Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Toybox REVIEW: Bandai Robot Spirits Nirvash TypeZERO

I've been waiting for this figure for a while. After first watching Eureka Seven I knew I had to get my hands on a Nirvash toy, but with the Robot Spirits Nirvash Spec2 figure fetching such a high price and complaints of it being a rather fiddly toy, I held on a little longer by preordering the spec1 figure and getting a reduced Devilfish to pass me over until June. But now it is June (well, for one more day anyway) and the wait is finally over. The Nirvash typeZERO, the primary mecha of Psalms of the Planets: Eureka Seven is here.

The first thing to point out about the Nirvash is that unlike the Spec2, which had the ability to transform into both jet and car modes and (so I hear) suffered for it, this figure has forsaken the car mode in exchange for more posability, better accessories and best of all, a lower price tag. Coming straight out of the box the figure may seem a little on the small side but that quickly passes after you see its fantastic sculpt which accurately captures the proportions of the Nirvash - bulky torso, skinny legs, big feet etc. The mix of colours really blends well too - white, red, grey, gold, they're all in there an look superbly faithful to the art of the series.

Nirvash's accessories include additional sets of hands (gripping hands and closed fists), boomerang weapons which can be stored in the shoulder pads and a huge rifle, complete with moveable scope and of course, the ref board which no Nirvash figure would be complete without. Best of all though, is that this Nirvash actually comes with a stand! And not just any stand, a fantastically sculpted trapar wave stand molded in translucent green. My only (minor) gripe is that the board attaches to the stand via a peg on the stand, which sadly means older Eureka Seven Robot Spirit figures (i.e. my Devilfish) can't make use of such a great stand. Nevertheless its a very small complaint as I'd have only used to stand with the Devilfish to take some action shots.

To me, this figure wasn't just worth the £30 I paid for it, it surpasses almost every mecha toy I've ever bought and is without a doubt one of my favourite toys I own period. Revoltech Gurren should be afraid, because he may not be holding that top spot much longer.

If you've watched Eureka Seven and buy mecha toys you need this figure. If you haven't watched Eureka Seven and but mecha toys go away, watch Eureka Seven and then buy this.

Monday, 28 June 2010

My personal top 10 anime villains

This list is designed to contain only those villains with no forms of redemption, so great characters like Greed, Viral and Vegeta were sadly off limits. Maybe one day I'll get round to doing a top 10 anti heroes list or something....

Still, without further ado;

10. Myotismon (Digimon Adventure)
Bent on killing the 8th Digidestined before he/she could become a threat to him, Myotismon broke free to the real world - taking children hostage and threatening to kill them if Gatomon (his once loyal minion who he tamed through) doesn't pick out the child. Then, if a battle with Angewomon wasn't enough to off him, he returns as VenomMyotismon and has to be taken out by 2 mega level digimon. And even that wasn't enough to kill him, as he would be resurrected in Digimon Adventure 02 as MaloMyotismon. Myotismon may not have been the most powerful villain in Digimon, but he sure was the most persistent.

Plus vampires were cool back then.

9. Cyrus (Pokemon)
Including a Pokemon character may seem like a bit of an odd choice, especially when its a character from long after the Pokemon anime had passed its sell-by date, but Team Galactic leader Cyrus was something the series had never really seen before - true evil. His plan to destroy the universe and create a new one just for himself made Pokemon watchable again and created a story arc that was thrilling from beginning to end. Oh, and someone 'died'. How often does that happen in Pokemon?

8. Director Kakuzawa (Elfen Lied)
He tortured children and wasn't afraid to admit it. Not only that, his main efforts were to replenish his Diclonius bloodline and gain the power of kings, wiping humanity of the face of the Earth in order for Diclonii to be the next stage in evolution. The Elfen Lied anime may not have covered the whole story, but it covered enough to see Kakuzawa have no contempt for anyone's life, whether they be human or Diclonius.

7. Kagato (Tenchi Muyo!)
Kagato may not have lasted very long in Tenchi, but his presence sure lasted throughout. Imprisoning his former mentor for five thousand years and pillaging the galaxy, Kagato has such little contempt for human life that he doesn't even find them worth killing. And he plays the pipe organ like a true badass.

6. Vicious (Cowboy Bebop)
I'm still pretty new to Cowboy Bebop, but I'm fairly sure this guy could get in the list on looks alone. But no, he has a hell of a personality to back it up. Smart, violent and the man who shattered Spike's life, Vicious is more than just your typical anime villain - and he helped make Bebop one hell of a viewing experience.

5. The Anti-Spiral (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann)
Simple in design but highly effective, the Anti-Spiral are a race that halted evolution for fear of the destruction of the universe and won't hesitate to stop anyone who doesn't agree with them. But they won't just kill you, they'll make you see the futility of your efforts and leave you in ultimate despair. The Anti-Spiral was pretty badass in the series, but be sure to watch the second Gurren Lagann movie to see it really shine.

4. Baron Ashura (Shin Mazinger Shougeki! Z Hen)
Ignoring the lesser versions of the character that appeared in the original Mazinger Z and Mazinkaiser, this is the most fully fleshed version of Ashura and therefore the best in my eyes. As a former priest (and priestess) of an ancient civilisation, it was revealed in the series that Ashura had been deformed and manipulated by Dr Hell to serve as his subordinate. Thirsty for revenge - it seemed as through Ashura had secretly sided with the heroes. But no. After offing Dr Hell, Ashura revealed his real plan - by getting rid of Dr Hell and then sacrificing himself Ashura unleashed the Mycene Empire back on the Earth and creates one of the greatest cliffhanger endings in anime. Not bad at all.

3. Grace O'Connor (Macross Frontier)
When I first watched Macross Frontier, Grace was the last person I was expecting to be villain of the series. What initially seemed like a calm and gentle manager of an intergalactic idol gave way to a cyborg who has no hesitation to use a weapon called a 'Dimension Eater' and merge with the Queen of an entire species of sentient aliens in a quest for power and knowledge. The whole sequence where she explains to Sheryl that she injected her with the fatal V-type virus and made Sheryl an idol just for her purposes shows how evil and manipulative she could be.

2. Cell (Dragonball Z)
This guy was the original anime super villain for me. Sure Vegeta was cooler, but he went on to become an anti-hero. This guy was arrogant and simply bad to the bone. An artificial life form created from the cells of some of the most powerful warriors, Cell was the ultimate fighter.

He's also the only villain in the series to successfully off Goku. How's that for effective?

1. Pride (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood)
With FMA:B taking it's story from the manga, there was quite a bit of Homunculus shifting from the original series. Gone were the first series' Wrath and Sloth, Fuhrer King Bradley (Pride in the first series) went on the become Wrath and Sloth was an entirely new hulking brute. The only one left was Pride - the most powerful of the Homunculi. And how much more evil could you get than making Pride a child. Whatever Pride was doing, he looked evil, and being made of shadows with multiple giant eyes only served to make Pride even better. Pretty much every character was made better in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, but as far as villains go, Pride just can't be beaten.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Game REVIEW: Doctor Who Adventure Games episode 2 - "Blood of the Cybermen"

City of the Daleks was a mixed bag. As a Dalek fan I highly enjoyed the game, but it did leave some things to be desired - the game didn't run particularly well for me, the plot seemed rushed and the game play was repetitive (with far too many steady hand type games). But for a free game it was more than enough to satisfy and I hoped that the next installment 'Blood of the Cybermen' would build upon some of these mistakes. And it did.

Set, the Doctor and Amy encounter an Arctic exploration team over ran by Cybermats, who have injected the team with a nano virus to make them zombified Cyberslaves. These Cyberslaves in turn are being used to free a Cybership crashed that into the ice long ago. Feels very much like a homage to John Carpenter's The Thing, and is in fact even mentioned within the game itself!

Admittedly the game play isn't that much different to City - missions, puzzles, sneaking etc, somehow it manages to feel like a far better experience as a whole. The game may benefit from the fact the Cybermen themselves aren't present from the get-go, instead only turning up in the final act as opposed to dodging Daleks right away in City. The Cyberslaves are quite an interesting sub race, zombified humans with cybernetic parts. Something I'd quite like to see turn up in the series rather than the diabolical CyberShades of The Next Doctor. They aren't quite as attentive as Daleks - so the sneaking is a little easier if just as repetitive. However much like before keep an eye on Amy, I was killed several times by her getting spotted following along behind me.

The game isn't that long (I finished it in just over 2 hours) but for a free game that's a pretty good length and the various collectables does make for good replay value.

But for me the biggest question lies in just which kind of Cybermen the ones present in Blood are. While its instantly apparent that they have the design and mannerisms (delete, upgrade, lightning bolt powers etc) of the parallel world Cybus industries models present in Nu-Who, there are also a lot of elements that to suggest that perhaps these are in fact Mondasian Cybermen. The first and perhaps most significant one lies within the plot itself - an Arctic excavation team finding a crashed Cybermen spaceship. Now until The Pandorica Opens (and even that isn't 100% proof), Cybus Cybermen have not only seemed uninterested but also incapable of space travel. The ship itself buried within the ice also looks strikingly similar to the tombs of Telos seen in the (arguably best) Cyberman story Tomb of the Cybermen. The ship also had to have crashed in the past in order for it to have been covered in that much ice - Cybusmen are even less adept at time travel. Mondasian Cybermen (while they have crude knowledge of it) wouldn't need to have time travelled because of their origins.

Next comes the inclusion of the Cybermats - a creature not seen Revenge of the Cybermen in the 70s and connected closely to the Cybermen of the Troughton era. While it is again not impossible to conceive that parallel earth Cybermen would use Cybermats, much like the concept of space travel it is a huge leap to have these seemingly primative Cybermen suddenly using nanotech viruses to turn skin straight into metal. Finally and initially the most obvious is the lack of the Cybus 'C' on the chest of the monsters - instead they have a simplified design of their face, as do the Cybermats. Again this is a trait common with Troughton era Cybermen.

Either way it doesn't detract from the story and its fun to guess as to which Cybermen these really are. If they do turn out to be Mondasians, I'm somewhat glad they haven't been completely redesigned because I am actually quite fond of the design itself.

While it may feel shorter, Blood of the Cybermen is definitely a step up from City of the Daleks in terms of gameplay and how smoothly it runs. The plot is also very good, and wouldn't have felt out of place as a proper episode. If you're in the UK and have a computer that can run this game I do recommend giving it a go - with a lack of Dr Who until Christmas this will kill the wait for a few hours.

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who Season 5 - An overview.

After 4 years of David Tennant and 5 years of Russel T Davies as head writer, 2010 saw Doctor Who rebranded and reborn with Matt Smith taking up the role of 11th Doctor and Steven Moffat moving up to head writer for the series. While fan opinions seems generally positive and optimistic for the change on the writing side of things opinions remained divided on whether Smith could deliver in the lead role and fill the shoes left by his predecessor. And he did it. Remarkably.

Bursting in with The Eleventh Hour (★★★★★) Matt Smith made his presence known as the Doctor while simultaneously sticking somewhat to Tennant's Doctor template in order to smooth the transition. Karen Gillan's debut as companion Amy Pond proved just as successful in creating a dynamic that would be crucial in helping carry the series - the relationship between Doctor and companion. Throw in some clip footage of previous Doctors, the first of what would be many references/homages to the classic series (something I felt the RTD era was lacking) and foreshadowing of future events and we were given a story that didn't grate like usual new Doctor/ companion stories do, even if it had some of the BBC's standard dodgy CGI.

Next came The Beast Below (★★★★★), a seemingly more low key story that really gave Matt Smith a chance to flesh out his Doctor's character. And that he did. Smith's Doctor is the perfect blend of Troughton and Tom Baker, with a little hint of McCoy's dark side - all wrapped up with some brilliant acting. Smith's Doctor is the first in a while that has really felt alien, and his outburst at the episodes conclusion really demonstrated some of the range he's capable of.

Victory of the Daleks (★★★) promised big things, but ultimately was the first decidedly average episode of the season. Despite some great acting from the cast (especially Ian McNeice as Winston Churchill) this story felt incredibly rushed and really could have benefitted from the multiple part format of old. The WW2/Ironside scenario lasted all of 5 minutes (feeling more like a brief homage to Power of the Daleks than an actual story set up), and all the story served to do was introduce the newly designed Daleks (in a variety of different flavours). Fan reception is certainly mixed on the redesign, but there was nothing really action-wise to judge them on. The highlight of this episode was certainly Smith holding the Daleks back with a single Jammy Dodger.

The Time of the Angels (★★★★) saw the return of both Moffat's Weeping Angels and the character of River Song. While I love the concept of this character, I find the execution very poor and she comes off as little more than smug and annoying. Despite this, as promised the episode felt very much like the Aliens to Blink's Alien - complete with Marines! As the first 2-parter of the season it left with a very good cliffhanger and Flesh and Stone (★★★★★) continued the story feeling even better than its predecessor. We gain some valuable information about the cracks present throughout the series, Gillan and Smith keep going from strength to strength and those with a keen eye will notice an 'incorrect' scene that perhaps isn't all that it seemed.

After a thrilling 2-parter, Vampires of Venice (★★) feels like a huge let down. The story really felt like it was written for Tennant's Doctor rather than Smith's, and featured a resolution that wouldn't have felt out of place in the RTD era, along with some terrible looking CGI fish aliens. The episode's only saving graces were its opening sequence and a proper introduction to the character of Rory Williams - present in The Eleventh Hour but here we get a proper look at him.

Amy's Choice (★★★★★) seemed like it was going to be the first proper dud of the series from the previews, but it proved to be anything but. Rory began to feel more and more at home in the Smith/Gillan dynamic and the episode contained some fantastic insight into both the minds of Rory and the Doctor. It's only let down was the explaination of the chain of events at the very end - which felt very much like an after thought, especially with such a great character like the Dream Lord.

The Hungry Earth (★★★) boasted the return of the Silurians, but it came at the cost of them being reinvented into something almost indistinguishable from the Silurians of old. This was explained in-show as them being a different sub-division to the originals and out-show as an attempt to make them more emotive, but giving them human features made them more ape-like, which in turn felt contradictory to the whole premise of Silurians in the first place. Hungry Earth was boring and slow paced, feeling like a very drawn out set up to the far better second part Cold Blood (★★★★★). Character-wise the Silurians felt right and the emotion was high as we said goodbye to Rory, who by now had more than earned his place in the TARDIS despite having early reservations about his lastabiliy. Despite Rory fading out of time, having never existed and his finacee Amy forgetting he ever existed, I was sure this wouldn't be the last we saw of him. At this stage, what interested me more was the 'shrapnel' the Doctor found in the crack in time....

Fan consensus on this episode might be overwhelmingly positive, but I couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed by Vincent and the Doctor (★★★) . Some magnificent acting from Tony Curran as Van Gogh and an honest stab at an earnest mental health commentary, but the episode suffered from a poorly realised plot which resulted in a somewhat disjointed experience. While the sentiment of its ending certainly can’t be faulted, it tried too hard to pull at the viewer’s heartstrings - with that often overwhelming musical score desperately trying to signpost when the viewer should be emotional. The episode will forever be remembered for its intent and that’s something writer Richard Curtis should be proud of, but structurally this episode could have been far more than simply the sum of its parts.

Featuring James Corden in an episode was never going to amount to much, but a chance for Matt Smith to be his Doctor and live among humans gave The Lodger (★★★★) worthwhile status. Sure the plot amounts to two people saving the planet by the power of love, and James Corden is as annoying as ever, but seeing the Doctor play football, run around in just a towel and generally be awkward around people rocketed Matt Smith to the position of my second favourite Doctor (just after Jon Pertwee).

The came the finale. The Pandorica Opens (★★★★★) set the stakes pretty darn high. A story with a lot of great twists and turns and a cliffhanger to rival even the best among the huge history of Doctor Who. River Song returned but felt far less annoying among a bigger cast, and Rory's 'miraculous' return created some great exchanges between Darvill and Smith. The Big Bang (★★★★★) on the other hand didn't feel quite so epic in terms of scale, but after endless 'big' finales from RTD that had fallen flat on their face in the last 5 minutes this really was a case of less is more. Jumping back and forth in time in order to create a consistent chain of events felt like something Who should have covered long ago, and the main plot of the story was so Red Dwarf I find it hard to believe it wasn't deliberate ("Jumpstart the second Big Bang?"). After a teary goodbye to the Doctor a happy ending with Amy and Rory finally getting married was well deserved. The episode served to answer many of the questions raised both in and out of the plot throughout the series (including the infamous sequence in Flesh and Stone) but also managed to leave a few hanging to add some more anticipation to season six. The mystery of River Song won't be staying a mystery for much longer. Speaking of River Song, Daleks don't beg for mercy. Ever. That's all I have to say on the matter.

So there we have, Matt Smith proved himself to be undoubtedly the best Doctor since the show's relaunch, the Smith/Gillan/Darvill team is a perfect formula which will continue into the Christmas special and the next season and TV has just said goodbye to the best season of Doctor Who in a long time. Long live Moffat's reign, long live the Eleventh Doctor.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Toybox REVIEW: Revoltech SFX Gamera

The brand new Sci-Fi Revoltech line is devoted to movie characters from both Eastern and Western cinema. So far we've had a Xenomorph (Alien), Jack Skellington (The Nightmare Before Christmas) and in the near future we'll be seeing the likes of Batman, Woody and Buzz from Toy Story and even a Jurassic Park T-Rex. But on the Japanese side are some of my most anticipated figures from this line - kaiju. First came Baragon, but hot on his heels were Gamera and Gyaos, and next will be Mothra, Moguera, Anguiras and hopefully more to come. Gamera is my first purchase of the line, and before I even begin the review I can definitely say for sure that I'll be coming back for more!

To start let me just comment on the packaging (which, let's be honest, is a rarity for me) - it is simply gorgeous. Instead of a standard window box this line is treated to velcro sealed book style boxes, with Japanese text (at a guess I'd say either information about the movie or comments from the sculptor - but I don't read Japanese sorry!) and images from Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (my absolute favourite monster movie) covering the inside front. Opening the window cover reveals the figure in all his turtle-y glory. This is the kind of packaging that is perfect for MISB packaging, however I'm not one for that sort of thing (in most cases) and so I opened him up straight away.

My first comment would be that Gamera is indeed a small figure, perhaps too small. Most revoltech figures tower over him, and despite his bulk I wouldn't go as far as saying it makes up for his lack of height. However, Gamera was never the tallest of Kaiju and so scales rather well with his nemesis Gyaos (from what I can tell from photos anyway, I haven't got around to buying the figure just yet). He only contains a few revolver joints - but then there aren't that many to actually place them, and the fantastic posability of his tail just about makes up for it. He does also include a few hinge joints, particularly in his hands (which can be switched between fists and open claws) and his jaw to recreate some great roaring poses. His accessories include and mid-air fireball which snugly fits inside his mouth and a extra crotch piece to incorporate one of the best accessories I've seen on a figure - a rocket exhaust stand! Perfect for launching your very own rocket powered turtle into the stratosphere!

While Gamera is a great and fun figure with tons of personality, his diminutive stature and (in terms of revoltech) lack of posability stops him from hitting the top spot. However, I am very impressed with how the SFX line is shaping up and can't wait to pick up the rest of the kaiju that have been announced. Here's hoping there's a Revoltech Godzilla planned somewhere down the line!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Toybox REVIEW: 1/144 Scale Gundam Sandrock Custom

Gundam was a franchise I was never supposed to enter. With a huge range of mecha spanning over numerous years and numerous series, I knew that if I ever watched a series I'd start buying them, and it would only be a downward spiral from there. Watching Gundam Wing changed all that. Luckily right now its the only series I've watched (so there's not too many suits to get), and choosing the 1/144 scale (so that the kits are roughly in scale with other mecha lines such as Revoltech and Robot Damashii) has provided me with some relatively cheap options. The one I'm reviewing here - Quatre's Gundam Sandrock Custom from the OVA/film Endless Waltz, cost me a measly £3.11 during HLJ's free shipping week. Even if the figure turned out to be rubbish, I consider that a bargain.

Construction is fairly straightforward - 7 sets of runners and a 12 step guide to completion. While the figure itself isn't much (it looks great, but at the end of the day it looks like a standard Gundam - nothing really to make it stand out like the rest of the Wing suits have), the true beauty of the kit lies in its weaponary. Featuring a shield and 2 huge crescent blades, Sandrock is certainly well armed. These weapons can also be held/stored in quite a variety of blades - Sandrock can wield them, it can store them in its backpack or they can attach to shield to make an enormous pincer weapon. For such a cheap figure, that's quite an array of possibilities.

The kit not only has a variety of hands for posing but also the parts for an extra "action" torso to get even more poses out of it! Paint isn't required for the figure but I'd recommend some touching up nonetheless (especially on the blades since they're moulded in white plastic). In short, while it may not give off the epic aura of the Deathscythe Hell or the Wing Zero, the Sandrock is still a very fun and satisfying kit to build. And if you're a Gundam fan, how can you say no at that price?