Monday 11 January 2021

Toybox REVIEW: Soul of Chogokin GX-33R Leopardon & Marveller Summoning Set

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Release Date: September 2020
RRP: 22,000 yen

The 1978 Toei Spider-Man series is a tentpole piece of tokusatsu - not only extremely popular but also notable for introducing elements that would eventually become staple of the Super Sentai franchise. That said it’s a series that’s pretty short on merchandise, particularly toys that were produced after the series had finished airing. But with the world currently undergoing something of a Japanese Spider-Man renaissance, 2020 was the year merchandising for the Emissary of Hell made a comeback. Bandai’s most notable offerings included both an S.H. Figuarts Spider-Man and Super Mini-Pla Leopardon, but no assortment would be complete without a reissue of another high end figure. Previously released all the way back in 2006, the Soul of Chogokin Leopardon makes a grand return in the Soul of Chogokin GX-33R Leopardon & Marveller Summoning Set - combining Tamashii Nations’ transformable die-cast robot with the first-ever commercial reproduction of Spider-Man’s Spider Bracelet.

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The Soul of Chogokin Leopardon & Marveller Summoning Set comes in fancy new packaging that shows off all three main aspects of the set - the Marveller spaceship, Leopardon and of course the Spider Bracelet. There’s no sign of Spider-Man himself on the front of this box, but there is a red and white web pattern in the top corner and of course it has the Premium Bandai, Marvel and Toei Spider-Man series logos on it as well. Both spines show off images of the Spider Bracelet, and then on the back there multiple images of both mecha and changer along with all the other numerous accessories this lavish set comes with. Inside the box you’ll find yourself greeted with two separate trays - a white polystyrene one that houses Leopardon, and then a moulded plastic one that has the Spider Bracelet, display stand and all the other accessories. Upon opening it up you’ll need to do a little bit of assembly work with Leopardon, as the arms and head crest are both packaged separately. It’s packaged somewhere between both Marveller and Leopardon modes, so which you transform it into straight out of the box is entirely up to you.

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A premium product like a Soul of Chogokin figure deserves more than just a basic instruction flyer, so instead this new version of Leopardon comes with a detailed booklet illustrating both Toei Spider-Man's arsenal and the various toys that have been released from the series over the years. Even though all the text is naturally all in Japanese, there are plenty of high quality images to everybody to enjoy. After this brilliant little history lesson you'll find the usual toy instructions on the final few pages, covering everything from the construction and transformation of Leopardon to the operation of the interactive Spider Bracelet.

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Leopardon initially takes the form of a spaceship known as the Marveller, in which Garia came to Earth in from the Planet Spider. Despite being Spider-Man’s spaceship/robot from the Planet Spider, Leopardon is curiously more feline-themed in this mode - with the ship’s bridge shaped like a leopard head and two paws outstretched either side in a Sphinx-like pose. It's only really that big red panel with spider web detailing at the front that gives you any real indication who this ship might belong to. This all might sound somewhat perplexing but honestly it’s far from the strangest thing in Toei’s Spider-Man series, and even designer Katsushi Murakami has questioned how exactly it was accepted when the series began production. But even though there isn’t exactly much spider-theming going on with Marveller, the design and colours are synonymous with this version of Spider-Man and Marveller/Leopardon has become just as iconic in its own right. The Marveller toy doesn’t have any unique functions (other than one hidden department discussed a little further down the review) but it’s a great looking piece - oozing all that blocky classic tokusatsu spaceship charm.

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Being primarily composed of die cast the Marveller is a pretty heavy ship, so a fairly hefty (or multiple) display stand is required to hold it in mid-flight poses. The set does include a designated display base however, which features an adapter piece to hold the spaceship securely in a slightly diagonal "launching" pose. This piece clips on to the display base, which then comfortably wraps under the Marveller to ensure it doesn't fall off. It's a very effective display method, and the chrome "Spider-Man" (written in both English and Japanese) gives it a very premium feel suited to the Soul of Chogokin line. 

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Like any good Soul of Chogokin this set is absolutely loaded with accessories, many of which can be used with Leopardon in both robot and Marveller modes. Among these is a tiny Spider-Man figurine in one of his signature poses, which is meant to stand on the display base alongside the Chogokin but could also be posed somewhere on the robot itself should you so wish. At around 3cm high it’s not exactly in scale with Leopardon, but you can still get some great looking photos or displays from it regardless. It’s also a really nice little figurine - lacking all of the web detailing on the suit given its size but still immediately recognisable. They even went as far to ensure that the Spider Braclet was nice and visible on the arm - immediately identifying this as the Japanese Spider-Man and not any other version of the infamous wall-crawler.

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Next up is a die-cast version of the Spider-Machine GP-7, Spider-Man's flying car equipped with machine guns, lasers and missile launchers. Sadly the toy doesn't have any of these things nor can it fly, but it is a very nicely detailed replica of this classic tokusatsu vehicle. This particular GP-7 isn't in scale with Leopardon itself, but it is however in scale with that Spider-Man figurine included. The car features four free-rolling wheels, exquisitely painted detailing and for all intents and purposes works fantastically on its own simply as a collectible toy car. I've also included comparison images with the SDCC-exclusive Hot Wheels Spider Machine GP-7 released back in 2019, as the two are actually quite different and both have their pros and cons. Arguably the Hot Wheels version is the far more detailed piece and sports sharper panel lining and paint apps than its Bandai counterpart (not to mention a small Spider-Man driving), but lets itself down with an inaccurately shaped hood and a shade of red that looks as though it was pulled off an old video transfer of the series. The Bandai version has a much better looking hood with more pronounced web detailing, with a much more accurate and aesthetically pleasing shade of red. As I say both have their pros and cons, but while the Hot Wheels one might be a bit more difficult to track down now the Bandai version is simply an accessory AND an extremely good one at that.

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Last but by no means least a much smaller version of Spider Machine GP-7 is included in the set, one that is in fact in scale with the Marveller. Given that this piece is just over 2cm in length it's incredibly well detailed for its size, featuring all the key paint apps of the larger version to make it distinctly recognisable as Spider-Man's car. Whilst it doesn't have any individual play value of its own it's a key piece in showing the scale difference between the two vehicles, and more importantly can be inserted into the back of the leopard head atop Marveller exactly like it does on the show. Simply swing open the hidden door on the back of the head and then fly the car into the slot. Once inserted into the compartment the miniature GP-7 will sit in there comfortably, and even remain securely in there during and after transformation. As the beginning step in Leopardon's transformation, there was no way this could have been missed out so it's pleasing to see Bandai went the extra mile in provide two different sized Spider Machines.

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The best kind of mecha transformations are the ones that can mimic the show perfectly, and Leopardon's is simple (yet elegant) enough that the toy is a one to the one translation. To begin with the leopard head that sits atop Marveler opens up, revealing the robot head and allowing it to move downward along with the chest plate. Following that the arms open and extend outward, with the back fins folding down to allow the two sets of leg panels to also swing downward. As Leopardon moves into an upright position the legs can then split apart (with the peg on the left leg folding inwards to make the panel sit flush) and finally the arms fold down to sit at either side. As a final step for the Soul of Chogokin figure, you also have the option to swap out the transforming gimmick arms for standard ones with better proportions and articulation. This is just a simple case of pulling them out of the sockets and replacing them accordingly. These alternate arms are required to hold the accessories, since the larger fists will only plug into them. 

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When the Marveller has been fully transformed into Leopardon, you can really see how this toy has earned its place in the Soul of Chogokin line. Bare in mind this toy comes from a very different time in the line’s history, standing only at around 6 inches tall rather than the much bigger scales of the newer releases. In its place though is a body almost entirely consisting of painted die-cast metal, giving it the kind of weight where you could definitely use it as a weapon. The heavy use of die-cast is also meant to be reminiscent of classic super robot toys, another aspect that older Soul of Chogokin releases leaned heavily into. The detailing on this figure is absolutely superb, with every paint app crisp and clear. The gradient colouring on the leg panels look especially good, giving the colour scheme a much more realistic feel than basic silver or chrome would. Sadly QC isn’t always perfect even on expensive figures like this though, as you can see the red chest panel on mine had a tiny chip in it straight out of the box. It’s only really noticeable close-up, but serves as a reminder that these are mass-produced toys no matter what the price tag is. Leopardon is a heavy, glossy super robot that makes up for its seemingly small size in near-perfect detail, and in the absence of a brand new version is undoubtedly the best looking version on the market.

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Toy articulation has come a long way since 2006 and even though Leopardon can still stack up against modern releases in some aspects, this is one area where it's really beginning to show its age. Altogether the robot mode sports a ball-jointed head, an upper torso tilt, moveable hips, hinged knees and ball jointed feet. How much articulation the arms have depends on which pair you have attached - the transforming pair simply have rotating ratchet joint shoulders and hinged elbows, whilst the posable pair add an outward swing to that ratchet shoulder, bicep swivels and ball jointed wrists. Given that the figure is primarily made up of metal you can really feel the weight behind it every time you move a joint, with some a lot more unwieldy than others. The most restricted area by far are the hips, which have quite a bit of outward movement but barely any forward/backward movement. I'm not really sure what kind have joint construction's been used, but it doesn't lend itself well to a highly poseable toy. The lack of mobility in the hips instantly affects the rest of the legs, which mainly have to rely on the knee bend since they don't have any sort of thigh swivel either. Of course, no waist joint is also a bit of a kicker too. Back in 2006 I can imagine this was a pretty solid release all round - hefty build, strong joints etc. But robot toys have become so poseable the years since that Leopardon is now more of the mid-ground between new releases and old DX toys. Speaking of which, this toy also has gimmicks! If you choose to keep the transforming arms on the figure, both fists can fire out of their sockets to recreate the robot's onscreen "Arm Rocket" attack. Similarly the head crest can also fire to recreate the "Arc Turn" attack. These are fun little gimmicks, but in the case of the head crest quickly prove to be incredibly fiddly. The trigger is located on the back of the head and very easy to accidentally set off, while the crest itself doesn't firmly lock into place on the head - making it very easy to tilt at an angle. 

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Leopardon’s main accessories are its Sword Vigor and web shield, both of which are generated onscreen when in robot mode so don’t fit anywhere on the toy when transformed into the Marveller. Well technically Sword Vigor materialises out of the side of Leopardon’s lower right leg, but unfortunately the toy has no way of replicating it. This is perhaps one of my biggest misgivings about the toy, since it’s just a simple case of making the blade of the sword removable and then plugging the hilt into the leg. But alas no, a high end toy that has no way of recreating a piece of stock footage that appeared in practically every episode of the series. Sword Vigor is a simple design but very elegantly reproduced, with vibrant yellow and red colouring on the hilt and a silver chromed blade. The shield in comparison is a simple oval shape, but the web markings have been faithfully and clearly painted on. The problem here is that while the shield fits in the hand perfectly well, the upper joints on the figure aren’t especially strong so the Leopardon struggles to hold it in anything more than the most vanilla poses. Since you’re fairly limited in how poseable the figure is to begin with, it’s quite disappointing that a primarily metal toy (though the arms are in fact plastic) struggles to hold up an all-plastic shield. That’s it for robot-specific accessories, but there was still plenty Bandai could have done if they wanted. A spider-web to represent Leopardon’s own Spider String attack perhaps? Or even just an alternate sword blade for its final attack. While the accessories included here aren’t disappointing per se, they do make you wonder what else the toy might come with if it was being produced to current Soul of Chogokin standards.

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Unlike with the Marveller there aren’t any special adaptor pieces to fix Leopardon to the included display base - instead there are two moulded foot rests into the top of the base to show you exactly where it’ll fit for the best display. Of course you could do your own thing and pose Leopardon in a more action-like pose, but then you’ve got to take balancing into account as well. Given the hefty weight of the figure though, it’s unlikely to fall over so extra support wasn’t really required. Just in front of Leopardon’s footrests there’s also two smaller footprints to show you exactly where to display the Spider-Man figurine, and on top of that there are a number of additional adaptor pieces you can attach to the base to connect the sword and shield if you have it displayed in Marveller form/don’t want Leopardon holding them. But what’s best of all about this display base are all the hidden compartments it has as well. On the one side there’s an opening tray where the larger GP-7 can be stored and/or displayed, and then on the other side there’s an additional compartment where the second set of arms can be kept when not in use. So not only is it a great looking display stand, but it’s a practical one as well! Strangely there isn’t a designated space for the in-scale GP-7 though, presumably since you’re supposed to keep it inside its ship cavity rather than display it outside. Still, it looks perfectly fine displayed on the base just next to Leopardon’s feet, and if you’re careful about where you’re displaying the item it’s unlikely to get lost that easily.

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But as exciting as Leopardon is what will be the main draw of this set for many fans, as well as the reason to purchase the set all over again if you bought the original release, is the wearable Spider Bracelet included in the set. Not only is this role-play toy exclusive to the 2020 reissue of Leopardon (replacing the sofubi Spider-Man figure included with the original release), but the first official version of Spider-Man's transformation device to be released - having not been commercialised at the time of the show's original airing. Surprising given the show's legacy and popularity, but certainly better late than never. The Bracelet wraps around the the wrist via a silver velcro strap on the underside, which is not strictly accurate to the show but the easiest method to handle adjustable sizing. The shell of the Bracelet features crisp yellow, black and red paint apps on its silver body - with "SPIDERMAN" written across the top and various buttons and dials scattered around the sides. Open it up and you're greeted with an impressively retro control panel, as well as a shiny sticker replicating the top screen and readouts. It's a bit disappointing this isn't an interactive screen, but with this set fairly pricey already adding any more gimmicks into it would have definitely broken the bank. Not all of the buttons and dials on the control panel are moveable and/or interactive, as it's only the red button at the front of the Bracelet and the yellow button on the control panel that activate anything.

Like any good role-play toy, the Spider Bracelet has a number of different sounds built into it and there are a number of ways to access them. Immediately upon inserting batteries into the Bracelet and switching it on you'll be greeted with the "Spider-Man!" commercial bumper noise, which can also be accessed by pressing the red button on the front whilst the Bracelet is open. Pressing that button when the Bracelet is closed however will instead present you with the TV-sized version of Kakero! Spider-Man, the opening theme from the show by Yuuke Hide. Opening up the Bracelet will immediately set off lights in the top corner of the control panel, together with the beacon sound that summons Marveller. Pressing the yellow button on the panel will activate a sound clip of Spider-Man calling for the ship, and then the BGM for Marveller's launch sequence will play with a number of flashing green and yellow lights. Pressing the button for the voice clip is completely optional, as the BGM will play after the beacon sound regardless. This BGM goes on for roughly a minute, and once completed you can activate it again simply by pressing the yellow button. Admittedly it's a fairly minimal number of functions, but then the Bracelet was rarely shown to actually do anything in the series either so it would have been a case of having the make them up for the toy. The significance of the chosen sound clips is more than enough to justify the limited number though, and overall this is a really fun toy and display piece. It just goes to show that not every transformation device has to be laden with gimmicks and combos - sometimes the classics are still the best. 

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Though it’s not quite up to the standard of current Soul of Chogokin releases, the Soul of Chogokin GX-33R Leopardon & Marveller Summoner Set is still a fantastic release that shows just how Bandai can reissue a 14-year-old toy and still charge a premium for it. Though it represents an era in the SOC line where recreating gimmicks and paying homage to the original toy was more important than size, Leopardon is still a hefty and incredibly detailed piece with plenty to offer collectors. Just as much a star here though is the Spider Bracelet - a simple but elegant transformation device loaded with fun sounds and, more importantly, finally available to collectors in an official fashion. At 22,000 yen this set certainly doesn’t come cheap, but as far as Toei Spider-Man merchandise goes it remains as some of the very best.


Anonymous said...

Really detailed review of an extremely interesting and seldom seen part of the spider universe......looks tempting to any collector

Hibiki OS said...

I really just want the Spider Bracelet!