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REVIEW:
STREET FIGHTER ROUND 4 FIGURES
By Thomas Wheeler



These figures are getting harder to find all the time. I had to get the first series through an online store. The second series I got at a very strange store called Hot Topic. The third series I found at Suncoast.

The fourth series brought me back to Hot Topic again, and even then, for the first time ever, I wasn't able to snag the entire assortment all at once. They had three - Akuma, Ibuki, and Remy - and of those, Remy was a bit defective. SOTA Toys has adopted the practice of spraying a bit of clear gloss over the eyes of the figures. When it works, it's pretty cool. It makes the figures seem a little more "real" somehow.

So I got Akuma and Ibuki, and hoped for more luck a little later on with the rest. It took some doing. I finally snagged Fei Long a while later, but the assortment didn't turn up anywhere else, and it didn't appear as though Hot Topic was getting in additional shipments of the assortment, and that Remy, along with a less than impressive Birdie who had a slightly mismolded head and a chunk of paint out of his nose, were left hanging.

I was extremely reluctant to mail-order these figures. I'm always reluctant to do that with any action figures, really, but sometimes there's no choice. Here I believed there was. I finally decided to head to the other Hot Topic in town, in a mall on the other side of Tucson, and see if I might be more fortunate there. I was. They had one Remy and one Birdie, both of which were in overall better condition than the ones on this side of town. So I brought them home, and finally had a complete Round 4 of the Street Fighter figures.

I hate to think what Round 5 is going to take at this rate, although I should mention that very recently, like almost two months after these figures turned up at Hot Topic, Suncoast did get the assortment in, so maybe it won't be too bad.

Arguably, these Street Fighter figures from SOTA Toys are the best action figures on the market today - PERIOD. The only line that comes close to matching the overall quality is Transformers. That's not to say there aren't other cool lines out there. But if someone asked me what the top action figure line is right now, that from an overall standpoint of quality is concerned, that other toy companies would do well to emulate at least in basic practice with whatever it is they may be making, I'd point straight to Street Fighter.

Of the five Street Fighter characters in this assortment, only three were somewhat familiar to me. Let's start with one of those:

BIRDIE

An unusual name for a character who is basically a very large thug with a somewhat disproportionate body. Birdie has a massive torso and arms, but relatively narrow legs. His arms are actually bigger around than his legs. Somewhat surprisingly, the figure is not all that hard to stand up. You'd think he would be, especially given how solid these figures are.

Birdie is almost as tall as T.Hawk, currently the largest of the Street Fighter figures. However, he still comes up just a little short, and T.Hawk has a more evenly proportioned physique, so T.Hawk still ends up looking bigger and frankly, more powerful. Birdie's narrow legs make him look as though, if you were actually crazy enough to get close enough to be in range of those massive fists, if you could take out his knees, Birdie would be down for the count.

Birdie certainly manages to be one of the stranger-looking Street Fighters. He has a narrow blonde mohawk with a hole in the middle of it, shoes that look like they came from a really mean clown or elf, and a flared collar on his vest that matches his flared muttonchops. That can't have been an easy wardrobe accomplishment. He's also got this sort of dim look on his face that gives the impression that he's strong as an ox and half as smart. You could probably give him a first-prize award in a big, dumb, and ugly contest and he'd be stupid enough to think it was an honor.

Birdie's been part of the Street Fighter universe long enough to have made a couple of cameo appearances in the animated series which appeared on the USA Network about ten years ago. According to the excellent Street Fighter reference guide, Street Fighter Eternal Challenge, a book I recommend for any Street Fighter fan, Birdie is originally from England. His background reads as follows:

Growing up on the streets, Birdie was a pro wrestler thrown out of the league for his violent temper and rule-breaking ways. Drifting around as a bouncer for several years, he was offered a position as a member of the Shadaloo organization (M. Bison's crew). Seeing an opportunity, he accepted and started immediately planning to overthrow whoever he found leading the organization.

A true fighter of the streets, Birdie's fighting style is an unrefined, sloppy combination of barroom brawling mixed with crushing wrestling maneuvers. He relies on hitting his opponent hard and fast before they have a chance to evaluate the weaknesses in his technique. With more strength than most of the fighters he faces, his overpowering fists and rock solid head butts are usually enough to ensure his victory.

Additional information provided in the book indicates that Birdie spent most of his days within Shadaloo pretty much just lazing around, although he actually managed to do some research when no one was watching into some of Bison's secret files. Apparently he really is determined to take over the Shadaloo organization for his own purposes.

Curiously, Birdie is one of a handful of characters that was originally introduced, in a more simplified form, in the original Street Fighter video game, which has tended to have been sort of swept under the table, since it wasn't until Street Fighter II that the concept really took off. Birdie would then have to wait for Street Fighter Alpha to make his return to the Street Fighter universe.

As for the figure, it's very decent, but not without a few flaws. The wrist articulation is extremely loose. I think this is because that the housing into which the hands fit, which is framed by these huge metal wrist-hands, is too big for the hands themselves. Still, you'd think that the pegs into which they snap would be a little tighter.

Granted, the figure comes with multiple alternative hands that can be installed, which is a common feature with Street Fighter figures, so they might not have been able to make them as tight as usual. His left upper bicep is also pretty loose, and his legs are slightly loose.

Birdie is nicely outfitted. Some of these designs cannot be easy to render in three dimensions. I doubt this vest was easy. Certainly the muttonchops weren't, as they had to be glued to the face separately. Birdie also has a metal chain that is attached to his left wristband and wrapped around his left arm. It's an actual metal chain and a very nice touch.

The figure is wearing a denim outfit, which was very nicely accomplished with hand-brushed detail. As much as I may oppose the specific hand- painting of individual details on an action figure, and dislike the practice of dirtying and weathering a toy with brushed-on detail, there are rare exceptions where it works, and getting this sort of worn denim look which IS appropriate for Birdie is one of those exceptions.

Birdie's accessories include a spare head with a different facial expression (common for Street Fighter figures), a number of spare hands, and a tiny little pocket comb that works like a switchblade. Treat this accessory VERY carefully. It actually works, but it's very delicate. Alas, mine was broken in package. I think I can fix it, but then I don't worry about accessories that much to begin with.

On the whole, this is a very effective action figure of this oddball character.

REMY

The first time you see this character you think he's practically a poster boy for anorexia. He's extremely thin, and stands very rigidly in his package. And SOTA does design these figures to look and "behave", for lack of a better term, as much like their video game counterparts as possible. Remy's appearance is probably best described as "semi- understated outlandish". He has long hair which is pastel green. He's wearing a black shirt with what looks like a silver Omega letter on it. He's wearing red bell-bottoms and brown shows. His physique is very thin, but otherwise not exaggerated. So what makes this guy so dangerous in the Street Fighter world?

Since this was one of two characters that I wasn't particularly familiar with, I had to turn to the Eternal Challenge book for details. What startled me was how the illustration accompanying his personal history virtually matched the way the figure was standing in the package. Remy's background is as follows:

Remy is a handsome man with long hair, a slender appearance and a mysterious darkness inside him. As a child, his martial artist father abandoned him and this became the catalyst for his intense hatred. His rage extended beyond just his own father and he soon learned to hate all martial artists. The only thing he truly loved was his older sister. When she died unexpectedly, her body was preserved in a frozen state at the bottom of the sea and it drove the young fighter insane.

However, Remy has managed to acquire skills. The personal history goes on to describe that Remy prefers to use sweeping kicks that take his foes right off their feet, and he has learned the same sort of energy-directed powers that many of the other Street Fighters, especially earlier characters like Ken, Ryu, and Guile have, and in face one of Remy's accessories is some sort of energy wave made out of frosted green transparent plastic.

So, Remy's probably got a few loose screws in the head. Apparently he's still not someone you'd want to pick a fight with, and even as it is, he's got a serious mad-on for anyone with martial arts skills.

So far, Remy's appearances in the video game series has been limited to Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, so he hasn't been around much. Somewhat surprising he'd be made as a figure, but I guess he's recognizable enough. The package for the figure lists his country of origin as France.

The figure is very nicely done. It almost looks like it wouldn't be well- articulated, given how stiffly it's posed in package, but Remy has the same level of articulation as any of the other Street Fighter figures.

Remy's alternate head borders on the creepy. Whereas most of the alternate heads for Street Fighter figures feature an entirely different, generally more extreme facial expression, Remy's is the same stone face as the head the figure is wearing. It's just that the hair on the alternate head is molded to look windblown.

Yeah, this guy's got some serious issues to work out...

On the whole, though, Remy is a very decent figure, representing one of the more obscure faces in Street Fighter.

FEI LONG

Most longtime Street Fighter fans pretty much feel that there are sixteen core characters in the Street Fighter universe, as they appeared in Super Street Fighter II, and that most of the other characters are, to one degree or another, subordinate to that core group. That's not to say there haven't been some breakouts from that group. There certainly have. But there's still this core sixteen that are among the best known characters. SOTA is gradually getting around to them as part of this action figure line, and their representative in this assortment is Fei Long.

Ironically, Fei Long may be the most obscure of that core group. He's pretty much the plainest-looking of the lot. He's also the only one that didn't make it into the live-action Street Fighter movie back in 1995. Now, admittedly, that might've been a blessing, but it's also an irony in and of itself, seeing as how the character is a movie star.

Fei Long is pretty much the Street Fighter universe's version of Bruce Lee. I scarcely needed to turn to the Eternal Challenge book for the background on this one, but for the sake of keeping things official:

Fei Long is a Hong Kong native with a natural ability for the martial arts. Trained in Kung Fu since he was six years old, Fei Long used his tremendous fighting skills to break into the film industry and became a popular action movie star. He later left the movie industry to pioneer a new Kung Fu style known as the "Flight of Heaven". This style boasts over 3000 practitioners and has many schools around the globe training new students.

With his swift, graceful movements, Fei Long can take advantage of momentary openings his opponents leave. After striking with many of his powerful blows, Fei Long lets out a piercing shout that increases his power and confidence.

Well, that explains why one of his accessories is an alternate head with its mouth wide open...

So, what's a guy line this doing in the Street Fighter world? I mean, he had a solid career as a movie star, he's built a successful series of martial arts schools around the world. Pretty well seems to have it made from that standpoint. So why's he street fighting? Well, some further history from Eternal Challenge:

After rising in the action movie industry, Fei Long decided to branch out and show the world his true martial arts skill above and beyond movie stunts and cameras. Fei Long entered the World Warrior tournament to test himself against the strongest fighters around the globe. He didn't realize that the tournament was a trap laid by Bison, the ruler of the evil Shadaloo organization. Once the tournament began, Fei Long got more than he bargained for with challenges that would push him to new heights.

There's the character. So how's the figure? Really excellent. Fei Long is a little plain-looking in some respects, but for him, that just about works. There's nothing at all exaggerated about this character, or the figure. If there' a standard for "basic human" in the Street Fighter line, Fei Long is probably it. Ryu and Ken would be close seconds, but even they're a bit exaggerated in some respects. Not Fei Long. He looks entirely plausible, at least for someone that doubtless spends every spare moment working out to hone his body to its physical peak and probably has like 1% body fat. Punch this guy in the stomach and you'll just bruise your knuckles.

Fei Long is dressed very simply. He's shirtless, with black martial arts trousers, white socks, and black boots. His accessories include an alternate head, an assortment of alternate hands, and a set of nunchuks with an actual chain between them.

Fei Long stands about 6-1/4" in height, the same as Ryu and Ken. Next to them, he looks a little slender (or they look a little bulky, take your pick), but his very human and very plausible physique makes for an excellent comparative study when places next to some of the more extreme and in a few cases downright freakish entries in this collection.

Fei Long has tended to be a rather underestimated or overlooked character in the Street Fighter universe, but the figure definitely should not be. It's easily one of the best in the collection to date!

IBUKI

It's about time we got a ninja in this game. Mortal Kombat has ninjas coming out of the woodwork. Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Reptile, Smoke, Noob Saibot, Ermac - why the heck hadn't the other main fighting video game managed to bring in at least one ninja? Well, they finally did. And incredibly enough, it's a female ninja.

Ibuki is the other character that, like Remy, I wasn't entirely familiar with. So, as with Mr. Frenchie Greenhair, I had to turn to the details of Eternal Challenge to discover her origin. It is as follows:

Ibuki is a school girl descended from a long line of ninja that sates back to the days of Japan's civil wars. She has trained from the time she began kindergarten. Even though she's a deadly combatant, she's still a normal school girl who dreams of being a pop singer someday. The only difference between her and anyone else is the duties she must complete as a ninja. She's easy-going, but can also be strong-willed and able to rise to a challenge when needed.

Ibuki's fighting style is a combination of ancient martial arts and secret Ninjitsu techniques. Her fighting style is based around quick, efficient movements, aiming for weak points on her opponents so she wins before they know what hit them. Her power and reach are less than many other fighters due to her small size, but through training she's been able to overcome this weakness with incredible agility.

As a figure, Ibuki is interesting. From several respects, this is a character design that can't have been all that easy to render as an action figure, especially not with the level of articulation that SOTA thankfully puts into their product.

For starters, there's her pants. Ibuki is wearing these ballooned-out trousers that taper in to these fairly narrow strips that attach to the front and back of her belt. An easy enough design to draw and animate in a video game, but when you have to deal with an action figure's leg articulation ad you take into consideration the multiple points of articulation at the legs of these figures, I'm impressed that SOTA actually managed to get away with this one without the figure looking indecently dressed in the process.

Then there's the hair. Not unusual for a character with a fair amount of Japanese animé influence, Ibuki has this thin, high-rise ponytail and these three long bangs of hair sticking out from underneath her bandanna. These, obviously, had to be separately molded pieces, assembled to the head later on. That SOTA did as well as they did is a testament to their determination for accuracy and detail on these figures.

No great surprise, either, Ibuki does NOT include an alternate head among her accessories. Two of these would've been a bit much. Instead, she has a second face mask. The one she's wearing in package covers most of her lower face. The spare one would leave that face revealed. From the look of it, you have to pop the head off to make the change. Ibuki also comes with a number of alternate hands, a couple of weapons, and her pet raccoon.

Ibuki's appearance is otherwise a little on the plain side. Her outfit is a rather consistent shade of tan. She has tan wrappings around her feet, which are partially bare. The only real indications of color on her outfit are brown wristbands and partial gloves, and a dark brown face mask.

But from the sound of her history, she's not someone to be underestimated, regardless of how understated she looks. According to Eternal Challenge, Ibuki first appeared in Street Fighter III, and has also turned up in Street Fighter 2nd Impact and Street Fighter III 3rd Strike.

Perhaps not a major character, but it's nice to see at least one company not afraid to make female action figures, and Ibuki joins Chun-Li, Cammy, and Sakura as part of the Street Fighter collection!

AKUMA

Remember what I said about there being sixteen core characters in the Street Fighter world? Well, really, there's sort of seventeen. It's just that nobody really likes to think about the seventeenth.

Akuma is probably the ultimate bad guy in the Street Fighter universe. He doesn't care about winning tournaments. He's not interested in global domination, or running criminal organizations. He wants just one thing - power -- and to steal the life-energy of the Street Fighters that gives them their special abilities and to make it his own.

Compared to this guy, M. Bison is a sweetheart. In fact, in the one notable episode of the animated series where Akuma turned up, Guile and his arch-enemy M. Bison had to team up in order to escape him. Not defeat him. Escape him. You don't defeat Akuma. You hope to survive him.

Akuma first turned up in the "Turbo" edition of Super Street Fighter II, as an extra "boss", a character that had to be defeated at the end of the game. From there he continued to make his presence known in Street Fighter Alpha, Alpha 2, Alpha 3, Street Fighter III 2nd Impact, and Street Fighter III 3rd Strike. There was just no way to get rid of this guy.

He's also the only Street Fighter character without an established national origin. Even Bison hails from Shadaloo, an admittedly fictional country, but he's from somewhere! No one's willing to take credit for Akuma. His origin in the Street Fighter Eternal Challenge book reads as
follows:

Earning the nickname "Fist of Destiny", this demonic martial artist controls Dark Hadou energy. The man known as Akuma was once a normal martial artist and the brother of Gouken, Ken and Ryu's instructor. Gouken and Akuma studied under a man named Master Goutetsu. Over time, Akuma became obsessed with persuing forbidden energies in search of invulnerability. Once he found a way to harness the powers of the Dark Hadou, he embarked on a wave of carnage that began with the killing of his own master. A red aura of pure evil emanates from Akuma's body, striking permanent fear into almost every opponent foolish enough to try facing him.

Akuma's lust for absolute power corrupted his mind, slowly transforming him into the murderous fighting demon he is today. Once he was able to obtain the Dark Hadou and slay his master, he saw the power he was capable of and relinquished any intention of turning back.

Following a path of pure evil, Akuma traveled to a small island south of Japan filled with active volcanoes, known as the Island of Flame. He spent many weeks training there before heading out across the world in search of opponents who could prove their worth in the face of his power.

The figure's hardly the biggest. He's about the same height as Guile, and as such just somewhat taller than Ryu and Ken. He's pretty much dressed like Ryu and Ken, as well, which shouldn't be surprising since he originates from the same school as they. He's wearing a dark blue sleeveless martial arts type shirt, and somewhat ragged dark blue trousers. The figure is wearing sandals, which are very detailed on the bottoms. Unfortunately they're hand-painted, but the basic detail work is excellent.

Akuma's face is hard to describe, but I think if you wanted to create a face of an Oriental boogeyman to scare small children into doing their chores or eating their vegetables, this wouldn't be a bad model to copy from. Akuma is scary ugly. He's not freakish. He's scary. He's also wearing a necklace of rather large spheres around his neck.

Akuma is definitely a major player in the Street Fighter universe. He's basically someone that everybody needs to be concerned about, and makes even the other bad guys seem like amateurs in comparison. It's worth mentioning that he also likely killed his training brother, Gouken. A figure of Gouken was made available as an exclusive at the 2006 San Diego ComiCon.

A packaging note: Every assortment of Street Fighter figures has a different main color to its package card. Round 1 was yellow. Round 2 was blue. Round 3 was green. This time, for Round 4, it's red. Just so you'll know them when you see them. (I'm betting on purple for Round 5 myself.)

On the whole, this is an impressive assortment of Street Fighter figures. There's a few glitches here and there, but nothing really outside the bounds of acceptability, and, unfortunately, nothing that doesn't happen far too often these days, and which is often out of the control of the companies, especially a smaller one such as SOTA. They can only ride herd over the factories so far.

There are, at this point, only a handful of figures from the original group left. Zangief and Dee-Jay are both expected in Round 5, and Dhalsim was confirmed for Round 6. Since voting on the figures in any given assortment is, within reason, left up to the fans and collectors, I'm not really sure yet who else is in Round 6 as of this writing, but I do know that the other remaining original Street Fighter, the massive sumo wrestler E. Honda, was in contention. I sincerely hope he made it.

That's not to say that I don't want to see the line continue once they've taken care of the basic crowd. I most certainly do. There's still an abundance of interesting characters in the Street Fighter universe, even if my personal knowledge of them may be somewhat limited. I'm hopeful that SOTA's line of Street Fighter figures continues for a very long time.

I do hope that they are able to maintain the high standards of quality, however, that they have established, and I wouldn't mind at all if they were able to do something about greater availability at the retail level. I am, as I said at the start of this review, always highly reluctant to mail-order any action figures, precisely because of some of the quality issues that I have cited here and in other reviews. When you mail-order a toy, you're basically buying sight unseen, and I don't like to do that. Consider what I went through with regard to Remy and Birdie this time around.

While I don't know if SOTA is set up to meet the likely demand of such a deal, I do wish that at least one of the major retailers, Target, Toys "R" Us, or somebody, would express an interest in these excellent Street Fighter toys. It would certainly make my obtaining them a lot easier, and I can't be the only collector who is somewhat frustrated on this front and is just as reluctant to go the mail-order route.

Meanwhile, however, if you can find them, I most certainly recommend adding STREET FIGHTER ROUND 4 to your collection of Street Fighter figures!