Powered Suit Studio Nue Design (Mobile Infantry)
Review by VF5SS
Robert Heinlein's seminal science fiction novel, Starship Troopers, is easily one of the most influential works in the genre. Nowadays the idea of soldiers wearing power armor getting dropped from orbit to fight endless hordes of alien bugs seems so cliche, but back in 1959 there was nothing like it on the shelves. As I read the book for the first time a few years ago, I was awestruck at how timeless the story felt to me. Through all the arguments made over the book's strange philosophical musings on subjects like fascism and militarism in relation to what it means to be a soldier, there was a kind of magic in reading through a passage and remembering this was originally published in 1959!
Starship Troopers was one of the first books to popularize the idea of power armor. The simply named Powered Suit allowed a single soldier to move faster than a normal human while carrying greater firepower into the fray without need for large combat vehicles such as tanks or aircraft. It is an idea that has been mulled over by both dreaming nerds and military weapons developers for decades. The book's main character, Juan "Johnnie" Rico joins the Mobile Infantry (MI) as his way of fulfilling his obligation to the state in exchange for citizenship. Throughout the book we learn the inner workings of the Powered Suit and how it is employed in highly mobile shock trooper style engagements where teams of MI are dropped from orbit into wherever they need to be. From there they use the added abilities of the Powered Suit and its signature jetpack to jump great distances, which they call fighting "on the bounce."
In terms of Western sci-fi, everything from Warhammer 40k to Starcraft to the ever popular Halo franchise has utilized the idea of power armor (usually in a war against aliens) to give its soldiers an air of technological superiority over the common grunt. Whether or not it the authors behind those works know it, all these things can be traced back to Starship Troopers and the Powered Suit.
A Polish release of Starship Troopers.
Starship Troopers has been translated into almost a dozen different languages with perhaps the most notable version being the 1977 release by Hayakawa Publishing. Hayakawa is known for their large catalog of western science fiction works translated into Japanese. Each book features high quality cover artwork and insert illustrations by some of Japan's premier artists. While Starship Troopers was released in Japan ten years prior, the second Hayakawa printing is a beloved and revered book due to the beautiful artwork by award winning SF illustrator Naoyuki Kato.
I have yet to get around to acquiring a copy of the Japanese edition, but I was able to find pictures of it here which I have mirrored for this review.
The Japanese title for Starship Troopers is 宇宙の戦士 (Uchuu no Senshi), which translates to "Soldiers of Space", or as Google colorfully rendered it, "Warriors of the Universe."
Insert illustration for the Powered Suit.
This two page spread of Powered Suit schematics inspired a great many fans and artists in Japan.
Newer editions of the book have this cover (Yomiko Readman not included).
Naoyuki Kato is still an active SF illustrator who has done artwork for many books and magazines over the years. You can check out his blog to see more of his artwork and his own redesigns of the Powered Suit.
I should point out that Kato's design is not the one used in the 1988 anime adaptation of Starship Troopers. While the two designs are similar, the OVA design can be differentiated by its much more bulbous appearance in the legs and body.
Kaiyodo is no stranger to this particular design as they released a diecast action figure of it that Josh reviewed about a decade ago. I understand this toy had its own share of quality control issues and even though I've never owned one, I did handle a couple of broken ones inside a junk box at the 2011 Chogokin Summit. Apparently some of the joints could be too tight out of the box and would eventually break.
Of course, Kaiyodo is not known for giving up on a property no matter how many defective toys they make. For their new Sci-fi Revoltech subline of their popular action figure series, they sought to bring the world another figure of the Powered Suit.
Before I discuss the figure itself, I just want to touch on the box. The Sci-fi Revoltech line is a bit more boutique than its progenitor with the Powered Suit's box reflecting this motif. Inside the velcro sealed flap is a window to see the toy inside its packing tray.
There is also a dauntingly huge amount of text discussing the origins giant robot media and how Naoyuki Kato's design affected the world of mechanical design. They even included small untouched versions of artwork done for the Starship Troopers books, some of which I posted above. I should point out that this figure is not explicitly branded as a Starship Troopers product and is instead attributed to the famous design house, Studio Nue. Naoyuki Kato was one of its founding members and the studio itself would employ many now famous mechanical designers such as Kazutaka Miyatake and Shoji Kawamori. Both of those men became well known due to their work on Super Dimension Fortress Macross, which in its early stages was envisioned as a hard sci-fi series involving transforming power armor and Gerwalk type machines with the family friendly name of "Genociders."
Initial reports about this toy showed that it had a very common Kaiyodo toy flaw in where some of the joints were gunked up with excess paint. Collectors who remember the old Kaiyodo "Monoshaft" branded toys may recall how bad this was for dozens of figures. The Revoltech joint system was developed to alleviate this problem by replacing potentially brittle PVC on PVC peg in hole systems with ABS universal joints. Unfortunately, the old monoshaft system still crops up in newer Kaiyodo figures so the first thing I did when I got my Powered Suit was to put it on ice.
The Powered Suit can operate in a variety of environments.
If you ever get a Kaiyodo figure that uses monoshaft joints and a part doesn't move right away, just put the toy inside your freezer for about thirty minutes. Doing so allows the PVC to condense slightly and makes the excess paint inside the joint much more brittle. Slowly work the affected area until it begins to move smoothly and the toy should be fine. For the Powered Suit, each shoulder is a monoshaft-style swivel that should be dealt with in the aforementioned manner. While this is not an ideal situation for any toy buyer, I can assure you that doing this simple procedure can save a lot of frustration in the long run.
After giving my Powered suit a little TLC, I found it to be a quirky yet satisfying figure. A lot of its charm is due to a combination of Kato's classic design and Kaiyodo's attention to detail. All the paint work is done with a flat finish with some details picked out with simple washes. The big thruster bell on the back is mounted on a Revoltech joint and can swivel a full 360 degrees and pitch up and down. Just as the book says there are two additional thrusters on either side on the backpack and the "Y-rack" at the top.
For some fans, Kato's design for the Powered Suit is the definitive version. All of the details described in the book are present on Kato's interpretation. It certainly does look like a big mechanical gorilla.
While the visor of the suit is not transparent, the faux mirrored shine is quite striking. The whole visor motif topped with a "mohawk" should be very familiar to fans of Japanese mecha.
In fact, Mobile Suit Gundam adapted many design cues and ideas from Starship Troopers and Kato's Powered Suit especially. It's hard not to think of a anime or game series in Japan that doesn't feature robots that travel around using backpack mounted verniers or sport a shoulder cannon at some point. It's said the first designs for Mobile Suit Gundam started with a Guncannon-type machine. Early designs of the original Gundam (called Gunboy) itself sported a shoulder weapon that eventually transformed into the Hyper Bazooka down the line.
Starship Troopers went on to inspire countless sci-fi stories in both the west and the east.
The overall joint scheme on the Powered Suit is typical Revoltech fair. It's a little unconventional but reasonably sturdy and functional. Everything save for the shoulders employ Revoltech joints. It's not the most dynamic figure, but once you feel everything out I found it to be quite an engaging piece. I would say to treat the shoulders gently just to avoid breakage, though. One interesting touch is a set of accordion style sleeves for the hips and knee joints that replicate the flexible detailing of the original design while hiding the obvious Revoltech balls. There is a waist joint, but it's limited by the bulk of the design. At best you can get the abdomen to bend forward one click and swivel slightly to either side.
The wrists are done with a simple swivel at the base with a peg and hole hinge where the hand connects. If any of the four swappable hands don't go on right away, simply widen the hole a bit with a tool. I wouldn't force anything just because that area looks a little fragile.
The Powered Suit comes with a clear orange storage box for all of its extra bits. You don't get a whole lot that can't be attached to figure and also fits in the box. Just a pair of extra hands and a name tag can rattle around when not being used.
All of the Sci-Fi Revoltechs come with a small name tag which adds to the boutique nature of this sub line. I can definitely see some Japanese salary man keeping this figure on his desk with the name proudly displayed beside it. To my knowledge the upper kanji translates to "Kidou Houhei" which essentially means "Mobile Infantry." The bottom text states this is the Studio Nue version of the design. Fans of Mobile Suit Gundam may know its full Japanese title is "Kidou Senshi Gundam," which I find to be fittingly similar to how Mobile Infantry is written. Powered Suits and Mobile Suits? It's all connected...
Besides hands, the Powered Suit's only other accessory is a handheld flame thrower. You can place it in the one open hand or peg it on the backpack.
The two optional hands included are a fist for the left arm and a hand with an egg for the right. This is a reference to the technical drawings where the suit picks up an egg. Back in the 50's and 60's (and even today), showing a robotic arm handling an egg was a very common way for manufacturers to show off how precise and delicate automated assembly lines could be. Unfortunately the paint on the egg is a little spotty and ends before where it meets the fingers.
Sci-fi fans in Japan love to show robots handling eggs as a nod to Starship Troopers and real world robotics demonstrations.
By lifting up the shoulder cannon, you can lift up the upper portion of the suit to reveal a pilot. You can twist the pilot's head left or right. There is no way to remove the pilot to have an empty suit. I think the inclusion of this detail may be why the shoulders were done with a simple peg and hole swivel as there isn't a lot of room for a full Revoltech joint.
The belt has a vital sign indicator under a piece of clear plastic. You can also see a rack of grenades molded onto the side.
The Powered Suit comes with the traditional black Revoltech display stand. It pegs into a hole underneath the right side of the backpack. You may notice the figure is just barely taller than the stand itself. There is no hole on the sole of either foot so this is the only way to use the stand with the figure.
The whole setup is pretty sturdy and can support the figure while it is upside down.
You also get a detailed unsuited pilot figure to go with the Powered Suit. While this figure can stand on its own, its delicate sense of balance and pose are a subtle hint you should probably have it leaning on the Powered Suit for display.
Despite a few rough spots, this pilot figure is really well done. The bright orange jumpsuit is studded with silver mechanical bits and some tampo printed markings on the codpiece and chest area.
Operating a Powered Suit feels like you're wearing nothing at all~
Despite some misgivings about the touchiness of the shoulders and wrists, I genuinely enjoyed playing with this figure. The overall look and feel of the design just lends itself so well to a natural environment. I took it around my backyard and even to the local state park to snap a bunch of photos. So please enjoy these photos and maybe try listening to Hiro Tsunoda's "Believe" which was the opening to the Starship Troopers Anime. It's such a catchy tune...
"Believe in dreams and your dreams will come true~"
"Never doubt it, faith can move a mountain..."
"Believe in stars and you can catch a few..."
"You don't have to travel far cause heaven's where you are"
"Believe and there's so much you can do!"
"Deep in your heart you know it's true..."
"Believe and faith will carry you throoooooouuuuuugh!"
"If you believe in yourself they way I belieeeeeeeeve in you~"
We lost Kaito in the raid on Klendathu...
The legacy of the Powered Suit in Japan cannot be understated. Not only has the design itself appeared in such shorts like the DAICON III opening and other various otaku animation projects like Miku Miku Dance videos (as seen above), the very idea of how it operates and how it is used in battle shaped the foundation of the Real Robot style for mecha designs.
Enterprising fans even created a full sized replica. If you follow the link you can see Naoyuki Kato himself standing next to the metal statue and also a painting he did of the suit for an event.
As for Kaiyodo's Sci-fi Revoltech Powered Suit, I must say it's a simple figure that for me has a lot of magic in it. Its 3500 yen MSRP may seem like a lot for something so small and basic, but you have to understand this figure is aimed more at old sci-fi fans in Japan and reflects a more quiet dignity. It's almost more like a souvenir from a museum than a toy. Naoyuki Kato himself owns about six of the figures and seems to be enjoying them. I think this is one case where the value of the figure depends as much on the person buying it than the number of gimmicks it includes. It might not sway you if you're on the fence, but for a certain kind of collector I think there's something to this piece.
|Posted 29 June, 2012 - 18:02 by VF5SS|