While this post is only loosely Japan-related, I feel the need to write it anyway. You see, as a young nerdling, I practically lived on the starship Enterprise. Specifically, the one from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Galaxy-class, Starfleet registry NCC-1701-D. I watched the show daily, I read the technical manual cover to cover, I knew this ship top to bottom, stem to stern. I have, therefore, been lusting after a good model of the thing for about 20 years now. For various reasons, I missed out on the Art Asylum version. When I heard Japanese model company Aoshima was going to produce an even more high end version, I determined I would not miss out again. Despite the expense, I jumped on it, and was not disappointed…

Forward Dorsal View

These are the voyages...

The Enterprise is presented in 1/2000 scale, making it approximately 1 foot long. Sculpting detail is beyond expectations, with sculpted windows, details on the escape pods, even the ribbing on the phaser strips. Some have commented that the curvature of the neck where it meets the saucer is smoother than presented in the technical manual drawings or the studio model, though I think this is a later retcon that may have been in the CGI version of the ship. The Art Asylum version is the same way, so I guess that is how it is now. The whole model is made out of relatively few pieces, which grants it some structural stability, but it is still very much a model and not a toy. Care should be taken when handling it.

Though it appears mostly gray in photos, the color actually has a slight blue-green tint to it, especially in the “Aztecing”. Unlike most mass produced Star Trek ships, the Aztecing is fully painted on all surfaces of the ship, and looks amazing. Additional painted details include the yellow RCS thruster quads, mustard colored transporter emitters, cargo bay doors, and more. Only two decals are required, the RCS thruster quads on the forward part of the stardrive section (just to either side of the main deflector). I’m not sure why these two were not painted on like the others. Name, registry and other fleet markings are all nicely printed on.

Minor assembly is required in the form of various screw caps that need to be installed around the model. The ones on the saucer take the form of some of the escape pods, making them almost undetectable once installed. In other places, Aoshima did the best they could to integrate them with existing features. While not as invisible as the saucer lifeboats, they are about as unobtrusive as they can be. One particular one comprising part of the cargo door on the bottom of the stardrive section was very loose on mine and required glue to keep it in place. Otherwise, all the screw covers hold themselves firmly in place.

Saucer Detail

Oh, the sacrifices we make for pretty lights

Additional Photo: Stardrive section battery cover and power switch

Batteries also need to be installed in both the saucer and stardrive (allowing them to be lit individually). The battery covers are the most obvious blemishes in the model’s appearance, but I don’t see what more could be done. It’s a sacrifice we had to make in order to have the lighting. One really clever bit is the power button for the saucer, which is actually the port side cargo door (opposite the battery cover). Like the escape pod screw covers, you’d miss it if you didn’t know to look for it.

Separation

Let's try not to crash into any planets this time

Additional Photo: Separation plane detail

Of course, the big feature anybody looks for in any toy or model of a Galaxy-class starship is saucer separation. Older toys would use some kind of mechanical locking mechanism or pegs, but this was unsightly and possibly prone to breaking. The Art Asylum sculpt introduced the idea of using magnets, which is not only more attractive, but easier to use and impossible to break. Unfortunately, the areas hidden when the ship is docked seem to be the one area Aoshima skimped on. The separation plane on both the saucer and stardrive side has less detail than the Art Asylum version. The docking magnets are also visible on the surface, the one on the stardrive conspicuously taking the place of the battle bridge. While not so bad it ruins the model, the lack of effort in this area just sticks out as odd considering the incredible level of care taken everywhere else.

Lighting - ventral view

It's OK, you can weep. There's no shame here.

Now onto the coup de gras, the real feature that will send you scrambling to purchase this bad boy — the lighting. It’s amazing. It almost brings me to tears. Individual windows have been cut out, allowing the light from inside to shine through. The amount of realism added just by that is incredible, and they are everywhere. Saucer, stardrive, even the neck has lit windows. The obvious (*cough* Art Asylum Enterprise-E) inclusions are of course the warp nacelles and main deflector. Impulse engines are also lit both on the saucer and stardrive. Again showing their insane obsession with detail, Aoshima includes alternate caps to black out the saucer impulse engines as they are not used when the ship is docked. All the lights are bright, and visible even in a well lit room. Not included are sound effects as found on Art Asylum ships, but I always found that to be obnoxious anyway. As you can see, there are no problems with light bleed through the plastic, though close inspection reveals a bit of leakage around seams. The only thing I think is missing lighting that should have it is the bridge, though that would have required installation of a clear cap since they couldn’t simply cut it out. Still, I’d have liked to have seen it done. I also have a minor quibble in that the saucer deflector (the four square lights toward the front) should be white, not orange. Not sure where they got the orange from.

Shuttlepod and captian's yacht

Clearly not to scale

Additional accessories included are an out of scale model of the shuttlepod El-Baz, a removable captain’s yacht, and a nice display stand. While I would have preferred one of the Type-6 warp shuttles introduced later in the series, that’s just personal preference. The El-Baz has lots of nice sculpting and paint detail to match its mothership, and is a great little bonus. On the opposite end of the detail spectrum is the captain’s yacht, which has no detail whatsoever on its dorsal side. While the yacht was never used (or even mentioned) on screen, drawings of it were presented in the TNG Technical Manual, so it would’ve been nice to see it more fleshed out. Still, considering no other model to my knowledge has ever bothered to include it at all, it’s still a neat feature. As for the stand, it is capable of displaying the Enterprise either docked or separated, and features a cool reproduction of the ship’s dedication plaque.

Saucer edge seam

At least the departments won't have to fight over those lateral sensor arrays

Finally, my miscellaneous gripes. I mentioned seams when talking about the lighting, and there are some little gaps that become visible when the lighting is on. These should have been tightened up, or at least sealed during assembly. The biggest seam issue has to due with loss of detail due to the way it’s put together. The top and bottom halves of the saucer are joined right at the outermost edge. I had trouble photographing this, but it produces not just an obvious and unsightly seam, but also precludes the possibility of any of the details that should be around that edge. Mostly this is just lateral sensor arrays, and it probably takes an uber-Trek-nerd like me to notice they’re gone, but this is a damn expensive model. The Art Asylum version managed to solve this, why not Aoshima? Similar seams exist around the edge of the stardrive, likewise eliminating detail there. I mentioned about the bridge not being lit, which is kind of understandable, but the observation lounge on deck 2 aft should have been lit. That’s a major location which many fans know how to locate, so it should have been lit. They lit Picard’s quarters on deck 3 forward though, so win some lose some.

Overall, this is a great model. I’m really reduced to nitpicking to find things wrong with it. Yes, the seams kind of suck considering the cost, and those two stickers are kind of BS, but this is still the most amazing representation of this ship ever mass produced. While it is priced out of the range of most casual fans, it is a great feather in the cap of any hard core Trekkie’s collection. I’m certainly glad to have scratched this 20 year old itch.

Additional photos:

Forward Ventral View
Aft Dorsal View
Aft Ventral View
Lighting – Dorsal View
Lighting – Saucer Aft View
Stand Dedication Plaque

The publication date of this post is August 28th, 2011, the day the final episode of Kamen Rider OOO aired. To mark the occasion, let’s look at something I’ve sunk more money into this year than I care to think about: OOO’s henshin gear!

OOO Driver

OOO Driver

OOO’s henshin belt is the OOO Driver. “Driver” seems to be the new standard term for henshin belts, a bit of a shame they don’t come up with more unique names anymore. Names aside, the OOO Driver itself is pretty nice. The buckle is glossy black and silver with metallic blue “circuit” detailing. When wearing the belt, on your left hip is a small holder for easy access to up to six OOO Medals. This holder is amusingly styled after the type of belt mounted change holders a vendor on the street might use. On your right hip is the OOO Scanner, where all the electronics and magic really reside. I’ll discuss that more in a bit, but on the belt it has its own holster clip, keeping it securely in place when not in use. The straps for the belt also feature release buttons, allowing them to be easily detached from the buckle for display if you prefer.

OOO Medals

OOO Medals

The central theme of Kamen Rider OOO is OOO Medals. Each medal bears the crest of a particular animal, and grants OOO a unique power. Medals are primarily classified as Core Medals or Cell Medals, shown above the translucent Condor Core next to the dull gray Condor Cell. Core Medals are the “core” of the beings called Greeeds. Each Greeed has nine cores: 3 head cores, 3 body cores, and three leg cores. Which part of the body the core corresponds to is indicated by bars on the back of the medal: 1 for head, 2 for body, 3 for legs. You can see the back of the Kamakiri Core on the right has two bars, indicating it is a body core. Cell Medals “stick” to core medals to form the remainder of a Greeed’s body mass, and can be created by having a creature called a Yummy feed off human desire. In the context of the toys, Core Medals are made of translucent plastic with a gold painted metal ring. These medals feel very substantial when held, and are very nicely made.

Cell Medals are made from simple, unpainted gray plastic. This indicates their relatively lower value, and are not functionally interchangeable with the Core Medals. On the back of Cell Medals is a large “X”, since they do not activate any power for OOO (though they are utilized by Kamen Rider Birth).

Inside each medal is an RFID chip, which is activated and read when the OOO Scanner passes over it. This is the same technology being applied to credit cards and passports, allowing you to wave them near a pad for them to be read. IMO, this technology is better applied to toys, since the security implications make me cringe.

OOO Driver loaded

To use the OOO Driver, load three medals into it. They should be, in order, one head core, one body core, and one leg core. Above we see the three medals that make up OOO’s “default” form: Taka (head), Tora (body) and Batta (legs). In practice, the toy doesn’t really care. Put them out of order, use three head cores, use cell medals, it’ll still work in a basic sense. Once the medals are loaded, the front part of the buckle can be tilted to prepare for scanning.

OOO Scanner

OOO Scanner

Take the OOO Scanner, and squeeze the large button hidden inside its grip area. This will cause the scanner to light up and begin making a pulsing standby sound. Starting from your right with the head medal, run the scanner through the track along the bottom edge of the buckle so it passes over each medal in turn. As you pass the medals, the red lights along the front edge will illuminate one by one. If you go slowly, the scanner will announce the name of each medal as you pass. If you go quickly, it will announce them all at the end. Make sure to catch the hidden sensor at the end of the buckle to signal the scanner you’re done. The OOO Scanner will announce the names of the medals, then play a sound effect. The effect you get will either be generic, or a unique “jingle” if you scanned a special combo. The above set is OOO’s default TaToBa Combo. The scanner will play the special jingle for the combo: “Ta-To-Ba TaToBa Ta-To-Ba!” All the other combos are made up by using all three medals of the same color. These single color combos also get a sound effect related to the animal group they represent (screeching bird, buzzing insects, etc.) Here is the list:

TaToBaTakaToraBatta, OOO default combo
RaToraTahLionToraCheetah, cat combo
GataKiriBaKuwagataKamakiriBatta, insect combo
SaGouZouSaiGorillaZou, large mammal combo
TaJaDoruTakaKujakuCondor, bird combo
ShaUTaShachiUnagiTako, aquatic combo
PuToTyraPteraTriceraTyranno, dinosaur combo (in the show, these medals cannot mix with other medals)
BuraKaWaniCobraKameWani, reptile combo (movie exclusive)

To use OOO’s hissastsu techniques, scan the same set of medals you just scanned a second time, and the OOO Scanner will announce “Scanning Charge!” It will then play the combo’s animal noise if applicable, followed by a hissastsu sound effect.

OOO Medal Holder

OOO Medal Holder

It’s not long before the number of medals OOO and his partner Ankh are using becomes a bit difficult to manage. They begin to use a special OOO Medal Holder, which of course Bandai produced and sold. For what it is, it’s actually pretty nice. It’s made of the same glossy black plastic with metallic blue detailing as the OOO Driver. It has a really solid hinge, and two slide locks to keep it from spilling open. Inside, it’s lined with a sort of stiff foam rubber with cutouts for 24 medals. The medals fit snugly into the cutouts and do not tend to fall out. For what it is, it’s a pretty nice little piece, and a stylish way to house and protect the investment you made in all those medals. Shown here is my collection, featuring all 18 Core Medals from the TV series, and the Condor Cell which comes with the case itself. These are all the “deluxe” versions of the medals, rather than the gashapon or candy toy versions which are slightly lower quality. Here’s the breakdown of where the deluxe cores come from:

OOO Driver: Taka, Tora, Batta, Kamakiri
Medal Set o1: Lion, Cheetah, Kuwagata
Medal Set 02: Sai, Gorilla, Zou
TaJa Spinner: Kujaku, Condor
Medal Set 03: Shachi, Unagi, Tako
Medal Set 04: Ptera, Tricera, Tyranno

The Cobra, Kame and Wani cores come in Medal Set SP, which I haven’t been able to get ahold of yet. There’s also Medal Set EX, featuring the Cores from Kamen Rider OOO & W feat. Skull: Movie War Core, but their names aren’t actually spoken by the OOO Scanner. A few promotional medals like a kangaroo have also been released as magazine premiums in Japan, and they actually do work, though they aren’t part of any combo.

TaJa Spinner

TaJa Spinner

Though each body medal features a “weapon”, like the Tora Claws or the Kamakiri Blades, only two were released as actual toys: the TaJa Spinner and MedaGabuRyu. TaJa Spinner appears on the left arm whenever the Kujaku Core is used. In form, it’s sort of a small shield, looking like a giant Core Medal featuring the crest of the TaJaDoru combo. Detailing as expected of Bandai’s DX role play toys, is nice, but I feel like its design could use more variation of color. Its overall effect is rather bland. Functionality is also not all that great. There’s a trigger on the hand grip (which may be too small for adult hands). Pushing the trigger plays a sound of a fireball being launched, but a light on the front would have sold this much better.

TaJa Spinner action

TaJa Spinner is able to activate its own hissastu attack separate from Scanning Charge. To do this, open the TaJa Spinner and fill it with seven medals of any kind. Close the cover, and pull back the handle. When the OOO Scanner is set in the track at the front, it’ll press a button causing the medals inside to rapidly spin past. After they’ve all passed, push the scanner the rest of the way through to catch another sensor. It will announce the names of the first six medals that passed it, then say “Giga Scan!” After this, the trigger on the TaJa Spinner will play a bigger attack sound effect. Why they include space for seven medals when only six matter is curious. It seems they could’ve spaced them out and adjusted the timing so everything would just work with six, if that’s all the memory in the scanner can handle.

The OOO Driver is great. The medal system allows for a lot of variation, and they’re neat little collectibles. The belt itself is a blast, though the cost to get all the medals can be daunting. Try not to get scalped on the price of the medal sets, they’re not worth more than 1500 yen at most. The TaJa Spinner is a little more lacklustre. I just somehow expected… more. Even just the addition of a light on the front would have been a big improvement. If all you want is the Kujaku and Condor Cores, you may want to consider getting the gashapon or candy toy versions.

As discussed in the GokaiOh review, the 2011 Super Sentai is Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, a team of pirates who can take the form of all 34 previous Sentai teams. This leads to some pretty wild and varied action scenes as the Gokaigers change forms, powers and therefore fighting styles at will. The method for doing this, of course, is their henshin device: a phone changer called Mobirates.

Mobirates closed

Mobirates is big. Really big. Sentai phone changers are already much bigger than real-life cell phones. I wouldn’t want to have something the size of the Magirangers’ MagiPhone in my pocket all the time. Even then, as you can see in the photo above Mobirates (left) completely dwarfs MagiPhone (right). Wow. The size is good and bad. Role play toys are typically made under scale to suit children, so it’s nice to have something with some bulk. On the other hand, holding this thing up to your head like a phone demonstrates how ridiculously out of scale it is with real phones. Especially given the part extending out of the back, I would’ve liked to see some sort of holster or method for attaching it to a belt included, as it’s impossible to pocket. Aside from size, Mobirates shows some nice texture detailing in the red areas, contrasting with the smooth glossy parts. The leather-like texture with the gold fittings also helps sell visually the idea that maybe it does come from the high seas of the 17th century.

Mobirates open

Open, we see the top “screen” featuring a pair of cutlasses and a small red LED in the center. On the bottom we have a keyhole which serves the phone’s main gimmick, and the keypad in a font reminiscent of the time period of pirates. There’s more of the nice red texture around the keypad, along with some gold detailing around the key hole. Only the white keys work, the star burst in the top center functions as “enter”. There are numerous codes that can be keyed in to make Mobirates call out something, I’ll list a few here.

0001–0035 — Says the name of the appropriate Sentai team, Goranger through Gokaiger
1992, 2001–2005, 2008–2011 — Says “Gattai!”, then the name of the mecha corresponding to that year’s team, followed by one of “Iku ze!”, “Hasshin!” or “Ganbare!” (Odd that Daizyujin is specifically included while DaiBouken and GekiTouja are skipped)
5091 — Hasshin! Go~kaiMachine!
5501 — Hasshin! Go~kaiGalleon!

There are numerous others, including a few somewhat silly holiday greetings, various cheers for the Gokaigers, etc. A full list can be found here. You’ll need to be able to read Japanese to see what each code is, but at least you can see which numbers will in fact do something.

Ranger Key

In order to henshin with Mobirates, you don’t actually use the keypad. Instead, you use an item called a Ranger Key. When the 34 previous Sentai teams lost their powers defending Earth from the Zangyack Empire, the powers were sealed in Ranger Keys and scattered throughout the universe. AkaRed was able to gather all the keys aside from the additional (6th, 7th, etc) Rangers and passed them onto Marvelous who became GokaiRed. To begin, they must transform using their respective Gokaiger key. Ranger Keys begin as a little figurine of the Ranger they embody. To turn them into a key, just flip their arms up, then the legs to reveal the actual key part. The Ranger Keys have a decent amount of detail for their size. It should be noted though the ones that come from gashapon or candy toys have stickers instead of painted details.

Mobirates activated

To activate Mobirates’ henshin mode, insert a Ranger Key, turn it, and of course call out the henshin phrase “Gokai Change!” The cutlasses on top will rearrange to form a crossed image, and reveal the skull/Ranger Key to complete the Gokaigers’ logo. The red LED will flash, and Mobirates will call out the name of the appropriate team followed by a henshin sound. Gokaiger keys have a unique henshin sound, all others use a generic one.

GokaiBuckle

I actually bought my Mobirates as part of the “Narikiri Set” (Roleplay Set) which includes the Gokaigers’ belt GokaiBuckle, and the first additional Ranger Key set. In the show, the Gokaigers are able to think of the key they want, and it will appear from the GokaiBuckle when the big button on top is pressed. Then, they’re able to “Gokai Change” at will into any previous Sentai member (even if it doesn’t match their color or gender). Obviously the toy can’t make things appear from nowhere, but you can put one in beforehand, then take it back out. That’s… all it does. As a belt, it’s large and rather garish. It looks like a championship belt. As part of the set, it’s not a bad inclusion, but I wouldn’t buy it on its own.

Ranger Keys

Finally, here are the 10 keys that come with the Narikiri Set. For those keeping score, here’s which keys come with what if you buy them separately:

Mobirates: GokaiRed, ShinkenRed, Go-OnRed
GokaiBuckle: GokaiPink, GokaiGreen
Ranger Key Set 01: VulEagle, GaoRed, DekaRed, MagiRed, GekiRed

GokaiBlue and GokaiYellow come with the GokaiGun and GokaiSaber respectively. I have a few more keys on the way, but really you get the idea. As I said before, the keys themselves are kind of nice little collectibles all on their own, but don’t spend more than retail on them. They’re not worth it. Coming in October, Bandai is actually releasing the treasure chest the Gokaigers use to hold the keys. Whether it will be full size and able to contain all 199 keys (should you be insane enough to collect them all), we’ll have to see.

Overall, Mobirates is a pretty fun changer. It is on the expensive side, likely due to its size and the complexity of the Ranger Key system. Hopefully this trend of expensive and elaborate changers won’t continue beyond Goseiger and Gokaiger, but for this special occasion Mobirates has a lot of play value. In addition to the main Ranger Key function, it says all kinds of stuff, and is very well sculpted so it looks great on display.

2011 is a big year for Super Sentai. It marks the 35th series in the franchise, Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger. Rather than the method used for Gaoranger (25) and Boukenger (30) where they just got a slightly bigger team-up special. The Gokaigers can take on the form and powers of all 34 previous Sentai teams, in a manner similar to Kamen Rider Decade. That we’ll cover in more detail in the review of their henshin device, Mobirates. For now, let’s look at the mecha — the GokaiMachines.

GokaiMachines

GokaiMachines

Here we have the mecha for the five main Gokaigers. GokaiGalleon, GokaiJet, GokaiRacer, GokaiTrailer, and GokaiMarine. Individually, they don’t do much on their own, even in the show. In the series, GokaiGalleon is the Gokaigers’ home and main method of transportation. The other GokaiMachines nest inside each other, and eventually into GokaiGalleon, but this is not possible with the toys. Their stylings are all pretty boxy, but there’s a good reason for that.

GokaiOh

GokaiOh

The combined form of the five GokaiMachines is GokaiOh! Heavily reinforcing the pirate theme of the Gokaigers, GokaiOh sports a stylish pirate hat and dual cutlasses (GokaiKen). As a combined robot, GokaiOh is very nice looking, with lots of detail all over. The GokaiKen can be attached to holders at his waist in appropriately swashbuckling fashion. The standard Sentai arm joint is employed for the arms and legs, leading to potential for some amusing unintended combinations with older toys. GokaiOh’s main feature is what Bandai refers to as the “Open Gimmick”. By rotating the GokaiDial on GokaiOh’s back, doors on each mecha open like a treasure chest. By default, this only reveals the GokaiHo cannon inside GokaiGalleon, able to perform the Gokai Star Burst attack. This is only the tip of the iceberg, as by meeting other previous Sentai teams, GokaiOh can gain new abilities, referred to as Grand Powers (大いなる力 ooi naru chikara).

PatStriker

Some of these Grand Powers simply deploy an attack or weapon for GokaiOh. Examples would be the Gekirangers causing the spiritual forms of their Geki Beasts to deploy from GokaiOh and attack, or the Boukengers allowing GokaiOh to use DaiBouken’s GoGo Ken. The most significant Grand Powers cause one of a previous team’s mecha to physically appear. The first of these was MagiDragon from MagiRanger, which I deliberately skipped because I found it somewhat silly looking in this incarnation (though I love the original). The second to appear was DekaRed’s PatStriker, from Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger.

PatStriker

PatStriker is shown here with the original Dekaranger version on the left, and the Gokaiger version on the right. For Gokaiger, PatStriker’s details have been reworked slightly, but nothing near the level of MagiDragon. It’s actually substantially slimmed down and looks a lot sleeker. Some Gokaiger specific adornments, like their cross cutlass logo and a somewhat silly rainbow decoration were also added. Armaments are upgraded with twin beam cannons on the front, and gatling guns in each wheel. The fold out grabber arms on the back are no longer present. Like the original, the new PatStriker features electronic lights and sounds. Powering it on causes the same chirp to play as when the SP Licenses are powered on, a nice touch. Pressing the button on top will play either the same siren effect as the original, or the Gokai Change system’s voice saying “PatStriker, hasshin!” followed by the siren again. Both effects also cause the roof lights to flash. Like MagiDragon, PatStriker is able to break apart into five pieces and nest inside the GokaiMachines, preparing to unleash the Open Gimmick.

DekaGokaiOh

DekaGokaiOh

When the GokaiDial is turned using the DekaRangers’ Grand Power, PatStriker is revealed and DekaGokaiOh is formed! A new sound effect is played to mark this new formation. The presence of PatStriker, and especially its lights, on the chests evokes the image of DekaRanger Robo. It should also be noted that for combinations such as this, GokaiGalleon’s door is removable, so it doesn’t hang awkwardly off the front. Pressing PatStriker’s button again will cause it to play a sound effect for the Gokai Full Burst attack, where GokaiOh cuts loose with all of PatStriker’s gatling guns at once.

DekaGokaiOh with pistols

DekaGokaiOh has a variant mode where the doors on the limbs close, and the two front end pieces of PatStriker become twin pistols. In this mode, DekaGokaiOh is able to perform acrobatic gunfighting moves similar to Dekaranger Robo, or DekaRed himself. Dekaranger Robo is also included in this photo for comparison, which also gives an idea of how big GokaiOh is.

GaoLion

GaoLion

A while after PatStriker, the Gekirangers are able to summon GaoLion from Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger. GaoLion is much larger than MagiDragon and PatStriker, forming an imposing presence all on its own. Unfortunately (very much so), I don’t have GaoKing, so I can’t show a comparison to the original GaoLion. The styling, as with PatStriker has been changed a bit, most notable the addition of a “handle” between his jet boosters that will come into play later. Powering on GaoLion plays the flute tune used when the Gao Animals were summoned. Pressing the button on top of GaoLion’s head causes four pieces of his mane to stand up, his eyes to light, and one of three growling/slashing effects to play.

GaoGokaiOh

GaoGokaiOh

GokaiOh can separate from its legs and join atop GaoLion’s shoulders to form GaoGokaiOh. This combination is similar to GaoIcarus separating from its legs and combining with an (even more) gigantic GaoLion to form GaoCentaurus. GokaiOh is still able to use its GokaiKen in this form. Turning the GokaiDial will open the arms and chest (though the legs do nothing for now). Though nothing is inside, in the show this would cause the Gokai Animal Heart attack to be fired from the openings.

GaoLion isn’t finished yet. When the Gokaigers gain the Grand Power from Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, GaoLion once again appears. This time though, it separates into pieces and recombines fully with GokaiOh. GaoLion’s pieces can’t be enclosed fully within the GokaiMachines, but that’s OK because they each feature their own Open Gimmick.

ShinkenGokaiOh

ShinkenGokaiOh

When the combination is complete and the GokaiDial turns, panels on each of GaoLion’s parts open and reveal one of the Shinkengers’ respective kanji. At the same time, GaoLion will play an effect of kabuki-style drums often associated with the Shinkengers. GokaiOh’s GokaiKen are combined with the handle from GaoLion’s back to form a large naginata, which is ShinkenGokaiOh’s primary fighting weapon. Pressing GaoLion’s head button will play one of two slashing attack sounds.

ShinkenGokaiOh and ShinkenOh

Like Deka- and Gao- GokaiOh, ShinkenGokaiOh uses some visual cues to evoke the image of the original mecha it’s based upon. The presence of the lion head on the chest (though much larger), and the samurai helmet are the biggest ones. I actually sort of like GokaiOh’s helmet better. One interesting point is that the actual kanji on ShinkenOh were all broken up, and are therefore much more apparent on GokaiOh. ShinkenGokaiOh can also use a scaled up version of ShinkenRed’s Rekka Daizanto to perform Gokai Samurai Giri. The actual size of this weapon on the toy is a little disappointing, and rather too thick, so I tend to display with the naginata instead. ShinkenOh’s DaiShinken is a much nicer weapon.

Overall, I’m pleased with these two additional GokaiMachines. GokaiOh is a bit lacking by itself, but with these two the investment pays of with a lot of fun to be had. The inclusion of electronics even on the smaller PatStriker is really nice. Though GaoGokaiOh is a bit silly, both GaoLion itself and ShinkenGokaiOh are fittingly impressive in person. I recommend GokaiOh in combination with one or both of the other two very highly.

Kamen Rider V3

June 11, 2011

Iris has taken over the whole front page. Can’t have that, can we?

V3 Title Screen

I recently decided to make an effort to watch as much of the classic Showa-era Kamen Rider series as I could find. This was largely inspired by KITsubs taking up subbing the original Kamen Rider. If you haven’t checked out their work, I highly recommend it. The first series I was able to watch in full was Kamen Rider V3, thanks to it being available on DVD from Generation Kikaida. V3 was the second Kamen Rider series, following directly off the original.

V3 face

In V3, a new organization called Destron has risen from the ashes of the Shocker organization from the original series. Kazami Shiro witnesses a murder perpetrated by Destron, and they make several attempts to kill him as well. After those attempts fail, they outright attack the Kazami family. Rider 1 and Rider 2 try to help, but are too late, and only Shiro survives. Mourning the loss of his parents and sister, Shiro insists the Double Riders turn him into a cyborg like them. They refuse, but are forced to change their minds after Shiro is injured while saving the Riders in a failed raid on Destron’s base. Kazami Shiro is reborn as Kamen Rider V3, sporting a dragonfly inspired look, and powered by a Double Typhoon belt infused with the energy of both Rider 1 and Rider 2. As explained in the series, this gives him both Rider 1’s masterful technique and Rider 2’s incredible strength. V3 has a wide variety of fighting techniques, claiming to have 26 secrets which are revealed over the course of the series. Some are offensive attacks like the V3 Reverse Kick, some are defensive like his “hardened” bullet-proof muscles, and some are utility like the “V3 Hopper” surveillance device on his belt.

V3 supporting cast

Shiro, as Kamen Rider V3 works alongside the Double Riders to fight Destron. However, the Double Riders are soon apparently killed when they carry a kaijin away from a populated area before he explodes, leaving V3 to fight Destron. V3 is not alone, however, and does have some extra help. Returning from the original series is Tachibana Tobei, who builds for V3 a motorcycle called the Hurricane, and continues to support V3 as he did the Double Riders. Acting as romantic interest and general damsel in distress is Tama Junko, another unwitting witness to Destron whom Shiro rescued in episode 1. V3 also has the Shonen Kamen Rider Tai (Boy Kamen Rider Squad), a group of young boys all across Japan who scout for Destron activity. How snooping around Destron operations wearing bright red jackets and ball caps that look like V3’s face doesn’t get them all killed, I’ll never know.

Riderman

V3’s most notable help comes very late in the series, in the form of Yuuki Jouji. Jouji is a Destron scientist who turns on the organization. As punishment, his right arm is painfully melted off. Before he can be killed, he’s rescued by a few of his colleagues. As they attempt to avoid capture, they help Jouji create for himself a cybernetic arm, turning him into Riderman. Riderman’s arm has a couple different modes, but the ones you generally see are Rope Arm and Power Arm. Power Arm looks like a set of pincers, and increases Riderman’s strength. Rope Arm is the one most commonly seen, and itself has a couple different abilities. It can be used as a grappling hook, a mace, or to fire a net to ensnare foes.

When first they meet, V3 and Riderman do not get along. Shiro believes Jouji is putting himself at unnecessary risk, but Jouji is driven by rage and determined to get his revenge. This leads to a couple physical confrontations between V3 and Riderman, but eventually they reconcile and begin to function as partners. Riderman is killed when he manually pilots a deadly missile to prevent it from hitting Tokyo, and V3 posthumously declares him Kamen Rider 4. Riderman does show up in later crossover specials, but his survival is never explained in the TV series itself. After Riderman’s death, V3 finally defeats Destron’s great leader, restores peace for the time being, and rides off into the sunset.

V3 vs Yoroi Gensui

Overall, V3 is an excellent example of Showa-era Kamen Rider in its purest form. The original series had some birthing pains as it pioneered this style of show, but by V3 that’s all worked out and you have a very polished final product. Aspects of V3 can be seen running through to this day, including having conflict between Riders, and a format that tells each story over two episodes as has seen reemergence with Kamen Rider W and Kamen Rider OOO. In a certain sense, this is the one to watch, as it takes the benefit of all the lessons learned during the original series, and improves upon it. About the only thing I didn’t like was actually Riderman. I found him to be obnoxious, and his powers lame and uninspiring. Considering he appears in less than 10 episodes, it actually bothers me that he’s considered one of the “main” Kamen Riders, where supporting Riders of the Heisei era are not. Riderman aside though, V3 is a great series. If you can stomach the cheesy early 70’s costumes and effects, I definitely recommend giving V3 a watch.

Among fans of action toys, it’s always the biggest toys in the line that stand out. Whether we’re talking about the “City” Transformers like Metroplex and Fortress Maximus, the G.I.Joe aircraft carrier, or the Technodrome from TMNT, it’s always the big ones. For Sentai and Power Rangers, there’s a tradition going back to the Showa era of the “carrier” robo, a robo so big it actually hauls the others around. Of all the ones that have existed, I think my personal favorite has always been King Pyramidder from Choriki Sentai Ohranger, renamed as Pyramidas for Power Rangers Zeo. His size is impressive even among carrier robos, has a great level of molded detail, and is actually a triple changer. King Pyramidder’s primary function was to carry the Choriki Mobiles (OhRanger Robo) and Red Puncher, though he can also carry OhBlocker. I recently picked up the Japanese versions of OhRanger Robo and King Pyramidder, and have paired them with my trusty old Red BattleZord (Red Puncher) that I’ve had since the days of Power Rangers Zeo.

Choriki Mobiles

Choriki Mobiles

The first mecha created by UAOH for the OhRangers are the Choriki Mobiles. Drawing from the Choriki power of the ancient Pangaean civilization are Sky Phoenix, Gran Taurus, Dash Lion, Dogu Lander and Moa Roader. In comparison to the US version of these toys, the most obvious difference is that Dogu Lander and Moa Roader are pulled by actual metal chains instead of cotton cords. I’m sure there’s some extra paint detailing and/or decals typical of the differences between Japanese and US releases, but I don’t have a US one anymore to compare it to. I always thought these were sort of a unique idea, evoking an image of the Rangers riding into battle on chariots, thus reinforcing the ancient civilization theme.

OhRanger Robo

OhRanger Robo

The five Choriki Mobiles can of course unite into a single humanoid robo, in this case the mighty OhRanger Robo. The gold and blue give a nicely unified and balanced color scheme, while the red on the Wing Head creates a nice accent, rounding out the primary colors (if you count the gold as yellow). While using the Wing Head, OhRanger Robo can summon the Super Crown Sword and defeat monsters with Crown Final Crash. Wing Head isn’t the only power OhRanger Robo can utilize, as the other four Choriki Mobiles also offer their own helmets and powers.

OhRanger Robo Helmets

Gran Taurus’s head becomes the Horn Head, granting the ability to perform powerful charging attacks and discharge lightning from the horns. Dash Lion’s mane becomes the Graviton Head with the power of telekinetically throwing the monsters around. Dogu Lander’s head becomes the Vulcan Head, with vulcan guns that also double as thrusters for maneuvering in space. Finally, Moa Roader’s head becomes the Cannon Head which in addition to the head mounted cannon can also use a tornado attack.

Red Puncher

Red Puncher

The Baranoia Empire’s Machine Beasts soon become too strong for OhRanger Robo to handle alone, and it’s severely damaged. Desperate for a way to combat them until OhRanger Robo is fixed, OhRed calls on Red Puncher. Red Puncher is an earlier robo created by UAOH whose power was too difficult to control and killed its last pilot, thus it was abandoned. OhRed masters it, and adds its considerable power to the OhRangers’ arsenal. Shown here is my American version Red BattleZord, though as far as I know the differences are minor if any. The toy has a motorized feature where the arms move in and out like pistons to simulate punching or the “recoil” of the cannons in the wrists.

Buster OhRanger Robo

Buster OhRanger Robo

Particularly nasty baddies may need to be finished by an attack stronger than what OhRanger Robo or even Red Puncher can muster on their own. In these cases, Red Puncher can attach to OhRanger Robo to form Buster OhRanger Robo. Red Puncher’s head also becomes the sixth helmet, Buster Head, for OhRanger Robo. In this combined form, Red Puncher’s cannons deliver a super powerful attack called Big Cannon Burst.

King Pyramidder

King Pyramidder

With the arrival of Riki the KingRanger, the OhRangers gain access to their most powerful weapon, King Pyramidder. In its default form, King Pyramidder is an enormous pyramid shaped tank which is also capable of making interstellar flights. A force to be reckoned with even by itself, King Pyramidder can fire a beam from the tip of the pyramid or summon lightning from the heavens. As a toy, King Pyramidder is extremely large, but surprisingly light considering it is mostly hollow to carry the other robos. The arms and head have a tendency to pop out of joint while transforming, but this is much preferable to it breaking so I don’t mind this much. One interesting aspect is the rotating locks on the hips, labeled with obvious stickers to make sure to set the locks after extending the legs. This is so it doesn’t collapse and pinch your fingers when you stand it up. I think concerns like this are why such large action toys aren’t produced much anymore, since a bigger toy can more easily cause injury. It’s a shame, but understandable in a way. Compared to the American version (which I formerly owned), King Pyramidder has a flecked texture in the yellow areas which helps keep him from looking like a big, flat yellow mass. I think there are a few more paint apps here and there as well.

Carrier Formation

King Pyramidder Carrier Formation

King Pyramidder can carry the Choriki Mobiles in two ways. One is carrier formation, where King Pyramidder extends itself out horizontally, with the Choriki Mobiles and Red Puncher riding on top. In this form, they charge at the enemy with all the weapons on the various robos blazing.

Battle Formation

King Pyramidder Battle Formation

The more commonly used method is battle formation. King Pyramidder transforms into a gargantuan humanoid robo, and the Choriki Mobiles move into special docking bays inside of it. Finishing the formation is Red Puncher, standing on a platform on King Pyramidder’s back with Puncher’s cannon arms coming up over its shoulders. The docked Choriki Mobiles power up King Pyramidder for the OhRangers’ ultimate attack, the Super Legend Beam. After its introduction, OhBlocker can take the Choriki Mobiles place inside King Pyramidder, though it remains in its fully combined form instead of splitting into its component robos. The toy in this form stands an imposing 19″ in height. The scale of it is driven home in the show where they always include a shot of King Pyramidder towering over the monster as it cowers in fear. Epic.

Despite mixed opinions of the OhRanger series itself, I really like the robos from it. Both Buster OhRanger Robo and the various King Pyramidder formations are extremely impressive. King Pyramidder is probably one of my all time favorite Sentai toys, he’s just so massive and imposing. I also like that he has a true “carrier” mode, where the other mecha ride on top where you can see them instead of hiding inside as is often the case. If you find a good deal on these toys in either the Japanese or US editions, I say go for it. They are very nice examples of Sentai mecha with a lot of interaction between them.

Kamen Rider Kuuga

September 20, 2009

Following the conclusion of Kamen Rider Black RX in 1989, there was an 11 year absence of new Kamen Rider series on Japanese television. A few one-off movies and specials came out, but for the most part the franchise was dormant through the 90’s. Toward the end of the decade, series creator and renowned mangaka Ishinomori Shotaro began to move on a revival of Kamen Rider. Despite Ishinomori not living to bring the project to fruition himself, the first new Kamen Rider series in over a decade hit Japanese airwaves on January 21, 2000.

The debut of Kamen Rider Kuuga would kick off a new era of Kamen Rider series. These would be known as the Heisei Kamen Riders, due to the changeover in the traditional Japanese calendar with the ascension of Emperor Akihito in January 1989. Though technically most of Black RX aired in the Heisei era, Kuuga was the first TV series to debut under the new era.

Kamen Rider Kuuga is the story of a jack-of-all-trades named Godai Yuusuke. Among his many hobbies, Yuusuke likes to travel to remote parts of the world. Frequently, he brings some kind of odd souvenir of his travels back to his friend, archaeologist Sawatari Sakurako. As the series starts, a group of archaeologists uncovers ruins of the ancient Rinto tribe, including the mummified remains of an ancient Rinto warrior and a sealed chamber. When they open the chamber, something escapes, killing the entire excavation team. Yuusuke arrives to check out the dig, finding the police there. Though he finds himself drawn to enter the ruins, he’s repelled by detective Ichijou Kaoru. Later, Yuusuke and Sakurako are called in by Ichijou to consult on the case, and are shown blurry video of the attack. The mysterious creature attacked the mummified corpse before going after the team. They are given the strange belt worn by the mummy, and asked to decipher the writing on it.

As Yuusuke and Sakurako go to leave the police headquarters, another unidentified creature bursts in, apparently after the belt. It quickly proves immune to the police officers’ gunfire and seems unstoppable. Acting on instinct, Yuusuke puts the belt on himself, only to have it disappear into his body. As the Yuusuke and the monster fight and move out onto a side street, Yuusuke’s body changes into a white armored creature, and he is designated by the police as Unidentified Lifeform #2. In this form, Yuusuke barely drives off the monster, saving Ichijou in the process.

Yuusuke consults Sakurako to better understand his new powers. He believes that he should have a different, red colored form as he sees in visions. When attacks begin from another creature, dubbed #3, Yuusuke and Ichijou confront it in a cathedral where it had been masquerading as the priest. Yuusuke declares his resolve to fight to Ichijou and achieves his true form, the red colored Kuuga Mighty Form. Though Mighty Form is misidentified as another creature, #4, by the police, he is able to drive off #3 and defeat #1.

Soon, others are brought into sharing Yuusuke’s secret. Tsubaki Shuichi is a doctor friend of Ichijou’s that looks after Yuusuke and studies the effects of Kuuga’s powers on his body. Ichijou also introduces Enokido Hikari, a scientist at the police’s research division who helps develop new weapons to combat the Grongi. One of the interesting things about Kuuga as a superhero show is that the regular humans aren’t useless. Kuuga works in conjunction with the police (though only a few know his identity), and the police actually become more and more capable as the series moves on. Initially, they just find ways to stun the Grongi, allowing Kuuga to finish them off. By the end of the series, they have a weapon that poses a real threat to the Grongi without Kuuga’s help.

The Grongi themselves are somewhat interesting, and really set a standard for monsters throughout the Heisei Rider shows. The Grongi’s main goal is the eradication of the descendants of the Rinto tribe, humanity. This is carried out through a ritual human hunting game called the Gegeru. There are several classes of Grongi, each with different Gegeru rules by which they must abide. The lowest level Grongi can’t even speak, but higher level ones are able to speak, use weapons similar to Kuuga, and even assume human disguises. This concept of intelligent monsters that disguise themselves as humans would reappear in several Heisei shows, as would the tendency for a monster to last through multiple episodes. They also tend to rack up a pretty substantial civilian body count before Kuuga can put a stop to them. The Grongi are led by the powerful Daguba, the creature that originally escaped from the crypt and is designated #0 by the police.

Following in the footsteps laid down by Black RX, Kuuga gained a number of power-up forms defined by a signature weapon. Each weapon is summoned by finding an object with a similar shape, and transmuting it. The blue Dragon Form sacrifices strength and armor for enhanced speed, agility and jumping power. Dragon Form’s signature weapon is the staff weapon Dragon Rod. Clad in green, Pegasus Form enhances all of Kuuga’s senses to extreme levels and features the Pegasus Bowgun for highly accurate ranged attacks. Pegasus Form strains Yuusuke’s nervous system however, and can’t be held for more than 50 seconds. Finally, the purple and silver Titan Form sacrifices mobility for thick armor. Titan is able to steadily walk through enemy attacks to strike at close range with the Titan Sword. Later, Yuusuke is able to access a “golden power” to upgrade his various forms to their Rising variant (Rising Mighty, Rising Dragon, etc), but only for 30 seconds. Finally, he becomes able to access Amazing Mighty Form and what may be Kuuga’s true form, Ultimate Form. This tradition of power up forms would persist through the Heisei era, as each main title Rider since has had at least one power up form.

Since Kuuga was somewhat experimental, one may find that the special effects and overall production values of the show may pale even to Agito which came immediately following. Despite this, the various costumes including Kuuga’s forms and the various Grongi all look pretty good. The special effects for the attacks may not be as flashy as some of the other Heisei Riders, but this is more in keeping with the way the older shows were. Once you’re sucked into the mysteries of Kuuga’s world though, none of this will matter much.

It’s often said that Kuuga is more like the Showa Riders than the Heisei ones. This mostly refers to the fact that Yuusuke is a pretty typical hero role model. He doesn’t have any inner demons to tackle, nor does he have any issues with his own confidence. He’s a classic hero archetype through and through. Kind, brave and strong. The overall story structure for Kuuga with its intricate plotting, mysteries to be revealed, and complex villains is pure Heisei. Kuuga is definitely the prototype for what came after.

Anyone who has been interested in the more recent Kamen Rider shows should really seek Kuuga out and try to see it. It really is a good series that doesn’t get a lot of attention due to being a bit older now. It may not be super flashy, but it’s a good, solid series full of great characters.

Time to finish up the Kamen Rider fest I seem to have created on the blog lately. This time, I’ll be talking about the last Kamen Rider henshin belt I intend to buy for the time being. Why am I only interested in the three I talked about here? Well, there are a couple things I’m looking for in a henshin belt. First, I like a nice mechanical action. Something to do with your hands, and that preferably makes a solid mechanical sound when you do it. Setting the Faiz Phone into the Faiz Driver, Kabuto Zecter’s lever, and DecaDriver’s open/close action. Secondly, I like voice feedback. I like it when the belt speaks as you do things. “Exceed Charge”, etc. Not sure why, I just think that’s cool. Lastly, I like it when the belt has multiple functions. Preferably a henshin, a final attack, and something else. As a caveat to that, I generally don’t like card-based systems because it’s a pain in the ass to get the cards. DecaDriver was an exception because of finding that barcode card PDF.

So, that brings us to the Deluxe Kabuto Zecter, which satisfies all three requirements. In the series, an alien species known as Worms appeared on Earth aboard a meteorite that crashed into Shibuya. One of the Worms’ key abilities is the ability to molt out of their pupal form, gaining super speed. In order to combat them, a secret organization called ZECT was formed, which developed the Kamen Rider System. The system consists of an intelligent insect robot that can attach to a belt, brace or weapon, turning their chosen bearer into a Kamen Rider. The Riders had two forms, their initial heavily armored Masked Form, and a Rider Form achieved by shedding the heavy armor. The Rider Form could “Clock Up” in order to match the Worms’ speed.

The main hero of the series was Tendou Souji, played by the wonderful Mizushima Hiro. Tendou bore the Kabuto Zecter, a Japanese kabuto beetle which attached to a belt. Above you can see the belt, which as always with the DX Henshin Series toys, is beautifully detailed. The belt looks great even just like this. The mod I made so I could wear the belt is identical to what I did with the Faiz Driver. A nylon strap with a buckle in the middle is just stitched to each side of the belt.

The Kabuto Zecter itself is a red robotic beetle. There are three buttons along one side where the legs should be. Pressing them will make the Zecter produce one of three random effects. It will say either “Here I am” or “Danger”, or make a flying sound effect. To henshin into Kabuto’s Masked Form, slide the Zecter onto the belt, and it will speak “Henshin” while making a sound effect and light pattern. In this mode, pressing the buttons will just make an effect similar to a train rumbling down a track. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be.

To change to Rider Form, rotate the Zecter’s horn forward a bit, and it will start to pulse, building faster and faster. Pull the horn all the way to the right, and it will say “Cast Off… Change Beetle!” with lights and sound effects. Pulling this lever is very satisfying, and it makes a nice solid “chunk” sound as the cover expands out. Just as in the show, you can initiate Kabuto’s Rider Kick finisher. Press the buttons in order and it will say “1-2-3” while illuminating one light each time. Close the cover and rotate the horn back, then pull it open again and it will say “Rider Kick!” along with the accompanying effects. Again, very satisfying, and accurate to the show. However, that brings me to my one complaint about this belt — it’s missing a major feature. Remember, the whole point of the Riders in this show was the Clock Up ability… which is completely missing from the various toys (with one exception I’ll get to in a second). The pads on the sides of the belt used to initiate it are just pieces of plastic, there for show. Physically, there’s no real way for them to have electronics unless they each had their own batteries, but then maybe the belt should have been designed differently to incorporate it. You can also close the Zecter and rotate the horn back to its starting position (without doing the 1-2-3), and it will say “Put On” to switch back to Masked Form. Press the release buttons and remove the Zecter from the belt to get a henshin cancel effect, a rare case of such an effect being included.

Though primarily a hand-to-hand fighter, Kabuto also had a hand weapon. This took the form of the Kabuto Kunai Gun, which in Masked Form resembles a hand axe with a pistol built in. This form has a firing sound effect, and the barrel lights up. The light up barrel is a really obvious feature I wish had been included on the DX Ride Booker. The size is a bit of a problem, as it’s much smaller than the show, but that’s generally the case with toy weapons. Still, its a little tight getting my big hand around the grip. The Kunai Gun also comes with a holster that attaches to the right Clock Up pad on the belt.

There are two small buttons you can press, then pull the gun’s barrel out to reveal the Kunai mode, making a nice sound effect in the process. Kabuto wielded this knife in a reverse grip while in Rider Form. The toy actually has a motion sensor that will make blade clashing effects as you swing it around. Like the gun, it’s a little tough getting my hand around the grip. but manageable. If you put the kunai back into the rest of the body, it’ll make yet another sound effect.

The final piece I have for Kabuto is his Hyper Zecter. This was actually first seen in the movie “God Speed Love” where it was initially wielded by Kamen Rider Caucasus. In both the movie and TV series, it falls into the hands of Kabuto who uses it to become Hyper Kabuto, and access the time and space manipulating Hyper Clock Up. It attaches to the left side of the belt using its own special replacement for the left Clock Up pad. This attachment point is similar to those used in many other Rider belts, but actually locks with a button release, which is nice. The horn is swung back toward the body of the Hyper Zecter to initiate “Hyper Cast Off… Change Hyper Beetle” along with appropriate effects. Press the large red button to trigger Hyper Clock Up for a whopping 20 seconds. That’s twice what the Faiz Accel gives you! This is also the only Clock Up feature in any of the Kabuto role play toys. While in Hyper Clock Up, you can swing the horn down again to trigger “Maximum Rider Power” to upgrade your kick, or to work in conjunction with the Perfect Zecter weapon.

Overall, the Kabuto henshin series toys are great fun. Very solidly built, detailed, and aside from the lack of Clock Up, accurate to the show. They’re a great set to have for any Kamen Rider fan, and still decently available due to having been released to the Asian market just last year.

Kamen Rider Black

May 19, 2009

I recently finished up 1987/88’s Kamen Rider Black. Black and its direct sequel Black RX almost exist as their own “era” of Kamen Rider. The last full TV series had been Super-1 in 1980, and there wouldn’t be another full TV series after RX until Kuuga in 2000. What Black does is introduce a lot of elements that would become hallmarks of the later shows.

The story begins with Minami Kotaro and Akizuki Nobuhiko. Kotaro was adopted by Nobuhiko’s father and raised as family along with Nobuhiko’s sister Kyoko. On their 19th birthday, both young men are kidnapped by an organization of evil cultists called Gorgom. The boys are each modified into cyborgs and implanted with a Kingstone. Being given the names “Black Sun” and “Shadow Moon”, they are to fight to the death, with the victor becoming Gorgom’s next Creation King. However, Kotaro is able to escape before his brainwashing is complete. When he’s attacked by Gorgom’s three high priests, he undergoes a transformation into his Black Sun form. Kotaro decides to use his powers to fight back against Gorgom, taking the name Kamen Rider Black.

Black’s premise and tone were considered generally dark at the time. The Gorgom organization is presented as extremely creepy and even disgusting at times. It may seem a bit funny now with its obvious rubber suits, but in 1987 I can see how this was unlike what people had seen before in this kind of show. It also introduces a lot of the tension and drama that would become standard in the later movie-era and Heisei-era riders.

The most important addition is an antagonist Rider. A little after halfway through, Nobuhiko awakens as Shadow Moon. This puts a lot of strain on Kotaro, Kyoko and Katsumi (Nobuhiko’s girlfriend), and creates a conflict of loyalties for Kotaro. Can he fight his best friend and brother? Shadow Moon of course is brainwashed by Gorgom, but sometimes shows unexpected compassion and restraint, especially when confronted by Katsumi. This all culminates toward the end of the series when the Creation King pushes the two to finally duel it out, and things don’t initially go as you’d expect…

Despite all that, most of the show is typical mid-80’s tokusatsu. Gorgom comes up with some wacky plan, Kotaro stumbles onto it, kicks the monster’s ass. The formula is broken up a bit during the first half by the introduction of Birugenia, a former Creation King candidate who was considered too out of control and sealed away. Birugenia would sometimes appear to challenge Black, spicing up the fight scenes until he was finally taken out and replaced by Shadow Moon.

The effects are decent for the time. The regular monsters are a bit cheesy, but the more major characters look great. Black has some nice organic muscley stuff in his joints, and Shadow Moon is just badass all over. The priests look really good too, both before and after their mid-series upgrade. I love the grip tightening sound effect when Kotaro clenches his fists before transforming. The biggest problem I had is that the strobe effect during Rider Punch and Rider Kick really hurts my eyes. I can only imagine the seizures this show caused.

Overall, I liked it. The regular episodes could drag on sometimes, but it’s made up for whenever the story kicks in with the Priests, Birugenia or Shadow Moon getting involved. Shadow Moon especially was a cool character, setting the stage for later Riders like Ouja, Kaixa, the Hoppers, Saga, etc. It’s certainly a lot cooler than the 70’s stuff I’ve seen (not to hate on that or anything), and much more satisfying as a full series than the one-off “movie” Riders. I’ve started into Black RX, which isn’t as dark but I still like it. Best part of RX, no Furbus.

Century Kings, a fansub group consisting of I think just one guy, has Black done through episode 38. The rest I got as raws from this thread on Henshin Justice Unlimited.

I recently got one of my personal holy grails. This is a toy that I had thought I’d missed the opportunity to own, which would’ve been unfortunate since it’s the best damn Kamen Rider toy ever. Of course, if you know Kamen Rider, you know I must be talking about the DX Faiz Driver.

In the series, Kamen Rider 555, the Rider Gears were belts and weapons originally designed by the Smart Brain organization to protect the Orphnoch King. Instead, the former CEO of Smart Brain decided to repurpose them a bit. They were sent to members of a group of kids the former CEO had raised years before, with the purpose of using them to defeat Orphnochs. The only catch — they only work for people with Orphnoch DNA.

The center of the Faiz Gear is the Faiz Phone, its power source and control device. Outwardly, it looks like a normal cell phone. On the toy, pressing any random combination of numbers followed by the Call button will make the phone say “Connectioning…” and make a ringing noise and light pattern.

The really fun stuff starts from here. There are a series of codes printed on the screen. Let’s start with the ones that let you use the phone as a gun. Where’s that iPhone app at, huh? On the Faiz Phone, key in 1-0-3-Enter, and the phone will say “Single Mode”, indicating you are in single shot mode. Key in 1-0-6-Enter and it will say “Burst Mode”, indicating that it will now fire in 3-shot bursts. In either case, fold the screen straight back and cock it to the left to turn the phone into the nifty Faiz Phone Blaster. There’s a firing sound and lights moving along the “barrel” when the trigger is pulled. After 12 shots in either mode, it will make an empty sound. Key 2-7-9-Enter and the phone will say “Charge” followed by an effect indicating it has reloaded.

Of course, the main attraction with any Kamen Rider belt is “How do I henshin?” On the Faiz Phone, key 5-5-5-Enter, and the phone will say “Standing By…” and begin making loud, pulsing standby sound effect. Set it into the cradle on the Faiz Driver belt and lock it down, and the phone will say “Complete” and play the henshin sound effect. Dramatic posing is optional, but encouraged. In this mode, you can remove the Mission Memory (the Faiz face logo on the front) and insert it into one of Faiz’s weapons to ready it for battle. Open the phone and press Enter to trigger your “Exceed Charge” finishing moves!

One concern for old fans, especially those of us who are American where everything (especially guts) is bigger, is that the belts are made for kids. There’s very little chance a full grown adult is going to fit into one as-is, unless they are very petite. Luckily, it’s not that hard to work around. For my Faiz Driver, I attached a nylon strap I cut off an old backpack. This strap had one of those plastic clips in the middle as you can see in the previous photo. This was critical for the Faiz Driver as it closed in the back and has no other separation. I simply took a good old fashioned needle and thread, and stitched through some of the pre-existing holes in the belt. On the back side, the thread forms an X pattern. This was extremely simple to do, and holds very well. Also, since it’s just thread, it’s completely reversible if I decide to undo the mod later. I even preserved the adjustment piece in the strap so I can resize the belt at will.

Also on the recent acquisitions list was the Faiz Axel. This item was given to Faiz about halfway through the series, and allows him to access his Axel Form, gaining super speed for 10 seconds. The toy is styled somewhat after a sports watch, but mated to a typical Sentai type wrist changer. Like the belt, it’s made for kids and the watch strap absolutely does not fit around my wrist. The second velcro strap, meant to be farther up the arm, will fit around my wrist. This makes the Axel awkwardly overlap my hand, but it does stay on.

To use, you remove the special “Axel Memory” and insert it into the Faiz Phone in place of the standard Mission Memory. The Axel will say “Reformation” when it’s removed, though this is somewhat inaccurate. In the show, it would say “Reformation” when the Axel Memory was put back, after the Axel’s time was expended. Anyway, press the red start button to begin your 10 second countdown along with a powerful pulsing sound effect. A voice will count down at the very end “3…2…1…Time Out.” You can also use the black button to switch the behavior of the “screen saver” while the Axel is idle, or to play a simple game.

Overall, the Faiz Driver just kicks ass. Yeah, role play toys are pretty high on the geek-o-meter, but this is just one of the most fun toys in my whole collection. It does a number of things, and has fun voice feedback, sound effects and lights. It also was the personal equipment of my favorite Rider, which helps. The Faiz Driver is a worthy buy for any Kamen Rider fan, though it’s heavily sought after and finding a good price on one is tough. I had to buy mine used to avoid selling a kidney for it. Still, I regret nothing.