Thursday 30 August 2012

Mega Bloks Power Rangers Super Samurai Bulk, Metallic Red Ranger and Translucent Super Blue Ranger

After enjoying the first wave of blind-packed Power Rangers Samurai Mega Bloks figures, I was very excited to see the second wave finally in UK stores, now in Super Samurai flavours. This second wave features a total of ten figures, including:

Translucent Super Blue Ranger (Ultra Rare)
Translucent Mega Mode Red Ranger (Rare)
Super Green Ranger (Rare)
Bulk (Rare)
Training Mode Yellow Ranger (Rare)
Battle Damaged Gold Ranger (Common)
Metallic Red Ranger (Common)
Mega Mode Blue Ranger (Common)
Flying Mooger (Common)

And then finally a mystery "secret rare" figure, which is rather underwhelmingly a solid red Mega Mode Red Ranger.

Power Rangers Super Samurai Mega Bloks Package

Power Rangers Super Samurai Mega Bloks Flyer 01Power Rangers Super Samurai Mega Bloks Flyer 02

Now wise to knowing which pack is which via the product codes on the back, I decided to pick up Super Blue, Bulk and Metallic Red as my first purchases. Sadly either I've managed to pick up a defective bunch, or these are nowhere near the quality of the first wave. The metallic Red Ranger is less "metallic" and more "sparkly paint which is barely noticeable even in bright light", my Bulk has incredibly loose arms and Super Blue has a fair few paint blobs where they shouldn't be. It'll be a shame if the QC has really dropped for this wave, because there are some great figures included and the detail does feel like a step up in terms of sculpting. Super Blue has some great detailing on the vest and black box powered spin sword, and a Bulk figure speaks for itself really (even if the likeness to Paul Schrier is a bit of a stretch).

A disappointing start for the line, but not so much that I regret my purchases. I look forward to seeing how the other fare.

Power Rangers Super Samurai Mega Bloks Bulk 01

Power Rangers Super Samurai Mega Bloks Bulk 02Power Rangers Super Samurai Mega Bloks Bulk 03

Power Rangers Super Samurai Mega Bloks Metallic Red Ranger 01

Power Rangers Super Samurai Mega Bloks Metallic Red Ranger 02Power Rangers Super Samurai Mega Bloks Metallic Red Ranger 03

Power Rangers Super Samurai Mega Bloks Metallic Red Ranger 04

Power Rangers Super Samurai Mega Bloks Translucent Super Blue Ranger 01

Power Rangers Super Samurai Mega Bloks Translucent Super Blue Ranger 02Power Rangers Super Samurai Mega Bloks Translucent Super Blue Ranger 03

Power Rangers Super Samurai Mega Bloks Translucent Super Blue Ranger 04

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Series REVIEW: Kamen Rider Fourze

Kamen Rider Fourze States

When Kamen Rider OOO was drawing to close, fans became divided on images of a space-themed Kamen Rider with a rocket-shaped cone head which did its rounds on the internet. Shortly afterward Kamen Rider Fourze, the 22nd Kamen Rider series, was announced with these images proving to indeed be the look of the new rider. While some were instantly put off, others were interested in the talent behind the show - head writer Kazuki Nakashima (Gurren Lagann) and director Koichi Sakamoto (Power Rangers, Gokaiger), or the promising monster designs. Kamen Rider Fourze began airing in September 2011, running for a total of 48 episodes, with two movies (three if you include Super Hero Taisen) and various specials. The final episode aired just last weekend, and the show has been my first weekly Kamen Rider experience.

Kamen Rider Fourze Gentaro Kisaragi
Gentaro Kisaragi will befriend you no matter what

Fourze sees new student Gentaro Kisaragi transfer to Amanogawa High School, which has recently become the centre of mysterious events. Vowing that he will befriend everyone at the school, Gentaro reunites with his childhood friend, space-otaku Yuuki Jojimi, as well as the ire the cold Kengo Utahoshi and various other cliques of the school. Stumbling upon Kengo and Yuuki's investigation of the monsters suddenly appearing at AGHS (which are known as Zodiarts) and their secret moon base the Rabbit Hatch, Gentaro interferes in battle following Kengo's inability to handle the "Fourze Driver", which is powered by various Astro switches left to Kengo. Becoming Kamen Rider Fourze, Gentaro battles the Zodiarts alongside the newly formed Kamen Rider Club, which gains new members as students are moved by Gentaro's attempts at friendship. Eventually another transfer student, Ryusei Sakuta, joins the school undercover as Kamen Rider Meteor. Meanwhile the highest ranking Zodiarts, known as the Horoscopes, are setting their plans in motion to truly achieve the next step in human evolution.

Kamen Rider Fourze KR Club
The Kamen Rider Club

On face value, its easy to pass off Fourze as just another goofy series. Comedy levels are usually high, and any real seriousness isn't helped by Fourze's unorthodox look and his 40 astro switches - which include powers such as board, pogo, stamper and giant foot. But scratch off the surface and you realise that there's much more to this series than simply over the top characters and bizarre powers. When coming up with the concept for the series, the creators have revealed that their intentions were to create a hero that would make the children of Japan smile again, helping them forget the devastating earthquake that the country had suffered just before. The show was never meant to get bogged down with dark story lines, keeping fun at the forefront. This might have put off some viewers who weren't used to a goofy Kamen Rider, but the creators succeeded in their admirable ideals and Fourze never once stopped being fun. Yes there are over the top jokes and heavy moments of slapstick - but even then the story remained gripping and as it geared into its final quarter was filled with plot twists abound.

Kamen Rider Fourze Uchuu Kita
The club joins in Fourze's catchphrase of "Uchuuu Kitaaaaa!"

This success was mostly achieved by the strength of the main cast, particularly Gentaro. His often naive view on friendship and forgiveness was unlike other protagonists and helped shape both the extended cast and often the villains too. In the early episodes, Kengo is a difficult character to sympathise with and other members of the Kamen Rider club - highschool queen Miu, football jock Shu, socialite JK and goth Tomoko, are extremely unlikeable (with the exception of Tomoko). But following their interactions with Gentaro and realising what their actions do to the people around them, they change as characters as they are brought into the Kamen Rider club and come out of the shells predetermined by their respective cliques. Ryusei/Meteor's initial differences with Gentaro also make for a very interesting dynamic between the two riders, cultivating into a showdown which became on the series' biggest highlights.

Of course heroes can only be as good as the villains that challenge them, and the Zodiarts delivered in more ways than one. Among the best looking monster designs I've ever seen in a tokusatsu series, each Zodiart was a work of art - blending the constellation theme in with each one's respective powers. This high standard is then exceeded by the twelve Horoscopes, particularly Sagittarius, Libra, Virgo, Cancer and Leo. The Zodiarts greatness can also often (but admittedly not always) be attributed to the great characters behind them. As the Horoscopes spread Zodiart switches throughout the school to locate and awaken all twelve Horoscopes, we see a variety of different motives behind the students' actions. Some are out for revenge against their peers, while others are simply overcome by greed and a lust for power. Its not a new concept to the franchise, but keeping it strictly to a high school setting does put a new spin on it and suddenly make it all the more relatable.

Kamen Rider Fourze Gamou Horoscopes
Gamou and the Horoscopes

The Horoscopes themselves all also come from different backgrounds with different motives, though unfortunately characterisation is far from a perfect balance. Early appearers like Scorpio, Libra, Cancer and Virgo get ample time to develop (or have mysteries develop around them), but this leaves less and less time for the others. As the number of remaining episodes grow shorter, Horoscopes like Taurus, Aries and Aquarius are reduced to monster of the week roles, even if they still pose more of a threat to our heroes. Gamou, the school chairman and main villain of the show, remains a complete mystery for the first half of the show. We see him plotting sinisterly and giving orders to his underlings, but his motives, back story and Horoscope identity are held off until the right moment - making them all the sweeter to see unfold. The story surrounding Virgo is one of Fourze's strongest subplots, and rakugo-club student Natsuji Kijima is the perfect villain as Cancer.

As has become the norm with Heisei era Kamen Riders, Fourze has a number of different forms which can be activated by various astro switches. These include Elec States, Fire States, Magnet States and the ultimate Cosmic States. The movie war exclusive Rocket States (powered by the S-1 switch rather than a numbered one) also makes numerous appearances by the shows and the second movie (still in Japanese cinemas) also features its own exclusive in the form of Meteor Fusion states. While Elec and Fire are more or less coloured versions of the original Base States (albeit with new decoration or gold fabric in the place of the spacesuit material), Magnet States is a thicker, tank-like form and Cosmic a fusion of the power of all 40 switches (complete with a Saturn-V rocket sword!). Admittedly I'm not a huge fan of Fourze's multiple states outside of Magnet and Cosmic, but onscreen they have a certain charm about them that makes you forget about their flaws while in action.

Kamen Rider Fourze Kamen Rider Meteor
Kamen Rider Meteor: "Your fate is mine to decide." WA-CHA!

The same can be said for Kamen Rider Meteor's powered up form, Meteor Storm. While the standard Meteor form feels "safer" than Fourze, it is a visually striking design with its constellation pattern, and brilliant blue comet-trail headpiece. Having a disco-style transformation and being the Kamen Rider equivalent of Bruce Lee also cemented Meteor one to watch. But then Meteor Storm went and seemingly spoilt things, changing up the colour palette and giving a fist fighting rider a staff/spinning top as a weapon. But once again, as much as I dislike the design of Meteor Storm its one that works when you're watching it on screen. You might not like it, but you won't be shouting at the screen wishing it would go away either.

I can't consider myself to be an expert on Kamen Rider given that at the moment I've only seen one and a half other series, but what I will say is that the others are going to be hard pressed to capture my heart the way Fourze. Yes it's light, yes its goofy, but by god does it have heart. Its main goal may have been to make children smile, but that doesn't mean it doesn't tug at the heartstrings and provide a tearjerker or two a long the way. With a cast of unforgettable characters, a memorable story, brilliant choreography and a finale full of emotion, Kamen Rider Fourze is an absolute triumph. Poor ratings be damned, Fourze came and reminded us not just how awesome space is, but how powerful friendship can be.

Monday 27 August 2012

Toybox REVIEW: Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters minipla BC-04 Beetle/Go-Buster Beet and SJ-05 Stag (Part 2)

In the second part of my BC-04/SJ-05 review, I'll be looking at the various combinations that can be done using one or both of these figures. 

Buster Hercules

Buster Hercules (or Buster Heracles if you prefer) is the combination of both Go-Buster Beet and SJ-05, and the main draw of this set (as its the robot on the front of all three boxes). The combination inolves swapping the Go-Buster Beet head with the Hercules one fitted onto the crane arm. Remove the back piece from SJ-05 and split it apart into three segments - the left/right "beetle" parts and the middle "jet" section. The beetle parts slot onto the left arm (and in doing so, join together too) while the jet piece is wielded as a weapon in the right hand. The Great Go-Buster head piece attaches to the back of the robot, and finally the gun section clips onto the chest via a fold-out peg.

To be honest, there isn't a huge deal different about Buster Hercules to Go-Buster Beet other than its obviously wearing SJ-05's parts. But despite the huge bulk added to the arms, they still retain the full level of poseability without being bogged down by the weight. Its essentially all the awesome of Go-Buster Beet with giant new weapons, more moveable parts and a fancy new head - what's not to love?

Given that SJ-05 is reasonably average on its own, its only natural that its because it plays a bigger part as arsenal for the bigger robot. As a powered-up version of Beet, Buster Hercules is a great figure and definitely worth being part of anyone's minipla collection. As far as combinations go, its also much more stable and fun than the three-piece Go-BusterOh.

Go-Buster Ace Stag Custom

Much like how SJ-05 can become giant weapons for Beet, the same goes for the other great single mecha of the show - Red Buster's Go-Buster Ace! While the end result is very similar to Hercules (jet gun in one hand, claw arm in the other, Great Go-Buster head parts on the back) the transformation is a little different, with Ace's arm folding back to the side of the shoulder and SJ-05 actually becoming the whole arm itself. The gun/engine piece also attaches to the back with the Great Go-Buster head.

While the overall look of Stag Custom is reasonably impressive, unlike the Hercules combination it does have a number of flaws. Ace's arms are much thinner and spindly than Beet's, and the legs lighter. This means Ace often struggles to hold outstretched action poses, whether it be the arms flopping down or the hollow legs and tiny feet simply failing to balance the figure. On a more personal note, I'm not really a fan of how Ace's arm just hangs there on the side - its show accurate yes, but it looks really silly.

Stag Custom is a nice bonus to owning both Ace and SJ-05, but that's all it is really. Hercules is the far superior combination, and Ace is a more dynamic figure on its own. Fun to play around with every so often, but much like the way the show will probably be with it not one you'll visit very often.

Great Go-Buster

And here it is...the big one. After Go-BusterOh's frankly abysmal performance as a toy and (in my humble opinion) on the show as well, it was hard to get excited about Great Go-Buster. So far it's failed to wow me on the show - the first combination sequence was well handled, but if anything its less mobile than Oh was and mostly rolls around hitting things with its oversized staff. With all this going against it, can Great Go-Buster impress?

The first thing to note about this combination is that, just like the show version, it contains a ridiculous amount of disassembly and parts shifting. Before you begin piecing it together you will have a mess of  parts ready to be pieced together like a puzzle. One of the weirdest (but strangely innovative) things I noticed was SJ-05's hind legs becoming the centre robot's shoulders to give its arms a clearer range of motion. SJ-05's "beetle" sections become the robot's arms, with the jet piece once again relegated to a handheld weapon. The lower half of Beet (the legs folded close to the pelvis) splits in half to become additional feet pieces, while the top half connects to the remaining rabbit and gorilla sections to become an oversized backpack.

After that you'll be left with a bunch of parts, which include Beet's arms, Ace's Sword, SJ-05's back section/Great Go-Buster head and RH-03's helicopter blades, boosters and Go-BusterOh head. The engine section fits into the chest section usually housing Gorilla's head, with the helicopter blades clipping on to make Great's extravagant chest section. Obviously the face clips onto Ace's head, and the remaining pieces fit together to make Great's enormous staff.

Now really I should probably hate Great Go-Buster, after all a lot of the things I hated about Go-BusterOh it does even worse. The chest sticks out ridiculously far and the whole combination looks and feels like a mishmash of parts thrown together with no rhyme or reason to it. But that being said, I actually really like it.

For starters, the new, larger headpiece looks far better than the tiny thing Go-BusterOh had. The addition of the weightier Beet pieces on the feet connect without a hitch, and give the Megazord a far better centre of gravity which means it can actually pose without the leg pieces falling off (I wish my G-12 was that stable). The poses are still limited because of the sheer size of it, but its so pleasing to have everything peg together tightly and have a combination that far outclasses its DX counterpart.

Finally just look at how imposing the damn thing is. The proportions look and and feel better than other interpretations of the combination, and the sheer size of its weapon makes it feel like a special five-piece combo that is to be reckoned with. At the moment I'm enjoying displaying the individual components on my shelf more, but this is definitely one I can see displaying in the future.

It has its flaws, but Great Go-Buster is definitely a surprise hit. It has restored my faith in combined Go-Busters mecha, and got me eagerly anticipating the minipla unveiling of the forthcoming LZ-06 Tategami Raioh. It might still be "Time for Buster" a little while longer.

Saturday 25 August 2012

Toybox REVIEW: Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters minipla BC-04 Beetle/Go-Buster Beet and SJ-05 Stag (Part 1)

While the Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters series has been walking the line of mediocrity in terms of story and characters recently, it's still mecha fights are still both a big draw and highlight. Focusing far more on the singular mecha than the combined forms, its made for a nice change of pace and a reminder that Sentai robots are made up of individual parts. With each robot also having its own transforming gimmick (whether it be one or two modes), this has also made the toys a lot more interesting. Ace, GT-02 and RH-03 have all been fairly solid even if the combined form of Go-BusterOh was ridiculously lacklustre (both in show and toy form). With the introduction of two rangers in the form of Beet and Stag Buster, this also means two new additions to the mini-pla line. With lots of different modes and combinations on offer with this set, I thought it better to divide the review into two different sections. The first will look at the individual mecha - Beet Buster's BC-04 Beetle (which like Ace has its own robot mode in the form of Go-Buster Beet) and Stag Buster's SJ-05 Stag.

BC-04 is a two-box model kit, while SJ-05 is just the one. Those who are sticklers for accuracy beware that these two are going to look very dull compared to their onscreen counterparts without a decent paintjob. BC-04 is moulded in a sickly dull gold colour while SJ-05 is a flat grey. I took these two as challenge to my paint skills and decided to give them a full overhaul, to which I was pretty pleased with the results. My pictures are of the painted versions, but if you'd like to see what they look like with stickers only then I highly recommend this blog post.

BC-04 Beetle

Following the instructions, the mode you end up with after completing the model kit is Go-Buster Beet (the robot mode), so I'm going to start with that for the review. The first box is the entire top half of the robot, while the second box is just the legs. This may not sound like much for the second box, but the legs have a fair bit of bulk to them. Height-wise the figure stands roughly shoulder to shoulder with Go-Buster Ace, so round about 4.5".

Beet has lots of articulation to show off, including a ball jointed head (although its up-down motion is limited),  swivel and hinge-jointed arms, rotating waist, swivel/hinged legs and finally ball jointed feet. The blades on the legs are removable and able to be folded out and wielded (not pictured: see here). Like the show version the figure has an extendable (right) fist, which extends and retracts by pulling on the fist itself. I'm not a big fan of how the Buster Hercules head simply slots onto the crane, because it makes the crane piece look uneven and simply looks plain weird there. Thankfully its pretty small so does go by unnoticed a lot of the time.

Transforming into animal mode (which as you have probably guessed is a beetle) requires quite a bit of taking the figure apart and reassembling, but then the show itself doesn't skimp upon this so I guess its accurate in that respect. The leg sections are brought up closer to fit properly around the pelvis section, and the head tucked away for the beetle head to fold down. The blade sections fold out and fit on the sides to make the legs, and finally the entire arm frame (from the tip of the left hand to the tip of the right) slots in underneath the body for the horn section. While the robot mode was akin to Ace, BC-04 completely trumps in animal mode in terms of size. The kit looks and feels like a big chunky beetle and motion in the horn and legs gives it just much poseability as Ace's Cheetah mode.

Finally there's crane mode, BC-04's vehicle of choice. Again the legs/blades and arms/horn sections need to be removed, with the arms straightened out and the hook section folded and closed to make a proper crane hook. The side panels swing out to make out the rest of vehicle, with the blades clipping onto the sides and the crane arm slotting onto the top. Much like the beetle's bulk, the overall vehicle is longer than you might expect and the crane arm has a full 360 degree range of motion AND is hinged. However this mode shows off the kit's main flaw, which is a lack of rollable wheels. In fact, its wheels are pretty thin and pathetic in order to accommodate all the other modes.

Despite the colour issues, BC-04/Go-Buster Beet is a stellar figure - on par if not better than Go-Buster Ace, who's been the best of the line so far. Ace may have it beat in things like colour and wheels, but Beet is a sturdier, bulkier figure with much more play value. Even if you aren't a huge fan of Go-Busters but enjoy the Sentai minipla, this is definitely one to consider.

SJ-05 Stag

Where Jin Masato goes, his buddyroid and partner Beet J Stag isn't far behind! Since Stag is a Go-Buster himself, rather than co-pilot BC-04 he has his own Buster Machine - SJ-05 Stag! More akin to the GT-02 and RH-03, SJ-05 only has two modes. The animal is again a beetle (this time in Stag variety!) and the vehicle a jet.

Though much smaller beetle than his gold counterpart, Stag still has quite a bit going for it. The legs rotate where they connect to the body, and the pincers are also fully moveable.

The transformation into jet mode is seamless, involving no parts swapping at all. The front legs and pincers fold in, allowing the wings to swing down and then finally the cockpit section comes down from the middle. Jet mode looks great, but there isn't really a lot to say about it since it doesn't have any additional play value. Sure parts move, but none of them move on a jet itself.

SJ-05 is a good kit, but nothing overly special. While RH-03 had a lot more novelty from having unique modes, Stag's novelty comes more from being able to combine with other kits. Thankfully its unlikely you'd be getting this without BC-04 in tow, so the kit is able to steal a bit more spotlight than it probably deserves.

In the next part we'll be looking at the three combinations these two can create: Buster Hercules (BC-04 and SJ-05), Go-Buster Ace Stag Custom (Ace and SJ-05) and the gigantic five-piece Great Go-Buster...