Monday 30 April 2012

Series REVIEW: Engine Sentai Go-Onger

Engine Sentai Go-onger is the 32nd Super Sentai series and the third to have some sort of car motif (although it’s a lot looser in this one). Three generals of the Gaiark - a group dedicated to creating a polluted world they can rule over, invade Earth with their sights on polluting it. Following them are three inhabitants of Engine world (one of 11 different worlds that exist, another being ours – the ‘human’ world), who recruit three people to become Go-ongers and fight the Gaiark. These three are a racing driver named Sōsuke Esumi (Go-on Red), a former bus driver and aspiring mechanic Renn Kōsaka (Blue) and racing track worker Saki Rōyama (Yellow). Soon the team expands as 2 more engines come to the human world and recruit Hant Jō and Gunpei Ishihara as Go-on Green and Black respectively. Co-ordinated by Bomper, a small robot also hailing from the Engine world, the Go-onger team battle against the Gaiark and their Banki monsters. As time goes on, they find they aren’t the only ones with Go-onger powers as they meet brother and sister team Hiroto (Gold) and Miu (Silver) Sutō – the Go-on Wings.

Go-onger is a pretty light hearted series at heart and really has fun with that at times – such as the episode where both the Go-ongers and Gaiark team up to beat a monster that grows when it hears loud music, but will shrink if it hears a sweet song. After failed attempts by Hiroto and a hilarious hair metal effort from Yogostein and Kitaneidas, Mui, Saki and Kegaleshia team up to form a pop idol unit – complete with an interesting version of the show’s closing theme. I’ve often found the comedy to feel forced in other Sentai series, but here it feels natural and manages to flicker between laughs and seriousness nicely. That isn't to say there aren’t moments where it feels forced (i.e. introducing a new, competent villain during a 2-part Christmas special probably wasn't the best move) but for the most part it worked far better than expected.

The Go-ongers themselves are unfortunately not a lot to write a home about. Each one fills a different role in the team, and there’s never really that much develop outside those characters. The introduction of the Go-on Wings does help to liven things up a bit, and the drastic difference between the Go-ongers determination to act on impulse and the Wing’s cold strategic logic makes their initially strained relationship that much more interest. Still, the teams do eventually come to get along, and so Hiroto and Miu do lighten up quite a lot. Still, the difference in tactics does thankfully remain and show every so often (which is particularly reassuring given its essential to Hiroto’s character). Personally, it was refreshing for me to have a series where I didn't gravitate toward the red ranger (like I do for Gokaiger, Shinkenger and Magiranger). By the end of the series I’d certainly developed a fondness for Miu, but I also felt Gunpei and Hiroto was also excellently represented.

The engines themselves however completely steal the show when it comes to the protagonists. Giving each component of the mecha a personality and accompanying anime styled sprite was perhaps a bold movement, but in the end Super Sentai is mainly for children and this really shines throughout Go-onger. The super deformed avatars for engines when their souls are being projected though the morphers are adorable, and it means the engines (along with Bomper, who is equally as adorable) themselves get some spotlight episodes. Admittedly these are sparse, but when they do appear they are without a doubt some of the strongest episodes of the show. The mecha are interesting as there are 4 different ‘main robots’ (each made of 3 separate engines) and then G6, 9 and 12 combinations. These combinations do get a bit cluttered as they get bigger, but at the same time it does show nicely show how much bigger they are getting and the strength of unity between the Go-ongers and the engines.

On the other side, the Gaiark ministers are all excellent well-rounded characters. What sets them apart from other Sentai villains and make them more interesting as characters is also how they work with each other and the obvious friendship that the three share with each other and their comrades. Yogostein’s relationship with his subordinate Hiramechimedes and how he comes to terms with his defeat/death is an excellent example of this, as is how Kegalesia and Kitaneidas deal with Yogostein’s death and their eventual rebellion against the series big bad – the Gaiark Prime Minister Yogoshimacritein.

Engine Sentai Go-onger was a really hard series for me to give a final rating on, it frequently fluctuated between a high three and a low four. In the end I decided to give it the four, because it had a particularly strong ending that leads neatly into the Go-onger/Shinkenger crossover movie and once it had finished, I really began to miss the characters. To summarise - it’s a very good Sentai series that’s strongly weakened by the fact the core cast is completely out shined by the rest of the cast, but still really enjoyable if you don’t mind a series that doesn't take itself as seriously as some of the other Super Sentai series out there.

Sunday 29 April 2012

Movie REVIEW: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos

It's surprising that a series as popular as Fullmetal Alchemist hasn't had more big screen outings - until now there was only the somewhat epic but also wholly unsatisfying Conqueror of Shamballa, the finale to the original series. But in 2011 FMA returned to the big screen with The Sacred Star of Milos, which while set in the Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood universe has no bearing on the plot and is more of a side story. Much like most anime films of long-running series then.

The Elrics are back for a brand new adventure

The plot revolves around Edward and Alphonse Elric joining in the effort to capture an escaped prisoner, the escapee using an unknown style of lightning and ice alchemy. After discovering with Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye that he, who is using the false name of Melvin Voyager, escaped after seeing a photo of a girl named Julia Crichton who was arrested while entering illegally in the remote Table City, set in the border between Amestris and the country of Creta.

In typical Elric style, the two brothers continue to investigate, intrigued by the Voyager's alchemy and hopeful that it may give them a clue how to regain their bodies. Their train to Table City is subsequently attacked by not only a wolf-chimera, but also a group of glider soldiers calling themselves the Black Bats. Ed and Al soon become involved with the group of freedom fighters from Milos,a slum located at the bottom of the trench separating Amestris and Creta. Melvin is revealed as Ashley Crichton, brother to the now fugitive Julia, both originally from Milos. Using a legendary star that can control the magma under them, the Milos people plan to take back their home from the two opposing countries. But for Ed and Al, the star of Milos sounds all too familiar...

Melvin Voyager meets Julia Crichton

While this may be an all new plot line with mostly brand new characters, it doesn't stray too far away from the typical Fullmetal Alchemist themes. Between warring factions, a suffering nation and the all-important subject of equivalent exchange, on paper its almost exactly the same story as before in a shorter running time. However that doesn't mean The Sacred Star of Milos doesn't do anything differently, and so the film makes its mark through an extremely character driven story where the twists and turns make it difficult to determine between friend and foe. The new protagonist, Julia, is a likeable foil to the Elrics and the villain (who's identity would spoil the film so shall remain hidden) is just as twisted as any Homunculi the show gave us, but without the bizarre looks or powers.

This film has everything from "werewolves"...

That isn't to say the film is without its problems however. To make room for the focus these new characters need to be interesting, unfortunately the supporting cast of the show have been pushed aside. Mustang, Hawkeye and Winry all make appearances in the film, but their roles are for the most part superfluous and have very little bearing on the story. Armstrong makes a very brief cameo, but that's your lot as far as the FMA regulars are concerned. The film also suffers from extended periods of mundaneness, which in the long run serve to flesh out its climax but at the time seem to drag the film along.

Despite still being a BONES production, this iteration of FMA looks rather different from its predecessors. The character designs are much sharper with very minor, but still noticeable, facial differences. Characters also suffer badly in ranged shots, where they're either lazily drawn or completely blurred - each resulting in it difficult to make out who is who sometimes. But in opposition to this the fight scenes are beautifully animated and live up to the expectation of "bigger is better" when it comes to anime films of this kind. The violence has also been moved up a notch this time around, with some rather graphic deaths and removal of transmutation circle-tattooed skin. mysterious masked generals

The Sacred Star of Milos is ultimately a curious entry into the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise, because despite being a better film than The Conqueror of Shamballa its place as a (debatably non-canonical) side story makes it far less memorable. Fans of the series will be happy to see the characters back again for one more adventure, but this film falls slightly short of the god-like status FMA has made for itself.

Monday 23 April 2012

Legend Sentai Ranger Key Set: Go-Busters

The ranger keys don't stop at Gokaiger! As well as slowly releasing ranger keys of the 34 Super Sentai teams that preceded Gokaiger, Bandai have also taken things further and released keys for the 36th Sentai team - Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters! This set is comprised of ranger keys for the core three Go-Busters (Red, Blue and Yellow), with an additional set of the revealed-but-not-yet-appeared-in-show Beet Buster and Stag Buster due later this year. At around £5/$8 before shipping, its a pretty good deal for Go-Busters fans and ranger key collectors alike.

Inserting the key into the original Mobirates will give off the "special ranger key" sound, while the Legend Mobirates will sound the Go-Busters call out. Using the keys in the Legend Mobirates' encyclopaedia mode will give you a short synopsis about the team/show (in Japanese of course).

Sunday 22 April 2012

Mega Bloks Power Rangers Samurai Metallic Gold Ranger and Mooger

Here are some pictures of the last two mini-figures I needed to complete wave one of the Mega Bloks Power Rangers Samurai blind packs. While boasting the figure as "metallic" might be pushing it a bit (the figure itself) isn't chromed or anything special like that, the Gold Ranger has quickly become one of my favourites of the wave, with a nice mix of gold and light blue colours and a chromed barracuda blade to boot. The Mooger is also a really good figure - the shoulder armour is rubbery but the weapon is simply a recoloured version of Deker's Uramasa.

Now begins the wait for wave two!

Friday 20 April 2012

Toybox REVIEW: LEGO DC Universe Super Heroes The Joker

Who can have a Batman without a Joker? When I received the LEGO DC Universe Super Heroes Batman set (#4526), I was ecstatic to see I was also given his arch nemesis for him to be posed with/battle against. Like Batman, the DC Universe Super Heroes Joker set (#4527) can be combined with the Green Lantern set (#4528) to create a powered up Joker.

The Joker is made up of slightly more parts than Batman - 57 as opposed to Batman's 40 (although there were a few spare pieces left over when I was finished building). Once you build the skeleton frame, armour pieces clip on to make out the bulk of the Joker. Save for the small orange spikes decorating the shoulders, there aren't any small pieces making up the Joker himself (there is however a bag of small pieces in the box for the weapon).

One thing I have to commend on this kit is the head, they absolutely nailed it. From the rubbery hair to the glaring eyes and huge grin, LEGO couldn't have done any better in portraying the Joker's insanity. With lots of ball and socket making up the frame, Joker has plenty of articulation to show off with a full range of movement in the head,shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and feet. The spiked shoulder pads are also on a ball joint so can be moved around to prevent constricting arm movement.

Hanging from Joker's back are two articulated tail coat pieces, which are a nice touch and add quite a bit more character to the kit. Joker's weapon of choice is an oversized pistol, which is held together by smaller LEGO technic (is it even called that any more?) pieces and made of up of some rather nifty-yet-garish translucent neon yellow and orange pieces. Its far more fitting to the character than Batman's dual swords, and is a nice accessory to give the Joker some fun poses.

Batman was a fun figure, but The Joker is even better. The headsculpt is brilliant, the clashing colours reflect the Clown Prince of Crime's dress sense and the weapon looks good and is actually fitting to the character. I've not played around with the Green Lantern to be able to judge, but it has some very stiff competition to be as fun as this figure.

Now I just need to get myself a Green Lantern to super power my Joker.

Toybox REVIEW: LEGO DC Universe Super Heroes Batman

It's been a long time since I bought a LEGO kit. Back in the late 90s/early noughties, ranges like the UFOs, Insectoids, Aqua Zone and Star Wars (back when the mini-figures had yellow skin!)were my toys of choice, and as I got older I moved onto the early Bionicle line. But as the prices went up and I found the ranges less and less exciting I moved on and haven't really looked back at the LEGO line since, save for appreciating the movie franchise lines the company has produced over the years. Having missed picking up any of the original Batman line (I sorely regret not getting the mini-figure sets) when LEGO announced they would be revisiting the DC universe (a long with Marvel) I got quite excited, but still only in terms of the mini-figures. However I recently received the Batman (#4526) and Joker (#4527) sets, I've found myself more interested than I originally expected to be.

Made up of 40 pieces, the LEGO Batman stands 8" (20cm) tall and wouldn't look too out of place alongside figures from LEGO's Hero Factory line (which I'm led to believe is the successor to Bionicle, but its all LEGO Technic to me). The figure is mainly comprised of a skeleton frame, which armour is then clipped onto to flesh out the bulk of the character. There's not really any small parts so you don't have to worry about losing anything, but at the same time the step-by-step building is relatively simple.

There are a lot of ball and socket joints making up the frame, so as you can expect the end result is a pretty articulated Batman. He has a full range of motion in his head, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and feet...pretty much everywhere you could want really.

Instead of a cape, Batman comes with an articulated back piece with four blue spikes hanging down from them. While it doesn't quite have the same effect as a full cape, it suits this more armoured version of Batman and is fully movable so it doesn't get in the way of the arms. Batman comes armed with two swords, which can be wielded separately or combined in a fist to make a dual-blade weapon. Personally I find it a little bit of an odd weapon for the caped crusader and would have like to see a batarang or something along those lines.

Batman isn't an amazing figure, but he's a lot more fun than I would have expected to be. The fact he can combine with the Green Lantern adds even more play value to the kit, and has got me interested in getting him too. Not something I'd recommend rushing to spend £10 on, but if you like the look of him I don't think you'd be disappointed.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Mega Bloks Power Rangers Samurai Mega Mode Pink Ranger and Deker

We're back again for a look at another two figures from the Mega Bloks Power Rangers Samurai blind bag wave, and this time its the "rare" Mega Mode Pink Ranger and Deker in human form. Pink is my only disappointment with the line so far, as she comes with a standard spin sword rather than a more suitable mega blade. Still, the figure itself looks great (with quite a bit to it). Deker, while much more simplistic, comes with his trusted sword Uramasa. 

Look out for gallery of the final two figures I need from the wave, the Gold Ranger and a Mooger, in the near future!