Thursday 27 December 2018

Toybox REVIEW: Super Mini-Pla Muteki Shogun

Release Date: September 2018
RRP: 5940 yen

When Bandai kicked off the Super Mini-Pla line a few years ago one of the key things they expressed interest in was deeper exploration of the Super Sentai franchise. Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger was an obvious place to start given its iconic status globally, but where do you go from there? Well it seems Bandai aren't sticking to any set pattern, first revisiting the pre-Zyuranger years with Chojuu Sentai Liveman's Live Robo and Live Boxer and now fast-forwarding to 1994 and Ninja Sentai Kakuranger. As well as being especially popular due to their appearance in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers season 3, the Kakuranger mecha are undoubtedly some of the most popular Super Sentai has to offer. So it's no surprise really to see Bandai appease fans by dropping the whole set all at once, with Super Mini-Pla Muteki Shogun (known to Power Rangers fans as the Shogun Megazord) leading the charge as a mass release item.

As has been the case across the Super Mini-Pla line (and for the most part seems to be a growing trend across Bandai's other mini-pla lines as well), the individual Muteki Shogun boxes come packaged in a larger "case" box featuring monochrome images of the kit and its numerous components. There's an impressive amount going on it for what is quite literally the most throwaway part of the package, so would definitely be pretty eye-catching on hobby store shelves despite the obvious lack of colour. Inside the model is further broken down into five separate boxes – one for each of the Great Beast Generals.

The individual boxes inside are a lot more interesting and sure to evoke a strong sense of nostalgia in older fans, as they have all been done up to match the packaging of the original DX Muteki Shogun from 1994. The colours, layout and pictures are all identical – with the only difference being that the images this time around are of the mini-pla rather than the DX toy. It worked brilliantly for the Super Mini-Pla Daizyujin release, and works just as well here. The spines the feature further images of the model kit in both its individual and combined modes, as well as mirroring the original box even closer by printing the shape of its carry handle! Bandai have worked so hard to replicate the original packaging that they've even left the back of the box completely blank, which is something you'd pretty much never see on figure boxes these days. Inside the five boxes you'll find the runners required to build each model, instruction leaflets (as well as an additional leaflet in box one explaining the combination) and one piece of soda flavoured candy.

Each model is made up of a variety of different coloured runners, supplemented by a sticker sheet for some of the finer detailing. Unlike the cheaper mini-pla assortments the Super Mini-Pla line will provide you with a reasonably good model with no significant detail missing should you do a straight build, however the dull gold and light grey plastics can never match up to a properly painted gold and silver finish. The five Giant Beast Generals that make up Muteki Shogun also have a fairly impressive range of pre-painted parts, which stretches to each of their front torso sections as well as the individual headsculpts.

Anyone who's watched Kakuranger will know that Muteki Shogun is notable because the individual Giant Beast Generals aren't simply mecha piloted by the individuals Kakurangers - they're the Kakurangers themselves, transformed using "Giant Beast General Jutsu". The first of these five boxes contains Red Saruder, the Giant Beast General form of Ninja Red and the torso/upper legs of Muteki Shogun. This is the only one of the five Giant Beast Generals to have its own unique mould, so in some ways has the most going on for it. Despite it's giant castle legs there's an impressive amount of articulated packed into such a tiny figure, with Red Saruder sporting a ball jointed head, ball jointed shoulders, hinged elbows, rotating wrists, a waist swivel, two way hips and hinged knees. Some parts of this are mainly intended for the combined mode, but they definitely benefit the individual model as well. Also included in the box is Muteki Shogun's helmet, which like the original toy can be stored inside Red Saruder's chest cavity.

Each of the Giant Beast Generals also come with their own individual weapon, most of which are essentially larger sized versions of their respective Kakuranger's. Red Saruder's is the Saruder Slicer, a disc-like weapon moulded in red plastic with a gold sticker for the central emblem.

The second box of the set contains White Kark, the Giant Beast General form of Kakuranger leader Ninja White and the left arm of Muteki Shogun. This mini-pla version adds a considerable amount of articulation compared to the almost completely static DX toy, the most significant bit of all being the fact that the legs can now split apart. However the arm mould also drew some criticism from collectors prior to the kit's release because of the rather unsightly gap that's left between the feet part of the legs and the central section that makes up the combined mode's hand. It's still a step up from the DX toy, but doesn't fill the gap quite as well as the onscreen suit that didn't have to worry about things like functionality. Articulation-wise the model features a rotating head, two-way shoulders, hinged elbows, rotating wrists, ball jointed hips, hinged knees and then a hinged "foot" section to add even more stability. The way the legs are build means they can end up looking a bit unsightly in certain poses, but it doesn't take too long to figure them out and see what works and what doesn't.

White Kark comes armed with twin blade-like weapons known as the Kark Beaks. Unlike most of the individual weapons included in the set, the Kark Beaks aren't moulded in the user's respective colour and are made from grey plastic rather than white.

The third box switches the mould up yet again, featuring Ninja Yellow's Giant Beast General Yellow Kumard - the left leg of the combined Muteki Shogun. The leg mpuld sports a somewhat bulkier and far more complete sculpt, swapping out the arms' large shoulder sections for stompy feet. That said the level of articulation remains generally the same, with Yellow Kumard sporting a rotating head, ball jointed shoulders, hinged elbows, rotating wrists, ball jointed hips and hinged knees. The front and side sections of the skirt are also hinged, so can lift up to provide more space when moving the legs into more dynamic poses.

Yellow Kumard's weapon is the Kumard Claw, a giant claw weapon attached to a chain that can snare and entangle enemies. Like the Kark Beaks this weapon is moulded in grey plastic rather than yellow, but on top of that it also has an additional hand moulded straight into the weapon. So plugging it into the Yellow Kumard suddenly gives it an off-colour hand, but then if you were to paint it the moulded hand would be made obvious in the combined mode so it's a kind of no-win situation. As you'd probably expect the chain isn't articulated, but has a nice bit of length to it so looks rather good in the model's hands.

Box number four is Blue Logan, Ninja Blue's Giant Beast General form and the right arm of Muteki Shogun. As the second arm Blue Logan has an identical base mould as White Kark, with the only main differences being the colouring, head sculpt and emblem shape. This also means that the articulation is identical, so isn't really worth repeating again. Despite once again requiring the gold headband to be stickered or painting on Blue Logan probably has the best head sculpt of all the individual God Generals, which isn't just a cool humanoid wolf but also just generally has a nicely moulded shaping and detailing.

Blue Logan wields the Logan Shaft – a lance which stands out from the rest as it isn't simply a larger version of Ninja Blue's weapon. The Logan shaft is moulded in blue plastic, and plugs directly into the robot's hand for a comfortable fit.

Rounding off the individual boxes is Black Gammer, the Giant Beast General form of Ninja Black and the right leg of Muteki Shogun. As the second leg component, Black Gammer shares the same base mould as Yellow Kumard and so is largely identical save for the colour, head sculpt and chest emblem. Strangely the kit includes a sticker for the robot's eyes, but the head is already pre-painted so it doesn't really serve any purpose other than the make the details a little more noticeable. 

Black Gammer's weapon is the Gammer Bow, which requires both of the robot's hands to hold properly. Since the bow is a solid piece and thus can't directly plug into the model's left hand, Bandai have also included an alternate one able to grip it properly. The right hand then holds the arrow piece that's also moulded into the ensemble, plugging into the hand just as any other weapon would.

Combining the five components together is a fairly simple process, especially if you've ever handled the DX toy as the transformation is largely the same. However for newcomers there are a few steps that the instructions are frustratingly vague about. The key offender being how Red Saruder's legs flip around as it just pictures them laid horizontally - nothing about how the panels rotate and that the leg sections then essentially plug in upside down. Slightly more helpful are the steps to transform the legs, which are perhaps the most involved and intricate part of the whole conversion. Other than that it's pretty straightforward though, and even you've never handled the DX toy or seen Muteki Shogun in action before you'll get a pretty good feel for it just by building the model and seeing how all the parts fit together. The one downside to the transformation is that the leg connection requires removing Yellow Kumard and Black Gammer's heads, which either feels like it could have been avoided or at the very least had somewhere within their bodies to store the loose heads.

With the five Giant Beast Generals combined Muteki Shogun is here, and what a fantastic looking model it is. The Super Mini-Pla model takes all the best elements of the DX toy and scales them down to handheld size, right down to the 'Shinobi' kanji chest emblem presented in glorious gold chrome. The textured areas on the arms and leg add plenty of more subtle detailing to the model as well, bringing it all together into a design that just works on every level. Even though the design boils down to a very simple "torso plus four coloured limbs" formation, the greys and black sections between all the brightly coloured pieces unify it into a colour scheme that somehow feels more consistent then most Super Sentai mecha of a similar type. Finally there's the wonderful face sculpt fixed into the origami crane helmet, which unfortunately needs stickers for the black cheek detailing but still looks particularly sharp. Muteki Shogun is just an all-round great design, and when you have this figure in hand it isn't hard to see why it's considered one of Sentai's best.

Everything looks great so far, but as always the big selling point with mini-pla is just how articulated it is and how well it holds together when said articulation is but to the test. The combined Muteki Shogun sports a ball jointed head, extendable shoulder joints with additional rotation where the arms connect, hinged elbows, opening hands, a waist swivel, two-way hip joints, hinged knees (with an additional swivel at the connector) and finally ball jointed feet section. Not that it takes a whole lot of beating, but that's considerably more than the DX (which only had rotating shoulders) could ever hope to achieve. Now that isn't the say the articulation here is perfect, in fact the hips are severely limited thanks to the skirt section surrounding (though the front sections are hinged to allow movement when posing the legs forward), but it's still a whole lot more than any Muteki Shogun figure has ever achieved before. The shoulders are especially good thanks to the way they extend outwards, making those huge arms more seem more imposing than ever before. The truth is Muteki Shogun isn't the wildly articulated, mobile mecha of Kakuranger - that's the criteria I'd be expecting Kakure Daishogun to cover. Muteki Shogun is a massive hulking castle of a mecha so as long as it has enough movement to convey that without being a total brick it's all good. Muteki Shogun can certainly achieve that much, and thanks to that all-important waist joint looks good whilst doing it as well.

Of course Muteki Shogun wouldn't be complete without its signature weapon, the Flaming Shogun Sword. In terms of execution this is perhaps the crown jewel of the whole set, presented in exquisite gold chrome along with a black plastic handle to not only ensure the model can hold it properly but also prevent any chrome chipping that may have come from its grip. Thanks to the moveable finger sections newly added to the mini-pla the model properly grips the sword rather than having it simply slot in to the fist like the DX toy, allowing a far more firm hold that's perfect for more dynamic posing. It's arguably one of the best looking mecha swords in all of Super Sentai, so for Bandai not to skip out on giving it the premium treatment really adds an extra level of class to the release.

The Super Mini-Pla also retains the original DX's additional feature of combinable Beast General weapons, taking the arsenal of the mecha's five components and merging them into two new weapons for Muteki Shogun. The Logan Shaft and Kumard Claw come together to form a spear, while the Saruder Slicer, Kark Beaks and Gammer Bow combine into a suitably ridiculous looking shield. The combined weapons aren't particularly impressive and don't even compare to the elegance of the sword, but it is extremely cool that Bandai carried this feature over to the Super Mini-Pla release. It not only gives the toy some extra play value, but also gives all those pieces purpose for the combined mode as well as the individual one.

Super Mini-Pla has certainly earned its name when it comes to presentation, but when you factor in functionality and price the line starts to become a lot more mixed on overall quality. However the Super Sentai side of things definitely hit its stride earlier in the year with Live Robo, and that bar has now been raised again with Super Mini-Pla Muteki Shogun. Although it might have been a Soul of Chogokin rendition fans have been clamouring for, this version does everything important that would have done at a fraction of both size and cost. Articulated individual components, a transformation that mimics the original toy and doesn't have any outstanding pieces, improved combined articulation and finally an excellent array of pre-painted pieces. This is possibly Super Mini-Pla's best offerings yet, which not only bodes well for the accompanying Kakure Daishogun but also the Denji Sentai Megaranger releases coming at the beginning of next year.


Anonymous said...

You can store Kumard and Gammer's head in the extra space inside their own torso, around the crotch. (it will rattle a bit but at least you still can close the Kumard/Gammer back cover perfectly & it didn't disturb the legs transformation.)

Pantheron said...

I have the one released by Bluefin, in the gundam-style box, and man, this thing is gorgeous. I've only had time to put together Red Saurer but I can't wait to finish the set off. if every super mini pla going forward is as nice as this one, I'll be broke buying them all.

baratacom said...

The super sentai ones are certainly the stars of the show.

I feel that the super robot ones end up compromising way too much due to often impossible transformations, while the sentai ones have the usually accurate enough DX figures to at least guarantee a viable design.

The Megaranger mechs seem to be another hit if Japanese collector pictures are any indication.