Sunday 26 June 2011

Anime REVIEW: Durarara!!

Durarara!! takes place in the city of Ikebukuro, where Mikado Ryƫgamine has just transferred to at the request of his childhood friend Masaomi Kida. Mikado soon learns about the city's colourful inhabitants - including a Russian Sushi seller named Simon, a short fused man named Shizuo with incredible strength, and an information deal named Izaya. He also learns about Ikebukuro's gang society, particularly a large, anonymous group known as the Dollars.

But Ikebukuro's population isn't that straightforward, as Mikado also meets "The Black Rider", a headless motorcycle rider who has become the city's urban legend. This rider is in fact Celty Sturluson, a female Dullahan from Ireland who has come to city in search of her missing head (which is the source of her memories). As the series begins each of these people have different stories to tell, but soon their paths become closer and closer, with the stories interlocking into one bigger story which has the whole of Ikebukuro involved.

One of Durarara!!'s most interesting features is its pacing. While initially fairly episodic, each story is intertwined - meaning scenes are often repeated numerous times with different characters as the focus in order to paint a bigger picture. Each character reacts very differently with others, so this setting shows a lot of range between the main cast while keeping things interesting. This does of course mean that this is a show you can't just watch lightly - the character transitions can be relatively quick at times and so a decent amount of attention must be paid to know what's going on.

Speaking of characters, one of the series' main strengths it's seeming lack of secondary characters. There are a few here and there, but mostly each character is integral to the plot somehow and the story somehow manages to stay confined to this core cast. After the first few episodes there aren't too many more characters introduced, and all the series' main plot twists revolve around characters that have been around since the beginning (plot twists being one of Durarara!!'s specialities, there were a lot of things I didn't see coming). There are no straightforward antagonists (although Izaya would certainly come close) and the supernatural elements are dealt with an element of realism. Celty may be a headless horseman, but she proves to be just as human as any of the 'normal' characters present in the series. Since the characters also spend a great deal of time on a chatroom (each with their own online handle that the others aren't fully aware of straight away), seeing how they all interact with each other in that environment also proves to be another of the series' highlights.

The art is excellent, the characters distinguishable and the vivid differences between the neon lights and dark alleys of a big city well displayed. Little touches, such as background characters being coloured in grey-scale while the main ones remain fully coloured help the audience know where the main focus of a scene is.

Durarara!! starts off a little slow, but after about 8-10 episodes in it just keeps going on going, becoming better every time. The characters are hugely diverse and interesting, the plot both engaging and twisting, and the ending is satisfying yet leaves you wanting more. From seemingly invincible fighters to teenagers involved in gang warfare, my initial reservations about this series were completely gone by the time I was half way in. Definitely one to watch.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Toybox REVIEW: Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger mini-pla Gokai Machines set 1

After several weeks of the post office not telling me I had a parcel waiting for me (sigh), I finally have my hands on the Gokaiger minipla Gokai machines - the first add on pack to the mini-pla GokaiOh (which I reviewed several months ago). As each of these figures offer something different each time, I will be reviewing them a little differently than usual. Each figure will receive a rating both on its individual mode and its combination with GokaiOh (each mini review will also be followed by pictures). So without further adieu, I give you the MagiDragon, the Pat Striker and GaoLion.

The first Sentai power the Gokaiger received was the MagiDragon, from 2005-06's Mahou Sentai Magiranger. The MagiDragon is the combination of the yellow, pink, blue and green Magirangers in their magical mecha forms, only here rather than its usual black it is red with a rather fetching pirate bandanna. The model itself is easily to assemble, and while not the most articulated thing in the world it still manages to be a fairly good representation of the MagiDragon. The wings are movable at two different places, and both the neck and head can move up and down. I put a bit of silver on the ears, hands and teeth for that extra bit of detail, but it looks pretty good with stickers alone (the neck on the actual show model is red, while here it is black - rather than paint this I kept it because I felt it broke up the colour scheme rather nicely). Its pretty nifty for such a tiny figure, and it only gets more interesting when taken apart and combined with GokaiOh...

While MagiGokaiOh isn't the best looking combination in the world when it comes to the show (the dragon sticks out so far from the chest it looks like a pantomime horse) the toy version surprisingly not only captures it perfectly but also makes it relatively enjoyable. The dragon (while still sticking far out of GokaiOh's chest) fits snugly into the chest compartment and the wing parts look great sticking out of the arm compartments (especially since they retain posability, making some wing shielding poses possible). It was never going to win any awards due to the flawed design it was based on, but this mini-pla certainly makes good use of what it's got and doesn't make MagiGokaiOh completely forgettable.

Pat Striker
There isn't a great deal of things to say about the Pat Striker (from 2004-05's Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger). It's just a police car, so there isn't a great deal it can actually do. However it DOES have moving wheels, so rolling it along the floor/desk/whatever while mimicking siren noises is completely possible, and something I have already indulged in. While moulded entirely in white plastic, the stickers are incredibly easy to apply and effective in giving the car all the necessary details (included the two SPD logos emblazoned on it). Alone it isn't much, but its combination on the other hand is a completely different story.

When GokaiOh combines with the Pat Striker, gone are its two sword wielding ways in favour of some gun slinging action. The Pat Striker neatly breaks into four separate pieces, with the centre of the car becoming GokaiOh's chest piece and the back on the car inserting into the leg slots. The front of the car can be placed in the arm slots (to recreate DekaGokaiOh's finishing move) or be attached the hands via different fold out slots to be used as hand guns. As the only combination so far to maintain a wholly machine aspect (MagiDragon and GaoLion are animals), DekaGokaiOh definitely has the nicest feel to it. The range of posability on the mini-pla GokaiOh means that he can pull off a huge variety of shooting poses. DekaGokaiOh is hands down the best combination out of the three - simply brilliant.

The first thing to say about the GaoLion (hailing from 2001-02's Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger) is that it's pretty damn big compared to the other two - in fact, the lion is made up from two different boxes worth of parts. He doesn't require a huge deal of paint (I painted the bar attached to the shoulders silver for extra accuracy), and is pretty widely posable - the legs and head move, the mane vents move, and even the jaw is on a hinge. What impressed me the most is that the ShinkenGokaiOh helmet and Rekka Daizantou (which I'll go into more detail about a bit later on) are actually part of GaoLion's torso - something I was not expecting, although it makes more sense that its done like this (less plastic and all). Still, its cleverly implemented, and as a stand alone machine GaoLion definitely comes out on top.

Being the big guy that he is, GaoLion has TWO differents modes for GokaiOh. The first is GaoGokaiOh, which (as you can probably guess) is the one that directly references the series its from. The transformation is simple - remove the legs from GokaiOh and place him in the shoulder slots on GaoLion, creating a centaur like mecha much like Gao Kentaurus in Gaoranger. Its an interesting mode for GokaiOh, but instantly loses points with me because there's nowhere for the Gokai Sub or Trailer to go. Other than that, its the review above plus the top half of GokaiOh, there's not much more I can say about it. Good, but not great.

Finally we come to GaoLion's second (and more traditional) combination, which is the power up for 2009-10's Samurai Sentai Shinkenger. Here is where the lion is split up, with the head taking the usual place in the chest and the hind legs going in the arm compartments. Once again GokaiOh's legs are forgotten and GaoLion's front legs become the main legs. Each section of GaoLion (including the jaw) opens up to reveal one of the Shinkenger's element symbols (and the the shape of their helmet visors) and for the first time, GokaiOh gets a shiny new hat! This new helmet closely resembles the one worn by ShinkenOh and ShinkenGokaiOh also gets ShinkenRed's signature weapon - the Rekka Daizantou! Although not as ridiculously sized as the one in the show, its an excellent representation of the weapon (especially since it doubles as a torso) and a worthy addition to the Gokaiger arsenal. GaoLion's bar piece can also be used to connect the two cutlass swords into a pretty spectacular double bladed staff. Already ShinkenGokaiOh is as imposing as he is on the show, but this mini-pla sadly suffers from one flaw - and that's the arms. Since the lion legs stick out quite far from the actual slots (something admittedly Magi and Deka also share, but it doesn't impede anything), they often get in the way of the elbow and thus make the epic samurai posing ShinkenGokaiOh deserves difficult. So in conclusion - it looks fantastic, but loses a point because it fails at doing the one thing the minipla has over the DX version - posability.

So in conclusion there's a lot to love about this set - a few disappointments here and there, but nothing overly drastic. These are certainly a must have for anyone already owning the GokaiOh mini-pla, because it only adds the fun of the figure and make great display pieces even when they aren't attached.