Mattel has made several attempts in the last few years to break back into the action figure market. Some, such as their
relaunch of the Heman and the Masters of the Universe line and their Avatar: the Last Airbender line, met with some success
if only for a short time. Others like their One Piece line were horrible flops. Their latest foray back into the world
of anime licenses is Naruto, a long running hit in Japan that began airing on Cartoon Network last year. With a long
track record of success in Japan and the cartoon turning out to be a hit here, it's hard to see how Mattel's action figures
could fail. (Of course, to some extent, the same could have been said when they launched their One Piece line.)
Packaging - basics 5/10, deluxe 6/10The packaging for the Naruto figures is quite simple and utterly disposable. The regular figures come on a narrow blister card. The slightly tombstone shaped bubbles have an insert at the bottom with clouds of smoke and a scroll with the character's name in English and Japanese. The card itself is decorated with orange flames on a black background and the Naruto logo at the top. The back of the cards has a large photo of the figure, small images of the other figures available and little else. The lack of text is particularly noticeable. There is no description of the story or the character's background. They didn't even bother to put actual names under the photos of the other figures, just model numbers! It's almost as if they prepared the graphics but forgot to send it over to the guy who was suppose to add the text before putting it into production. At the very least it would be nice if they had pointed out that all of the figures pictured didn't ship together. The deluxe figures are not much different. Their cards are wider to accommodate the extra accessories. To fill the extra space on the top of the card, an image of the character has been added to the right side which can make it easier to find a particular figure on the pegs. The back of the cards is pretty much the same, including a woeful lack of text. The packaging also has another significant design flaw. The cards are made of such thin material that warping is not a concern, it is an inevitability. Keeping a figure mint on a mint condition card is going to be almost impossible. Without a doubt, the packaging for these figures is meant to head straight to the garbage.
Sculpting - Shino 4/10, Haku 5/10, Gaara 6/10, others 7/10The sculpting for the Naruto line is generally pretty good, striking a balance between subtle detail work and an overall clean look. The likenesses seem quite accurate, at least to a casual Naruto watcher. They even have the figures more or less scaled properly. I do have a few concerns regarding some of the choices they made for Shino and Haku. Shino is one of only two figures in the line to be sculpting in a pose other than straight legged with his arms at his side. (The other is the new Nine Tail Fox Naruto which is posed on all fours.) This pose makes Shino look out of place with many of the other figures. And considering how much time Shino spends standing off to the side with his hands in his pockets in the cartoon, they could not have picked a less appropriate character to permanently stick into an action pose. Haku has a couple of drawbacks as well. The first is the very narrow base of support formed by having his feet so close together. This makes him the only figure prone to tipping over. They also sculpted Haku's throwing needles as part of his hands. Unfortunately the sculpt isn't detailed enough to make it clear that the needles are being held between Haku's fingers instead of coming out of his knuckles ala Wolverine. Gaara turned out well in terms of likeness. But ideally I would have liked to see them make his sash and bandolier separate pieces if they could have kept the thickness down. Instead we get a combination that has the white sash and the lower portion of his bandolier molded as one piece while the upper piece of the bandolier is part of the sculpt of the body. Generally it works well, but if you look at the areas where the pieces meet you will see that there is a certain amount of depth missing or just wrong. The upper and lower portion of the bandolier don't look like a continuous piece. And the tail of the sash that hangs down doesn't look like a separate piece from the bandolier. Most of the figures have at least some room for improvement. Neji for example is missing the exposed veins around the eyes that appear when he uses his special skill. And Sasuke's sharp facial features can look quite strange from certain angles. But overall, it is a strong crop of sculpts.
(I should add one additional note about characters which are available in multiple forms, Naruto, Sasuke, Gaara and Rock Lee. The two deluxe versions of Naruto share the same body and head sculpts. The only difference seems to be the hands. The basic figures look like they have open hands while the deluxe figures have hands sculpted with throwing daggers or making hand signs. While Naruto is the only character that I purchased in multiple forms, the deluxe and basic versions of the other figures don't seem to be any different.)
Paint - Shino 4/10, others 5/10The paint work on all of the Naruto figures I purchased is simple and neat. There are no washes attempts to add shadowing on most of the figures. Shino is the one exception. The end of his right sleeve is painted black to match his bug swarm. It doesn't look bad, but it does mean that even if you removed the bugs you won't have a normal looking figure.
Articulation - Shino 2/10, Gaara 3/10, Haku & Orochimaru 5/10 others 6/10Most of the Naruto figures have fourteen points of articulation:
Accessories - Shino 0/10, Shadow Clone Jutsu Naruto & Haku 1/10, Orochimaru & Iruka 4/10, Neji 7/10, Dragon Strength Rock Lee, Sand Attack Gaara 8/10, others 6/10The basic figures don't have many accessories. Shino doesn't have any accessories. The swarm of insects on his left hand can be removed with a little effort. But they are not designed to be taken off. Haku's accessories are a set of "ice mirrors" and an ice projectile. The mirrors neither look much like ice nor are they in the least bit reflective or mirror- like. I'll cover the projectile in the features section, but it is no more impressive than the "mirrors." Orochimaru fairs a bit better with an alternative head on a snake like extended neck. The head looks great, but the neck gets to be a bit unruly. It would have been better if the neck were posable. Zabuza's lone accessory is his large sword. And to Mattel's credit, it not only looks good, it is actually scaled properly for the figure. Gaara has his gourd that plugs into his back and a sand shield accessory that works well. The two deluxe Naruto figures and Kakashi only come with the parts for their action features. But at least the trees that Kakashi and Tree Climbing Naruto come with have use as display pieces as well. Neji has a very nice training dummy with the chakra paths and critical points all painted. He also has two blue chakra balls that fit onto his hands. Iruka comes with a large rubber shuriken and a section of wall in which a piece of paper can be mounted as a target. Sasuke comes with a windmill shuriken, a training dummy for a target and a base. Rock Lee has a pair of throwing knives and a training dummy mounted on a tree stump. As a cool little extra, there are two slots in the dummy where the knives fit.
Overall, the accessories are quite a mixed bag. They are predominantly large and chunky means of adding action features to the line. At least this is better than having them built into the figure. And for a property that uses so many weapons and accessories, the lack of them in the action figure line is disappointing. On the plus side, where they did include such items like Rock Lee's knives and Sasuke's windmill shuriken, they look good and are scaled properly to match the figures. It just a shame that they didn't reuse these items to provide some to each figure.
Features - Shino 1/10, Shadow clone Naruto, Haku, Neji & Sasuke 2/10, Iruka 5/10, Kakashi & Gaara 6/10, Tree Climbing Naruto & Rock Lee 7/10, others NAThe action features are a big part of the Naruto line, particularly for the deluxe figures. Unfortunately most of them don't live up to their potential or never really had any to begin with. The basic figures have fewer action feature gimmicks in general. Orochimaru and Zabuza have no action features at all. The deluxe figures try to create more elaborate action features using their larger accessories. In most cases they fall flat on their face.
Shino's "action feature" is exceedingly lame. A small section of his right sleeve can slide down his arm to force the rubber web of insects to narrow.
Haku's feature is his firing ice projectile which doesn't really fire. You have to flick your finger at the back of the missile in order to shoot it.
Gaara is the only one of the regular figures whose feature is actually a benefit to the figure. He has a base shaped like a blast of sand upon which the figure can stand. The base has a handle that can be folded out behind the figure and then pushed forward. When the handle slides forward it causes the sand to slide up and widen out to form a shield. It is a bit undersized as it only comes up to the figure's waist. But it is simple. It works well. It looks pretty good. And if you don't like it or don't want it, it can go into the useless accessory drawer with no harm done to the figure.
Shadow Clone Jutsu Naruto has the lamest set of features. His accessory attempts to recreate his ability to make clones of himself. It consists of a plastic cutout of Naruto that slides out to reveal three cutouts. Aside from not looking anything like a realistic clone of the figure, I would have at least expected the cut outs to pop out automatically. Instead you have to slide them out and then back. And since that wasn't lame enough, they stuck another poorly conceived feature onto it. The front cutout has a second set of arms mounted as a platform in front of it. The figure can be placed on this platform and pushed down. When released, the platform springs back up and is suppose to launch the figure. In reality the figure barely clears the top of the cutout before dropping like a rock.
Neji has an action feature that should have been pretty creative had they not botched the execution. His training dummy is mounted on a weighted base with a hinge. Then there is a button on the center of the dummy which is suppose to release the hinge and allow it to fall over. The idea is that it falls when the proper point is struck. It's a nice idea and quite appropriate for the character. Unfortunately the release mechanism is so weak that the dummy falls over no matter where it is hit or how lightly it is tapped. It will certainly fall over long before you can press the button hard enough to activate the release mechanism.
Sasuke's action feature involves his leaf shaped base. Once the figure is placed onto the base, rotating a small knob on the base causes the figure to rotate around. In theory, you are suppose to use the base to rotate the figure and stop quickly, launching his shuriken. However, why you would even need the base instead of just turning the figure itself escapes me.
Iruka's action feature is a spring loaded waist which allows him to throw his shuriken. (See Sasuke, no base needed.) The only drawback is that his intended target is a section of wall in which a piece of thin paper can be mounted. But they only give you four pieces of the paper. Your average kid is going to be able to put a shuriken shaped hole though all four of those within minutes. Then they are going to have to find some tissue paper or other alternative.
Kakashi's action feature is a tree that allows him to recreate the substitution jutsu. For those unfamiliar with Naruto, the substitution jutsu is a ninja trick whereby a ninja who is being attacked will put another item disguised as themselves in their place to take the brunt of the attack. A section of tree trunk is a common item to use as the item to substitute. Kakashi's accessory is a tree with a clip that attached to the figure's waist. When the top of the tree is pressed down, the figure is swung around to the back of the tree and a section of log swings into its place. Again, it's a nice idea and fairly well executed in this case. The only real drawback is the tree is quite small. It is barely taller than Kakashi himself which makes it hard for it to hide the figure behind it. I also wish that they had gone the little extra step and made the log section easily removable so that the substitution jutsu could be replicated without the use of the tree. And better still would have been if they had included a few knives sticking out of the log or slots into which kuni knives could be stuck.
Tree Climbing Naruto comes with a tree accessory with magnets embedded into its trunk and the lone limb. Then there are a pair of platforms with more magnets in them which plug into a figure's feet. The figure can then stick to any of the magnets in the tree trunk or even hang upside down from the tree's limb. It's a cool idea and works well. But it would be nice if the tree was much taller and if could be attached to a surface to make it more stable.
The final and best action feature belongs to Rock Lee. His main action feature is a spring loaded right arm which snaps down to his side whether it is pulled backwards or forward. This feature makes for a nice martial arts move. But it gets much better when combined with his accessories. Of course you can strike the training dummy which is mounted on a spring to bounce around. But the front half of the log base is designed so that when struck with a downward motion, the front half will come off and then split in half. In truth, it is probably the only action feature/accessory that adds enough value to the figure to justify the added price of buying the deluxe version instead of the cheaper regular version.
Value - Shino & SC Naruto 2/10, Tornado Attack Sasuke 4/10, Dragon Strength Rock Lee 7/10, others 6/10The regular figures range in price from $6 to $8 each depending upon the store. The retail price for the deluxe figures is usually two to four dollars more apiece. With the exception of the overly statuesque Shino, the basic figures are a decent value. The value of the deluxe figures however varies widely. Rock Lee comes enough extras to justify the added price tag, and to a lesser extent, so does Tree Climbing Naruto. Tornado Attack Sasuke takes a hit in terms of value not because there is something wrong with the figure, but with two other versions of the same figure available for less, there's no real reason to buy the deluxe version. Iruka, Kakashi and Neji lack a bit of the value in terms of the accessories. But since they are only available as deluxe figures, you have no choice but to pay the higher price if you want that character. Shadow Clone Jutsu Naruto score may be in the toilet, but it isn't because it is a bad figure. It is just that with five versions of Naruto already available in the line, four of which use the same base figure, there just isn't anything that this figure can offer that can't be gotten from one of the other Naruto figures and for less money.
I should point out that these scores are based on the full retail price. But many stores have dropped the deluxe figures from their layouts and have been selling the existing stock at clearance prices. Depending on the store, I have seen them for anywhere from $8 down to as little as $2. At such reduced prices, these figures become a very good deal.
Happy Hunting:I said earlier that I didn't see how Mattel could fail with this line, but I'll be darned if they didn't try. While they did do a nice job of producing a decent variety of characters, the absence of certain core characters such as Sakura and an over abundance of Naruto and Sasuke variants left a lot of figures hanging on the pegs. Not surprisingly, most stores have since dropped at least the deluxe figures if not the entire line. This means you are going to have to do some searching of the clearance aisles and bins to find all of the deluxe figures. If you have a Gordman's near you ( store locations) you might want to check there. The one here in Madison, WI has a large selection of all of the deluxe figures including the deluxe version of Gaara who was tough to find elsewhere. The basic version of Gaara and Shino started shipping with the third wave around the holidays. I've found them mostly at Walmart stores. But I have seen a few of them at Toys R Us too. The other basic figures should still be available from most stores, you'll just have to search through the pegs full of Naruto and Sasuke figures to find them.