In the world of Dragon Ball, there are varying opinions on which version of the anime is superior. Dragon Ball Z is unquestionably the most popular, but there are people (like me) out there who swear by the original Dragon Ball that came before it. More recently, Dragon Ball Super has entered the fray and it’s a worthy successor to DBZ that may or may not be finished. Really, what few debate is what occupies the lowest rung of the Dragon Ball ladder: Dragon Ball GT.
Dragon Ball GT first premiered in 1996 after the conclusion of DBZ. Series creator, artist, writer Akira Toriyama was finished with Goku and the gang, but he was more than willing to let Toei continue the story because presumably it was easy money for him. Over the years, a level of trust had been established between the two as Toei produced numerous Dragon Ball movies which were created in-house with Toriyama still on-hand to design new characters. The films were all non-canon, but GT would represent a chance for Toei to truly broaden the scope of Dragon Ball.
The results were mixed at best. Toei, seemingly recognizing that Goku had long surpassed his peers by the end of DBZ, redesigned everyone and gave Goku some new traveling buddies in his granddaughter Pan and the now adult Trunks. And perhaps to capture the adventuring spirit of the original Dragon Ball, Goku was turned back into a child and set out on a quest to collect the Black Star Dragon Balls. During his journey, he would unlock a new ability: Super Saiyan 4.
Back in Dragon Ball Z (or just Dragon Ball for the manga purists), Toriyama conceived a new level of power for Goku that caused a minor transformation in that his hair would turn blond and his eyes teal. This was the Super Saiyan transformation, and really, the series could have ended with Goku’s unlocking of this ability and toppling Frieza, but it didn’t. Goku needed to keep getting stronger, so what’s stronger than a Super Saiyan? Super Saiyan 2! By the time the story was concluded, Goku had advanced to Super Saiyan 3. All three levels were fundamentally the same, except the shape of Goku’s hair changed with the third level being the most dramatic in that his hair was several feet long. Also, he lost his eyebrows for some reason. It’s not surprising there wasn’t a ton of imagination in these transformations. With the original, Toriyama has joked that he mostly designed it the way that he did so that he no longer had to color in Goku’s hair since the manga was in black and white and yellow hair would just be white.
For Super Saiyan 4, Toriyama decided to get creative. I’m not sure if Toei requested something different, or if this was Toriyama’s will, but Super Saiyan 4 definitely breaks the mold of other transformations. And being that most people aren’t really into Dragon Ball GT, it’s become the show’s only lasting legacy as the look does seem to have its fans. There’s certainly enough fans that Bandai and Tamashii Nations decided to bring the look to the S.H.Figuarts line in time for the show’s 25th anniversary.
If you’ve never seen Super Saiyan 4 before, well, it’s certainly a trip. In an effort to bring the Saiyan race back to its primal roots, Super Saiyan 4 mixes the look of the classic Great Ape transformation with that of a humanoid Saiyan. For Goku, this means his body becomes coated in a hot pink fur (why that color, I have no idea) and his tail returns. His hair still gets demonstrably more wild, but remains black. The hallmark of the look from a hair perspective is the tufts of hair that rest on the character’s chest. His eyes are also rimmed with red and the iris becomes gold with black pupils. His disposition seems to shift as well with Goku becoming cocky, and even a touch sadistic. Goku loves fighting in the same manner as a kid loves playing any competitive sport, but Super Saiyan 4 Goku might actually enjoy dishing out pain. As a design, it’s certainly garish, but it’s so outlandish that it kind of works. I know when I first saw images of this form back in the 90s I found it shocking and absurd, but over time I have come to appreciate it for its uniqueness.
Despite that, I’ve never considered myself a true fan of Super Saiyan 4. I wouldn’t say I’m indifferent, but it doesn’t bother me that the look has basically been rendered non-canon by Dragon Ball Super. It is interesting though and that’s why I’m hear to talk about the action figure. The Tamashii Nations take on the look is largely as expected. It does some things well, and some things not so well. It’s also the first figure in the line that I’ve purchased that was made at Bandai’s new factory in Vietnam. What does that mean for the figure? Well, anytime you have someone completely new to something get added to a process there’s going to be some growing pains, and this figure certainly seems to suffer a bit from such.
This primal take on Goku stands at about 5.25″ to the top of his visage and a tick over 6″ to the top of the hair putting him right in line with other Goku figures in the line. He comes in the same, familiar, window box with an assortment of parts and effects to make the figure feel complete. The default expression for Goku is a stoic one. There’s a little bit of paint on the face to highlight the creases in his brow and under his eye which is all applied cleanly and does add a lot to the figure’s expression. I’m not sure we need the center line in the forehead, as it’s not something that appears frequently in the artwork. It kind of gives him a “butthead,” but it’s something I’m getting used. It certainly isn’t needed on a stoic expression. The hair looks appropriately wild to the point where it can be hard to manipulate the head on this guy without pricking your finger.
Below the head we have a mix of colored plastic and painted parts. The neck is flesh-colored plastic, while the chest is painted. There is a slight different in the color of the flesh which is always a bummer. His chest also sticks way out, consistent with the character’s look in the show, but it makes his neck appear to sit pretty far inside the figure. It also doesn’t help that there’s a noticeable gap between neck and chest. The pink portions are colored plastic save for the little bit on the hands. There’s sculpted texture, and it looks fine. The paint around the flesh-colored portions of the chest is not the cleanest, but it’s not so bad that I’m convinced Bandai’s standard factory in China would have done any better. The belt is a floating piece of plastic and the mustard pants feature a hint of a wash on the front of the figure, nothing on the rear. The colored components seem to match just fine, and on the rear of the figure is the tail which features the same sculpted fur as the arms and torso.
Bandai did a good enough job here with the look of the figure that I think any Super Saiyan 4 fan out there will be pleased. The colors and proportions look right to me, and the mix of portraits are also quite suitable for this version of Goku. In addition to the default expression, we have three more: smirk, side-eyed teeth gritting, and yelling. All feature the same clean paint apps and the selection is so good that it’s hard to settle on one. The bangs on Goku pop off to access the face plate, and one of my nitpicks with this guy is the hair doesn’t sit flush on the top of the head cleanly. I find myself constantly fiddling with it to get it to look as best it can. It’s not something that will be noticeable on a shelf, but in-hand it does become apparent. The fit is also loose, and I had the face or hair fall off when swapping hands. Goku also has an assortment of hands to utilize including fists, martial arts pose hands, wide open palms, two finger hands, Kamehameha hands, and Kamehameha hands with pegs. The pegged hands are for use with the energy effect, something we rarely get. It’s a translucent pink ball with 6 rods that can be inserted into it. It then pegs into one of Goku’s hands and looks pretty rad. I can’t imagine many collectors declining to utilize it in their display. Uncharacteristic of this line, I found the hands actually difficult to swap. Pulling them off of the figure is easy enough, but getting them on is a pain. Is this just a result of the new factory not being used to this sort of thing? It feels like it because I’ve never had to heat a figure from this line before, but for some of these hands I opted to.
The other area where things feel a little off is with the articulation. This edition of Goku has basically all of the points of articulation one expects, but the engineering could have used a little more quality control in a few places. Most notably, it starts at the head. The figure really can’t look up, but that’s because of the hair. To make up for this, the two large strands on the back of his head are actually articulated, as are the two that hang over the chest. He can look down and that’s easy because his head is pretty floppy. It’s not so bad that he can’t hold a pose, but just a little pressure on the back of the head will send his chin diving into his throat. The base of the neck is articulated, but I can’t really get it to do anything which is unfortunate since it has that gap in it. At the shoulders, we have a modified butterfly joint with a newer ball peg and hinge setup. This gets rid of some of those floating pieces, but also leads to more gapping issues. I think this joint would look great on a standard Goku, but a shirtless one isn’t optimal. There’s also that flesh-colored paint to be mindful of as you don’t want the paint to rub off. He also has a biceps swivel, a double-jointed elbow that bends past 90 degrees, and ball-pegs at the hands. In the torso, we have ball joints in the abdomen and waist so he can rotate and pivot with a decent crunch forward and back. Again, watch the paint on the abs as you don’t want that to scratch. At the hips, he has legs that can do full splits and kick forward, but the sculpted butt cheeks prevent him from kicking backwards. There’s a thigh twist, double-jointed knees, and the standard ankle ball-joint. The range at the ankle is poor, and the toe hinge is too loose to really add anything. The ankle itself is also loose and standing him can be more tricky than typical of this line. The knee joints are fine, but in a first for me with this line, I had the knee cap pop off when bending it. It just tabs on, but it’s going to be annoying if it keeps doing that. He also has a ball joint where his tail meets his body. There are no other joints in the tail so it’s posing is limited, but I’d rather that than a bunch of ugly ball joints throughout.
The articulation, overall, is fine it’s not the usual “feel” I’m used to with this line. Some parts feel a little rougher than usual (the shoulders) and others are too loose for my liking. It’s understandable given the circumstances, and the move to the factory probably helped keep the price down as he’s $60, but a part of me wishes they handed them some lesser characters first before going right into such a unique look. Aside from that, the weight and overall feel is still excellent and this is certainly worthy of the S.H.Figuarts branding. Just the added paint on the face makes him look a lot nicer than the Super Saiyan Blue Goku I have and I do like the removal of some of the floating pieces in the shoulders and hips. If they didn’t stamp it right on the box where this thing was made few would likely question it. And I think this factory will get better, in time. Supposedly, the final form Cooler came out of the Vietnam factory and turned out great, so maybe they already have things mostly figured out.
As for Super Saiyan 4 Goku, this is a rather bizarre and unique look for character made even more so by the dismissal of Dragon Ball GT in favor of Dragon Ball Super. The series was never really canon to begin with, but since Toriyama designed the Super Saiyan 4 look most treated that part as canon. And maybe it will be again some day, or some variation on it, but for now we have the various Super Saiyan God forms. I don’t expect Bandai to go to the GT well too frequently in the future, though I suspect we’ll be seeing Vegeta in his Super Saiyan 4 form eventually and maybe even Gogeta. It helps that some of these parts can be reused for both figures, namely the arms, and it’s a subline that can trickle out and won’t command a ton of resources. As a weird little footnote in my Dragon Ball collection, I like this guy. I was going to pass on it eventually, but decided to give-in to curiosity. And it turned out to be $60 well spent.