Thursday 29 November 2012

Anime REVIEW: Full Metal Panic!

Originally a light novel series and then animated by popular studio Gonzo (Hellsing, Strike Witches), Full Metal Panic! is a series that garnered reasonably popularity both in Japan and the West and one I've been meaning to check out for a few years now. While usually I'd encompass multiple seasons of a show into one review, the noticeable different in tone between Full Metal Panic! and The Second Raid to the middle season, Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu suggested I should perhaps look at each season one by one. The first Full Metal Panic! season originally aired in 2002, running for a total of 24 episodes.

Sousuke Sagara: Great soldier, not so great socialiser

The series follows Sousuke Sagara, a member of an anti-terrorist military organisation known as Mythril. Tasked with the mission of protecting high school girl Kaname Chidori, Sousuke moves to Japan to study at her school undercover while being aided by his comrades Kurz Weber and Melissa Mao. Lacking social skills and viewing everything from a combat perspective, Sousuke is considered a military maniac by his classmates and Kaname often finds herself frustrated with him, though she does show some genuine interest in him too. As criminal organisations begin to target Kaname, she soon discovers Sousuke's true motives. But why is she being targeted? And more importantly, why does she have expert knowledge of top secret technology she's never even heard of?

The constantly angry Kaname Chidori

Full Metal Panic! encompasses two very different styles in its story telling. The first of which is comedy, which begins with Sousuke's failed attempts to fit in at school before moving on to various other things. The second is the gritty life of a Mythril soldier, which involves everything from political intrigue and terrorism to sci-fi weaponry and mecha action. Had these two elements been properly integrated than Full Metal Panic! could easily be an award-winning series, but the two never really overlap well and instead the story progresses in awkward chunks as it switches between styles. While both styles start out very strongly in their respective chunks, its unfortunate that they soon decline into mediocrity. The comedy just stops being funny, and the seriousness is mostly dull save for a few moments and a reasonably strong finale. As it the series draws to a close, the audience is no wiser about what exactly "Whispered" and the "Lambda Driver" actually are, leaving a lot of unanswered questions which could have been easily avoided.

16-year old submarine captain Teletha "Tessa" Testarossa

The real highlight of Full Metal Panic! is its colourful cast of characters, and more importantly the interactions between them. Front and centre is the coupling of Sousuke and Kaname, which varies from comedic (usually due to Sousuke's social ineptitude) to something deeper as Kaname is thrust into a world she has no experience in. Sousuke's relationship with main antagonist Gauron is also interesting as it plays into Sousuke's backstory, but a little on the underdeveloped side. The relationship between the perverted Kurz and the more serious Mao is another high point. Even Kaname's school friends, who offer very little to the story, have their own fun and distinct personalities. The only real weak link is Captain Teletha "Tessa" Testarossa, who despite being the closest thing the show has to an annoying character still manages to have some pretty good development in the final few episodes.

Crazed mercenary Gauron

And just incase you'd forgotten, Full Metal Panic! features a good dose of mecha action! The generic Arm Slaves (the umbrella term for mecha in the show) are fairly bland and militaristic, but it does help give a good sense of the kind of combat the show is about. It also means that when the Arbalest (Sousuke's AS) and later the Venom show up, the stand out far more making it easier to follow the action. Though the animation itself is somewhat dated, the character design and action sequences are still as sharp now as they were ten years ago.

The Arbalest, poster child mecha of the show

Full Metal Panic! isn't a completely bad series, but one that has become slightly overrated with time. The series tries to spread itself across two very different genres, and only at the very beginning manages to get a reasonable balance. The early comedy episodes are golden, and the first serious story arc gripping. Following that, the comedy episodes tend to fall flat on their face while the serious episodes are prominently dull save for a few gritty action sequences. The series ends with a lot of unanswered questions, and without a great cast of characters (and in hindsight: the knowledge of a further two seasons) pushing it along getting through all 24 episodes would feel like a chore. The foundations for something great are definitely here, but they never fully get off of the ground.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Kamen Rider Double CycloneJoker

Ready to count up your sins? Because here's a review of Kamen Rider Double CycloneJoker, the base form and lead character from the series Kamen Rider W. Originally released back in February 2010, this is a review of the recently released reissue from November 2012.

Kamen Rider Double has a relatively simple design, but that doesn't make seeing it in toy form any less impressive. The Cyclone side has this brilliant metallic sheen, while the Joker side contrasts nicely with its matte finish. The decorative parts such as the chest "W" and arm/leg gauntlets look great, however the option to have the arm ones removable is highly questionable (I'll get onto that more in a moment). As an earlier Figuarts release, Cyclone Joker even has diecast metal feet! The only real sore point in terms of looks is the decision to use black joints for the cyclone side, but this is carried onto the Heat, Fang and Lunar sides in other Double figures too.

However in terms of engineering, there are quite a few flaws. The most significant being the hand switching, which is perhaps the most frustrating I have ever seen on a figure. Not only at the holes so tight it makes getting the hands to lock a pain, but the arm gauntlets tend to slip right off if you're not careful where you're pressing. The shoulders are noticeably looser than the average Figuart too, not to the point I'd call my figure floppy but the arms sometimes tend to slope downwards when posed in certain positions. To round it off the movement in the hips is somewhat limited, which is especially worrying in the Cyclone side as it feels like the metallic paint might suddenly start to rub off as it touches the pelvis.

Cyclone Joker might be great in that its Double's default form, but it also means its pretty vanilla in terms of powers...and in this case accessories. Included with the figure are eight pairs of hands (closed fists, two varieties of open hands and a pair with the middle and index fingers pointed outward) and two different muffler pieces. That's it. The lack of small Gaia Memories (ala Fourze's Astro Switches and the Gokaiger's Ranger keys) is a blessing in that there's no tiny pieces which could be easily lost, but limits what the figure could have come with. There isn't a memory gadget in sight, or even some sort of wind effect that would have gone nicely with the Cyclone side of the character. The best you get is the hands to recreate the "Count up your sins" pose, but that should have been a given anyway.

Cyclone Joker isn't the worst Figuart I own, but in many ways is perhaps the most disappointing. The fact that it was reissued means Bandai had the chance to fix some of the shortcomings with the original release, but the loose arms, awkward hips and annoying-as-hell hands are all still intact. The lack of accessories is a downer, and paint scuffs and moulding issues (which will vary from figure to figure) are just the icing on the cake. If it was any other toy line this guy would come highly recommended, but I've bought enough Figuarts in the last year to know there's something missing. Brilliant character, but sadly a not so brilliant toy.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Character Building Doctor Who Microfigures Series 3: River Song, Dalek & Cybercontroller

After a wait that feels like forever (in reality its been about 6 months, maybe a bit longer), series 3 of Character Building's awesome Doctor Who micro-figures is finally hitting shelves. This series boasts perhaps the biggest and best line up yet, consisting of;

Madam Kovarian
Vashta Nerada
Rory Williams
Judoon Trooper
River Song

Sontaran Trooper
Amy Pond

The Eleventh Doctor
Cyber Controller

At the time of writing, I'm not sure what this series' "super rare" limited edition figures are (or even if there are any). So without further ado, let's take a look at the first batch of these figures I've managed to get my hands on!

First up is a new version of River Song, sporting her attire from Day of the Moon. Like the River Song from series 2, its a pretty good likeness of the character despite being small and cartoony (complete with noodle hair!). Best of all, she now comes with a weapon! In addition to all the figure pieces and TARDIS display base, River now comes packing a handgun ready for any monsters that come her way.

Next we have what was possibly my most anticipated part of the set, the bronze Russell T Davies era Dalek (which can also be found in the Dalek Saucer set). Sporting a much greater level of detail than the previous new Paradigm offerings, this Dalek is definitely the best character building has put out yet! The segments can also be reassembled to recreate the rotating midsection seen in the episode Dalek.

Finally we have the Cyber Controller, who was first available in the Argos exclusive Cyberman Army builder set (truth be told, that's actually where mine has come from). Sporting the black fronted, brain exposed helmet first seen in The Next Doctor but no Cybus Industries logo, this is the controller seen in A Good Man Goes to War or alternatively the Cyber Lord from the Blood of the Cyberman PC game. Sadly no weapon is included.

A pretty good bunch to start off with, and plenty of more good figures to come. Its just a shame that there's no sure way of knowing which figure you'll get outside of feeling the packets, so finding some of the rarer ones can be a case of trial and error. Happy hunting!

Sunday 18 November 2012

Series REVIEW: Power Rangers Turbo

Power Rangers Turbo Saban Geiksou Sentai Carranger

Since it began back in 1993, the Power Rangers franchise had been enjoying success after success. However it was not going to last forever, ratings were beginning to drop during Power Rangers Zeo and Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie was a box office flop. The next series was already starting on rocky ground, but it was about to get much worse. Power Rangers Turbo aired in 1997 and ran for a total of 45 episodes.

Power Rangers Turbo Cast TJ Cassie Ashley Justin Carlos Alpha 6
Out with the old cast, in with the new: Cassie, Carlos, TJ, Ashley, Justin & Alpha 6

Following on from the events of Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, Divatox and her band of space pirates set their sights on Earth to take revenge on the Turbo rangers for ruining her plans on Muranthius. The rangers, with the exception of Justin, have graduated from Angel Grove High and begun life as adults. In addition to this, Zordon and Alpha 6 announce that they are to return to Eltar, leaving them in the care of new mentor Dimitria and the wise-cracking Alpha 6.

Tommy, Kat, Adam and Tanya continue their battle against Divatox, but as they start to pursue new careers their time as rangers draws to a close. Their powers are passed on to T.J., Cassie, Carlos and Ashley, who join Justin as the new Turbo rangers. Together with the Blue Senturion, a robotic law enforcer from the future, and the mysterious Phantom Ranger, the Turbo rangers continue the battle against Divatox and the forces of evil.

Power Rangers Turbo Dimitria Saban Mentor Zordon
Dimitria: Not Zordon

While Divatox's sudden appearance in Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie was understandable, her taking over as the lead villain here makes less sense when taking the end of Zeo into consideration. The Machine Empire were by no means defeated (though a little...scattered perhaps), and Rita and Zedd had proudly proclaimed that they were back. All of a sudden both parties have lost interest in the Earth, and we're left with Divatox and her motley crew of pirates. When you take the following season into consideration possible reasons for this are a little more plausible, but right now it doesn't fit well at all with previous events. The sudden change from Zordon and Alpha 5 to Dimitria and Alpha 6 also comes out of nowhere, with two integral characters now replaced by frustrating copies. As an alien from the planet Inquiris, Dimitria has the habit of talking only in questions, much to the frustration of both the rangers and anyone watching Turbo.

Power Rangers Turbo Blue Senturion Saban Carranger Signalman
No sixth ranger this season, but the Blue Senturion pretty much fills the role

Usually I try not to compare and contrast Power Rangers seasons to their Super Sentai equivalent, but when it comes to Turbo its necessary just to understand some of the reasons for how bad it is. Gekisou Sentai Carranger is primarily a parody series, full of ridiculous plots and slapstick comedy. In adapting these plots to be used for Power Rangers, what was never meant to be taken seriously is suddenly thrust into being a (semi) serious plot line and it just doesn't work. For example, the first zord sequence involves the rangers messing up the transformation sequence (even though they already did it in the movie) and Tommy resorting to the instruction manual mid-fight to learn how to drive it. It's ironic how while a (now-debunked) rumour suggested Carranger saved Super Sentai, Turbo almost killed Power Rangers.

Power Rangers Turbo Megazord Rescue Megazord RV Robo VRV Robo Saban Carranger
The Turbo and Rescue Megazords, once again one of the few good things.

With some many new characters to have to suddenly get used to, its even more frustrating to see some of the core cast acting completely out of character (as is the norm when a character is about to leave Power Rangers). Tommy is suddenly so obsessed with stockcar racing that he doesn't even attend his own graduation (or much else before he leaves), and Adam, Kat and Tanya are noticeably reduced to give the ever-annoying Justin more focus. Usually the action makes up for these things, but the first 20 episodes follow the same dull plot formula. Divatox has no scale as a villain at all, with all of her schemes involving planting a detonator with a tiny blast radius somewhere and then sending a monster simply to distract while the timer ticks down. Rangers beat monster, rangers find bomb, day is saved etc etc. Granted every Power Rangers episode essentially follow the same formula, this iteration of the Power Rangers often feel little more than glorified bomb squad.

Power Rangers Turbo Divatox Saban
Pirate or pathetic?

Thankfully things pick up a little bit with the introduction of the new cast. Despite barely any introduction to the characters at all (Carlos and Ashley pop up a few episodes before, but T.J. and Cassie debut the same two-parter they become rangers), the new actors settle into their roles well and the series moves a bit closer to the status quo. Justin gets less focus, Dimitria stops talking in questions and Divatox's schemes don't just involve blowing things up. The Carranger footage till means that plots are far more light-hearted and comedic then seasons past (the infamous pizza episode being a prime example) but Turbo is now a tolerably bad series other than downright unwatchable one. The remaining episodes range from bad to average, with the only must-see episodes being the two part finale "Chase into Space", which is one of the biggest cliffhangers in the franchise and a great set up to the next season (which would be the final of this 'era').

Power Rangers Turbo Bulk & Skull Monkeys
Yes. this happened.

With many other aspects of Power Rangers moving backwards rather than forwards, it's no surprise that we also see a regression in Bulk and Skull. As if them suddenly being on the police force wasn't enough., it begins with them first being turned into monkeys (during this time the actors were in talks for a potential spin off series starring the pair), then temporarily being invisible before returning to normal. From then each episode sees them taking different jobs and finding new ways to mess them up. There's less things being spilt on them in Turbo, but they are very much the bumblers they were in the early episodes of Mighty Morphin'.

The problem of making a show that has a continuous plot season after season is that the show needs to grow up with its audience. Power Rangers Turbo fails miserably at this and thus is the first real misstep the franchise makes (and perhaps because of this the most memorable). Its regression into juvenile plots and slapstick moments bring the original cast so far down the show is only refreshing when they leave. Aside from some decent looking zords (which are still completely outclassed by all the previous ones) and an excellent finale there's not a whole lot to love about Turbo. Yet the fact that it is a somewhat integral series and still more memorable than other seasons makes it that special kind of awful.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Legend Sentai Ranger Key Set: Magiranger

Legend Sentai Ranger Key Set Magiranger Bandai Super Sentai Gokaiger

With over 199 keys to collect from DX sets, candy toys and gashapon (not to mention Tamashii Web Exclusives), I think I made the right decision in only picking up my favourite teams in key form. This post is dedicated to my favourite Super Sentai series that isn't Gokaiger...the Mahou Sentai Magiranger! Though originally released in late August, Hobby Link Japan didn't send mine until earlier this month (despite pre-ordering as soon as they went up) so I've been eagerly anticipating these for a while now. The set includes Magi Red, Blue, Pink, Yellow and Green. Magi Shine, Magi Mother and Wolzard Fire are also available in key form, however are not included here.

Legend Sentai Ranger Key Set Magiranger Front Bandai Super Sentai GokaigerLegend Sentai Ranger Key Set Magiranger Back Bandai Super Sentai Gokaiger

Unlike the Dekaranger key set, the Magiranger packaging is fantastic. Suitable font, excellent colours and the Ozu family crest superbly used as the background. This set will look just as good on the card as it would opened.

Legend Sentai Ranger Key Set Magiranger Magi Red Bandai Super Sentai Gokaiger

Legend Sentai Ranger Key Set Magiranger Magi Blue Bandai Super Sentai GokaigerLegend Sentai Ranger Key Set Magiranger Magi Pink Bandai Super Sentai Gokaiger

Legend Sentai Ranger Key Set Magiranger Magi Green Bandai Super Sentai GokaigerLegend Sentai Ranger Key Set Magiranger Magi Yellow Bandai Super Sentai Gokaiger

As you'd expect, inserting any of the keys into the Mobirates or Legend Mobirates makes the "Magiranger" call out (along with a unique sound effect). Using the Legends Mobirates inencyclopaedia mode will also give you a short bio of the team in Japanese.

Legend Sentai Ranger Key Set Magiranger Key Logo Bandai Super Sentai Gokaiger

Legend Sentai Ranger Key Set Magiranger Keys Bandai Super Sentai Gokaiger