Wednesday 30 March 2011

Toybox REVIEW: Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger mini-pla GokaiOh

Continuing my Power Rangers/Super Sentai kick is the first toy I've bought from the series that has started this whole phase off - Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger. This is the 35th anniversary series of Super Sentai, complete with a pirate motif and a team with the ability to change into any of the 35 Sentai teams. From Bandai, this a collection of candy toy model kits of their mecha - the Gokai Galleon (Red), Gokai Jet (Blue), Gokai Racer (Green), Gokai Trailer (Yellow) and Gokai Marine (Pink). The name 'candy toy' is a very loose term though, given how each box only contains one measly piece of candy...

While single sets are likely to be available on eBay, the cheapest option is probably to pick up an entire case of these candy toys. This will give you 10 boxes (nicely packed into 2 of each version, so you'll definitely have an extra set). Whether you choose to sell the second set off (like I did) or keep it so that you can pose them in both vehicle and combined mode is entirely up to you. Luckily the figures aren't blind packed (each box is different) so its quite clear which one is which.

Each vehicle is a model kit, so when you open the boxes you do have to put them together (the instructions are printed on the inside of the boxes) and sticker them yourself. While the models themselves are very simple, there is an incredible amount of stickering required given how the plastic is usually moulded in just one colour). Many of the stickers are large and quite easy to apply, but there are a few smaller details on some (especially the Gokai galleon) and a lot that require being wrapped around parts, which can be tricky if done carelessly. However the end result is very satisfying, having built your own Gokai vehicles complete with (some) moving parts.

When combined, these vehicles form the mighty GokaiOh, the main mecha of Gokaiger. What's notable about the candy toy range of Sentai mecha is that they actually have articulation, as opposed to the DX versions which can move their arms....and that's about it. This version of GokaiOh has a movable head, along with shoulder, elbow, hip, knee and feet joints. Obviously this means that the candy toy version can pull off far more action poses than the DX version could ever dream of, so there are plenty of opportunities for some dual-sword wielding action. The toy even replicates the opening chest (along with the cannon) alongside the opening ports in the limbs, ready for when the auxiliary mecha are released in this format.

If you're looking for a smaller, cheaper option to GokaiOh and don't mind a whole lot of stickering, than this is certainly the option for you. My only recommendation is that you paint the swords gold, because if anything they certainly require it the most (the yellow plastic they are moulded in is horrible). Otherwise this is a fantastic toy and certainly worth picking up if you're a fan of the series and enjoy a little more posability in your Power Rangers/Sentai toys.

Thursday 24 March 2011

Anime REVIEW: Excel Saga

Excel Saga is 26 episode TV series (based on the manga of the same name). Fast-talking and hyperactive Excel is an officer of ACROSS, an secret corporation believing the world to be corrupt. Alongside fellow officer Hyatt (a mysterious space princess who dies more often than she probably should) and emergency food supply Menchi the dog, they carry out the plans of ACROSS leader Lord Il Palazzo. Meanwhile in the anime various other plots are also carried out by various side characters - Watanabe, Iwata, Sumiyoshi and their exploits in the Department of City Security and South American immigrant Pedro's battle to rejoin his family and defeat 'That Man'. And the series director, afro'd Nabeshin has his own involvement with them all.

Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of Excel Saga is that the majority of episodes each parody a different genre of film/TV/anime (for example sci-fi, detective, teen dramas etc.) while others directly parody animes themselves (watch out for the alien Puuchuu civil war, which directly parodies Mobile Suit Gundam, complete with the cute alien Puuchuu's having the faces of Gundam characters). Each episode is sanctioned by original creator Rikdo Koshi beforehand (although his willingness to do so declines more and more as the series progresses). It was a bold move, and the result is very hit and miss. Some episodes are absolute genius, while others are fractured and difficult to follow. Luckily usually there's at least one story thread that's pure comedy (Pedro's story is undoubtedly Excel Saga's highlight) to keep the audience entertained, and a bizarre cast of side characters to keep your eyes pealed for (Space Butler is an early highlight). Menchi the dog even gets 2 episodes to herself, complete with anthropomorphic talking solider dogs. Unfortunately these are among the weaker episodes of Excel Saga, which is disappointing from a series that is even able to make its clip episodes fun. Menchi's true calling comes in the ending theme - where she sings lamenting how Excel plans to eat her, with an accompanying translation. The final episode's closing credits offer a simple role reversal of this, and it proves to create easily one of the show's biggest laughs.

On the subject of the final episode, its reputation propels Excel Saga's notoriety. The concept behind it was "going too far", and thus attempts to be banned by censors at every opportunity - with nudity, lesbianism, gore and strongly suggested paedophilia. While the end result did feel somewhat underwhelming the drive to be censored still makes the episode hilarious - which is by far a large needed after 3 or 4 more 'serious' episodes which actually contained a flowing plot line.

So in short, Excel Saga is a bit of a mixed bag - when you can follow what's actually going on it's hilarious, but at the same time its quite easy to get lost in the utter randomness that makes it so special in the first place. One thing is for sure though, there is nothing out there quite like Excel Saga, and that however you end up feeling about the series it will certainly prove to be a memorable watch. It's like a brightly coloured sugar-infused acid trip.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Series REVIEW: Power Rangers RPM

The second instalment to the TV series section is another from Power Rangers - this time Power Rangers RPM, the 17th season in the franchise and adapted from the 32nd Super Sentai series Engine Sentai Go-Onger. While I have never watched Go-Onger myself, I know that it is a relatively light-hearted series, with a fair amount of slapstick and sentient anime-style mecha. Power Rangers RPM on the other hand does a complete u-turn and takes a very different approach to things.

In the near off future, a sentient computer virus known as Ventrix has taken over the Earth, controlling all computer systems and creating an army of robots to destroy humanity. The last remnants of the human race have been forced back into the domed city of Corinth, their last safe haven. While the force field protects them, Ventrix's forces are still able to break into the dome and cause havok. Led by their mentor Doctor K, Corinth's only hope is the Power Rangers. Making up the team are Scott Truman - the red ranger and son to the leader of Corinth's defence forces, Flynn McAllister - blue ranger, mechanic and ,uh, the Scottish one. Finally there's Summer Landsdown - yellow ranger and former wealthy heiress. While these are initially the only 3 rangers they are soon joined by green ranger Ziggy Grover and black ranger Dillon - a man with cybernetic implants and completely unaware of his past. Mid-series gold and silver rangers are also added to the roster, their identities Gem and Gemma - raised to be test pilots of the ranger technology.

On paper it sounds a lot like Terminator-lite, and in execution that description fits it perfectly too. The series opens with barren wastelands where all has been destroyed, fitting the overall tone of the series, which is much darker than any Power Rangers series that has preceded it. If it wasn't for the colourful spandex (or NOT SPANDEX as Dr K would tell you), zords and silly monster costumes it wouldn't be hard to believe this was some sort of post apocalyptic science fiction show. The characters are both interesting and engaging - having never met before becoming rangers and therefore each getting their own backstory episode(s) (except Dillon's, whose true origins run throughout the series). Scientific jargon is aplenty (such as the biofield, the source of power that the rangers tap into) and RPM tackles issues such as human experimentation and cybernetics in a way that could rival even the most adult science fiction.

Despite the obvious difference in tone between RPM and Go-Onger, RPM manages to explain some of the more comedic elements present in both (such as the anime-styled zords) with scientific eccentricities. The humour present is also very much a parody of itself, with Ziggy at one point even questioning why 'five foot fireball explosions' occur every time they morph. The zords themselves are very interesting, with a larger array of smaller zords (12 in total) able to make multiple megazords (each consisting of 3 zords). The zords are also capable of forming larger megazords and ultimately the RPM Ultrazord - made up of all 12. While the end result comes off as a bit cluttered, the idea is excellent and the size advantage it proves to have over giant monsters is both staggering and amusing.

There are a few flaws with the series though. The first of these being Gem and Gemma's initial hyperactive moments, which can be both annoying and frustrating at times. This is rectified however by the two receiving a decent amount of growth and development both individually and later together. Secondly, and I admit this is much more of a personal gripe, is the decision to put Ventrix into bodies as the series progressed. I understand the need for it, giving him far more flexibility as a character and making him actually be able to face the rangers, but the bodies he possess only serve to make the character far less imposing. He looks much better in his computer tower, with his red eye gleaming as if he were the bastard child of Skynet and HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Overall these are complaints are very minor when compared to the series as a whole, which doesn't stop being addictive from start to finish (and at only 32 episodes, its also one of the shortest Power Rangers series).

It might have been a gamble to make Power Rangers this dark, but I feel it was one that certainly paid off. Power Rangers RPM is without a doubt one of, if not the best Power Rangers series ever made and has quickly become one of my firm favourites. The stark difference in tone helps this stand out from the rest of the franchise and makes Power Ranger RPM not only a fantastic series, but also could be considered a stepping stone for children between lighter children's shows and more adult/teenage science fiction drama. The Disney years might have been hit and miss for Power Rangers, but it undoubtedly went out with a bang.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Toybox REVIEW: Power Rangers Super Legends Retrofire Mighty Morphin' Megazord

This installment's figure is now a little bit of an oldie, having originally been released in 2009. While I probably would have picked this up around then had it been released in UK it (unsurprisingly) wasn't, and given the latest phase I'm going through there was no better time to hit eBay and pick one up than now.

What we have here is a smaller scale figure of the original Dino Megazord from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, around the average size of a Revoltech/Robot Damashii figure (or, more accurately, around 5"). While this figure doesn't offer the transforming features that the deluxe megazords do, it makes up for that through posability - something the deluxe figures are almost incapable of.

To begin with we'll take a look at the sculpt of the figure. Not only have Bandai managed to include all the important details in at such a smaller scale, they've also managed to put a unique twist on them. The Retrofire figures have exaggerated (almost anime-like) proportions and stylings, something that is best illustrated by the bigger and far more angular head fins. The shield (the head of the Mastodon zord) also has a much smaller trunk, which looks a lot better as a shield (but probably wouldn't translate well onto a complete zord). The paint work is also excellently done on the front of the figure, keeping all the important details in while at the same time keeping things nice and simple. The back of the figure is a bit on the plain side, which is probably to keep the figure cost effective. While personally I'd have paid a little more for a more complete paint job, it doesn't detract from the overall presence of the figure, and I'm unlikely to display it with the back showing in the first place.

While almost a perfect figure so far, regrettably the Retrofire Megazord's main selling point is also its biggest flaw. While admittedly it does have a wide variety of articulation - a ball jointed head, waist swivel, moveable fists and hinges in the hips, knees and feet - the arms bizarrely have completely unsymmetrical articulation. For example, the left arm is only movable in the shoulder and top of the arm connection while the right arm has a turning shoulder and elbow articulation. Obviously the idea behind the figure was to have it merely recreate a few battle poses than a wide variety but nevertheless its an extremely odd move by Bandai, and I'd much prefer symmetrical articulation on the figure.

Included with the figure is the aforementioned shield and the power sword, but also a stand with the base in the shape of the signature Power Rangers lightning bolt. This stand also suffers from a variety of problems - for the most effective battle poses the figure is attached at an angle, making the chest area and many of the details impossible to see unless displayed on a shelf just above eye level. While it CAN be posed upright on the stand, that just makes it look like the figure has had something inserted in its rear and very difficult to pull off decent poses with.

To conclude, this figure has some notable flaws but its still a damn good representation of the original and iconic Megazord. The poses it can pull off look great, which makes the unsymmetrical articulation a little more bearable. As far as price goes, this figure is long gone from shops so your best bet would be looking on eBay (UKs will have to import). I spend around £25 on the figure, which in hindsight is more than its worth but I was desperate for the figure. I'd say around £20 is the max I'd pay for it again, especially since it was retailing for around $10 back in 2009. I'm still very pleased with the figure, and am looking to add its wave mates (the RPM High Octane Megazord and Wild Force Megazord) to my collection. If I'm very lucky I may even find the much rarer wave 2 (Dino Thunder, Mystic Force and RPM Valvemax Megazords too.

With the Samurai toyline reviving the Retrofire zords with the SPD and Jungle Fury Jungle Pride Megazords, there may even be more to come following that!

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Game REVIEW: Pokemon Black & White (DS)

NB. This review is based on the White version of the game. While some of the differences between Black and White will be addressed I have not played Black version, and therefore some differences I cannot comment upon.

The time is upon us once again. A new generation of Pokemon has arrived, and this time its mixing things up a bit. For Pokemon Black & White (Generation 5) Game Freak take us to the far away region of Unova, where Pokemon from previous generations are considered rare and (until you beat the Elite Four) are uncatchable in the game. As usual you take the role of a new trainer ready to start a new adventure along with your starter Pokemon - grass snake Snivy, fire pig Tepig or water otter Oshawott. As you challenge the gym leaders with the aim of one day becoming Pokemon League champion you face the threat of Team Plasma and their mysterious King, N - whose goal is to liberate Pokemon from humans.

A whole new story brings a whole new map, and the Unova region is perhaps the most diverse yet. With four seasons cycling every month or so, locations change and things open that may not be open in other months. The cities themselves are livelier than ever, with the enormous Castelia City towering over any city Pokemon has presented before. Black & White's narrative is the true highlight though, the story putting anything that has come before it to shame. Team Plasma's attempt at liberating Pokemon is an interesting angle that should have been explored long ago, and remains the focus point of the game until the second before the credits role. I don't want to give away too much to players, but let's just say the game's main plot doesn't end with you beating the Elite Four champion for once...

The new Pokemon are an interesting bunch. With 150 brand new Pokemon and none of the older ones to help you along the way, Game Freak's plan of making Black & White a whole new experience for old players and newcomers alike was an effective stroke of genius. The Pokemon themselves have a good range, from the cool (fire/ghost Chandelure, electric/bug Galvantula and dark/ground Krookodile are among my my favourites) to the cute (early Pokemon Lillipup) to the frankly ridiculous (ice cream Pokemon Vannilish/Vanniluxe and rubbish bag Pokemon Trubbish are highlights) but wandering the grass wondering what the hell will pop up next is half the fun. Black & White have some very interesting type mixtures (including many which haven't appeared in the games before) and with new abilities and moves there's a lot for more competitive players to think about. Several of the game mechanics have also changed for a newer game experience - with the amount of exp. being distributed after a battle depending on level differences and (one I'm sure many will be happy about) poison no longer taking affect outside a battle. Introduced in the mix are triple battles (like double battles, but with 3) and rotation battles (3 Pokemon on a rotating platform, with one attacking each turn) so even the most experienced players will have some new tricks to learn.

As is the standard with Pokemon games there are two different versions - Pokemon Black and Pokemon White. While before these never really extended further than what Pokemon could be caught in them and (sometimes) slightly affected the narrative, this time there's much more to it than that. Alongside each game having its exclusive Pokemon, each version has its own unique area (Black City and White Forest) and even its own exclusive gym leaders (the final Opelucid gym has different leaders depending which version you play).

There's so much I haven't even covered in this review (Such as the Dreamworld, an entirely online experience to the game due to open soon) and I haven't completely finished the game myself yet, so there's still plenty of surprises in for anyone reading this AND myself. The initial concept shots didn't wow me, and I wondered if this really was going to be the greatest Pokemon game yet like many reviews had been suggesting. But it is, it really is. Gold and Silver are still my favourite Pokemon games due to the nostalgia, but Game Freak have really stepped their game up with this generation. Catching them all is brand new all over again.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Series REVIEW: Power Rangers Dino Thunder

Well it's time again for another category in my ever extending blog. This section will be devoted to all things TV bar anime (which as you know has its own section). That means Western cartoons and live action series from all over the globe (I say globe, I mean UK, America and Japan probably). While Doctor Who has had its own little section for the last few years (one I wish I did more with to be honest) it might get integrated into here eventually (the newer episodes especially). We'll see how I feel when the time comes.

Anyway, back to more interesting things.....

With Saban regaining the helm of the Power Rangers franchise with Power Rangers Samurai and Super Sentai celebrating its 35th anniversary with Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger this year, it would be an understatement to say that I've been bitten by the Rangers/Sentai bug once again. Having given up on Power Rangers following Power Rangers in Space and being completely new to the world of Super Sentai, I still have a lot to learn. Thus I decided it was time to take a trek through history and have a look at the things I've missed over the last few years. And Power Rangers Dino Thunder seemed the best way to ease myself back in, with a whole new story featuring a few familiar faces.

Adapted from the 27th Super Sentai series "Bakuryƫ Sentai Abaranger", the 12th season of Power Rangers sees the return of Tommy Oliver (played by Jason David Frank), the green and white rangers from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and the red ranger from Zeo and half of Turbo. Now a Doctor, he has retired to the life of a school teacher at Reefside High following the destruction of his lab and the disappearance of his partner Anton Mercer. But when Mesagog, the creature that destroyed his lab returns and threatens to bring the world back to the age of the dinosaurs it is up to him to form a new team of rangers - soccer player/jock Connor McKnight (Red), computer geek Ethan James (Blue) and musician Kira Ford (Yellow). Along the way Tommy resumes his role as a ranger, gaining the power of the black ranger and the team face off against an evil white ranger, in the form of Anton Mercer's adopted son Trent Mercer.

With several parallels already being drawn between this and the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, this is the perfect series to bring older fans of the series back in. As the team discover the identity of their high school teacher, there is also an episode dedicated to the history of the Power Rangers (uncoincidently, this is actually the 500th episode of Power Rangers) which brings the viewer up to speed with the many iterations of Power Rangers. Other similarities include the presence of an evil Power Ranger (a role Tommy is all too familiar with) and Dino Thunder's own Bulk and Skull-esque characters in the form of wannabe journalists Cassidy and Devin.

The series is in the usual format of a Power Rangers episode - plot is layed out, monster appears, rangers beat it, monster grows, ranger(s) learn a valuable life lesson through battling the monster etc. but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. Mesagog proves to be a relatively competent villain (with some great make-up might I add) and even the henchmen get some good character development as the series progresses. The rangers are made up of a very likable cast, and co-mentor to the rangers Hayley Ziktor has an excellent dynamic with them. The evil white ranger story arc is of excellent quality, and remains gripping even after several viewings. The personal highlight for me however was the episode "Fighting Spirit", in which a comatose Tommy has to battle his former ranger selves in order to stay alive. Pure nostalgia at its very best.

That being said, Dino Thunder certainly isn't without its flaws. My biggest problem definitely being the overuse of CGI. From the raptor riders to the zords, CGI is abundant in this series, and its not the good kind. While I understand that suits couldn't mimic the kind of agility the dinozords have, horrible CGI superimposed on top the the scene really detracts from the viewing experience. The worst case however is undoubtedly the Triassic Red Ranger battlizer suit which appears at the tail end of the series. The costume looks tacky and cheap on its own, but coupled with a far too long CGI transformation sequence and stretchy limbs (yes, really) of all things it really doesn't do it any favours. Speaking of the zords, Tommy's brachio zord is nothing more than a carrier for the rest of the dinozords, and plays almost no role in ANY of the series fight sequences. Very disappointing, given Tommy's status as a ranger. I understand that he's not the main star of the series, but still. The Power Rangers Ninja Storm crossover also felt a bit flat (and perhaps could have done with 3 parts rather than 2), but that might have more to do with the poor cast of Power Rangers Ninja Storm (especially the villain) rather than Dino Thunder itself. Finally, after excellent character development with Mesagog's henchmen Zeltrax and the revelation of his true identity, his sudden disappearance and reappearance followed by his fate is a little underwhelming.

Despite being one of Disney-era Power Rangers series (something some fans scorn upon) Dino Thunder is an excellent series that could easily hold its own against some of Saban's greats. I highly recommend this series to both newcomers and older fans alike. Newcomers will enjoy the fantastic and cast and may even be inspired to check out some of the older Power Rangers series, while older fans will feel right at home watching Tommy lead a new generation of rangers in the fight against evil.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Toybox REVIEW: DC Universe Azrael Batman

This is a bit of a rarity. Not only am I going to be reviewing something that is outside the realms of the usual toy lines I collect, but its also a review of an American toy for once (something I don't believe I've done since my last Transformers review). But this was a figure that I couldn't pass up.

I'm a big fan of Marvel and DC comics, but have never really been into the figures (well, not since the days of the Batman and Spider-man animated series' anyway). Not that I have anything against them, there's just so many characters that I couldn't afford to collect them alongside the lines I'm already buying from, even if I'm just carefully selecting characters. The DC Universe line is something that's interested me for a long time - a line of reasonably poseable figures across the age of DC akin to the Marvel Legends line. It just so happens that one of the newer figures in the line happens to be my favourite Batman character and one of my all-time favourite comic characters from my all-time favourite Batman story - Azrael (John Paul Valley) in his guise as the Dark Knight himself. From the Knightfall/Knightquest/Knightsend storyline, I have a few older figures of the character (namely the 2 versions released under the 'Legends of Batman' line) but nothing quite as detailed as this. Included with the figure is the right leg of Bane, who is the wave's 'collect & connect figure'. As I won't be buying the rest of the line, that's about all the coverage its going to get. It's a leg.

Back to the figure at hand - the sculpt is simply beautiful. Its not based on the character's first appearance in Knightfall (where he had a cape rather than the fins, and the artillery belts were yet to be incorporated) but on the modified version he would use as the series continued. The blues, golds and silvers are metallic paints, standing out perfectly on top of flat grey body.

As far as articulation goes, he has it in all the right places. The arms and legs and able to both bend and twist, while the ankles are also on a hinge joint. The head is also moveable, but I have found it difficult due to the limited neck space caused by the 'cape'. The same can be said for the shoulders, which are difficult (but probably not impossible) to raise higher than chest height). My main grip is that the 'cape' fins are not poseable (by that I mean only slightly - perhaps the ability to stretch them out a bit) because they can get tangled at the bottom and aren't equally apart due to the soft plastic they're made from (a minor gripe I know, but it still bugs me). The leg spikes are also made from soft plastic, and feel like they may snap off if pressure is put on them or they accidentally bend the wrong way. I suppose Mattel didn't see it as too much of an issue - the packaging does say 'for the Adult collector' after all.

Despite these issues - this is definitely the best Azrael Batman to be released so far and probably the best one we'll ever get. It certainly puts my old versions to shame. I wonder how Mattel are with repaints on this line, because I'd certainly like a red version based upon his final appearances in Knightsend to go with it.

My interest in this line has certainly perked. As we speak I'm trying to hunt down a DC Universe Azrael figure on eBay to go alongside him. Dammit, I don't have the money for these things.