Friday 18 December 2020

Toybox REVIEW: DX King Joe STORAGE Custom

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Release Date: September 2020
RRP: 4180 yen

One of the big selling points of Ultraman Z has been the inclusion of mecha among STORAGE’s arsenal, so this was the perfect year for Bandai of Japan to branch out the Ultraman toy line with the inclusion of DX combining mecha. While this kind of toy might be a staple in Super Sentai, to see it in Ultraman (or even Kamen Rider for that matter) is a much rarer treat. And what better character to launch these Ultraman DX robos with than King Joe, rebooted and reimagined for the series as the King Joe STORAGE Custom. After salvaging the wreckage of Alien Barossa’s King Joe, the Global Allied Force’s anti-monster unit STORAGE reverse-engineered the alien robot to create the third mecha in their arsenal. Armed with a powerful Pedanium cannon, this King Joe can split into four separate vehicles - with the pilot sitting within the Core Fighter and issuing commands to the others via remote control.

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Like any DX mecha toy should, the King Joe STORAGE custom comes in suitably dynamic packaging. The front of the box shows off the combined robot alongside an image of Ultraman Z himself, with speech bubbles and smaller windows showing off the various gimmicks the toy has. One spine has a similar design with further speech bubbles to show off more of the numerous voice clips, whilst the other breaks down King Joe into its four vehicle components and shows off those separately. Meanwhile the back of the box is split down into a number of different sections, not only showing off the gimmicks and various combinations once more but also how it looks and scales alongside the various Ultraman Z vinyl figures. Inside the box you’ll find the four vehicles that make up King Joe neatly stored on a moulded plastic tray, as well as a (Japanese text) leaflet explaining how all the features work.

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The first of King Joe’s four components is the Core Fighter - a black UFO-like craft with a long red visor running across its front. As the smallest of the individual parts it’s the least detailed, and other than that red strip of paint along the front is really just a chunk of black plastic. However that retro flying-saucer type shape definitely has its charm, and with some sort of articulated display stand to hand you can put it into some nifty flight and/or diorama displays.

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The second vehicle of the quartet is the Head Fighter, which is a hovercraft-like vehicle with the head of King Joe attached at the back. This is one of the more interesting ones in the group, as the main vehicle part is actually hidden in robot mode so between seeing that and the section effectively being flipped on its side you’re looking at something quite different to how it looks when forming the head of King Joe. Whilst all the moulded detail is present here, the toy lacks the black wash of the onscreen version so it all isn’t quite as prominent. It’s not really all that surprising to see the wash omitted on a DX toy but since all the detail is moulded in, customisers will be able to work wonders with this. A button on the top of the Fighter activates the various sounds this figure has, but we’ll look at those separately further down in the review.

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Vehicle number three is the Breast Tank, which while undoubtedly cool definitely is the least vehicle looking of the bunch. The tank may have treads running along the bottom to “transform” it into a mobile vehicle, but for all intents and purposes its essentially just King Joe’s torso upside down. Still, it’s not like the original had particularly different component modes either so it’s pretty faithful to the original in that regard. Sadly the Breast Tank doesn’t have any wheels on the bottom for movement but both weapon mounts are fully rotatable. However moving them around too much isn’t really recommended, because it’s very easy to make the vehicle top-heavy by doing so. Admittedly it can’t do very much, but as the most colourful of the four vehicles it’s immediately eye-catching even if it isn’t all that imaginative.

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The final vehicle in the arsenal is the Leg Carrier, a heavily armoured wheeled carrier vehicle with gun turrets mounted on either side of the cab. The vehicle moves via four tank treads, all of which have free-moving wheels underneath on the toy. It’s a really nicely sculpted toy but a lot of that detail gets completely lost in all of that black plastic. Technically it’s accurate to the onscreen version so you can’t really fault the toy, but the cab would look so much better if the turrets, headlights and windshield all had a bit of colour to make it more eye-catching. Not only is it the most Earth-looking vehicle of the batch but it’s also by far the largest - making up about half of the robot when combined.

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The ability to turn into a bunch of vaguely vehicle-shaped components is a key feature of King Joe, so it was quite disappointing (though not all that surprising) to not see it implemented on the S.H. Figuarts figure (although there is the older Soul of Chogokin figure as an alternative). So getting a new version of the iconic mecha that can also transform is a real treat. It’s nice that it’s retained that same style of components that look more like robot components than actual vehicles (shove as many tank treads on it you want, the Breast Tank is still just a moving torso), but added a few extra bits that fit the bill a little better. Its a nice little array of chunky sci-fi looking vehicles, that look great on display even ignoring all the other gimmickry we haven’t looked at yet.

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Not only can these vehicles combine to form the King Joe robot, but they can also come together into a larger “tank configuration” vehicle. Here the Breast Tank sits on the back of the Leg Carrier with the Core Fighter docked on top, whilst the Head Fighter sits at the front. These vehicles all clip onto the Leg Carrier nice and tightly, so there’s no worry of the combination falling apart easily during display or play. In tank configuration King Joe doesn’t have any extra features, but the ability to transform into a heavily armed vehicle is a nifty extra in itself. Between the cab’s turrets, the numerous cannons on the Head Fighter and the Breast Tank’s giant cannon this thing really is armed to the teeth.

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The combination into robot mode is extremely straightforward but definitely in a good way as it’s the kind you’ll want yourself wanting to do over and over again. Sometimes with a combining robot toy you just find yourself transforming it once and then leaving it as it is, but this is definitely one that was designed for repeated play. To begin the back of the Leg Carrier folds over onto the front, as the cab folds up to become feet and the whole vehicle stands upright. As the vehicle splits down the middle to become legs, the wheels at the front fold down to sit flat with the rest of the surrounding area. From here it’s a straightforward totem pole combination - the Core Ship lands on top of the legs, the Breast Tank sits on top and then finally the Head Fighter slots down into its designated socket. That latter part is particularly satisfying, as the socket is specifically shaped for the front section of the Head Fighter. Along the way the combination makes plenty of clicks to ensure everything is locked into place, and the mighty King Joe STORAGE Custom is formed! Gattai!

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When combined King Joe is a blocky piece of DX toy magnificence. There’s been enough Super Sentai toys over the years for buyers to know exactly what to expect from a Bandai DX robo now, and that’s something that can ensure pretty much any kind of play. This is a toy meant to be bashed up against other toys in epic kaiju throw-downs, so what it lacks in intricate detailing (though the detailing is pretty fantastic all things considered) and poseability it makes up for in just being an extremely fun toy. Scale-wise the toy is meant to be played with alongside vinyl figures so it’s a little bit taller (and a lot chunkier) than an S.H. Figuarts, but not so much that it looks completely ridiculous alongside them.

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Whilst it’s unfair to compare a DX toy with an S.H. Figuarts figure at the very least with the comparison above you can see just how much STORAGE souped-up their salvaged King Joe. The STORAGE custom is much bulkier, with the individual components far more obvious from just glancing at the robot. The simple silver colour scheme has been replaced with a swathes of black and white, highlighted by both gold and a gorgeous metallic blue (technically translucent blue on the actual suit). The arms are also far beefier, with the right arm completely replaced by a powerful Pedanium Partical Cannon. All the key King Joe identifiers are still there though, like the antennae jutting out of either side of the head, the chest panels or the blocky cylinders on the legs. Overall it’s an incredible reimagining Ultraman’s most iconic robot - somehow looking both like a significant update AND as though it was built using Earth materials.

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Like most Bandai DX mecha toys King Joe is fairly low on articulation, with only six points in total to speak of. Both shoulders can rotate a full 360 degrees, while the legs are also able to open outward (though this is more of a transformation feature rather than a point of articulation). Finally on top of that the left arm has an opening claw, with the two sides attached via separate hinges. If poseability is your thing then this will definitely come across as underwhelming, but that charm of DX robots has always been in their chunkiness and gimmickry and in that respect King Joe certainly doesn’t disappoint. Speaking of gimmicks - press the button on the robot’s left shoulder and the whole arm launches outward to attack any unsuspecting kaiju. The arm features two hinges built into it, so pressing the button sees the arm swing forward in two separate movements. The release isn’t always the smoothest, but it’s a nice little gimmick and seeing the arm suddenly triple in length is fairly impressive. In fact it makes the right cannon arm feel a little lacklustre in comparison. A spring-loaded missile seems like such an obvious choice here, so I’m surprised it wasn’t the first thing Bandai thought to do on this toy.

As far as gimmickry is concerned though the big draw here are the numerous sound effects built in, which can be accessed by pressing the button on the back of the robot’s head. These are accessible both in the combined robot mode and when the Head Fighter is being posed individually. Press once for a sound effect, and then press and hold the button for a voice clip. The sound effects range from explosions and gun-firing noises to that cool alien sound King Joe makes, whilst the voice clips feature a number of phrases from both Haruki and Yoko. Interestingly the sounds can also be stacked too, so if you press the button once and get the long-winded alien noise you can press it multiple times again to get both firing sounds and voice clips over the top of it.

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While a DX robot is never going to match up to the quality and poseability of an S.H. Figuarts figure, the DX King Joe STORAGE Custom is an incredibly fun toy that deserves a place in any Ultraman collection. What it lacks in articulation it makes up for in a simply yet satisfyingly addictive transformation scheme, while the gimmicks and sound effects give it plenty of play value. Sure it’s meant to be played with alongside the vinyl figures, but it didn’t look too bad alongside my Figuarts either. Ultimately we may never get a higher-end toy of this figure anywhere else, and even if we do the chances of it also being a transforming version are slim. While it may be unusual to a DX mecha in an Ultraman line, it’s certainly something I’d like to continue seeing.


Anonymous said...

Are you planning to review Ultraman Z the series?

Alex said...

Absolutely! Either next week or early in Jan :)