Thursday 18 July 2019

Toybox REVIEW: Super Mini-Pla Dyna Dragon & Gridman Sigma

Release Date: February 2019 
RRP: 6480 yen (Gridman Sigma & Dyna Dragon), 4860 yen (Dyna Dragon only)

The Bandai Super Mini-Pla line has shown itself to be fairly comprehensive in its series coverage thus far, so even though the Denkou Chojin Gridman range only received one retail wave there was no way they were going to stop there. But not only did Bandai offer the fans to pick up Super Mini-Pla Dyna Dragon through their Premium Bandai web store, but also went the extra mile to show just how extensive the line can be. In addition to a single release, Dyna Dragon was also released as part of a two-pack alongside Gridman Sigma - the proposed successor to the original Hyper Agent. As well as including the King Jet and Dyna Fighter/Dragonic Cannon Assist Weapons, this set also includes all the necessary parts to form the mighty King Gridman combination.

The Super Mini-Pla line has done some incredible work with its packaging, most of which (especially on the tokusatsu side of things) mirrors the original box art of the DX toys. However the Dyna Dragon and Gridman Sigma set is possibly the best it's put out so far, featuring some gorgeous artwork of Sigma and the King Gridman combination by Hirota Shibataguchi and Hitoshi Takeda. It's  very evocative of Studio Trigger's Gridman Sigma artwork and also fits perfectly with the SSSS.Gridman art style. The rest of the box uses a similar background pattern to the previous Super Mini-Pla Gridman releases, with the back featuring a comprehensive breakdown of all the different components included in the box and their various transformations. Being a Premium Bandai exclusive, all of the components are included in a single box rather than a number of different ones like the retail releases.  

Contents-wise inside you'll find an array of various coloured runners (including blue, black, red, "silver" and translucent orange) as well as a few bags of loose and pre-painted parts. As was the case with the Thunder Gridman set, I personally find the grey/silver colouring a little too cheap looking and spraying those parts silver really elevates the look of the kit, but your mileage will vary on how much effort you want to put into the build process. Since it's all in one box the runners aren't completely separated into what parts make what, but generally the pieces for each component are bunched together. Also included are three instruction leaflets (two for building and one for combining), a sticker sheet and a single piece of Bandai bubblegum. Just in case you had forgotten this is technically a candy toy.

Back in 1994 a sequel to the original Gridman was proposed starring reformed adversary Takeshi Todo in the lead role, bonding with Gridman's younger brother Sigma to battle against Neo Khan Digifer. Though Gridman Sigma appeared in the Televi-Kun photo novel The Demon King's Counterattack, the project was eventually shelved and Sigma wouldn't appear onscreen until the 2015 animated short boys invent great hero by Studio Trigger. But now here he is in model kit form, a remould of the original Super Mini-Pla Gridman figure with a new colour scheme, head sculpt and Acceptor piece (now on the right arm rather than the left). The new head sculpt also has extended ear pieces which further set it apart from the original design.

Even before you get into the armour gimmick Gridman Sigma has plenty to offer as an individual figure, and if the character wasn't so niche this perhaps could have been an easy sell as part of a bigger candy toy wave. Altogether the figure features ball joints in its head, torso, waist, hips and ankles along with butterfly shoulders, hinged elbows and knees, bicep and thigh swivels, rotating wrists and even a lower neck tilt. That's a fair bit of articulation packed into a small figure, and even though the basic model kit build can lead to pieces popping off every now and again the overall range of motion is excellent. It's almost a shame that displaying Thunder or King Gridman require these figures as a central component, because it'd be nice to have an extra just to also show off how good these little figures are.

Gridman Sigma comes with three swappable pairs of hands (weapon holding, grappling and knifehand strike) but sadly no weapons to call his own. Of course being a remould he's perfectly capable of wielding the original Gridman's Plasma Blade and Shield, which can also be combined into the Gridman Sword. It's a shame that Bandai didn't think to include a second set of parts here so they wouldn't have to share, but since this set also provides a second handheld weapon for either Gridman Bandai probably didn't feel it necessary.

The second part of the set is the Dyna Fighter, a sleek airborne support vehicle with a very obvious dragon head at the front. In-show this is technically the second form of this vehicle, but since the instructions eventually lead to this as the finished product that's what we're tackling first. Other than a moving jaw and some folding wing parts there isn't a whole lot to say about this vehicle, but it’s a nicely sized piece that’s on a similar scale to Thunder Gridman's Assist Weapon vehicles.

The Dyna Fighter can also transform into the Dragonic Cannon, a giant bazooka weapon that can be used by either of the Gridman. Transforming it into this mode simply requires removing the translucent orange panel, folding down the wings at the front and stabilisers at the back, tucking the back wings in, lifting up the top of the dragon head to reveal the barrel hidden inside (as well as folding out the middle crest) and pulling down the handle at the bottom. It's a heavy, powerhouse of a weapon that looks fantastic in the hands of either Gridman and makes a nice foil to the simplicity of the Plasma Sword/Shield.

The third and final component of this set is the King Jet, a giant aircraft that as well as offering further support serves as both the body of Dyna Dragon and the King Gridman armour. But in this form it's essentially just a giant jet, limited in playability but sporting plenty of colour and detail. Not only is it the largest component of this set, but it's also by far the largest assist vehicle in the Gridman arsenal. As far as features go it has moving wings and that's really about it, but it's huge hunk of plastic that’s not only fun to build but has plenty of display presence before moving into its transforming and combining capabilities.

The King Jet and Dyna Fighter can also combine into the Dragon Fortress, which as far as combinations go is incredibly underwhelming save for keeping the two components in one place outside of the Dyna Dragon mode. With the Dyna Fighter docked underneath the King Jet it's almost impossible to see unless viewed from certain angles, and the stabilisers poking out at the back get so lost in the detail of the larger jet that you barely notice they're there anyway. Overall a very forgettable combination, but the fact the model kit can pull it off at the very least makes it accurate.

More importantly the Dyna Fighter and King Jet can also combine to form the titanic Dyna Dragon - a hulking mecha that's more Tyrannosaurus in shape than it is dragon (in-show it is indeed inspired by a Tyrannosaurus skeleton). The transformation does require a bit of parts-swapping but it's a relatively simple and satisfying process, with the Dyna Fighter nicely slotting into middle of the lower body frame to form the torso, head and tail. Everything clicks together firmly, and the end result is a suitably sturdy model that lives up to its dragon name. As far as Assist Weapons go it's also a nice departure from God Zenon, made up of fewer and larger parts as well as offering a more cohesive colour scheme. The two also look great together, further emphasising just how difficult it is to pick just how you want to display these model kits when you only have one each of them.

Dyna Dragon does have a fair bit of articulation built into that wide frame, but due to the way it's all laid out it sadly isn't capable of anything particularly extravagant. In total it features a moving head and jaw, adjustable guns, ball jointed shoulders (housed within the shoulder pad sections), hinged elbows and claws, rotating hips, hinged elbows, ball jointed feet and a hinged tail. A decent range for sure, but most of it is limited to forward/backward motion and next to no outwards motion. Then again, given the bulk of the actual suit Dyna Dragon wasn't all that mobile in the show either. Besides, how much movement does a giant robot dragon need to look badass? When it comes to robots that have to sustain various modes and combinations there's always one element that has to suffer, but Dyna Dragon's size and shelf presence works well to offset it's mobility limitations.

One of the coolest things about the Thunder Gridman set was how it could almost perfectly recreate the form's onscreen transformation sequence, with next to no leftover parts at the end of it. Unfortunately it's very much the opposite with King Gridman, and not just because the armour only uses parts from the King Jet. This combination also requires alternate inner leg frames, additional shoulder pieces and a replacement crotch guard section - as well as removing other small joint parts that hold the pieces together in jet mode. It isn't just disappointing to see so many extra parts left over, the fiddliness of taking the pieces apart and reassembling them really kill the enjoyment of switching the kit repeatedly between modes. With Thunder Gridman you only needed to transform the kit once to get a good sense of how everything pieced together without needing to look at the instructions again, but here it's a bit of an exercise in remembering which parts go where.

But with that said, King Gridman itself looks incredible. This combination has the same imposing bulk as Thunder Gridman, but with a much cleaner silhouette and cohesive colour scheme. Though you can obviously use the standard Gridman figure as the central component rather than Gridman Sigma, Sigma's blue colourscheme breaks up the red and silver of the armour really nicely for a truly impressive looking robot mode. This is classic 90s super robot aesthetic at its very finest, where the design isn't covered in unnecessary detail but every bit it has contributes to the overall look.

However moving on to articulation things begin to get a little fiddly again. In terms of overall movement King Gridman's articulation is largely the same to that of Thunder's - the shoulders, arms waist, hips, thighs and knees of Gridman Sigma are still exposed and so work as intended, and then on top of that you also have the rotating head, rotating hinged shoulder pads, rotating fists and ball jointed feet added by the armour. For the most part it works pretty much the same, however the arms are seriously impacted by the shoulder pads - to the point where any decent articulation above the elbow is near impossible. The hollow shoulders can rotate to provide a little more space to work with, but it's minimal at best and any serious attempt at upper arm posing using just results in the whole arm section popping off. King Gridman looks imposing enough to pull off some good poses even without that upper arm motion, but it pretty frustrating that despite all the replacement parts this combination uses it struggles so much with such a basic articulation point.

With the Dragonic Cannon completely left out of the King Gridman combination, one would hope that at the very least the kit could wield it in battle like the original DX toy. However while the cannon's handle can indeed fit into the combined mode's fists, the inability to raise the arms properly thanks to the shoulder pads means actually putting it in a battle pose is near impossible. You can just about get around it with some careful (and likely frustrating) fiddling, but it won't be perfect by any stretch. The fact the kit can't perform this simple task is far more frustrating to me than the overall lack of shoulder articulation, as it either leaves King Gridman stuck in a fairly underwhelming weapon pose or with an ridiculous amount of spare parts lying in the box.

Thunder Gridman is quite possibly my favourite release in the line thus far so I was hopeful that the Super Mini-Pla Dyna Dragon & Gridman Sigma set would be able to live up to those lofty expectations. But while the kit is still great overall, its overabundance of replacement and leftover parts mean it doesn't shine in the same way its predecessor did. Similarly the striking silhouette of King Gridman really is a sight to behold, but the limited posing options and inability to properly wield the Dragonic Cannon are a bit of a letdown. However that said, the Gridman Sigma figure is a fantastic inclusion and it's amazing to finally see that design get proper representation in toy form. King Gridman is a solid, if flawed entry to the Gridman mini-pla range and certainly worth tracking down if you're interested.

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