Friday 28 June 2013

Anime REVIEW: Digimon Adventure 02

Digimon Adventure 02 Anime Toei

Note: Once again, this is a review of the DUB version of Digimon Adventure 02. As I haven't seen the original Japanese version, any name/event/dialogue changes shall not be mentioned.

Despite the original Digimon series having a fairly conclusive ending, there were of course plenty of stories that can be told about the Digital World and so Toei quickly put a second season into action. While this series was simply released as the second season of Digimon in the West, in Japan its full title was Digimon Adventure 02. It ran for a total of 50 episodes in 2000-2001, and also had two movie releases.

Digimon Adventure 02 Digi Destined TK Kari Davis Cody Yolei
Meet the new Digi Destined

Set four years after the events of the first series, Digimon Adventure 02 kicks off with the arrival of a new child in the Digital World. Proclaiming himself the Digimon Emperor, he captures and enslaves Digimon, controlling them through black rings and negating digivolution by erecting control spires across the land. Seeking the help of the Digi Destined, their partner Digimon send a message to the real world, with Gatomon and Patamon reunited with a now older TK and Kari. They are joined by three new Digi Destined - Davis, Yolei, Cody and their partner Digimon Veemon, Hawkmon and Armadillomon respectively. The five are presented with new Digivices and their Digimon a new form of digivolution to battle the slaves of the Digimon Emperor. But how will the reveal of the Digimon Emperor as boy genius Ken Ichijouji affect their fighting? Can they defeat another human when in the past the enemies have all been Digimon?

Much like the first series, Adventure 02 is separated in a number of different arcs. Thankfully this series is made up of three distinct arcs rather than four, providing some much needed breathing space and expansion that the original sadly lacked. Unlike the previous adventure, the characters can now travel in and out of the Digital World freely (the time difference strangely gone altogether and completely unexplained) offering a different kind of story telling. The first two arcs take place primarily in the Digital World, while the third brings the action back to the real world.

Digimon Adventure 02 Armour Digivolving Flamdramon Raidramon Halsemon Shurimon Digmon Submarimon Pegasusmon Neferimon
Armour Digivolve!

The childish innocence of TK and Kari is gone, instead replaced by characters that work as a bridge between the old Digi Destined and the new. TK has some interesting bursts of anger (particularly when an old enemy shows up during the first arc) but doesn't do all that much to stand out otherwise. Kari on the other hand continues to be built up as someone who's really important, but this never actually goes anywhere. Yolei and Cody are mostly stubborn and annoying, while Davis represents all the worst aspects of Tai jacked up to 11. He does mellow out a bit with the arrival of Ken onto the team, but the problems are still there. Of course, there are plenty of appearances of the older Digi Destined and their partners. While these start off in mainly a mentor role, they become more significant toward the end of the show when a wider picture of the Digi Destined is painted.

Digimon Adventure 02 Ken & Wormmon
Ken Ichijouji: Villain, hero, a whole load of awesome

Which brings us to Ken, the undisputed star of Digimon Adventure 02. Starting out as the cruel, sadistic and purposely unlikeable Digimon Emperor, his character is the one that receives the most growth and back story. Adventure 02 has a key focus on human weaknesses (something that plays an important part with a later villain too) and their eventual journey to redemption. At first Ken feels guilt for his actions as the Emperor, before gaining the friendship of his fellow Digi Destined and eventually being able to put his past misdeeds behind him. It's quite a change from the first series where all of the villains where evil Digimon who were evil for the sake of being evil, and certainly gives the show a refreshing level of depth.

And to keep things interesting, Adventure 02 introduces two new types of digivolution into the fray - armour digivolving and DNA digivolving. The power to armour digivolve comes from eight digi-eggs (plus one golden egg), each baring a crest of the original Digi Destined. TK and Kari only get one egg each (their own crests, creating Pegasusmon and Nefertimon respectively) while the three new kids get two each. Davis takes the eggs of courage (Flamedramon) and friendship (Raidramon), Cody gets knowledge (Digmon) and reliability (Submarimon) and Yolei gets love (Halsemon) and sincerity (Shurimon). Despite being the first set of digivolutions introduced in the show, these are without a doubt the coolest - taking the core of the new Digimon and powering them up with (in most cases) clear influence of the veteran Digimon.

Digimon Adventure 02 DNA Digivolving Paidramon Imperialdramon Silphymon Shakkoumon
DNA Digivolving: Where two heads are better than one, but two bodies aren't.

Following the fall of the Digimon Emperor, the Digimon are able to evolve to their champion levels. These are completely underwhelming on all accounts (except for Wormmon's champion form Stingmon), serving mainly as a temporary bridge to this series' equivalent of the ultimate level - DNA digivolving. Here two Digimon merge into one, combining the strongest elements of the two. We have the badass Paidramon (ExVeemon + Stingmon), the..gender confusing Silphymon (Gatomon + Aquilamon) and the bizarre Shakkoumon (Angemon + Ankylomon). Of course, much like how the first series went on to become the Tai and Matt show, Adventure 02 becomes the Davis and Ken show with Paildramon the only one reaching the mega level - evolving into Imperialdramon.

So the final verdict on Adventure 02? Its worthy of praise for dealing with much more complex issues and character development than its predecessor, however this development only really happens to one character. The rest of the main cast are boring and/or annoying, and the revelation of the final villain tarnishes the show's interesting exploration of human weakness and redemption. Throw in an INCREDIBLY weak epilogue, and the end result is a show that shows just as much flaw as it does promise.

Thursday 20 June 2013

Series REVIEW: Kamen Rider Amazon

Kamen Rider Amazon

We're rewinding back to 1974 for this review as we look at the fourth entry in the Kamen Rider franchise - Kamen Rider Amazon! Amazon is notable for being the shortest Kamen Rider series to date, airing for only 24 episodes (and technically a movie, but that's simply a cinematic version of episode 16).

Several years before the start of the series, a plane crashes in the Amazon rainforest, leaving the young Daisuke Yamamoto without his parents. Adopted by an Incan tribe, the boy is raised in the jungle. However the Ten-faced demon Gorgos, leader of the evil Geddon, arises, massacring his village in search of the mystical Gigi Armlet, said to grant its wielder mystical powers. Operated on by the tribe leader before his death and given the Armlet, the boy (known to most as 'Amazon') is told to travel to Japan to keep the Armlet away from Geddon's clutches.

Arriving in Japan, Amazon befriends a young boy before being attacked by one of Geddon's beastmen. He reveals the power to transform into Kamen Rider Amazon, a powerful and ferocious hero. While learning more about his past, the Gigi Armlet and modern civilisation, Kamen Rider Amazon defends Japan against the evil forces hell bent on destroying him and conquering the world.

Kamen Rider Amazon Daisuke Yamamoto Tokusatsu Toei
Daisuke Yamamoto aka Amazon aka "I will rip your face off"

Kamen Rider Amazon is a particularly unique entry into the franchise for a number of reasons. It's protagonist is particularly interesting, raised as a wild child and initially having very limited speech and understanding of modern civilisation. He's a stranger in a strange world so to speak, which makes him reasonably unpredictable and therefore that much more interesting/entertaining to watch. This doesn't just relate to his manner outside the suit, but particularly his fighting style. It isn't fancy martial arts moves or standard brawling with Amazon - he literally fights like an animal. Even before he transforms he's biting and clawing away at opponents, with blood frequently being drawn on both sides. Once he's transformed into Kamen Rider Amazon he severs limbs, makes Beastmen bleed enormously and even rips one monster's face to shreds

Kamen Rider Amazon Masashiko Okamura Tokusatsu Toei
Less annoying than the kids in Zyuranger, that's for sure

Amazon also benefits from having an excellent range of friends, with no truly annoying side character amongst them. Masahiko's early hostilities towards Tōbei Tachibana aside, he's a very likeable character that plays a key role in Amazon's growth throughout the course of the series. Veterans of Kamen Rider will recognise Tachibana himself, who is appears as an ally in every series between the original Kamen Rider and Kamen Rider Stronger. For a guy that doesn't seem to have any real investment in the situation and usually appears out of nowhere, he's actually pretty cool. But of course the most memorable of the bunch is Mole Beastman, a former enemy who turns his back on Geddon to become Amazon's ally (making him the first monster to befriend a Rider). Mole Beastman is a really fun character, transitioning from an enemy into comic relief before truly cementing himself as a hero in perhaps Amazon's strongest episode.

Kamen Rider Amazon Mole Beastman Tokusatsu Toei

The Kamen Rider-meets-Creature from the Black Lagoon style costume of Amazon has held up brilliantly, but as you might expect from an almost 40 year old show other aspects haven't been so lucky. There's no getting around how silly Gorgos looks, and that's before you get to the 8 Japanese men with their faces poking out of his lower portion. The Beastmen vary in design, but with each and every one of them you can see the love and care that went into creating the costumes. And to be honest, being able to poke fun at the costumes and still enjoy the show is sometimes part of the charm.

Kamen Rider Amazon Ten-Faced Demon Gorgos Geddon Tokusatsu Toei
There's no getting around how silly this looks

That isn't to say Amazon is a perfect series though, and strangely enough the show's 24 episode run time is in fact the cause of and solution to two of its biggest flaws. The first problem is the villain switchover that occurs midway through, where Geddon is replaced by the far less exciting Garanda Empire. Garanda come across as a much more typical Shōwa period villain group - a terrorist organisation more concerned with brutal attacks on the populace. By the time they roll around there isn't much time for development, and so the show begins to feel like it's going merely going through the motions until the end. It doesn't help that Amazon himself suddenly becomes a less notable character - suddenly fully clothed and able to talk almost perfect Japanese, in personality he becomes more of what you'd expect from a classic Kamen Rider.

The second complaint is less a criticism of the series overall, and more the style of storytelling back in the 70s. Continuity between the episodes is very light, and over a long period of time things can begin to feel even more formulaic and repetitive. Amazon suffers from this a little bit, but manages to circumvent it through its short episode run.

Kamen Rider Amazon Jungler Bike Tokusatsu Toei
"My bike has fins, what does yours have?"

Despite a few flaws here and there, Kamen Rider Amazon is highly enjoyable show and one that's likely to stick with you even if you're a veteran of both Kamen Rider and tokusatsu in general. The costumes and effects may be dated, but that doesn't detract from the sheer carnage of Amazon's fighting style and the general enjoyment of the show itself. I highly recommend giving it a chance, just so you can see for yourself why Amazon is a rather unorthodox rider in style as well as looks.

Sunday 16 June 2013

Toybox REVIEW: Doctor Who 3.75" Scale Ice Warrior

Doctor Who New Series Ice Warrior Cold War 3.75 inch scale Character Options BBC

The second of the three 3.75" scale Doctor Who figures I planned to pick up is unsurprisingly a modern interpretation of a classic monster. This Ice Warrior figure is based on their appearance from the series 7 episode Cold War, in which Grand Marshall Skaldak was awakened aboard a Soviet submarine. Here is the review of these highly popular Martian warriors.

Doctor Who New Series Ice Warrior Cold War 3.75 inch scale Character Options BBC

Doctor Who New Series Ice Warrior Cold War 3.75 inch scale Character Options BBCDoctor Who New Series Ice Warrior Cold War 3.75 inch scale Character Options BBC

The Doctor Who figure packaging is universal, and as such there is absolutely no difference between this and the packaging talked about in my earlier Dalek review other than the card at the front of the plastic bubble. However I will mention that the back advertises the Cold War playset, which includes an exclusive unarmoured Ice Warrior figure. Only the figure doesn't look anything like how Skaldak did in the episode, which begs the question of what exactly Character were basing the figure off of...

Doctor Who New Series Ice Warrior Cold War 3.75 inch scale Character Options BBC

Doctor Who New Series Ice Warrior Cold War 3.75 inch scale Character Options BBCDoctor Who New Series Ice Warrior Cold War 3.75 inch scale Character Options BBC

And so here is our Ice Warrior figure, standing as tall as he can at this scale. That being said the figure doesn't seem to have lost any of the bulk of the actual suit, and so the Ice Warrior looks suitably imposing. The green finish is absolutely superb, not only capturing all the scaly detailing of the armour but also have a rather fetching reflective sheen to it. The red eyes don't quite capture the reflective look of the suit, which could have easily been done using the same materials as what was used in the classic Ice Warrior figure. A word of caution - while I'm yet to encounter this problem, there has been reports of the red painting sliding off easily if touched.

Doctor Who New Series Ice Warrior Cold War 3.75 inch scale Character Options BBC

But despite looking nice, articulation is the area that really lets this guy down. I'll start off with the obvious - the legs are positioned in such a way that the Ice Warrior looks more like he needs the toilet than anything else. It can't really be altered, and already hampers the limited poseability the figure has. The head CAN rotate, however the neck collar gets in the way of its turning circle and so moving it makes it feel like the head is about to pop off. What the Ice Warrior DOES have is rotatable shoulders/hips and hinged elbows/knees. That's it. No hand or feet articulation whatsoever.

Doctor Who New Series Ice Warrior Cold War 3.75 inch scale Character Options BBCDoctor Who New Series Ice Warrior Cold War 3.75 inch scale Character Options BBC

The Ice Warrior's only accessory is a stand, which is included with every figure in this wave with the exception of the Dalek. The stand isn't particularly special, and nothing more than a larger version of the one included with the Character Building micro figures. As the figures have gotten that much smaller (see the comparison with the Classic series 5" Ice Warrior above), it would have been nice to see a little more effort gone into the stands - personalised ones perhaps? Even if they just had the name printed on them somewhere it would make the stand feel a little more character-centric.

While the Ice Warrior is a nice looking figure, I can't say it's done a good job of winning me over the this new scale. The legs look silly and the articulation is subpar at best. The sculpting might be fantastic but its certainly something that probably would have looked better on a larger figure where it could perhaps be appreciated a little more. Hopefully one day 5" fans might get a special one off release of this to be posed alongside its classic counterpart properly.

Toybox REVIEW: Doctor Who 3.75" Scale Dalek

2013 Doctor Who Dalek Figure 3.75 inch scale Series 7 Character Options BBC

With series 7 of Doctor Who having just drawn to a close, it's time for Character Options to wheel out their newest range of figures to help tide us over until the 50th Anniversary special in November. What makes this first wave of series 7 figures special is that it marks the debut of the 3.75" scale for Doctor Who figures, which all of the modern series figures will be in for the foreseeable future (the classic figures retaining the old 5" scale). Whether you are for or against this change, this is the standard for figures these days and so it was an obvious business move for Character Options to move into this scale. As I'm not a fan, I'll only be picking a few choice figures up for review. And first up is what should have been a given - the Dalek.

2013 Doctor Who Dalek Figure 3.75 inch scale Series 7 Character Options BBC

2013 Doctor Who Dalek Figure 3.75 inch scale Series 7 Character Options BBC2013 Doctor Who Dalek Figure 3.75 inch scale Series 7 Character Options BBC

There isn't a whole lot to say about the packaging as it's pretty much the same as all the Matt-Smith era figures have been, albeit scaled down. The back features a breakdown of the figures in the wave, which are the Doctor, Clara, Ice Warrior, Cyberman, Weeping Angel and a Dalek. Also included are pictures of the two currently released playsets for the figures - a Cold War set and one based on a modern Dalek Invasion of Earth. While the other 5 figures include stands, much like the Character Building micro figures the Dalek does not and so is the only thing included in the package.

2013 Doctor Who Dalek Figure 3.75 inch scale Series 7 Character Options BBC

2013 Doctor Who Dalek Figure 3.75 inch scale Series 7 Character Options BBC2013 Doctor Who Dalek Figure 3.75 inch scale Series 7 Character Options BBC

For what is a very small figure in comparison to the modern series Daleks that have come before it, this new scale version is surprisingly impressive. The only real detail that has been lost in scaling things down is the ID tag under the eyestalk - something that's never been referenced to in the show and perhaps only the most dedicated Who fans know about. The dome grooves and rivets adorning the slats and base and fully retained, and not only that this figure has perfected the overall shape and proportions of the Dalek (something that's been progressively improved with the 5" range). Dare I say it aside from the ID tag this is perhaps the most accurate bronze Dalek figure to date! If only Character would decide to use a darker shade of blue for the eyestalk...

2013 Doctor Who Dalek Figure 3.75 inch scale Series 7 Character Options BBC2013 Doctor Who Dalek Figure 3.75 inch scale Series 7 Character Options BBC

On the articulation front its obviously STILL a bit too much to ask for a rotating mid-section, as all we have is the usual rotating dome and moveable appendages. I was hoping this might be a chance for them to do a Dalek that can look down too, but nope the eyestalk can't move down any further than horizontal. Disappointing.

2013 Doctor Who Dalek Figure 3.75 inch scale Series 7 Character Options BBC2013 Doctor Who Dalek Figure 3.75 inch scale Series 7 Character Options BBC

Above we have some comparison pictures with earlier Dalek figures, and put next to the 5" Crucible Dalek you can see just how small this 3.75" one really is. Not only that but the colour differences can also been seen a little clearer - this smaller Dalek is much darker (almost copper rather than bronze) and the base is a much darker grey. The second picture includes size comparisons with the aforementioned Crucible Dalek, a standard Dapol Dalek, a Product Enterprise talking Dalek and a Character Building bronze Dalek.

While personally I'm still not enamoured with this new scale, there is very little to complain about this pint-sized pepperpot of death. While Character Options sadly haven't taken the decision to spice up the bronze Dalek with some new features, they've done a spectacular job of scaling it down to this size and not having the mould suffer any because of it. If you're a fan of 3.75" figures and want a Dalek to hang with your Star Wars or Marvel Comics figures, then this guy definitely comes recommended.

Friday 7 June 2013

Anime REVIEW: Digimon Adventure

Digimon Adventure Digital Monsters

Note: Being the nostalgic guy I am, this is a review of the DUB version of Digimon Adventure. As I haven't seen the original Japanese version, any name/event/dialogue changes shall not be mentioned.

Back in the mid-nineties when the world was in the grips of Pokémon fever, there was another monster related series hitting both Japanese and Western television. While it's true many probably overlooked it at the time as a cheap imitation, the Digimon franchise has its own very loyal fan base and actually excels its "rival" in certain areas. While Digimon started out as a virtual pet toy, it soon branched out into video games, toys and anime series/movies. The first of which was Digimon Adventure (the "Adventure" was dropped for the Western version), released back in 1999.

Digimon Adventure Digital Monsters Tai Matt Sora Izzy Joe Mimi T.K. Agumon Gabumon Palmon Biyomon Gomamon Patamon
The Digi Destined and their partner Digimon

Our story begins when seven children (Tai, Matt, Izzy, Sora, Joe, Mimi and T.K.) are mysteriously transported to the "Digital World" while attending summer camp. Here they meet their partner Digimon, who tell them that they've been waiting their whole lives for their arrival. As they travel the Digital World in search of a way home, they discover they have the ability to help their Digimon partners "digivolve" into new and stronger forms. After encounters with several evil Digimon, they discover that they are in fact the Digi Destined - children foretold in an ancient prophecy to restore order to the Digital World.

But as they come to grips with this news, new and stronger evil Digimon emerge to destroy them. To battle the forces of evil, the Digi Destined must draw upon even greater strengths to help their partners digivolve further. Not only that, but they also learn that not only does their world hang in the balance too, but there is an also an eighth child out there waiting to be found.

Digimon Adventure Digital Monsters Kari Gatomon
Kari, the eight Digi Destined, and Gatomon

So there are seven (later eight) Digi Destined children, which means there's that many lead characters. It's a pretty big number to throw at a series from the get-go, but the show does a pretty good job of balancing it all out so that each character is memorable in their own right. Sure characters like Tai, Matt and to a lesser extent T.K. and Kari get more of the focus, but even the rest get their moments in the spotlight and all play their part toward the bigger plot. Despite their rather one-dimensional personalities (Tai is the leader, Izzy the smart one, Mimi the girlie girl etc.), under the surface most of them have some rather deep issues that they work out through the course of the show. It never gets particularly grimdark, but it's good to know that a show which is primarily aimed at younger kids can tackle such issues.

Digimon Adventure Digital Monsters Champion Greymon Togemon Ikkaumon Angemon

Then there's the Digimon themselves, which showcase the huge variety this franchise have. The beautiful thing about Digimon is that the monsters aren't constricted to a certain design type, so there are cute and cuddly monsters, big brutish ones and even humanoid ones. They can be a range of different animals and creatures, including robots and machinery parts. Such a massive variety almost guarantees that there will be some particular Digimon that you'll like, and a good chance that one or more will have a lead role. Even the evolution process allows for a huge variety - while the Greymon line is pretty similar throughout, Lillymon certainly isn't anything like Togemon.

Digimon Adventure Digital Monsters Ultimate WereGarurumon MegaKabuterimon Garudamon Angewomon

With four separate arcs taking place in a grand total of 54 episodes, it's sorry to see how painfully underdeveloped some things are. While the Devimon and Myotismon arcs have an excellent amount of build up and story behind them, the ending fights themselves turn out to be rather rushed an lackluster. However the biggest problems lie in the Dark Masters arc, which has a grand total of 14 episodes to defeat five villains (four Dark Masters and then the final big bad). This is simply not enough time to develop any of them really as actual characters, with Machinedramon and MetalSeadramon getting the worst end of the stick (Machinedramon getting a grand total of 2 episodes and then dying in a 3 second fight).

Digimon Adventure Digital Monsters Villains Devimon Etemon Myostismon Dark Masters MetalSeadramon Puppetmon Piedmon Machinedramon
Evil lurks throughout the land...

The other main problem also stems from the Dark Masters arc, which is the decision to have only Agumon and Gabumon reach the Mega level (becoming WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon respectively). From a story point of view it makes sense, but it also diminishes the relevance of the other Digimon. The arc plays heavily on teamwork and how the Digi Destined can't win unless they're together, but whatever way you look at it all of the Ultimate level Digimon are little more than glorified backup to the big hitters. It's also a crime that great looking Megas like HerculesKabuterimon and Hououmon didn't get an appearance.

Digimon Adventure Digital Monsters Mega MetalGarurumon WarGreymon
Awesome but overused.

So despite a few glaring flaws, the first Digimon instalment still holds up pretty well today. The characters are a very likeable (if a tad stereotypical at times) bunch, and the constantly upping threat level throughout the show ensures that it never becomes a dull watch. Whether you choose the English dub or the original Japanese version, Digimon Adventure still hasn't lost any of the charm it had all those years ago.