Thursday 28 June 2012

Anime REVIEW: Deadman Wonderland

Based on the manga series by Jinsei Kataoka, Deadman Wonderland is a science-fiction/horror drama with a particularly interesting premise. Taking content from the first 21 chapters of the manga, it ran for 12 episode (with one side OVA) between April and July 2011.

Ganta Igarashi is the sole survivor of a mass murder by the "red man", who burst into his school one day and violently murdered all of his classmates. Instead of killing Ganta, the red man thrusts a red crystal into his chest, knocking him unconscious in the process. When he awakens in hospital, Ganta finds he is the sole suspect of the murder. Set up by his own defence lawyer, he is sentenced to death and incarcerated at Deadman Wonderland, a massive prison set up like a theme park.

Ganta Igarashi is blamed for a crime he didn't commit

Inmates of Deadman Wonderland are fitted with a special collar, which monitors their life signs and kills them in three days unless they eat a special piece of candy. To get this candy, the inmates must take part in various events which are put on as shows for the theme park visitors, winning cast points which can also be used on food, clothing and more. However these events are extremely dangerous and many inmates don't survive.

Meeting his long-forgotten childhood friend, the mysterious Shiro, Ganta struggles to accept life in prison. But when he discovers he possesses the power to turn his own blood into a projectile weapon, he's thrust into the world of the Deadmen. Here he partakes in even more brutal events, and becomes part of a larger scheme to escape the prison and bring down both its promoter and the red man himself.

I didn't know quite what to expect going into Deadman Wonderland, so to be treated with a twisted-fun fair prison drama came as a pleasant surprise. While it does tend to lose this focus as it progresses (as the prison enters "inspection" in the latter half, the theme park element seems dropped entirely), it keeps up a relatively fast pace so nothing ever seems to drag. There's a lot of terminology in Deadman Wonderland, some of which gets more explanation than others. Terms like "Red Hole", "Wretched Egg" and "Worm Eater" are thrown around constantly, and you really have to keep a keen eye on the dialogue to keep up with what they all mean.

The mystery of Shiro is largely unanswered one

Ganta is a reasonably likeable protagonist, but too often swings between strength and weakness. Shiro seems like an odd character in a realm of insanity, always cheerful and constantly talking about racing or snacking. However the level of mystery to her (her appearance and lack of prison ID number) keep Shiro interesting. Tsunenaga Tamaki, the promoter and later director of Deadman Wonderland, is a villain through and through - setting up Ganta as a guilty man, keeping secrets from the people around him and showing no remorse for human life, taking sick pleasure in everything he does. There is a good variety of characters - some likeable, some hateable and others who swing between the two.  The problem is that it uses a considerably wide cast in such a short span of time, meaning characters are shoved aside midway through to make room for the new ones. Yoh, an inmate searching for his Deadman sister, starts out as a main character, but is quickly thrown aside when the Scar Chain group is introduced. The standout character in Deadman Wonderland is without a doubt Senji (aka Crow), a Deadman with the ability to turn is blood into knives who revels in fighting and bloodshed. As a character who goes from an initial antagonist to eventual hero and mentor to Ganta, it's a crime that the show doesn't focus more on him.

Why oh why isn't this show more about him?

Tamaki, as his role suggests, is more of a behind the scenes villain, and so in terms of action there are also the Undertakers as primary antagonists. The two the series mainly focuses on are Azuma, a self proclaimed "Super Monk" who uses and electric guitar-gun as a weapon, and Hibana - a young girl who wields a massive sectioned sword. Both characters have pretty traumatic backgrounds to explain their lust for killing, but ultimately feel hollow with very little real relevance to the plot.

The powers the Deadmen have - the ability to mould their blood into different weapons and/or abilities is a focal point of the show and seems to have taken much visual inspiration from Carnage of Spider-Man fame. With plenty of cage fights and twisted races for the prison inmates to take part in, the show also has a particularly high gore level. Perhaps the most unsettling part is the "sore loser" game, in which losing a Deadman is forced to use a slot machine to determine what body part they'll lose.

About as twisted as they come

While Deadman Wonderland's biggest flaw is one that affects most anime series based on ongoing manga series, here it is especially prevalent. Already steeped in its own complex mythology, 12 episodes simply isn't enough to get any sort of story across. New characters are introduced in the final few episodes which have little relevance other than to foreshadow future events (that will never come), and main characters that were present the entire time (such as the prison's chief guard Makina) have roles that lead to nowhere because its all build up. The final episode feels more like a mid-series fight than a series finale, and the final line of show leaves things on a pretty major cliffhanger. If, like me, you aren't a huge manga reader and have little intention of reading the source material at a later date, then this series is going to only leave you wanting more.

If Akuma taught us anything, its that more guitars should be modified into guns

Deadman Wonderland is an excellent series, but at the same time merely a fraction of what it should be. Far too much is left open-ended, and unfortunately unless the series can muster higher DVD sales or pull a "Big O" in America (since its part of the new Toonami block) it's probably going to stay that way. A perfect companion piece to the manga, but an incomplete show to anyone who's watching the anime and the anime alone.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Series REVIEW: Taiyo Sentai Sun Vulcan

Taiyo Sentai Sun Vulcan is somewhat of an oddity among the Super Sentai franchise's extensive history. Not only is it the only show to have an all-male three piece cast (with no additions) but also the only one to be a direct sequel to its predecessor, Denzi Sentai Denjiman. While it isn't the only Super Sentai to have had a cast member change mid-series (it isn't even the first in that respect), it is the only one to have changed over its red ranger. It's also the first show to have used an animal motif in the costumes and have combining mecha. That's a lot of milestones for just one series. Sun Vulcan is the fifth Super Sentai series, running for 50 episodes (plus a movie) between 1981 and 1982.

When the machine empire Black Magma threatens the world, the United Nations create establish the Taiyo Sentai (or Solar Squadron if you'd prefer) to defend the world against them. Commander Arashiyama assembles three GWP (Guardians of World Peace) specialists - air force officer Ryusuke Ohwashi (Vul Eagle), naval officer Kinya Samejima (Vul Shark) and army officer Asao Hyau (Vul Panther) to become the protectors of humanity. Aided by the Commander, his daughter Misa and her talking dog CC, Sun Vulcan battle against Black Magma's fuhrer Hell Saturn and his army of machines.

Just as Black Magma gains reinforcements, the Sun Vulcan gain a new team mate as Ryusuke leaves with a NASA mission to explore space, replaced his colleague - kendo master Takayuki Hiba.

The Sun Vulcan team - Kinya, Ryusuke and Asao

For me the biggest problem in Sun Vulcan lied with its main cast. Outside of Vul Panther's over-eating and obvious phobia of dogs, there's next to nothing that displays the three as anything more than "by the books hero types". By the time the original Vul Eagle leaves in episode 23, you've learnt so little about the character that you're unlikely to care (or even notice) that he's leaving. Takayuki/Vul Eagle 2 displays a bit more charisma than his predecessor, but even then this wears off a few episodes later and the team are back to fighting Black Magma in their dull and generic fashion. On the subject of the changeover between Ryusuke and Takayuki - this is incredibly badly handled. There's zero build up or foreshadowing to Ryusuke's summoning by NASA, even in the episode itself.  Below is a brief summary of just how the changeover, which should have felt quite formal and/or monumental played out. Even if there were behind the scenes issues on the show, I find it hard to believe the writers couldn't have done better than;

"Ryusuke, NASA called. They want you to go into space."
"Oh okay. What about Sun Vulcan?"
"They'll be fine. This new guy who's only just appeared and conveniently a friend of yours will be taking over."
*Everybody cheers*

Enter Eagle Mk II: Takayuki Hiba

The remaining members of GWP fare a little better. Arashiyama makes for a memorable captain, with a key role in the series' finale. Misa floats between being an able member of the team on and off the field and a damsel in distress (wearing her short shorts whichever it may be) and CC is (thankfully) kept to an absolute minimum.

Hell Saturn: "Leader" of the Black Magma machine empire

Black Magma on the other hand get off to a very promising start. Hell Saturn seems like a credible threat and the all-female operatives of the machine empire are an excellent foil to the all-male Sun Vulcan team. Taking up the post of second in command is Queen Hedrian, a returning villain from Denziman played by Super Sentai legend Machiko Soga (later Zyuranger's Bandora/MMPR season one's Rita Repulsa).  The introduction of Amazon Killer (in the same episode as the Vul Eagle changeover no less) suggested a shake-up in the status quo that the show could benefit from, but unfortunately it wasn't beneficial. The plots became more and more comedic, with Queen Hedrian taking charge more often and Hell Saturn just sitting in his throne agreeing to everything. Black Magma finally regained some of its former glory in episode 45 with the introduction of space outlaw Inazuma Ginga, but by then it was little too late.

Denziman's Queen Hedrian returns from the grave

The Sun Vulcan suits, while basic, are a good display of the animal motif while at the same time keeping the simple uniform look of a military unit. Not only that, but they come two years before the use of spandex for the suits that began in Dynaman. Mostly the primary colour of the respective member (with a bit of white to break things up), and then the Sun logo badge and bronze animal helmet crests/belts for decoration. While the crests might seem a little car-hood ornament on first sight, it makes the helmet feel less cartoonish/super hero than other attempts at an animal theme, which I like. Weapons on the other hand are far more underwhelming - the Vulcan stick is a baton that is usually just thrown at the monster, and the finishing attack is an exploding volleyball (later upgraded to three american footballs that combine into a spiked ball). Vul Eagle II, also made use of a sword.

While Sun Vulcan is the first Sentai show to have vehicles combine into a robot, these are much simpler times than the Super Sentai robots of now. While Cosmo Vulcan actually looks like a jet and has a pretty interesting transformation (lots of folding panels), Bull Vulcan is a pair of legs on wheels no matter how you look at it. Sun Vulcan Robo itself is a greatly look retro-style mecha, and has plenty of attacks to keep fights interesting. However the robot always comes across as far too overpowered, with most fights simply being a short tussle with the monster of the week followed by a swift Aurora Plasma Slash (its finishing attack). Even Inazuma Ginga notes that "he who controls Sun Vulcan Robo controls the world".

Sun Vulcan Robo: A delicious slice of retro robot goodness

As a sequel to Denziman, one might think going into the series that a crossover is potentially on the cards. Sadly this isn't the case, even though the series had a pretty good opportunity to use it. From Queen Hedrian's first appearance she makes note of her defeat in Denziman, and in a later episode attempts to destroy the remaining ancestors of the Denzi people. Sadly there's no sign of, or even mention of, the Denziman cast and where they are after the end of their series. A perfect opportunity wasted, especially when there were apparently crossover images appearing as promotion for the series.

Much like my thoughts of Tensou Sentai Goseiger (which would come 29 years later), Sun Vulcan is a whole load of potential that is marred by dull characters and boring stories, only to finally really grab you narrative-wise at the very end. Couple this with the excessive use of stock footage that this era of television was known for and you have a series which isn't only dull, but can be quite grating at times. While Sun Vulcan is considered by some to be one of the best Showa era Sentai shows, I can't help but feel somewhat underwhelmed by this franchise oddity.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Anime REVIEW: Medaka Box

The second of my Spring anime viewings is a show that I probably wouldn't have had any interest in had I not seen the animation studio name attached to it. Medaka Box is a 12-episode series based on the manga of the same name written by Nisio Isin (the Monogatari series), and animated by none other than Gainax (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gurren Lagann).

Before we begin, have some Medaka fanservice.

In her first year at Hakoniwa Academy, Medaka Kurokami is elected Student Council President after winning a staggering 98% of the vote. Her first initiative is create a suggestion box, in which her fellow students can make suggestions/requests that the council will attempt to fix 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. With her childhood friend Zenkichi Hitoyoshi behind her, Medaka is determined to fix any problem - including finding lost dogs, cleaning up club rooms and "rehabilitating" students. As the series progresses, she also takes judo club prince Kouki Akune and swimming team ace Mogana Kikaijimi into the fold.

As the popularity of the "Medaka Box" grows, more and more students seek assistance from the council. But eventually Medaka faces off against the school's enforcer squad and their 10-year-old leader, child prodigy Myouri Unzen.

Kouki, Mogana and Zenkichi: Medaka's band of merry men

Medaka Box may seem like your run-of-mill highschool drama, but its over the top style is presented in a way that Gainax knows best. Medaka is seemingly superhuman, excelling at almost everything (apart from working with animals), and always seeing the best in everyone. Students often contemplate whether she's man or monster, and this is quite clearly the main theme of the series. She also not adverse to providing fanservice, which is equally done in true Gainax style - whether it be bikinis or her penchant for changing in front of her councilmen.

Enforcing through pain

Her eventual antagonists are equally outlandishly powered, turning into the series into more of a high-school rumble genre show by its climax. The genre shift does give Medaka Box a much needed kick up the rear, but at the same time doesn't feel particularly original and might fail to grip you unless you've taken a particular liking to the characters beforehand.

Gainax have even managed to sneak their own homages in here and there. The first episode sees Medaka tackling the problem of delinquents in the judo hall - only their leader Moji looks and sounds (so far as getting voice actor Katsuyuki Konishi in) like another familiar Gainax face. Maybe Team Gurren's fearless leader didn't die in a blaze of glory after all.

Believe in the Medaka who believes in you?

What really let's Medaka Box down is the time it devotes to its characters. Granted at only 12 episodes there isn't a lot of time for detailed character development among the cast, but the focus is far too squared on Medaka. Her ability to "save the day" and keep calm under any situation become less and less interesting as time passes, and the character is at her most interesting when she either fails or finally loses her temper.The final episode of the series, which doesn't feature her at all and instead sees the council trying to carry on school life normally in her absence, comes as a much needed breath of fresh air. The comedy also stumbles just as much as it triumphs, meaning you don't quite know what you'll get episode to episode. Hansode Shiranui, a hyperactive girl who never seems to stop eating, provides the main bulk of the show's comedy, but its a shame we don't really learn very much about her in the meantime.

While Medaka Box isn't a brilliant show, it has a whole lot of heart and is a lot of fun. It was the perfect property for Gainax to handle and they do so with the flare they show their own in-house properties, meaning that while you may not get a rewarding experience watching - you'll certainly get a memorable one. With a second season confirmed, the adventures of Hakoniwa Academy's Student Council aren't quite finished just yet.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Garo

First off, anyone reading this blog that hasn't seen Garo really needs to take the time to watch it. Seriously, you won't regret it - it's one of the best tokusatsu series around and definitely worth the time. Now that's been said, after watching Garo myself I've been pining for a poseable version of the titular character for quite some time. While Bandai's Makai Kadou line offers a far wider range of characters, experience with the S.H. Figuarts line swayed me to that version of the character (plus it'll be perfectly in scale with my Sentai and Riders). Figuarts has only released three characters from Garo - the other two being Zero and Taiga (who is almost identical to Garo save different coloured eyes and an extra weapon), both of which were Tamashii web exclusives. Luckily for me, Garo and Zero were really the only two characters I was ever interested in buying.

The golden Garo armour is something with quite a lot of detail to it, and thankfully Bandai haven't let fans of the line down in scaling them down to figure form. The figure is covered in armour folds, rivets and elaborate detailing, meaning Garo's impressive appearance isn't lost. Even Garo's Madō Ring Zaruba is sculpted on each left hand (albeit unpainted). It would be somewhat impractical to paint the figure that chrome gold Garo appears in the show, so instead he's a flat but still effective gold colour. Not quite as impressive as chrome, but it does mean that you aren't too afraid to handle the figure for fear of scuffing it. Much like the older Figuarts, Garo has diecast feet, meaning a more hefty weight and a better ability to hold action poses.

As far as accessories go, we have 5 additional hands (2x holding fists, 2x open and a right hand meant for holding the sword sheath), sword, sheath and cape. The cape is attached by removing the ribbon-shaped pieces on the back (these come unattached in the box) and then popped onto the balls exposed. The cape isn't much to shout about (just a PVC plastic piece) but it does have all the markings it should and looks good for static poses. Personally I'd rather Taiga came with the cape (since it was something I associated more with him anyway, Garo barely wore it) and Garo come with the Garo Zanbaken, but that's just me. It's a nice little extra that the sword can actually be sheathed, but a shame it can only be held in his left hand (not that I remember him holding it in his right hand anyway I suppose).

Back onto the subject of hands, there's one word I see thrown around a lot in reviews of other figures in the line (particularly the Kamen Rider OOO figuarts), and that word is gummy. I'd never fully understood that description until now, because that's exactly what Garo's hands are. They are really soft and bend far too easily for my liking. Thankfully its limited to the hands and not the body and/or joints.

While there are other options in the form of the Makai Kadou, Kiwami Tamashii and Equip & Prop lines,  the Figuarts is a blend of a simple-yet-screen-accurate design with excellent poseability. The prototype figure might have showed off a shinier gold, but the shade they went with in the end is more than good enough and in reality its only the lack of Zanbaken and gummy hands that let it down. Not a figure for those looking for a wide range of Garo figures, but if you're just looking for the Golden Knight himself you could do much worse than this.

Monday 11 June 2012

Anime REVIEW: Mawaru-Penguindrum

While many anime series that seemingly take their influence from a vivid acid trip, those that actually rank highly in terms of quality are less easy to come by. But every so often one comes along and pushes the boundaries of quality, even if it may divide fan opinion in the process. From co-writer/director Kunihiko Ikuhara (creator of Revolutionary Girl Utena and director for many episodes of the Sailor Moon anime series) and animation studio Brain's Base (Durarara!!, Baccano!), Mawaru-Penguindrum is a surreal psychological journey that is just as dramatic and it is comedic. Originally released between July and December 2011, the series ran for a total of 24 episodes. 

Brothers Shouma and Kanba Takakura live alone with their younger sister Himari in a small multi-coloured house. Their parents have been missing for years and Himari is terminally ill, yet the three live a happy life. But a trip to the aquarium leads to disaster one day when Himari collapses, and subsequently pronounced dead when she reaches the hospital.

As the brothers mourn by her bedside, she miraculously awakens wearing a penguin shaped hat she had bought as a souvenir at the Aquarium. Initiating a "survival strategy", the hat-possessed Himari (known as the Princess of the Crystal) demands that the two brothers seek out an item known as the Penguindrum in exchange for her sister's life. To aid them in their quest, they are presented with three strange penguins.

The Princess of the Crystal

At times Penguindrum's story can be hard to follow. The opening episodes suggest a surreal, but somewhat light-hearted story to come, but the overarching narrative is anything but that. Dealing with topics such as nihilism, rape, rejection, fate and more literary symbolism than you'd care to believe, it's not the light viewing that the Princess of the Crystal's attire may have you to believe. Despite its seemingly wide range of topics, the show never becomes too lost in itself - giving each idea time to expand nicely before homing in on the key issues before the curtain closes. Packed with meaning, this is anime that will leave you with food for thought after viewing has ceased. 

Brothers Shouma and Kanba, confused at recent developments

Its structure seems equally erratic, constantly switching between present time, flashbacks and flash-forwards.  However all these different plot devices come at the right times, providing much needed exposition and insight into the characters. Everything is carefully planned, with ample amounts of foreshadowing preceding each and every plot twist (of which there are plenty - at least one every episode). Sometimes it'll be clear what's about to happen, some will smack you right in the face. However most of the twists will come as a complete surprise, only for you to realise that they've been dangled all the needed information right in front of you the whole time.

Masako Natsume: One of the many characters whose goals are not quite clear

The characters are all wholly unique from each other, displaying very different personalities but all victims of some sort of childhood trauma and intertwined via fate. Brothers Shouma and Kanba have very different ideals on how to save their sister's life, but both clearly care for her. All three of the Takakura family, along with the show's extended cast, are painted in multiple lights throughout the course of the narrative, making them feel more natural as characters as you dislike them in some situations as well as sympathise with them. The penguins provide some fantastic background comedy, which is not only a often-much needed lighter element to the show but often relates back to the story at hand.

The penguins' antics often steal the show

To complement the surreal narrative that Ikuhara has created, the art direction is a psychedelic masterpiece. As well as cartoon penguins and animal-hatted dominatrix princesses, Mawaru-Penguindrum's visuals often leave you wondering what's a dream and what is reality. Take the Princess of the Crystal's entrance, a vibrant, colourful, star-gazing rollercoaster ride set to a cover of 70/80s Japanese rock band ARB's "Rock Over Japan" which makes little sense in context as it does out of. There are also fairytale-esque daydream sequences (including 2D "cardboard cutout" characters), neon-lit corridors and a heavy focus on train lines. Sometimes maybe a bit too ambitious, but always distinct.

An example of one of Penguindrum's more surreal moments

Mawaru-Penguindrum is both an oddity and a triumph wrapped in one. Effortless drifting between both comedy and serious themes, not one character in the show can be taken on face value and the plot will leave you guessing right up to the very end (and maybe sometime afterwards too). While the show might not be quite what you were expecting, its undoubtedly one of the finest anime series of recent years.

Friday 8 June 2012

Anime REVIEW: Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? Of the Dead

The first of my 2012 Spring anime season reviews is the second season of 2011's Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? (Is this a Zombie?), now with an added "Of the Dead" tagline. The series ran for a total of ten episodes (two less than the previous season) between April and June, with an one prequel OVA and another due in the near future.

Ayumu Aikawa has settled into his turned-upside-down life as a zombie, sharing a home with genius magiclad girl Haruna, necromancer Eucliwood and vampire ninja Seraphim. However his life still has its stresses, and Ayumu takes solace one day in confiding in a drunken girl he finds snooping through his school's nurse office one day. When a Megalo attacks the school, Ayumu is forced to reprise his role as a cross-dressing magiclad girl, but when his magical chainsaw weapon (and source of his power) Mystelltain breaks in the fight, Ayumu's identity is revealed to his horrified and disgusted classmates - and with Mystelltain broken, Ayumu is unable to wipe their memories of the event!

The entire cast are back for more supernatural shenanigans

As Haruna attempts to fix Mystelltain, Ayumu has to adjust to life with his school friends knowing of his occasional cross-dressing tendencies. Worse still, the drunken girl he once confided in turns out to be a rogue Magiclad girl named Chris - who has secretly been collecting mana from the supernatural beings around in her in order to be freed from a curse placed on her.

For me, the first season of Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? came as somewhat of a disappointment. The synopsis suggested the potential for greatness, however the actual content was brought down by repetitive one-note jokes and poorly balancing its comedy with an unnecessarily serious plot. Thankfully ...Of the Dead has a far clearer focus of what it wants to be, and has chosen to go the comedic route rather than amp up the story. While there is still a clear story present in the season, its development is spread far more thinly across episodes instead of having a "serious" episode being illogically followed by a number of one-shot comedy ones (or vice versa). Unfortunately, what ...Of the Dead DOES have in terms of story is also swept under the rug without any real conclusive element. The conflict with Chris, who is brought across as being the most powerful foe Ayumu will ever face, is cast aside in the final episode so that an emotional episode about how the central cast love and need Ayumu can go ahead instead - something that perhaps would have worked just as effectively as an OVA episode rather than a season finale.

Not really the situation Ayumu wanted to be put in

...Of the Dead also makes greater use of its extended cast far better than its predecessor, resulting in a better variety of characters both in terms of comedy and character development. We see a lot more of Ayumu's classmates Orito, Taeko and Kanami, as well as vampire ninjas Mael Strom/Yuki and Saras. Yet somehow the use of an extended cast doesn't mean that the main characters are left forgotten. Well most of them anyway - while Eu and Haruna are still by far and large at the forefront of the show Sera's role is greatly reduced. As arguably the weakest character in the show, her diminished presence only improves the quality of the show.

Chris, the drunken magical girl

While perhaps still not essential anime viewing by any means, Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? Of the Dead is an obvious improvement on the original. Its got a clearer focus on what it wants to be, a better variety/quality of jokes and a more interesting array of character focus. Its only really the rushed story that lets it down, and that could have perhaps been sorted with an additional two or so episodes. If you were a fan of the first season then you'll love this, and if like me you felt underwhelmed by the original then ...Of the Dead may just prove to be somewhat of a surprise hit.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Toybox REVIEW: Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters mini-pla GT-02 Gorilla & RH-03 Rabbit

Rounding off the main three mecha of Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters are GT-02 Gorilla and RH-03 Rabbit, belonging to Blue Buster and Yellow Buster respectively. Much like Go-Buster Ace, these Buster vehicles can transform between an animal and vehicle mode, but lack the robot mode that Ace has. Together the three vehicles can form the titantic Go-BusterOh, formed to battle against Gamma-type enemy megazords. The two candy-toy representations of these mecha were released in April in a case along with a re-release of Ace (who came out individually a month earlier). GT-02 is comprised of two boxes, while RH-03 is a single box.

GT-02 Gorilla

As is the standard with the Super Sentai mini-pla releases, the instructions on how to build the model are printed on the inside of the box in a easy to follow step by step pictorial. The first box is made up of the head and torso/back piece, while the second is the legs and arms. The toy is cast in mostly blue and grey plastic, with the odd bit of yellow used for the joints and missile launcher sections. While the stickers do cover most of GT-02's detail, there is one section that is left untouched (and is particularly noticeable when put in Go-BusterOh formation). The back panel of the legs is left grey - while in the show its blue. The hands should also be black while the toy leaves them blue. Other details that are covered by stickers but I think personally look better with paint are the feet and the tires (both black) and the mouth bar (gold).

The completed gorilla mode is a faithful representation of his onscreen model, but unfortunately lacks any outstanding articulation. The head can swing forward, the tires at either side are fully moveable at two points and the hands and feet are hinged. Any movement the arms could have had is restricted by the head piece, which plugged into the top of them preventing them from moving.

Transforming the kit into truck mode requires taking it completely apart and rotating/rearranging the pieces, which is again laid out in the instructions on the back of the box. Not really much to say about the vehicle mode, its a great likeness but its a shame that it lacks spinning wheels. To add the gorilla head to the vehicle, simply pull down the front grill and insert the head into the tabs provided (remembering to pull out the forehead piece and moving it to a lower peg to cover the eyes).

Finally, a tiny Gorisaki banana is also included with the kit, which attaches to the back of the larger gorilla head. The Gorisaki is completely unpainted, but luckily the details are easy to bring out with a lick of paint if you have a steady hand.

While GT-02 doesn't really have the articulation that I love about the Sentai mini-pla, its still an excellent toy with much more detail and play value than the standard Super Sentai mecha component. Its got two different modes, and the appeal of being based on a more unorthodox animal (for a robot anyway). Looking at it from the point of view of it being a smaller, more affordable version of the DX, GT-02 is certainly worth the price for fans of Blue Buster or the series in general.

RH-03 Rabbit

Next we have perhaps the most interesting concept in the initial three Go-Buster mecha - Yellow Buster's rabbit copter. Being only one box it's the easiest of the three Buster Machines to assemble, and is cast in yellow and grey plastic. The helmet for Go-BusterOh is also part of this set. The stickers cover a bit more here than they did with GT-02, but there are still a few little details left untouched if you're looking for full accuracy. the back feet toes (on either side, but not the centre ones) should be black, as should the gun sections on the front legs/wings. The black detailing is also minimal on the front legs. Finally, while the grey plastic doesn't look awful (in fact the DX toy also uses grey), I found painting the pieces silver to look much better. It should also be added that the Go-BusterOh helmet stickers are an absolute NIGHTMARE to put on, as they are tiny.

Rabbit mode mode looks great, and even manages to have a little bit of articulation. Both sets of legs are hinged, and the ears have a full 360° range of motion. Go-BusterOh's helmet piece pegs into the backlegs, sitting mostly out of view.

Transforming into helicopter mode also requires breaking the figure down into its four core components (ears/blades, head, front legs, back legs) and reassembling them in different peg sockets. The front legs are brought up to make front wings while the back legs are folded down and then rotated backward, putting them at the back end of the vehicle and exposing landing gear on its base. Go-BusterOh's fists are brought forward to fill out the front end of the helicopter (but folded back in if you want to reinsert the rabbit head). The rotor slots onto the top with the helmet piece on top of that. It's a little stiff, but the rotor does can spin a full circle.

And of course to top it off there's the minature Usada Lettuce. Unlike Nick and Gorisaki, who can be fully removed from their larger animal heads, some of Usada's parts (i.e. the arms) are part of it and so doesn't look quite right without it.

There might not be a lot to say about RH-03, but much like GT-02 there's more to it than the standard mecha component. Its a great combination of a good looking vehicle mode and different choice in animal (there need to be more rabbit mecha). Definitely one for fans of unusual robots.



While the three individual Buster Machines are superb, it all falls apart (quite literally sometimes) when put together in their combined mode. In the show itself Go-BusterOh has come across as somewhat as a disappointment, doing very little when it does appear onscreen and being constantly outclassed in the individual mecha fight scenes. Sadly, the candy toy is true to the show version in this respect as well as accuracy, and comes across as a huge disappointment.

While the transformation sequence is quite interesting, the end result isn't much to rave about. Gorilla's arms and legs become the feet, while the back part of the rabbit become the arms (Ace's shoulders are rotated and then the arms just kind of stick out). The cheetah head sticks on the right shoulder, the rabbit on the left and then the remainder of the gorilla is the chest and crotch piece. The helmet piece is added by removing Ace's face and putting it on the back of the head (where it just stares at you from behind) and replacing it with the helmet. Due to the shoulders, the head articulation is severely restricted. The knees also feel somewhat restricted because the crotch blocks the legs from moving forward much,

Its weapons, the Go-Buster Ace sword (with added boosters from RH-03) and arm blades look impressive, but again the figure lacks the ability to use its articulation to show them off properly. The parts hanging off of the arms often get caught up in Ace's arms hanging from the shoulders, which can frustrating lead to pieces dropping off the figure quite easily. Despite its bulk, the top half feels very loose at the joints, and it really doesn't take much for limbs to start dropping off.

I love the individual Go-Buster mecha, but Go-BusterOh is a huge let down. After failing to get any decent action poses out of it, its safe to say I won't be posing them in this mode any time soon. The design itself feels like an incomplete mismash of parts, and while adding Beet and Stagbuster's mecha (neither have been revealed in the mini-pla line yet, but it most certainly will happen) into the mix may improve things, I'm not holding my breath.