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Astro Toy
Soul of Chogokin Mazinger Z Hen

by David Cabrera,

Series: Shin Mazinger Shōgeki! Z-Hen
Manufacturer: Bandai
Cost: $100

I'm going to really enjoy this week's review. It's hard not to enjoy writing about toys, but this one is special. I told you when we started together that I loved super robots, and the finest super robot toys are perhaps Bandai's high-end diecast metal Soul of Chogokin figures. They're certainly far more expensive than, say, a Revoltech, but their accuracy, options, and attention to detail are second to none. When a robot is immortalized in the SOC line, it is often the definitive production of that robot. Now my favorite anime of last year was Shin Mazinger, Yasuhiro "Giant Robo" Imagawa's reconstruction/crossover fanfiction of Go Nagai's epoch-making super robot story, Mazinger Z. In 26 episodes Imagawa's mad imagination took Mazinger to places it had never been, and here in my hands today is one of the many fruits of the Shin Mazinger labor of love: a new and fantastic Chogokin figure of Mazinger Z as it appeared in that series.

The package exhorts: "The fist of a god!" Pay your respects!

Even for robot anime, there is an unusually high level of synergy between the anime and the merchandise here: toy designer (for this and many other SOC pieces) Tsuyoshi Nonaka was also the mechanical designer for the Shin Mazinger anime. The gimmicks given Mazinger Z in that show, most notably the ability to transform the entire body into a giant fist, were explicitly designed to be turned into awesome toys for the benefit of the (man)children watching at home. Imagawa has talked about how he went from opposing the toy companies to working with them over the course of G-Gundam's production, and this direct cooperation with one of Bandai's finest robot artisans is perhaps the logical extreme of that idea.

Mazinger Z was the first Soul of Chogokin release and is the line's cash cow, having been endlessly re-released and redesigned for the line: once for its appearance in the MazinKaiser OAV, once just for the hell of it, again for Shin Mazinger, and in endless variants. Similar to the OVA version, Mazinger's body is very lean in accordance with Nagai's original manga designs. The pieces that came before were a little chubbier, taking inspiration from the 70's Toei anime instead.

The first thing you're going to notice when you pull Mazinger out of his styrofoam tray-- good for childhood nostalgia, bad for the environment-- is that this figure is heavy. The Chogokin line is actually named for the fictional Super Alloy Z (made with Japanium!) that Mazinger Z was built out of: here in the real world, Chogokin is solid zinc. The figure isn't entirely metal, but major parts like the arms and legs are: this gives the figure the satisfying heft that attracts many robot lovers to Chogokin. You really have to pick one of these up with your own hands to understand the feeling. Regular plastic figures will start to feel a little puny after you've handled one of these.

Articulation is as good as it can be while staying directly accurate to the anime's mechanical design. Given the design of the robot-- the legs just stick out from a solid crotch with no real movement at the hips-- the movement of the upper legs is pretty limited. The arms, shoulders, and head have no such limitations, however, and swivel around freely into whatever pose you might like to put them in. The knees have solid ratchet joints that always hold their position for easy posing and click loudly when you move them. It's a good sound. Mazinger's red chest plates can also be moved, a feature that's only used in the transformation. The Hover Pilder, the little flying hovercraft that pilot Kouji Kabuto flies, is removable, and the wings flip into place so that you can put it into the head, just like in the show.

Mazinger is packed armless, as the toy makers have left a very important decision to you. Will you go with the regular arms, which move at the elbow like you'd expect, or the spring-loaded, firing Rocket Punch arms? I found it impossible to resist the allure of shooting a robot fist across the room over and over again, myself. They won't put your eye out like the firing fists of the 70s and 80s, but they're definitely stronger than the antiseptic children's toys of today, and more importantly they impressed the hell out of my dog. The interchangeable arms are attached to the body with magnets, making replacement both simple and way cool.

This is all standard Soul of Chogokin, but this figure has a very special gimmick that I've only mentioned in passing. Halfway through the series, as is robot anime tradition, Mazinger Z receives a spectacular upgrade: the God Scrander backpack. It doesn't make a ton of sense at first glance. The robot's got a big, capelike set of wings, but there are three giant robot fingers stuck to his back now! The design really comes together when you realize that Mazinger's head tucks into his torso, the wings wrap around the lower body, obscuring it all the way down to the toes, and that finally, the arms themselves become fingers, and then they join the fingers on the backpack to form the massive fist of Zeus himself-- the Big Bang Punch! It's like a Rocket Punch, except huge: in addition to the usual assembly instructions, the manual includes a collection of step-by-step screenshots from the show that detail the transformation, so you can see for yourself that everything the figure does is exactly right.

The transformation is simple and mostly smooth, but there are some rough points. I found the "finger" pieces a bit of a pain to attach, and when you tuck Mazinger's head into the body I recommend you remove the Hover Pilder: the manual doesn't tell you to do this but but it's very likely that the protruding fin will take some damage if everything isn't just so. Once it's done, the fingers and even the fingertips are articulated, so you can make it a huge, outstretched hand as seen in the show, not just the Big Bang Punch.

The included display stand, as usual for SOC figures, accommodates all of the robot's accessories, so you don't need to worry about losing anything. Parts on the stand can also be configured to display Mazinger wearing the God Scrander, without it, in flight with the God Scrander, and transformed into Big Bang Punch mode: you're covered on all fronts here. Keep in mind that the attractive, shiny finish on this and many other diecasts makes dust very clear and obvious, a lesson I was repeatedly reminded of during the shooting of all these photos. You might want to wipe this thing down every so often to keep it looking nice. It's an investment, right?

This figure really lacks very little: rather than any failings, I can only think of ways to make it more awesome. Like light-up Photon Beam eyes, or the giant screaming head of Kouji Kabuto stuck Master Asia style onto the robot, as seen on the show-- wait, there's a variantfor that. Those Bandai scoundrels strike again! Can't they just leave us and our money alone?!

If you want one of these figures, I recommend you act quickly: at the moment of this writing they are on sale at Hobby Link Japan for half price, or about $50 before international shipping. That means, of course, that the original retail of this figure is a very steep $100, which I believe it earns. Quality of this level-- not to mention Super Alloy-- is not cheap.

Remember, kids, Dynamic Pros gotta stick together.

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