Saturday 26 May 2012

Toybox REVIEW: Revoltech Evangelion Mass Production Ver.

It's been quite a while since I've bought a Revoltech, but when they announced a re-release of a figure long discontinued I'd been itching to get my hands on for a while there was no chance I would be passing it up. Appearing in Neon Genesis Evangelion's conclusive End of Evangelion movie, the mass production Eva units were build in different places around the world and were Seele's backup plan for initiating instrumentality. The original release of this figure (numbered #26 in the Yamaguchi  line) came in two different varieties - one with the wings and another with the various armaments the unit wields.

As a figure originally released in 2007, the Mass Production does seem a little dated in terms of sculpt and engineering when put alongside the newer Evangelion releases in the Revoltech line. The figure has revolver joints in the head, waist, shoulders, elbows, knees and feet while the hips move via what feels like a plug joint. While the figure's white colour is accurate to the movie, there is a little discolouring around the neck area on mine (I doubt this is a wide problem though). The hands are attached via a plug system rather than small revolver joints, and can prove slightly difficult to fit on properly. When removing one set I managed to even pull out the joint piece from the arm! Thankfully it wasn't broken and was meant to come out (probably not that easily though) - I wish the same could be said for my Revoltech Lazengann's broken hand.

Finally we come onto the accessories, which if anything are the main selling point of this figure. While originally one would have to buy both versions of the figure to get all of the accessories, this re-release comes with everything included with both editions to create a "perfect version". Included are a variety of additional hands, an open mouth head, damaged/destroyed head/limb parts, exposed dummy plug piece (bearing the words "Kaworu"), double bladed weapon, replica Lance of Longinus and articulated wing backpack. While all these things are great, special mention should go to the Lance which is over double the length of the actual figure.

The wings themselves are huge, and poseable via a revolver joint at each end for a decent range of motion. The wings can be brought forward to create a "shield" effect, and posed with the double-jointed stand included for a variety of demonic-angel poses. Not gonna lie, getting the balancing right using the stand is quite difficult, but once you get the hang of it the figure can pull off some really epic poses.

Handling an older-styled Revoltech figure does feel a little antiquated, but the fact this release contains both accessories of the original more than makes up for it. Despite the dated sculpt, the mass production Eva still shows off an extremely impressive range of motion and is capable of pulling off poses which will still fit in nicely alongside its newer, "Evolution" Eva unit brethren. If I had more spare cash, I'd be inclined to army build these, or at the very least buy another two so I can pose one winged, one grounded and another with half its body parts blown off by Unit-02.

Saturday 19 May 2012

Anime REVIEW: Guilty Crown

When I first heard of Guilty Crown, it sounded like something that would be right up my alley. Post-apocalyptic  setting? Check. Protagonist granted godlike powers? Check. Robots? You better believe it. Created by Production I.G. (whose repertoire includes works such as Ghost in the Shell, Palabor and The End of Evangelion), this 22-episode series aired between October 2011 and March 2012.

On Christmas Eve, 2029, the unidentified "Apocalypse Virus" spreads and plunges Japan into a state of emergency in a chaos known as the "Lost Christmas" incident. An international organisation named the GHQ intervenes using martial law in order to restore Japan, but it comes at the cost of the country's independence.

Ten years later in 2039, Shu Ouma, a reserved 17-year-old high school student, meets Inori Yuzuriha (lead singer of music group Egoist) while visiting one of his favorite places on before heading home from school. While Shu is a big fan of Inori's music, he quickly discovers a second side to her -she is a member of the "Undertakers," a resistance group that aims to liberate Japan from the GHQ. While helping Inori transport a stolen Void Genome to the Undertakers, Shu is fused with the Genome - granting him the "Kings Mark" on his right hand. This gives him the power to reach inside another person's heart to extract and materialize a weapon or item from it. From then on, Shu becomes reluctantly involved with the Undertakers and their battle against the GHQ, but along the way he discovers many secrets of his forgotten past.

"The Power of Kings"

Despite this rather exciting premise, to put it bluntly this is one hell of a dull show. Due to Shu's ability to draw weapons out of anyone, Guilty Crown is in fact little more than a show that relies wholly on Dues Ex Machina's to get the job done. It offers zero suspense because every time the characters were in a bind he'd find a void that would instantly be advantageous to their situation. To make up for this fact, the writers concluded that plot twist after plot twist would be the way to go. There's so much backstabbing going on that you have to wonder why most of the characters haven't just killed each other already. Then finally at the series mid-point the narrative style completely changes, along with the balance of character focus. The only problem is that its still almost the exact same plot as the first half, except with a few of the details changed here and there and many of the characters cheapened to the point of no return. The plot promises greatness, but it is something it time and time again fails to deliver. Along with reasonable explanation of what's going on half the time.

Shu falls quite neatly into the "boy becoming a man" category of anime protagonist, and fluctuates as a character on a fairly frequent basis. One minute he's weak, the next he's taking on a whole squad of Endlaves (the term for Guilty Crown's mecha) on his own. His "dictator Shu" period is probably when he's at his most interesting, but by that point he's not a character you'll find yourself routing for. Much like his ability, his characterisation is whatever the plot needs at that given time.

"Use me": Words that sum up Inori as a character pretty nicely

As for Inori, well there isn't a lot to say about her because her character is almost non-existent. She is detached and passive to the point that would make Evangelion's Rei seem alive, and her hopeless devotion to Shu borders on misogynistic levels. When the mystery of who she really was was finally revealed, I found myself routing for the antagonist. Undertaker leader Gai is the third and final of the "only characters that really matter", and for the most part was the best of the three. A tactical and efficient leader, but at the same time one that you could tell had secrets and cared deep down. A pity he was completely ruined at the half way point.

The rest of the cast aren't much better, with its generic good-guy terrorists, whiny students and evil guys who are evil for the sake of it. There are even some that have no introduction or explanation yet are seemingly integral to the plot. Even as the credits of the final episode roll, you'll be left wondering questions like "what exactly was the point of that guy they broke out of prison again?".

Gai Tsutsugami: Leader of the Undertakers

Usually I dedicate a decent section to discussing robots in a mecha-related anime or show (being the mechaphile that I am) but doing so when discussing Guilty Crown seems utterly pointless. They have bland, generic designs and offer little to nothing to the overall plot. The control system is relatively interesting (the machines are piloted remotely from a separate cockpit away from the robot), but other than that there's very little on offer here other than to give some side characters things to do. A Code Geass comparison might be fair but at least the Knightmare frames in that looked unique and had somewhat of a purpose. A mecha anime this is not.

This is about as exciting as the robots get.

But stopping to talk about the good things for a moment - Guilty Crown boasts very high production values and that really shows in the art direction. The character design is great and the fight visuals are top notch (even for the less-than-interesting mecha aspect). The show also has a brilliant soundtrack produced by the band Supercell, who I'm sure many know from their Black Rock Shooter fame.

With a brilliant concept behind it, Guilty Crown could have been a fantastic anime. However its terrible execution of the plot and less than stellar characterisation really let it down. Casual fans may get a kick out of Guilty Crown, but they'd be better off watching Code Geass if they want something similar. And if they've watched Code Geass already they'd probably be better off watching that again instead.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Kamen Rider Diend

A few months ago I bought Figuarts Kamen Rider Decade (Violent Emotion ver.), and since then my display shelf has felt like its been lacking something. And this figure is exactly what was missing. Originally released in August 2009, Kamen Rider Diend is the secondary rider from the Kamen Rider Decade series - a treasure hunter named Daiki Kaito who travels through the various Kamen Rider worlds searching for their treasures. He also crossed paths with the Shinkengers, and more recently the Gokaigers in Kamen Rider X Super Sentai: Super Hero Taisen.

Diend shares the same body type as the Decade figure, and so also has all of its flaws. The sculpt is accurate and the figure has (those sorely missed) diecast feet to give it extra balance, yet boasts less versatile hip joints and the slightly-oversized hands that were so noticeable on Decade. While Decade's shoulders felt a little restrictive, this is only amplified by Diend's massive shoulder pads. Just as well Kaito isn't much of a fighter so the most strenuous show-accurate posing you'd have him doing is pointing a gun.

In comparison to all the other Figuarts I've bought in the past, Diend's accessory count seems rather meagre. Included are the Diend driver/gun, 3 additional sets of hands (gun holding, open and card holding) and a cardboard set of various cards. While the cards looked punched on first glance, they aren't punched all the way through and so would require cutting with a scissors or knife. Since I'm afraid to lose the cards, I think I'll be scanning them and making my own replica ones (the pictures here are with the ones I made for Diend). While arguably Diend has everything he should have, I still can't help feel he hardly comes with anything. The Complete Form Diend Figuarts has a second driver with open card slot, so maybe that could have been implemented here? Even something as trivial as pointing hands would have been a nice touch I suppose. To make up for the lack of accessories, in homage to the show, my Diend has stolen Shinken Gold's Ika origami for the near future.

It was a matter of time before I ran into a figuart that I didn't think was amazing, and Diend is the first of what will probably be more than a few. While he's a great representation of the character, he's nowhere near worth his after-market price (which can be £80+ on eBay) and in comparison to others, would be lacking if bought for retail price too. Diend was my favourite character from Decade so I'm thrilled by owning him, but unless your a huge fan of the show/character/design - there are better Figuarts out there you can get for probably half the price.


Sunday 13 May 2012

Series REVIEW: Garo

Where there is light, shadows lurk and fear reigns.
But by the blade of knights, mankind was given hope.

While there's so much more to the tokusatsu genre than just Super Sentai and Kamen Rider, its arguable that these two franchises are the ones that come to mind first when you think of it (well, those and Godzilla). While in the West most Sentai and Rider fans may be adults, these shows are still meant for kids. But what if there was a similar style programme on offer for adults that wasn't a comedy or parody? Garo might be exactly what you are looking for. After an initial 25 episode series in 2005-2006 (and a feature length TV special), Garo returned for a feature length movie (entitled Red Requiem) in 2010, a spin-off video release in 2011 and finally a 25-episode sequel series: Garo: Makai Senki, between 2011 and 2012. A final film is also confirmed for release.

Kouga: Golden Knight and undisputed badass.

Garo focuses on Kouga Saejima, a Makai Knight who holds the title of Garo (the golden knight and highest ranking of all Makai Knights) who battles demonic creatures known as Horrors. During his battles, he encounters a young girl named Kaoru whom he saves from a Horror, but who is stained with its demonic blood. As a rule, those that have been stained by the blood of a Horror shall be cut down, or else they will die painfully in approximately 100 days. Although initially he plans to use her to attract more Horrors, as his relationship with Kaoru develops he attempts to find a way to purify her before time runs out. Kouga also goes head to head against another Makai Knight named Rei (Zero the Silver Fanged Knight) and a darker plot to revive the Horrors' originator Messiah.

Meanwhile Makai Senki continues these adventures, as Kouga becomes entangled in a near civil-war between Makai Knights and Makai Priests, who believe the responsibility of hunting Horrors should fall to them. As a curse slowly drains his life away, Kouga must also deal with his slowly developing romance with Kaoru. Side-characters from both the original series and Red Requiem return in Makai Senki, with several episodes solely dedicated to Rei.

Kaoru stumbles upon the world of Makai Knights and Horrors

The first and perhaps the most important thing to note about Garo as a whole is the stark difference between the two series. The original series has a noticeably smaller budget than what follows, and instead there is a much bigger focus on darkness and more gothic horror. The episodes are more self-contained to begin with, and plots revolve around the darkness and depravity of human nature mixed with the grotesque Horrors. The CGI is of typical Japanese fair (noticeable, but not horrible to watch by any means) but is short and sweet so that focus is primarily on non-suited fights. Kouga battles against the Horrors disguised in human form and the Garo armour (along with the Horror monsters themselves) are brought out for a "short but sweet" climax.

Following Red Requiem the visual effects take a huge kick up the rear, and carry the action much more than they did originally. The impressive out-of-suit hand to hand/sword combat hasn't left, but there are far more CGI monsters and a greater use of the Makai Knight armour. Makai Senki also delves much more heavily into Makai lore, and features a far more extensive cast. The extensive daytime sequences in comparison to the first season's almost permanent night setting give it a very different feel - and combined all these things make Makai Senki a more effects-laden fantasy series.

Zero the Silver Fanged Knight

So despite two very different tones, how do the series hold up when viewed together? The answer is brilliantly. While the shift in tone might in reality have more to do with budgetary reasons, it also nicely reflects the change our protagonist goes through on his journey. When we're introduced to Kouga we know very little about him, but seems to care very little about individual people and more about his "mission" to protect the world from the Horrors. His only companions are his faithful butler Gonza, and Zaruba - a Madō ring created to aid him in his battles against the Horrors. But as his relationships with both Kaoru and Rei change, we realise how compassionate an individual Kouga is. This also stretches to many other characters in the show - Jabi (a Makai Priest from the first season), Rekka (introduced in Red Requiem), Leo (a Makai Priest partnered with him in Makai Senki) and several others. By the time we reach the end of the second season, there aren't just a group of warriors fighting with Kouga, their fighting for him.

Kouga isn't the only character who receives an ample amount of personal growth in the show either. Back-stories are a plenty in Garo, and most characters will have some sort of trauma or issue they need to work out. It does border on repetitive sometimes when you realise most have some sort of "murdered loved one" story to tell, but it keeps the show interesting, makes the characters more alive and stays fitting with the overall tone of the show. Kiba - the villain from the first season and Makai Knight gone bad, even gets his own 40 minute special to explore his character a bit more. Even Zaruba, a talking ring, becomes a character you'll grow attached to and likely to shed a tear for at some point.

The smart-mouthed Zaruba.

Garo also sports some excellent designs. The Makai Knight armour, which all sport a wolf motif, are present in both suit and CGI forms - with both showing off some very intricate detail. The knights are also able to summon Madō Horses, which are an extensive of each individual knight's colours and styles - plus they look pretty damn amazing to boot. The Horrors, who are equally as memorable, come in different shapes and sizes. The standard horrors each come with a different motif, and the result ranges in some that just look amazing, and others than are pure nightmare fuel. The bigger Horrors lack these themes but still manage to maintain a look of monstrosity and the primary antagonists (such as Messiah in the first season and Ganon in the second) take a more majestic approach in design. There's a hell of a lot of offer design-wise in Garo, whether it be steeped in mythology or a brilliant idea on the design team's part.

Some horrors just look cool...
...while others you might find yourself losing sleep over.

Garo receives much praise from internet crowds for being an adult-orientated tokusatsu series (which comes with warnings of dark horror and nudity) and so I was eager to check it out. I wasn't disappointed - Garo deserves every bit of praise it gets. Your mileage may vary on what style you think suits the show better, but both complement the show nicely and illustrate how the same cast of characters can work in two very different stories and styles. Garo is must-see for tokusatsu fans, and a reminder that there's so much more to the genre than just Super Sentai and Kamen Rider.

Sunday 6 May 2012

Toybox REVIEW: Figma Ika Musume

Despite this being the fourth Figma I've bought, it'll be the first time I've done a review for one for this blog. Not sure why I never did the Evangelion girls (long story short - they're great figures and well worth buying if you're a fan), but there we go. Therefore my first Figma review (but probably not the last) is of the 123rd entry into the mainline, and none other than Ika Musume (or Squid Girl if you prefer), star of the Shinryaku! Ika Musume anime and manga series. Tired of failing to conquer the surface world in the name of the sea, she's trying new tactics by invading toy collections instead.

Much like her animated self, Ika Musume is pretty short. In fact, she's around 2/3 the height of your usual Figma. Her skirt is made from soft PVC to allow lots of flexibility, and has a full range of motion in the head, shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, knees and feet. The fact she has pretty big shoes means her she has a good centre of gravity too and can be posed quite easily without a stand if you don't want a big obtrusive arm sticking out of her.

Like most Figma, Ika comes with a huge array of accessories. These include two front hairpieces (one cut short like in episode 12 of the first season, and another that I'll go into more detail on shortly), and extra head for the short tentacled hair), three facial expressions (happy, determined and upset), a huge selection of hands varying from pointing to fists, a pint glass (with removable beer!) and two plates of food. And of course, as with every Figma release (Bandai should take note) she comes with a jointed arm stand which can be plugged into her back. The hands may seem small but are really easy to remove since they use a hinged peg rather than a ball joint like similar scaled figures, but balancing the food using them is a real pain - protip: don't mess around with the open hands for ages only to realise using the open fists is far easier.

But by far her best accessory is the second hairpiece, which has two very long POSABLE tentacles. These tentacles are pretty durable, and can be used to hold things and even curled. Using the stand to lift Ika into the air also means you can pose her terrorising other toys while walking on her extended tentacles. I was a bit scared to test the limits of them (I'm always worried I'll break wired things) but there are plenty of possibilities to explore.

If there's one problem with Ika, it's one that plagues a lot of Figma and isn't just exclusive to her - the problem of paint transfer. I'm not sure if this is a common problem with the figure, but the short hairpiece on mine doesn't slot into the headpiece well (it stays in place, but not as firmly as it should) and I had to apply a bit of extra pressure to force it in. When I removed the piece after taking a few photos, I noticed the blue colouring had transferring onto her forehead, and the same applies when I removed her bracelet pieces. To be fair these areas would be covered when displayed so it's not a huge issue, but still one I thought worthy of attention.

I don't buy Figma very often so I don't know what is the norm in terms of quality, but Ika Musume is a fantastic figure. What she lacks in stature she makes up for in posability, accessories, movable tentacles and just plain fun. If you only have one water dweller invade your shelves this year, make it this one.