Sunday, August 27, 2023

Dipping my toe into Tokusatsu

Kamen Rider (superhero with a bug-like mask) flexes his bicep

Over the past couple of years, I've been getting more into mecha, both in anime form and model kit form. This has caused me to brush up against mecha's older live-action cousin, tokusatsu. For those unfamiliar, tokusatsu ("toku" for short) is a Japanese TV/film genre that tends to prominently feature superheroes, monsters, and giant robots. Power Rangers and Godzilla are two of the most popular examples in the West. 

Whenever I've been in hobby stores shopping for Gundams, inevitably see some toku kits on the shelf too. And whenever I watch mecha anime, toku shows are often something streaming services recommend I watch next. And you know what? I think it's working.

So I've had my eye out for a toku on-ramp for a little while now. When I heard about Hideki Anno's (of Evangelion fame) recent Shin tokusatsu film trilogy, I figured I finally had a way in. I've now seen all 3, so here's some thoughts on each:

Shin Ultraman poster featuring the titular alien superhero and his human allies

Shin Ultraman - While I had seen a few random episodes of Ultraman Tiga back when it was on TV in the US, I didn't really know what to expect from this movie based on the original 1960s series. To be honest, I found this film a bit hard to get into due to how much of a love letter it was to its source material. By trying to cram as many plot arcs from the TV series into one movie as possible, I found it hard to get invested as a newcomer. However, the passion that was put into Shin Ultraman was enough to have me interested in watching the next Shin movie.

Shin Godzilla poster featuring a silhouette of Godzilla against a red background.

Shin Godzilla - When I was a kid, I had a phase where giant monster movies were my jam, so Shin Godzilla is the entry in this series I came most prepared to watch. And I'll get right to the point, I loved it! The monster designs were fantastic and the human characters felt a lot more fleshed out than those in Shin Ultraman. The film also did some interesting things with symbolism and political commentary; a revitalization of concepts that have faded a bit from the franchise since the days of Gojira. Just thinking about this movie again has gotten me counting down the days until the next Godzilla movie, Godzilla Minus One.

Shin Kamen Rider poster. The hero stands with his iconic red scarf flapping in the wind

Shin Kamen Rider - For this one, I came in almost completely blind. Other than knowing that Kamen Rider is a superhero with a green mask and a motorcycle, I had no idea what I was getting into. What I found was that this was easily the most uneven of the three. For starters, the movie is quite gory, which I was not expecting. The other thing is that the tone fluctuates abruptly from corny or zany to very dark and serious. I'm not really sure how much of this is a reflection of the source material versus a bold stylistic choice on the part of the filmmakers. Despite this, unlike Shin Ultraman, Shin Kamen Rider developed its characters in such a way that helped me get to know them as a newcomer and get invested in their personal struggles. I'm not sure if I can say this was a "good film" per se, but it was definitely successful in piquing my interest in the franchise.

After having this tokusatsu sampler platter with these three films. I'm still trying to decide where to go from here; have I sated my curiosity or do I want to go deeper into the toku rabbit hole? As I wait for Godzilla Minus One to come out, I think I'll keep an eye out toku model kits that look like they'll be nice additions to my shelf. I'm also tempted to look for a shorter Kamen Rider series to try out. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Gunpla Progress and Photos

At the beginning of this year, I had the idea of using this blog to post photos of my Gundam/mecha models ("gunpla") and share some thoughts about them. However, this year has been much busier than I expected, and my opportunities to build models and write have been limited. I also kept getting stuck in this loop of feeling that my models or photos weren't quite right, so I kept putting it off.

All that said, it's #Blaugust now and I decided to let go of perfectionism and show you what I've got! Some of these are completed and others are works in progress. Enjoy!

86: Juggernaught

a spider-like robot with a gun on its back

While the anime 86 didn't really grab me, its spider-like mecha designs were pretty cool. I built this one back in the January/February timeframe but it took a long time for the weather to warm up enough for me to be able to top-coat it. At the time, this was one of the most modern kits I had built, so the logically laid out instruction manual that was fully in English was a big change from what I'm used to with my older kits. There's even some flavor text from the anime in the manual to provide in-fiction context to the mecha's design. Being a modern kit, it looked pretty nice as-assembled but I still did some customization: painted the eye with metallic red, panel lining and weathering the fastener heads, then applied matte topcoat. Overall, this was a fun one to build and it was interesting to build something non-humanoid for a change!

Gundam Igloo: Zudah

Zudah stands hold his rifle. His arm sags under the weight

Typically, I don't build Gundams from series I've never seen. However, this one was a thoughtful gift from my sister, so I certainly had to make an exception to my usual rule. On Christmas last year, she sent me a tiny Zudah and on my birthday she sent me the HG Zudah kit. Clearly, she thought there should be a new addition to my "Don't talk to me or my son ever again" gallery and I agree! 

Zudah is a fairly standard early-2000s HGUC kit with one exception... his almost comedically large rifle. The rifle is so absurdly large and heavy that his arm joints aren't strong enough for him to hold it upright. I actually had to modify the arm joint just to keep the rifle from pulling his arm out of the socket! Thankfully, HG Zudah has his son there to help him!

A tiny Zudah model stand beneath the larger Zudah's rifle to help prop it up

Code Geass: Lancelot Albion

Lancelot stands with a sword and each hand and his wings spread wide

When I watched Code Geass back in 2020, I was disappointed to find that there weren't any model kits on the market for it. I thought the more outlandish designs from this series would be fun to build. Thankfully, Bandai pulled through for me and I found Lancelot Albion on the shelf in a local shop last December. It's an HG kit but considerably more complicated than a Gundam would be. I loved the large translucent wings!

Currently, this kit is just in the as-assembled state with one tweak, I used paint on the red and green detail parts rather than the color block stickers it came with. I still plan on panel lining this one and possibly giving it a glossy topcoat instead of the usual matte.

It only felt fitting for mecha called "Lancelot" to defend a castle, so you can see it below guarding my girlfriend's Lego Disney castle. 

Lancelot stands before a Lego castle that is several times taller than him

Witch from Mercury: Beguir-Beu

A basic humanoid robot, it still needs details like weapons and armor

Considering that Witch from Mercury hasn't even finished airing all its episodes, you really can't get much newer than this one when it comes to Gundam models. I've only assembled the basic structure so far, but it's been a real breeze. The instruction sequencing makes it easy to find the parts you need and everything fits together pretty much perfectly. I'm looking forward to finishing this one whenever I get around to it.

Closing Thoughts

Building modern kits and non-Gundam Bandai kits has been an interesting experience! It's nice to just be able to snap things together without having to worry as much about sanding and painting and such. Of course, I'm still planning on working on some of those more involved kits as well, but it's refreshing to shake things up. I'm also hoping to build another kit on my Twitch channel sometime soon.

Let me know if you have any questions about these models (or Gunpla in general) and feel free to share anything you've built recently!