This week sure has been full of unexpected things for me. I didn’t expect the announcement of a Bear Acguy, I didn’t expect to see a Kotobukiya Mayoi pop up out of nowhere, and I certainly didn’t expect the Figma Saber Alter to arrive in a mere 10 days via SAL from Amiami. Of course, this means that I didn’t expect to write back-to-back Figma Saber reviews either, but perhaps the most unexpected thing this week was the fact that I like the Figma Saber Alter – really like it, in fact!
If you’ve read my Figma Saber (Armor Ver.) review last week, you’re probably wondering why in the world I bought this figure in the first place after my big stink against it. The reason is simple: I love Saber Alter – possibly more so than her uncorrupted counterpart. Her chilling aura, reserved attitude and unrestrained ferocity rest on a fine balance against the sense of duty and adorable traits of the original. Besides, I’ve always had a soft spot for antagonists because they often serve as foil to the protagonists. This often is a very good thing, since many anime protagonists are full of antiheroic characteristics, are young, and/or have a Jesus complex. By contrast, a good antagonist can be mature, in possession of admirable traits (charisma, leadership, experience/skill, etc), while at the same time avoiding the pitfall of being preachy or cheesy. Just look at Mobile Suit Gundam, for example: sure, Amuro Ray is the protagonist, but given the choice of having to spend a night in the bedroom of Amuro and Char, who would you pick?
Of course, there’s a number of Saber Alter figures out there, the most appealing of which (for me, at least) is the upcoming 1/7th scale GSC figure. But as for me, I don’t think there’s any character out there I love enough to buy two ~9,800 yen figures of (Miku was pushing it and only got away with two figures from me due to the fancy wall-hanging gimmick of the “World is Mine” version). So, for a Saber Alter fan like me who already invested a handful in the GSC Saber Lily figure, the only choices were to either pawn off Lily and replace her with the upcoming Alter, or just settle with a Figma Saber Alter. I considered both options, but decided against giving Lily the axe, partly due to the hassle of selling and partly due to my preference for her silly but visually pleasing outfit (even though it has no place in the canon). So, a few fits of hesitation later, Saber Alter arrived speedily to my doorstep and I’m happy to say that Max Factory has learned many lessons from the original Saber and applied them here.
Due to a certain plot turn in the Heaven’s Feel route of Fate/Stay Night, everyone’s favourite version of King Arthur with gets an entirely new look that is dominated by dark blue and purple. While I feel that the costume designs in the original Fate/Stay Night are certainly not Takeuchi’s best works (when compared to the designs in Fate/Zero , for example), the Figma Saber Alter looks very striking in her dark garb.
Her armour is painted with a metallic dark blue and is accented by blue-liked markings. The gauntlets and greaves take a much more pointy appearance (especially the greaves – those things have a mean prick!), while the chest plate takes on a more streamlined look with the tasset.
Saber Alter’s upper arms and shoulders are covered by flexible rubber. Her outer skirt – which is of the same piece as her tasset plates – is made of hard plastic, while the pleated inner skirt is made of thin soft rubber. Her pantaloons (which one almost never sees) are made of hard purple plastic.
Those at all familiar with Saber Alter would know that she is all business. Because of this, her ahoge and the hair ribbon on the back of her head are gone. The lower edges of her face are also armoured. There’s also a menacing-looking red corruption mark running of her left cheek, as if her appearance isn’t intimidating enough already.
Compared to the original Saber, Saber alter is pretty skimpy on the accessories. This is partly due to the character, as she only uses the dark Excalibur. It’s definitely not as impressive as either Caliburn or normal Excalibur in terms of details, but that’s only due to the weapon’s original design. Bottom line: it’s black, it’s shiny, and it’s pointy. Moving on.
Saber Alter comes with only two faces – a shouting face and a neutral face. I like the neutral face a lot, because it captures the silent gaze of the character quite well. The shouting face is another story, because I can’t help but to find her gaping mouth silly. I’m probably asking too much here, but it would be really nice if Max Factory painted teeth in her mouth. The GSC Canaan and Saber (Triumphant Excalibur) are both great examples where teeth did wonders to the expression, and it would’ve really helped the appearance of the shouting face. As it stands right now, Saber Alter seems like she’s in dire need of some dentures, which isn’t a very fierce impression at all.
I want to hear you scream… FOR ICE CREAM!
Another problem is that the eyes of both faces are looking directly forward. This of course makes for some very unnatural looks when you try to turn her head to any significant degree, since people naturally shift their eyes when they turn their heads. It also limits the possibilities of the making poses in general, as the option of choosing a face with eyes cast in a certain direction is not available here. Considering that each of the three faces included in the original Figma Saber had eyes that pointed to a different direction, this is a pretty sore disappointment.
Saber Alter comes with two sets of bangs – normal and windswept w/ visor. Initially I had thought that the visor would be removable, but such is not the case. I understand the importance of durability in an action figure and the rationale behind not making the visor removable, but I really wish Max Factory threw in a couple of extra bangs, like a windswept version without the visor and a normal version with – it’s not like they’d be super-costly to add, right?
Furthermore, the visor itself looks… strange, as if it’s floating in front of Saber Alter’s face. I was under the impression that the visor should be worn on the face directly, but there is a considerable gap between Saber’s face and the visor itself.
Other than the weapons, faces and bangs, Saber Alter comes with 10 hands. These include a pair of fists, a pair normal gripping hands, a pointing left hand, a pair of cupped hands, an open left hand, and most importantly, a pair of FORWARD-POINTING GRIPPING HANDS. This means that Saber Alter is actually able to point her sword – an invaluable boon to playability. The left cupped hand has an indentation at the center, which is designed to help Saber Alter pull off a sword-in-the ground (is there a better word/phrase for this?) pose. The normal gripping hands, open left hand, pointing left hand are jointed at the base as well. The grip on the sword isn’t fantastic and will fail from time to time during play, but it’s good enough for display purposes.
I don’t usually give much attention to Figma display stands, but the one I received with Saber Alter is hilariously craptastic. there are a bunch of air bubbles in the center of the supporting rods, and the bottom peg cannot be fully inserted into the seat. Luckily, the QC errors for the figure is limited to the display stand, save for a a couple of specks of dust on Saber Alter’s shoulders and a scratch on her left tasset piece. Neither of these detract significantly from the figure’s overall appearance, so they’re no big deal.
Being a Figma, Saber Alter conforms to the standards of articulation known for its line. However, there are a number of noteworthy things I’d like the point out.
Saber Alter’s torso joint is located in the center of her chest, taking advantage of the divides in her chest armour. In addition to being practically seamless, the joint also boasts an impressive range of motion to any direction!
The upper arms and shoulders of Saber Alter are entirely covered by flexible rubber, the bulkiness of which restricts articulation to a certain degree. Thankfully, the thoughtful inclusion of slits on the rubber parts help significantly in keeping this restriction to a minimum without sacrificing too much aesthetic appearance. I haven’t tested the durability of the rubber, but judging from the thickness, I don’t think they’ll be tearing anytime soon.
The lower arms, on the other hand, suffer a setback from the original Saber Figma in the lack of a swivel mechanism between the arms and the gauntlets. This wouldn’t be such a big problem if not for the hand guards built into the gauntlets, which prevents the hands from being to rotate 360 degrees. In my experience, this has hindered my attempts to put Saber Alter in certain poses numerous times.
(EDIT: Reader Luthren has brought to my attention that the gauntlet do in fact swivel, albeit with great difficulty in the beginning. Gripping the spiked gauntlets was pretty punishing on the thumbs, and while the left arm eventually submitted to force, the right arm remained stubborn even after being subjected to a bath of hot water. Fortunately, it did eventually budge after some wiggling. Thanks for the heads-up, Luthren! But man, these stiffness of these joints are just downright ridiculous, and they definitely don’t win back any points in my book.)
Thankfully, the lower half of Saber Alter is full of improvements. Though the outer skirt’s sculpt is still static, the shape of each halve is much wider, the parts are thinner, and they are able to cover Saber Alter’s backside without much difficulty in normal circumstances. Because of how thin they care, you are able to easily get away with some overlap in the back if you want to limit how much skirt flares. As if that isn’t good enough, the joints for the skirt parts are hidden cleverly behind the hips and under the bottom end of the chest armour. While the articulation range for the skirt parts is not as crazy as the original Figma Saber, it is more than enough to suit almost any reasonable need.
Like the outer skirt, the inner skirt has also been improved significantly. A large shell-shaped piece made of thin flexible rubber hangs from the waist, and while it doesn’t look much, it addresses a number of problems faced by the original Saber. Because the piece is shorter on either end, it allows parts of the leg to poke out without coming off as completely unnatural, yet because of its considerable overall width, the bottom half of the figure still manages to look presentable even when the tasset is fully lifted to either side. The softness of the rubber, the open shape of the outer skirt, and the simple-but-effective shape of the inner skirt means that the articulation range available for Saber Alter’s legs has been vastly improved. Though this is far from a comprehensive answer to the limitations of long-skirted characters, Saber Alter is very praiseworthy in its attempt to address a number the problems.
In the end, the Figma Saber Alter is a mixed Bag – it suffers from a couple of puzzling setbacks from the original Figma Saber in its forearms and faces, but it also makes a number of improvements to the original formula set two years ago, some of which being very significant. Overall, the improvements outweigh the setbacks, and while still not exactly perfect, Saber Alter looks good and plays a lot better than the original, making her a great Figma to have.
Improved space for leg articulation
Innovative shoulder design that balances articulation and aesthetics
Impressive detail on the armour
Includes a separate pair of forward-pointing sword grip hands
Gauntlets cannot swivel are extremely stiff
A little light on the accessories
Visor is positioned too far away from the face