Saturday 14 September 2019

Toybox REVIEW: Power Rangers Lightning Collection Dragon Shield Black Ranger

Release Date: September 2019
RRP: $19.99/£19.99

The Power Rangers Lightning Collection being comparable to other Hasbro toylines like Marvel Legends or the Star Wars Black Series doesn’t just relate to the quality of the figures themselves, but also the release strategies they’ll have. On top of the mainline figures and the odd convention exclusive here and there, specific store exclusives are another big avenue for figures and Hasbro have wasted no time bringing Power Rangers into that fold. The Lightning Collection Dragon Shield Black Ranger is the first of what will likely be many figures exclusive to Walgreens in the US (international distribution will be far more varied). Appearing in An Oyster Stew (the final episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers season one), Black Ranger Zack Taylor takes this form after Green Ranger Tommy Oliver transfers over his waning powers so that Zack can break the spell of the Oysterizer. The form is also notable for being completely exclusive to Power Rangers, and does not appear in its Super Sentai equivalent Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger.

Now that some of the store exclusive Lightning Collection figures have started to arrive at retailers, we can see that Hasbro have made a very slight change to the boxes to make them stand out against the main line releases. The Dragon Shield Black Ranger has the same rectangular box featuring Tom Whalen’s distinct artwork, however the background/main colour of the box is the primary colour of the character in question rather than the standard white. This creates a box that fits comfortably among the rest of the Lightning Collection, but stand out enough to show that these are somewhat special releases. Whalen’s artwork continues across the two spines, while the back features a nice big promotional image of the figure in an appropriate action pose. Inside the figure and accessories are stored on a single moulded plastic tray, laying against a rather fetching white and orange lightning bolt backing card.

There’s no doubt that a lot of what makes the Green Ranger design work so well is the Dragon Shield. The added bulk it adds to chest really sets him apart from the five other rangers, and its success can be measured by the fact chest shields would also be implemented on future sixth ranger suits. It’s simple yet striking enough to look good on any colour ranger, but the combination of gold and black definitely makes the Black Ranger one of, it not the best of them all. The colours just go spectacularly together, so it’s no wonder that if only one other Ranger was to temporarily get the powers on the show it was Zack. The sculpting is largely identical to that of the Dragon Shield Red Ranger and Fighting Spirit Green Ranger figures, only naturally in black and omitting the Dragon Dagger holster on the belt. However the silver morpher technically makes it more screen accurate than the Red Ranger, as Zack’s didn’t change to gold when he received the powers. As is the nature of mass retail toys the paint job can wildly vary figure to figure, but on my copy at least it’s generally sharp and well applied. The chest diamonds are painted underneath the shield, which is an appreciated touch as the shield itself is removable. You do however need to remove the head and at least one arm to do so though. The gold armbands are not removable though, so even if you did take the shield off you wouldn’t suddenly have an accurate standard Black Ranger figure.

Then to cap it all off you have the helmet, which is a pretty damn great representation of the onscreen version. Whereas some Lightning Collection figures have slightly missed the mark when it comes to helmets, the Black Ranger doesn’t have any of those problems. All the detail is there, the paint is sharp and the outlining isn’t too pronounced that it breaks the look of the whole thing.

The Mighty Morphin Black Ranger body is completely identical to that of the Red Ranger other than colour or helmet, so that of course means the articulation is the same as that of the Dragon Shield Red Ranger figure. It features swivel hinge shoulders, neck, hips, wrists and ankles along with double hinged elbows and knees, a ball and socket head and upper torso, a single hinge torso, butterfly hinge pecs and swivel cuts for the biceps, thighs and boots. Those butterfly shoulders may be obscured enough by the shield to easily forget that they’re even there, but the added movement they give to the arms does not go unnoticed. Some of the joints might feel a little stiff at first (this naturally varies figure to figure) but after a bit of working all work as they should and, more importantly, hold a pose properly. The ankle tilt is especially useful for maintaining balance when trying to pull off more action-heavy poses.

The figure comes packaged with four swappable hands (a pair of weapon holding hands, a closed right fist and a karate chop left hand), a Blade Blaster in gun mode, the Black Ranger’s signature Power Axe, an alternate helmetless head sculpt and a translucent blue energy blast effect part. While the Blade Blaster can fit comfortably into the figure’s holster without any problems, it unfortunately isn’t show-accurate as the sidearm was always stored in its dagger mode. This is something collectors should prepare to expect from all future Mighty Morphin releases, as wave 2’s Pink Ranger also only features the gun mode. The only figure to include the dagger mode so far is Dragon Shield Red, and as a convention exclusive that should be treated as an exception rather than the norm. A shame, but given that the weapon is mainly remember for the gun mode it’s by far the best place for Hasbro to omit something in place of better things.

The Power Axe is identical to the one previously included as part of the Power Blaster with the Dragon Shield Red Ranger figure, which means it can switch between both Axe and Gun modes simply by sliding the separated piece of the axe up or down the hilt accordingly. As I said previously in my Red Ranger review, interactive features like this that allow the weapon to be a single piece are fantastic - and especially impressive when even Bandai Tamashii Nations chose to omit it. Unfortunately the grip on the weapon holding hands is far too closed to hold the gun handle, let alone the axe handle/barrel, straight out of the box so some prying open is required first. Thankfully the hands are durable enough to be stretched without breakage, and once done they’ll stay opened for the weapons to fit in snugly. The blast effect part is a brand new piece to the Lightning Collection, moulded in dark blue and featuring a large energy ball narrowing out it in a finer blast. With the peg moulded to specifically fit the Power Axe, this is only going to work with other figures’ whose weapons have the same sized barrel.

The alternate Zack Taylor head depicts the original Black Ranger with an appropriately cocky smirking expression. It’s been said that the expressions on the Lightning Collection figures perhaps tread into uncanny valley territory with the head sculpt expressions, and Zack’s definitely sits as a prime example of that. Regardless it’s nice to get a wide range of expressions with the heads rather than constantly repeating the same stoic expression with each and every release. The likeness to actor Walter Jones isn’t perfect, but it’s at the very least close enough to immediately know who you’re looking at. That seems like a pretty solid success for a $20 price point figure where the human head is an accessory rather than the primary head.

That just leaves the question of which accessories could potentially be different on the inevitable standard Mighty Morphin Black Ranger release? Personally I don’t think there will be any change, but there are a few possibilities. The hands are universal among a lot of the Ranger figures so the karate chop hand could easily be replaced with something different. A new effect part is another option, however as this one has seen limited use so far and works so well with the Axe (as in turn the combined Power Blaster) a recolour seems more likely if there is a change. The head being swapped out for a more neutral expression also seems a likely candidate. But until Hasbro confirm anything this is all just speculation, so it’ll be interesting to see if there ends up being anything other than the Dragon Shield which makes this figure unique.

In many respects the Lightning Collection Dragon Shield Black Ranger is the perfect store exclusive. It’s a special version of a beloved character, but being based on a one-off appearance its the kind of thing non-completists could happily skip in favour of the inevitable standard edition. Though not as iconic as the Dragon Shield Red Ranger, the Black Ranger proves an equally strong figure not only thanks to its more striking colour scheme but also the absence of any minor inaccuracies. Between this and the Fighting Spirit Green Ranger Hasbro are already showing off an interest in one-off variants, so fingers crossed we’ll also see a Defender Vest version of Mighty Morphin Black somewhere down the line. This release might not be for everyone, but pick it up and you will not be disappointed.

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