Monday 23 January 2012

Anime REVIEW: Invincible Superman Zambot 3

As the creator of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise, Yoshiyuki Tomino is a name that is synonymous with both the mecha genre and anime as a whole. But before Tomino created Gundam, in 1977 he created a 23 episode series named 'Invincible Superman Zambot 3'. While this show may not be anywhere near as famous as his other works, it undeniably had an influence on them and also other shows of the genre that followed.

On the face of things the plot seems fairly generic for a 70s super robot show - the space aliens Gaizok are invading the Earth, their leader (the awesomely) named Killer the Butcher. In the past the Gaizok destroyed the planet Beal, with the survivors fleeing to Earth. In the present day, there are three related families that are descendants of the Beals, who defend the Earth using technology passed onto them by their ancestors. In order to battle the Gaizok Mecha Boosts, 12 year old Kappei Jin and his 2 cousins pilot three weapons that can combine into the titular mecha Zambot 3.

The twist in the story is that instead of being hailed as heroes, the Jin family are condemned by the people of Earth, who blame them for the Gaizok's arrival and the death and destruction that followed. Anyone expecting Zambot 3 to be a light hearted Super Robot show with few real consequences will be in for a surprise - the world is left in ruins, people die left right and centre and climactic final battle is particularly brutal.

The Zambot 3 mecha is made up of three components - Kappei's Zambird (which can transform into its own robot mode, the Zambo Ace), male cousin Uchūta Kamie's Zambull and female cousin Keiko Kamikita's Zambase. The combined form is not an awful design by any stretch of the imagination, but its not a particularly memorable one, and could easily get lost among the many other red, blue and white mecha that had their own series at the time. Piloting-wise I was disappointed to find that control of the mecha pretty much always solely relied on Kappei, with the two cousins doing very little from what I could tell (Keiko's cockpit was in the robot's crotch).

While having young pilots certainly adds more gravity to the "WAR IS BAD" tone of the series, it makes the protagonists rather unlikeable. Kappei spends most of the show as an annoying brat, and the same goes for his rival, local gang leader Shingo Kōzuki. Kōzuki is the character that in some ways spearheads the animosity toward the Jin family, but when watching I found it hard to accept his point of view when he was just as stubborn about issues as Kappei. It is only after the two come to blows on several occasions that they begin to see each other's way of thinking and thus become more bearable as characters. But as far as the plot is concerned, the show never lets you forget that these are children who have been thrust into a war zone.

But Zambot 3's biggest weakness is without a doubt its villains. Other than managing to churn out a new monster every episode, the Gaizok never come across as a particularly huge threat. Killer the Butcher in no way lives up to his name, and spends 99.9% of his scenes as nothing more than one big joke. From singing in the bath and holding his own personal rock concert to trying on jewellery and perfume, NOTHING about this character screams 'threatening'. Even when the Gaizok move away from their tactic of throwing out a different monster every week to something far more deadly, Butcher and his lackies remain a comedy joke that feel completely out of place in the show.

Another smaller complaint is that, the fact it's obviously dated aside, the animation is particularly inconsistent. It's the usual fare of changing backdrops/colours and badly animated mouths, but that doesn't make it more easy on the eyes to watch, especially when there were shows around this time that were better animated.

Zambot 3 isn't a brilliant show, the combination of a brutal, gritty plot and a monster of the week format don't gel together well and the result is something that doesn't live up to the full potential of either style. It is however a very interesting watch, its themes certainly original at the time and still holding up particularly well today. If you're a fan of the mecha/super robot genre and don't mind a bit of dated animation, it may be in your best interests to check this show out.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Series REVIEW: Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger

Back in 2001 the Super Sentai franchise celebrated its 25th anniversary with the 51-episode series Hyakujuu (Hundred Beast) Sentai Gaoranger, following on from the previous year's Mirai Sentai Timeranger. One thousand years ago, a war raged between the human race and the demonic Org Tribe. With the help of the Power Animals, the ancient Gao Warriors were able to defeat the Orgs and seal them away. Then, in present day (or 2001) the Orgs reawaken and five individuals are chosen by the Power Animals to become Gaorangers. But to do so they must give up their names and ordinary lives, living on an island in the sky and referring to each other by colour rather than name. Midway through the series they encounter Rouki, a wolf Org sealed for a thousand years who is actually possessing the body of Tsukumaro Ohgami, an ancient Gao Warrior who used the evil dark wolf mask to gain strength to defeat the Orgs, but became cursed by it in the process. After breaking the curse, he joins the team as the sixth Gaoranger, Gao Silver.

While none of Gaoranger's protagonists are outright bad, none of them really stood out from the other or from any other Sentai hero. Red (Kakeru Shishi) is initially hot headed but gradually falls in his role of leader, while Yellow (Gaku Washio) is more aloof but becomes accepting of Red's leadership. Blue (Kai Samezu) and Black (Sotaro Ushigome) spend most of their time as some sort of comedy double act, and White (Sae Taiga) is actually one of the more competant female fighters I've seen. Silver has a lot of focus during and after the Rouki arc, but after its said and done he sort of just slots into the background without anything making him truly stand out other than that he's from the past. But my biggest problem was that while referring to them by colour helps emphasise the lives they've given up in order to become Gaorangers, I can't deny that it made me feel a little less attached to them. I've only watched the series once, and without looking them up I can't honestly remember ANY of their real names.

The suit aesthetic was great, the gold sashes complimenting the suit colours well and striking helmet designs. The retractable claws on the gloves were an excellent touch for the "wild" look, and were not only used for extra effect but also as weaponry (particularly by GaoWhite). Alone the weapons weren't much to look at (White had a baton, and Red had some glove things that could also strangely turn into a gun) but together they were a little better.

The series technically has no 'main' antagonist, instead the role of lead villain is split among different Highness Orgs in multiple story arcs. The first is the Shuta arc, which is followed by the lengthy Ura arc (although this has the Rouki arc sandwiched inside it), followed by the Rasetsu arc and finally a short final arc involving all three generals and the combination of them - Senki, the King of all Orgs. For me, this is where the series really fell short, as none of the Highness Orgs are particularly good. Shuta doesn't really achieve anything of great note, which Ura (who in fairness does probably achieve the most out the three) is overshadowed by the much more interesting Rouki. Rasetsu however is one of the worst villains I've ever seen, being primarily occupied with eating (he even captures Tetom JUST so she can cook for him). Not only that, but none of them look that good either - while they have a different aesthetic from the standard Orgs (body parts instead of technology - Shuta is eyes, Ura nose and Rasetsu mouths) they would still look little more than monsters of the week in any other series. Senki has a much better "big bad" feel about him, but his arrival (coupled with the rather anticlimactic and dull final episode) are a little too late.

Tsuetsue and Yabaiba, duke Orgs and the series lackies, are quite well rounded at the start, posing a competent threat to the Gaorangers and sharing rivalries with GaoWhite and GaoYellow respectively. Mid-way into the series they tend to delve more into comic-relief territory, but once again become more interesting as Tsuetsue is betrayed by her masters.

Gaoranger displays an excellent array of mecha, boasting one of the largest amount in Super Sentai. There are a total of four main mecha (GaoKing, GaoMuscle, GaoIcarus and Silver's GaoHunter) and then a variety of special versions (such as GaoCentaurus and GaoGod) and limb changes. These limb changes had very uninspired names, such as 'GaoKing Another Arm' but added a little bit more variety to the mecha fights, which can always potentially become a bit dry over the course of 50 odd episodes. One combination I wasn't too fond of however was the Striker formation (using GaoMadillo and GaoRhinos as the legs), because the finisher involved kicking the armadillo like a football, complete with mecha doing football tricks in a shoddy CGI stadium. In an animal-themed series, not only did it look horrible, but it also felt completely out of place.

Which neatly brings me on to my final two complaints about the Gaoranger aesthetic. The first being their mode of transformation, which was a mobile phone (a feature that would go on to recur repeatedly in Super Sentai). Not necessarily a bad thing, but a little odd given the series is so focused on natural wild animals and has a rather clear environmental message. Finally would be GaoSilver's finisher, which involved him playing pool with his animal jewels. It's certainly different, but that didn't change the fact I thought it still looked stupid.

As this was an anniversary series, Gaoranger also included the first "Vs. Super Sentai" movie (which would return for the 30th anniversary/Boukenger and under a slightly different name for the 35th/Gokaiger). While the film brings back a lot of old faces, its severely dampened by the fact about half of the footage is clips from older series. This is ESPECIALLY noticeable during the "all Red rangers" scene, which in many ways should have been one of if not the crowning points of the movie. A clip show can be okay now and again, but a 1 hour 10 minute one is stretching it a bit.

Gaoranger is enjoyable series, but in comparison to all the Super Sentai series' I've seen thus far it's pretty average. The mecha, music and aesthetic (for the most part) are excellent, but the awful villains and so-so protagonists really make the series drag after the superb Rouki arc (and even moreso once the Rasetsu arc kicks in). The good really does equal the bad, but as a 25th anniversary series it does fall a little short of the mark.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Gokai Yellow

With all of the mass release Gokaiger figuarts out of the way until Gokai Silver's release at the end of the month, it's time to move onto the two black sheep of the Gokaiger figuarts line - Gokai Yellow and Gokai Pink. Unlike their male team mates, the two girls have been relegated to Bandai Tamashii Web exclusives, meaning not only are they around double the price of the other figures but anyone living outside of Japan would need to buy them via eBay or a middleman service. Unless these two happen to be your favourite characters, I can imagine they'll only really catch the eye of those planning to collect all of the Gokaigers.

Being a girl, Gokai Yellow obviously sports a different sculpt to Red, Blue and Green. Aside from the obvious feminine proportions and the addition of a skirt, the figure is noticeably shorter than those that have come before her. The gold trimming is much less striking on top of yellow than any other colour, but as a whole she is on par with the rest of the team released so far.

Due to the posing limitations of the skirt, Bandai have offered an alternative (like they did with the three female Shinkenger figures) in the form of a three piece skirt (a main piece, and then two separate hip pieces). While still made of soft plastic, the detached hip pieces mean the legs can move freely about for some of the more dynamic posing (and if you plan to use some of Yellow's accessories, you're gonna need it). Changing the skirt involves separating the torso from the legs and then unhooking the one piece skirt. The main piece then attaches in the same place, while the hip pieces attach at tiny plugs on the legs. While the plugs are small, the pieces fit nice and tightly.

I'm not sure whether being an exclusive has anything to do with it, but Gokai Yellow sports a particularly impressive set of accessories alongside her alternate skirt. Along with ten extra hands and the usual Gokaiger fare of Gokai Saber, gun, alternate 'Final Wave' weapon barrels, mobirates and 'sneeze and you'll lose them' ranger keys, Yellow also comes with both of her signature weapons from the show. The first of which is the double bladed Gokai Saber, made up of two swords stuck together (although on this figure its one solid piece). Like the single sword the key barrel is movable, however two 'final wave' barrels are not included (I'd put this down to the fact she's never had a final wave using the weapon).

The second weapon is much more interesting - her wired Gokai saber. The weapon itself is just the standard blade, however it is attached to a bendable wire with a handle at the end. The wire itself is particularly strong, and so retains any outstretched sword poses excellently (although balancing the figure during these may be a different issue entirely). The only downside is that only ONE of the blades is included with Yellow, while most of the time on the show she is shown using two. Since you're paying extra for Yellow its a little disappointing that she doesn't come with two, but its hard not to argue that the wire trick is still a ridiculously fun addition. Solicitations for Gokai Pink have suggested she may also come packaged with a wire saber (although this is yet to be confirmed), so all might not be lost if you are planning to pick up the whole set.

And of course, Yellow also comes with her Gokai Darin, only this time its packaging is a little different. Since Yellow is an exclusive and therefore unlikely to ever see reissue, the wheel is packaged within the actual figure box rather than separately. There's little to say about the wheel I haven't already said in my Gokai Blue and Green reviews, other than the fact its yellow...but it is nice to be one step closer to completing a GokaiOh cockpit display.

It's a shame Bandai decided to make the girls exclusives but if you're prepared to pay the mark up for Gokai Yellow you won't be disappointed. Sporting good proportions for a feminine figure, an interesting posing mechanic for the skirt and (in my opinion) possibly the best range of accessories for any Gokaiger bar Green's Navi, Yellow is yet another excellent figure from the line. If the rumours of the second wired Gokai Saber coming with Gokai Pink turn out to be true, then she'll be even better.

Two more to go!

Friday 6 January 2012

Toybox REVIEW: Nendoroid Stocking

The second nendoroid I'm going to review (and funnily enough, also the only other nendo I own) is the second of the Panty and Stocking ones - this time Panty's goth lolita, sword wielding, cake loving sister Stocking.

While both small and super deformed, the sculpt of the figure is excellent, nicely capturing all the details in Stocking's gothic black dress. Her long twin coloured hair covers the majority of the figure, the back of the dress completely covered by it with the head attached. However the hanging portion of the hair is made from a soft plastic and separated into semi movable strips, which means it can be moved around for poses using the outstretched arms. I personally found neatly moving the hair out the way like the box shows a little difficult, but the hair moves neatly back into place when straightened - which was initially a worry of mine.

Much like Panty, Stocking comes with a pretty wide range of accessories. She is packaged with three alternate faces (a standard mopey face, a shouting face and an "OMG THIS CAKE IS DELICIOUS" face), a variety of alternate arms and hands, a extra "panty-less" set of legs with removable bare legs, a fork, a plate of neatly sliced cake, 2 swords (stripes I and II) and her beloved plush toy Honeneko. Much like the detailing on Panty's guns, the blue stripes on the swords are a nifty translucent blue plastic. The cake is not attached to the plate, instead being held via a peg on the optional hand that is able to hold the plate (there is a small hole in the plate for the the peg). This means it can be posed with either the whole cake attached, or (with some clever peg hiding) one slice left after Stocking greedily eats it all.

Due to being posable at the hips, it means the legs can be swapped so that you can have one stocking on and one off rather than both on or off. This is great if like me you like to pose Stocking with just the one sword rather than two. To make Stocking hold the swords, the handles have to be removed and inserted into the hands via the bottom of the fistsm then reattaching the blades at the top. A little fiddly, but the blades peg into the handles pretty firmly.

Stocking also comes with the excellent pink magnetic stand that Panty has, which attaches at the head with ease (no plugs - just the magnet inside the head attracting to the stand's), is firm and can be easily hidden by the figure's exaggerated proportions.

Much like how I felt about Panty, I'm still not fully convinced that nendoroids are worth the full asking price due to my love for proper posable figures, (but then, I didn't pay for Stocking, she was a fantastic Christmas present from my girlfriend) but Stocking is still a great toy. She doesn't have quite as much personality as the Panty nendoroid (but Panty is a far more lively character in general) but her accessories are much better and more fun than her sister's. I'm not sure if I could recommend one over the other, so if you're only planning to get one I'd say go with whoever you like best, but both sisters are both great in their own way and look even better when posed together.