Monday 21 February 2011

Anime REVIEW: Dai-Guard

Dai-Guard takes place in the not so distant future. Following an attack by an alien race known as the Heterodynes, a giant robot has been built to protect the city from any future attacks. But after many years of peace, the robot is never used for combat and becomes more of a symbol - and is used by the public relations sector of the 21st Century Defence Corp. As the Heterodynes resurface, 3 office workers must take on the roles of Dai-Guard's pilots and defend the city. As their exploits become more and more famous, struggles between the 21st Century Defence Corp and the Military emerge concerning who Dai-Guard belongs to.

Put simply - think Neon Genesis Evangelion with less kids, less psychobabble and a much more realistic setting. The Heterodynes are extremely similar to Evangelion's angels in terms of design. But that's where the similarities end. Dai-Guard's pilots don't suddenly become adept in piloting the machine like many mecha pilots do, and so for a good third of the series Dai-Guard spends far more time on the floor or broken than fighting. It doesn't even make a grand entrance - initially the titular robot is literally put together. Not only that, but there is much more real physics applied to the series. For example - Dai-Guard gets given a drill attachment arm, but due to the torque the drill produces it is extremely difficult to use. Little things like these nicely root Dai-Guard in a realistic setting, and really help it to stand out from similar series.

So with a mecha that's hardly all-powerful, it's up to the characters to keep the viewers watching. Main character and pilot Shunsuke Akagi is a happy-go-lucky salary man who gets to live his dreams of piloting a giant robot and fighting for justice. His overenthusiastic and headstrong nature is the perfect foil to slightly more series pilots Ibuki Momoi and Keiichiro Aoyama (both of which have their own problems to deal with as the story goes on), and he has a tendency to think out of the box for a lot of Dai-Guard's earlier battles (his recreation of Mazinger-Z's famous 'Rocket Punch' has to be seen to be believed). While the rest of Public Relations Division 2 are equally as colourful, the rest of the cast can seem a little on the stereotypical side - Shirou Shirota is Dai-Guard's tactical advisor, a man who is initially very strict with regulations but eventually warms up to the teams way of thinking. Another example is Rika Domeki, a 17 year old genius who is the head of the company's technology division.

From just reading a synopsis Dai-Guard has the potential to be a great series. While the premise may seem extremely promising, it doesn't stop a lot of the series from being horribly dull. Shirota's character progression is just seemingly repeated with Toru Saeki (Shirota's former subordinate) when he is introduced, and as Dai-Guard's pilots become more adept at handling the robot, fights become a lot more generic and a lot less interesting. Dai-Guard's ending is a difficult thing to judge - its fairly anticlimactic, but at the same time perhaps the perfect ending for the series and something perhaps only it could pull off.

All in all, Dai-Guard is an average series at best. But a unique spin on the mecha-genre and a colourful cast of characters make it a refreshing series among the hoard of giant robot animes. And most importantly, the series taught me that even a salary man can pilot a giant robot to defend the peace. If that doesn't instil you with hope, I don't know what will.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Toybox REVIEW: Revoltech SFX Gigan

With Bandai's announcement of their own highly articulated Godzilla figure line and Kaiyodo's reveal that they can't do Godzilla, MechaGodzilla or King Ghidorah figures, the future might be looking grim for any more kaiju to appear in the Revoltech SFX line. Some that had been planned (Jet Jaguar) have been scrapped and others (larvae Mothra) are in limbo. Before we lament what could have been from a line that really is still only finding its feet, let's have a look at its latest instalment. It also happens to be my favourite kaiju, the cyborg space chicken that is Gigan.

The figure is based upon the Showa era Gigan (so that one that appeared in Godzilla vs Gigan and Godzilla vs Megalon) and while I feel a lot more could have been done with the Millennium redesign of the character (changeable blade/chainsaw hands etc.) it's not worth complaining about. Any Gigan is a good one. As usual the sculpt is of fantastic quality with a lot of detailing - from the wrinkly green skin to the scaly golden chest. There are revolver joints everywhere for a maximum range of poseability (even the mouth has one) and the pincers at the side of Gigan's mouth can also open and close. Much like Anguiras, Gigan's tail is bendable to give it a much more organic feel when posing - and while it isn't quite as effective as Anguiras', it certainly beats a sectioned tail divided by joints. Gigan has a pretty good height - just a tad taller than Anguiras (who's hunched over anyway) and about as tall as Gamera IF you're using the rocket legs on him.

Gigan also includes a few building diorama pieces (something that is now expected from the line if you ask me) and in this case its 3 separate power plant pieces. The added extra is that the tall tower piece of the plant can be removed with a bent and broken piece if you prefer your Gigan to do that little more damage.

While this may be the last we see Godzilla-wise from the line (at this stage its too early to tell) that shouldn't deter people away from Gigan. He is without a doubt the best Kaiyodo have done with kaiju so far and this blessing is also its curse - because it suggests that they'd finally cracked it when it came to these monsters.

Saturday 12 February 2011

Toybox REVIEW: Doctor Who Classics 'Resurrection of the Daleks' boxset

I may have skipped over reviewing the 'Remembrance' of the Daleks set (one word: PERFECT) due it being 3 repaints and 1 remould (but an excellent one at that), but this set has a little more variety to it. Based on the 1984 story 'Resurrection of the Daleks', this one is comprised of the Doctor, the Dalek supreme, a standard Dalek drone and, most importantly, our first classic Davros figure.

This set's Doctor figure is (obviously) the 5th Doctor, who's already received his fair share of figures in the line. Despite 5 being my least favourite Doctor, I have to say that he has one of the best sculpts so far. It's a dead ringer for Peter Davison, and the clothes are the perfect representation of his series attire. That's not to say the other Doctors have been bad, because they've all been brilliant, but this one definitely stands out. My own gripe is I feel the figure should have come with some sort of accessory - maybe not a sonic screwdriver, but perhaps the gun he uses to threaten Davros in the story's climax.

Obviously the star of this set is Davros. Based on the Terry Molloy version of the character (Resurrection was Molloy's first appearance as Davros) the figure has very limited articulation, mainly only in the one arm and head. The sculpt however is magnificent and really looks like Molloy's iteration of the character. The figure even has a bonus feature - by pressing a hidden switch on one of the spheres a panel pops off on the side of the chair, revealing some circuitry details. Perfect for recreating those scenes from episode one of the story.

By now there's not a lot to say about the Daleks - any one who reads this blog will know my feelings about the classic Dalek figures by now. The supreme Dalek looks stunning, which is especially good for me as its my favourite supreme Dalek from the classic series. The drone however sadly isn't so good. Its clear that the Dalek mould is beginning to run its course, as a few quality control problems were present in mine (and after looking round the internet, others have been affected too). Firstly, the figure was forced in the packaging in such a way that the eyestalk is completely bent, leaving my Dalek to view things at an angle (it can bend back with a bit of force and doesn't break, but eventually returns to that angle). Secondly the top neck ring is also bent, leaving a gaping hole in the side of my Dalek. Looks quite good from a battle damage point of view, but I would not expect a figure to arrive in this condition. Hopefully any Daleks released in the future won't suffer from the same problems. The QC problems can be seen below.

All in all this set is amazing, simply amazing. Some people may prefer to wait for the Genesis (Michael Wisher) that's coming in the near future, but Molloy fans will not be disappointed by this set. My only suggestion is that if you're picking this set up in-store personally, check the Daleks carefully to make sure that they don't suffer from the same problem my grey one did.

Sunday 6 February 2011

Movie REVIEW: Pokemon: Zoroark - Master of Illusions

Before I start I should probably mention this. Cartoon Network, for reasons unbeknownst to me, decided to not air the prologue sequence, instead going into the film straight at the opening credits. Having grown up with Pokemon in English and therefore vastly preferring it dubbed (even after the cast changed) I haven't seen the prologue, and probably won't now until the DVD is released (or I can be bothered to track down the Japanese version). While it was still quite easy to get up to speed with the story, the opening does seem a little confusing when you consider 15 minutes of the plot that features all the main characters has suddenly disappeared. It was a shame, because I always love the openings of Pokemon movies.

Moving along, the latest Pokemon movie sees Ash, Brock and Dawn arriving in Crown City for the annual Pokemon Baccer Tournament, only to find a lost Zorua with the ability to talk looking for its mother (or if you're watching the dub, it's Meema - which kind of makes it sound like the Pokemon equivalent of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory). Zorua's mother is a Zoroark being manipulated by business man Grings Kodai, who is searching for the time ripple - a mysterious energy caused by Celebi's time travelling. 20 years ago the ripple gave Kodai the ability to see the future, and now losing his power he intends to restore it. Its up to our heroes to save Zoroark and stop Kodai, with the aid of Celebi and Crown city's legendary protectors - shiny versions of Raikou, Entei and Suicune.

Okay so the plot is a little silly, but for some strange reason it seems to work in Master of Illusions. Perhaps its because its been a long while since a Pokemon movie has been this refreshing, not once dipping back on recycled clich├ęs from earlier Pokemon films (something the rest of the Sinnoh movies are notorious for) or epic legendary battles. Raikou, Entei and Suicune's role in the film is actually minimal, making the moments they do appear all the better (it's strange that absolutely no reference is made to them being a different colour though). Its a shame that it had to include a Pokemon that could speak English, especially since Zorua is an illusion Pokemon (and therefore the whole concept of it looking for its mother could have easily been told visually) but it's become such common practice with these movies that it should probably be expected from now on. On that note, Zorua's voice is incredibly annoying - not as bad as Arceus in the last film, but still pretty bad. Think Jirachi but worse. Digimon fans might recognise the voice as Sora from Digimon Adventure 01 and 02.

On the flip side, the Master of Illusions dub also has some pretty good talent too. Grings Kodai happens to be voiced by Sean Schemmel, voice of Goku in Dragonball Z/Kai who also appeared as Lucario in Lucario and the Mystery of Mew.

Master of Illusions is by no means a great film. In fact it's a decidedly average endeavour into the world of Pokemon. However it is most certainly a step up from the more recently Pokemon movies and the best effort since Lucario and the Mystery of Mew. With a story that hinges on characters more than legendary Pokemon, Master of Illusions is the perfect warm up to the release of Black & White on DS next month. Bring it on.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Toybox REVIEW: Revoltech Evangelion Evolution Eva Unit 01

To celebrate the 100th figure in the Yamaguchi (basically the main) line of Revoltech figures, Kaiyodo has brought back a popular character from the past. So popular in fact that it's already had several Revoltech figures. Of course, its the titanic purple Eva Unit 01 from Neon Genesis Evangelion. This isn't just a straight re-release though, this new Eva boasts more articulation than any other Revoltech figure that's come before it (according to the Kaiyodo website, 22 moving parts). A worthy figure for the #100 spot? Let's find out.

I can't say that I've checked to see if there really are 22 moving parts in the figure, but it wouldn't surprise me - there are joints all over the place. The are 2 joints and 3 separate moving pieces in the neck alone. The Rebuild 2.0 Evas were pretty articulated already, but this guy takes it even further. What I can't quite understand is the lack of a moving jaw (especially since the Unit 03 figure had one) but with 2 separate heads its not a big issue. The sculpt is perfect - which should be expected really as Kaiyodo have already had numerous versions of the figure in their line-up. Perhaps what sets the figure apart from previous releases is that it glows in the dark! The green paint needs to absorb quite a bit of light for it to show, but when it does glow it really makes the figure look even more menacing. The picture below isn't the best example, but it should give you a good idea of what areas glow exactly.

Speaking of separate heads - Eva 01 comes with a ridiculous amount of accessories. There's the aforementioned extra head, 12 (yes 12) extra hands, the umbilical cable, a prog knife, machine gun and an effect part that can be attached to the head for a bleeding effect. Most importantly though, and what will sell this release to those already in possession of a Revoltech Eva 01 is the inclusion of an angel base/pieces, or Sachiel to be precise. Sachiel not only has an arm that can be attached and posed via a revolver joint, he also has a light up core. Sachiel can be attached to the blood stain base included with the figure (the standard revo base is also included if you prefer) to create a diorama base akin to those included with the SFX Revoltech line. Also included is a piece of broken bone, so that Unit 01 can be posed beating the angel with its own body parts.

Most considered the announcement of #100 to be Eva 01 a massive disappointment, but as I didn't have a Unit 01 figure prior to this I was extremely happy. The figure is superb, and I can't see how Kaiyodo are going to top it when they inevitably release another Unit 01 figure when Evangelion 3.0 is released. A perfect score.

N.B. What I do find frustrating however is Kaiyodo announcing that all the Eva units will be released using this figure design and (supposedly) including angel dioramas just when I've completed the set and am able to do this...

Ah well, they look pretty damn good there don't they?

Toybox REVIEW: Bandai Super Robot Chogokin Mazinger Z

Mazinger Z is an important piece of Super Robot/Mecha/anime history. As the first piloted robot to appear in anime, its important that it receives figures that reflect this legendary status. And he does....except most of the really good ones are a little bit on the expensive side. Not to worry, because Bandai's (relatively) new Super Robot Chogokin line has brought us a highly detailed Mazinger figure at a small scale (about the size of a Revoltech/Robot Damashii figure).

Mazinger Z isn't a complicated robot - in fact the simplicity of the retro design is one of his biggest selling points to me, and Bandai have got the design dead on perfect with this figure. Metallic paints, deep glossy blues and blacks - I don't have a single complaint here.

Being a Bandai Chogokin figure it has a fair bit of die-cast, mostly in the chest and hip areas. So as you can imagine, he has a bit of weight behind him. Not only that, but Mazinger also has an excellent amount of articulation. The head and neck are both on ball joints, so there's quite a bit of expression available. Moving down there's swivel joints, ratchet hinges and more ball joints (even the ankles have them!) - so he's capable of a hell of a lot of posing. The hands are easily removable and are attached via a ball joint on the wrist - so pop on and off with minimal effort, but are secure when attached.

There's quite a few extras included with the figure - the Pilder (the flying machine pilot Koji Kabuto operates the machine from), some separate hands, a reinforced rocket punch piece with larger hands, and the Mazinger Blade. Both the reinforced rocket punch and blade have a chrome finish, looking especially shiny.

Also included (well, the internet says it was only included with the first release, and since I got mine almost 6 months after it came out I assume if you got it now you'd get it too) is a Styrofoam rock base. There's not that much to say about it really - it looks like a rock and its made of Styrofoam. However it doesn't look like a rock made from Styrofoam, and so posing Mazinger on top of it does look pretty fantastic.

I only have two complaints with this figure. The first is the Pilder. While it makes sense to have it as a separate piece on the larger Mazinger figures which you can take on and off the head to recreate those "PILDER ON!" sequences, with a figure this small it means that the Pilder is tiny. Not only that, but it is incredibly difficult to play firmly on Mazinger's head. Mine kept popping off, refusing to stay down. After about 10 minutes of struggling (and not even applying that much pressure, knowing how fragile the piece is) the Pilder broke. Only a little bit - the very tip of the middle fin snapped off, and though its almost unnoticeable I still know it happened and therefore is even more annoying). Even now the Pilder isn't attached properly - its being held on with a little bit of white-tack. I don't know if this a common problem for the figure, but it certainly is a pretty big negative for me. Breaking a figure even only slightly right out of the box is always a sad moment.

The second, and not as big a complaint, is Bandai's decision to release a separate weapon pack for the figure - including the Scrander (i.e. the wings), a second reinforced rocket punch and (most annoyingly) rocket punch ignition effects. Given that the Super Robot Chogokin Great Mazinger figure comes with his wings and effect parts for his signature 'Thunder Break' attack, I don't see why at the very least least one rocket punch effect part couldn't have been included. Even if it meant jacking the price up a little.

I wanted to give this figure a perfect 5, I really did. But the Pilder was such a huge issue for me and the thought of having to buy an add-on set just to make the figure even better makes it just narrowly miss out on the prize. Still, if you're a Mazinger fan and like all your figures to be in roughly the same scale this is probably the best Mazinger Z figure money has to offer.

And yes, I probably will get Great Mazinger down the line too, even if he shares the same Pilder problem. That's how great this figure is.