Friday 30 November 2018

Toybox REVIEW: Super Mini-Pla Golion (Voltron)

Release Date: August 2018
RRP: 5292 yen

When Bandai first announced their Super Mini-pla model kit line, it didn't take much for fans to start speculating which anime and tokusatsu mecha could and should be a part of it. And after finally making it's long awaited debut in the high-end Soul of Chogokin line, this was definitely the next logical stop for one of the 80s most recognisable super robots - Golion, or as he's better known around the rest of the world, Voltron.  Released in Japan under its original Beast King Golion branding, Super Mini-Pla Golion was also brought over to the West by Bluefin and marketed under the more familiar Voltron banner.

As has been the case with the Super Mini-Pla line since its inception, the larger case boxes also feature some nice artwork rather than simply being plain one-colour card like so many candy toys have. Golion's features some nice monochrome art of both the robot and its individual lion modes, along with actual images of the model itself. It's also worth noting that since the individual packages inside are arranged in a straight line, this outer box is pretty damn long. Long enough to immediately make this set illegible for SAL small parcel shipping if you're one to use that. Not necessarily a big deal for everyone, but if like me you're from a country where you're at the wrath of customs fees this is likely to be a model that gets hit by them.

But if you're looking for box art with a bit more colour and pizzazz, inside you'll find some rather attractive looking boxes - all completely identical apart from the number which denotes which is which. The front of the box features some fantastic art of Golion/Voltron in a suitably authoritative pose, which the back and spines each look at the model kit itself - both in combined mode and as the five individual lions. 

If you happen to be buying Bluefin's Voltron branded release of the kit, then the packaging is a little different. Though it features the same great artwork, the lions come packaged altogether in one big box - the kind you'd expect to see a Gundam model to come in. The box also features Voltron logos rather than the Japanese Beast King Golion ones, however it's branded as a Voltron: Legendary Defender release rather than the classic series.

Inside each box you'll find the pieces required to build each lion spread across a number of different coloured runners, along with the required sticker sheets, instruction leaflets and obligatory piece of Bandai soda-flavoured candy. As is the case with the Super Mini-Pla line, some boxes also include some pre-painted parts separate from the runners - such as the combined robot head or weapons. 

Kicking things off in the first box is the Black Lion, which makes up the head, torso and lower legs of the combined Golion/Voltron. Since the Black Lion's head is also the combined robot head, it comes mostly pre-painted and requires are less stickers to detail than the others - just the eyes and silver strip down the nose to be precise. It's a fairly straightforward build and the most unique lion in the set, but compared to the other four something definitely feels off about the proportions. Particularly the head and neck - with the former seeming far too small and and the latter too long when placed on that boxy body.

As an added bonus, each lion also comes with a selection of unique weapons - a 'mouth blade' that fits comfortably in the lion's jaw and then two others that mount onto the two front legs. The Black Lion's weapons are a twin-edged mouth blade and twin Rotary cannons. The cannons are fairly basic looking weapons (especially compared to some of the more extravagant things the other lions come with) but they do add a nice bit of heavily-armed symmetry to the model.

The second box contains the Red Lion, which makes up the right arm of Golion/Voltron. The two arms are also the smallest of the lions in the set. The first thing you'll notice about the rest of these boxes is just how many more stickers are required, most of which are on the head alone. Annoying the snout sections on each of them have been moulded in their specific colour, which means that some fairly poor white stickers are needed to make them look right. Of course even if you're really careful when applying them odds are you'll get coloured lines poking through where the stickers don't line up properly, which pretty much forces you into the paint option if you want a truly seamless look. Outside of this annoyance however the Red Lion kit is pretty good, with the articulated legs making plenty of feline poses a possibility.

The Red Lion's mouth blade is a long dagger-like weapon with a pointed blade on one end and then a curved sickle on the other. Its right shoulder weapon is the rather fitting (for its colour anyway) Lava Cannon, while on the left shoulder it wields a Plasma Flash Cannon.

The Green Lion is contained in box number three, which as the left arm features a similar structure to the Red Lion. There are however some key differences though, such as the cylindrical body torso sections for example. These differences don't mean that the Green Lion doesn't suffer from exactly the same flaws as the Red Lion though, so be prepared for another round of tiny stickers or extensive paintwork to make that head look any good.

The Green Lion's mouth blade is a three-pointed weapon, which when wielded leads to blades protruding from both the front and sides of the lion's mouth. On the shoulders in mounts a basic Laser Cannon, as well as a "Shooting Star" blade weapon/projectile.

Onto box four and the Blue Lion, which forms the right leg of the combined form. Size-wise its a considerable step up from the two arm lions, with the finished model being more along the lines of the Black Lion in terms of height and length. Of course the added size doesn't change the fact that the head suffers from the same stickering problems as the previous two lions, in fact given that there's more white on the Blue Lion its actually worse. But on the flip side, this lion also features an articulated tail! 

The Blue Lion's mouth weapon is of a similar design to the Green Lion's, but with a chunkier blade in the centre and added points at each end for even more edge. On its shoulders the Blue Lion wields a basic shoulder cannon, as well as a far more excitingly named Triple Barrel Mortar Cannon.

Finishing the boxes up is the Yellow Lion, which uses a similar build to the Blue Lion but with a few key differences. The obvious one is of course the cannon jutting out of the top of the body, but like the other lions the head also has its own unique shape. Unfortunately its another head that requires a fair bit of stickering, and the white snout stickers are just as annoying to apply the fourth time around as they were the first.

Last but by no means least, the Yellow Lion's mouth blade is another dagger like weapon with a two-sided blade which curve to meet at a point in the centre. In addition to that, it also attacks using two rather wonderfully named weapons - a Radial Shotgun Shoulder Blaster, and a Dual Shoulder Blockbuster Turret.

Despite their individual faults the five lions do look pretty fantastic together, especially with the size and build differences between them. Even if you aren't all that familiar with Golion or Voltron the five lions are pretty iconic in their own right - especially since the franchise has been thrust back into the limelight with Voltron: Legendary Defender. 

Then we come to the transformation, and this is where this model's flaws begin to properly show themselves. In the pursuit of being as anime accurate as possible, Bandai have included alternate heads for each of the four lion limbs - all of which are much bigger and so naturally look far better when used as hands and feet. This is slightly annoying for two reasons. The first is that the four larger heads have completely different builds to the standard heads, ones that require far fewer stickers (or alternatively, less paint) to look good. This begs the question of why Bandai couldn't have just used exactly the same parts separation for the smaller ones? It really sticks out that one set of heads is significantly better than the other, and seems to suggest that Bandai would much rather buyers display it in combined mode rather than individually.

The second reason doesn't just relate to the additional lion heads, but a far wider problem - just how many leftover parts there are in this transformation. Not only does combining the lions require changing the heads over, but also completely removing the legs from each limb lion (as well as the tail on the Red and Green Lions) AND pulling off the lower sections of the Black Lion's front legs. As you can see from the pile of parts pictured above, the amount you have leftover at the end of it is pretty ridiculous. Anime accuracy is great and all and to be fair that's something this model kit really excels at, but having a box full of parts you can't do anything with at the end of it is a pretty big knock against the finished product. 

it's when the five lions are combined together that this set truly begins to show off a bit. Having to pull off so many parts in order to transform it may be annoying, but you certainly can't deny the results. This is about as about as anime accurate as a Golion/Voltron model kit can get, as evident by the abundance of white there is on it. Most toys (even the mighty Soul of Chogokin release) would rather go for a silver or grey finish on the lion legs and parts that make up the combined limb sections, so having something that opts for the screen accurate white is actually quite a nice change of pace. There's also something just so unequivocally satisfying about this design. It's about as basic a robot combination as you can get, but the lion designs and colours just work so well together that it's undoubtedly one of the most effective "four limbs plus central component" designs out there. Clean, colourful and immediately memorable, there's a reason why Golion struck a chord all over the world when it was adapted into Voltron and this model kit does a great job of showing it off.

And if there's one area the Super Mini-Pla releases rarely seem to let buyers down in, it's articulation. Golion/Voltron sports a ball jointed neck, extendable side torso sections with horizontal motion, double hinged shoulders and elbows, bicep, hand and torso swivels, two-way hips, upper thigh swivels, double hinged knees (one hinge in the upper leg, and another in the bottom lower leg component), ankle rockers and rotatable lion head "feet". That's a pretty impressive array of articulation right there, and as a result the model is capable of some pretty fantastic poses. The legs are perhaps the most impressive feat in all of this, because while all of the other limbs fit together through standard model kit plugs the upper legs (the ones attached to the torso/Black Lion) simply lock into place. 

Golion/Voltron can also be armed with its iconic Blazing Sword and Spinning Laser Blade weapons, which come packaged with the Red and Green Lions respectively. As pre-painted pieces both look especially good here, with the silver paint on both really standing out against Voltron's colour palette. Each weapon also plugs firmly in a hidden port just under the top of the "hand" lion's mouth, so if the force of the jaw isn't enough to hold it that'll definitely work to keep it in place. A good Golion/Voltron toy can always be judged by the quality of its sword, and while the kit may fall short in other areas this is definitely one it doesn't.

And what about all those additional lion weapons? Well as an added bonus, all 15 of these pieces (five mouth blades and ten shoulder mounted weapons) can combine to form an additional armament for the combined robot - the Mega Blaster. It's the big kind of dumb weapon that doesn't seem all that great in practice since it's quite cumbersome, but you can't help but love just because of how ridiculous it is. The lion weapons were something that Bandai could have very easily omitted from this release and no one would have batted an eyelid, but the fact they not only included them but also had them combine in way that doesn't simply feel like a jumbled mess (though it walks that line very boldly) is definitely worthy of praise. It won't ever replace the Blazing Sword or Spinning Laser Blade since it's nowhere near as elegant or iconic, but gimmicks like these that can really make a mediocre model kit memorable.

Super Mini-Pla Golion/Voltron is a great looking kit and really pushes the anime accuracy of the Super Mini-Pla line to a new level, but somehow it still leaves a lot to be desired. Between the unnecessary amount of stickering or painting needed to make the standard lion heads look any good (especially in the wake of the scaled limb heads having a far more preferable build) and the sheer amount of parts swapping/removing required for the combination, this model kit doesn't feel quite as "super" as it should do. Even nice touches like the combinable lion weapons aren't enough to overlook it. If this was a design that toy companies barely touched then it might be a little easier to swallow, but Voltron is a franchise where toys aren't in short supply - especially in recent years. If you're looking for one specifically in this scale that works with the rest of the line then it's a fairly good choice, but if its simply a good Golion/Voltron there are probably better options out there at a variety of different price points.

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