Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Let's get right to it: this guy's no robot. You can tell me "it's a powersuit!" all day, and I'll shrug and say "Technically!" But Bonta-kun of Full Metal Panic fame is-- let's face it-- a man dressed up in a fuzzy, huggable amusement park mascot suit. That the suit has some fancy machinery, heavy firepower, and perhaps some large kitchen appliances in it is none of my concern as a lover of the Japanese super robot. It ain't no robot, far as I say, nor is this anywhere near the typical Robot Damashii (Spirits) figure. The line is Bandai's latest low-cost line of robot figures, focusing mostly on recent designs out of the latest anime: mostly Gundam, a little Macross, a bit of Geass. One could say that, just like the times he's appeared as a joke character in the Super Robot Wars videogames, Bonta-kun is here on a technicality.
Fumo. Fumofumofumo. ("Let's fight... like gentlemen!")
Amusement park mascot suits aren't exactly known for their intricate designs: Bonta-kun is yellow, lightly spotted, and that's about it. My first strike against this figure was going to be that he's not decked out in his military gear, but this is yet another case of Bandai, our frequently malicious benefactor, knowing all too well what they're doing. The "combat type" Bonta-kun figure will be out in July with a mostly different set of accessories, because if they didn't do it that way, nobody would buy bow-tie Bonta. You know what? That's still a strike. Given that there's no shortage of accessories included with the figure, I don't think that it would have been too unreasonable for a figure that retails for a little over $30 (in Japan, anyway) to ship with a removable SWAT vest and hat.
While a mascot costume is certainly constricting, Bandai has engineered about as much movement as one could get out of this little guy. The arms are fully articulated, with shoulders that swing freely back and forth while still sticking in place, and the feet, sticking out from under the baggy (but solid as a rock in this plastic incarnation, unfortunately) costume, dangle from stumps attached to an assembly underneath and can be wiggled around just fine. Just don't expect there to be any legs up there. The construction of Bonta-kun is an anime mystery, and the figure sheds no light on the matter.
Fumofumo! Fumoooo. (Please don't take this personally.)
Bonta-kun comes with extra faces, all of which inexplicably bear the signature scar of protagonist Sousuke Sagara. You don't personalize disguises, buddy. It's counterproductive! There's a regular face, a stoic expression with eyes closed, and a face that appears frightened. The last face has a cool gimmick: a magnet. How does that work? Well, just slide the included sweatdrop piece up on either side of Bonta-kun's sad face, and it'll stay there. Apparently this face, and only this face, hides a little bit of metal around the forehead. How does a mascot costume change expressions in the first place? You are indeed a mystery, Bonta-kun: one which will never be cracked.
The only possible claim one could make for Bonta-kun's status as a robot is here, inside of the face pieces: you apply the monitor decals yourself. There's even a decal for the voice changer that changes everything one says inside of the Bonta-kun suit into variations of "Fumoffu." Yeah, nice try, Bandai. Not a robot.
Fumo!! Fumofumo, Fumoffu. Fumo. (When next the sun rises, we will take the front of the line at this "Comicbook Market!")
The one thing Bonta-kun does actually have in common with a Japanese super robot is that he is strapped. A handgun, shotgun, assault rifle, grenade and a riot baton are all included, as well as extra "hands" to hold the arsenal with. How Bonta-kun could possibly handle a weapon is another anime mystery, so these are unusual parts. The tips of Bonta-kun's hands pop out and can be replaced with hands that have holes in them. The weapons have pegs that can be stuck into the hands, and so Bonta-kun gives the cartoon illusion of a gun floating out in front of his fingerless hand. In a particularly thoughtful addition, there are also a set of "weapon attachment parts" which are used for holding other weapons from the Robot Damashii line, so you can live out your extremely dangerous dream of putting a high-powered beam rifle in the hands of an amusement park mascot.
Fumooooooooooo! (Translator's note: In this context, "Fumooooooooooo!" is untranslatable.)
Bandai lets you know in the in-box literature that Robot Damashii stands aren't included and will cost you about $14 (again, in Japan). While that $14 pays for a set of three-- and is, therefore, not only an extra cost but a silent obligation to buy more Robot Damashii figures-- it's still a clear ripoff. I like my toys to have everything already in the box. That's the whole idea. I would call this a deal-breaker for any figure in this line except for Bonta, whose movement is limited enough that it would probably be tough to think of a use for the stand anyway. However, if Bonta-kun must take to the skies (and you know I can't resist) a regular Figma stand will do the job.
Fumo. ("Yeah, just let me get this thing off my head--" POP)
And here is Bonta-kun's final trick: the whole head can be replaced by an included "Sousuke head". The bizarrely proportioned head only inspires more questions about Bonta-kun's nature: where is the rest of Sousuke's body in there? Is he crouching? He has to be kneeling, at least! That must be uncomfortable! How does he control the thing while so inconvenienced? Is the guy just really, really short? He didn't look it in the show! Bonta-kun's not a robot, alright, but what in the living hell is he? This review is giving me a headache. I wouldn't put up $40 for any of the other Robot Damashii figures-- plus that ridiculous business with the stands-- unless I was really crazy about the design. Now Bonta-kun's no masterpiece of design, but boy, is he silly! This guy I would buy. Just because he's a robot doesn't mean he isn't welcome in my home. I might have waited for the decked-out Bonta, but I would have put up the money.
As prophesied last week, the pattern of this column is hereby destroyed. Is Bonta-kun a manly item or a cute item? Does he fit just fine into either camp?