Soul of Chogokin LeopardonIn 1978, Toei Company struck a deal with Marvel to use their characters in Japanese shows. The first, and most overt, fruit of this deal was the infamous Spider-Man live action tokusatsu series.

This bore only a passing resemblance to the Marvel comics. The human hero wore the traditional Spider-Man costume and had roughly the same powers, and that was it. The webslinging powers were bestowed on a bike racer named Takuya Yamashiro by an alien spacecraft named the Marveller, and the costume is kept in a wrist-mounted device (sort of like the Flash's was at one point). But the best bit is the Marveller turned into a giant robot named Leopardon, and could be controlled by Spider-Man in battles against huge weird alien creatures.

Leopardon battling and anthromorphic sawfish in the Spider-Man tokusatsu seriesDespite a troubled production (Toei blew the special effects budget within five episodes, and then the Leopardon suit was swiped after the tenth, limiting the robot and ship to stock footage appearances) the show was a considerable success, and would prove very influential on the Super Sentai franchise.

A wide number of tie-in toys were produced by Popy (in what should really have been a precedent for Soul of Chogokin, two pages of the manual are devoted to showing this stuff off), a couple even making it to America - the 3" non-transforming version was issued in Shogun Warriors, while the 8" DX version was released as part of Godaikin, both with the Spider-Man connection played down. The show was given the Soul of Chogokin treatment in 2006, the release named as "Spider-Man & Leopardon". More recently, Marvel put subtitled streaming episodes of the series on their site.

Soul of Chogokin LeopardonDespite the box giving Spider-Man headliner status, I'm covering Leopardon first. There are many reasons for this - the line's called Soul of Chogokin not Soul of Some Guy With Superpowers; giant robots are cooler than grown men who wear pyjamas into battle; the full Spider-Man figure in this set is dire, and so on.

Soul of Chogokin LeopardonThe first thing to note about Leopardon is that he's actually quite short - at around 6", which is a bit annoying considering the size of the set... I was hoping for something roughly the same height as the old DX, but there we go. Aside from that, which is a fairly minor complaint as I prefer quality to quantity when it comes to toy robots, Leopardon is absolutely spot-on in terms of accuracy.

The Soul of Chogokin figure looks nearly identical to the original toy, the only significant changes being making the limbs a little less rigid and adding some details. And this means it's highly accurate to the TV show - the advantage for figures based on live-action series as opposed to those taken from anime is that the former usually requires a working model for the transformation sequences which can be copied by the toy manufacturer (resulting in the high level of accuracy for even vintage figures such as Daidenjin, Daitetsujin 17 and the original Leopardon).

Soul of Chogokin LeopardonSoul of Chogokin LeopardonThus all the great touches like the head design, the webbed yellow domes (now with black highlights) and chest panel and the superb black/yellow/silver scheme are present.

Absent are the chest and shin mounted launchers, which were invented by Popy to add more action features to the original toy. What this one has by way of compensation is greatly increased articulation - the head had full movement (providing you can touch it without setting off the oversensitive button for the Arc Turn attack), while the arms move at the shoulder, elbow and wrist, and the legs move at the hip, knee and ankle. The upper torso can also tilt slightly, while the robot has exquisite balance and can fully use most of these joints. So basically you have the look of the model, but the movement of the nutter in a robot suit. Good combination.

Soul of Chogokin LeopardonSoul of Chogokin LeopardonRobots from live action series tend to lose out to their anime alternatives in one area - weaponry. In an anime, it costs basically the same to give a robot a dozen or more attacks (Hell, look at the armoury on Daimos).

For a tokusatsu show, each attack would need either a special effect or a prop. Thus Leopardon's main armament is a sword and shield.

However, these are well done at least. The shield carries over the web motif from the shins of the robot, and both accessories can be brandished in a wide range of poses. They both fit nicely with the look of Leopardon, though there's not a huge amount else to them. Other than this, the figure is light on weaponry. There are a couple of spring-loaded features, though.

Soul of Chogokin LeopardonThe first of these is the Arc Turn, which is basically Leopardon's ability to fire his helmet crest a short distance. This would be alright if only the trigger wasn't so large and sensitive - you have to be very careful not to set the thing off when simply posing the head, and only one crest is provided. The part is, needless to say, tiny.

The other is the fists - well, sort of. For transformation into the Marveller, both arms simply detach, and a variable pair clip on. These aren't quite as well proportioned, have nowhere near the articulation (simple joints at the shoulders and elbows only) and can't hold the sword or shield. But they are spring-loaded, which is a nice bit of continuity.

Soul of Chogokin LeopardonSoul of Chogokin LeopardonThe transformation to the Marveller is actually a little bit of a step back from the original - the switching arms thing is a cheat, which the spring-loaded head mechanism feels fragile (the thin plastic on the leopard head cockpit isn't much better either), while the joints in the legs make them a little trickier to arrange. Some of it's still very smooth, though, and unlike the original the folding 'wing' segments lock neatly into place.

Once you get there, though, the thing does look good. Well, accurate - the Marveller is meant to look a bit like a folded robot. It's an alien thing flown by Spider-Man, a subtle disguise isn't really part of the gameplan. The leopard head looks cool, though, and the colour scheme continues to work. Once you've negotiated the transformation (which is more fiddly than difficult) it all hangs together rather well. There's not really a lot else to do with the thing apart from docking the GP-7 (see below).

Soul of Chogokin LeopardonThere are also the Spider-Man related parts of the set. The most impressive is the Spider-Machine GP7, a futuristic car than Spider-Man drives in the series. It's a slightly mad design that owes more than a little in aesthetic terms to the 1960s TV Batmobile, and is all the better for it. Firstly there's a nicely detailed 2.5" long version with diecast parts. This also has a little Spider-Man figurine made to the same scale, although sadly he can't fit in the GP7 due to his pose.

Soul of Chogokin Leopardon Soul of Chogokin Leopardon

There's also a little 1" plastic version, in scale with Leopardon. It's nicely detailed and fun to interact - the best bit is that it can dock with a hatch on the back of the Marveller's cockpit, and stay there for the transformation. Neat.

Soul of Chogokin LeopardonThen there's the large Spider-Man figure. I've no idea why this is included, to be honest. There's only the wrist unit to tell it apart from any other Spider-Man figure, apart from the fact the 6" hollow vinyl thing has no useful articulation, and needs a plastic support to actually stand up. Are Spider-Man figures so hard to come by in Japan that this needed doing? It goes without saying that the thing can't interact with anything else in the set, and I suppose the nicest thing that can be said is that it's so cheap it can't have driven the price up by much...

Soul of Chogokin Leopardon Soul of Chogokin Leopardon

Finally, there's the stand, and it's possibly the best I've yet seen from the range. A sliding draw holds the larger GP7, while a hinging panel holds whichever pair of arms aren't in use. There are racks for the sword and the shield, and indents to hold Leopardon and the small Spider-Man. Also two additional parts can be clipped on so it can mount the figure in Marveller mode (in either combination the miniature GP7 can be held inside Leopardon, or just placed in with the arms. All very neat. There's no space for the larger Spider-Man figure, of course, but don't worry - you'll be leaving that in the box anyway.

For a figure of this size, Leopardon packs a lot in. Some things are a mixed success - the compromise with the arms feels a bit cheap, and the transformation requires care to be taken - but most of the important stuff comes off well, notably the figure's excellent representation of the design, the high diecast quotient and the superb articulation. The smaller Spider-Man accessories are actually quite charming, only the large figure really having no point. Plus the price seems to be respectable for range - a good one to pick up as a reasonable cost taster for the range.