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By Thomas Wheeler

Cool and impressive action figures are hardly limited to the United States. They can be found all over the world, and one of the better places to find them is Japan. Granted, this is not always easy. I, for one, don't speak the language and can't afford the travel. However, there are other ways to obtain Japanese toys. There's any number of online outlets for such things.

And, of course, Japan loves its televised entertainment just as much as we Americans do. A fairly popular form of popular entertainment is called "sentai". A loose translation of this term would be "live-action super-hero teams". Certainly the best known of these in Japan would be what we call the Power Rangers. But, just as in the States, where the X- Men aren't the only team around, the Power Rangers have their own share of competition in Japan's super-world.

One of these concepts, if a relatively short lived one, was named "Madan Senki Ryukendo". It has never appeared in the United States. A rough translation, however, would be, "Magic Bullet Chronicles Ryukendo". Ever get the impression that Japanese and English are two languages that JUST don't blend very well?

The program aired at on TV Aichi from January 8 to December 31, 2006. About the closest it has come to an American broadcast is that it is currently airing dubbed in Spanish on WKAQ-TV, a Telemundo affiliate in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wonder how well Japanese translates into Spanish...

As to the plotline of the series: Akebono City is a peaceful community overflowing with humanity. Since there was a Power Spot that released magical power in the community, the people were distressed by the threat of the demon army Jamanga who are gathering "Minus Energy" from the frightened masses for a sinister purpose. The secret organization SHOT was formed to protect the people of the community from the Jamanga, concealing their existence as ordinary members of the Akebono Police Station, which considers demons beyond their jurisdiction. Kenji Narukami, a student of the Narukami Dragon Gog Style, for fighting demons, arrives to Akabono to fight the demons, eventually getting his wish when he is transformed to Ryukendo and faces off against Jamanga's forces together with his friends in order to restore peace in the community.

There are multiple versions of the Ryukendo character, of various "powered up" forms, but he's not the one I'm reviewing. In point of fact, I reviewed him quite some time ago. This review will focus on one of the other of the three main good guys in the series, listed officially as Madan Fighter Ryujino.

According to his bio, Koichi Shiranami/Madan Fighter Ryujino isn't a member of SHOT, but rather, a mysterious wanderer, armed with the ZanRyuJin. He's not on the side of the Jamanga either, as he demonstrated in his high-octane entrance battle with Lady Gold. Eventually, he comes to work with Kenji and Fudou.

Koichi lived in England when he was a kid, and Commander Amachi of SHOT wanted his parents to work on the Madan Suits for Ryukendo and Ryuguno. Koichi lost his parents in the explosion, but kept his mother's pendant. He stole the Madan Ryu Core to give himself the power of a Madan warrior to avenge his parents, swearing a vendetta on SHOT until he learned that it was one of the villains, Count Bloody (talk about losing something in the translation), who caused his parents' deaths. When he inserts the RyuJin Key into ZanRyuJin, the weapon synchronizes with the Madan Ryu Core to transform him into Madan Toshi Ryujino.

Ryujino can turn ZanRyuJin from a halbred into a bow with the use of the Archery Key. His finishing move, activated by the Final Key, is RanGeki in Axe Mode and RanBu in Archery Mode. His JuuOh is Delta Shadow, which can combine with RyuJinOh to give him the power of flight. Later, Delta Shadow gains the ability to turn into a motorcycle.

In Episode 50, with some of Kenji's power, Koichi transforms into Ultimate Ryujino, a golden-armored version of himself. His JuuOh in this form is Ultimate Shadow.

So this brings us to the action figures. Technically speaking, from one standpoint, this entire Ryukendo concept was an attempt on Takara/Tomy's part to compete with Bandai's Power Rangers. To what degree it was successful, I really don't know - as I haven't seen the ratings.

Now, Takara is best known -- other than for Transformers -- for a very popular line of action figures called MICROMAN. They've been a mainstay of the Japanese toy world since 1974, and in the late 1970's and early 1980's, were brought over to the United States in a somewhat repackaged form by then toy giant Mego under the name MICRONAUTS. The line was hugely successful and resulted in a long-running comic book from Marvel, and even enjoyed a mild resurgence a few years ago.

Several years back, Takara completely redesigned their Microman figures, creating a common body format for them, that was far more articulated and, so it was said, not anatomically proportionate to the actual human form, than anything they'd done previously.

Microman continued to be a hit for several years following, although in the aftermath of the merger between Takara and Tomy, has been rather de-emphasized. This is unfortunate. The Microman line also picked up a generous number of licenses on the way, some of which would be recognizable to American audiences as well as Japanese -- Batman, Superman, Aliens, Predator, Street Fighter -- they even did the lead character from the series we know as Battle of the Planets. Of course, there were some Japanese licenses less recognizable to most Americans.

And then there was Ryukendo. This was an in-house concept. Takara didn't have to license it from anybody. But it certainly seemed fitting enough to create Microman characters around it. And so they did. And one of them was for RYUGUNO, which I was recently able to add to my collection.

I'll say one thing for the Ryukendo series -- they didn't skimp on the costume design. Now, generally speaking, most Japanese anime and sentai concepts tend to be rather ornate. Their super-characters tend to be more flashily dressed than our super-hero crowd. Technically, the Power Rangers are -- no offense to them -- almost a drab lot in some of their incarnations compared to some of the other concepts that are out there.

That having been said, I think it's equally fair to say that the Ryukendo characters are SO ornate that if they were any MORE ornate they'd be able to defeat most of their enemies just by showing up, because their foes would be blinded just by looking at them.

And this was a live-action series!? Well, granted, I'd pity anyone who had to try to draw this in animation. Imagine having to stitch these suits together. Imagine having to get dressed in one of these and wear it for a period of time while filming a TV series. These outfits make samurai armor look like a T-shirt and jeans.

Just as amazing as far as I'm concerned is pulling it off on an action figure that already has a lot of its body parts designed as a standard, and that's roughly 4" in height and that's a complex construction design to begin with. And do it this well.

Ryujino's background story tends to make one think that he started out as -- well, not entirely one of the good guys, and this is more or less reflected in his costume, which is primarily black with a generous amount of silver on it. Much like the Power Rangers, each of the characters in Ryukendo has a main color to his uniform. It's just that with all the ornamentation, it's a little less obvious. Ryukendo's is blue. Ryujino's is black.

The uniform is mostly black, with what appears to be silver lightning bolts running down the front and back, from the chest all the way down the legs. The sides of the arms and legs have an intricate pattern, imprinted in white, that -- well, for lack of anything else look like somewhat stylized vertebrae, even though they're on the arms and legs. This cannot have been an easy thing to accomplish on such a small figure with parts as numerous as a Microman figure has.

Ryujino is wearing a helmet that is mostly black It has a narrow ridge running over the top of it, and it is somewhat flared in the back. Attached to the helmet is a gold faceplate that as much as anything resembles flared wings. The center of this faceplate is a coppery color. There is a small orange and black triangle on the forehead.

Ryujino is wearing a cheatplate that is gold and silver in color, and is frankly a little hard to describe. The gold section somewhat resembles a dragon's head, but the silver area that extends away from it almost looks like spider legs. The backplate is no real help in identification. It doesn't really match the style of the front, looking more technological than ornate.

Ryujino has large, very jagged shoulder pads, that I suspect could be an asset in a fight. These are gold in color, with triangular ornamentation on them on dark orange and purple. He also has heavy gauntlets, looking rather dragonesque, in the same color scheme. The dragon motif is also present on his feet. He has protective shin guards that honestly resemble his faceplate, in that they are flared, gold in color, with coppery centers.

The most incongruous part of Ryujino's costume are his knee pads. These are inverted triangles, fluorescent red in color, with purple centers. They stand out very prominently. Precisely what their significance is, if any, I have no idea. Perhaps they're warning signs for potential attackers. "Danger - Sharp Objects with Bad Attitude Ahead!"

Ryujino is wearing a thick belt with two thinner belts off to the sides. One side of his belt has a circular object on it with six points, the other side a buckle or decoration that looks a lot like the dragon head that appears elsewhere on his costume.

The final ensemble is impressive, extremely ornate, and pretty mean-looking.

Of course the articulation is outstanding. This is something Takara has excelled in and rightfully boasts about with regard to Microman. These things could put Marvel Legends to shame. Ryujino, like most Microman figures, is articulated at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, double jointed elbows, wrists, hands, mid torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, double jointed knees, and ankles. Many of these parts have multiple ranges of movement.

The only advisory, and it's a strong one, and it's my one mild criticism of Microman figures -- they're rather on the fragile side. They tend to be molded from a rather rigid type of plastic. Broken parts, just from the stress of assembly, are not unheard of, and they probably won't stand up to a lot of handling. I have to believe (and have in fact heard), that Japanese kids treat their toys a lot better than most American kids. Of course, there's also a higher percentage of adult collectors over there, too, and it's not considered the borderline "niche" market that it is here.

But, bottom line here -- HANDLE WITH EXTREME CARE.

Ryujino's accessories include a very fancy staff, that's shoulder high to the figure. It has a very fancy stylized golden dragon head in the center, and the trips more or less look like very decorative axe blades. Yeah, this guy will beat and probably chop the heck out of you, but he'll do it with style.

Ryujino also comes complete with a transparent display base, and ten extra hands in various positions, which can be exchanged with relative ease.

I find myself wondering just a bit if this line was intended to be larger than it is. Ryukendo has multiple forms, and it also mentions the ultimate forms of all of the characters. These figures are numbered, and they're numbered MA-27, MA-28, MA-31, and MA-32. The fourth, I should mention, is a generic villain figure that's a little on the silly side. He's dressed all in purple with yellow lines, a single red eye in his head, and batwings coming out where his ears should be. Still, that's NOT a precise numerical sequence, and even though other licensed figures use the "MA" designation (for Micro Action), I can't help but wonder.

The package the figure comes in is small but almost as ornate as the figure. It measures 8" x 4-1/2" and is designed to have the back card slide out and back. Not a bad way to store the figure's accessories, really. The imagery on the back includes multiple pictures of the figure in action, as well as a picture of the capabilities of all Microman figures. I'd tell you what it all says, but most of it is in Japanese. About the only English is the Microman logo and the name "Ryujino".

This Ryukendo series is easily the most ornate group of Microman figures I have ever seen in my life. It can definitely be said that no expense was spared to make certain that they matched their live-action counterparts, and that the costumes were designed in the first place to be eye-catching and attention-getting. And they certainly succeed on all counts, and the figures are truly superb.

So what's my final word here? Look, you don't have to speak Japanese, be a fan of Madan Senki Ryukendo (I've never seen an episode of it in my life and I wouldn't understand it if I did, in either Japanese or Spanish), or even be all that familiar with the concept to know a really cool action figure when you see one. And these are really cool action figures. They're highly ornate, highly articulated, and well-made -- if in need of being handled gently on that last count.

With all of that in mind, I would certainly recommend any of the MICROMAN RYUKENDO figures, and that obviously includes RYUJINO here, who has my highest and enthusiastic recommendation!