Martin is a cynical Brit who enjoys deep, thoughtful, surrealist anime and children's TV shows where men in rubber and spandex pose in front of explosions. Rarely at the same time though. He lives just outside London with far too many toy robots.
Hey guys, although for my last few reviews we've been looking at cute magical girls, today we're going to take a sharp left turn and look at a toy for MANLY MEN! (girls also allowed of course). Furthermore it's going to be my first encounter with Bandai's Soul of Chogokin line, the definitive name in scale robot toys. And to cap it off, it's going to feature one of my favourite mecha ever! Let's get stuck in shall we?
For those of you unfamiliar with GunBuster (known in Japan as Aim for the Top!), it's a 1988 six episode OVA by Studio Gainax that's widely regarded as one of the defining works of the super robot genre. Interestingly, it also marked the directorial debut of Hideaki Anno, who would later so memorably deconstruct the genre with Neon Genesis Evangelion. It's a magnificent story, full of excitement, emotion and COURAGE AND GUTS! and I strongly recommend it to all anime fans everywhere.
Design-wise I like this box a lot. Although it's very 'busy' with logos and text everywhere, the photography is great and overall the greys and blues produce an attractive look. One complaint I do have is that the box is made of quite thin, flimsy cardboard, meaning it bends easily and the corners can get frayed pretty fast. It's a minor thing but for such a premium product you'd expect perhaps some corrugated cardboard or the like.
Inside we have two layers of packaging - the figure itself comes packed in polystyrene while underneath there's a cardboard box for the stand and two plastic tray for weapons and accessories. A plastic bagged booklet completes the set.
The booklet is in fact two booklets - a full set of instructions, seen here on the right, and a very smart 'brochure' full of photos of the figure. This presumably is some sort of tech spec or series recap, but because I don't read Japanese I can't understand a word of it. I just look at the pretty pictures.
Inside the polystyrene we go. One of the interesting things about GunBuster is that it has the ability to split and transform into two separate spaceships, Buster Machine #1 and #2. Naturally, the toy replicates that ability. Before we go any further I should point out that this is by no means a 'Transformers' style full on transformation. Gainax had no idea toys would ever be made and subsequently onscreen Gunbuster suffers a fair degree of 'magical morphing' with parts disappearing and reappearing from nowhere. Thus there's a fair few removable parts needed to facilitate this transformation in real life (although considerably less than one might think). You can see them in this shot to the left of the pack. Let's take a quick look at Buster Machine Mode. Here's #1...
And here's #2, which unlike #1 actually has undercarriage. It even folds up!
I have to say, the Buster Machine forms are way better than I expected. Sure, there's a few panels which need attaching (#1 in particular suffers a bit from this) but they make great, highly detailed toys in their own right. The stand also has a setup for displaying the Buster Machines, so lets take a look at that.
As we can see the stand comes broken down into various different parts but it snaps together extremely easily and actually has two separate configurations (Interesting note - the stand labels the figure as a 'Soul of Chougoukin' when the accepted Romanisation, used on the box, has always been 'Chogokin')
This is the configuration for displaying the Buster Machines, as you can see, the gantry is located centrally, revealing a launchpad to the right of it.
This is a great way to display the Buster Machines, and it's really neat that the stand can be set up this way. Note how there are small pegs to support Buster Machine #1's fins and (although you can't see them in this shot) small slots in the surface for Buster Machine #2's undercarriage.
But really, cool spaceships are not the reason I bought this figure. Nope, it's the giant robot I'm interested in. Unfortunately, the transformation sequence is way too long and too complicated for me to consider documenting (and would add to the length of this already very long review) so I'm not going to go through that beyond saying it's very clever and intricate. There's a good video version from CollectionDX right here. Eventually we'll be left with this...
Buster Machine #1 forms GunBuster's upper half, while Buster Machine #2 is the legs and torso. Something worth noting - the feet in this picture are not separate attachables but actually transform out of #2's nosecone in an incredibly clever bit of mechanical trickery. That they aren't entirely show accurate is something we'll address in a moment. You can see that the engines of #2 form the docking point between the two halves. In a good piece of design, it's not just a 'peg', there's actually a locking mecahnism, which means it's fine to lift the completed figure by it's upper half only.
No beating around the bush, this thing looks absolutely stunning. Show accuracy is incredibly high, being practically indistinguishable from the onscreen model, although a few miberties have been taken at the back, necessary to cram a lot of the transformation paraphenalia away from view.There's a lot of metal in this thing too, although it's mostly as the 'skeleton' of the toy, since the arms, legs and shoulders are plastic for reasons we'll see in a bit. Poseability is absolutely top notch, with a full range of motion from most major joints, mostly through ratchet joints. The large shoulder 'pods' are mounted on separate joints (rather than being attached to the arms) which increases the arm and shoulder flexibility. The only suspect is the chest joint, which on my example at least is a touch loose and can cause the figure to 'flop' forward if not posed correctly.
As mentioned before, the feet are not entirely show accurate, this being a necessary compromise to ensure they transform. However, Bandai anticipated this and have actually provided a complete alternate set of (much more stylized) feet that greater resemble the original animation. Not only are these just as solid as the default feet, being die cast metal, but they also have treads just like in the show. The treads aren't just painted on either, being actual 3d plastic parts, and are spring loaded and recess so GunBuster can still stand flat on its feet. Furthermore, they don't just pop in on a ball joint like the hands, but instead have their own slot and locking mechanism. It's a really nice touch and a great example of both the dedication to accuracy and the level of engineering present (you'll see me using both sets of feet throughout the review). They also come with clip on attachements for the spiked treads that are seen in the show, and there are separate pairs for both versions of feet.
This is the reason that the arms and legs are mostly plastic - because they open up like this to recreate the 'Buster Collider' attack, complete with electricity pylons (although they're styled to resemble the pylons in the show, they don't telescope, understandable given the scale). This pose also shows off the telescoping mechanism in the arm transformation and the way the large leg pods are attached with movable metal struts. A specific set of hands is included for this pose. It goes without saying it's a pretty damn dramatic way to display.
So, with the figure itself explored, let's move onto the acessories and oh boy, there are a LOT of accessories to get through. For a start there are the aforementioned feet and 11 extra hands for a variety of poses.
This pose recreates a very famous scene from the climax of the series where GunBuster rips out one of it's own power generators. The generator and the trailing cables are included (not detachable, they're all one piece) and the chest panel can be removed to reveal the robotic ribcage, which the end of the cable just clips to. You can see in this pose the poseable hand set, which can clasp and unclasp and have separately moving index fingers.
In the anime GunBuster was originally intended to wield a pair of gigantic axes, as a shoutout to Getter Dragon. Naturally because this is Gainax, the scene was cut for budgetary reasons. However, the axes can still be seen packed inside the robot's shoulders during the transformation sequence. Because Bandai are clearly the biggest, most wonderful nerds on the planet, this function is replicated in the model. Here we see GunBuster's left shoulder, opening up to reveal a weapons rack inside. naturally, without the magic of animation the full size weapon can't be packed in but a flip out rack stores a separate miniature version, along with a matching miniature version of the giant baseball bat we'll see in a moment.
This ludicrous baseball bat was only ever seen in the Super Robot Wars games but is included here in another lovely bit of attention to detail
The dual axes are also included in a full size version
They're also capable of being joined together into an epic double ended polearm. Oddly, although the axes themselves are made of plastic, the joining rod is metal.
In the show GunBuster used a massive cape to shield itself from enemy missile attacks and naturally the cape is included here. It's made of actual cloth (albiet polyester) and clips into the right shoulder, which opens up into a similar compartment as the left shoulder, but without the weapons rack. The cape can be folded up and stowed in the shoulder, but it's such a tight fit I tend to prefer just to keep it in the box.
GunBuster also comes with a massive multi-barrelled canon which slips over it's arm (there's only one provided, as only one arm was seen to have this ability in the show) You're technically meant to unclip the 'pylons' in side the arm to attach this, but if you don't mind it being a touch loose you can skip this. You can also see another set of hands used here, that replicate the missile launching fingers seen in the show.
These hands actually have a small tab along the bottom that allow the missiles to be slid in and out of the fingertips.
A tiny, Micro-Machines sized robot figure is also in the pack, intended to represent the 'normal' sized robot suits that also appear in the show (GunBuster itself is meant to be around 250m tall). A special 'landing' hand is provided to stand this small figure one, recreating another iconic scene from the anime.
Though it's difficult to see in this shot, the hand actually has indents for the robot's feet, allowing it to stand easily, plus a show accurate 'landing pad' decal. Similar indents are on one of the gantry pltforms of the display stand, allowing it to stand alongside GunBuster.
Worried about storage for all these bits and bobs? Worry not. In a great bit of foresight, all of the acessories are stowable in the display stand, the hands in the tower and everything else beautifully packed into the base. One minor complaint is that the 'floor' of the base doesn't attach to the rest, making it a pain to move about when packed like this.
Of course, no GunBuster figure would be complete without the ability to do the Buster Stance, the iconic arms crossed pose that has been homaged countless times since (most notably by Gainax themselves in Gurren Lagann). It's a dead tricky pose to do, but the Chogokin manages it pretty well, thanks to yet another pair of custom hands, this time with extra ball joints, and the ability to dislocate it's shoulders (as you can see if you look closely at the right shoulder). The pose also requires the removal of two of the 'collider' panels from each arm, although they're hidden from direct view. You can also see here that in robot mode the base moves the tower all the way to the right to make room, and that the robot minifig is on one of the platforms. The pegs on top of the tower can attach to the figure for midair poses, but I wasn't brave enough for that.
A few people have asked me to do a comparison with Revoltech GunBuster, so here's a shot. Kaiyodo's rendition is not a bad toy at all, but some what understandably it's overwhelmed here. It's like comparing a Pinto to a Rolls-Royce - there's not really a comparison at all.
It's probably apparent by now, but yeah, I think this figure is worth having. But I also want to take it a bit further than that. My collection isn't huge, but I've owned some very high quality figures, including what's essentially another Soul of Chogokin (Konami's Great Impact Gurren Lagann). And I can state, unequivocally, that this is the finest toy I have ever laid eyes on. In fact, it might be one of the finest toys ever made. Everything about it screams quality, and never have I seen such a potent combination of incredible show accuracy, raw playability and delightful detail. It's a true testament to the skill and passion of the designers and engineers at Bandai, and a worthy demonstration of how Soul of Chogokin is unrivalled in the mecha figure world.
Still, I can't help but feel like something is missing...
That's more like it!
Thanks for making it to the end guys! Please leave any questions you've got in the comments, I'll do my best to answer, and I appreciate all the feedback!
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