Friday, 31 July 2020

Toybox REVIEW: Super Mini-Pla Sun Vulcan Robo

Super Mini-Pla Sun Vulcan Robo 01

Release Date: February 2020
RRP: 5720 yen

1981’s Taiyo Sentai Sun Vulcan is notable for a number of different reasons. It is currently the only Super Sentai series to be a direct sequel to its predecessor, as well as the only team to be entirely comprised of men. But from a merchandise perspective it also added a significant staple to the franchise - a combining robot. Mecha had been a part of Sentai since Battle Fever J, but it wasn’t until Sun Vulcan that they were made of multiple vehicle components. Now Sun Vulcan Robo, the first combining Super Sentai robot, has joined Bandai’s Super Mini-Pla range - the model kit line that’s quickly become home to updates of these classic mecha. Though Sun Vulcan Robo was the only general retail item from the series it certainly didn’t come alone, with both the giant Jaguar Vulcan carrier and SODO versions of the team joining it as Premium Bandai exclusive items.


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Super Mini-Pla Sun Vulcan Robo is separated into two boxes, which themselves have then been packed into a larger monochrome box sporting numerous images of the model and its individual components. Considering that once upon a time these were just one colour shipper boxes with just a bit of text slapped on them, it’s impressive that Bandai have gone to such lengths to make these boxes likely to be ignored look this good. 

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For the main boxes Bandai have produced another amazing recreation of the original DX toy packaging, taking us right back to Sun Vulcan’s original release in 1981. It feels like a bit of a waste that in doing so the backside of the box is completely blank, but I have nothing but admiration for what Bandai have been doing with these boxes. Sun Vulcan Robo’s packaging is printed horizontally as opposed to the usual vertically, but still features some great images of the toy (printed in place of the old DX toy) against a Japanese flag backdrop. The corner of the front also features an image of the Sun Vulcan team, which is always nice to see alongside the robot itself.

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The set is split up into two separate boxes - each featuring a different vehicle as well as a piece of that familiar Bandai candy we all know and love. Each box features parts moulded in a number of different colours, as well as some separated pieces already pre-painted - a staple for the Super Mini-Pla line. Also included in the box are three metal chains - two smaller ones packed in with Bull Vulcan and one longer one with Cosmo Vulcan. These can easily get lost in amongst all the parts, so be sure not to forget about them when taking everything out of the bags. Each box also contains building instructions printed on a flyer, with a third flyer providing combination instructions.

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The first box of the set contains all the necessary pieces needed to build Cosmo Vulcan, the high-speed jet piloted by Vul Eagle. This is a triangular shaped vehicle with the wings built into the body, giving it a shape that’s both futuristic and retro at the same time. For such a simple-looking vehicle the build process for the model is actually very interesting, as it has a huge number of moving parts that are required to have it transform into the Robo’s body and upper arms. There’s quite a few stickers required for some of the finer detailing, but as is typically the case with these models the majority of it is moulded onto the pieces if you’d rather paint it yourself. The only exceptions are some of the tech detailing, and the straight red lines running across the sides of the vehicle. You could still paint those stripes on yourself, but there’s nothing to mark exactly where they should be or how thick they are.

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Cosmo Vulcan is a great looking model but doesn’t really have anything in the way of individual features. The triangle shape means the wings are completely built into the body, and even all the flaps and hinges are really only there to aid the transformation. Unlike a lot of mini-pla it also doesn’t really have a good place to plug a display stand into either, so while flying poses aren’t impossible it does require a little of fiddling about with the stand first. Not an issue by any means, and still an excellent looking model.

Super Mini-Pla Bull Vulcan 01

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The second box features Bull Vulcan, a twin bulldozer-esque vehicle piloted by Vul Shark and Vul Panther. Like Cosmo the design straddles the line between retro and futuristic, and these days feels like more of an outlier in Super Sentai mecha components since it doesn’t really look like any discernible vehicle. It is however armed to the teeth, sporting side mounted missile launchers, front mounted shovels and twin cranes at the top of each tower. Build-wise is a fairly simple one since it’s effectively building the same piece twice, but does have some interesting intricacies which again contrive to Sun Vulcan Robo’s transformation process.

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But unlike Cosmo, Bull Vulcan has plenty of playability and features unique to this vehicle mode. The shovels at the bottom of the vehicle can lift, the guns on either side of the body can rotate and then the crane arms at the very of the top of the vehicle are able to do both. The claws at the end of each chain are in a fixed position, but are still able to grip onto certain things provided they’re the right size. It’s a nice amount of features for such an odd-looking vehicle, and though the main selling point of these kits (as well as the DX toys for that matter) may be the robot modes it’s always nice to see the individual vehicles have some function in their own right.

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Side by side the Sun Vulcan vehicles look great, with a good sense of scaling between them so you can see how each one effectively makes half a robot. The exciting part is bringing them together though, especially seeing how these two very distinct shapes make such a blocky and kibble free robot. Preparing Cosmo Vulcan to become the top half of the mecha is a case pulling the cockpit of the jet back to reveal the head, with the nosecone then compacting inside the piece it's attached to. The sides of the jet then fold in to meet the folded cockpit, creating a perfect rectangle shape. However this is actually the back of the robot, and while the front follows a similar transformation it's just so much more satisfying to do. Firstly all the landing gear needs to be removed and reattached to the back, and then the front and sides can be folded down in the same way. Seeing this entirely black surface reshape into Sun Vulcan Robo's torso is pretty intuitive, and it just goes to show that a transformation doesn't have to be complicated to be effective.

For the lower half Bull Vulcan predictably splits in two, and the crane pieces need to be removed from the top to reveal the plugs needed to fix the two halves together. What's far more interesting is what's going on either side – where the tracks fold up inside the frame and then the whole thing just compacts to form the legs. The shovel pieces fold into the feet, and the forearms neatly stored inside of the feet are released to be attached. Everything else is just a simple case of plugging it all together.

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Bringing the vehicles gives you the mighty Sun Vulcan Robo, a classic styled super robot with a much more uniform colour scheme compared to what Super Sentai robots would become. The body is almost entirely blue and silver, which spots of red and yellow dashed around to bring up those solid colours (as well as presumably make it a little more “Sun” themed). The Super Mini-Pla model has recreated the suit design extremely well, and with the exception of the jet pieces folded up on the back created a pretty seamless looking robot. If you were to take a look at Sun Vulcan Robo without any prior knowledge of it whatsoever, I think you’d have a pretty hard time saying what it transformed into (or at the very least guessing the shape of the components). The design team kept it simple and that really paid off, because everything about it just works. 

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It’s been a long while since there was a proper Sun Vulcan Robo toy and articulation has come a long way since then, so it goes without saying that this is by far the most poseable version on the market. The unreleased Super Robot Chogokin version would have perhaps surpassed it, but then again that wouldn’t have been able to transform. Altogether this model kit ball joints in the head, wrists and feet along with waist, bicep, thigh and lower arm swivels, hinged elbows, double hinged knees and fully rotatable shoulders and hips. The skirt flaps can also all raise individually to give the hips a full range of movement. All of that sounds impressive enough on its own, but what makes it even better are a pair of hidden butterfly joints hidden inside that torso. Using these the shoulders can pull outward and closer to the torso, allowing the arms to come closer together provide a significantly wider range of movement. Combined with legs that can comfortably pull off a full 180 degree splits, you’ve got a very well engineered figure. 

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Sun Vulcan Robo also comes with a great array of accessories too, taking us back to the days when Super Sentai mecha had more than one weapon. Included here are an alternate pair of posed open hands, the Solar Sword, Vul Shield, Vul Tonfa and Vul Hand. The latter's name doesn't really explain exactly what it is, but it's a giant articulated claw on the end of a massive chain. The weak link in the pack here is definitely the Tonfa – the details/colouring are almost entirely stickers and the hand can't really grip it at all, let alone like a tonfa. Still, the fact it was included definitely doesn't go unappreciated. The other weapons are all much more exciting albeit simplistic in design. All fit comfortably in the robot's fist hands, and the sword can even peg onto the open hands as well if you'd prefer. Better still, thanks to those extendable shoulder joints Sun Vulcan Robo can even hold the sword with two hands! The sword and shield are naturally going to be most people's default combo but I definitely have a soft spot for the Vul Hand – it's just such an unusual weapon for a Super Sentai robot and the inclusion of the metal chain really makes it feel that little bit more premium.

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Given the line's track record over the last year or two, it shouldn't be any surprise to hear that Super Mini-Pla Sun Vulcan Robo is another winner for Super Sentai model kits. While Sun Vulcan may have featured relatively simple looking vehicles, the ingenious and interactive way they combine into a gloriously retro super robot immediately made them stand out. This incredibly satisfying transformation have been faithfully brought over to this kit, along with new articulation updates that make these figures more poseable than ever before. While the Super Robot Chogokin version never leaving prototype hell was a huge injustice, if we had to sacrifice that in order to get the Super Mini-Pla then it's hard to be upset about the trade-off.

1 comment:

Captain Catbug said...

I wish these Minipla weren't so hard to get in the US. They are astounding and getting harder and harder to secure.