Gotengo (aka Atragon)
Review by Sanjeev
I think it's natural for young folks to drift off and daydream about being the captain of a ship...
...Whether it's steering the course of a haunted pirate schooner or occupying the command chair on the bridge of a futuristic spaceship. I was no different when I was little. And, of course, ready to cash in were the special effects producers and animators of popular film and tv!
There were so many scifi movies and shows that featured fantastic capital ships in the late 70's/early 80's. You of course, had your live-action stuff on the big screen, like the Millenium Falcon, Star Destroyers, etc., from Star Wars. You had the various starships from Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and the like. On the more Japanese side of things, you had capital ships from anime like Robotech's SDF-1 Macross and Starblazer's Argo (Space Battleship Yamato).
I gotta tell ya, though...those ships just never did it for me. Never liked Star Wars. Classic Trek and the original BSG were cool, but not because of the ship designs (for me, anyway). I loved Robotech, but more so for the epic story/characters and mecha than for the capitals. And don't even get me started on Starblazers!
Anyway, when I was growing up, I had an special affinity for Toho productions. There was just something about the live-action special effects shots in these tokusatsu films that really appealed to me--and continue to do so today! Guys in actual monster suits, realistic miniature sets, high-speed film and other camera tricks all blew my mind...far more so than the blue screen-assisted shots in your typical Western space opera.
When I first saw 1963's Atragon on Saturday morning's Creature Double-Feature, as cheesy as the movie was, I fell in love with the titular craft. It was essentially, a Pacific War super-sub...that could fly...and had a gimungous drill in the bow that allowed the vessel to burrow through...all the stuff a WWII-era ship would have to burrow through. Why not, damnit?
The film had an interesting nationalistic slant to it. The ship was built after the end of the war by Captain Hachiro Jinguji, a disenfranchised IJN officer who felt that Japan should never have surrendered to the US. He built the vessel to rebuild Japan's glory. Well, instead of doing that, exactly, he eventually mobilized it against the ancient, subterranean Mu civilization, who threatened the entire surface world. At first, he resisted--thinking, why help the rest of the world? Afterall, his ship was built for the Japanese Empire--the rest of the world be damned. But he finally came around...after the Mu attempted to destroy the dry-docked ship...and kidnapped his daughter! Whotta guy!!
The rest is your typical 60's Toho collision course for wackiness. The Atragon takes on the Mu civilization and their kaiju-god, Manda, in some fairly lack-luster sfx scenes. Still, it's hard to go wrong with movies like this.
A couple interesting bits of trivia... The ship was actually called the "Gotengo" in the original Japanese film, Kaitei Gunkan (1963). The name got all boogered up when Toho and AIP worked out the translation. Toho wanted the English movie title to be "Atragon", ostensibly a contraction of "Atlantis Dragon" (obviously, a reference to Manda and the Mu civilization's striking similarity to Atlantis). AIP ended up calling the movie AND the ship Atragon in the dubbed version.
Finally, the opening scene in 2004's Godzilla: Final Wars features the heavily-upgraded, modern Gotengo taking on Manda in an obvious homage to the original film. Flashback scenes in Final Wars also show the original Gotengo burying Gojira in the arctic.
[Oh, a couple more non-Toho references: there apparently was a scifi anime called Super Atragon that seems pretty unrelated, despite the name and presence of a ship with a drill on its bow. Also, a tokusatsu joint called Sazer-X featured a "Commander Jinguji" who built the "Hontengo, a submarine-like aircraft armed with a massive giant drill"!]
Okay, enough with the history lesson! On with the toy!
This is Aoshima's 1/350 scale Limited Edition SGM-26 Gotengo, from their famous "Shin Seiki Gohkin" line of chogokin toys. The model comes to us from HobbyLink Japan, and I don't hesitate when I say that this might be the perfect scifi ship collectible. It's the complete antithesis of Bandai's Soul of Popinica Space Battleship Yamato. The SoP Yamato was a crumbly mess. It looked nice but it was hardly deserving of the name, "Soul". Aoshima's Atragon, by contrast, is one giant hunk of diecast with no extraneous accessories to keep track of or fiddly bits to make for a delicate display piece.
This foot-long toy is heavy, durable, and looks perfect. And it's got electronic gimmicks...but we'll get to those features later! First, just a word on the version of this toy. As I mentioned, this is the "Limited Edition". I don't actually know how "limited" it is because it seems to be just as available as the Regular Edition...and at the same price. The RE comes with two (way out-of-scale) painted PVC figures of diver-suited guys from the movie. Aoshima usually contains figures like these in their Shin Seiki Gohkin releases. The LE drops these two figures in favor of some air-brushed shading detail along the panel lines in the hull. Since I had no desire for the figures, I simply opted for the hull detail.
[Note: you can only tell that you're getting the LE by the sticker on the top of the box by the lower, left-hand corner. This sticker shows the LE's airbrushed hull, and covers up a graphic of the diver figures on the otherwise identical RE box.]
Anyway, let's start off with the packaging:
It's packaged with style and care, as usual by Aoshima. The glossy outer box graphics solidly blend classic artwork taken from the original illustrated story, photos of the prop/model used in the film, and photos of the actual toy. The back of the box very clearly shows the toy's features.
Upon opening the box, you're treated to a dense chunk of styrofoam encapsulating the toy. There's a small instruction sheet folded into a plastic bag and taped to a styrofoam lid that covers the main styro block. Three small bricks of styrofoam secure the plastic-wrapped ship in its cavity. Nekrodave was over the night I first opened the toy: those three blocks took all of my strength to pull outta there! The only other piece in the main block is the simple stand (though an additional cavity is present for the figures that come with the Regular Edition).
Once freed from its prison, the model just shines. For the record, most of the shots below were taken with about half a dozen of Kotobukiya's Mechanical Chain Bases built up into a simple but very effective diorama.
As I mentioned before, the entire primary hull is diecast. If you threw this thing like a spear, it would easily lodge itself into any large mammal's skull. Despite the perfectly-applied matte paint, it feels gloriously cold to the touch and heavy in the hand.
The airbrushed shading along the panel lines is executed brilliantly. Detail paint applications like on the forward section saw blades and the deck cannons are perfect. The plastic drill on the bow looks exactly like it did in the movie. Even the faux wood deck paneling on the crown of the vessel is painted in the perfect color. Really, from a visual execution standpoint, there's nothing to complain about.
The cannon emplacements on the bridge section rotate and elevate. Nothing mind-blowing, but definitely a nice touch that would've been missed had the articulation been left out. The material of the barrels appears to be a fairly stiff PVC. I have no fear of them breaking under normal play conditions, but they are thin and slightly flexible. So don't get too carried away!
One of the main gimmicks of this toy is the "buttoned up" mode, for lack of a better term. Essentially, for burrowing operations, the bridge tower recesses into the hull and the fins, wings, and saw blades retract. The result is a streamlined craft that actually sorta makes sense...for a giant flying submarine that can drill through mountains...
Now, what's even funnier is that I don't even recall this happening in the movie!! That's right! I know it's been a while since I've watched it (I really should've just watched the damn thing before writing the review, huh?), but I'm pretty confident I woulda remembered that!
Anyway, the entire plastic bridge section is mounted on springs, and can be pressed into the hull of the ship (what about all the decks below in the way!?). A hidden panel slides out to cover the hole. The forward wings and saw blades are mounted on simple hinges and just fold away into the hull. The aft wings are geared to move in tandem; they simply fold down as well.
My only beef with this toy is the hinge on the forward wings. They're pretty loose and the wings don't snap into either position. I know I could just shim the joints...but I figure for around $200, it woulda been nice for Aoshima to have designed detents to make the wings snap in place. It's a very minor gripe and I'm pleased to say there are no others!
Finally, my favorite feature on the toy: the electronics!
There are two switches on the keel of the ship. One activates the LEDs! Bright...and I mean *BRIGHT*...LEDs are built into the aft thruster and along the keel. I'm glad you can sorta see them while the vessel is sitting on its stand, but when you pick it up and turn off the lights, the effect is amazing!
Now, this is nothing new for Aoshima. They pulled off multi-colored LEDs for the Queen Esmeraldas Josh recently previewed. What would've been nice here woulda been soft white-colored, forward-looking LEDs near the bow to act as underwater searchlights. Or how about on the crown of the ship near the bridge section, pointed at the tower to illuminate it? That'd be sick!
Anyway, the other switch on the keel activates...you guessed it!...the drill! C'mon--you think they'd leave something like that out!? ;)
It's a two-way toggle switch, though I'm not sure why the bothered to do this. If you press it one way, the drill rotates in the normal direction, as though it's boring into something. Press it the other way, it rotates the opposite direction. All the while this is going on (regardless of direction), the forked prong-thing at the very tip gently undulates forward and back. Gently. Back and forth. But remember: it's not the size of the ship. It's the motion of the ocean.
Well anyway, describing the movement in words is kinda lame, and it's pretty much useless to try to photograph a rotating drill. So, check out my video review of the toy!
As I mentioned in the video, while this is a fantastic ship model, it's probably not for everyone. At $200, it's not a casual purchase and probably will only show up in the possession of diehard fans (like me!). The important thing about this release, I think, is what it potentially means for the future of the line. Pay attention, Space Battleship Yamato fans! Aoshima's releasing their Queen Esmeraldas, a Leiji Matsumoto design, and it promises to be just as amazing as the Gotengo. If they actually pull off producing a Yamato (another Matsumoto design) with this level of quality, all you Yamato/Starblazers fans may just have the ULTIMATE Yamato/Argo collectible on your hands!
Like I said before, I'm no Matsumoto fan, but I'm pulling for you guys!
Last but not least, I thought I'd leave you folks with a couple shots of the Atragon pitted against her nemesis...Manda!!
|Posted 30 December, 2008 - 17:23 by Sanjeev|