Sunday 9 August 2015

Toybox REVIEW: Shuriken Sentai Ninninger Minipla Bison King

With the introduction of the sixth team member getting a bit earlier since Zyuden Sentai Kyoruger, it's naturally also meant that the toys have followed suit. In fact Shuriken Sentai Ninninger marks the first time in recent years that a sixth ranger mecha has actually been the second release in the candy toy/minipla line rather than the third. Of course is more likely due to there only be two auxiliary Otomo Nin at the time and the third joining later, but the point still stands nonetheless. Bison King is the personal mecha of the selfie-taking American youkai hunter Star Ninger, and is comprised of his two Otomo Nin partners Rodeomaru and the Bison Buggy. So grab your cowboy hat and cheeseburger transformation device, because this is going to be one glorious American stereotype. Yeehaw!

Truthfully this was a review I should have made three months ago (yet another Ninninger minipla set has come out since Bison King's release), but thanks to a busy schedule and a general lack of interest in Ninninger (I won't go into too much detail here, but I can't say I've been particularly enjoying it) I've only recently got around to building this kit. And for that I can only apologise.

Bison King is spread across four separate boxes, with each one featuring both the robot and Star Ninger in a different pose on the front (and in Star's case, the top flap as well). The back and spines are all identical - with the back showing off Bison King in both its robot and vehicle modes as well as a smaller picture of the King Shurikenjin combination (which will be further detailed later in the review). The contents of each box are as follows;

Box 01 - Rodeomaru, Bison King upper legs and Bison Rifle
Box 02 - Bison King torso section
Box 03 - Bison King lower legs
Box 04 - Bison King arms

Naturally each box also includes the usual piece of soda flavoured candy, and a buying a full case of this figure (which you would be doing if you were buying it from a retailer such as Amiami, Hobby Search or Hobbylink Japan) will yield 12 boxes making up a total of three Bison Kings. Always nice to not be left with any spare pieces floating around! 

As usual the review from here on out is going to be of a hand-painted model kit, so be sure to check out this one in addition if you'd like to see what it looks like with just the stickers applied. Like Shurikenjin before him the Bison King model kit uses foil stickers rather than the flat ones of previous years, giving it a little boost in overall quality which I hope will continue on in the years to come. 

Starting things off small is Rodeomaru, the core component of Bison King that takes up the majority of the kit's first box. Rodeomaru is a small humanoid robot not too dissimilar from Aka Ninger's Shinobimaru, however sadly the minipla kit doesn't quite match up it in terms of size or quality. Despite them being the same size in-show minipla Rodeomaru is noticeably smaller than minipla Shinobimaru, and as a result isn't quite as polished in terms of overall detail (I had to use the sticker for the head because it was so tiny). The finished model features rotating shoulders, and although fixed together the legs can bend at both the hips and the knees. A neat little extra feature is that the back plug intended for the Bison King combination also works perfectly in Shurikenjin - even if the figure is so small he can't reach the levers or pedals! This combination is known as Shurikenjin Texas.

The foil stickers pretty much cover every necessary detail on the figure, so the only reason one would need to paint Rodeomaru would be if they did it out of preference. Sure there are a few little splashes of colour missing here and there, but the figure is so small there isn't exactly a lot that you can do in those areas anyway.

However the bulk of this set is parts to make up the Bison Buggy - an off-road vehicle which also makes up the entire body of the Bison King. Being made up of three and half boxes worth of parts it dwarves the individual Shurikenjin components, to the point where most of them could sit up in the driver's seat and there still be plenty of room to spare. An impressive size doesn't guarantee perfect screen accuracy though, and a quick comparison with the show version shows this is where compromises have had to be made. Whereas the show version is quite squashed up, the minipla equivalent is wider with a much less seamless transformation - from certain angles you can even see right through the middle section. At first I thought this was a case of me putting it together wrong, but after consulting with the instructions multiple times I concluded that this was indeed how it was supposed to look. Not to mention the fact that Rodeomaru's "driving" on here looks about as awkward as it can get - without a neck he can't even look up to see where he's going!

Other than that, there isn't a whole lot left to say about the Bison Buggy. From the right angles it still looks like a pretty hefty and impressive vehicle, and has the usual functions you'd expect from such a toy (i.e. moving wheels). The wheels are particularly interesting in that only the outer halves of them are free-spinning, while the inner sections are actually static. This is mostly because of the way the transformation works, as having freely spinning wheels with no proper locking mechanism would be a nightmare for the feet and shoulders. It all works out the same way through, so in the end it's just a little interesting flare in the building process rather than anything particularly hampering.

In keeping with the main Ninninger gimmick, the robot head/face is a actually a shuriken that doubles as a rather fancy hat with flip-down face. However unlike the two wielded by Shurikenjin, this one actually clips onto the vehicle mode rather than just float around as loose extra. Once again Bandai have unexpectedly made it as accurate to the DX toy as possible by including a sticker for the underside featuring Bison King's face - which is directly under where the plastic Bison King face is making it seem a little redundant. But hey, it's a nice enough sticker so who am I to argue with extra accuracy?

While personally I find the Burger Changer element to be a little too silly, there are a lot of reasons for me to love both Star Ninger and Bison King. I've been wanting a cowboy-themed Super Sentai for years now, and while not the whole team I'd hoped for Star Ninger looks almost exactly how I wanted them to look. Meanwhile if the whole "inspired by various points of Super Sentai history" thing applies here in the same way it did to the components of Shurikenjin, then it should be quite obvious where Bison King's is coming from. A humanoid robot, star shaped visor - this thing is a cowboy Red Puncher from Chōriki Sentai Ohranger and that is amazing.

Back onto the model itself, the transformation from Bison Buggy to Bison King requires a minimal amount of parts-swapping as most of it simply involves flipping down the legs and moving the arms into their appropriate position. The top section of the buggy (which Rodeomaru holds onto) pegs down onto the top of the torso, with shuriken then coming down on top to provide both a face and appropriate cowboy hat. Although show accurate, keeping the buggy section stretched out at the back looks utterly ridiculous and will undoubtedly take up a lot of space on a shelf. Thankfully, this piece can actually be folded down to sit more flushly with the back- making the combination look considerably tidier.

Articulation on the whole is pretty good, with the figure sporting a slightly better range of movement than the minipla Shurikenjin. Joints include rotating shoulders and hips, elbows and knees. While the feet aren't articulated in the traditional sense, the way the lower legs are able to rotate works well with the hinged feet sections to allow stable balancing in more dynamic poses. Unfortunately due to the build there isn't any waist joint to speak of, but that has been rather neatly offset but the introduction of a pseudo-neck joint! While Rodeomaru himself is in a completely fixed position, the way the shuriken is pegged in above it allows for the face to move slightly left and right - all while still covering the front part of Rodeomaru. So while the body may not be able to turn at the waist, having the head be able to look left and right opens a lot of cool posing possibilities that just simply weren't there with Shurikenjin.

But the fun doesn't stop there! Bison King is also able to combine with Shurikenjin to form the mighty King Shurikenjin! Instructions on how to combine the two robots are included on a separate leaflet inside each of the four boxes, but the sequence is pretty easy to work out without them anyway. It largely involves loosely disassembling Bison King in the pieces advertised on each both, and then plugging them into Shurikenjin in various different places. The only pieces of Shurikenjin that actually move are the red shuriken and the arms, which come up higher to the shoulder sections on the Bison King piece of the torso.

Around the time Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters was airing (and still to this day actually) one of the biggest complaints about the combined mecha was the way in which the smaller robots parts seemingly joined together with no real coherence. Personally, I find King Shurikenjin to be much much worse in that regard. Arguably it has much more of a streamline appearance than the likes of Great Go-Buster or Go-Buster King, but the Bison King parts feel like they've been piled on in the most ridiculous of way. You have random leg pieces now acting as feet, hands that are holding onto even bigger hands and a head ornament that not only has multiple different pieces piled onto it but also juts outward at an utterly ridiculous length. The only component that fits really well is the Bison King torso, which moves Shinobimaru's throne down into the abdomen area. Whether the crazy nature of the combination appeals to you is going to be a matter of opinion, but elements like the bison head sticking so far out of the top definitely feel more like design flaws rather than quirks. 

This is usually the part in a minipla review where the added articulation these model kits have begin to crumble under the sheer amount of parts that have been clipped to such a light frame, but that isn't actually the case with King Shurikenjin. In fact for all it's shortcomings the articulation has managed to hold up pretty well with all the Bison King parts loaded up onto it. The real problem here is that this combination just further emphasises that none of this movement amounts to good poses because the thing doesn't have a neck. The waist, hips, legs - all is going to waste because the head is just a solid block that can only stare straight on.

Bison King is a pretty interesting little model kit with a good number of highs and a handful of lows. The combination with Shurikenjin certainly isn't going to be to everyone's tastes, but the individual robot is a pretty fun toy with fun modes and a good range of articulation - even if it does take quite a bit of paintwork to get it looking its best. Certainly not the best figure that the Super Sentai minipla line has to offer, but it still possesses all the qualities that show that the appeal of this line goes far beyond just size and price point.

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