Friday 30 April 2021

Toybox REVIEW: Super Mini-Pla Bio Robo

Super Mini-Pla Bio Robo 01

Release Date: February 2021
RRP: 5500 yen

One benefit of Bandai’s Super Mini-Pla model kit line has been to create new versions of iconic Super Sentai mecha with modern articulation, but another one has simply been a shot at getting affordable versions of these classic designs to begin with. Something like a DX Bio Robo will run you hundreds on the aftermarket, but now you can own one at a fraction of the price with the Super Mini-Pla Bio Robo set. The mecha from 1984’s Choudenshi Bioman is the latest Super Sentai to receive the premium model kit treatment, with its individual components Bio Jet 1 and Bio Jet 2 able to transform and combine into the mighty bio particle-powered robot.

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Super Mini-Pla Bio Robo is split into two separate boxes (one containing each of the Bio Jets), both of which are bundled together in a single set. The outer packaging for the set follows the usual Super Mini-Pla pattern of featuring various images of the set (as well as the Bioman themselves) in black and white. You get a better look at just what the set is capable of here than you do with the inner boxes, and there’s also so nice line-art of how the two jets combine together as well. While it isn’t the kind of packaging you’d necessarily keep, it’s always great to see Bandai add some flare to these boxes considering once upon a time they were just one single colour with a bit of text on them.

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But of course as always it’s the individual boxes inside which are far more exciting, which are near-perfect recreations of the original DX toy packaging. The only real differences here are the original toy being replaced by the Super Mini-Pla kit (although the poses remain exactly the same), and the new Bandai/Super Mini-Pla logos replacing the old versions. It just goes to show how dynamic those boxes were that they’re being recreated today and look every bit as striking. The various little technical specs on the spine (showing off the height, weight and max speed for both Bio Jets and the combined Bio Robo) are a really nice touch. Inside both boxes you’ll find a number of different model kit runners in various different colours, individual painted parts, a sticker sheet and a single piece of that addictive soda-flavoured Bandai candy. Each box also has a fold out pamphlet explaining both how to build the kits and transform them in their respective Bio Robo components.

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The first box in the set contains Bio Jet 1, the vehicle piloted by both Red One and Pink Five. It takes the form of a rather standard looking fighter jet, though it’s “wings” are built entirely into the body of the craft. The model features a translucent cockpit window, as well as front landing gear that can collapse for when the vehicle is posed in-flight. While there are several areas a more experienced modeller might prefer to paint rather than use the stickers provided, not every detail is moulded into the plastic (or even properly outlined) so some areas will definitely require stickers. However that’s fairly common for the line, especially on some of these earlier robots which were much more sticker-heavy than the modern iterations. What’s not so common is the amount of maintenance work this set seems to have. Nearly every step in the instructions seems to come with the additional warning to snip off excess plastic on the pieces, not all of which is from snipping them off the runners. It adds an extra level of finesse to the building, and can be particularly frustrating when you think you’ve got it all nice and smooth and the pieces still don’t click together properly.

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Box number two contains Bio Jet 2, which is piloted by the remaining three members of the Bioman team - Green Two, Blue Three and Yellow Four. Forming the lower half of Bio Robo, the vehicle is a little bit larger than Bio Jet 1 and has more pronounced wings and fins. This model also has a translucent cockpit window, as well as three collapsing landing gear wheels. The build process is a little more involved and interesting than Bio Jet one as there are more transformation mechanics built in, but overall the pros and cons are largely the same. There’s also a number of wraparound stickers on this model that go over two pieces, so be careful not to make any mistakes before you apply them.

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Together the Bio Jets are the very embodiment of 80s Super Sentai vehicle aesthetics - blocky futuristic looking jets but also ones that done shy too far away from real-life aesthetics (other than maybe colour that is). Given how prominent white and red is on the pair of them it’s amazing that they’re able to combine into a mostly black robot, but then that’s the beauty of the transformation!

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Of course you can always look at the instruction leaflet to combine/transform these jets, but one of the coolest things about the Super Mini-Pla line is how you can just watch a video of these robots transforming onscreen and then the kit can mimic it perfectly. Though it may only be made of components it’s quite impressive watching these triangular gets fix together and fold up into a smooth, boxy humanoid robot. 80s Super Sentai robots may seem relatively simple compared to the modern day ones, but there’s a certain elegance to them that’s arguably been lost over the years. Once you’ve combined and transformed the two Bio Jets into Bio Robo, don’t forget about the extra set of removing the landing gear panel on the front of the chest and turning it around to make it a perfectly flat surface.

And Bio Robo is formed! Suddenly the transformation makes a whole lot of sense, as all those white and red jet parts are pushed to the back to leave a black, boxy silhouette when viewed front on. Bio Robo is contains the very essence of 1980s Super Sentai robot aesthetics, and given that it looks as good as this it's no surprise that it's one of the most popular retro Sentai robos. As usual Bandai have done a brilliant job reimagining it as part of the Super Mini-Pla range, with all that modern engineering not impacting on the design of the robot at all. The pre-painted head is just the icing on the cake, giving the robot the necessary detail it needs to be striking without having to rely on the buyer's skill to bring it out. Admittedly I'd not been the biggest fan of Bio Robo prior to buying this set, but being able to look at the design up close and in the palm of my hand has definitely given me a new appreciation for it.

Given how few (if any) Bio Robo toys there’s been since the series first aired, it obviously goes without saying that this is the most posable and well-articulated figure the mecha has ever had. The Super Mini-Pla line has always imbued incredibly poseability into its releases, but you really see how much of a difference it makes when you’re slapping it onto a decades’ old robot like this. Altogether Bio Robo has; 
- Ball jointed head and wrists 
- Butterfly shoulders 
- Rotating shoulders 
- Three-point rotating hips 
- Bicep, waist and thigh swivels 
- Hinged elbows and knees 
- Swivel hinge ankles 
On top of all that, the pelvis’ “skirt” panels are all able to lift up to give the legs more clearance for movement. The really interesting bit of articulation here are the hips, which on top of having their own two-point rotation system to move sidewards/forwards are also attached to an additional piece which can pull them down below the pelvis. This adds a huge range of movement to the legs, and together with the fantastic ankle tilts the kit has Bio Robo is really good at pulling off various dynamic and wide-legged poses. The small socket located between the legs is also perfect for articulated display stands. This is the kind of movement Bio Robo wouldn’t have even had on the show itself, and seeing it able to pull off wild poses to this extent makes that timeless design even more dynamic. The one word of caution I have with this kit is that it seems far more prone to sticker wear than usual. There are a lot of places that can rub together if you’re not too careful, which can lead to stickers rubbing and/or peeling pretty quickly.

Accessory-wise Bio Robo also comes packaged with an alternate pair of open hands, the Super-Maser sword, Bio Shield and gas neutraliser. The gas neutraliser can be pegged comfortably into either of the open hands, and the sword and shield held in either of the fists. While all three are relatively simple weapons they all go perfectly with the overall aesthetic of the robot, and the option of display it with either closed or open hands allows for plenty of display variety. The arms can even come in close enough to do a proper two-handed sword pose, which looks fantastic. Even though the gas neutraliser is unlikely to get quite as much mileage as the sword and shield, it’s nice to look back on a time when Super Sentai robots had an arsenal of random bits that weren’t just new toys/power-ups. Bio Robo isn’t quite as fully loaded as Sun Vulcan Robo was, but it’s still a solid array of extra parts that takes the model to the next level.

The Super Mini-Pla line has set an extremely high bar for itself in recent years, and while Super Mini-Pla Bio Robo is another exceptional release it doesn’t quite hit the same highs as previous entries. While the look of the model itself is incredible and the chance to own a modern, articulated Bio Robo at a fraction of the price the original DX now goes for shouldn’t be passed on, the build process itself feels a little less refined than usual. There’s an unfortunate over-reliance on stickers for detail, but the more irritating concern is the increased amount of parts maintenance needed for a perfect build. Nevertheless Bio Robo is a great addition to the Super Sentai Super Mini-Pla collection, as well as technically a sort of Swansong for it as well. It’ll be back in July with the release of Gaoking, but by then will be going by a brand new name - Shokugan Modelling Project.

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