Friday 27 July 2012

Series REVIEW: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers season three

After having a lot of Zyuranger footage to work with for season one and a considerable amount from Dairanger for season two, the third and final season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers saw quite a change from what had come before. The 43-episode series saw designs from Super Sentai series Ninja Sentai Kakuranger make it across the pond, but outside of the zord footage a lot of it was brand as there were still “old” ranger designs being used. The result was a very different feeling Power Rangers series, but one that still managed in keep in tone with what had come before.

Season three opens with “A Friend in Need”, a three-part crossover with the then forthcoming Masked Rider series (adapted from Kamen Rider Black RX). Although the story was an introduction to the characters, it later proved to be non-canonical to the Masked Rider series itself although Alpha-5 is from the same planet as Dex, the series protagonist. Much like Masked Rider, “A Friend in Need” isn’t a particularly strong set of episodesand isn’t worth discussing in any further detail.

From Ninja rangers...

The story really begins with the four-part “Ninja Quest”. Rita’s brother Rito Revolto arrives on the moon with a belated wedding present for Rita and Zedd – a fearsome platoon of Tenga warriors. Completely overpowered by Rito and a platoon of monsters, the rangers’ powers and Thunderzords are completely destroyed in battle. Their search to regain their powers leads them to an ancient temple and the creator of the power coins, a being known as Ninjor. Replacing their dinosaur powers with the skill of the ninjas, Ninjor grants the rangers new powers and zords to battle against evil. As veteran rangers leave the team and are replaced by new faces, a new threat comes in the form of Master Vile – the father of both Rita and Rito.

The season concludes with the ten episode Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers mini-series, in which time has been reversed by Master Vile and the rangers have become children. Billy manages to find a way to reverse the effects on him, but interference from Rita and Zedd results in the complete destruction of the ranger powers. While the remaining five rangers search for fragments of the Zeo crystal across time to move time forward again, the world is protected by the alien rangers of the planet Aquitar. Alien rangers.

As you can see, there is a huge amount of ongoing plot contained in this season of MMPR, far outstripping the previous two seasons. The Power Ranger suits remain the same, still retaining the dinosaur motif despite all traces of the dinosaurs being effectively removed by now (the morphing callout is now simply “*colour* ranger power”). They do later receive a “metallic armour” upgrade, but all that really consists of is glittery spandex and metallic paint helmets. It’s not particularly impressive to look at, but thankfully they don’t appear all that often either.

The civilian battles however receive a huge shake up, and are replaced by the rangers fighting in cloth “ninja ranger” suits. While similar in design to the ones seen in the movie, these cover their entire faces and the rangers are able to display stereotypical ninja powers such as super speed and disappearing in a cloud of smoke. The ninja ranger fights trade the sense that you were watching the actors themselves fighting for a gimmickier approach that set them far apart from the putty patroller scenes that came before them. Whether that’s a fair trade off is for the viewer to decide.

The introduction of the alien ranger sees the use of the Kakuranger suits, but those inside are very different to their Japanese counterparts. As their name suggests, the Aquitian rangers are amphibious life forms and heavily depend on water to survive – something that is exploited in all of their episodes. In costume it’s great to finally see some new look Power Rangers (which is fitting for what was to come next), but outside they come off as a mixed bag, especially in some of the more cringe-inducing scenes where they learn Earth culture and mannerisms.

Goodbye Kim, hello Kat

Aside from new villains, zords and powers, the most notable part of the series is the departure of Kimberly, one of the two rangers left from the very first episode of the show. Her leaving is not something that is taken lightly, with a multiple story arc leading up to it and serving to introduce her replacement – Katherine Hillard. Much like Tommy, she starts out under one of Rita’s spells and assists Rita and Zedd in some of their main triumphs of the show, including successfully capturing both Ninjor and the Falconzord for a number of episodes. Eventually her good nature breaks Rita’s spell and she is able to admit to the rangers all of misdeeds. Meanwhile Kimberly has been training for the Panglobal games, and is selected by a top gymnast coach to go and train with him in Florida. Initially she is hesitant to go, but is persuaded with a little help from Katherine and leaves the pink power coin in her hands. Katherine is a very different character to Kimberly, quieter and far more reserved. Her introduction as a ranger is followed by multiple focus episodes and while she does prove a great addition to the cast, someone else wearing the uniform never quite sinks in. It wouldn’t be until the following season that Kat truly shined as a character.

With such a grand departure for Kimberly, it’s a shame to see that Aisha leaving in the final episode of the season is treated with much less grandeur. There is next to no build up, hardly any emotion and most importantly, actress Karan Ashley doesn’t even get to say a proper goodbye. Granted Aisha isn’t really on the same level as Kimberly, but perhaps a little more could be done for the yellow ranger who had been around for one and a half seasons plus the movie.

Rito, Rita's dimwitted brother

As for villains the rangers continue fighting against the newly married couple of Rita and Zedd, but with a slight personality change and some new faces in tow. While it may have begun at the tail end of the second season, this is where Zedd truly becomes a lighter and more comedic character. Some people dislike this change, but Lord Zedd proved to have a much higher success record when married to Rita than he ever did alone. He successfully destroyed the Thunderzords, the power coins and eventually the command centre itself.  Having a larger cast to bounce off rather than being a brooding loner may make Zedd less scary, but it certainly makes him more interesting to watch.

The main additions however were the extension of Rita’s family tree, with the permanent introduction of Rito and the more reduced appearance of Master Vile. Rito firmly takes the place of the comedy relief villain, often seen hanging around with Squatt and Baboo (who are much more prominent than they were in season two) and later Goldar. Master Vile on the other hand fills the hole left by Zedd’s change of mood. While he proves to be considerably evil and an effective planner, his presence is a little marred by his insistence on holding an “End of the World” party in Ernie’s juice bar.

Ninjor alongside the Ninja MegaFalconzord

Season three would also see the rangers receive two sets of zords for the very first time, a tradition that would carry on throughout most of Power Rangers. First there are the Ninja zords, not unlike the ones previously seen in the Power Rangers movie (but obviously using Kakuranger footage this time around). The Ninja Megazord is a good visual example of the how the Ranger arsenal had changed in going from dinosaur brute strength to the swift ninja powers. Far lighter and simpler in design than its predecessors, what the Ninja Megazord lacks in weaponry it makes up for in its unique design when compared to other Megazords from around this time.

Secondly there are the Shogun zords, ancient humanoid robots discovered by Lord Zedd, whose plan to have the rangers pilot them for him severely backfired. Due to there being no pink ranger in Kakuranger (the crane ninja zord belonged to Ninja White, and the Falcon Zord was an unpiloted mecha), there is no pink Shogun zord and so the white one is piloted by both Tommy and Kat/Kim. The Shogun Megazord is much more akin to what came before, and while may not be iconic as the original Megazord is still arguably one of the best looking Megazords to date.

The Shogun zords with the Alien rangers' Battleborgs

The Falconzord is able to combine with both, and Titanus is also reintroduced to make both the Ninja and Shogun Ultrazords. These are both American creations, and while it is a nice idea it doesn’t work very well. Why Titanus is suddenly back is never really explained, and the Ultrazord effects are quite obviously done with the toys (the American Shogun Megazord replaced the white with pink, and this can be seen on the footage). The Alien rangers also bring with them their own Battleborgs, lighter armoured versions of the individual Shogun zords that are controlled by telepathy and lack the ability to combine.

Bulk and Skull receive their next bit of character growth, giving up on attempting to unmask the Power Rangers and joining the junior police patrol. They are no longer bullies (although they still crack an insult or two), and are now more good-natured goofballs. They may constantly get on the nerves of their superior officer Lt. Stone, but most of the time they show a determination to solve a case and sometimes even manage to pull it off too.

Bulk and Skull join the force

The tone is certainly much lighter, but season three of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers justifies that with much more continuity and less reliance on Japanese features.  The new ideas that came with it were both hit and miss, but never once is it so bad that you wish they hadn’t bothered. Ending on jaw-dropping cliffhanger, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers legacy made sure to go out with a bang.  Until they would return, stronger than before...

Sunday 22 July 2012

Movie REVIEW: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie

Before moving onto season three of the series I thought it would be worth looking at something that happened at the very peak of Power Rangers popularity, a full length cinematic feature film. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie was released in 1995 to mixed reviews, but has somewhat of a cult following thanks to the popularity of the series. The film features elements from both the Super Sentai series season three would be based on, Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, and some original concepts that would be seen on the television show.

The film opens with the six rangers (Tommy, Rocky, Adam, Billy, Aisha and Kimberly), Bulk and Skull taking part in a charity sky dive for Angel Grove observatory in anticipation for the passing over of Ryan's Comet (aka plot point) in the next few days. Meanwhile, construction workers dig up a giant purple egg which is subsequently opened by Lord Zedd, Rita, Goldar and Mordant (new character, will come onto him later). Inside is the evil Ivan Ooze, a being who Zordon had locked away in the egg 6,000 years ago. The rangers are sent to investigate, coming across Ivan and battling his subordinate oozelings. While the battle is going on, Ivan Ooze infiltrates and destroys the command centre.

The same yet different

Realising something is wrong when they demorph following the battle, the rangers rush to the command centre where they find a dying Zordon outside of his time warp. While Zordon tells them there is no hope, Alpha explains that there may be a power that can save him on the distant planet of Phaedos. Travelling to Phaedos, the rangers come in contact with the planet's guardian Dulcea, who gives them the power to harness the sacred animals of the Ninjetti in order to successfully retrieve the great power. Meanwhile on Earth, Ivan has overthrown Rita and Zedd and taken control of the parents of Angel Grove to dig up his Ectomorphicon machines - titans which will cause massive destruction if awoken.

The rangers must retrieve the Great Power to harness new zords and abilities in time to save both Zordon and the world from Ivan's evil plan.

Go ninja go ninja go ninja go

The first thing that's noticeable about Power Rangers: the Movie is the very different look and feel of it. Its a wholly American venture, and with it came certain aesthetic changes that were probably considered to suit a film better. The most obvious one is the ranger suits, which featured a much more detailed armoured look than the standard spandex as well as the power coins featured on the chest piece (much like the Power Rangers toys). Some people dislike these suits because the "dinosaur teeth" motif of the white diamonds is lost on them, but I felt at this point in the show the dinosaur motif was mostly lost anyway aside from the helmets. The addition of the power coins also helped add a little bit extra when they gained new powers (the dinosaur logos being replaced by the Ninjetti animals). On top of all this, some of the rangers had new weapons (two of which were part of their helmets) and Tommy finally called out "White Tiger" when morphing rather than "Tigerzord", something I always found off in the show.

The rangers aren't the only things to have received a makeover. The most prominent ones being Goldar, who is much shorted and feline-like, and the Command Centre. Obviously a bigger budget warranted a more impressive Command Centre, along with a shiny new Alpha-5 and a very different looking Zordon (but with the same voice). The exterior of the Command Centre is also much pointier, a trait shared with Lord Zedd's new look.

"They call me Ivan Ooze."

Moving on from the aesthetic differences from the show, the plot itself certainly has the feel of a movie rather than just a long episode. Angel Grove is shown on a much bigger scale, feeling more like a city than it ever did in the series, and it also sees the rangers travelling to a different world for a wider variety of location shots. The problem is that the rangers are actually morphed for very little of the film, losing their powers very early in. The only times they're seen is in the fight with Ivan's oozelings, half of which is them fighting unmorphed, and the zord battle at the film's climax. The mid portion of the film is instead taken up by the Ninjetti suits, which are basically colour-coordinated ninja uniforms. The exposed eyes allow for a lot more emoting, something which the film makers were obviously keen to stress - they originally wanted the ranger suits to have no visors or moutpieces, which would have been an utter disaster if they'd gone through with it. For a Power Rangers film, the distinct lack of Power Rangers action is a little disheartening.

Ivan Ooze is a great villain, and one I feel is severely underrated. Played by Paul Freeman, he manages an excellent balance of evil and comedy that's lost on a lot of the television villains. Think Lothor from Power Rangers Ninja Storm, but if he had actually been a threat. The design is great, and the entirely purple colouring sets him apart from any of the other characters in the film. Mordant is the other new villain who appears, who is in fact Goldar's second cousin, three times removed, on his mother's side, visiting for the summer (this fact was removed from the final script, so you kind of just have to roll with the fact he suddenly appears like he's always been there). The character is essentially Squatt and Baboo rolled into one, but has a much more prominent "lackey" role even if he actually does next to nothing.

A dying Zordon

But for all the good, there are a few characters I found a bit too different from their TV versions. The first of which is Zordon, who is much more defeatist in the film. When he is left for dead by Ivan, he's extremely quick to tell the rangers Ivan has won, everything has been destroyed and that there's no hope left. In fact, if it wasn't for Alpha the rangers would have probably just been left to watch Ivan destroy everything. I get that Zordon is dying, but he's the character that shows the rangers that there's always hope and that they should never give up. To see him act the way he does here is just odd. On a lesser note Goldar feels quite different, although its something a little harder to place your finger on. Goldar transgressed into a much more comedic character as Power Rangers went on, but here he just feels wasted and soul-less.

Power Rangers: The Movie also has a side story running parallel to the rangers' quest, concerning a young boy named Fred whose father is brainwashed by Ivan Ooze. Fred then goes on to lead the children of Angel Grove to save their parents from leaping to their doom at the construction site. Having Fred's story does make sure what's going on in Angel Grove is not forgotten while the rangers are off gallivanting on Phaedos, but the character is just so damn uninteresting. Child characters seldom work as team members on Power Rangers, so to have a civilian character who has no connection with the series to get so much spotlight is frustrating when there's very little ranger action on show.

CGI is something this franchise is never going to be remembered for

Finally we have the brand new Ninja zords, made entirely in CGI and sporting slightly different looks from the Kakuranger mecha. Unlike the TV-counterpart, this Ninja Megazord (and later, Ninja FalconMegazord) had proper hands, wielded a power sword (the Shogun Megazord's to be precise) and its head was almost entirely cockpit rather than having a face. The CGI allows the zords to have much more movement and personality than suits could allow, but the effects really have dated horribly. But despite this, I give the film major props for having a lengthy battle involving individual zords instead of focussing on the much less interesting Megazord, because in the end the Megazord battle and Ivan's defeat is quite literally a kick in the balls.

It isn't the best Power Rangers movie there could have been, but it could have been much worse (and funnily enough would be a few years later) and does the job of actually feeling like a film. As a product of what Power Rangers could be like without relying on Japanese footage, its a shame the franchise didn't have more chances to shine along similar lines to this.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Anime REVIEW: The Idolm@ster

Idols feel very much an Asian concept. Sure the West has pop stars and the like, but Japan's huge idol culture takes things to a whole different level. The Idolm@ster is a 25 (plus one recently released OVA) episode series based on the Namco game series of the same name, which sees you raise prospective idols to the height of fame. It's not the first Idolm@ster anime to be produced, but one that's far more faithful to the games (the first series, Idolmaster: Xenoglossia, was about mecha pilots...something I may need to investigate in the future!) and includes their original voice cast. It was made by A-1 pictures (responsible for the likes of Black Butler, Fairy Tail and AnoHana) and aired between July and December 2011.

The Idolm@ster main cast

The Idolm@ster follows the day to day life of production company 765 Pro and their twelve wannabe idols. With a brand new Producer in tow and the help of former-idol-turned producer Ritsuko, office clerk Kotori and President Takagi, the girls work toward fulfilling their dreams of stardom. The series charts their rise to fame, from the girls' humble beginnings putting on shows at town Summer Festivals to playing on a neon lit to screen to crowds of hundreds. However their life isn't always as glamorous as you might think, with them having to deal with busy schedules, rival companies and having (in some cases) their secret past brought up by paparazzi reporters.

With the daunting task of introducing such a huge concept, the first episode gets the series off to a very strong start. Taking the format of a Spinal Tap-style documentary, we are introduced to each of the girls and their dreams of becoming idols. At the end of the episode, it’s revealed that the camera man is in fact Producer (who is never properly named in the show, as this is the character you play as in the game), the man who has been hired to take these girls to do the top. When the following few episodes delve into standard moe hijinks, it does leave a bit of a sore taste and a longing for the whole show to take that format. But it’s a show you have to stick with, as much like the girls fame it builds upon itself and gets bigger as it goes on. The first half of the series sets up the bonds between the girls, while the latter half follows them after their rise to fame and not only deals with what they do, but the fallout as they slowly spend less and less time with each other due to increasing workloads. This is just one of The Idolm@aster’s emotional storylines, both of which take place at the very end of the show. But of course, they still make sure to go out on a high.

Producer and Ritsuko

With such a huge cast to play around with, it wouldn’t be surprising if some were forgotten while others hog all the limelight. But each and every one of the main characters receive a focus episode, and while obviously some take some centre stage more than others no one is left unnoticed. Each of the twelve girls brings a different element to the show – Haruka is the glue that holds them altogether, Iori is the tsundere, Ami and Mami are the comedy double-act, Takane is the mysterious one, Makoto the tomboy, Yayoi the poor kid with the heart of gold and so on. Despite being based on a nameless roleplay character, Producer also holds up well as the main support character for all of the girls, and you want him to succeed just as much as the girls.

Iori, Yayoi, Ami & Mami aim for the top!

That isn’t to say The Idolm@ster doesn’t make a few missteps along the way. The introduction of Ryuguu Komachi – a three piece unit consisting of Iori, Ami and Azusa is a bit of a muddled plot addition. At first it serves to show how three of them are getting more famous than the rest and the other girls’ subsequent emotions surrounding it, which does add a better sense of realism to the show. But following them all becoming equally famous, the point of them becomes a little lost and they seem to sink into non-existent. It also means Ami and Mami spend too much time separated, when they work brilliantly as a pair. Once the girls become famous, their run-ins with rival production company 961 Pro and their director Kuroi get a little bit ridiculous. The man does things that he could arguably be prosecuted for, but everyone seems to just treat them as annoying pranks. He does his job in that he’s an extremely unlikeable character, but the way everyone just shrugs him off is even more baffling and unlikeable.

On a more personal note, I felt far too much focus lands on Miki, who is shown to be “blazing ahead” of the rest of them. Being the “pretty blonde one”, it does lend itself to how the industry probably works, but it doesn’t help that she’s by far the most irritating character in the show and every time she speaks you just want her to shut up.

Girls on stage

Musically the show has so much on offer that it outstrips a lot of its competitors in the genre. Each episode has its own unique ending theme, and at least one (often more) insert track. Unfortunately unless the songs are especially on show during live concerts and the like, they become mostly lost in all that’s going on. Shows like K-On! used the songs more sparsely so that when they did appear you knew it was important, but here there’s so many of them they become a bit run of the mill. Undoubtedly The Idolm@ster is working on a far larger scale than K-On! ever did, but with songs as good as “Ready!!” and “Promise” you often wish it was more about the music sometimes.

Chihaya's story represents the darker side of The Idolm@ster

Despite a bit of a ropey start, The Idolm@ster really is a show that evolves as it goes on. It makes one of the best uses of a huge cast I’ve seen in an anime series, and you laugh and cry with each and every one of the girls of 765 Pro. It often places more focus on the characters than the actual music, but it makes it all the more of a richer experience and a more satisfying watch.

It isn't Beethoven, but it sure bounces.

Saturday 14 July 2012

Series REVIEW: Kamen Rider Decade

Before the Gokaiger came about with their ranger keys and ability to transform into previous rangers, one pink-clad hero was able to do it years before. Kamen Rider Decade was the tenth anniversary celebration of the Heisei Kamen Rider series, which started back in 2000 with Kamen Rider Kuuga. It ran for 31 episodes (the shortest of any Heisei Rider series), between January and August 2009.

The story revolves around Tsukasa Kadoya, a mysterious man who appeared to the Hikari photo studio one day without any memory of his past. When the world turns to chaos, he draws power from a strange belt that grants him the power of various Kamen Riders through the power of cards. Later Tsukasa is told by a mysterious man than he is Kamen Rider Decade - the Destroyer of Worlds. His task is to travel to the nine AR (Another Rider/Alternate Reality) worlds and destroy them in order to prevent the worlds from merging into one. Travelling with Natsumi Hikari and her grandfather Eijiro, Tsukasa aids the nine worlds' riders to complete what he believes to be his mission. Along the way they are joined on their travels by Yusuke Onodera of the World of Kuuga and Kivala of the World of Kiva. Tsukasa is also confronted by a thief named Daiki Kaito, who is able to transform into Kamen Rider Diend and seems to know of Tsukasa's past.

As their journey through the nine worlds comes to close, the group discover there are more worlds to explore. Worlds without riders, revelations of Tsukasa's past and a multi-world threat await them, but how long can Tsukasa outrun his title as the Destroyer of Worlds?

It's not pink, it's magenta

Tsukasa is an interesting character, without any memories or place to call home he's often quick to jump on the identity each world gives him. He's probably best described as a dick with a heart of gold, given how cold he is to everyone around him yet always seems to come through for them in a pinch. These qualities make him both amusing and enjoyable, but the writing often leans toward making him too perfect. However I have much less praise for Natsumi and Yusuke, who constantly think the best of Tsukasa and defend him despite how badly he seems to treat them. Yusuke, who also remains Kamen Rider Kuuga throughout the show, is a terrible character, childishly naive and pretty insulting to his namesake.

Tsukasa Kadoya, Destroyer of Worlds

Kaito provides a much needed burst of life into the cast dynamic, particularly his relationship with Tsukasa. It fluctuates between antagonism, rivalry and eventually friendship, but does so in an interesting fashion that isn't particularly lineal and changes depending on Diend's goals in that world. He is also fun to watch in fight sequences - despite being obviously powerful when he chooses to fight himself, he often prefers to sit back and let his summoned minions do the job while he sneaks around invisible. Quite the troll. Finally there's Narutaki, a strange prophet-like man who follows Decade through the world's blaming him for pretty much everything. Narutaki at no point has any real explanation in the series, nor does his mysterious relationship with Kivala. What could have been an interesting character simply comes across as a crazy man in a trench coat and funny hat shouting "ONORE DECADE" ("Damn you Decade") at anything and everything.

Kamen Rider Diend, treasure sniper and master troll

Following the journey through the nine worlds (which in show order are Kuuga, Kiva, Ryuki, Blade, Faiz, Agito, Den-O, Kabuto and Hibiki), the show moves into creating its own original worlds. The show does take a nosedive in terms of plot structure around this time, but it does have some good ideas. Two episodes are also dedicated to a crossover with Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, which was also airing at the time and marks the first proper crossover between Kamen Rider and Super Sentai. Finally there is the return of some old Showa-era favourites, in the form of Black/Black RX and Amazon worlds.

Some may put forward the notion that Decade is a great introduction to the Kamen Rider franchise, as it features all of the Heisei Riders (and some of the Showa era too) which gives the viewer a good mind to see which series they may enjoy next. While this is somewhat true, it's also arguable that Decade is also a pretty poor introduction to the franchise. Aside from its convoluted plot, the show actually tells you very little about the Heisei riders themselves given that all of the ones featured are actually AU versions (bar Den-O, but his actor doesn't appear anyway). It doesn't even clarify that they are AU versions properly to begin with, which could lead to some confusion given the appearances of the real Kiva and Blade during the course of the show. The AU riders are very pale imitations of their real-series counterparts, and two episode arcs gives you very little to work with other than appreciating the aesthetic and fighting styles of the riders. Think of it this way - Decade is a sampling platter of nine fine foods, but they each come in smaller portions and have been cooked by an inferior chef. You're getting a good idea of the taste, but nothing that could be held in comparison to the full dish.


Kamen Rider Decade also has three movies on top of its 31 episodes, however none of them are particularly worth raving about. The first, Cho Kamen Rider Den-O & Decade Neo Generations: The Onigashima Warship, is very much a Cho Den-O film and features very little of Decade himself. The second film, the 10th anniversary All Riders vs. Dai Shocker is a lot more interesting, but arguably a far worse film. The plot reveals the details of Tsukasa's past and his connections with the multi-world evil organisation Dai-Shocker, changing the basis of his character from a loveable dick with a heart of gold to someone completely unlikeable who just seems to use everyone and everything around him. The multi-rider team up moments are excellent, but it doesn't stop it from being an anticlimactic mess that struggles to fit in with the series' established storyline. Finally there was Kamen Rider × Kamen Rider W & Decade: Movie War 2010, which aired as a finale after the series ended on a rather unsatisfying cliffhanger. While easily the strongest of the three Decade films, Movie War 2010 is still fraught with pacing problems, unexplained identities and ridiculous resolutions. In some ways its quite a fitting end to a show that got more and more convoluted as it went on, but it doesn't make it any less unsatisfying.

The merging of the worlds will result in the Rider War

In conclusion, I wouldn't say Kamen Rider Decade is a bad series. It's one that's plagued with badly written characters, pacing problems and story issues. But at the same time some of those characters are extremely likeable, the show itself certainly has an anniversary flare to it and is chock full of special moments. There are no other series that will give you a rider that can transform into past riders, an epic Super Sentai team up or seeing Black and Black RX team up together onscreen. If you can ignore the story issues and simply enjoy what's on screen without thinking too hard about it, then Decade is a series I highly recommend. However if you're someone that doesn't like Mary Sue characters and parallel world confusion, then your viewing experience also might be summed up as "Onore Decade!"

Thursday 12 July 2012

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Akiba Red

Akibaranger was a series that wasn't subtle about a lot of things, but one of the first ones that comes to mind is product placement and merchandising. In a series where the cast were frequently seen in a room filled to the brim with Super Sentai figures, mecha and roleplay items, its no surprise that Bandai also had plans to milk the show as far as merchandise was concerned. Not only that, but the show also included several commercial bumpers for the products, and even a gag in the last episode about promotion of two Tamashii web exclusive Figuarts for characters that didn't even appear in the show (Deka Blue and Black Condor). Well now that the show has finished, it's time for the figures to start rolling out. The first to be released is none other than Nobuo Akagi aka Akiba Red, with Blue to follow in July and then Yellow in August. Malshina and a Shatieek have also been seen, however their release details have yet to be announced.

The box is a bright display of rainbows on white (possibly a reference to Akibaranger's show-within-a-show Nijiyome Academy Z-Cune Aoi), with the Akibaranger logo and an "unoffical" stamp on the window section. The back displays Akiba Red in various poses, one with the Inordinate Deka Wapper Power (sold separately, which I will cover later). There is also an amusing bit of Engrish in the form of the Figuarts slogan, which boasts "simple style and HIROIC action".

Akiba Red is a radical departure in design from your official red Sentai heroes, which makes for a much more interesting figure. The chest and abdominal area features translucent red plastic over sculpted detail, and the feet have highly detailed boot markings and buckles. The excellent range of poseability the Gokaiger Figuarts had has made it over to this release, but the tricky-to-navigate shoulder area found on the other Sentai figures is missing on Akiba Red due to the obvious differences in costume design, resulting in much greater flexibility.

Accessories include two alternate scarves (a static one and a "blowing" one), the MMZ-01 in gun mode and 8 alternate hands (two open, two closed fists, two gripping hands and two specific pose ones). Any one expecting to see these figures bundled with the Akibaranger Inordinate Powers (the Deka Wapper, Bouken Scoop and Jet Winger) will be disappointed, as they are instead included with Figuarts Deka Red, Bouken Red and Red Hawk respectively in a sneaky bit of cross promotion on Bandai's part. Personally I don't feel too let down by this as I planned to get the three anyway and am grateful the figures are getting releases as part of the Akibaranger promotion (I don't think they wouldn't have gotten releases without it, but I imagine its speeded up the process), but can understand disappointment from anyone who may be a more casual Sentai fan planning to buy the figures. The one accessory I do think the figure is lacking is the MMZ-01 in figure mode, but with the amount of detail that would have had to gone into a small piece I can't imagine it would have turned out brilliantly.

As a first wave bonus, Akiba Red also comes with three specific Tamashii Stage Act 3 stands, one for each of the Akibarangers. Each stand base has the logo in the member's respective colour and their name, as well as the symbols for "A", "Ki" and "Ba". This is my first experience with the stands as I am yet to buy another figure that has them included or buy a separate set online, but they have left me with a very positive first impression. The base is a decent size, while the articulated arm and claw pieces are study and able to hold the figure very well.

It seems to be a tradition of me giving Figuarts high praise but even with the somewhat small amount of accessories Akiba Red really is something else. The sculpt is perfect with a far greater detailing than anything that can be seen on the other released Sentai Figuarts, the articulation is far less restrictive and three character-specific stands is an excellent and desirable first-wave bonus. Akiba Red is hands down the best Figuart I own and if this quality can carry over to the female figures (which may be trickier due to skirt restrictions in posing) then these will be something very special indeed. An oddity among Super Sentai, but much like the show itself it goes to show that sometimes unofficial things may actually be better that the official thing.

Sunday 8 July 2012

Anime REVIEW: Haiyore! Nyaruko-san

An anime that's H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos as you've never seen it before, Haiyore! Nyaruko-san is a 2012 anime series based on the light novels of the same name. Before this full-length 12 episode series, Nyaruko has seen life in animation once before in two short flash series (one an OVA, the other a television series) titled Haiyori! Nyaruani and Haiyori! Nyaruani: Remember my Mr Lovecraft respectively.

One night ordinary high school boy Mahiro Yasaka is attacked by a gruesome black alien, when a silver haired girl comes to his rescue. She identifies herself as Nyaruko, also known as the Crawling Chaos Nyarlathotep in Lovecraft's works (which she reveals are actually alien races). Sent to Earth by the Space Defence Agency, Nyaruko has been assigned with protecting Mahiro from being kidnapped from an alien trafficker.

The Crawling Chaos

As Mahiro becomes caught up in a world of aliens obsessed with Earth gaming and otaku culture, he also meets two other Cthulian aliens - the fiery Kuuko (Cthugha) and Hasuta (Hastur), who has power over air. The three become freeloaders at Mahiro's house, and Mahiro has to fend off the romantic advances of both Nyaruko and Hastur, while Nyaruko fends off her own pursuer in the form of Kuuko!

Mahiro, our (unlucky?) protagonist

Mahiro is the sensible one of the bunch, longing for the ordinary life he had become all these aliens came crashing down on him. Nyaruko is like a force of nature - loud, constantly over the top and fanatically devoted to Mahiro in every way imaginable. Kuuko seems like a quieter and more reserved character, but is just as perverted (if not more so) as Nyaruko, taking every situation she can to try and get in her pants. So to round off the obsessive Nyaruko and the raging lesbian Kuuko there's Hasuta - the trap. Yup, despite appearances, Hastur is actually a guy. Equally as infatuated with Mahiro as Nyaruko is, he takes the "cute young boy" approach to winning his affection. Its all a bit bizarre and constantly OTT, but it's never a dull moment around any of them. There are also plenty of side characters, both from the human world and outer space, to flesh out the cast.

Kuuko: fiery lesbian deity

Not content with simply playing on Cthulhu, Nyaruko-san full to the brim with references and homages to other media. From various anime and manga to gaming and tokusatsu (each episode has at least one Kamen Rider reference), chances are you'll recognise something the series is either referencing or parodying. While some are blatent, others are cleverly hidden or blink-and-you'll-miss-it instances, so chances are you probably won't catch them all on a first viewing.

Hasuta, who is actually a guy.

The animation isn't anything out of the ordinary, but is still worth mentioning for its fluidity and character design. No two characters are similar, each one has their own very distinctive look to go with their distinctive personalities. The fact the characters change clothes episode to episode is also a plus. The personalities of the characters are also well conveyed in the voice acting, with special mention to Kana Asumi (Dog Days, Black Rock Shooter)'s performance as Nyaruko.

"Scanning Charge!"

While it's plot may be pretty standard fare for romance/comedy anime, it's unique spin on things and cast of very likeable (if a little too sex-obsessed) characters make Haiyore! Nyaruko-san a show that is both highly enjoyable and recommendable as light-hearted entertainment. If you have little interest in the amount of references that have been put into the show it may only strike you as only slightly above average, but if you enjoy this element than it really adds to the enjoyment of the show and makes it worthy of something it possibly wouldn't be without it - repeated viewings.