Armies of Middle Earth
Fellowship 9 Pack

Regular reviewer Lawrence is back tonight with a great guest review of the new 9 pack of Armies of Middle Earth - take it away, L!

The Armies of Middle Earth Fellowship 9-pack (or 10-pack if you count Bill the pony) was originally meant to be an exclusive to KB for a few months, before showing up at other retailers, and eventually the elements are going to be released in future waves of AOME figures. But when KB declared bankruptcy, the deal appeared to have been voided, as these are showing up in Canadian Walmarts and the AOME Fan club run by Gandalf's Tower. Final analysis: who knows what the heck the deal is. In any case, it's out now in limited amounts, and should be easier and easier to find as time passes. Even had the KB deal gone through, it would have shown up at most places that carry AOME by spring. Here's my take on this truly unique set.

Packaging - ***
It's pretty standard. The same blue basic design as the rest of the AOME line this far, much of it is dedicated to a window displaying the figures inside. They are clearly visible and look attractive, but the packaging does nothing to add to the set, and anyone who wasn't already excited about finding it probably won't be stopped in their tracks by this box. Of course, if you were excited, the box does a good job of showing you why.

Sculpting - ** to ****
There are 9 figures here, 10 counting the pony, and there's a pretty wide range in the sculpt quality. The hobbits rank pretty low, though since their outfits are rather dull I don't know that there's much anyone at Playalong could have done about this. I give Frodo, Merry and Pippin two stars each for being recognizable as who they are, though. Frodo in particular really does look like Frodo. Sam gets three stars because his pack is more interesting, and he can be posed to look like he's holding its straps; it's a more interesting sculpt. Boromir, Legolas, and Aragorn look nice, though the face sculpts on Boromir and Aragorn are far from perfect. Legolas has a lot of detail sculpted into his outfit, though, everything from folds and wrinkles (which they all have) to the little elven scripts and flourishes. Gimli and Gandalf are the best. though; Gimli has a great warrior stance and a great detailed outfit, and Gandalf looks like he's stepped out of an Alan Lee painting. His cloak is billowing, he's got the big hat, he just looks amazing. Bill, meanwhile, is quite nicely done, with lots of different gear on his back. And I'm also going to toss in the stands in this category ?" unlike the previous stands, which have largely been amorphous blobs, these are quite nice, with dirt and grass and roots all sculpted in. Plus, the stands look good on their own but also fit together to form a single base for everyone to be walking in a line. It's a great idea, well executed. 

Having said all this, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Because the figures are all sculpted in regular walking poses, rather than action-fighting poses, they look amazing when grouped together. Bill's harness is designed to fit into the figures' hands, so someone can be posed leading Bill while the rest walk alongside, and whatever the strengths or flaws of the individual figures may be, it all takes a backseat to how good this set looks as a set. If these were sculpted like this in resin or polystone, this would be a very popular, very expensive set.

Paint - ***
These are good paint jobs, but it's hard to call them perfect. And again, not all the figures get the same ranking. The faces are somewhat flat, a better wash and then some highlighting would have made them look better. Still, the cloaks have been ink washed, as has Bill, and all the paint apps are clean and the colors sharp. The best figures are Gandalf, Legolas, and Boromir, again the benefit resulting from having more interesting outfits. Legolas' boots feature extremely well-done elven details, and Aragorn and Gandalf are both dirtied and muddied up. The bases have been dry brushed quite effectively, there are several shades of green in the grass, it looks excellent. Pictures are worth a thousand words, though, look at the pics to see how impressive they really are. 

Articulation - ****
Well, that's a qualified four stars. For true articulation fans, the AOME line is always going to be a bit of a misstep. But they've really knocked themselves out trying to please here. It's pretty astounding how well articulated the figures are, and how well hidden the articulation is. Here's the rundown:

Gandalf: neck, waist, shoulder
Frodo: left ankle swivel, waist, shoulder, neck, swivel elbows
Boromir: waist, shoulders, neck, swivel elbow and wrists

Merry: left ankle swivel, waist, shoulders, right elbow swivel, neck
Gimli: thigh swivel (where legs meet chainmail skirt), shoulders, left elbow swivel, waist, neck
Pippin: right knee swivel, waist, shoulders, elbow swivels, neck
Sam: ankle swivels, waist, shoulders, neck 
Legolas: swivel thighs (hidden under skirt), waist, shoulders, swivel elbows, neck
Aragorn: swivel knees, waist, shoulders, swivel elbows, neck

In some cases, it's amazing how poseable the figures are ?" Boromir is more poseable than his Toybiz figure. The figures with swivel elbows are designed so that their arms can be bent or straight depending on how you swivel them, and so forth. In some cases, though, the only practically useful poses are minor tweaks in the positioning of an arm or two, or the direction in which the head faces. The "natural" pose for all the figures is a basic walking or standing pose, but they can all raise weapons to look somewhat ready for fighting. Compared to the rest of the AOME line, of course, they look rather static (the Uruks, the Legolas from the Helm's Deep set, the Easterlings, etc. are all posed in more dynamic battle poses). In general, while this line provides enough poseability for people who want it, it will not render "fighting" versions of the Fellowship unnecessary for the truly obsessive. These guys just will never look as powerfully dangerous as alternate sculpts can make them -- witness the already out "fighting" versions of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gandalf. (I doubt we'll ever get truly dynamic versions of the hobbits, however).

Accessories - ****
I've noticed a trend lately of people really loving accessories, but I have always evaluated them based more on appropriateness than anything else. A Spiderman figure, in my mind, doesn't need accessories, simply because Spidey doesn't have any. A Gandalf figure, meanwhile, would be awful if he didn't have his staff. It depends on the item. In this case, each figure comes not only with swords strapped to their belts but with an extra weapon to hold. Each hobbit, Boromir, Gandalf, Legolas, and Aragorn all have swords, Legolas has two elven knives, Gimli has an extra axe, and Gandalf also has his staff and a removable hat. (for the record, Boromir's shield cannot be removed from his back, and Gimli's helmet is not removable) You could also count the stands, heck some people might count Bill. In any case, I'd say there's a pretty stupendous set of accessories. I suppose some people of the "more is better" mindset might feel that just giving everyone a weapon isn't enough, but I think more would be too much.

Value - ****
Nine major characters, the whole Fellowship in one fell swoop, and a pony, for $25? Hard to deny the great value here. There are extra swords, bases, it is all good.

Overall - ****
Of course, there are some people who just don't like the AOME concept, just like some people (myself included) aren't crazy about busts and statues. If all you want is a regular action figure, this is a novelty set and probably not gonna tempt you. But for anyone even slightly tempted by AOME, this set is a clear must-have. It's not something we haven't seen already, like the Elendil/Isildur/Sauron set or the Osgiliath ruins with Fell Beast, true enough. Rather than giving us a hyper-dramatic fighting scenario, they've given us the basic Fellowship beginning the Quest, and while it is subdued, it works. It reminds me of nothing so much as the first movie trailer, the teaser, that just showed the Fellowship coming over a hill in slow motion as Howard Shore's Fellowship theme blared in the background. It's a great center for the rest of the line, since no matter what battles are taking place or what else is going on in Middle Earth, the story of LOTR ultimately revolves around these nine characters. And, hey, it's got a pony! Who doesn't want a pony?

Figures from the collection of L.

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