things under the direction of the mad genius Guillermo del Toro.

Apparently the only cast members that are sort of possibly almost certainly returning are the aforementioned Day and Gorman. I’m okay with this. While Charlie Hunnam’s schedule is probably lighter at the moment, it’s not like Raleigh Becket was all that great or, quite frankly, even the sixth most interesting member of the cast. I would like to see more of Mako Mori, but so far it doesn’t sound like she’s on the radar.

Whatever the case casting-wise, I am beyond excited for another installment in the franchise.

Which is way more excited than I’ve recently been about new Pacific Rim toys from NECA.
In general the figures have looked wonderful. But of course, there’s a “but”. The “but” is that none of the Jaegers have quite the articulation that I would expect out of action figures of robots. All of the joints stop just shy of operating as effectively as I expect them to. And most of them are very loose, which makes standing these guys up tough.

The Kaiju are similarly limited in their range of movement, but I can accept it more because their designs are so specific and complicated. And when you’re using the same base body for most of your figures, there’s only so much variation that’s going to happen. Which leads me to:

Most of the Kaiju have the same base body. And yes – of course I understand that this is correct in every instance and that NECA has to be smart about the way they release these. I’m actually shocked that this line has already lasted as long as it has. I never imagined we’d actually see an Otachi make it to retail (though technically we haven’t, yet). 
 
Scunner was almost the last straw. The first time I saw Scunner at retail, Toys R Us had four of them. And every single one had a bad paint job. Not the whole body – just the shoulders. The figure has a big, rubber piece over the shoulders and neck because it uses the same basic Kaiju body as Knifehead and Trespasser (and Axehead) and Scunner has a different shoulder/neck structure. But the highlights (the illuminated lines that each Kaiju has on its body) on Scunner’s shoulders looked terrible. The colors didn’t penetrate into the ridges of the flesh, only sitting on the upper surfaces of the sculpt. It looked really bad. So as much as I love Scunner’s design, I didn’t buy one. This was a tough decision for me, but I would have felt like a chump every time I looked at those crappy shoulders on my shelf.

And no – painting them myself was not an option. I don’t believe in that. When I buy a toy it should look like it is supposed to look without any assistance from me. If I wanted to customize paint jobs I’d buy model kits.

Side Note: This does not apply to complete customization of a toy. Obviously if you want something to look entirely different that’s another story. But touch-ups should never be necessary.

I was disappointed in Scunner and to a certain extent the line overall. To be fair, a significant portion of my disappointment came from the fact that the Phantom Zone was in desperate need of rearranging. I had a bunch of toys that didn’t have homes and my
Pacific Rim stuff was among that lot; just sitting in a pile. I’ve been working on making space all year, but the last couple of months have been very busy and, quite frankly, depressing. Without going into too much unimportant detail, I’ve been doing my annual questioning of all of this Phantom Troublemaker business. I think it’s a combination of Post Dragon Con Depression and the looming renewal of all of the services I have to pay for to keep the site and the podcast going. It’s expensive (and you can help out by donating via the PayPal button to your right!). 
 
And of course my miserable day job is always a factor in my mental health, now more than ever with my Christmas Day shift coming up. I only have so many years to spend with my son while he’s young enough to truly embrace the magic of Christmas, and thanks to that job I’m missing this one and next year’s, as well. I’ve been super bummed out about that.
While the Christmas situation has not improved, I couldn’t help but get excited about the retooled Gipsy Danger (with ship “club” accessory – something I had specifically asked for) and Tacit Ronin. As I have mentioned, I love Pacific Rim, so I was more than ready to keep giving the toy line chances. A new Gipsy showed that NECA understood the limitations of the original and the fact that they were releasing Tacit Ronin – a Jaeger only briefly seen in the movie – seems to me to be a sign of confidence in the line. 
 
I knew that Axehead – a concept Kaiju that is actually an early version of Trespasser – was coming out, but between the disappointment with Scunner and the fact that Axehead was using that same body again I didn’t have any plans to buy it. But then I saw it in the store and the paint job is beautiful. So I bought one.

This might be the longest intro I have ever written and left intact as part of the toy review. Usually I would make this a separate post, but I don’t feel like there’s enough standalone material there.

When I started this it was going to be a review of Axehead, but as I got into it I realized it would be fun to compare the concept versus the fully realized Kaiju, so here’s Trespasser versus Axehead:

FIRST GLANCE

Trespasser looks like a massive weapon, perhaps more so than any of the other Kaiju. He’s a significant entry into the toy line because he’s the one that made me realize that several of the Kaiju shared the same basic body structure. I was disappointed to make this discovery, but at the same time if it helps NECA and keeps the line going, I suppose I’m good with it. And we do have Leatherback and the upcoming Otachi (my favorite) to break things up. I’d also wager that we’ll see a second, winged, version of Otachi. I was really hoping we’d get one deluxe release with interchangeable arms, but that might have been untenable. 
 
The paint on Axehead is so striking that I had to pick it up. Since it’s an early version of Trespasser it is very reminiscent of that Kaiju, but it has enough different going on to work. This makes it look very different from any of the other Pacific Rim Kaiju, which might put some collectors off. But I like it.

PACKAGING

Trespasser comes in a clamshell, so let’s just move on.

I think that the Toys R Us Exclusive non-battle-damaged Knifehead was actually the first Kaiju to utilize the new box that Axehead comes in, but I could be wrong.

Side Note: I am extremely irritated about the TRU Knifehead. If I’d known NECA was producing a clean one I never would have bought the battle damaged one. You guys know how I feel about battle damage. And in case you don’t, I don’t like it. I just really dig Knifehead and wanted to have the larger scale version, so I overlooked the paint. I suppose I should have known when the battle damage was just paint and not actual sculpt.

This box is fantastic. This is packaging that is worthy of the majestic Kaiju and serves to make them seem fancier and deserving of the $24.99 price tag. I’m a huge fan of window boxes with top and front windows that allow light to shine in and highlight the toy within. The graphics are beautiful and the cardboard is nice and heavy, adding to that feel that this is a pricier, higher quality toy.

LOOKS

I just want you guys to know that I put extra effort into this review. I hadn’t even reviewed Trespasser yet, so I still have the pictures on my drive. Once I started taking a closer look at Axehead I really wasn’t sure about which parts had been reused. Aside from a few obvious things like the back pieces and the talons on Axehead’s thighs, the figures appeared to be almost identical. But once I started doing side-by-side comparisons – and I’m talking really scrutinizing, here – I saw that the concept figure has a lot more new parts than I expected. After going back and forth, I decided to just combine the reviews into a sort of comparison piece.

The heads look very similar and if I hadn’t looked I probably would have thought that Axehead was just a repaint. But NECA isn’t Mattel, so we got a proper new sculpt. 
Trespasser’s face blade has a smoother edge and is narrower where it meets the face. The overall shape is also slightly different. Each Kaiju has four eyes, but they are placed differently. Axehead’s are visible from the side while Trespasser’s face front. The mouths are very similar, with the jaw pieces seeming identical. Axehead appears to have slightly more sculpted definition, but it could just be paint. 
 
The back pieces are entirely different. Trespasser has a massive blade-like fin and Axehead has essentially the same piece as Knifehead – a flatter, but equally as defined attachment. For the purposes of the creature design, I prefer Trespasser’s fin. Without it, the Kaiju just looks like Knifehead with a different head. It really needs that extra piece to be different enough.

It’s subtle with the smaller ones, but both sets of hands on the creatures are different. The final movie version – Trespasser – has hooked claws that look capable of grasping. The smaller hands even have thumbs. But all four of Axehead’s mitts are sloth-like claws that look like they’re made for swiping strikes. I like Axehead’s large arms and Trespasser’s small, thumbed hands as far as functionality goes, but I guess Trespasser has the more visually interesting look. Axehead’s large hands look menacing, but on film they just wouldn’t have been very dynamic.

The torsos and tail pieces are the same, but NECA’s paint job makes them look different. NECA is very good at this. The bendy tail is very solid and seems durable enough that it won’t be breaking anytime soon as these things are wont to do. I’ll be curious to see if they’re intact a decade from now. I’ll also be interested to see if Pacific Rim 2 has actually been released a decade from now.

I love Axehead’s paint job. Those starbursts (or whatever) look fantastic. And while the luminous patterns that adorn the Kaiju in the final version of the movie look great and serve as a way to make even the vastly different creatures like Leatherback and Otachi seem related, I’m not totally satisfied with the way that NECA pulled them off on the toys. Like I said above – Scunner’s shoulders just look bad, but to a certain extent all of NECA’s Kaiju suffer from this. The markings all look just a bit too painted on. It isn’t terrible, but each monster just seems very slightly less great than it could be. I feel like I’m being picky here.
The thighs are the same, but while Trespasser’s are kind of dull, Axehead has a wonderful paint job that gives definition to the armor plates that are barely detectable on the final version. The general shape of the lower legs is the same, but Trespasser has these great, vicious hooks. I definitely like these and I’m not sure why they would have been dropped.

FUN

These guys have a fairly large number of joints, with about as much range as their wacky designs will allow. 
 
Head – ball joint
Jaw – hinge
Upper shoulders – rotating hinge
Elbows (upper arms) – rotating hinge
Wrists – ball peg
Lower shoulders – rotating hinge
Lower wrists – ball pegs
Abdomen – ball joint
Hips – ball joint
Knees – rotating hinge
Ankles – ball peg

When playing with these figures, you’ll find that each joint has a bit more range than you expect, but you do need to carefully loosen them up to get that range. This is part of the fun of the figures – finding out exactly how many poses you can get from a body that initially might seem to have limited articulation. I feel like NECA has done a great job of working in as much flexibility as they could while maintaining the beautiful aesthetics of the Kaiju. Sure, a Japanese line might incorporate more joints with more range, but the figures simply wouldn’t look as nice. This is what I’ve found with Bandai’s Godzilla lines.

I’m not a huge fan of NECA’s ball peg joints – the ones they use for ankles and wrists. They rotate fine, but don’t allow for much pivoting. And depending on the build of the figure they can make posing problematic. If the figure has a certain stance or is heavy the ankles don’t support well and if the figure has heavy accessories the hands won’t hold them well (see my upcoming Gipsy Danger 2.0 review for more on that). In this instance, though, the pegs work okay. These creatures don’t require a huge range of hand or foot movement and the peg joints do what they need to do. 
 
If I could, I’d add elbows to these guys. Other than that they’re pretty great.

OVERALL

Both figures are beautiful with fantastic paint jobs. Each one has a few minor spots that could be missing or could be part of the design. They mostly just look incredible.

I like both and I’m happy to have both, but I think I prefer Axehead. Trespasser has that great back fin, but Axehead has enough design aspects that appeal to me more to take the win. I like his side-facing eyes, the rougher fin, and those hooks on his legs. And the paint job is just gorgeous. 
 
I also want to mention the sheer size and bulk of these creatures. The $24.99 MSRP may be a bit daunting, but these figures top seven inches and are huge. Initially I wasn’t too sure about spending that much on this scale of figure, but that Battle Damaged Knifehead sold me. I’m so glad that NECA bumped up the size and did right by this fantastic franchise.
I can’t call these guys perfect, but they’re darn good and I’m thrilled to own both of them.

4 out of 5

The prices on these have been going up remarkably fast, as NECA has been doing two runs at most. Buy yours now and help out Needless Things!:



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