Sunday 3 May 2015

Toybox REVIEW: Shuriken Sentai Ninninger Minipla Shurikenjin

Shuriken Sentai Ninninger Minipla Shurikenjin

Traditionally individual Super Sentai mecha tend to fall into one of two categories - animals or mecha. Sometimes you'll get the occasional series that mixes the two (Go-Busters doing this in a particularly clever way by providing both in the same component) but most of the time it's one of the other, which means the combination will either be entirely made of animals or entirely made of vehicles. This year Shuriken Sentai Ninninger has thrown that completely out of the window by mixing things up while homaging various mecha from the franchise's long history. Shurikenjin has proved to be an interesting and unique mecha design in a number of ways, so it's very interesting to see how it has translated to Bandai's more affordable line of minipla candy toys.

Boxes Front

Boxes BackBox Contents

Despite these kits being relatively cheap toys the packaging has always managed to be bold and eye-catching, and this year already proves to be no exception. There isn't a whole lot to say about it other than what you can see from the images, but it is interesting to note that because of Shurikenjin having two different modes (more on this later in the review), the box images aren't all of the same Shurikenjin formation in different poses. It's also worth mentioning that Byunmaru (Momo Ninger's mecha) is spread across two boxes in this wave - the bulk of it has its own personal box, while the back carriage/left leg is included with alongside the comparably small Wanmaru kit. This isn't the first time this has happened in Super Sentai, but it is the first time it's happened in a while. The last time that springs to mind are the Goseiger kits from 2010.

A case of these figures includes enough to make two whole Shurikenjins, and then an extra Shinobimaru and Byunmaru thrown in for good measure (although the extras could vary between waves for all I know). Perfect if you're planning to split a case with a friend, and doubly perfect if like me you mess up painting your Shinobimaru and are in desperate need of a spare. And of course, where there are minipla kits you can also find some of that delicious soda flavoured candy we all know and love.

Sticker Sheet

Now usually in these reviews I don't say a whole lot about the stickers other than the fact they exist, but Shurikenjin's are definitely worthy of mention because they're all foil stickers! In recent years these have mostly been reserved for the exclusive translucent kits from Premium Bandai, once slipping out into the main kits for Kyoryuger's Bragigas wave. But if this wave is anything to by, it looks like the whole Ninninger line may be receiving these premium-looking stickers. Perfect for anyone stickering their kits but would like it to still having a rather special looking finish. Of course as usual I've painted mine so any further images will reflect this, so be sure to check out this Japanese review too to see how the mecha looks with just the stickers.

Shinobimaru Closeup

Shinobimaru FrontShinobimaru Back

Shinobimaru RunningShinobimaru LeapingShinobimaru Kneeling

The set opens with AkaNinger's Shinobimaru - a humanoid mecha not too dissimilar to the Muteki Shogun components of past show Ninja Sentai Kakuranger. The model features a moving head and arms, a waist joint that allows the top of the torso to move from side to side as well as leg articulation at the hips and knees. The downside is the two legs are connected at the middle via the fist required for one of Shurikenjin's combined mode, so unless that's removed the legs cannot move in opposite direction to each other. But even with this limitation it can prove to be a dynamic little figure capable of basic running, kneeling and even leaping poses (with the aid of a stand of course). Shinobimaru is the one component requires the most painting, with the stickers leaving things a little bare as well as missing out the black details on the arms entirely (as well as the combined fist, which is moulded in white plastic). Just watch that gold around the knees though - it can be a real nightmare if you get it in places where the different parts rub together.

Red Shurikenjin Shuriken FrontRed Shurikenjin Shuriken Underside

Also included in this box is the red Shurikenjin Shuriken for the standard Shurikenjin combo! This piece is completely separate to Shinobimaru, and forms the head section of the combined robot (I say head, it's more a face and a fancy hat. In what I can only assume has been done to keep the model accurate to the DX toy the shuriken has two separate Shurikenjin faces on it - one sticker for the flip down face and another larger sticker for the underside of it. On the DX toy these would be the same face so I can kind of see the logic of putting it on twice, but since the hinged piece actually covers the larger sticker when folded down the purpose is kind of defeated.

Dragomaru Closeup

Dragomaru FrontDragomaru Back

Flapping those wingsDragomaru takes flightTeaming up

Meanwhile AoNinger's Otomo Nin draws from the animal-side of Super Sentai and is a blue Western-style dragon by the name of Dragomaru. The kit has some rather impressive articulation for a single component, with a moving neck, arms, legs (joined together rather than separate) and hinged wings for flapping motions. To their credit the stickers do a pretty good job of covering all the main coloured areas of the figure, though areas such as the shoulders or tail only have the bare flat surfaces covered rather than the whole sections.

Blue Shurikenjin Shuriken FrontBlue Shurikenjin Shuriken Underside

Like Shinobimaru this set also comes with an additional shuriken piece - this time it's the blue Shurikenjin Shuriken for the Shurikenjin Drago combination! A slight remould of the red shuriken - with the surrounding area featuring different points and a different swing down piece that has the jaw features much more pronounced (since it is a face after all). The inside of the jaw also has an area for a Shurikenjin face sticker, which is because on the DX toy the central piece of the shuriken is the same for both combinations - with the coloured out area swappable for each relevant combo. Again - not really necessary for the minipla where it's two separate pieces,  but it's the thought that counts right?

Dumpmaru Closeup

Dumpmaru FrontDumpmaru Back

Hurling those rocksHitching a rideWheelin' it

From animals to vehicles, next up is KiNinger's Dumpmaru! Given the aesthetics and theme of the vehicle, it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to consider this big yellow dump truck a homage to GoGo Sentai Boukenger and its similar looking vehicles. Sure that was adventure-themed rather than construction, but Dumpmaru would look right at home amongst the components of DaiBouken. Quite possibly my favourite individual build of the set, Dumpmaru has a lot of nifty moving parts covered in all sorts of bumpy textures. As you'd expect the wheels can spin freely, and the claw like component at the back of the dump (which becomes the throne "pedals" in combined mode) is on a hinge and can swing outwards for when the vehicle is throwing rocks at any nearby Yokai.

Byunmaru Closeup

Byunmaru FrontByunmaru Back

Scaling the wallsAlongside the ResshaNinja movements

Continuing with the vehicle theme, MomoNinger's Otomo Nin is Byunmaru - a train not too dissimilar to the ones we saw last year with Ressha Sentai ToQger, only this time with considerably more nintality added into the mix. As you can see in the comparison picture above Byunmaru is considerably bigger than the ToQger minipla, not to mention long enough to have been spread over two boxes in this wave. Both carriages of the train have free-rolling wheels in the bottom to trundle along on flat surfaces, with the central piece (aka Shurikenjin's crotch) added some suitable articulation for the vehicles ninja-like movements. The only way this could have been better is if they'd added coupler ports for the Resshas to connect for some real crossover play.

Wanmaru Closeup

Wanmaru FrontWanmaru Back


Rounding off the team is ShiroNinger's Wanmaru, the dog themed Otomo Nin. As a predominantly white figure Wanmaru needs to the least painting to look great, with stickers only required for the the gold parts and the eyes/snout. Personally, I also decided to add a bit of panel-lining to the sides for extra effect as well. Back to the model itself, while it may be a really simple build Wanmaru is one of the most fun - featuring moving legs as well as a ball-jointed head.

The Otomo Nin altogether

Racing into actionShuriken Gattai!

Together you have possibly the oddest assortment of Super Sentai mecha there's ever been, but a team that connect to form a pretty interesting combo. Wanmaru slots comfortably into its designated space inside Byunmaru that itself becomes the legs, while Dumparu splits apart to become the hollow torso and right arm. Dragomaru becomes the left art (with the wings reconnecting elsewhere to become a shield) while an untransformed Shinobimaru sits comfortably in the throne shaped torso. To complete the combination the red shuriken plugs into the very top of the body, with the face section folding down to cover Shinobimaru's exposed face. And voila! The shuriken gattai is completed and Shurikenjin is ready for action!

Shurikenjin ready for action

Shurikenjin FrontShurikenjin Drago Back

Swords n ShieldsShurikenjin stands tallCutting through the Yokai

Although there have been a few blips here and there, these days many collectors are drawn to the minipla figures over the DX toys not just because of their size and price point but because they give the combined model articulation that the bigger models sorely lack - most notably elbows, knees and a waist. This year the competition is a little stiffer as the DX toy has its own hip and knee articulation, but the bigger guys still have a ways to go before they match up to these things. Shurikenjin boasts articulation in the shoulders, elbows, waist, hips, knees and feet - with the lower leg sections also able  to rotate on the peg so they aren't always facing straight-on with the rest of the robot. Sadly due to Dragomaru's build the left elbow can't come up particularly far, not managing to achieve even a 90 degree angle.

But most importantly, all of the connections lock in nice and tightly so the components won't separate in your hands while posing the figure. Shinobimaru is especially snug in his little throne and it's only really the legs that protrude out of the main torso area. And while it may sound like they could get in the way of the forward leg articulation, both the "pedal" piece and Shionobimaru's legs can still swing upward and out of their way should they prove to be any sort of an issue.

Showing off some ninja moves

Shinobimaru leaves the throneShurikenjin: Splendid Slash!

But for all the articulation that the actual body has, when it comes to posing options the lack of a moving head/neck really makes a difference to how good you can make it look. This is a flaw in Shurikenjin's design rather than the toy itself, but posing the figure slashing to the side looks kind of strange when the face is constantly looking straight-on rather than in the direction the body is actually turned in. Camera trickery and a moveable waist do help offset this a bit, but I can't help feeling the design would have been significantly improved by working out some way for the head to move because then it would have been perfect. Imaginative AND dynamic.

Shurikenjin Drago Closeup

Shurikenjin Drago FrontShurikenjin Drago Back

Kaiju roboDragon takes chargeRarrr!

But the review doesn't end there, because for the first time in over a decade a Super Sentai robot also features a second combination made from its core components - Shurikenjin Drago! In this hunched-over formation Dragonmaru swaps out with Shinobimaru as the core component sitting in the throne, with Shinobimaru becoming the left arm in its place. Dragomaru's wings and tail remain separated and clip onto the back of the combo (once again becoming those very things), leaving only the core body to sit in the throne. Finally the blue shuriken takes the red one's place as the head, but instead of connecting to the body it instead clips comfortably on the peg protruding from Dragomaru's head. Here the hinged piece on the shuriken doesn't swing down over the face, but rather acts as a moveable jaw to the face moulded into it.

Shurikenjin Drago takes to the skies

Flying on tiny wingsFlamin' hot

Unfortunately though, Shurikenjin Drago isn't quite as dynamic as its humanoid counterpart. The hunched-over stature of the combination immediately eliminates most of the upper leg articulation, and without that trying to do anything with the lower legs proves to be something of a difficult balancing act. The arms, while articulated at two points, can't do much more than swing forwards and backwards either. However one thing Drago does have that the standard version doesn't is some sort of neck, even if it's just one that moves up and down rather than side to side (although the actual shuriken head can rotate on the peg, but it looks a bit odd when the head below is constantly looking face-on). Then there are other minor issues, such as how pathetically small the dragon wings look or how obvious the Shurikenjin face is inside the dragon's jaw (though that is something that could just be avoided here by not putting the sticker on). Getting a second mode out of a Sentai robot is definitely a nifty feature, its status as a "secondary mode" really does show given how limited it is compared to the main one.

ToQ Teamup

Despite having a wealth of experience with Super Sentai minipla now, Shurikenjin has come as a bit of a surprise to me as it doesn't quite follow the patterns I've come to expect from these things. Usually the building experience proves to a very minor thing while the completed model goes on to wow me with all the articulation. Here it's a bit different - the building experience (while still by no means a challenge) proved to a really interesting and enjoyable affair while the finished model has left me a little bit underwhelmed. It's certainly one of the most unique Super Sentai robots of recent years and the body articulation does add a whole lot to the design, but the lack of a neck does prove to have a notable impact on the whole thing. Experienced modellers will probably get a major kick out of the level of work needed to make the kit truly shine/accurate, but beginners might not be so impressed with the fiddly stickers (even if they are beautiful) that don't seem to cover nearly as much as they probably should. But even with this in mind Shurikenjin is a great little toy, and an excellent start to a new year of Sentai minipla. If you're a Ninninger fan and want an affordable version of the mecha that's a little more dynamic, this is definitely worth checking out.


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