Thursday 29 February 2024

Toybox REVIEW: Shokugan Modeling Project Ninjaman

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Release Date: May 2023
RRP: 5400 yen

The Shokugan Modeling Project (formerly Super Mini-Pla) line has been reasonably good at covering everything when it tackles a Super Sentai series, but that isn't to say there aren't a few gaps here and there. Luckily Bandai are proving to be quite good at covering said gaps at a later date, as evidenced by the release of Shokugan Modeling Project Ninjaman! A Premium Bandai exclusive, this release comes a whole five years after the release of the Muteki Shogun and Kakure Daishogun & Tsubasamaru sets – although nicely timed with releases from the Super SHODO line for the full Ninja Sentai Kakuranger experience.

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As is the standard for the Super Sentai range Shokugan Modeling Project Ninjaman comes in packaging designed to mirror that of the original 1994 DX toy. However whereas the original had windowed packaging that showed off the toy inside, the SMP has had to settle for an image of the completed kit in a similar pose. Putting white around the figure to represent the styrofoam tray is a REALLY nice touch. Such is the adherence to the original packaging that the images barely show off the superior level of articulation the kit has too, though Bandai have sneaked in a few shots with poses there's no way the DX toy could pull off. Open up the box and you'll find the parts needed to build Ninjaman spread across a number of different coloured runners, alongside a handful of pre-painted parts, a small sticker sheet, building instructions and of course a piece of soda-flavoured candy.

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It's not often that you get a Super Sentai SMP release that isn't either a combinable robot or a robot with a relatively involved transformation, so Ninjaman feels like a bit of a switch up when it comes to building. The basics are the same as any other model kit, but there are much larger parts to deal with as well since you're essentially building a figure the size of a combined robot. As such it's a pretty good "entry" kit for anyone looking to sample the line, especially as it doesn’t need a whole lot of painting to look good either. As is usually the case for the line the kit comes with a few pre-painted parts (namely the head, chest and sword) but also very few stickers too – mainly just a bit of gold and black strips on certain areas. The kit does use that dull grey plastic for limbs that should be silver, but as they're mostly covered in standard Ninjaman mode it isn't quite as distracting as it can be on certain other kits. Despite having a lot of joint cuts to allow for both the gimmick and articulation it looks superb. At a push the head is perhaps a little on the small side, but not to the point where it spoils the look of the figure.

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As well as a slight deviation in building style the articulation the figure has is also a little different to your standard Super Sentai SMP kit - similar enough to be recognisable as the same line, but built in a way that gives Ninjaman a bit more human-like expression. Altogether the figure features;
- Ball jointed head, neck and wrists
- Butterfly joint shoulders
- Swivel hinge shoulders, waist, knees and ankles
- Double hinge elbows and knees
- Single hinge toe sections
- Bicep and thigh swivels
The front and sides of the crotch/skirt section are also hinged so not to get in the way when posing the legs. While the layout of this articulation may just sound like your average articulated figure on paper, it's the way in which it's built that makes Ninjaman particularly interesting. Take the elbows for example - while technically a double hinge joint, it's designed so that one hinge is at the elbow whilst the other is actually built into the wrist. Having a swivel hinge at the waist is also nice too, as it gives Ninjaman some rocking motion there as well as just a basic swivel. The butterfly joints in the shoulders give a really good range of motion, but can have the tendency to pop out of the torso if pushed too hard. In Ninjaman form it can be a little tricky to navigate around both the shoulder pads and upper leg sections, but the kit has been designed in a way to make these workable. It might not be quite as articulated as the SHODO release, but it's still a considerable level above the DX and exactly what you'd expect from the SMP line. Not to mention that it's doing all this while packing a transformation gimmick in as well.

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Ninjaman's accessories include an alternate visor piece (for use with an alternate 'flaming visor' sticker), three additional pairs of hands, the Ninja Sword and its sheathe. The sheathe clips onto the back of the figure as per the show/DX toy, and the sword slots in without any disassembly required. The alternate visor piece is a nice little extra but requires disassembling the head to use, so really it seems like one of those extras where you have to choose one or the other when building. Since it's unlikely anyone would pick this over the standard visor, it would be nice if Bandai just went the extra mile and included an alternate head with it instead. Still, the hand selection on offer here is great – with Ninjaman having closed fists, weapon holding, open and ninja pose hands in total. Each of these hands is attached to a hinged ball joint (with the exception of the weapon holding pair which are just on a standard ball joint), giving them a fantastic range of motion. Comparatively there isn't a whole lot to say about the Ninja Sword – it's fairly plain, but screen-accurate. While there are a few other things a Ninjaman figure could conceivably come with, for one that's meant to go alongside the SMP Kakuranger mecha this has pretty much everything it needs.

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Although combining might not be on the cards with this release SMP Ninjaman still retains the same gimmick as his DX counterpart – namely the ability to transform into Samuraiman mode. This is a relatively simple transformation that features all the same steps as the DX toy – pull the blue leg sections down onto the shins, lift up the shoulder pads and pull the back of the figure to open the chest compartment and allow the head/chest to spin around and switch. While the chest step isn't spring-loaded like it is on the DX toy, that doesn't make turning it any less satisfying. Again Samuraiman features pre-painted head and chest pieces, capturing all the detail and colour of the design without the need for additional stickers. In this mode all that unpainted grey plastic becomes exposed too, so if you are one to paint your kits a coat of silver paint on these parts goes a long way to really make the design pop.

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In this form Samuraiman has all of the same articulation he did as Ninjaman, only with the shoulder pads raised and the legs lowered the joints themselves are now exposed – giving him a far better range of movement in these areas. The hips especially benefit from not having those chunky blue pieces just below them, as not only can you now work the hip joints a lot better but moving the skirt pieces around to make the most of the leg articulation looks and feels far more natural. The Ninja Sword and sheathe can be combined together to form the Samurai Javelin, with the sheathe clipping onto the bottom of the sword to give it a more impressive length. The two pieces fit together nicely but the connection isn't as snug as you might think, so be careful of the sheathe wobbling about when moving the figure into more dynamic poses.

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Credit where it's due, it's pretty amazing that Bandai release two similar-scaled but completely different Ninjaman figures so close to each other. For a clean, high-articulated version you have the SHODO release, but for the full transforming edition with similarly impressive articulation you the Shokugan Modeling Project Ninjaman. In addition to being a really fun build that’s a little different to the usual SMP release, this little figure packs so much personality with great poseability, great accessories and a great rendition of the original's transformation gimmick. With Kakuranger's 30th anniversary hitting in 2024, this release couldn't have been more perfectly timed.

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