Tuesday 28 March 2023

Toybox REVIEW: Super Mini-Pla Live Boxer

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Release Date: March 2018, November 2022 (Reissue)
RRP: 4500 yen

The Super Mini-Pla (now known as Shokugan Modelling Project) has been an amazing opportunity for Super Sentai fans to get high quality (and more importantly articulated) model kits of classic mecha from across the franchise, but the line does come with one pretty big drawback – availability. If you don't jump on a kit as soon as its announced, there's every chance that it'll sell out and the aftermarket price will immediately skyrocket. This rings particularly true for the Premium Bandai exclusive releases. That said, Bandai made the rather surprising move to reissue some of their back catalogue last year, presumably to tie in with recent Super SHODO releases. This gave me the opportunity to grab the one kit I'd missed out on and have been regretting ever since – Super Mini-Pla Live Boxer. At long last, my Choujuu Sentai Liveman mecha collection is complete!

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In true Super Mini-Pla style the box for Live Boxer takes inspiration from the original DX Live Boxer toy – maybe not in terms of shape but definitely design. The cube-shaped box sports artwork almost directly in the style of the original, swapping out the actual toy images for that of the Super Mini-Pla version. In addition to pictures of the Live Boxer combination there's also images of the individual vehicles (Bison Liner and Sai Fire) as well as the Super Live Robo combination it can form with Live Robo. As with all Premium Bandai exclusive releases, the runners for both vehicles are in the one box rather than separated into their own unique boxes. Inside the runners come in a variety of colours (green, white, black and white) along with a few pre-painted parts, sticker sheet, building/combination instructions and a piece of ramune-flavoured candy.

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Black Bison and Green Sai joined the Liveman team much later than the core three members, piloting their own vehicles that turn into their own separate robot. Black Bison commands the Bison Liner, with Red Falcon and Yellow Lion occasionally joining him as co-pilots. The vehicle is a large six-wheeled trailer with a bison-shaped cab section. The build is reasonably straightforward but has some interesting bits to it, such as the fold in robot arms, hinged wheel sections and hidden robot parts that just kind of peg into the cavities. The model does feature a lot of wraparound stickers, but application is pretty simple thanks to the moulded detailing on the parts. Personally I always recommend painting the grey plastic parts silver prior to assembly, but other than that the stickers do the job nicely here.

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Onscreen Bison Liner is armed with the Bison Beam it can fire from its horns and has a ramming attack powerful enough to split a mountain in half. Unfortunately, neither of these are things that can be replicated without additional effect parts so in terms of play features there isn't a whole lot to it. The model does however have free-rolling wheels so that it can roll across surfaces. There might not be a whole lot to it, but it's an impressive-looking trailer that far outclasses the previous Liveman mecha in terms of size.

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Meanwhile Green Sai commands Sai Fire, a missile truck that is also occasionally piloted by Blue Dolphin. Design-wise Sai Fire is very similar to Bison Liner but while they certainly have lots of shared elements, the overall build is a little different – particularly in the trailer section. Whereas Bison Liner has a lot of hinged parts that fold over each other, Sai Fire's are collapsible pieces instead. There's also less wraparound stickers to apply here, but still a fair amount to cover large bits of detailing (which again, is most moulded onto the plastic if you'd rather paint it on).

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Sai Fire is armed with twin missile launchers, and is also (rather amazingly) able to burrow underground. While the latter can't really be replicated as a play feature, the former can in the form of the moveable missile turrets atop the vehicle. The missiles themselves can't fire, but the ability to raise and lower the turrets (sadly they can't rotate at the base) is a nice extra to the free-rolling wheels.

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Together they make a rather impressive pair of trailer vehicles – very different from the core Liveman mecha components but at the same time in-keeping with the part animal/part vehicle look most of them have going on. The transformation to Live Boxer involves quite a bit of parts-forming, but the act of separating Bison Liner, folding it into that boxy torso and then reconnecting the parts is rather satisfying.

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Straight off the bat it's worth noting that Super Mini-Pla Live Boxer has more in common with the original DX toy than it does the in-show suit. Whereas in Liveman a whole load of mass cheating was involved to make Live Boxer a more feasible size, the toy naturally retains all the mass from its individual components. This means a HUGE cube chest, relatively small arms in comparison and thick cuboid legs. It really lives up to the name Live BOXer. That said, it's still a great looking design – carrying forward all of that classic boxy Super Sentai robot energy. The lack of bright colours also gives off that classic vibe, but at the same time is perfect because the colours used are those of the Liveman that pilot it. All the connections for the combination are really stable, so the model kit holds together particularly well.

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Unfortunately, being a big walking box means there isn't a whole lot to offer in terms of articulation. Admittedly the top half of the robot is pretty good – ball jointed head and shoulders, hinged elbows and wrist swivels. It's when you move down to the lower half that things are a little bit more basic. There's just ball jointed hips and a very minor knee joint. The front halves of the feet can also swivel due to the peg joint connection, so you could argue that there is some form of tilt down there. Given the sheer size of Live Boxer's top half the lack of a waist swivel is somewhat understandable, but without a proper knee joint to compensate for it you are very limited in just how much you can get out of the figure. A lot of stumbling forward poses with arms raised (which admittedly feels pretty true to the suit itself) but not a lot of dynamic action poses. It's more articulated than the original DX toy though, so that's still a step up.

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But the fun doesn’t stop there! Choujuu Sentai Liveman is notable for being the first Super Sentai series to feature two giant robots that are able to combine together. This transformation is easier to do from Bison Liner and Sai Fire in their vehicle modes, rather than straight from Live Boxer (although it's straightforward enough either way). The folded halves of Bison Liner become new feet, while the halves of Sai Fire connect onto Live Robo's arms. There's a particularly satisfying bit of transformation trickery here where you compress the Sai Fire halves and new fists poke out. The animal head cabs become shoulder pads, while the Live Boxer chest piece fits onto the top and extends downwards to become a crotch guard. Clip on the helmet piece and Super Live Robo is formed!

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As the first ever multiple-robot combination in Super Sentai Super Live Robo isn't especially complex when it comes to design, but that's by no means a bad thing – in fact its simplicity is arguably its biggest strength. Rather than meld the two robots together into something new, the Live Boxer components essentially act as additional armour to Live Robo – giving it new feet, more powerful arms and a more fortified chest area. The parts peg on nice and firmly, giving the combination a sturdy feel which matches its more powerful new look. Adding the Bison Liner and Green Sai to the mix REALLY makes you appreciate the team colours of Liveman too – suddenly the green and black look so much more prominent when mixed in with red, blue and yellow. It's a great looking robot, and the simplicity makes it far more appealing than some later Super Sentai combos where it's just a case of piling multiple robots on top of one another.

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The additional Live Boxer parts don't really do much to change the overall articulation of Live Robo, so altogether Super Live Robo features; 
- Ball jointed head 
- Swivel hinge shoulders, elbows, knees and ankles
- Bicep, wrist and thigh swivels 
The shoulders on Live Robo are particularly good, because as well as being able to raise outward where the arm connects to the shoulder pad there is also additional range where the shoulder pads connect to the torso as well. That said, the addition on the Sai and Bison heads on the shoulders so get in the way of it a bit, as they're clashing against the harness piece that's now running down the robot's chest. Overall the limbs retain great articulation, but the torso does prove to be a bit problematic. Not just because of the aforementioned clashing around the shoulders (which also similarly affects the head movement), but also the lack of a waist swivel. There's rarely a model kit that wouldn't benefit from a waist swivel. Again it's perfectly serviceable articulation and a hell of a lot better than anything from Liveman has ever seen before, but it just doesn't seem quite as polished as the line would later become.

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Whether it be by design or execution, it's fair to say that Super Mini-Pla Live Boxer isn’t quite as polished as subsequent releases in the range. The boxy design doesn't allow for much in the way of articulation, and as great as the design may be the same applies to Super Live Robo as well. That said, both Live Boxer and Super Live Robo are landmark mecha in the Super Sentai franchise and having modern versions of them is a dream come true. Even more so because Bandai had the sense to reissue the kits so that more people had the chance to experience them. That alone (combined with the lower price tag these things had back in 2018) is worth the price of admission.

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