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Combattler VOnce more, the original Combattler V figure is far outside my price range, so instead I've opted for Bandai's remake of the original figure, from the Soul of Chogokin line.

Combattler V (this time pronounced "Vee" instead of "five") came into the world in 1976, as the lead of Toei's Chõdenji Robo Combattler V anime series, directed by Tadao Nagahama. It's apparently the first of his robot romance trilogy, to be followed by Chõdenji Machine Voltes V and Tõshõ Daimos. According to their Wikipedia pages (oh yes!) this elevated anime beyond being children's entertainment, and to being accepted as something adults could enjoy too. I'm slightly sceptical in regard to this - for a start, just about every anime's Wikipedia page claims this, but also Combattler V seems to be one of those Super Robot shows where every single episode is exactly the same.

Thankfully, this is largely irrelevant, because Popy handled the action figure for the series. The original Combattler V DX figure was groundbreaking for Popy, one of the largest that they had made up to that point out of diecast and also very complex - the toy could form out of the five vehicles shown in the cartoon. It was originally sold as five separate Popinica releases, though a boxed set release would follow later in the Chogokin series. An ST version, around 6" tall, was also made - this could only form the Grandasher combined vehicle mode.

The toy would get two releases in America. The first came in 1979, when Mattel licensed a hotch-potch of Popy figures as Shogun Warriors. Combattler V was renamed Combattra (not entirely sure why, as Combattler is more English-sounding, but it could have just been a translation error) and the DX figure was issued as the five 'U-Combine' vehicles in the range, or as a giftset. Being probably the most expensive figure in the range all told, Combattra was given one of the three slots in Marvel's comic, where the robot was piloted by a Japanese woman named Genji Odashu. A 3" non-transforming Collector's Figure of Combattra was also issued in the range.

Three years later, the same toy was released as a boxed set in Bandai America's Godaikin range, and would be reissued as the line went on (the expensive toy was never a big seller, so it's possible the later 'versions' were unsold examples put in newer-style packaging). The 3" figure also got another airing as a Mini Godaikin.

While the character never made much of an impact in the West, it did retain a following in its' native Japan, and went through the same cycle as most of Toei's Super Robot stable - frequent appearances in the Super Robot Wars video game monolith, Gashapon versions of the original figure, super-deformed PVC figures, that sort of thing. A couple of these releases stand out from the crowd - Bandai's GT-06 version, a slightly downsized version of the original ST for their The Chogokin series; and a Gashapon set of the five vehicles that could combine to form a 6" tall plastic Combattler V.

In 1999, the character was chosen to be the third figure in the Soul of Chogokin premium series, the first combining robot tried in the series. Since then, the set has been reissued, and remains one of the more affordable large Soul of Chogokin releases - it can be found for around £50.

As a general disclaimer, I fully realise I got this one and Voltes V 'the wrong way round'. Voltes V is not only based on a later (and more feature-packed) character, but the Soul of Chogokin figure is seven years newer, and takes advantage of experience gained from Combattler V. However, I got Voltes V first, so this toy is probably going to be regularly compared with its' erstwhile successor, despite all logic suggesting it perhaps shouldn't be.


COMBATTLER V

Soul of Chogokin Combattler VAt a shade under 10" tall, Combattler is a large figure. However, for a big robot he's of quite athletic build. The legs are long, the torso is streamlined and everything's a little... flat. Despite all rational reasons crying against it, the design just seems slightly two-dimensional. Even the head feels a little flattened, while the feet look massive by comparison.

However, the design is interesting to look at, with the red/blue/silver colour scheme gelling perfectly. The robot does seem to have a little too much neck, the Battlejet module sticking out of the shoulders about half an inch too far for my liking. Still, there are plenty of good pieces of design at work, including the cylindrical legs, and there's the right amount of contrast with Voltes V - the similar lineage can be seen, but very little is directly copied (the original Combattler was much more slender than the original Voltes V as well, it's worth remembering). As with Voltes V, not having to make each module marketable as an individual Popinica toy works in the figure's benefit as well, losing the original's large head and allowing the legs to be longer than the arms.

Soul of Chogokin Combattler VThe figure contains a massive amount of diecast - apart from the head, the forearms and the underside of the feet, very little of what you can see in robot mode is actually plastic. However, while normally being made up of largely metal would be a plus, it does have a couple of drawbacks with Combattler. Firstly, it really messes with the figure's balance - the toy can be prone to just keeling over backwards, either in a realistic two-stage fashion, with the hips bending, then the knees, or in a more comical (well, comical if this wasn't a £50 toy) all-in-one movement. Not the best feature... the ankle joints (largely intended for the Grandasher mode) can also lead to the figure tipping forwards if the robot leans over too far.

Secondly, there's the possibility of paint chipping. There's only one area that gives particular worry - the waist joint where the Battletank and Battlemarine connect. This is very snug and sturdy, but tends to lead to the Battlemarine's painted cockpit rubbing against the port in the rear of the Battletank. It also requires quite a bit of force to separate them for the vehicle modes.


Soul of Chogokin Combattler VStability is also a concern for some other areas too - the red pods on the shoulders and hips have a habit of popping off, and the shoulder ones usually take the orange Battlecrasher wings with them, while the Battletank tracks are only tenuously attached to Combattler's back, tending to fall off if the figure is moved. Neither of these failings cause any big, intractable problems, but they are irritating.

If it wasn't for the parts falling off, and the vague threat of imminent collapse, forming Combattler would be quite good fun - while paint chipping might be a concern, the connections for the chest (a very neat mechanism where the Battlecrasher folds into the curved front of the Battletank) and hips are incredibly solid. The head attaches by a rather neat magnetic connection, while the feet also slot in securely. The problem comes from the rest of the figure flopping around and bits falling off when he's formed, sadly. The other thing I don't like is having to remove the jet motors from the back of the Battlecrasher - would it really have been so much worse to incorporate these in the arms, with a slit for the Battlecrasher wings?

Soul of Chogokin Combattler VThe articulation for the figure isn't bad. It's actually difficult to fairly gauge it - obviously it's streets ahead of the 1976 incarnations, and pretty much any other older Super Robot toys. However, on something of this size, this well engineered, it's faintly disappointing. On paper it matches up nicely - there is articulation at the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, thumbs, fingers, hips, knees and ankles, which is a tidy résumé. However, not much of it is any good for actual poseability. While the head can look around to a respectable degree, and the arms are decent enough, the legs are difficult to work with. The figure can be manipulated into a number of poses, but can actually hold very few of them.

The hips have simpler joints than those of Voltes V, and are restricted by overhanging waist parts anyway - thus the practical range is really only a few degrees forward or back. The ratchet knees, as noted, aren't reliable when opened up to more than about 15°. Considering the figure is top heavy and the hips barely move, you've got to ask what exactly the point in them being able to bend back at right angles is - it's not needed for any of the other features, and just robs the toy of rigidity. The figure can't even kneel or anything due to its' large feet, The ankle joints allow a little mobility - enough to complement the slight poses available with the hips and knees at any rate. The legs apart pose is necessary largely for balance...


GRANDASHER

Soul of Chogokin Combattler VThe Grandasher is the combined mode for all five vehicles (or, if you have a non-separating version, just the alternate mode). It seems to have been rarely, if at all, used in the cartoon series, where the combination sequence seem to have been used mainly to bring around the large robot. As such, it seems like a little bit of an afterthought - someone realised that the five vehicles were combining anyway, so why not fiddle with the robot mode just a little so it could be tweaked to something approaching another mode (which could then, of course, be used for the ST figure).

The Soul of Chogokin take looks much like the original, i.e. Combattler lying on his face, so in that respect it's faithful. However, it's pretty awful to look at, being Combattler lying on his face. Plus the new figure adds all sorts of problems. Whereas the original had boxier legs that didn't flinch, this version of the Grandasher has long slender versions which tend to sag at the knee joints.

It's also a little fiddly to form, requiring a bit more swapping around the it might look like - this largely involves a pair of extra mounts for the tracks and popping off the hip blisters, while twisting the arms around. I should note, by the way, that the above, with the removable static closed fists, is the official configuration - I'd be more tempted to out the Atomicburner outlets (see below) on instead, and flip out as many of the winglets and fins as possible to make it look more like a vehicle. But then I'd hardly put him in Grandasher mode anyway, so that's a moot point. It's a nice enough bonus, but hardly something worth bothering with.


BATTLEJET

Soul of Chogokin Combattler VThe Battlejet forms the head of Combattler V, and as mentioned above benefits from the more fluid range of sizes allowed for this remake. The result is a rather standard shuttle-type ship, but it's neat and cute.

Bonus points for devising a cover for the face - while the mechanism's not as fascinating as that for the Volt Crewzer, it's still well done. The landing gear consists of fixed ridges, and the wing-mounted blades are a little pointless, but there's not much wrong with this simple little vehicle.


BATTLECRASHER

Soul of Chogokin Combattler VThe upper chest and shoulders of Combattler, I'm guessing the Battlecrasher is some sort of spaceship. While the flying wing shape is a nice direction, obviously the drag factor of a pair of massive arms scuppers this idea a little.

There's a very well designed mechanism to flatten the chest out so this is a little more believable as a spacecraft, however, though there's a massive gap still in the underside that blows this. The Battlecrasher also loses points in another couple of areas - one is the problem with the red blister pods, which again tend to pop off and spill the wings inside. The other is it needs two pairs of additional parts - the boosters (which can't be placed on Combattler's shoulders when the wings aren't deployed) and a pair of moulded plastic wheels. In the defence of the latter, the roughly equivalent Volt Bomber needed the latter as well, and while these might not be as nice as the part-diecast ones on the later figure, they do fit on a lot more securely.


BATTLETANK

Soul of Chogokin Combattler VVery much the predecessor of the Volt Panzer, this vehicle forms the lower half of Combattler V's chest. Aside from the yellow domes (I guess they're cockpits or something, though they were small launchers on the original figure) on the top, this really does just look like the middle section of a larger device. There's no real front or back to the thing (the rear especially is a great big hole), while the multi-jointed silver sections manage to make even the treads look somewhat superfluous.

There are two moveable bulldozer blades that come out of the front - these need to be extended for the thing to rest on, as the Battletank is very front-heavy. Also, the diecast arms for the blades are very stiff - hopefully they'll loosen a little with use, but at the moment mine are very hard to then push back to a flush position for the combined mode.


BATTLEMARINE

Soul of Chogokin Combattler VAs you can no doubt tell, the Battlemarine forms the legs of Combattler, and thus suffers from much the same problem as the Grandasher - Combattler V's rounded, slim lines make this achingly obvious. The wings and fins aren't fooling anyone, and it's also rather unstable when not on a flat surface due to the hip joints. I'd praise the details on the actual cockpit model and the like, but this actually doesn't help - the overall impression is that of a small red jet towing a pair of legs...

Soul of Chogokin Combattler VThe Battlemarine doesn't do much by itself - it doesn't even have proper undercarriage, just a nose wheel, with the back end resting on the raised yellow domes that mark the robot's kneecaps. However, it does have an additional function - two large grey plastic parts can be fixed in the (gaping) holes on either side, and the Battletank can be carried in this sling. The only problem is Battletank has to be placed right on the front of the small shelves, otherwise the heavy diecast legs tip the whole thing backwards... Either way, don't pick the thing up by the Battlemarine, as either the Battletank will just roll out on its' (admittedly lovely) working caterpillar tracks, or the hip joints will cause the shelves to move apart and the thing to just fall out...


BATTLECRAFT

Soul of Chogokin Combattler VBattlecraft is formed from the two feet of Combattler clipping together, and it's actually one of the best modules. While the join isn't actually seamless, it does look a lot more like a single vehicle than the Volt Lander does. The solid, turtleback design is nice to look at, even if the yellow fins do look out of place on top of so much painted diecast.

As a legacy of the robot mode, there's a little suspension, while a pair of drills slide out of the front in a satisfactory fashion.


ACCESSORIES

Combattler V comes with a group of extra weapons, as well as a display stand for these (and other accessories, such as the additional parts for Battlejet and Battlecrasher, and the clenched fists) to rest on. Like the stand for Voltes V, this is fascinatingly designed in holding all the parts, but if you nudge it slightly they all tend to fly off.

Soul of Chogokin Combattler VArguably the most notorious of Combattler V's weapons is the wonderfully named Super Electromagnetic Yo Yo. While sadly making them work as a yo yo was beyond the Bandai designers, we do get a pair of spiky discs - these clip nicely enough into the default hands, with the thumb closing on the other side, and he looks rather good poised to throw the things.

Soul of Chogokin Combattler VThe Atomicburner are a pair of outlets that clamp over the retractable default hands - I guess they spew out atomic fire or something (though the ones on the toy don't, sadly). The biggest problem, aside from them looking about as dynamic as a lump of peat, is the retractable fists themselves - while Combattler's default hands are bigger than those of Voltes V, this also means they fill more of the hollow forearms, and they can be very fiddly (and more than a little harrying) to get back out again.

Soul of Chogokin Combattler VMy favourite accessory is the Twin Lancer - either a pair of short swords, or a combined two-bladed weapon. Soul of Chogokin Combattler VThey use the same tabs as the Yo Yo, and are a good size for the figure - for once a Super Robot that doesn't have a ridiculous sword that's taller than itself. The arm articulation isn't quite good enough to make full use of the double-bladed version if it's held in both hands, and the hand holes are too obvious for it to look really good one-handed, so mine usually just poses with the pair of short blades.

Soul of Chogokin Combattler VFinally, there's the Super Electromagnetic Spin. This, basically, fails. I'm guessing the cartoon move involves Combattler firing energy from his two fists or somesuch. Here, it's a piece that clips onto both wrists, over the retracted fists. The latter is reason enough to dislike it, but this thing can only be held with the arms at one exact angle, and even then it looks awful.


This all sounds rather negative, I know, but Combattler's not bad per se, just flawed. I tend not to hand out Get Out Of Jail Free cards for context, but many of these problems are perhaps understandable for an early release, much more advanced than either of the Mazinger figures than preceded it in the Soul of Chogokin line. The figure is full of flaws, nearly all of which were tackled for the Voltes V figure that follows many of the same principals. However, while I've never owned an original Combattler V, this does seem like a worthy enough update - the robot mode still rings true, while it can do all the original can and more. Despite a few tricky parts, he does hold the attention nicely, and is one of the cheaper Soul of Chogokin figures in this size bracket to find. I'd hesitate to recommend him as a first time SoC purchase, just because there are enough faults to maybe put you off, but overall he's a worthy addition to a Super Robot collection..

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