[Alen Yen's ToyboxDX]


  July 24, 2002
CURRENT RUMBLE























íve been a fan of the wacky antics of Super Sentai shows since first hearing about Battle Fever J years ago. So I've got an unhealthy fascination with men in tights piloting giant robots. I'm not embarrassed to admit it. So what if I find myself sharing the demographic with a bunch of six-to-twelve-year-olds? The sad fact is, though, there hasn't been much reason to kick it with the rest of my elementary school homeboys lately. Simply put: Sentai's been sucking. (There, I said it. I can hear the sound of a thousand Sentai fans' panties getting in a collective twist as I type.)

Sentai. A.K.A. "Power Rangers" shows. You either love 'em or hate 'em, but if you collect Japanese robot toys, you can't ignore 'em. God only knows what percentage of giant robot toys they've collectively spawned. Looking over my own shelves, I see some veritable Sentai classics. "Dynaman." "Sun Vulcan." "Goggle V." The list goes on, but the fun noticeably stops around 1985 or so -- at least for me, anyway. I can't stand the blocky, plastic-y, over-designed look of most Sentai robots from the '90s and early 2000s. With the exception of a meager handful of pieces like the weighty Gingaio and the slick Bull Taurus, Bandai's Sentai stuff has been in a near-total rut. Until now, that is.

Until "Hurricanger," the latest of the Sentai series. Until Gouraijin, the bad-ass robot that appears therein.

Finally, Bandai's back in buisness. Finally, they've produced a DX Chogokin, a DX Chogokin MADE AS A TOY, for honest-to-god kids and not for obsessive-compulsive adults, that isn't a sleazy pile of... Wait. No need to dwell on the negativity, because Goraijin is all about the love. Solid, diecast, giant robot love. This could be just a fluke, of course. Bandai designers may simply have drank too much cough medicine this time around and we'll never reach these heights of originality again. Whatever the case, though, these newest robots... rock me like a "Hurricanger." (HA! You knew I'd say that.) I'm serious -- it's nothing short of miraculous. Gouraijin is a beautifully executed throwback to an era when diecast was king, yet Bandai managed to pull it off without wallowing in nostalgia. A tall order for any designer, let alone the average chained-to-the-desk employee of the Microsoft of Japanese toy companies. In a word: it's retro, yet... decadently bootylicious.

Don't take my word for it, though. Look at the photos! Check out the gunmetal chrome, the working rubber treads on the Kabuto Machine, the independent suspensions of the wheels on the Beetle Machine. (In fact, the two vehicle components look so damned good in and of themselves that I'm actually -- I cannot believe I'm saying this -- considering buying ANOTHER Gouraijin just so I can display them alongside. This is a first for me.)

There are a lot of robots out there formed from combinations of various animals, vehicles, and/or insects, but itís tough to maintain the theme in both forms. Not with Gouraijin. Note how seamlessly the insect motif carries over into the robot itself. No missiles, unfortunately, but you can grab those stag-beetle horns off the chest and put 'em in Gouraijin's hand. And it also comes with an, um, angry flower that can be used as a weapon as well. Or maybe it's an angry electric floor fan. Whatever it is, judging by the appearance on its face, it's apparently having a very bad day.

Not me, though. I'm having a GREAT day after hanging out with Gouraijin. So great, in fact, itís starting to make me wonder. Wonder just how much this toy is REALLY targeting the six-to-twelve-year-old crowd, and how much Bandai actually ANTICIPATED other robot-loving adults such as myself getting caught up in things as well. Just look at me: now Iím actually considering buying a Senpuujin as well! Senpuujin, you may recall, was the first giant robot toy Bandai sold as part of the Hurricaneger line. Like many of you, I ignored it when it first came out, assuming it was more of the same complacent recent Sentai design. My loss. Senpuujin also happens to combine with Gouraijin to make the enormous "Gourai-Senpuujin," but if it's even half as well done as Gouraijin, I suspect it's pretty spiffy in and of itself.

Is this Bandai Japanís attempt to hook adults who use their children as cover for the purchase, ala the classic example of model trains? Myself, Iím too far gone to need any justification for buying more robots. But Iím a sucker for robot toys designed as toys and not as collectors items. If Bandai keeps kicking out robot toys this well designed at these prices (a paltry 5,000 yen in Gouraijinís case), you can bet Iíll be hanging out with the elementary school crowd (and their parents) in the checkout line at the local toy store.












Most people hate bugs. I don't. In fact, I love bugs almost as much as I love robots. I very nearly majored in entomology in my college years. (I should've gone ahead and done it. I probably would have been the first entomology-Japanese language double major the University of Wisconsin had ever produced. Talk about a great way to pick up chicks. Or maybe not.)

Turns out it might not have been such a crazy combination after all. Fortunately for me, the Japanese people love insects as much as I do. And they revere their enormous, native species of beetles most of all. Long before Pokemon, long before Gundam, long before diecast or tin or even wooden toys, Japanese children spent their playtimes on the prowl for Kabuto-Mushi (rhinocerous beetles) and Kuwagata-Mushi (stag beetles.) Capturing them in wooded areas near bodies of fresh water, they'd set their best finds off against one another in bug-to-bug battles for superiority.

These days, it's tough to find beetles in the urban sprawl of the major cities of Japan. But Japanese kids never really lost their attraction to enormous, armored insects. Recent years have seen a spate of beetle-themed mecha invading toy store shelves. In fact, you can think of Gouraijin as a direct descendant of two of the most famous bug toys of all time: the Time Bokan Mekabuton and Kuwagattan. Just check 'em out and see for yourself!




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