email thomas






















By Thomas Wheeler

The world of Japanese action figures is at least as interesting and extensive as the American world of action figures. It's also rather difficult to keep up with all of it. For my money, there have been four particularly interesting lines within the Japanese toy world that have attracted my attention over the years.

Transformers: Obviously this is just as well known to American audiences as to Japanese, but there are some stark differences between the two, both in concept and certainly in product. Die-hard Transformers fans will go out of their way to find interesting Japanese Transformers.

Power Rangers: Known in Japan as "Super Sentai", it's been an American mainstay for over fifteen years. But it's run in Japan to one degree or another for over thirty! Although the toys across the different concepts are a little more scattershot than their American counterparts, there's still no question that the concept(s) have been major hits in both countries, and elsewhere.

Gundam: Although a moderate success for several years in the United States, Gundam's real popularity is in Japan, with many more toys, kits, and other cool stuff than we ever saw here. I've been fortunate enough to be able to acquire, with some help from friends, a number of the "Mobile Suit in Action" figures from a number of Gundam concepts that never saw the light of day in the States.

Microman: A line with an astounding history, it was brought over to the United States in the 1970's as Micronauts, and enjoyed a resurgence in popularity several years ago in Japan and, indirectly, in the United States, when Takara completely redesigned the figures. But especially in the "classic" Micronauts line, there's a ton of stuff that we never saw in the States.

Obviously, even in the age of the Internet, Japanese toys are not always easily acquired, and they're certainly not generally acquired inexpensively. So I've been fairly selective about what I've followed or paid attention to.

I had heard about a line of Japanese action figures called "Motion Revive Series". The name didn't make a lot of sense to me, but then translating between English and Japanese often has -- interesting results. Apparently the figures were based largely on a concept called Kamen Rider, which is better known in the United States as "Masked Rider". And here a little explanation is needed.

Masked Rider debuted in the United States in the mid-1990's, pretty much on the heels of Power Rangers, and sought to take advantage of their recent popularity. Like Power Rangers, it was a Japanese live-action show, featuring colorfully costumed heroes and the like. Unfortunately, it wasn't anywhere near as popular, and didn't last more than a couple of years. As with Power Rangers, the toys were marketed by Bandai, and were of considerably high quality. Although I never followed the series that much, I have an 8" Masked Rider figure here that is superbly designed, detailed, and articulated, and I'm glad to have him.

Apparently, while the show was a moderate flop in the United States, the concept continues to be popular in Japan, and much like Power Rangers, reinvents itself each year, with the concept of colorfully-dressed heroes remaining pretty much the same, but the names and some of the story details changing. I was completely unaware of any of this.

The comments about the Motion Revive Series were extremely positive. Many remarked, "This is what Microman should have been." This was a reference to the fact that, however impressively designed the redeveloped Microman figures were, their one major failing is that they're fragile as heck. Apparently the Motion Revive figures were designed to be sterner stuff.

The few pictures I saw of the figures here and there certainly looked abun dantly impressive. Although I didn't recognize the characters per se, it was obvious that a lot of work and detail had gone into the design. They were clearly well-articulated, well-detailed, and well-painted.

They also weren't cheap. The few online Web Stores selling them tended to sell them by the assortment. Why? It seems that a number of Japanese toy lines have what is, for the Japanese, a popular little trait, but which I personally find annoying as heck -- and I doubt I'm the only one. The figures were all packaged in identical packaging, with no indication as to precisely who was in a given box. In the case of the Motion Revive Series, a given assortment box contained one each of six figures which were pictured on the package, a seventh bonus figure who wasn't, and a spare of -- somebody, for a total of eight.

With an entire assortment box out of my price range, especially for a toy line that I knew nothing about, and with no one selling individual figures except online auctions that were pretty well overpriced themselves, I sort of put the Motion Revive Series well in the back of my mind.

Then a particular Web Site, probably the best known one for Japanese toys, put Series 2 of the Motion Revive Series on sale. On a rather preposterous sale, at that, somewhat less than a third of the original price tag. Hello, opportunity! I snagged a set and waited to see what showed up.

What showed up was a very sturdy package, that contained a box. This box was nearly cubical, measuring between 5-1/2 to 6 inches on a side. It was printed on dark green ink in white, and touted itself as Motion Revive Series 2, even mentioning MASKED Rider, as opposed to Kamen Rider, which I found rather interesting (although Lord knows what the Japanese text might've said), and had, well, not so much black and white but green and white pictures of the figures in the assortment printed on it.

The box was clearly designed to be opened diagonally across the sides and low in the front to make for a store display. However, it could also be opened conventionally, which is what I did. Within were eight little boxes, all identical. These measured about 4-1/2" x 2-1/2" x 1-1/2" Pretty tight quarters. The boxes were very colorful, with color photos of the six known figures in the assortment pictured on all sides.

I quickly discovered that the best way to open the individual boxes was on the bottom. The top of the box has a flap, and it's glued very strangely. If you want to keep the boxes as intact as possible, open them on the bottom.

Within was a figure, sealed in a plastic bag, with accessories. The accessories tended to include sets of hands, a weapon, and maybe a few other items. There was clearly some printing and graphics on the inside of the box, which I presume to be some sort of biographical character information. I decided not to disassemble the boxes for something that I wouldn't be able to read anyway.

The figures, and this goes for each and every one of them, are truly amazing. Each one stands almost precisely 4" in height. The sculpted detail is excellent, and the paint detailing is astoundingly well done. These toys are made by Bandai, whom I've always trusted to do a high quality job with their product lines (even if I wish they'd get more in the habit of painting the backs of the Power Rangers they ship to the States), and these are all excellent examples of Bandai at its best.

The articulation is incredible. I can see where the comparison to the modern Microman comes from. Each of these figures is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, double-jointed elbows, wrists, mid-torso (which looks good on pretty much everyone as their costumes tend to look somewhat armored), legs, upper leg swivel, double-jointed knees, and ankles. The figures are somewhat slender in appearance, again not unlike Microman, but they feel heavier and made from a different, more resilient plastic.

So that sort of leaves the question -- who ARE these figures? That was something that was well outside my realm of expertise, so I contacted a couple of international friends, who were able to provide me with the necessary details and links.

Somewhat like Power Rangers, there is no one character that is specifically known just as "Kamen Rider" or "Masked Rider". As a friend of mine put it: They're actually ALL named Kamen Rider, which simply translates as "Masked Rider", so is useless as unique identifier. It's a title, a role, like "Soldier", or "Ranger" or the like, so it's not often used in isolation, but with the descriptive after it.

And, apparently, all of the figures in this assortment are good guys, despite some rather bizarre appearances, especially in the case of the "bonus" figure. Nor are they even all from the same series!

Let's consider them individually:

KAMEN RIDER THEBEE - Rider Form - From Kamen Rider Kabuto. This character is one of the characters in Kamen Rider Kabuto. It is based on a bee/wasp motif. Similar to the Hopper Riders, it relies on close-range combat because of the lack of any weapons. There have actually been several individuals who made considerable use of this motif. The first and apparently most prominent was Sou Yaguruma, a 27-year old agent of ZECT. Yaguruma, while TheBee, had his own personal army of ZECT Troopers called Shadow, which had yellow stripes on their uniform, indicating that they are an elite unit of ZECT Troopers. He is a perfectionist. When he's calm, he's a caring person who possesses a strict code of teamwork and demands perfection. He cares deeply for his team members, and in battle he is a brilliant tactician. However, he's also impulsive, brash and quick to anger. It is interesting to note that during battle he primarily uses kicks, foreshadowing his later role as Kamen Rider Kick Hopper.

Certainly the design of the character lives up to the name. The figure is wearing a helmet with gold and black stripes on the front, and large, insect-like eyes that are such a dark red they almost look black. His chest armor is similarly gold and black striped, and much of the detailing on his arms and legs is also metallic gold, against a largely black uniform. He has some silver on him, including small antennae, and widely flared shoulder armor, as well as his belt. Definitely a distinctive figure. And no, apparently there isn't supposed to be a space in "The Bee".

KAMEN RIDER DEN-O - Gun Form - From Kamen Rider Den-O. This is the primary protagonist and eponymous character of the 2007 Kamen Rider series, Kamen Rider Den-O.

It seems that this character is able to assume a number of different "forms"by swiping a Rider Pass across the SetTouch, Kamen Rider Den-O is able to pass through four forms, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Each of the forms is based on a specific mythological hero along with motifs relating to the respective legends. However, when any of the Taros uses the Rider Pass, they bypass the Plat Form to assume their respective Den-O Form.

I'm starting to get the impression that one of the reasons this series hasn't been brought back over to the United States is that way too much would be lost in the translation.

This figure represents the "Gun Form" of Kamen Rider Den-O. When in Gun Form, the DenGasher is able to transform into a gun for short range and long range attacks. Gun Form displays an increase in speed, power, and defense, easily making it the most superior of the four basic forms. Ryutaros tends to fight as Gun Form at his whim, as he is able to overpower the other three Taros as well as Ryotaro himself. However, he also tends to cause more collateral damage than the other forms because of his low precision and the high power of his ammunition.

The figure is impressive, though. Primarily black uniform with a lot of silver trim on it, an unbelievably ornate chestplate in silver, with purple trim on it. The helmet is this very angular piece with (apparently) a purple visor with gold trim around it. No question that he looks impressive. Supposedly the design is based on a mythological dragon, but I'm having a hard time seeing that.

KAMEN RIDER DRAKE - Rider Form - From Kamen Rider Kabuto - He is a new and inexperienced Rider. He is not a member of ZECT and is often a target of their attacks because of this. He also acts rather impulsively. Daisuke is not content being a Rider. He only transforms in order to protect himself, Gon (a young girl he knows who is plagued with amnesia), or women.

The more I read some of these bios, the weirder they get!

Supposedly the figure's design is based on a dragonfly, but I honestly think that's a bigger stretch than seeing a dragon in the last one. Not that it's a bad design. Unlike the other figures, there isn't a lot of black in the costume design. Really just the upper arms and torso, gloves, and part of the belt. The rest of the costume is gold. The armor detailing is white and silver. The helmet has a huge metallic visor in the center that looks like outstretched wings and is almost comical in appearance. A cool figure, but definitely one of the more unusual ones in this series.

KAMEN RIDER ZERONOS - Vega Form - From Kamen Rider Den-O - Yuto Sakurai is a man who bears the same name as one who mysteriously disappeared prior to the beginning of the series, but similarities do not seem to go any further. It is later revealed that Yuto is the very same Yuto Sakurai, only a decade younger, sharing his future self's high knowledge of astronomy. Yuto claims that protecting the flow of time is not the same thing as protecting people. He says that saving people is unnecessary if it means disrupting the flow of time even if it means sacrifices must be made to save the future. He holds a very spoiled personality, and often acts like a child when things do not go his way.

Sounds like a fun guy. The Vega Form is the form of Zeronos that comes from being possessed by the Imagin Deneb. It is named after the star Vega in the constellation Lyra the Lyre. It has a series of cannons on its shoulders called the Zeronos Nova

This figure differs from the others in that he comes with a cape, and two shoulder pads that snap into place and, to a degree, become part of the cape. They also have additional cannon barrels on them. Here is where this particular figure falls a little short in two respects -- the cape is not very flexible in the least, and the two peg holes on the shoulder pads are too small for the pegs on the shoulders of the figure. One of them cracked when I was trying to attach it. I decided, for my own display purposes, to leave Zeronos capeless.

The overall design of the character is interesting enough. The helmet is a spiky-looking thing with a wide red visor and green, gold, and silver trim. The uniform is mostly black with metallic green and silver trim, with a few hints of gold.

There's a weird face on the chest of the figure that's apparently the face of this Imagin Deneb.

KAMEN RIDER ZERONOS - Altair Form - From Kamen Rider Den-O. Yeah -- same guy, just a different form. Altair Form is the default form of Zeronos, using the Zeronos Cards to evoke the change. It is named after the star Altair in the constellation Aquila the Eagle. The "mask" is made up of two green bull's head-shaped visors, the same motif as Zero-Liner Drill, which is based on the mythological occupation of Altair as a cowherd. These form from two bull's head-shaped train cars that ride along the tracks on Zeronos' helmet. The rest of the body has a set of converging train tracks.

Guess that's one way to describe it. It's not too far off, either. The helmet appears initially to have three horns, but the middle horn is actually two horns linked together. "Train tracks" is as good a description as any for the metallic gold decoration to be found on the helmet, back, and chestplate.

The arms and legs are identical to the other Zeronos, but -- and this shows the sort of detail Bandai is willing to go to -- while the belts are ALMOST identical between the two figures, and are extremely ornate, the center buckle on the Altair form is pointed in one direction, and on the Vega form is pointed in another. Nice touch.

Also, it's worth noting, Altair Zeronos does not wear a cape.

KAMEN RIDER GATACK - Rider Form - From Kamen Rider Kabuto. This character is one of the main protagonists of Kamen Rider Kabuto. The motif is that of a "Kuwagatamushi" or stag beetle. The name is a portmanteau of "kuwagata" and "attack".

Arata Kagami is Gatack's user. He is a field agent of ZECT who also works with Hiyori at Bistro La Salle. He has a good heart but is hot blooded and will often act without thinking about the repercussions of his actions.

This figure is one of my personal favorites in the line, perhaps because he looks a little less weird than some of the others. That doesn't include the helmet, though, which is pretty strange. There are these two huge pincer-like antennae (or antennae-like pincers) emerging from the top front of the helmet. You wouldn't want this guy to head-butt you. They're thick and jagged. The head seems to be made from a slightly flexible plastic (they couldn't've made the other figure's cape out of this!?). The pincers are metallic blue in color, as is much of the armor trim on the figure. There is also silver trim over the head and around the mouth area, and two large metallic red eyes.

The chestplate and shoulder armor are metallic blue, a rather dark metallic blue that is an excellent color. The chestplate has some gold trim on it, as well as silver. The armor trim on the arms, legs, and belt is silver, but there is a large ornate something or other on the belt near the buckle that is also metallic blue.

To give you an idea of how detailed Bandai is willing to be in painting these things, there's a tiny little metallic green dot on the forehead, no more than 1/32 of an inch in diamater, that's the only evidence of green on the entire figure.

This from a company that can't bring itself to paint the backs of its Power Rangers. Still, impressive detail here, anyway.

Finally we have the bonus figure. It's not often I pull a figure out of a box and it actually startles me. This one did.

MOMOTAROS - From Kamen Rider Den-O. My friend who provided the information to me actually gave me a pretty good backstory on the character: He's hot headed and violent, but not evil or anything, but as a being called an Imagin, a disembodied energy form from the future, he's shaped by his host's perceptions, and Ryotaro thought of him as being like a demon, so that's what he ended up looking like. He empowers Ryotaro allowing him to become Kamen Rider Den-O in the first place.

Momotaros blames Ryotaro for his form, though it matches his personality, best described as hot blooded, arrogant, and comedic, serving as a foil to Ryotaro's own shy and cowardly personality. He also does not know how to swim, has a narcotic reaction to red peppers, and seems to be afraid of dogs.

With all of these figures, if you want to learn more, I recommend checking their extensive bios on WikiPedia. Although they're in English, I am fairly certain that most of them were written by someone who has Japanese as their native language. They're interesting, but weird, and I think probably someone more into the overall concepts than myself would get more out of them. I'm just collecting the figures here.

As to Momotaros -- If this was the form dreamed up by someone, I don't blame him for being ticked off about it. The figure has a mostly dark red uniform, with a helmet that -- well, is certainly demon-like. It's red, with black eyes, a jagged black mouth, and two big horns on top. The rest of the armor trim is also red, and includes a chestplate, backplate, shoulder armor, and additional armor on the arms, upper legs, knees, and lower legs. Many of these armor pieces have ornate black swirls in them. The shoulder armor has two spikes coming out of each section.

This is not a pleasant-looking character. I mean, he's well-made, well-articulated, nicely and neatly detailed!

So, there's the seven. The eighth figure in the box turned out to be a spare of The Bee. I have no idea if every package has the same spare.

Any complaints? Well, nothing's perfect, but these figures come close. The worst I can say about any of these figures is that one of them has a slightly loose torso (and one of the Web Sites that discuss these figures recommended a possible fix, and the figures' torsos are secured by a screw, not unlike original-style G.I. Joe figures, so it should be possible to disassemble them), and another one of the figures has a crack in his arm near the elbow joint. I'll be keeping an eye on that. If it was a Microman figure, I'd REALLY be keeping an eye on it.

You do have to insert the hands, and these need to be trimmed off a plastic "tree". I recommend a good X-Acto to especially precise pair of scissors for this. On some of the figures, the hands went in rather easily. On a few, it was something of a struggle. To what degree the "pressure" of the inserted hands may affect the lower arms -- well, it's too soon to tell.

But these are relatively minor complaints to some really great and remarkable action figures. Even if you're not into the concept, which I'm really not (or shall we at least say "poorly informed"?), these are still very cool-looking and very well-made action figures.

I have just this one series, although there are other series out there -- I think seven or eight of them. Personally, I'm hoping for more sales. You might be able to afford them more readily. According to what I've read, though, they tend to have rather limited production runs and sell fairly quickly.

But, if you can find the means to purchase them, and it's by no means impossible, then this assortment or any of the KAMEN RIDER MOTION REVIVE SERIES FIGURES definitely have my highest recommendation!