Tuesday 28 February 2012

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Kamen Rider Decade Violent Emotion

Now that I've settled myself in for a long stay with the Figuarts toyline, it's time to venture back into some of its older releases. The first figure I decided on was also the first full Kamen Rider series I watched (and will be re-watching for a review on this blog sometime in the near future) and star of the upcoming Kamen Rider X Super Sentai: Super Hero Taisen movie. He of course is none other than Kamen Rider Decade, star of the 10th anniversary Heisei Rider series of the same name. The "Violent Emotion" version of the figure is the second release of the character, to tie in with "Kamen Rider × Kamen Rider & Decade: Movie War 2010" and sporting brand new headsculpts.

While the Decade figure still boasts an impressive sculpt, the figure isn't quite as flawless as some of the later ones I've bought from the line. It sports different hip joints which are not quite as versatile as the newer ones, the shoulders feel a bit more restrictive and the hands are much larger than perhaps they should be (this is particularly noticable on the open hands). Regardless, Decade has one thing the newer figures don't, and that is the inclusion of die-cast feet. While it may seem like an odd choice, it adds a lot more weight to the figure making balancing during poses a lot less of a chore. While there might be a few things Bandai did differently back then, Decade could certainly still hold his own.

Before I talk about accessories, perhaps the first and foremost thing to discuss is the two different headsculpts. The one attached to the figure in the packaging is the "evil Decade" version from the aforementioned movie, in which Tsukasa (aka Decade) accepts his role as the destroyer of worlds and hunts down the remaining riders. The second head is a more accurate version of his standard helmet used on the TV show/the latter part of the film. From what I can gather the original release of Figuarts Decade (now dubbed the "State Passion" version by fans/sellers) had lesser quality sculpt, and the difference between the two can be seen here (Violent Emotion version is on the right). To be honest the difference of the two heads included here is minute - the crests are different colour and the eyes are slightly different, but its nice to have the option.

Other accessories include 3 other pairs of hands (totalling in 1 open pair, 1 card holding pair, 1 open fist pair and 1 closed fist pair), a pointing hand (which I assume is intended for the K-Touch included with Kamen Rider Decade Complete Form) and 3 versions of the Rider Booker - standard, gun mode and sword mode. The standard Rider Booker opens and can attach to the figure via a peg hole, but that's about as far as extra playability goes. Its a shame that the figure doesn't include the set of rider cards that were included with the first release (especially when a set of card holding hands was included), but it reality they probably would have amounted to small pieces that would have spent most of their time in the box anyway. A quick google search will provide you with a PDF of printable cards if you're really that interested.

Kamen Rider Decade isn't a perfect figure, but he's still a very good one. A choice of heads is a very nice addition and the design is quite appealing even with the generous use of pink (but if any Rider was going to be able to pull it off, it'd be Tsukasa). Whatever your thoughts on the Kamen Rider Decade series was, as a main Rider Decade comes as a recommended purchase.

Super Hero Taisen: Which side are you on?

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Series REVIEW: Choujuu Sentai Liveman

For the first time my Super Sentai viewing has taken me back to the days before Power Rangers adaptations, all the way back to 1988-89 when Choujuu Sentai Liveman was on Japanese television screens. Although officially the 12th entry in the Super Sentai franchise (sandwiched between Maskman and Turboranger), the series was also celebrated as the 10th anniversary of Super Sentai as Goranger and J.A.K.Q. would not be officially considered part of the franchise until later. The series ran for a total of 49 episodes.

Academia Island is an elite school where gifted students gather from around the world to enhance their knowledge. Among them are Yusuke Amamiya, Joh Ohara and Megumi Misaki. Along with Takuji Yano and Mari Aikawa, the five aim to create a suit strong enough for space exploration. However three other Academia students - Kenji Tsukigata, Rui Senda, and Goh Omura, believe their talents are being wasted and are invited by the mysterious Great Professor Bias to join the evil organisation Volt in order to meet their full potential. When Yusuke and friend see the three leaving Earth to join Volt, Kenji draws a gun on them - murdering both Takuji and Mari in the process.

Two years later, Volt begin their plans to conquer Earth - with Kenji, Rui and Goh now taking the names of Doctor Kemp, Mazenda and Obler. Academia Island is destroyed and many killed in the invasion, but Yusuke, Joh and Megumi have been preparing and take up the mantles of Red Falcon, Yellow Lion and Blue Dolphin - the Choujuu Sentai Liveman! During their battles they are eventually joined by Tetsuya (Black Bison) and Jun-ichi (Green Sai), the respective younger brothers of Takuji and Mari, and the five attempt to learn the dark secrets behind not only Volt, but Bias himself.

From left to right: Joh, Megumi, Yusuke, Tetsuya, Jun-ichi & the Liveman's robot assistant Colon

A first for Super Sentai, but something that would be repeated in the future, is the initial team comprising of three members. As the team stays this way for a total of 30 episodes, this gives the viewer plenty of time to get to know Yusuke, Joh and Megumi. Each are very fleshed out, initially driven to fight for revenge but soon learn that there's far more value in fighting to protect the Earth (not to say they didn't think that was important to begin with). Yusuke really grows into his role as leader, initially hot headed and rebellious. Joh is the more short tempered member of the team, but has the strength to back up his actions when he dives head first into danger while Megumi is clever, skilled and compassionate. Despite their fantastic quality of development, the same cannot be said for Tetsuya and Jun-ichi when they are finally introduced. Again initially driven by revenge, only this time once this is overcome the two mainly fall into the background - and are especially overshadowed by the primary three come the closing chapter. While I liked the suit designs of Black Bison and Green Sai (I really liked the Liveman aesthetic in general for that matter), I feel the characters should have either been given a lot more to work with or dropped completely out of the story.

Doctors Ohbler (prior to his transformation), Kemp and Mazenda

The quality of the villains is pretty much exactly the same as the protagonists - those that are introduced from the get-go are brilliant, but later ones don't get the same quality of writing. Kemp, Mazenda and Ohbler are simply brilliant characters - from their drive to better themselves at the cost of their own humanity to their rivalries with the Livemen. Ohbler is soon replaced (but returns in an attempt to redeem himself towards the end of the show) and new villain Ashura joins the fray, along side alien geniuses Guildo and Butchy. This is really where Bias begins to play the villains off against each other as well as the Livemen, but only Ashura receives a decent background. Guildo and Butchy simply come out of nowhere, with Butchy seemingly filling the more "kid-friendly" aspect of the villains both in looks and personality. The division isn't quite so clear cut as it is with the heroes, but the level of development is very similar.

Great Professor Bias

Great Professor Bias provides an excellent source of mystery throughout the show, his true plans and motives not even revealed until the final ten episodes. The downside to this is that his identity and back story are never fully explained, not even in the final episode. While I enjoyed the mystery behind Bias, I was disappointed by the lack of any real payoff. However his defeat is handled very differently to anything I've yet seen in a Super Sentai show, and certainly comes across as one of the more memorable.

Another Sentai first than happened in Liveman is the use of animal themed mecha. While the falcon/lion motifs are quite obvious in the Jet Falcon and Land Lion, the Aqua Dolphin comes across as a little dull in comparison. However their combined mode of LiveRobo is a beautiful design that displays a lot of retro charm. Liveman also saw the first secondary mecha, the LiveBoxer (comprised of the Bison Liner and Sai Fire), however LiveBox might be a more apt name - the torso is HUGE (but through the art of costume changes shrinks down when the fight sequences kick in). Of course two mecha also means a combination, and thankfully the lackluster LiveBoxer does not bring down the look of SuperLiveRobo at all.


However, and this might just be because I'm more used to post-2000 mecha fights at this stage, the mecha battles were duller and felt more tacked on than usual. Often they lasted little more than two minutes, with the mecha being thrown around by the monster for a while and then destroying it quickly with a finishing attack.

Choujuu Sentai Liveman had every potential to be the perfect series. The characterisation and development of the initial cast is flawless and the mysterious of Volt are left unanswered until the very end of the series. However its flaw is that it goes on to introduce new characters of both teams about halfway through the series, and these characters never become as interesting as the already established cast. While in Guildo and Butchy's case this might be more understand due to their purpose, but it meant the revelation of their true identities lacked the powerful punch it could have had.

Liveman is a very interesting series, and one you might find yourself watching more for the civilian sequences than the action.

Monday 20 February 2012

Series REVIEW: Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger

2011 saw Toei celebrate the 35th anniversary of their Super Sentai franchise, and boy did they do it in style. Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger is a 51-episode series that aired between February 2011 and February 2012, along with three cinematic releases. Not only did it feature an all new Sentai team, but also gave them the ability to transform into members of the other 35 Sentai teams via Ranger keys and saw guest appearances from the franchise's 35 year history.

Following the "Legendary War", in which the 34 past Super Sentai teams gave up their powers in order to protect the Earth from invasion from the Zangyack Empire, a group of space pirates come to the planet in search of "The Greatest Treasure in the Universe", which can only be acquired after obtaining the "greater powers" of the 34 Super Sentai teams. Having acquired the powers of the former teams in the form of ranger keys, these pirates are able to use their abilities as well as become the 35th Super Sentai team, the Gokaiger.

The Legendary War saw the return of the 34 Sentai teams of the past.

When the Zangyack return to threaten Earth once again, this motley crew of wanted pirates - made up of a former Red Pirate under the guidance of the mysterious AkaRed (Captain Marvelous/Gokai Red), a former Zangyack soldier (Joe Gibken/Gokai Blue), a homeless thief (Luka Millfy/ Gokai Yellow), a shanghaied mechanic (Don Dogoier aka 'Doc'/Gokai Green) and the princess of a destroyed world (Ahim de Famille/Gokai Pink) step up to the task of defending the Earth in absence of its heroes. While initially the team could care less about the fate of the Earth, when they learn more about its past heroes and are joined by die-hard Sentai fanboy Gai Ikari (Gokai Silver), they soon learn what it means to not just be Super Sentai, but to be heroes.

What makes the Gokaiger's interesting is that they aren't straightforward heroes, nor do they want to be. They fight the Zangyack because they're in the way of their goal, not because they have any interest in protecting the Earth. Each character comes from a very different background, yet work really well in threes (particularly Marvelous/Joe/Luka and Doc/Ahim/Gai) and when paired with someone else. Detailed back stories are all there (with some taking longer to come out than others) and they are all a pleasure to watch on screen without any significant weak element.

From left to right: Ahim, Doc, Gai, Marvelous, Joe, Luka

Gokaiger's villains on the other hand were a varied bunch. While the Zangyack obviously presented a big enough threat to the Earth that the Sentai had to give up their powers to save it, the Empire's overconfidence means this rarely ever comes across in the actual show. Pampered Prince Warz Gil is a great character, but credible villain he is not. When his father Akdos Gil eventually arrives on the scene, he also does very little until the very end. However this does not dampen the show since arguably its greatest villain (and possibly one of the best in Super Sentai in general) is Basco ta Jolokia, a privateer looking to gain the treasure for his very own. Having an interesting back story with Marvelous and crushing the Gokaiger's at almost every turn, he is ruthless, deceitful and everything a good villain  should be. The Zangyack set the premise and provide the explosive finale, but Basco is the threat that keeps the audience glued.

Basco: a true villain.

Plot-wise one of the primary draws of Gokaiger is its legend tribute episodes, in which the Gokaiger would meet a Super Sentai veteran, often gaining their greater power in the process. All 34 Super Sentai teams saw at least one actor returning, from Goranger all the way up until Goseiger. Many of these episodes reflected the returning actor's show (e.g. the Carranger tribute episode was heavy slapstick) and some even saw the return of previous villains. Not only did it make it fitting tribute, but it also brought aspects of the show closer together and explained them as canon. The Gokaiger's cameo appearance in the Goseiger vs. Shinkenger movie is no longer considered a write-off, instead how and why they were there in the first place is explained.

Shinkenger's Kaoru Shiba was one of the show's many guest stars.

As you'd expect this year's mecha also saw a pirate motif, but much like its pilots came with a flavour of past Super Sentai. The team's main base of operations, the Gokai Galleon, also formed the torso of their mecha GokaiOh (combined with four other vehicles that never served any other real purpose other than to be limbs) which could also call upon the powers of past Super Sentai, with some past mecha combining with the robot to call upon even greater powers. The Magidragon from 'Mahou Sentai Magiranger' granted the Gokaigers the power up of MagiGokaiOh, while the Patstriker from 'Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger' gave them DekaGokaiOh. Meanwhile 'Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger's' GaoLion gave them power ups from both Gaoranger and Shinkenger, and 'Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger's' Furaimaru also made a welcome return. A new character was also created in the spirit of 'Engine Sentai Go-Onger' - Machalcon, the son of engines Speedor and BeaRV. Gokai's Silver's Gozyujin was a triple tribute to Zyuranger, Timeranger and Abaranger and could be combined with GokaiOh (along with Machalcon) to give the Gokaiger's their own greater power - Kanzen GokaiOh!


While I enjoyed the show's mecha, they were one of the flawed aspects of the show. Several of the combinations omitted components (such as GokaiOh's limbs) and Kanzen GokaiOh only saw the use of the Galleon torso and Gozyujin's arms. After numerous series that left no spare parts when it came to ultimate combos, it happening in Gokaiger may be a little disappointing for some.

Companies should take note - THIS is how you do an anniversary series. While previous anniversary shows such as Gaoranger and Boukenger failed to really celebrate the franchise as a whole, Gokaiger managed to do just that while having its own engaging characters and storyline. Gokaiger is a must see for all Super Sentai and tokusatsu fans. I would even recommend it highly to those who have never strayed away from Power Rangers, as the story is easy to get to grips with and despite being an anniversary series makes an excellent jumping in point to Super Sentai (since it gives you somewhat of a taste of each show, and then you can go back and watch your favourites). You only need to take a look at the past year of posts on this blog to see how much Gokaiger has affected me and my personal fandoms. While I will miss the show greatly I am looking forward to their return in April's 'Super Hero Taisen' movie, when the Super Sentai teams will go head to head against the Kamen Riders.

But for now - "Goodbye, space pirates"

Thursday 16 February 2012

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Gokai Pink

Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, the 35th anniversary Super Sentai, draws to a close this Sunday, and thus the merchandising for the series will slowly draw to close (well, ranger keys are probably going to be around for a while yet!). Gokai Pink (or Ahim de Famille if you'd prefer) is one of the final two S.H. Figuarts to be released, however much like Gokai Yellow she was a Tamashii Web exclusive, thus was only available to those outside Japan via eBay and middlemen services.

The first thing to say about Gokai Pink is that she's pink...REALLY pink. I wasn't quite expecting the colour to be quite so vibrant on the figure, but it certainly suits the figure and looks fantastic combined with the black, gold and silver details. The sculpt really gives a defined female form to the suit, and like Yellow is shorted than her male crew mates. To compensate for the limitations of the skirt, the three-piece skirt seen with the rest of the female Sentai figuarts is also included. To change the skirt remove the torso and then unhook the one piece skirt. The main piece then attaches in the same place, while the hip pieces attach via tiny plugs on the legs.

Gokai Pink comes packaged with a total of 11 extra hands, Gokai saber and gun (with alternate 'key inserted' barrels), ranger keys (both folded and unfolded), mobirates, double gun piece and a wired Gokai saber. Despite this quite hefty amount of accessories, I can't help feel a little disappointed. While the inclusion of a second wired sword is nice, Ahim has never once used this weapon in the show and its inclusion is really only to make the Gokai Yellow figure better. The double pistol piece is Pink's only real 'exclusive' piece in the set, and while it would add a little variety to a display its fairly small accessory for an expensive figure. It would have been nice to see a treasure chest, greatest treasure in the universe or Gokai Galleon Buster packaged with someone, but that's probably never going to happen now.

Finally comes the Gokai Darin, in just a vibrant pink finish as the figure itself. Like Yellow it is included within the actual figure box rather than separately, and has exactly the same features as those included with the Blue, Green and Yellow figures. For those looking to pose your Gokaiger's in a GokaiOh cockpit display, that dream is now a reality.

Truth be told, Pink is definitely the weakest of the Gokaiger figuarts - unlike Silver her price doesn't justify the lack of interesting accessories. However this shouldn't be considered a knock against her - anyone looking to buy Gokai Pink is really only going to be buying her for two reasons;
  1. She's your favourite Gokaiger
  2. You're looking to complete the team
And in both instances, I can't see you being disappointed with the figure. The sculpt and physique are perfect, and there's still plenty going on with Gokai Pink to put her a cut above most other action figures from other toylines. These six figures look absolutely fantastic together and are without a doubt the best Power Rangers/Sentai toys to have been released.

All I have to say is "Come on Bandai, bring on the Dekarangers!"

Super Hero Time: September 2011 - February 2012

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Gokai Silver

As the Gokaiger series draws to a close in Japan the sixth member of the pirate crew, Gokai Silver, sees his turn to be immortalised in Bandai's S.H. Figuarts line! While one of the last to be released (alongside Pink), Silver is in the fourth of six to be a mass release - the two girls being relegated to Tamashii web exclusive status.

As is the usual standard with Super Sentai's "extra" heroes, Gokai Silver sports a slightly different aesthetic to the other five...and a shinier paint job to boot. The visor area is a bit dark, but other than that the helmet is excellent. The shiny silver and gold paint on the jacket and cuffs compliment the matte black finish of the jumpsuit part nicely, and certainly make Silver stand out in a display with his crew mates. As usual the level of posability is superb, which suits the ever excitable Gai Ikari perfectly.

Gokai Silver is packaged with a total of 11 additional hands (including ones to replicate his roll call pose), the Gokai Cellular, an unfolded Gokai Silver ranger key and his weapon of choice, the Gokai spear, in both spear and rifle forms. While these are nice additions to the figure, I can't help feel that there is one of two things missing. Firstly, there is no unfolded ranger key, meaning that no key can be inserted into the weapon or cellular (however given the size of the cellular this is somewhat understandable) like in show. However to make up for the cellular situation a tiny gold mode anchor key could have been included to plug into the bottom, much like the folded ranger keys plug into the standard Gokaigers' mobirates. No gold mode key was included, but a hidden feature on the Gokai spear suggests that perhaps we may see more of gold mode in the future. The trident blades are removable, and can be reversed to make up the spear's Anchor mode, which of course was used exclusively by Gokai Silver Gold mode. A hint toward a (probably Tamashii web exclusive) gold mode parts set in the future? Who knows, but it's always fun to speculate. Unfortunately Gokai Silver does not include his Gojyujin darin, possibly because it is larger piece than the others. Still,unless it sees a future release it's disappointing that the Kanzen GokaiOh cockpit can't be recreated.

While his accessory count may be a little lower than his predecessors, but the figure itself has just as much (if not more so) charm than the rest. With an excellent selection of hands, a great paintjob and potential hinting of an upgrade set in the future, Gai Ikari really does have his moment in the silver spotlight in the form of Figuarts Gokai Silver. If you were only to buy two of the Gokaiger figuarts, I would recommend Silver as one of those not only because, as a mass release, he would  be far easier to obtain, but also because of the difference in design and paint to the others.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Kamen Rider Fourze Base States

The S.H. Figuarts line is largely dominated by Kamen Riders spanning the franchise's 40 year history. As I'm yet to start properly watching Kamen Rider, I've avoided falling down the rabbit hole of Kamen Rider figures as much as I possibly can - but this has ended with the release of Kamen Rider Fourze. As the current airing Kamen Rider series, I've been watching this show alongside Gokaiger (soon to be Gobuster) and have found it extremely enjoyable. The first release of the character is of the "base states" (ie the normal version), with figures of the Elek, Fire and Magnet states to follow in the coming months.

The sculpt and articulation are to the usual Figuarts quality, with Fourze able to put into many different poses - including both his henshin stance and of course his "UCHU KITAAAAA" pose. The paint detailing is superb, with the sculpt and panel lining combo bringing out all the tiny details in Fourze's astronaut like suit. The Fourze driver is made from a nice shade of translucent blue plastic (much like the show version), the lever moves and the switches are removable. I'm quite sure how I feel about this latter feature - on the one hand its a nice little extra that gives the character more accuracy when different switches are being used (I'll come onto that at the end), but on the other these switches are TINY, much like the Gokaiger's ranger keys. The other problem is (at least on my figure anyway) that they don't connect particularly securely, so I've already had several instances of them dropping off and me having to frantically search for them.

Included with Fourze are two sets of alternate hands (giving him a total of three sets - one closed fist set and two sets of open hands), a spare rocket switch and the rocket and drill modules. Both the rocket and drill are very nicely detailed, and can be attached to either arm or leg respectively (although in the show they only attach to the right arm and left leg). To attach remove the arm at the elbow (or the leg at the knee) and connect the modules to the ports provided. While the drill is nice, and one of Fourze's staple weapons, it really limits the posing possibilities of the figure and some of the more dynamic/iconic poses (such as his limit break - the Rider Rocket Drill kick) are impossible without the aid of a stand. The inclusion of a spare rocket switch is a little baffling, but given that the switches are the tiniest accessories I've ever seen on a figure there's probably a high probability of losing them (although in that case, wouldn't spares of them all made more sense?)

While Fourze's highly exploitable gimmick is one of his best assets, it is also one of his biggest weaknesses. Despite a minimal inclusion of hands packaged with the figure, an all-important pair of "holding things" hands will be included with his motorbike, the Machine Massigler, and many other of his switch power ups are being released via additional module sets. The drill and the rocket were the perfect accessories to include with the base states figure, but as I mentioned earlier to use the drill to full effect you'd need some sort of stand, maybe perhaps the "Kamen Rider Fourze Stand & Effect set"? See where I'm going with this? To get the most out of Kamen Rider Fourze, you'll need to pay a bit more than the initial figure price.

He's a great figure, but just HOW great is dependant on how much you're willing to shell out for him.