Monday 31 October 2011

Anime REVIEW: Alien Defender Geo-Armor: Kishin Corps

At an anime convention I attended over the summer, Alien Defender Geo-Armor: Kishin Corps (or Kishin Corps for short) was summarised to me as "people fighting aliens and Nazi robots that shoot swastika lasers". With a description like that, obviously my interest was piqued and I immediately went home to download the 7 episode OVA series.

Based on a series of light novels by Masaki Yamada, Kishin Corps is set in an alternate history, specifically during World War II. Amidst the war and destruction, the planet is also hit by an alien invasion, but the two sides seem content on continuing their war despite this aggressive new threat.

An orphaned teenager named Taishi suddenly finds himself at the center of a struggle over a mysterious black case entrusted to him by his father, Professor Tokamura. The case contains the controlling mechanism for one of the giant Geo-Armor Robots, and the Japanese Kanto Army, the alien invaders, and the Kishin Corps all want to recover the device. Between the spies, the armies, the aliens, and the Giant Robots, Taishi is in for an epic adventure - that is if he can survive it.

So with only seven episodes (well, eight if you take into account that the first is twice the length of the rest) you'd think Kishin Corps would stick to relatively simple story, whilst remaining engaging to the audience? As far as I was concerned, it didn't really achieve this at all. The episodes were really drawn out, with the action usually taking place in the last five minutes or so of each episode. Now I know that not every mecha series needs to have gratuitous shots of explosions (as much as I'd like it to), and that Kishin Corps is much more a "gritty" war-time piece, but any series that's going to have GIANT ROBOTS as a centrepiece needs to have some sort of money shot.

The characters themselves are pretty balanced, but none of them ever struck me as particularly interesting. The antagonists are pretty one dimensional, just your cliché evil soldiers with pointy noses and scars. The aliens are extremely bland - looking like humanoid turrets from the Portal video games, but lacking the personality. Or any personality at all for that matter. Why exactly the aliens are there in the first place is never quite explained, and the OVA has is pretty open ended, meaning a lot of questions remain unanswered. With more time to spread the story across and less dialogue heavy exposition, Kishin Corps could have been a bit more interesting.

Which brings me to the question of why exactly Kishin Corps needed to be set in an alternate WW2. Other than the presence of Nazis (read: generic villains) the show also has the bizarre concept of having Eva Braun as a scientist who ends up joining the Kishin Corps. Other historical figures like Albert Einstein also pop up throughout the course of the OVA, but even then it doesn't feel like the setting is particularly integral to the story - any sort of fictional war or villains could have achieved the job just the same. Maybe even better, since its backdrop only worked as some sort of surreal incentive to watch the show in the first place.

The art style is...eclectic. While some of the characters seem particularly well designed, others are really simple by comparison - to the point where they don't really feel like they belong here. Characters with normal eyes and faces interact with ones with exaggerated proportions and black dots for eyes. And besides the aforementioned cliche villains, whoever designed the characters for Kishin Corps clearly thought that Taishi would look four years older by just stretching him. No, not quite.

The mecha designs are mixed. While the aesthetic certainly suits the tone and feel of the OVA (particularly the Nazi Kishin - the Panzer Knight, despite its lack of a proper swastika laser), the mecha won't really win any awards for being memorable.

This turned out to be a particularly short review, because I genuinely don't have a lot to say about Kishin Corps. It wasn't quite what I expected, and while I gave it a chance the whole viewing experience was ultimately boring. The series clearly had an idea of exactly what it wanted to do, but at the same time didn't quite have enough time to pull it off - resulting in a dull, dialogue heavy show that's settings and antagonists merely seemed there to promote interest in the first place. Kishin Corps isn't a completely awful OVA series, but as far as political flavoured mecha dramas go, there are some much much better choices out there.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Series REVIEW: Power Rangers S.P.D.

Power Rangers S.P.D. (or Space Patrol Delta) is the 13th season of the Power Rangers franchise, following on from Power Rangers Dino Thunder. The story takes place in the year 2025, after Earth has welcomed alien beings to live peacefully with the human race. But peace is short lived, as the planet-conquering Troobian Empire turns its destructive attention to Earth. When the Earth's first line of defense, the S.P.D. A-Squad, vanishes without trace, the protection of the planet falls to their replacements: the B-Squad Rangers, and their doglike alien commander, Anubis "Doggie" Cruger. When two reformed thieves join the team as the Red and Yellow S.P.D. Rangers, tensions threaten to tear them apart. With the alien threat growing stronger every moment, the Rangers must put aside their differences and go into action as one.

S.P.D. has an excellent group of protagonists. Where I've often found other series' have left particular members underdeveloped at the expense of others (Lightspeed Rescue and Time Force for example) each ranger here got great development and had their own specific place on the team (apart from Sam/Omega Ranger, but I'll come to him later). Jack (Red) struggles with suddenly being the leader of the team; Sky (Blue) struggles with NOT being the leader of the team, his father being a famous red ranger is S.P.D.'s history; Z (Yellow) is the member that takes pride in being part of something bigger and helping others; Bridge (Green) is the brains/comic relief and Syd (Pink) is the typical pink ranger with a good heart. Okay, so maybe they all aren't quite equal, but they all at least brought something to the table.

S.PD.'s version of Doggie Kruger is a strong, driven character with a troubled background, not often part of the show's lighter moments but not completely devoid of comedy. A great leader, and a great part of the team as the excellent Shadow Ranger too. On the subject of Doggie - going into the show I didn't think I'd like the American suit at all (which exchanged Dekaranger's fur suit for a scaly, more alien-like appearance). Initially the suit's googly eyes and rubbery facial expressions were distracting, but I came to like the suit a lot as time went on. The aesthetic changes made a lot of sense in the context of the show (as did the other S.P.D. staff who received similar changes) and was just as good as its Dekaranger counterpart. Kat was also an excellent side character, receiving much more screen time and characterisation than I was expecting. The most interesting side character for me however was Piggy, an alien turncoat who works as an informant for both sides. While some of his appearances may have been bad slapstick, I really liked the idea of a morally ambiguous character.

Unfortunately the villains aren't quite as good. Grumm just comes across as a ranting villain (mostly ranting at himself actually...or at least you think he is) who sometimes comes down to Earth to have some stupid fights on his motorbike and Mora/Morgana is just terrible whichever form she's in. Broodwing is better, an arms dealer who eventually tires of Grumm and proceeds with his own aspirations of world domination. However the most interesting villains are without a doubt the surprise twist of the show (I won't spoil it, because it's the best part of the series) and while their final fight may be a little anticlimactic, they've earned their place among Power Ranger's more interesting antagonists.

S.P.D.'s zords are (in my opinion anyway) among the best in Power Rangers. The Delta Squad Megazord is a fantastic combination of futuristic/alien emergency vehicles and the addition of the OmegaMax Cycle only adds to it. The S.W.A.T. Megazord makes up for its rather boring name and lack of individual component focus by being not only a brilliant robot, but having the ability to turn into a giant cannon! The weakest link is the Delta Command Megazord - but its gigantic size (akin to the carrier zords of previous shows) and impressive array of weapons more than make up for its lack of manoeuvrability.

While the cast (most of it anyway) and zords of S.P.D. may be excellent, there are several places where the story is less than stellar. While I usually praise a Power Rangers series for going a different route to its sentai counterpart, I found that with S.P.D. more instances than not differing from Dekaranger actually didn't work to its favour. In most cases, you don't even need to have SEEN Dekaranger to realise how misplaced some of these things feel. Firstly, Grumm felt completely out of place in the show. In a show that had quite a bit of focus on small time criminals as well as run-of-the-mill monsters, an evil empire looking to conquer Earth seemed a bit dumb (not to mention completely ineffective). Had Grumm been a crime boss or something more akin to Ransik from Power Rangers Time Force, I feel he might have worked much better as a character.

The Omega Ranger is equally as lazy. A ranger from the future is a great idea - having him only appear in ranger form or as a ball of light is not. Sam looked completely out of place in pretty much every non-fight scene he was in, and his weird voice (I'm not sure if it was processed or not, but it certainly didn't sound natural) made him feel like an extra more than a character. Since the Omega Ranger had no place in the current timeline, it meant pretty much all of DekaBreak's characterisation was shifted over to other rangers. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but it did make for at least one out of place moment. In the second part of the episode 'Reflection', monster-of-the week Mirloc (who killed Sky's father) has his mirror dimension (and thus, the source of his powers) destroyed by...the Omega Ranger. Why? Because in Dekaranger, it was DekaBreak who had the rivalry with the character, not the blue ranger. While this was eventually redeemed by Sky's brilliant battle sequence where he uses Jack's morpher to become the battlized red ranger, the lead-up to said event paid far too much attention on the wrong character.

Next comes S.P.D.'s tactic of killing barely any of the monsters in the show, instead having them all captured in small, card-like devices at the end of each episode. While this in itself isn't a bad idea (in fact, I thought it was a pretty interesting approach that certainly diverged from usual Power Rangers precedent), in the early episodes the monsters would be seen to explode in a ball of flames (as usual in Sentai/Power Rangers), only to be perfectly fine 2 seconds later so that they could be put into the containment card. While this was rectified later on by having them put immediately into the cards, final attack's had absolutely no point to them at the beginning of the show, other than to use the footage of course.

As a final note, it should be mentioned that S.P.D. is also the last series (thus far) to include a two ranger team team-up episode. Two of them in fact, both with the Dino Thunder ranger team. What's great about these episodes is they both take place in different times - one in S.P.D.'s future timeline, and one in the Dino Thunder period. While the first of the two (History) only has the three core Dino Thunder rangers, I felt it to be the stronger of the two - as opposed the second which featured all the rangers (and Zeltrax) but lacked Jason David Frank...but to his credit Jeffrey Parazzo did a pretty good Tommy Oliver impression.

Finally comes the pacing. At 38 episodes Power Rangers S.P.D. isn't particularly long (but its not the shortest Power Rangers season either) but I couldn't help feel everything happened at once. The OmegaMax Megazord appears straight after the OmegaMax Cycle is introduced, so there's absolutely no build up to this new combination. The S.P.D. battlizer is probably the best battlizer that has ever appeared in Power Rangers (so good it even appeared in Mahou Sentai Magiranger vs. Dekaranger), yet is barely seen or heard from again two episodes later when the S.W.A.T. armour is introduced. An episode after that the S.W.A.T. Megazord is introduced, but is severely underused. Everything comes at once, and the most interesting addition that was made doesn't even get a proper chance to be taken in.

Power Rangers S.P.D. is not a bad series - in fact it's a really enjoyable show, but I can't help feel that some of the ideas the show had actually ended up shooting itself in the foot rather than it benefiting from them. An average show that had the potential to be something much bigger, and much better too.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

A childhood goal accomplished...

A complete set of original Power Rangers Zeo action figures!

I've had the red, green, yellow and gold rangers since they were first released, but for some reason never got blue and pink. Managed to get a blue off eBay a couple of months ago but an affordable pink had been eluding me for ages - I seemed to either completely miss auctions or I'd get outbid in the last second.

So yeah, I'm pretty happy right now. Hoping I can pick up a gun and blade for Pink and Blue's tonfas at some point.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Anime REVIEW: Bubblegum Crisis

Bubblegum Crisis is possibly the first anime I ever heard about. When I was younger, any VHS I bought released by ADV (so the Sonic the Hedgehog and Tekken movies) always had an advert for it, and even then it always looked like something I'd enjoy. So here I am, years later, watching the original Bubblegum Crisis OVAs for the very first time. These eight episodes were released between 1989 and 1991.

The series takes place in the year 2032 in the city of MegaTokyo. Japan is still slowly piecing itself back together after the destruction of the Second Great Kanto Earthquake. The Genom Corporation, known for their intelligent labour robots (called Boomers), took a major role in the rebuilding of Tokyo, and as a result has become one of the largest corporations in the world. While the Boomers are supposed to serve humanity, in the wrong hands they are a deadly threat. Enter the AD Police force, who are tasked with dealing with any Boomer-related crime in the city. The only problem is that due the influence Genom have, the inability of the department to deal with certain threats due to politics and red-tape often shows.

Enter the Knight Sabers - a mysterious all female fighting force clad in hi-tech armour that deal with the Boomers in situations that the police can't. The team is made up of Sylia Stingray, the leader of the group and wealthy business owner; Priss, a popular rock singer, and the loose cannon of the group; Linna, an exercise instructor in her alter ego; and Nene, the group's tech, who also moonlights as an AD Police office worker. There's also Mackie, Sylia's younger brother and the group's mechanic.

What really sold this show to me was its style. Bubblegum Crisis takes heavy influence from the film Blade Runner, and this is illustrated in both the noir cityscapes of MegaTokyo and some of the more subtle (or not so subtle) references dashed throughout the show. Its opening, in which lead character Priss takes to the stage with her band Priss & The Replicants (see, there's one already!) launches you straight in with both fantastic art that still holds its own today and also the other thing that Bubblegum Crisis excels in - the music. While the background music again owes a lot to Blade Runner, the vocal tracks are female-vocal 80s J-rock at its very finest (with many of the songs performed by Priss seiyuu Kinuko Ohmori).

Coming back to the art, alongside the dark cityscapes Bubblegum Crisis has some great character designs on offer. The Boomers are shown to be hulking, robotic brutes while the Knight Sabers are quite the opposite - curvy anime babes in simple yet highly effective armour. The Hard Suits are certainly one of the more memorable pieces of anime design from that era, and arguably still one that's equally significant today. The fight scenes are nicely animated, with smooth motion and enough explosions to prove that the girls here kick far more ass than the men do.

Despite its retro charm and beauty, there are quite few problems with Bubblegum Crisis. The main issue is that the stories are all very self-contained, and as a whole lack any overall substance. None of the episodes specifically centre around the Knight Saber team, instead focussing on characters newly introduced each time, with their own predicaments somehow involving the team. Back story is non-existent, and the team's battle against the corrupt Genom corporation never reaches a conclusion. Its shame really, because plenty of the Knight Saber's history would have made far better episodes than some of the plot lines that did make it into the show. The episodes themselves are often too long to house the actual plots they contain, making scenes drag until you finally get the explosive climax where the Knight Sabers finally take on some Boomers (this is the formula for pretty much every episode by the way). After the final battle is concluded, the episodes pretty much stop - making the endings seem even more abrupt. The final episode ending is rather disappointing in that while it doesn't end on a cliffhanger, it doesn't give any closure to anything at all either.

So to summarise - Bubblegum Crisis is a slick piece of retro anime charm that has some great art and a brilliant soundtrack. Granted it's definitely a case of style over substance, but at the same time it certainly shows that they don't make sci-fi/cyberpunk anime like they used to.

Sunday 16 October 2011

Series REVIEW: Transformers: Prime season one

After the frankly superb Transformers: Animated, I was sceptical to see what the next iteration of the Transformers franchise would bring, especially since it was likely to have some sort of movie flavour to it (while I don't particularly oppose the live-action Transformers movies, I'd rather they keep apart from the series'). But despite being developed by first two movie screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, Transformers: Prime isn't quite as movie-influenced as one might expect it to be.

Before I look at the story and characters of Prime, it's worth mentioning that this show really is a visual treat - I've not seen any CGI TV series like it before. The humans don't suffer from the "uncanny valley" factor of looking too realistic, but the metal finishes of the robots look amazing and the backdrops (both Earthly and alien) look superb. Even if the writing doesn't sell this show to you, it's worth the watch just for how damn good it looks.

Immediately from the 5-part opener 'Darkness Rising' it was clear that this show was going to be daring. Killing off long-time fan favourite and original Autobot Cliffjumper in the first 5 minutes was always going to be a move that upset fans somewhere (but let's be honest, Transformers fans ALWAYS manage to be upset about SOMETHING) but it was a key event that set up so much for the future of the series. We were shown how much of a threat the Decepticons can be, we were introduced to dark energon, it was integral to Arcee's character development etc.

The Autobots are a lot more varied character-wise than the Decepticons so I'll start by analysing them, starting with none other than Optimus Prime. What can I say? Prime is Prime. He's the wise and great leader of the Autobots he's always been, but at the same time I couldn't help find him a little dull. But then again, its very true that no-one can voice Optimus quite like Peter Cullen can and he sounds just as fantastic as he did back in 1985. Ratchet (while being voiced brilliantly by Jeffrey Combs) is a great character, but in many ways feels like a watered-down version of his far more interesting Animated counterpart. The same can be said for Bulkhead. Its no surprise that its Bumblebee that's most like his movie counterpart, in terms of both looks, voice (or lack of) and character. The R2-D2 style beeping can get a little irritating at times, and while I can't say I cared for the character that much (in fact, if anything he seemed like most back-seat Autobot surprisingly) but he certainly had his fair share of excellent moments - the episodes "Sick Mind" and "Out of His Head" can attest to that.

But as far as Autobots go, the real triumph is without a doubt Arcee. Gone is the pink, stereotypically feminine Arcee that's been around since 1986, and in her place is something entirely new. Not only did this Arcee prove to be just as competent fighter (if not better) than her male team-mates, she also had an incredibly fleshed out backstory. Future generations of Transformers should take note, THIS is how femmebots should be handled.

On the whole, the Decepticons were a lot better. Its great to see Frank Welker back as the voice of Megatron, but his new twist on the iconic Megatron voice is darker and more sinister than ever (which complemented the more movie-esque design of the character nicely). Despite spending a significant portion of the series out of action, when Megatron came back into the frame his presence was certainly felt. Cold, calculating and merciless - this Megatron was everything the G1 version of the character wasn't. Another triumph in terms of writing was Starscream, who despite not being quite as great as his animated counterpart in my opinion was definitely a contender for one of Prime's best characters. This iteration of Starscream was a lot less vocal about his desire for power, instead manipulating events to eventually rise to to power in Megatron's absence. And in fairness, he wasn't a particularly terrible leader either. When Megatron finally returned and Starscream's leadership crumbled around him, he shined more than ever. Despite a disappointing absence for quite a while at the end of the series, I look forward to the return of the character in the future.

Soundwave was very different to the Soundwave's that have come before him, but at the same still very much Soundwave. Silent but deadly, this version of the character was far more "in the shadows" than previous versions, acting out only when he truly needed to (and this was completely worth it for his fight with Airachnid in the final episode). Newcomers Knockout, Breakdown and Airachnid were all excellent additions to the Decepticon cast, bringing along a Decepticon doctor (something the faction have never really had properly before) and good foils to Bulkhead and Arcee respectively.

The human protagonists are a lot more mixed. Jack is the standard human protagonist - likeable but not very interesting. Raf is younger, but a lot less believable as a character due to his Deus Ex Machina levels of hacking skills. And finally, Miko is just annoying. Loud and obnoxious, Miko constantly endangers the lives of everyone around her, which would be so bad except everytime it happens, she fails to learn any sort of lesson and it just happens again a few weeks later. Her character development is practically nil.

Transformers: Prime also introduced some human antagonists into the fray, M.E.C.H., but unlike the human adversaries seen in Transformers Animated, these were genuinely a threat. Truth be told I can't say I was completely sold on M.E.C.H. in the course of the series - their episodes were among the more forgettable ones and the only thing particularly interesting me was that their leader Silas was voiced by Clancy Brown (and looked a lot like the DCAU Lex Luthor too). Still, they did present themselves as a credible threat and if this series was only meant to establish this, then they should have quite a bit going for them in future episodes.

But despite a few duds and a lack of interest from me in the middle-to-tail-end of the series, the final four or so episodes REALLY managed to pull me back in. Suddenly plot threads such as Megatron's obsession with dark energon come to a head, and we see the 'Darkness Rising' that has been prophesied since the very beginning - the chaos bringer himself, Unicron. And this Unicron is very different to any that have come before him, another bold move on the writers' part. While I don't think the generic ancient-Transformer look worked for him very well (especially when he looks like he has a pinecone for an arm), the new origin meant a lot more could be done with him. While a planet sized Transformer is quite the spectacle, it does make interactions with the main characters severely limited. By making Unicron the core of planet Earth itself, not only is this Unicron just as threatening and powerful as his predecessors but he is a lot more versatile too. The 3-part finale began weaving in various origins from various sources into one epic story, and the series was left with a cliffhanger like no series has ever done before. 'One Shall Rise' really sucked me back into the show.

While personally I felt Prime lacked some of the charm and heart that Animated had, Prime is an excellent series that looks to serve the franchise well for many years to come. The CGI is superb, the characters are excellent and despite a few duds the story telling on the whole is very good. After the conclusion to this season, I'm eagerly awaiting season two.

Friday 14 October 2011

Series REVIEW: GoGo Sentai Boukenger

GoGo Sentai Boukenger was released between 2006-2007 and was the 30th anniversary series for the Super Sentai franchise. The Boukengers are part of the Search Guard Successor foundation, a worldwide organisation that hunts down powerful ancient relics known as Precious. There are many organisations (known as Negative Syndicate) who plot to use these Precious for evil, and it is the Boukengers job to put a stop to them and collect dangerous relics all over the Earth. The Boukengers are made up of Satoru Akashi (Bouken Red), Masumi Inou (Black), Souta Mogami (Blue), Natsuki Mamiya (Yellow) and Sakura Nishihori (Pink). They are later joined by Eiji Takaoka (Bouken Silver), a monk-like warrior who defends the world from demons known as the Ashu.

Before I begin this review, I should warn you that's going to be a recurring adjective all the way through it - and that's boring. I found pretty much everything about this show boring. Satoru is just the typical red leader type, which is some ways is refreshing as the previous 2 sentai series lacked this, and he does get some good character-centric episodes (particularly episode 27) doesn't really have that much depth outside "always seeking an adventure".The mystery of just who Natsuki is is quite prevalent for the early episodes of the show, then is forgotten about for ages until its brought back for a rather lackluster 2-part episode in which we find she shares a similar origin to Superman, but is destined to destroy modern civilisation. Exciting. The same goes for Masumi, who outgrows his rivalry with Satoru as the series progresses, only for it to return at the tail end of the series for a few episodes when he becomes the focus again (although the show does handle his return to the rivalry in a rather amusing fashion). Eiji is a very interesting character when he's first introduced, but once he becomes Bouken Silver he joins Souta and Sakura in the ranks of being bland and forgettable characters. Finally, Zuban, the show's "extra hero" (like Kakuranger's Ninjaman or Carranger's Signalman) isn't even a character - he's a plot device at best.

Unfortunately, Boukenger's vast array of villains aren't that interesting either. While admittedly Boukenger does change the status quo a little bit by having various groups of villains (a total of four) all working at the same time (meaning there are times when they are either working together or working AGAINST each other), all of the groups are pretty dull. Each of their back stories are minimal (Ryuuwon does receive a brief origin, but it's rather one dimensional) and none have any particular depth to them. Gajah, the series' main antagonist, looks very similar to the more human-esque villains you would seen in earlier Sentai shows, but looks very silly alongside the more modern-styled villain suits in the series. The worst offenders in the show are definitely Dark Shadow (a ninja organisation who sell Precious to the highest bidder), whose best character doesn't actually get good until he betrays the organisation (and is subsequently beaten shortly after) and are led by an blue owl. And, a blue owl - and the saddest part is said owl would have been the most interesting character in the series if he had received more than 10 seconds of back story. At a stretch, the Questers (the final antagonists to be introduced into the show - reanimated versions of Ashu demons Eiji defeated) are the best of the bunch, but then they are also the first to get defeated.

On the subject of final defeats, the villains that don't survive the series all receive some sort of glory in their final battle, but each at the same time they all tend to feel anticlimactic. The final episode of the show lacks the exciting element of a final battle that shows that came before (and after) it had, and its main redeeming feature is its "half a year later" epilogue (although admittedly I'm a sucker for epilogues such as this), which does answer a question that had been bugging me the entire series. I won't spoil it, but all I'll say is it's not even guessable until the penultimate episode.

But it's not all bad, episode 25 is by far the stand out episode of the show - handling the "monster of the week doesn't want to fight" plot line in a way I've not seen any other show do, making it all the more heartwarming (and for once, has a relatively happy ending for all involved). The mecha are very good in the series too, even if the main mecha gets shunted off a little too quickly for my liking. DaiBouken has a very interesting design, a lot bulkier and more detailed than previous mecha, a long with some interesting (but fitting) weapon choices - a pickaxe and shovel that combine into a sword. What I particularly like about DaiBouken though is that when additional GoGo vehicles arrive on the scene that can combine with it, the robot is capable of storing the swapped out limbs in its hollow legs, meaning all the pieces remain on the robot at all time (something the current series mecha GokaiOh fails badly at). Super and Ultimate Daibouken aren't quite as good design-wise if you ask me (and as I said earlier come into the show far too quickly), but are still fairly decent and Ultimate doesn't look too cluttered for something that's made up of 10 separate vehicles. I don't think Bouken Silver's SirenBuilder is a bad mecha, but I'm not a huge fan of it either so I don't really have a lot to say about it. However the main team's second giant robot, DaiVoyager is a beast of a robot! I don't really understand why an organisation like SGS would need a giant battleship of that calibre, but I can roll with it...and besides, its ship mode is a great homage to the battleship mecha of the early Sentai shows.

Finally I'm going to take a moment to talk about Boukenger's entry into the VS series of movies, as because it is an anniversary show its a "Vs Super Sentai" movie rather than vs the previous show (which in this case would have been Mahou Sentai Magiranger). The film features the first appearance of AkaRed, an embodiment of the spirits of the 30 red Super Sentai warriors, and also returning characters (both heroes and villains) from earlier shows. While the film gets off to an excellent start, I can't help feel it trails off toward the end and is lacking in some aspects. The most disappointing thing about the movie is that in reality its only really the last 6 years of Super Sentai on show (the returning characters are all from Gaoranger, Hurricanger, Abaranger, Dekaranger and Magiranger) and so doesn't really feel like a THIRTY year celebration.

In many ways, GoGo Sentai Boukenger feels like a back to basics tribute to Super Sentai, combining the formula that had gone down so well in Japan for 30 years and sprucing it up a little with some of the more modern flair the franchise had picked up over the years. It's by no means an awful series, but one that's likely to divide opinion more than others. Some will enjoy it - but I found it really boring and the worst out of the seven Sentai series I've watched thus far. In short, not the best 30th anniversary celebration the franchise could have had if you ask me.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Gokai Red

The wait is finally over. After several months of waiting and a pretty frantic scramble for preorders the hotly anticipated Figuarts Gokai Red has arrived. The Gokaigers are the second Super Sentai team to be released in the Figuarts line (after the Shinkengers) and Red is the first to be released of the 6 (Blue, Green and Silver are mass releases, whilst Yellow and Pink are Tamashii web exclusives).

Much like Figuarts Shinken Red, Bandai have really outdone themselves on the sculpt. Every detail from the suit is on show and the colours are replicated well (the gold is a little duller than the show versions of the suit, but any brighter and they probably would have had to be chrome which would not only look garish but ruin the overall aesthetic of the figure). The suit's collar is made of a softed plastic, which is good as it means it isn't brittle and gets in the way when posing parts of Gokai Red around that area. The joints are much like the ones Shinken Red had, only this time they aren't quite as tight and complicated posing doesn't make you feel like you're about to snap the toy's limbs off. The wrist balls for the alternate hands also require significantly less force (although this may vary figure to figure, I'm not sure), yet nothing is loose and everything fits on snugly and more importantly, stays on.

Gokai Red's accessories include the Gokai gun and saber (each with hinged key barrels), the mobirates, a folded and unfolded ranger key, alternate "key inserted" barrels for the gun and sword, a wide variety of alternate hands and a nifty cross armed piece to do a proper arms crossed pose (not matter how much you try, the articulated arms will never do it justice). While I think Shinken Red's accessory count was a little more impressive, you can't argue that Gokai Red comes with everything he should come with and more. The level of detail these relatively small accessories have is staggering...the folded ranger key even fits in the mobirates! A word of warning though, as you can imagine the keys are TINY, so are not only delicate, but could also be lost extremely easily.

The first release of Gokai Red also comes with the Gokai Darin (or if you'd prefer, the Gokai Galleon wheel). Packed in its own separate box, the Gokai Darin is highly detailed, and the wheel itself is free spinning. While it may not seem like much on its own (although it's a pretty great bonus if you ask me), it will look brilliant alongside the wheels included with Blue, Green, Pink and Yellow.

Gokai Red is a brilliant figure, and a must have for all fans of the show and Super Sentai fans in general. If you want the wheel included, I suggest buying the figure as soon as possible because it's in pretty high demand. To those into the S.H. figuarts line but not so much the Sentai side of things, I'd definitely give this figure a look because it's a hell of a lot of fun, and would look great on display even without his team mates.

In short - buy Gokai Red. Captain Marvelous has spoken.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Toybox REVIEW: Engine Sentai Go-Onger mini-pla Gunbir-Oh

At long last, my Go-Onger mini-pla mecha collection is complete! My final review in the series, and the 2nd mini-pla to be released is Gunbir-Oh - consisting of Go-On Green's partner Birca, Go-On Black's partner Gunpherd and the partner-less Carrigator. The set is made up of four boxes - with Carrigator taking up two of the boxes.

I personally find that the engines that make up Gunbir-Oh don't need any additional paint as such for extra accuracy, but the silver engine parts on Birca and Gunpherd look much much better painted than they do stickered. On the subject of the stickers, BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN APPLYING THEM. The stickers used for each of their eyes (and to be honest, most of Birca too) are TINY, and could be lost or broken extremely easy. My Carrigator's right eye didn't come off the sticker sheet properly, and was pretty much rendered unusable. I managed to paint him a pretty good substitute eye (which I have thus christened his gimpy eye) but its still an example of the level of care applying the stickers to the figures need, especially if you've bought the (what I've found to be) slightly cheaper quality Hong Kong reissues.

As far as the single engines go Carrigator has the most going for him. Being made up of two separate boxes, he's significantly larger than both Birca and Gunpherd, sporting lots of moveable flaps and even a posable jaw! Better, still, both Birca and Gunpherd can also ride on top of him! That's not to say Birca and Gunpherd are without their own features though, the 'animal' part of Birca is able to spin around freely and Gunpherd's front part is able to extend forward (this is more for use in Gunbir-Oh mode though).

Gunbir-Oh himself is pretty simply to put together, simply standing Carrigator upright, folding the head down then plugging the arms in the corresponding sockets. I don't know if this is an issue with all Gunbir-Ohs, but I found mine's legs to be quite floppy, and combined with his strange feet this makes him a little difficult to pose. Arms-wise there isn't a lot to do either, since Gunbir-Oh doesn't actually have any hands. You can get some great firing or blade cutting poses from him, but that's about it. Still, the figure itself looks great, and fits nicely among his Go-Onger brethren.

So, final thoughts? Gunbir-Oh is an excellent figure, but much like my Engine-Oh he suffers from a few problems which prevents him from being truly brilliant. I have no regrets in buying the figure though, and it feels good to have all four Go-Onger mecha sitting proudly on my shelf. The big question is, where do I go from here? I think the Goseiger candy toys might be calling me...

EXTRA: And of course, now that I own all four mecha I can finally show off the G6, G9 and G12 combinations! I don't really have a lot to say about them, because as you can imagine as you add more and more to the body the posability becomes less and less (G9 and G12 are pretty back-heavy too, but not to the point where they'll fall over). However, that doesn't change the fact that all the combinations are extremely well executed and G12 himself is HUGE for a candy toy (see the comparison pic with Gokai-Oh below for reference). One thing I will say though is that, if like me, you don't have the instructions on hand when it comes to making the combinations (although G6 is simple enough) be prepared for a lot of guesswork - I had to consult some video reviews before I worked out how Jumbowhale attached to Speedor, and then even more before I worked out how the hell Kishamoth was involved.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who Season Six - an overview

Another year, another season of Doctor Who over with. And its time for me to once again share my thoughts briefly on this year's offerings. This isn't a proper review as such, but more my opinions and ratings on thoughts on what has been my favourite TV show for as long as I can remember.

The season began with 'The Impossible Astronaut' () way back in April. The episode was a very strong start for the season, setting up the main plot for the year with the Doctor's death and the introduction of the Silents, who'd had a lot of hype surrounding them prior to beginning of the season. Not only that, but the episode included extensive shooting in the US, which was also a pretty big deal. Exchanges between the Doctor and River began to feel a lot less groan-inducing, and resulted in some pretty good banter between the two. At this stage Rory and Amy were also working well as a married couple. Unfortunately its second part, 'Day of the Moon' () wasn't quite as good. Glossing over three whole months at the beginning put the plot in a completely different place to where we left the last episode already put it in a lower position in my mind, but despite some particularly creepy moments (the drawn out tally charts were an excellent touch) the Silents failed to live up to their hype. Still, the episode concluded with a very interesting cliffhanger, and one the would keep the audience guessing for the whole first half of the season.

'The Curse of the Black Spot' () was the first true miss of the season, but certainly not the last. The siren herself was well imagined, but the story itself was pretty uninteresting, especially when following on the the previous episode's massive cliffhanger.

Neil Gaiman has always had mixed results with me, but 'The Doctor's Wife' () turned out to be by far and large the best episode of the season, and one of the best episodes of Doctor Who since the relaunch. With finally the TARDIS finally capable of speech, the interesting relationship the Doctor shared with his blue box could finally be shared. It dealt with a lot of history between the two characters (since the TARDIS is alive I guess it justifies as a character) and it also housed quite a few references to the classic days of Doctor Who. Personifying the TARDIS was a bold move, and one that could have gone wrong so very easily -

The two-part story 'The Rebel Flesh' () and 'The Almost People' () was certainly my lowest point of the series. Besides not needing 2 parts by any stretch of the imagination, the story was a pretty cliché piece of science fiction writing, complete with predictable characters, twists and cliffhangers and a terrible CGI monster at the end to top it off. It DID however provide the rare opportunity to see two of the same Doctor in the same place, and too much Matt Smith is never a bad thing - 'Reverse the jelly baby of the neutron flow' is a line that probably made Doctor Who fans of all ages over the world smile. It also created a red herring that would be a popular fan theory for the Doctor's death and an excellent (and unexpected) set up for the finale of the first half of the season.

'A Good Man Goes to War' () had a lot going on it, meaning at times it felt a little rushed, but it was still a hell of a lot better than what had come before it. The stakes had been set pretty high, and element of conflict in the episode nicely reflected that. The twist was pretty obvious from a mile off, but that didn't make its impact within the story any damper. The episode also introduced to some very interesting side characters, including a Sontaran nurse and a Victorian Silurian (who also happened to be a lesbian). It's a shame these characters will probably never get a proper origin, because for me they were among the most memorable parts of the episodes and surprisingly endearing characters.

A few months later, the second half of the season opened with 'Let's Kill Hitler' (), which actually turned out to not have very much to do with Hitler at all. Instead it was about River's origins and how she was brought up to kill the Doctor, which was done in a horrifically predictable fashion. To make matters worse, the whole big plotline of Amy looking for her child seemed to just stop with this episode, making me wonder if it had all been such a big deal in the first place.

Thankfully next came 'Night Terrors' (), which was easily my favourite episode of this half of the season and my second favourite of the overall season. A great emotional story, some genuinely creepy monsters and Matt Smith showing off his Doctor's quirks and eccentricities made this episode a pleasure to watch. When Moffat eventually steps down from the helm of Doctor Who, I'd like to see what Mark Gatiss could do with the show if he had the chance.

Following on from that was 'The Girl Who Waited' (), which perhaps was my breaking point with the Ponds. While the story played with some interesting time travel concepts (such as paradoxes and alternate futures) and easily had the best display of the 11th Doctor's manipulative sides, the story's overpowering emotional drive was too much. Future Amy waited 40 years for the Doctor and Rory to come and save her and felt betrayed that it took that long? Boo hoo, Rory waited for Amy for 2000 years and you don't see him constantly bringing it up. 'The God Complex' () was a better episode, if mostly forgettable. What I did enjoy about it was some great comedy easter eggs in the background (Silurian in a suit and tie), a surprise nod to a classic villain and finally a goodbye to the Ponds (for now).

Going in to 'Closing Time' () I wasn't expecting too much, mostly because I'm not a fan of James Corden. But what I will say is that the episodes he appear in definitely bring out the best in Matt Smith. 'The Lodger' did it, and this certainly did too. Alone again, the Doctor is shown a very different light, becoming increasing aware and accepting of his incoming demise. The dynamic between Craig and the Doctor is very different to the one between the Doctor and any of his companions from the modern series, which is extremely refreshing. It was also nice to see the return of proper Cybermen (their 30 second cameo in 'A Good Man Goes to War' notwithstanding) and the first modern series appearance of Cybermats, even if they were underused (and somewhat superfluous) to the episode. Still underuse is sometimes better than overuse, and they weren't what was most important to the episode - they'll get their chance to shine yet.

So, with the season being mostly duds for me, was the finale going to be able to pull it all back. And thankfully, the answer was yes - 'The Wedding of River Song' () managed to help a lackluster season go out with a bang. The episode delved in what would happen if you tried to change a fixed point in time, and the result was a pretty interesting alternate take on the world using famous landmarks and people. Much like many of Moffat's episodes the story did play around with time a lot, but it made good use of the seeds sown in earlier episodes and the end result was equal parts thrilling, touching, 'scary', and exciting - everything a Doctor Who episode should be. The 'wedding' of River Song was handled excellently, and could equally have been great closure on the character as well as opening more doors for any potential returns in the future. And most importantly, it just goes to show the Doctor really is one step ahead of everyone else, and always has a plan.

But the best bit of the episode? Nicholas Courtney's death finally getting the in-show recognition it deserved. It didn't impede on the episode, but had the perfect level of emotional impact for both the Doctor and the audience. He may not have worked with Courtney, but the Doctor's look of sorrow and loss at the news of the death of the Brigadier perfectly summed up the sorrow of Courtney's family, friends and fans alike when the world lost one of the best and most loved Doctor Who companions from the classic series.

So my final thoughts on the season? Overall quite weak, but then again also includes some the best episodes since the relaunch. Matt Smith continues to dominate as the Doctor, but I think perhaps it's time that both the Ponds and River Song moved on. A season comprised mostly of stories where the Ponds are in mortal danger has made me become somewhat bored of them, to the point where in this season I began to wonder if Moffat thought they were more important than the Doctor himself (admittedly this did begin to die down after 'The Girl Who Waited'). River still has some element of mystery remaining to her, but perhaps some things are better left unsaid to keep the audience guessing - too many revelations will only serve to destroy the all-important aura of mystery that the Doctor has. But with Gillan definitely signed on for another season, it doesn't look like we'll definitely be saying goodbye to the Ponds quite yet. Hopefully they'll have a slightly less intensive role in the next season, which after today's episode I can quite happily say I'm looking forward to again.