Sunday 7 March 2021

Toybox REVIEW: Super Mini-Pla Leopardon

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Release Date: August 2020
RRP: 4950 yen

Between the months of August and September 2020 Bandai went a little Spider-Man crazy, with a number of items celebrating the 1978 Toei series that many fans will agree were long overdue. While Tamashii Nations dealt with the release of an S.H. Figuarts Spider-Man and a reissue of their Soul of Chogokin Leopardon (complete with Spider Bracelet changer this time around), Bandai's candy toy department sought to bring the classic super robot to collectors in a more affordable way with Super Mini-Pla Leopardon. As already the home to so many Super Sentai robots it helped inspire, the Super Mini-Pla line was the perfect place for Leopardon with its emphasis on taking classic robot designs and updating them with modern articulation.

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Super Mini-Pla Leopardon Box Contents

In proper Super Mini-Pla style, Leopardon comes in packaging that has been designed to match the original vintage figure by Popy. Despite obvious differences like replacing the images of the vintage toy with (what look to be) CG renders of the model kit it's a near perfect recreation - right down the images they've used of Spider-Man and the Marveller in the bottom corners. The spines and back of the box feature plenty more images of the model kit in both modes, as well as showing off the transformation sequence in exactly the same way the vintage packaging did. The back even has this really cool cross-section image of Leopardon, giving it even more collector appeal. I know it's the model kits themselves that are the draw with this line, but it's a shame mini-pla packaging is designed to be so expendable given how great these look. Leopardon is a single box figure so everything you need to build the kit can be found inside, spread across a number of different coloured runners. The bags also contain a number of loose parts, so be careful not to lose them when opening it all up. As is always the case with the line, a number of parts come pre-painted but there is also a small sticker sheet for additional details. Inside is also a fold out pamphlet explaining how to build and transform the model, as well as a single piece of Bandai soda flavoured candy.

(Note that many of the parts for Super Mini-Pla Leopardon are cast in grey plastic, which I have spray painted silver prior to building to make the model kit a little more screen accurate. Several of the sticker details have also been painted on. As such the pictures below do not properly represent a straight-build Super Mini-Pla Leopardon, but give you a good idea how it can look with a little bit of paint work.)

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Upon completion of the model you'll be greeted with the Marveller - the intergalactic spaceship in which Garia travelled to Earth from the Planet Spider. When called upon through the Spider-Bracelet, the Marveller launches from its underground hiding place to Spider-Man's location. The Super Mini-Pla kit is a really fun build with a lot of intricate yet not too difficult parts, focussing on a different section of the ship at a time and then bringing all of the pieces together right at the very end. The end result looks magnificent - a fantastic and likely the most affordable version of Toei Spider-Man's iconic spaceship. The kit also has a very minimal sticker count, and most of those stickers are very small, very fiddly and probably much easier to just paint on yourself. Even if you don't have a lot of experience with painting models, these areas are small enough to do easily but not so small that they're difficult to do without making a mistake. There's also plenty of option for panel-lining if you're an experienced modeller, although even if you're a beginning this is definitely one to consider cutting your teeth on. The yellow webbed pattern parts (three of which are on the model, and the fourth is the shield) don't look bad with just the moulded detail but they don't look quite right, and even with just a faint outline they stand out a whole lot better.

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There isn't a whole lot else to say about the Marveller in terms of play functions without bringing in other parts, but it's a great looking ship and the articulated arm the display stand has means you can pose the ship in-flight at different angles. If you want something a little more invisible to prop the ship up though a Tamashii stage arm fits into the designated holes just as well, and doesn't have any trouble holding the model up either.

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Also included to display alongside the Marveller is a tiny Spider Machine GP-7, which is cast in grey plastic with some red and yellow painted parts. The yellow spoiler is attached to the car as part of the building process. Sure it's not quite the right colour, but it looks pretty fantastic for a piece of its size as well as being part of a model kit as opposed to a high end figure. It's even smaller than the scale one included with the Soul of Chogokin figure! But what really makes it great is that the hatch can be removed on the back of the Marveller's leopard head, and a clear plastic strip connected which you can then peg the GP-7 onto - mimicking its flight into the Marveller to begin the transformation into Leopardon. This is the first of several little play functions/display options that the Super Mini-Pla version has over the Chogokin, as there you could only really precariously balance the car going inside. This is a piece that allows for proper flight display, and it looks fantastic.

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The kit is able to imitate the onscreen transformation from Marveller to Leopardon almost perfectly, with the only real change being that the fists have to be plugged onto the arms once transformed rather than being there all along. You can actually store the figures inside the black "wings"/leg sections if you want to keep everything together in Marveller mode, but honestly it's much easier just to store them in the display base (more on that further down). One extra important step to take with the Super Mini-Pla version is to take the leopard head off entirely, which will reveal a peg joint that can be folded up into the back. You'll be able to clip the leopard head back on using just the clips on the upper part of the back, and with that peg joint out of the way you can make full use of the waist joint Leopardon has. Finally the instructions also suggest swapping out the very front piece of the Marveller (which features a painted spider web decal) with an alternate piece that uses a sticker instead. Both pieces look EXACTLY the same, so I'm not entirely sure what purpose this serves? Personally I found the stickered piece more preferable as it was easier to paint silver, but you mileage will vary on that. Having the option is nice though, as well as having a spare just in case one of the pieces gets lost somehow.

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And upon transformation, Leopardon is ready for battle! Super Mini-Pla has never been one to skimp out on detail for its releases, so as you can expect it's a fantastic representation of the onscreen suit. A little smaller than the Soul of Chogokin release for anyone interested, but proportionally correct and highly articulated without letting the joints break out the silhouette of the body. It's even got all the little clasp marks on the sides of the waist as well, which to the untrained eye can look like messy nub-marks but are actually present on the SOC too. As you can hopefully see from the pictures above this is why panel-lining the web details on the yellow parts is a good idea too, since it helps them stand out a lot more and "complete" the look nicely. 

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The articulation is what really sets the Super Mini-Pla line apart from its contemporaries though, and in Leopardon's case it's where it starts having the edge over its Soul of Chogokin brother as well. The SOC isn't bad by any means, but for a toy originally released in 2006 it's certainly beginning to show its age. Fresh off the assembly line in 2020 though, Super Mini-Pla Leopardon features;
- Ball jointed head and waist
- Hinged shoulders, elbows, knees and ankles
- Two way swivel shoulders and hips
- Bicep, wrist and thigh swivels
Initially during the transformation I was worried that Leopardon wouldn't have a waist swivel and that would impact on the whole figure, but once I discovered that extra step mentioned earlier everything changed. Leopardon definitely lives up to the Super Mini-Pla name and is able to pull off an incredible range of poses. There's so much packed into the shoulders alone, which can raise and twist into pretty much any pose you desire. The hips pull down slightly from the skirt section so that the legs have plenty of clearance to move about freely, and then those ankle tilts ensure those strange two-toed feet can balance the robot without a hitch. There's a real joy in finally seeing all these blocky, classic super robots finally get the articulation older toys just couldn't provide.

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Naturally Leopardon also comes with both its web shield and Sword Vigor, which fit comfortably into either of the model's weapon holding fists. One of the coolest things about this kit is that the hilt of Sword Vigor can also be disassembled and displayed popping out of the robot's leg like it does in the show - a detail that was bizarrely omitted from the Soul of Chogokin release. Both weapons are relatively basic so didn't have much in the way of moulded details to hit, but look great nonetheless (especially if you outline the web detail on the shield as mentioned earlier). But anyone who's watched Spider-Man will know that Leopardon isn't one to slash its enemies with Sword Vigor, and instead it hurls the weapon at its foes in a piece of stock footage you have to get used to very quickly when watching the show. Amazingly the model kit can even recreate this move as well! Simple fix an open hand to the robot, and then there's a clear adapter piece which fixes between the hand and sword to make it seem like it's mid-flight toward its target. There isn't any issues with balancing despite stretching a piece so far out too, so the results look great. Little touches like these are what really set the Super Mini-Pla line apart from other model kits, and its clear the designers combed through the show to make sure this was a full representation of the mighty robot.

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But that's not all either, as Super Mini-Pla Leopardon has all of the robot's other main gimmicks covered as well. Arguably better than the Chogokin did as well, since there both the "Arc Turn" and "Arm Rocket" attacks were spring loaded gimmicks that couldn't be properly put on display. Here they've been done using further clear plastic adapter pieces, which again fix between the model and the hands/head crest to look as though they've been fired and are in mid-flight. It's simple, but really nicely done and allows for a little more variety in posing that basically no other previous Leopardon figure has allowed. After all, who doesn't love a good old fashioned rocket punch?

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Rounding off the model kit is simple but elegant display base, which can be used to display the model both in Leopardon and Marveller modes. As Leopardon it simply stands on the base without any additional support, and as Marveller it connects to an articulated display arm which slots into the middle of the base. There are also additional adaptor pieces on the base to hold the sword and the shield, with the later making a nice little logo piece for the base when attached. Best of all though is all the storage space hidden inside of the base, which can hold nearly every other loose piece in the set. There's room for both sets of the fists, all the clear adapter parts and even the alternate chest piece. The only thing there isn't room for here is Spider Machine GP-7, and that's presumably because it can be stored inside of the model itself anyway. As someone who doesn't like to have loose pieces lying around I really appreciate this kind of thoughtfulness, and wish there were more display stands out there that were this accommodating. 

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Any model kit would be hard pressed to go up against a Soul of Chogokin figure and come out on top, even when said Chogokin is getting on a bit in years now. But Super Mini-Pla Leopardon is a real contender, and the fact it was released so close to the Chogokin reissue further highlights just how fantastic this model kit is. Sure if you're looking for a sturdy display piece you'd probably go SOC, but if you're a looking for a highly articulated and more importantly affordable version of Leopardon with tons of features than this is the version for you. The build is intricate but not too difficult, and the end figure oozes all that blocky super robot goodness you could ever want from a Spider-Man mecha. Super Mini-Pla prices have a tendency to skyrocket on the aftermarket, so I highly recommend seeking one out before it's too late!

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