Tuesday 2 April 2019

Toybox REVIEW: Super Mini-Pla Thunder Gridman

Release Date: November 2018
RRP: 6480 yen

With the original series celebrating its 25th anniversary last year and returning to television screens in animated form with SSSS.Gridman, tokusatsu fans are currently experiencing a Gridman revival. But while Good Smile Company are off creating new merchandise for Trigger's anime series, Bandai are also capitalising on the hype as the original Denkou Chojin Gridman line-up joins the Super Mini-Pla range. The first big name Gridman toys to be produced since the Ultra-Act releases back in 2012, the Super Mini-Pla Thunder Gridman set offers a fairly comprehensive look into Tsuburaya Productions' 1993 classic. Included in this four piece set are Gridman himself, along with the three Assist Weapon vehicles – the Thunder Jet, Twin Driller and God Tank.

As has been the case with most Bandai candy toy lines in the past few years Super Mini-Pla Thunder Gridman's outer packaging features some graphics and text to make it a little bit more fancy. It's still done out in the usual solid green colouring, but the low-res polygon patterning of the background is an excellent touch. Each side is decked out with images of the model kits contained inside along with the series name in English lettering. The longer sides also feature the actual series logo, as well as smaller images that break down each box's contents.

The four inner boxes however are considerably flashier, featuring nice big image of the standard Gridman figure on the front along with shots of both the God Zenon and Thunder Gridman combinations behind it. The colours and graphics used feel like they leapt right out of the 90s, continuing Super Mini-Pla's high standard when it comes to (what's ultimately throwaway) packaging. The back of the box shows off all the different pieces included in the set and the various combinations they can create, whilst the spine images confirm just what is inside each numbered box.

The higher price point of the Super Mini-Pla line compared to Bandai's other candy toy lines means a wider range of plastic colours, with each box featuring at least four different colour runners. As usual the line also includes a number of loose pre-painted pieces, which here include the Thunder Gridman chest piece and feet, Gridman's left forearm/Acceptor, Plasma Blade, Twin Driller drill tips and God Tank cannon ends. The set does however still require a fair amount of stickers, with a sheet provided in each box. Along with all that, you'll also find building instructions (as well as two additional sheets for the God Zenon and Thunder Gridman transformations) and one piece of bubblegum per box.

The first of the set's four boxes contains the core component of the set, the Hyper Agent himself – Gridman! This nicely scaled Gridman figure doesn't skimp on the detailing despite its size, and is a fantastic representation of the onscreen suit. There are a few sockets here and there for extra security when it comes to the combination, but overall it's an excellent looking figure and the red and white plastic really pop. One minor criticism however is that all of the silver sections are moulded in Bandai's usual dull grey colour, which is passable for the Assist Weapons but doesn't really give Gridman the shine he needs. Spray painting the parts before assembly should fix that easily, but with the face piece included so pre-painted areas you will have to do a little brushwork one way or another. The yellow and blue areas are also all stickers, but the relevant areas are all properly moulded if you'd rather paint the sections yourself.

Perhaps what makes this whole set great right from the get-go is just how much you can get out of Gridman alone. This isn't just a static piece you can throw inside a combination, it's a fully-articulated figure that's pretty amazing without the other boxes to go along with it. This figure alone features a ball joints in the head, torso, waist, hips and feet along with hinged elbows and knees, a neck tilt, rotating shoulders that can also pull forwards, rotatable wrists and even upper leg swivels. Though its construction is a lot more rudimentary and parts are more likely to pop off the ball joint if posed too crazily, it terms of ranges that’s comparable with a proper action figure. Bandai have been making some real strides with candy toy figures over on their SODO line, and it's amazing to see that incorporated into a buildable model kit here.

And if you needed any more convincing that Gridman feels like a standalone figure in his own right, he also comes with a whole bunch of accessories! His individual box includes three pairs of hands (weapon holding fists, grappling hands and "knifehand strike" hands) and the Plasma Blade, whilst the Twin Driller box also has the Plasma Shield and alternate Gridman Sword parts. To combine the two weapons into the Gridman Sword, simply change the front shield panel accordingly and clip the Plasma Sword onto the top. Although you can get a close approximation, the shield's Thunder Axe formation looks far from perfect.

The second box contains the first of Gridman's three Assist Weapon vehicles, a futuristic-styled red aircraft named the Thunder Jet. The model kit itself is interesting in that the whole back half is mostly a jet-shaped shell, with the in and undersides containing the head and torso of the Thunder Gridman combination. Despite not having any real features of its own it's an impressively chunky kit with lots of cool moving parts (required for transformation) and moulded detailing. There's a fair bit of stickering required, as some of the panels feature patterns that would be difficult to replicate by hand. That said the areas to stickers need to be placed are all very clear and for the most part moulded on, so painting is a viable alternative if you'd prefer.

Box number three contains the Twin Driller, a tank-like vehicle armed with two spinning drills at the front. This is the smallest and least complex model to build in the set, and as a result the one that probably needs the least stickers or painting as well. As far as individual features go it doesn't have a whole lot to offer outside of the drills being able to turn, and because of its size a lot of other pieces (such as Thunder Gridman's feet, the Barrier Shield/Gridman Sword parts and God Zenon's head) have been thrown into this box to bulk it up a bit.

The final box contains the last of the Assist Weapon vehicles, the fantastically named God Tank. This is a long, colourful tank with twin "God Cannons". Though the model doesn't have any free-rolling wheels underneath, the two cannons are attached via ball joints so have a full range of motion available to them. Though not quite as chunky as the Thunder Jet it definitely takes the prize for being the largest of the vehicles, and the touches of lavender and orange give it a wonderfully gaudy look that fits in perfectly with Gridman's 90s aesthetic.

The three vehicles can come together to form the "Combination Electric God" God Zenon, who appeared in the series regularly to assist Gridman after Ippei was inspired to bring the Assist Weapons together by a transforming robot toy. Even though combining robots is more of a Toei thing than Tsuburaya, the fact it was Takara behind the original Gridman toys rather than Bandai adds a lot to their quality. God Zenon is a big, blocky hulk of a combiner that definitely wouldn't look out of place among some Transformers. The robot has a really clever and satisfying transformation sequence as well, with the God Tank halves folding together to form legs and the Jet opening out to form the upper torso. The Twin Driller then neatly slots inside the Jet portion to form the rest of the body, and in a bit of absolutely inspired placement the drills become the upper legs. It's a shame that the head and fists aren't actually incorporated into the vehicles and there are a few little bits left over (such as the drill tips and Jet vents), but it's an incredibly solid looking robot. What's perhaps even more incredible is that (save for the legs) the overall colour scheme is completely different to Thunder Gridman's, with most of that combination's key parts either internalised or hanging off the back out of sight.

Since God Zenon is something of a go-between between the individual components and Thunder Gridman, you might expect Zenon’s articulation to be a bit of an afterthought so that Thunder Gridman can be as mobile as possible. However that certainly isn’t the case, and even without the ability to combine into something bigger God Zenon has a pretty impressive range of motion. The robot sports a turnable head, two-way shoulders, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrist swivels, outward moving hips, above-knee swivels, knees and hinged feet sections at both the front and back. The drills only attach into the lower leg sections via a shallow plug so the connection perhaps isn’t as secure as it could be, but overall God Zenon is able to do a lot more that I was expecting.

The fun doesn't stop with God Zenon though, as the three Assist Weapons are also able to combine with Gridman himself to form the "Combination Super God" Thunder Gridman! One of the great things about the show's practical effects was just how intricate the transformation sequence was, featuring lots of impressive (but more importantly feasible) moving parts that could be recreated by the toys themselves. Well the same can be said for the Super Mini-Pla version, which other than a few steps here and there can almost perfectly recreate the onscreen transformation sequence in the correct order. Despite the inner body being on an articulation frame the combination is incredibly smooth, with everything locking perfectly into place just as it should.

Gridman’s base design is excellent on its own, but the Thunder Gridman combination just adds a whole new level of bricky 90s goodness to the whole affair. A hulking, heavily armoured beast covered in tank parts, drills and then a huge jet backpack for good measure. The Super Mini-Pla hasn’t really taken any liberties with the original design, meaning this model kit is perfectly proportioned and fantastically detailed. Even if you don’t paint any of the kit for additional detailing the pre-painted gold chest plate and helmet “horn” bring the whole design together, and despite the wide range of colours on the combination the placement brings them all together in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Despite having all that armour loaded on top of it that wide range of articulation offered by Gridman himself bleeds through into the combination, with only a select few places truly being hindered and a few new sections to make up for it. The new head only manages a simple swivel motion but honestly that’s all it needs to get the job done, Moving downwards is the shoulders that are undoubtedly the most affected in this combination - though the arms can still manage forward, backward and outwards motion pretty easily the drill-bit shoulder pads prevent the arms from being raised particularly high. The torso joint is now completely covered by the chest plate but the waist joint still works fine, though you might need to fiddle with the backpack a little to get the full range of motion out of it. Legs and arms (below the shoulder) are pretty much unimpeded, and then the additional larger-sized feet offer excellent balance. It’s a giant armoured robot thing so flexibility was never a strong point going into the design to begin with, but like God Zenon it’s a surprisingly articulate little model kit.

Though the line got off to a rocky start with kits that were good but didn't really seem to justify their higher price point, the Super Mini-Pla line has really hit its stride with some of its latest releases. That trend doesn't look to be stopping either, as the Super Mini-Pla Thunder Gridman set is an easy competitor for their best release yet. It's fantastic that Bandai are revisiting Gridman in the line to begin with, let alone that the set offers one brilliant articulated little figure, three nicely designed Assist Weapons and on top of that two impressively detailed and articulate combinations. And while diehard Gridman fans will undoubtedly also want to pick up the Premium Bandai exclusive Dyna Dragon set, it's also a nice little catch-all set for casual buyers that give you everything you need to see what Gridman has to offer.


Anonymous said...

You seem to be doing a lot of edited backgrounds now. Are you doing this for fun or are you just experimenting with it? Either way, it looks pretty good! I'm enjoYing it.

Alex said...

It started as just playing around with it to see what the results would be like, but I’m always looking for ways to make the pictures a bit more eye catching so stuck with it! Glad you like them too :)