Thursday 5 September 2019

Toybox REVIEW: DX Full Power Gridman

Release Date: May 2019, July 2019 (reissue)
RRP: 15,278 yen

When the SSSS.Gridman anime was first announced, one of the biggest questions for collectors was just who would be handling the toys. Whilst the Denkou Chojin Gridman toys were produced by TakaraTomy, Bandai’s domination of the tokusatsu market (as well as their more recent releases in the Ultra-Act and Super Mini-Pla lines) made them feel like a certainty. However while Bandai and Megahouse have both developed their own version of the titular character, studio Trigger’s links with Good Smile Company undoubtedly had a hand in them arguably leading the way when it came to SSSS.Gridman toys. But on top of their various Figma, Nendoroid and scale statue releases, the crown jewel in their offerings is the DX Full Power Gridman – a fully transformable and combinable set that includes both Gridman and his four Assist Weapons.

If there was a prize for the best packaging of the year, then this set would be a series contender for that title. Even before getting to the box itself the first run of Full Power Gridman is wrapped in a gorgeous slipcase cover featuring art from the legendary Masami Ōbari, an anime director famed for his mecha work. Obari’s influence was directly referenced in SSSS.Gridman, so having him provide art for the toy packaging is a really nice way of bringing things full circle. With so much attention paid to the front it’s no wonder that the back of the slipcase is a lot more basic, simply featuring stock images of all the different components and combinations along with the SSSS.Gridman logo.

The two-part box itself however has far more nostalgic packaging, done up in the style of a 90s DX mecha box complete with some absolutely gorgeous shots of the Full Power Gridman toy and its various components. No bit of space is wasted on the top lid, and if someone didn’t know better visually this could easily pass for a classic release from 20 or so years ago. The spines dial it back a bit for something a little more simple and elegant, showing off all the components on one side and then each of their individual combinations with the core Gridman figure on the other. The back/underside then takes it back to that glorious 90s cyberspace aesthetic, featuring a gorgeously laid out shot of Gridman about to combine in the centre with smaller, boxed off images of both the components and smaller combinations circled around it. But as beautiful as this packaging is the best part is of course opening it, and inside you’ll find all the included parts spread across a moulded plastic tray. You may also notice that the tray has also has a few empty spaces for additional pieces, which will make more sense further down in the review.

Underneath the tray are also a number of other individually bagged items. These include a thick black display base with four different connecting stand pieces (including an articulated arm like the ones included with Figma), red and yellow model kit runners housing additional parts, a comprehensive sticker sheet and detailed instruction booklet with a guide to all of the parts and their various features and transformations.

The core Gridman figure stands at around 5.5” inches tall, making it slightly taller (and leaner) than the Super Mini-Pla figures but shorter than the Ultra-Act Gridman figure or any other comparable S.H. Figuarts or 6” figure. Some might be disappointed by the size and it might have been better had it been properly documented prior to release, but that’s about what I expected really. When it comes to the overall sculpt of the figure credit where it’s due, Good Smile have really done a great job. This Gridman is a pretty detailed design, and every bit of it has been sculpted in and painted with the correct colours. It really is a great looking figure…from the front anyway. Turn it around and it’s revealed that the back is covered in all manner of ghastly holes – which despite serving a purpose for combinations are just unpleasant to look at. It’s 2019 and toy engineering has moved well beyond this, it looks like a figure that’s jumped straight out of the 90s. Adding to this is the hard, glossy plastic they’ve used for the figure which can feels reminiscent of a toy from 25 or so years ago. I don’t want to understate how well polished this thing looks, because the sculpting, colours and paint applications really are all spot on. But strip that that away and what you have underneath is a surprisingly basic figure which is by no means reflective of Good Smile’s usual standards.

For articulation Gridman sports a ball jointed head, rotating shoulder pylons, swivel hinge shoulders, hinged elbows, lower arm and wrist swivels, ball jointed hips, thigh swivels and hinged knees and feet. Not a bad array of joints by any means, but sadly many of them suffer from significant problems that bring the whole figure down. Smaller issues include minimal up/down motion in the head (effectively making it feel like a swivel rather than a ball joint), stiff shoulders and knees that can only manage around a 90 degree bend. Far more significant ones however are the fact the elbows can barely manage a 45 degree bend, the baffling choice of a hinge joint for the feet (which due to the lack of sideward motion affects balance and just overall neatness when posing) and the omission of any sort of waist joint whatsoever. This not just has a major impact on Gridman himself, but every single one of the additional combinations. The Super Mini-Pla Gridman and Gridman Sigma figures have more articulation than this, and for a high-end release like this that’s pretty embarrassing. Maybe GSC just didn’t feel the need for a super articulated Gridman when the Figma is coming out to fill that niche? The articulated display stand and some fancy effect parts help it may look better than it actually, but on his own Gridman leaves a bit to be desired.

The first of Gridman’s Assist Weapons to appear is Gridman Calibur, a giant sword whose human “Neon Genesis Junior High Students” persona goes by the name of Samurai Calibur. True to its title of “Electrifying Great Sword”, the Gridman Calibur is golden coloured and longer than the core Gridman figure is tall. The hilt is moulded in solid black, while the blade section also has a metallic green gem which flashes in the show when he’s talking. Though the sword may be one solid piece, its individual mode also a separate axe-like section which fits at the top of the hilt. Connecting this part involves sliding the blade through the middle and pulling it down into place, which isn’t difficult but could potentially lead to the gold paint getting scratched over time. Overall it’s a pretty basic but effective looking weapon, and its lack of visible stickers means it’s one of the few pieces that looks great straight out the box.

The sword pegs directly into either of Gridman’s open hands, connecting at one of four peg holes moulded into the hilt. However the connection is nowhere near as tight as it needs to be for a sword this size, and so if poses aren’t hampered by Gridman’s very basic articulation then they are the sword simply falling out of place at a moment’s notice. With some very patient fiddling Gridman is able to hold Calibur two-handed in a fairly dynamic pose, but the lack of a waist joint makes it difficult to wrap both hands around the sword and have them both peg in comfortably. So like Gridman himself what you have to work with is limited, but thankfully a robotic hero wielding a giant sword is the kind of thing that sells itself.

The second of the Assist Weapons is the first of the three vehicles included in this set – the rather appropriately named armed transport vehicle Battle Tracto Max. This is a reasonably sized grey and red vehicle with twin silver cannons mounted at the back, and a small cockpit area at the front. Though the outside of the vehicle features a fair few paint applications on the top and side this is the buyer’s first proper dive into some of the excessive sticker work this set has. The most notable two being the inside shoulder panels between the two segments of the tank which reveal themselves upon combining with Gridman. If you simply looked at the prototype or stock images of this set you’d assume they were paint apps, or at the very least pre-applied decals. Even more ridiculous though are the tiny green scope stickers located just above each gun, which are incredibly fiddly to get into their designated spots. As if simply getting all these stickers perfectly in place wasn’t stressful enough, the overall quality feels pretty flimsy overall so it’s hard to imagine any of them surviving one little mistake. While the two parts of the vehicle loosely connect, they’re properly secured by the helmet piece pegged on at either side on the back. It does the job, but the pegs are so tiny they could very easily break if not handled carefully.

Feature-wise Battle Tracto Max has ten free-rolling wheels, and the cannons themselves can both raise a full 180 degrees and rotate 360. Well, they’re capable of the latter but can’t actually do it because eventually they’ll just crash into each other. That might not sound like a whole lot, but it’s pretty much all the vehicle needs to be able to pull off on its own.

The first of Gridman’s individual Assist Weapon combinations to appear in the series is MAX GRIDMAN, with Battle Tracto Max splitting in half to form huge, gorilla-like arms. Gridman also gains a black, American Football-like helmet that connects directly to each arm via small yellow tubes. These tubes are what were included on the yellow model kit runner in the box, coming in three different pairs in varying sizes. Not only are they of fairly poor quality, but the ends aren’t even suitably shaped to fit into their designated holes. Just another instance of this set not living up to its price tag. This is however still easily the best looking smaller combo in the entire set, and really gives the core Gridman that extra boost of shelf presence.

Max Gridman’s giant fists have a hinge at the knuckle that allows them to open somewhat, but the fingers are moulded as one piece so even when opened they still just look like fists. Luckily Good Smile have also included a second, more articulated hand option for this combination. Those red model kit runners in the box can be built into a pair of extremely articulated hands, complete with the anatomically-correct two hinge joints on each finger and one on the thumb, as well as ball joint connections to the palm. The downside is that naturally you have to build the hands yourself, which is a pretty lazy move for an expensive set like this. Regardless of how easy they are to put together, this is the kind of thing that really should be assembled in-package – especially since Good Smile even went as far as to include moulded spaces for them on the tray once built. Aesthetically they add a lot both to the design and posing possibilities, but it’s yet another example of unnecessary and unadvertised “features” of this overall set.

The only real change with Max Gridman’s articulation are his new beefy arms, which have their own built-in elbows that can have even less of a bend than Gridman’s standard ones. Pretty disappointing, but combined with the full range of shoulder movement the figure has you can get enough to raise the arms straight up as if he were giving enemies a rather severe uppercut. By lifting the hinged truck piece on either side of the hand you can also get a little wrist motion, but it also requires pulling the hand a little way out of the socket first and even then it’s very minimal. While doing all of this those yellow pipes will almost certainly fall out a few times, not because they aren’t long enough but because their connection points on the helmet are abysmal. Still, if more bendable plastic was used for the tubes it would certainly make things easier to manage – both here and with later combos.

The second of the Assist Weapon vehicles is the twin drill tank Buster Borr, the spiritual successor original Gridman’s assist vehicle Twin Driller. Buster Borr’s human guise simply goes by the name Borr. On the surface this seems like a fairly standard vehicle with a vibrant yellow body, twin silver drills, some nicely sculpted tank treads and minimal sticker detailing. But the inside of those drills harbour a dark secret. The drills are each split into four segments, opening up to reveal cannons for use as part of the Gridman combination. But not only are these drill pieces cheap-feeling and difficult to open, but also require a grand total of 24 metallic blue stickers! These run down each segment of the drills, obviously getting smaller and fiddler the closer you get to the tips. Being applied to curved surfaces also makes the process of putting them on all the more cumbersome. Even if these weren’t painted on (and they absolutely should be for this price), eight stickers that encompass each drill wedge would have been far more preferable. It just makes the whole set feel like a chore straight out of the box, and instead of getting to immediately enjoy the thing you have to sit there labelling up a toy you’ve already spent around 15,000 yen on.

Other than the free-rolling wheels moulded under those static tank treads Buster Borr doesn’t have any real features to speak of in vehicle mode. The drills can turn, but that’s more due to the way they plug onto the vehicle body. Said connection is so tight too that it takes some force to move them, so it’s not a case of having fast-spinning pieces that simulate the movement of an actual drill. But since all that atrocious sticker work isn’t on show in vehicle mode, one could argue that it at least looks good even if it doesn’t do very much. It’s a pretty unique looking vehicle at the very least.

Gridman combines with Buster Borr to form BUSTER GRIDMAN, adding a sizeable chest plate along with tank tread side guards and twin drills that float just above Gridman’s head. Connecting it also requires adding an additional grey clip which wraps around Gridman’s body for extra support. Seems odd that is isn’t just implemented into the vehicle to begin with but it’s better than not having it at all. It’s a pretty odd looking combo, but unlike the others has a second mode to offer! Buster Gridman’s attack mode sees the tank treads swing around to the front to become huge missile launchers (complete with opening compartments), while the drills also open up to reveal Twin Buster Grid Beams. If you want to see a combo that’s armed to the teeth, just check out its debut in episode five.

The Buster Borr parts are completely unobtrusive on Gridman’s articulation so nothing has changed there from the base figure, though the treads hanging at either sides can get in the way of the arms a little. The drills themselves can also rotate, allowing them to point in different directions. Transform Buster Gridman into attack mode though and then the issues start to crop up. Opening the drills of course reveals that mountain of stickers that struggle to look good even when you professionally apply them, but the bigger issue that when the drills are full opened they completely get in the way of each other unless you align them asymmetrically. It seems like a very minor complaint, but having the drills opened in different positions makes the combo look seriously messy. Bringing the treads forward also reveals twin triggers for Gridman to hold, however the open hands included struggle to hold them properly because of the tabs embedded in them to hold Gridman Calibur. Being hidden at the back it’s a much less noticeable problem than the drills, but still one that could have very easily been fixed prior to release.

The last of the Assist Weapons in this set is Sky Vitter, a blue futuristic jet fighter whose human guise is simply known as Vit. Sky Vitter is the individual piece in the set, nearing double the size of the other vehicles. However much like those the plastic does feel particularly light, and in some areas alarmingly brittle as well. While there is some sticker detailing required to the top and underside of the jet, it’s fairly minimal compared to that of Buster Borr and is at the very least relegated to flat manageable surfaces. Overall it’s a pretty dull in terms of colour though – moulded almost entirely in dark blue and grey plastic with only splashes of silver and yellow paint to break it up. Sky Vitter is comprised of three distinct sections, with the backside taking up over half the length of the vehicle. As you get further up the vehicle the connection between these pieces gets less secure, to the point where the cockpit/nosecone section barely clips on. Despite some combination pegs perhaps looking like it the jet has no fold-out landing gear to speak of, though it can rest on a flat surface without any issue. But if you’d prefer a midair display there is a designated display piece included for the stand, which it can lay flat on at a slightly lifted angle. It would be nice if it raised it a little higher so it really looked like flight alongside the other vehicles, but at least it’s there as an option.

But other than its impressive size there really isn’t a lot to say about Sky Vitter. The back wings are retractable and the smaller ones at the front double hinged, but this is simply a byproduct of the transformation rather than an actual feature. The connection between the pieces is so fragile that any lengthy handling of the vehicle just leads to it falling apart anyway. So while it might have a lot going for it in size, individually it’s undoubtedly the weakest of the three vehicles and best left simply attached to its display stand.

The last of Gridman’s individual Assist Weapon combos is SKY GRIDMAN, first appearing in episode seven of the series. By far the tallest of the smaller combinations, Sky Gridman gives the Hyper Agent huge winged legs and jet thruster backpack that allow him to fly through the air, as well as a helmet and battle mask that resemble a fighter pilot’s breathing apparatus. Yellow tubing runs from both the helmet to the backpack and the backpack to the legs, adding further detail to the overall pilot look. It’s interesting how the three combos all provide armour to different areas of Gridman’s body, and despite the “naked” arms and torso the oversized legs and their impressive wingspan give Sky Gridman a pretty unique look.

With most of the core figure’s key articulation points unexposed you might think that Sky Gridman actually has potential when it comes to posing, but once again it’s the little details that completely ruin the combo. To start there is no proper way to connect the helmet to the head whatsoever, which is especially irritating in this case as the mask piece is supposed to fit comfortably over the face. The only thing holding it into place are those yellow plastic tubes, which this time not only don’t plug in very well but also aren’t really the right size to keep it properly in place. So the result is a helmet that’s kind of where it should be, but hovers just high enough to make sure mask bit isn’t covering where it should be. The tubes also pretty much lock the head into place, rendering the head and neck articulation unusable. Moving down the body Gridman’s arms aren’t covered by anything so there’s no change there, which leaves us with the combo’s giant winged legs. Locking onto the figure just under the back of the knee means that Gridman’s hip and knee articulation is unhindered, and the toe section of the feet being hinged also provides additional support when it comes to balancing. But once again those little yellow tubes ruin everything, as any significant leg movement will undoubtedly pull them out at either end. So ultimately what you’re left with is a fairly static combination. It does however come with its own mid-flight display option, thanks to a triangular piece that clips onto the legs in four different places. The big black plastic triangle it leaves between the legs makes it a pretty ugly display option, and the very specific way it clips on means Sky Gridman is stuck with one very generic pose. Why Good Smile didn’t just go with a larger articulated arm is beyond me, as the connection on the legs is strong enough that it could easily manage some more dynamic flight poses without pieces (yellow tubes notwithstanding) falling off.

In addition to combining with Gridman himself, the four Assist Weapons can also come together to form the mighty POWERED ZENON. As the Assist Vehicles from the original Gridman could also form their own Zenon robot many fans expected this to be the case with their anime counterparts, however it was something Trigger managed to keep under wraps right up until their onscreen debut. Powered Zenon is an interesting combination as it sees pieces used differently to how they are in the individual combos, like Battle Tracto becoming the legs and Sky Vitter becoming the arms. Buster Borr’s opening drills are removed and swapped with solid unpainted grey versions, which then plug into the legs in a way that directly mirrors Twin Driller’s place in the God Zenon combination. To do this also requires switching out Battle Tracto’s solid back panels to ones with holes to fit the drills in. After attaching the smaller Sky Vitter pieces to the back the only thing left to do is attach the head via some tabs that fold out of the bottom of Borr. Unfortunately it’s a static connection, but it does keep the head on reasonably securely. Powered Zenon isn’t complete without its weapon though, and even Calibur gets in on the transformation action! Removing the hilt section, flipping it around and re-adding it results in it balancing on the top of the blade instead, and once folded open forms the “Gridman Calibur Axe Mode”.

Powered Zenon is a fairly standard looking super robot design, though other than the Battle Tracto Max leg parts it’s surprising how little of each vehicle’s unique flourishes are on show. Buster Borr’s drills are mostly tucked away, and Sky Vitter’s wings are folded up and are really only visible from a side view. With how many Transformers references SSSS.Gridman has it’s fitting that Powered Zenon has a head sculpt that can best be described as a cross between Optimus Prime and Star Saber, with the parallels to the former almost certainly intentional. The head sculpt is well sculpted and painted, but again requires some stickers to cover all the black areas on the sides that could have easily just been painted on or pre-applied. I’m uncertain whether the Sky Gridman feet parts were intentionally designed to look like chunky arm blades, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless. Although it doesn’t have the shame neon-coloured charm as the original God Zenon, it’s a fitting update and faithful update that didn’t really get enough time to shine in the series.

Powered Zenon’s back pegs directly into one of the display stand options, however to do so you’ll first need to remove the Sky Vitter backpack to reveal the required peg holes. However once you’ve done so said backpack can then directly attach to the other side of the stand, which both completes the look and ensures that there aren’t any spare parts left over.

Much like it seemed to be the case with the Super Mini-Pla Thunder Gridman release, the Zenon combination feels like a bit of an afterthought because how the bigger combination works takes priority. With SSSS.Gridman adding three more smaller combos into the mix, this seems all the more true with Powered Zenon. True to its “DX” monicker, this thing is a literally brick. The robot has a grand total of four points of articulation – two rotating shoulders and knees that bend horizontally rather than vertically. At a stretch you could perhaps call the hip connection where the drills connect a swivel, but with so little else to work with it doesn’t add anything to the overall poseability. It also doesn’t help that the Sky Vitter parts on the back fall of very easily, so you don’t even get the full level of sturdiness expected from similar bricky toys. It may look big and imposing (especially wielding that giant axe) but other than just standing there Powered Zenon is undoubtedly the weakest part of this entire set.

Finally it’s time to bring them all together and form FULL POWER GRIDMAN! This combination borrows elements from all three of the smaller ones so a lot of it will already be familiar, such as the bulk of Sky Vitter forming the legs and those wonderfully bulky Battle Tracto Max arms. New parts include the way Buster Borr’s treads swing behind the body to position into pseudo-shoulder cannons, and the middle section of Sky Vitter clipping to the back with the wings folding around to form a hip guard. The combination even has places for both the Max and Sky Gridman helmets, though the latter doesn’t securely clip onto the body and just kind of hangs there. The pièce de résistance is clipping Calibur’s hilt section to chest and open it out to reveal the chest piece, and then after flipping out the horn on the helmet Gridman is now at full power!

And here’s the main event - Full Power Gridman in all its glory. Right off the bat it truly is an imposing combination, looking completely unlike either Thunder or King Gridman and more along the lines of the various super robots that have inspired Studio Trigger for years. Yet at the same time, it has all the little design cues that link it back to its predecessors and make it instantly recognisable as a Gridman robot. As far as that look is concerned, this DX toy has nailed it. It even has a makeshift place to store the sword when not in use, which is admittedly a little loose fitting but still manages to look great despite being so simple. It does however strike me as odd that although this is the main piece of the entire set that there’s no unique way to attach it to the display stand. The mid air piece intended for Sky Gridman works fine, but there’s no option to place it flat on the ground. Just as well that the combination is heavy enough to not have any balance issues, and when placed on a flat surface it would take some effort to knock it over.

The various points of articulation Full Power Gridman has were all made apparent throughout the various smaller combinations, so now it’s simply a case of picking which of those are still relevant here. The head is still able to turn, but as was the case with Buster Gridman interference from the drills makes it more trouble than it was worth. Moving down the body the core Gridman’s shoulders are free along with those chunky Buster Gridman arm pieces. Like before, you have the choice of either using the default weapon holding hands with moulded fingers, or the buildable articulated versions. Finally for the legs you’ve got the same setup for Sky Gridman, only this time with the wings retracted and no annoying yellow cables to get in the way. This all sounds good in theory, but don’t forget you’re dealing with a lot more parts this time around and they do tend to get in the way of each other. The shoulders can’t move very far outwards without getting in the way of the drills and forwards without getting in the way of the treads, and the legs simply don’t have the weight to balance the mass of parts sitting on top of them in anything other than the most basic poses. The core robot seems to hold together fairly well, but smaller parts like the torso crest and Sky Gridman helmet will fall off pretty easily when being handled. The latter piece isn’t that much of a surprise since it never really connected in the first place. Either way, I wouldn’t expect the toy to handle any sort of drop test particularly well. While I absolutely love the way this combination looks, it just can’t manage anything out of the most basic poses. And though it may pull those off flawlessly, they just don’t match up to the level of energy Full Power Gridman had on screen.

When it comes to transforming and fully combining SSSS.Gridman toys there really isn’t a definitive winner out there right now. Megahouse’s Acti-Build version is small, weirdly detailed and extremely expensive for what it is. Meanwhile Bandai’s forthcoming Super Mini-Pla version looks to have a lot of potential, but is again pretty pricey and also requires building (and if you think the stickers were bad here, that certainly isn’t going to be any better). The only big, high-end option collectors have right now is this DX Full Power Gridman set, and it’s fair to say Good Smile Company have dropped the ball here. The 15,278 yen price tag suggests a toy that should at least be somewhat comparable to Bandai’s lower-tier Soul of Chogokin offerings, but what you have instead is something that was undoubtedly intended to be a throwback to the chunky DX toys of the 90s. But while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, the set is overpriced for what it is and what it is should have been made far clearer in the toy’s promotion. Issues like the stickers and buildable parts weren’t even known until the set was released, and at least some of bad reception this toy has had could have lessened had buyers been aware what they were getting into. But even if you can look beyond that, what you have is an extremely flawed toy that absolutely nails the look of each and every combination, but repeatedly fails when it comes to basic functionality. Even if you were to look at it as simply a minimally articulated brick, its sturdiness and plastic quality don’t match up to Bandai’s comparable offerings. Now that we’re a few months post its initial release its my hope reviews like this will help interested buyers have a better idea what they’re getting in for, the bottom line is SSSS.Gridman deserves much better than it’s getting.

1 comment:

Gridman_rulez said...

Thank You for the awesome & honest review! I bought this overpriced set and felt exactly the same way.