Thursday 14 June 2018

Toybox REVIEW: Super Mini-Pla Live Robo

Release Date: March 2018
RRP: 4536 yen

When Bandai released Super Mini-Pla Daizyujin last year its creators expressed interest in expanding the line into other Super Sentai instalments, particularly mentioning Chojuu Sentai Liveman. With mecha that haven't had toys since their original DX counterparts way back in 1988, this was particularly exciting news to fans and now, true to their word, the line continues with Super-Minipla Live Robo! The core robot of the series comprising of three Live Machines, this fan-favourite is the first pre-Zyuranger mecha to be released in any form by Bandai in some time – making this one of the most notable Super Mini-Pla (as well as Super Sentai in general) releases for some time.

As has been the case with Super Sentai releases in both the general and Super Mini-Pla ranges, Bandai have been going to extra mile to make the usually generic shipper boxes eye-catching and Live Robo's release is no exception. Rather than the usual flat green or brown box, Super Mini-Pla Live Robo comes in some nice monochrome packaging decked out with numerous images of the model (both the individual components and combined mode) as well as series logos and the core Liveman team themselves. Inside you'll find a total of three boxes – one for each of Live Robo's components.

Meanwhile the inner packaging adds a splash of colour to the proceedings, laying out the imagery of the outer packaging in a suitably retro way that fits a show like Liveman. All three boxes are identical save for the numbering denoting the contents, but there's enough images of all the components on the boxes for it not to matter. Another really nice touch is the additional images of Super Live Robo, its combination with the (sold separately) Premium Bandai exclusive Super Mini-Pla Live Boxer. That release sold out pretty quickly and has gotten pretty pricey on the aftermarket, but at least here you can take a peak if it's worth chasing one down or not.

Unlike the general Super Sentai minipla line where the model will usually be moulded in a handful of colours (although this has definitely gotten more extensive in recent years), the Super Mini-Pla range makes sure every colour properly covered in each kit. As such each box has a fairly extensive selection of different coloured runners, as well as a handful of loose parts that have been pre-painted for your convenience. Also in each box you'll find a building instructions sheet, as well as the usual piece of soda flavoured candy.

The first component of this three-part set is the Sky Machine, the personal vehicle of Liveman leader Red Falcon which is also known as the Jet Falcon. Toei and Bandai seem to alternate on just how they refer to these components, with Super Mini-Pla settling for the more generic "___ Machine" option. Jet Falcon is a boxy looking bird/jet hybrid, which definitely looks and feels like a precursor to the Jet Machines seen in Chojin Sentai Jetman a few years later. Moulded from red, white, yellow, black and grey parts, Jet Falcon also features a number of prepainted parts that give the model an even more premium feel. These include the bird-faced sections of the vehicle's front half, as well as the combined Live Robo head which stores inside of the vehicle. However this component also requires some fairly extensive stickering – covering all of the details on the wings, fins and underbelly of the vehicle. The upside however is that all of this detailing is very clearly moulded onto the parts, so if you're someone who prefers to paint their kits then doing so won't be a problem for you at all. 

As well as moving fins and wings (both of which are a byproduct of the transformation process), Jet Falcon can be posed either with engine blocks at either side of the vehicle or with retractable bird talons to give it a more organic feel. To aide with mid-flight posing a designated display stand has also been included in the box, which while fairly basic in design does have the Liveman logo moulded into it.

Chojuu Sentai Liveman was actually the first Super Sentai series to feature animal motif mecha, and while the Jet Falcon has lots of elements that make it more of a jet/bird hybrid the same can't be said for the Land Machine (aka Land Lion). This thing is 100% robot lion goodness, complete with twin back cannons to give it a little more firepower. The model is made up of mostly yellow plastic, with additional black and grey runners to finish it off. Also included are a pre-painted lion head and front section, both of which make up Live Robo's chest when combined. The sticker content is also fairly minimal here too, with just a few black sections that are also moulded onto the parts if you'd rather paint them. Land Lion is easily the standout component of the set, not just looking fantastic but also featuring a fair few moving parts too. The lion's jaw is moveable, and the legs also have forwards/backwards movement in three different areas each. The design's overly boxy nature doesn't really allow for too much movement and most of it is intended for the transformation, but it still adds a bit more personality to the kit nonetheless. Also included with the model is an adapter piece to connect Land Lion to the previously aforementioned display stand, but the same effect can easily be achieved with any other generic display stands you might have lying around.

Rounding up the boxes is the Aqua Machine, aka Aqua Dolphin. While the twin-dolphin motif is very clearly present through the overall shape of the vehicle as well as its distinct fins and flippers, the presentation of Aqua Dolphin is feels the most mechanical of the three Live Machines. The Aqua Dolphin is comprised of blue, white, red and grey parts – the latter of which also includes two pieces with pre-painted red missiles. The base of each "dolphin" feature four free-rolling wheels, as well as hinged fin and flipper sections. However the movement of these parts is more tied into the transformation rather than an actual feature, so in reality this is both the simplest and least interactive of the three components. It is however again pretty minimal on stickers, with the sheet only covering a bit of red striping and the "Liveman" logos running across the side of each dolphin. It's a fairly basic vehicle for sure, but combines animal and mechanical elements really well to create a surprisingly memorable design. Megumi/Blue Dolphin is also easily among Super Sentai's best characters, so that definitely works in its favour too.

Together the three Live Machines have a fairly interesting look them, clearly coming from the same series but at the same time emphasising different areas of the overall design. Land Machine is considerably more animalistic to the more vehicle-like Aqua Machine, while the Sky Machine manages to strike a fair balance between both ends of the spectrum. But with all three together there's only one thing left to do - combine! Whereas with many Super Sentai robots how each parts fits together is relatively straightforward, Live Robo does have a few little moments that aren't immediately obvious or simply a case of plugging each part directly onto each other. There are also some really ingenious little moments in the process that feel particularly impressive for a model kit of this size, such as the way the shoulders and arms fold outwards on Land Machine to reveal the chest, with the crotch section attached to the Sky Machine later sliding upwards to hide the lion's exposed back legs. Steps like plugging the dolphin legs onto the robot are just as straightforward as ever, but overall its an incredibly satisfying transformation.

"Live Dimension! Choujuu Gattai!"

Bring the three machines together and the mighty Live Robo is formed! While a transforming model kit can't really match up to the more streamlined proportions of the onscreen suit, the figure is a pretty fantastic scaling down of the original DX toy - even going as far to be a little bit more accurate in terms of colours and overall presentation. Live Robo is an example of 80s mecha at some of its finest, combining the very colours and boxy aesthetics of the era with a hint of some of the Super Sentai sensibilities that would become more apparent in some of the later giant robots in the franchise. Also nothing screams "classic Japanese super robot" like a lion head chest, so it's no wonder that Live Robo remains both popular and recognisable even among what for many are the more forgettable Super Sentai robo offerings.

Articulation is of course always a big selling point when it comes to these model kits, with Live Robo making sure to check off all the essentials in that department too. From top to bottom the model features a ball jointed head, two-way moving shoulders, bicep swivels, elbows, wrist swivels, two-way hips, two points of upper leg swivel, knees and finally hinged feet with rotating front sections. Unfortunately due to the way the chest connects together a waist joint has been sadly omitted, but there's still plenty on offer here to making this the most articulated version of Live Robo ever released by a fairly wide margin. The elbows are another area that suffer because of the transformation scheme, but the surrounding joints do a passable job of compensating for the minimal bend they're able to muster. In comparison to Super Mini-pla Daizyujin its pretty much the same level of mobility so at the very least nothing has been sacrificed here.

When it comes to model kits like these accessories are usually reserved to the most basic stuff, and while Live Robo doesn't exactly stray too far from that there are still a few neat little surprises that have been thrown in here. The obvious accessory included here is of course the Choujuken ("Super Beast Sword"), which comes completely unpainted and is bundled as part of Aqua Machine's box. As the underside of the Sky Machine is removed as part of the combination that then becomes the Live Shield, which can peg into either into either hand via its handle. Interestingly while the way the kit holds the shield is accurate to the DX toy, it isn't accurate to the show itself. There the shield isn't actually held, but rather clips on to the side of the arm as seen here. It's a shame that it can't perform the same function here, but since the model was almost certainly modelled off the original toy you can hardly call it a flaw. Finally the Land Machine also includes a few extra fists for the figure – a large, better proportioned pair for general posing and an additional right fist angled downwards for a more convincing sword slash pose. Extra fists like these are hardly uncommon to Bandai model kits, but it's still pretty nice to see them included here. When not in use, the spare fists can then be store on the side of Sky Machine's display stand.

If you've been reading this blog for a while you'll know that while I love my minipla, but the Super Mini-Pla line has never completely won me over. The kits themselves are great, but the painted parts and better plastic quality hasn't felt like it completely justifies the higher-than-usual price tag. However Super Mini-Pla Live Robo is the release that's finally shattered those reservations. As if finally getting new editions of the Chojuu Sentai Liveman mecha wasn't exciting enough in itself, this is a brilliant little set that includes three wonderful models that come together in a surprisingly impressive way. Finally the accessories could have easily stopped at the sword and shield, but little touches like the display stand and alternate hands make the package all the more special. The Super Mini-Pla line already looks like it's set to do big things with the Ninja Sentai Kakuranger mecha later this year, but if Live Robo is anything to go by then more pre-Zyuranger mecha definitely wouldn't go amiss here either.

No comments: