Tuesday 25 May 2010

Toybox REVIEW: Kotobukiya Gurren Lagann TengenKadou Grapearl Darry Custom model kit

Ah Kotobukiya, once again you have come to my rescue and provided me with an alternative to the Gurren Lagann mecha that no toy company has made figures of.

The TengenKadou Grapearl Darry Custom is one of three grapearl model kits available from Kotobukiya (the other two being the Gimmy Custom and the mass production general version) is far more complicated (and more expensive!) than the other two GL kits I've bought from the company in the past - the King Kittan and the Dayakkaiser. Upon opening the box I was suprised to see a total of 15 different runners (some are duplicates for arms/legs etc.) for a 28 step kit.

Upon completion I was treated to a highly detailed Grapearl figure that required very little painting (only a little bit of detailing around the chest 'teeth') that is perfectly scaled with the rest of my Gurren Lagann figure collection, which is made up mostly of Revoltechs. However there are the few flaws which really hinder both its posability and playability.

The first of which is the arms. The elbow joint piece that holds the arm together outright refused to lock into place, resulting in the arms falling off a lot during posing. And while super glue can fix this, in doing so you'll instantly lose the ability to rotate the joint for a wider variety of poses. My second issue is with the figure's signature weapon - the spin barrier rifle. The gun itself is marvellous (highly detailed, but requiring paint) but the sheer size of the gun means that the back of it presses against the forearm, meaning in order for the figure to be able to hold the gun without the arm without the fist popping apart and/or the whole arm falling off (remember: weak arms) it has to hold it at an angle other than directly forward. If you aren't too picky about what pose you have the figure in you'll get over it quickly though, because wielding dual pistols is pretty damn awesome too.

The addition of a base is a very nice bonus, but for the amount the model kit costs I can't help to feel a little underwhelmed. Luckily HLJ had this on offer so I don't feel SO bad about the purchase (the Gimmy custom is on offer too, but the general is still at full price...yikes). Still, model kits aren't about playability and this is the only way to get a proper Grapearl figure so if you're as serious about Gurren Lagann collecting as I am, I suppose the purchase is worth every penny in the long run.

Friday 14 May 2010

Anime REVIEW: Mazinkaiser

After being won over by Shin Mazinger, I felt it was time to dig back a bit and see what else the Mazinger Z franchise had to offer. 2001-2002's Mazinkaiser is a 7 OVA (+ 1 "movie") continuation/spin off of the original Mazinger Z and its successor Great Mazinger. After Mazinger Z is defeated by Dr Hell and Baron Ashura's army of mechanical beasts, pilot Koji Kabuto stumbles upon a secret laboratory build by his grandfather, containing the most powerful robot ever built, the Mazinkaiser.

All I can say is, after seeing this I fully realised how much Shin Mazinger brought to the franchise. The fight scenes in Mazinkaiser are pretty spectacular, particularly in the final 2 OVA's and the movie, but everything else is a massive step down in comparison. Despite there being a far smaller cast of characters in Mazinkaiser, characterisation is at its lowest. Personalities are paper thin and nobody really develops at all throughout the series. Koji is a hot head, Aphrodite A pilot Sayaka jealous love interest, Boss is the comic relief etc. Baron Ashura, by far the most fully fleshed out and interesting character in Shin Mazinger, is nothing more than a snivelling lackey to Dr Hell in this continuity. While the art is top notch, it blends cartoon-y style characters with more detailed ones, and this can be particularly throwing at times.

Mazinkaiser is also fully aware of its demographic, and is sure to cater to that. The fanservice in this series is at ridiculous levels (particularly episode 4, which ironically enough is a beach episode), with explosions, breasts and giant robots around every corner. Not so bad if that's what you enjoy in an anime, but this series is about as complex as a 2 piece jigsaw puzzle. The film has a little more depth to it, but since its a homage to a film from the original Mazinger Z it does fall a little flat if you haven't seen the original. What I will say though is the Mazinkaiser docking sequence is EPIC.

In short, for a formulaic action/mecha series that's big on action and low on plot, Mazinkaiser is at the top of its game. And to be perfectly honest, it doesn't ever try to be any more than that. It's extremely enjoyable for what it is, but Shin Mazinger remains superior in every single way.

Thursday 13 May 2010

My top 5 epic anime intros

5. Rock the Dragon - Shuki Levy and Kussa Mahehi (DRAGONBALL Z)

The first of 2 slightly unexpected intros in my top 5 is the only english dub opening that made it into my list. Dragonball Z was my first proper anime so this will always have a special place in my heart, but one can't deny the catchiness of this song, which also suits the tone and content of DBZ perfectly. The only thing I ever found a bit strange was how the intro footage was comprised almost entirely of scenes that never appear in the series.

4. Transformers Evo - JAM Project (TRANSFORMERS ANIMATED)

Okay okay TECHNICALLY it isn't an anime, but the intro for the recently released japanese dub of Transformers Animated deserves its place in this list. Performed by the band JAM Project (who are responsible for a huge range of hot blooded epic anime openings), the song may not fit the show's content perfectly and the opening footage is both inaccurate and spoilerific, but who the hell cares? This is epic robot on robot action music at it's finest!


I may have only watched this series recently, but I fell in love with this song as soon as I heard it. The band ULTIMATE LAZY for MAZINGER is a collaboration between the bands Lazy and JAM Project, proving that the latter really do have a talent for writing epic robot anime intros. All together now...BURN IT UP! MAZIN GO!

2. Ready Steady Go - L'Arc-en-Ciel (FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST)

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood may have surpassed it's predecessor in almost every way, but there's still one thing that the original stands triumphant over. Ready Steady Go is the perfectly blend of galloping guitars and funky basslines, resulting in one of the catchiest and most memorable anime openings my ears have ever had the pleasure of hearing.

1. Lion - May'N & Megumi Nakajima (MACROSS FRONTIER)

Macross Frontier has a soundtrack which (in my humble opinion) puts most animes to shame. But if there was one song that could sum up the epicness of both the characters and action of the series, it would certainly be this one. Topping it off is that unlike the first opening Triangular, Lion is performed by in series characters Sheryl Nome (May'N) and Ranka Lee (Megumi Nakajima), making it arguably a canonical song for the series too. Hooray!

Monday 10 May 2010

Anime REVIEW: Shin Mazinger Shougeki! Z Hen

Mazinger Z
is a piece of anime history. First airing in 1972, it was a pioneer in super robot and mecha series – the first ever to use mechas being piloted by humans. The series saw hero Koji Kabuto pilot the Mazinger Z robot battle the evil Dr Hell and his mechanical beast army. 2009 saw a reimagining of this landmark anime - Shin Mazinger Shougeki! Z Hen (or “True Mazinger Impact! Z Chapter”), that also incorporated many other of creator Go Nagai’s works – such as the manga spinoff Z Mazinger, Violent Jack and Mao Dante, among others.

In the near future, a mineral known as "Japanium" is discovered under Mt. Fuji. This ore is discovered to produce a powerful energy source known as "Photon Energy". Dr. Juzo Kabuto and his associates have begun researching Photon Energy, planning to use it as a solution to the energy crisis plaguing the earth, when the nefarious Dr. Hell and his associate, Baron Ashura attack his lab. Along with this, the mysterious "Kurogane House" also has begun to become entwined with the affairs of these two parties. During all of this, Juzo's grandchildren, Kouji and Shiro, encounter one of Baron Ashura's robots on its way to attack Dr. Kabuto's mansion, where he has begun work on his greatest invention. Dr. Kabuto, seeing the danger at hand, sends out the Pilder to Kouji, allowing him to combine with the giant robot, Mazinger Z, to fight against Dr. Hell's forces.

Much as was the case with Macross Frontier, the anime is entirely possible to enjoy on its own merits without having seen the original Mazinger or any other of the shows referenced - unlike Frontier this is not a continuation of the franchise, but a reboot per se. I hadn't seen anything Mazinger or Go Nagai related prior to this and my enjoyment of the series certainly wasn't hindered. However the series certainly keeps the charm of super robot animes of old – particularly in the realms of character design, for both the humans and robots. The robots themselves, while you may initially perceive them as cartoony, really help keep the retro feel of Mazinger and set it apart from the (in this man’s opinion) hoard of similar looking mecha designs of today.

What IS different about Shin Mazinger though is the tone. Gone is the campiness of the 70s, replaced with a plot dedicated to not only glorious robot battling action, but also a storyline that draws heavily on continuity and character development. Of particular note is Dr Hell’s subordinate Baron Ashura, a half man, half woman combination resurrected from the remains of an ancient race. His (her? Its?) progression really helps drive the series, right up to its final episode – which has one of the biggest and best cliffhanger endings I have ever seen. Some episodes (particularly episodes 13 to 15) are REALLY dark.

My only word of warning is this – make sure the first episode doesn’t put you off. Shin Mazinger really throws its audience in at the deep end, beginning with the final battle between the Mazinger Corps and Dr Hell’s armies. It’s a completely confusing affair, and possibly the only thing newcomers to Mazinger will get out of it is probably “ooh shiny robots and epic fight sequences!” However the second episode starts neatly with an origin story and it’s all uphill from there.

With original robot designs, a cast of both interesting and humorous characters, epic fight sequences, Greek gods, ancient civilisations, a robot THAT CAN TURN INTO A FIST, over the top shouting of attack names, an ending that guarantees to leave you wanting more and opening themes by JAM Project (responsible for 90% of the world’s most epic anime music) this really is a series that will not disappoint any mecha fan. Gurren Lagann may have set the bar for epic manly robot anime, but if anything is a worthy contender, its Mazinger Z.


Tuesday 4 May 2010

Anime REVIEW: Gundam Wing

For a long time I've always had an outside appreciation of the Gundam franchise - the mobile suits/mecha were an appeal but the numerous series (each with a significant episode number) were always a bit of a put off and left me confused about where to start. But now I've finally taken a dive into the world of Gundam and begun with the first series to be set outside the main Gundam universe - the series probably best known to the Western world due to its prominence on Toonami's anime block during the early noughties. I'm talking about the one and only Mobile Suit Gundam Wing.

The plot, which to be honest is rather difficult to summarise and so I'm going to cite wikipedia, is as follows:
In the distant future, Mankind has colonized space, and, down on the Earth, the nations have united as the United Earth Sphere Alliance. However, the city Alliance oppresses the colonies with its military power. The colonies desire a peaceful resolution to the situation, joining together in a movement headed by the pacifist Heero Yuy. In the year After Colony 175, Yuy is shot dead by an assassin, forcing the colonies to search for other paths to peace. The assassination also prompts five disaffected scientists from the Organization of the Zodiac, much more commonly referred to as OZ, to turn rogue after the completion of the mobile suit prototype Tallgeese.

The story of Gundam Wing begins in the year After Colony 195, with the start of "Operation: Meteor," the scientists' plan for revenge against the OZ military organization. The operation involves five teenaged boys who have each been chosen and trained by one of the five rogue scientists, then sent to Earth independently in extremely advanced mobile suits, one designed by each of the scientists, known as "Gundams." Their mobile suits are called Gundams because they are constructed from a rare and astonishingly durable material known as Gundanium alloy, which can only be created in outer space. Each Gundam is sent from a different colony and the pilots are initially unaware of the presence of the other pilots.

While this is the main gist of the story, it certainly doesn't remain this simple. The balance of power is forever shifting in the series - characters regularly are deposed or rendered powerless, paving the way for another character or group to become the 'main threat' for a while. One minute it'll be Treize Khushrenada (Head of Oz), next its the Romefeller Foundation, followed by rebel group White Fang, and so on. This is by no means a bad thing as it certainly creates a far better feeling of a proper ongoing war rather than have 2 straightforward sides. Arguably no character in the series has wholly bad intentions either - each side has their own beliefs and methods on how to achieve peace. Even the Gundam pilots themselves make some questionable moves at times, again making it far better viewing than just watching simply good vs evil.

However my praise for the series can also be balanced out with a fair amount of criticisms, firstly relating back to the point I made about the balance of power constantly shifting. While this is far better in terms of story telling and realism, it can make episodes drag on at times. That's not to say that there's any filler material, because there isn't - it just seems really really drawn out. You could argue that this relates to the toil of war, which is a fair assessment. This certainly isn't an all action mecha series nor does it ever pretend to be, but I felt either the series could have done with less episodes or filling the 49 episodes up with a bit better material. While the suit designs are marvellous, I can't honestly say there's one battle in the entire series that stands out in my mind. The final episode's Wing Zero vs Epyon battle fell especially flat.

My main criticism lies with lead protagonist and Wing Gundam pilot Heero Yuy. It is very rare that I out a main character for being so poorly written, but this guy really takes the cake. He's just written to be so perfect. Aside from a mishap involving killing a plane full of pacifists (his most interesting moment in the series) he's constantly presented as the centre of attention and the most effective fighter in the series. While the "cold, calculating, efficient solider" most certainly is an interesting way to present him, the series seems to completely forget the fact that he's supposed to be arguably the most human of them all. While I've been told that there is a prequel manga volume that covers a lot of his back story and explains why he is the way he is - this is barely hinted at in the series itself. Putting such important character information in expanded fiction does not make good story telling! The series is 49 episodes long, I'm sure they could have fitted it in somewhere, even if it was done very briefly. Thankfully the rest of the Gundam pilots are a much better bunch and play off of each other very well - wisecracking Duo (my personal favourite), badass Trowa, flawed Quatre and loner Wufei. The most interesting character however is most certainly Milliardo Peacecraft/Zechs Merquise. His portrayal and evolution is among the best I've witnessed in anime and I was glued to every second he was on screen.

However the review doesn't end there! Following on from the series comes the sequel movie/3-part OVA Endless Waltz. Set one year after the series' conclusion, the Gundam pilots reunite to fight a new threat from the Barton Foundation and Treize's daughter, 7 year old Mariemaia Khushrenada.

After such a disappointing end to the Gundam Wing series, Endless Waltz was a very pleasant surprise. Not only did it manage to keep the overall war tone and themes of the original series, it also managed to provide everything I felt the series was lacking. The pacing was perfect and kept my interest throughout, each pilot got (very brief - but this is good as it kept some element of mystery) flashbacks concerning their history, the battles looked fantastic (especially Wing Zero vs Altron, which trounced everything the series had offered within the first 30 seconds) and Heero finally became a respectable character in my eyes. And all it took was one little flashback about a little girl and her dog. Little references back to this in the movie really made me feel Heero WAS the most humane of the Gundam pilots, and when he "kills" Mariemaia at the very end, I was completely sold on him. If the series had that, maybe I wouldn't be so critical.

Admittedly the Gundam redesigns threw me a bit to begin with, but it wasn't long before I got used to them. The quality of them however ranges - from fantastic/better than the originals (Wing Zero, Tallgeese Mk 3) to good (Altron, Deathscythe Hell) to horrid (Heavyarms, Sandrock).

If this was just a review of Endless Waltz, it would without question be receiving a 5/5. However this is meant to review Gundam Wing as a whole, and the faults the series carries means that its going to fall just short of that. In conclusion, Gundam Wing wasn't what I expected it to be at all - the mecha play second fiddle to a group of (on the whole) well written characters embroiled in what really does feel like war. It's just a pity it has that drag factor and little fighting, because if it didn't have those it would probably be a masterpiece.