The Arkham series of videogames is my favorite take on Batman since The Animated Series. Yes, I even like it more than the Nolan films, which are great but are bit too grounded in the real world to really feel entirely like Batman to me. Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City straddle the line between the grim and gritty realism of The Dark Knight Returns and the Dark Knight Trilogy while still giving us all the “unrealistic” villains like Mr. Freeze, Clayface and even Solomon Grundy.
Both Mattel and DC Collectibles has tried their hand at Arkham-based action figures. Mattel inexplicably allowed someone other than the Four Horsemen to sculpt Batman and several of the other figures, made them all out of scale with DCUC and half of them out of scale with each other, and gave them middling-to-bad articulation. DC Collectibles’ offerings have great sculpting but minimal articulation (although the upcoming Series 4 does appear to finally have ball-and-hinge hips).
So – where can one turn to for fully-articulated action figures based on the Arkham games? For now, the answer is Japan-based company Square Enix and their Play Arts KAI line.
I already own two other Play Arts Kai figures, the Halo Master Chief and Jack Skellington. The idea with Play Arts KAI, from what I can tell, is to offer highly-detailed 8″-9″ action figures with tons of articulation at premium prices – they’re sort of the under-12″ version of Hot Toys, though without the dead-on accuracy and a lot more artistic license. Figures usually range from $50-$70 and the line has been expanding like crazy since the Batman figure reviewed here was released in 2011. The newest offerings include figures from other videogames like Uncharted and Mass Effect, and now they’ve even announced figures based on the Nolan films.
Packaging: The figure comes in a large box with a big window. Unfortunately, the box is designed in such a way that the figure is shrouded in shadow, and due to the closeness of the blister around the figure, what you can see is obscured by glare. It really does not show off the figure at all, which seems surprising since the Japanese are usually so good at this sort of thing.
Design & Sculpt: The sculpt is intriguing. It’s very detailed, there’s no doubt about that. But let’s be clear: while this is unquestionably the Arkham Asylum version of Batman, the sculptors have created their own “take” on the character.
The differences lie in the detailing and the proportions. In terms of the details, seams and folds are deeper and the textures are far more pronounced than they look on the game model. Especially noticeable is the bat symbol on the chest, which is different from the game in both shape and the fact that it’s raised like a bas-relief compared to the model.
In addition, the general proportions and look of the character have been anime-ized by about 10% or so. This seems to be a common tendency among Play Arts KAI figures and, indeed, Japanese action figures of Western characters in general.
The figure is very tall, standing about 8½” at the top of his head (9″ to the tips of his bat-ears).
Plastic & Paint: The paint work is a bit heavy on the dark wash (though the dry-brushing on the cape is great). I suspect this is not a quality control issue but rather another aspect of the “exaggerated” anime-style look of the figure. And to be fair, Arkham Asylum is a pretty dark, grimy game.
But there are a lot of different types of plastic used here, and a number of paint applications. Aside from the wash, it’s well done.
Articulation: This is where Play Arts Kai distinguishes itself from all the other Arkham products on the market. Batman is truly super-articulated.
The head is on a double-ball-and-socket joint, with one ball in the neck and one in the head. The shoulders are even more complicated. The entire shoulder is mounted on a hinge that swings out, so he can cross his arms easily. The shoulder is attached to this hinge via a ball-and-socket joint, which is in turn attached to a ball-and-hinge joint – here, a picture’s worth a thousand words:
The biceps are swivels, while the elbows all swivel-ball hybrids. The wrists are also swivel-ball hybrids. The upper torso is a ball joint, the waist is a ball joint, the hips are ball-and-sockets with swivels for the thighs, the knees are double-hinge joints, and the ankles are ball-and-hinge hybrids. The two-part cape is attached via two ball joints on the back.
The knees are interesting. They’re not the usual double-hinges we’ve seen on Marvel Legends, where the hinges are right next to each other. They’re designed to look like part of the leg. I’m not sure this quite works, because it looks a bit like Batman had his knees replaced with creepily-lengthy cyborg parts; and the knees themselves lack the wash of the thighs, breaking the continuity of the look. However, when he’s standing up straight, the knee parts are mostly hidden. It’s a creditable effort, and kudos to Square Enix for trying something like this.
The hinges are ratchet joints, which means they hold their positions well (but the ratchets are less rigid than Revoltech, whose ratchets can get in the way of posing). The upper torso and waist ball joints can be a bit bothersome as they’re a little loose and can cause Batman to look like he’s hunching over.
As great as all this articulation is, I must admit I find it rather annoying they couldn’t be bothered to give him a mid-foot hinge for crouching. Why can’t I get a Batman action figure who can do a real “gargoyle” crouch?
Accessories: Batman comes with a Batarang, a three-hooked grappling gun, two interchangeable cape parts, and four hands: a right fist, a left fist, and two right hands to hold the grappling gun or the Batarang.
The grappling gun and the Batarang are sculpted very well and stay in the figure’s hands, but slightly disappointingly, the Batarang doesn’t fold as it did on the DC Collectibles figure.
The interchangeable cape parts both fit on the left side of the figure. They allow you to pose the figure with the cape curling around to his front left side, or simply flapping behind him. Aside from action poses, I don’t know why you’d use the flatter cape – the curled one looks much cooler. As I mentioned, the cape parts are attached via ball joints, allowing for a lot of great posing options.
Quality Control: I’ve had no problems with my Batman figure. However, these PAK figures can have issues. My Master Chief was missing a part from his foot – it was never glued on to the figure in the first place – but Square Enix very kindly sent me a replacement leg for the figure for free (the legs can pop off the ball joint at the hip socket).
Phil Reed of Battlegrip has been engaged in a months-long effort to get a replacement arm for his Armored Batman. It took about a month to get my replacement leg for Master Chief, but I didn’t have any trouble. I’m not sure why Phil’s had such a hard time. I guess what I’m saying is, caveat emptor.
Overall: So far, this Batman is the only figure I’ve picked up from the Play Arts Kai Bat-related stuff. There are a few reasons for this.
The most significant is that they’re just too expensive; MOTUC and S.H.MonsterArts are redlining my toy budget as it is, and I just can’t afford another toy line.
But aside from the price, I have a few other qualms. For example, the size. I prefer my toys to be scaled in the 6″-7″ range (for the “standard” figures of the line, anyway – not BAFs or giants or whatnot). Batman’s 9″ height doesn’t fit any of my dioramas or accessories, and doesn’t look good alongside any of my other figures. (That said, I find these Play Arts KAI figures are excellent work-desk toys.)
Then there’s the exaggerated sculpting. It actually works for me on the Halo Master Chief, which I’ll be reviewing soon. But for some reason it bothers me a bit more here.
All that said, this is still an amazing action figure. Is it my favorite Batman action figure of all time? Not quite – I think that title still belongs to the DC Super Heroes black-and-gray Bats. But this is my favorite Arkham Asylum Batman (even if it’s not perfect). If you want to get one of these Play Arts KAI Batman figures, get this one. (Or, y’know, the Arkham City version, if you prefer that look.)
Where to Buy: