Monday, February 16, 2015

The Littlest of Battles: LBX Sprukits Analysis

When I was around 13, I developed an intense interest in Japanese mecha cartoons. I don't know of it was the giant robot designs, the action, or the political rhetoric,  but over the course of a few wonderful years I eagerly watched every available show, or at least everything that was on Toonami. I  first got on board with Gundam Wing, but other classics like Evangelion (which I still have somewhat mixed feelings about) and Big O (which I don't) struck chords with me as well. Of course, it wasn't long before I discovered the extensive model kit market at the periphery of this new genre, a sort of build it yourself action figure with an emphasis on customization and collection. At first, I had to order my model kits from Japan via the internet, which involved lots of begging my parents, but eventually they became widely available domestically in stores like Toys R Us. For a couple years, I had a good time building a painting models of various robots from the Mobile Suit Gundam series, since that was the only mech anime that got big commercially, but by the time I was out of high school the mainstream appeal of mechanical war machines had come in to question, and it was back to the internet, except that I had kind of lost interest as well (I did NOT enjoy Gundam Seed). For most of my adult life I did without any kind of model fun.

I suppose I should blame those Ninja Turtle erasers, but I've recently come to have a renewed interest in building figures, and having exhausted the supply of tiny K'nex Pac-Man dudes I've been at a loss for something to scratch that itch. However, I recently discovered Sprukits, a line of fairly new Bandai products that seem to be an attempt to reintroduce consumers to the world of model kit building. Normally I wouldn't have necessarily given much of a damn about this, but there are a few features of the Sprukits line that I find fairly amusing. The first of which is that, rather than focusing on their Gundam franchise, Bandai has opted to make deals with more traditionally western properties this time around. There's something amusing about seeing a Gundam style model kit of Bat-Man and Halo's Master Chief, and I'm sure the actual end results are fairly neat, but I don't really care at all about DC Comics or Halo, so I will probably never purchase one. Far more interesting to me is what I consider to be the secret star of the Sprukits line-up: The Little Battlers Experience.

If the name doesn't sound familiar, don't feel bad. The Little Battlers is a fairly long running series of action RPGs from the wonderful folks at Level 5, which has been sadly but firmly relegated to Japan-only releases, making it virtually unknown in the western world. The concept, which casts kids as the operators of miniature battle magggggggggchines competing in tournament style conflicts, is equal parts Medabots and Gundam, with a strong focus on preserving the feel of real model building sub-culture. Although I'm certainly out of the age demographic for this type of stuff, I really do love the designs of the machines, and while I haven't had a chance to play any of the games, the Level 5 pedigree, which I consider to be a history of excellent releases, is encouraging. Personally, I've been waiting for any sign of localization for this series for years with nothing to show for it, but that seems to have changed this year.

As part of a multimedia promotional thingamajig, several facets of the LBX franchise are making their way on to North American shores this year, with an anime series airing on Nickelodean of all places, and of course, a sub-line of Sprukits. I don't get Nickelodeon, as I have probably said in the past, so I have no idea whether the dub is any good, or if the anime is any good to begin with, but the designs of the mini-mechas themselves is totally awesome, so it's hard for me to not love these things. Over the course of a few weeks I acquired and built the three available figures in the lines smallest scale, partly because I love small toys and partly because I don't want to spend more than 10 dollars on something that is just gonna sit on a desk.

Here are my thoughts.

First off, these seem to be much more streamlined than the Gundam models I remember, at least as far as construction goes. There are far fewer parts, and it seems almost impossible to screw up, which is nice, as a misunderstood instruction no longer requires annoying and fiddly backtracking and deconstruction. The simplicity leads to shorter build times, which is either a disappointment if you're looking for a real event, but a bonus if you just want to build the thing while watching tv or something. The pieces snap off nice and easy, but I use a pair of clippers to free them because I like to be fancy.

The first LBX model I bought is called Hunter. There is a lot I like about the design of this guy. For one thing, he has a very unorthodox body, appearing to be some kind of mechanical bipedal wolf or something. His legs are all weird backwards jointed, and look awesome. He also seems to be a sniper, as his only accessory is a giant rife. He comes mostly molded in a kind of blueish purple, but a few stickers provide a neat facial scar. I just really love the way Hunter looks, and although his range of motion is a little limited by his unusual anatomy, I was pretty pleased with my first experience with LBX.

On my second trip to Toys R Us, I decided to go for the "main" model, Achilles, the LBX belonging to the show's hero. Visually he looks a bit like a combination of Big O and a Spartan, with a high mohawk adorning his helmet, and even a cape. He's mostly molded in white with some blue trim available via sticker work, and comes with a spear and shield. He's much easier to move around than Hunter because of his simple, solid limb structure, but his shield can be a little cumbersome, as the handle isn't at such an angle as to make realistic positioning possible. Still, he looks awesome, and definitely has a heroic look to him.

The last LBX I bought, and the only other figure available in this particular scale, is called Deqoo. As far as I can tell, Deqoo are the "standard" enemy model, like the Zaku from Mobile Suit Gundam. He's pretty simple looking, but there is a certain charm to his functional and militant appearance. He feels solid, and seems to be the easiest to pose of the three. He comes with a amusingly big pistol and a shield, which presents the same problems as Achilles' but is a little easier to work with because of its shape. I'm not thrilled with his shoulder stickers, but the "red eye" effect turned out pretty good on the helmet.

Sadly, that seems to be it for this small, cheaper line of figures. I think there are a few other models available at the higher price point, but I'm not gonna pay 20 dollars for a slightly bigger robot from a show I don't watch. As it stands, the LBX Sprukits are fun little figures, and while I certainly won't be doing any customization, I could see a kid having fun swapping parts, maybe giving Hunter Deqoo's gun, or having Achilles dual wield sniper rifles, or even painting the figures to more closely resemble their animated counterparts. For me, I just like having these little badasses sitting next to my pencil sharpener, making my desk that much more tempting a spot for my cat to wreak havoc.

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