Kaijudo: Creatures Unleashed DVD Releases December 4

DVD Cover with Protagonists from Kaijudo: Creatures UnleashedEven though I have enjoyed playing Wizards of the Coast’s Kaijudo, I had never seen an episode of its tie-in TV show Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters on The Hub network. Shout Factory has changed that with the release of Kaijudo: Creatures Unleashed on DVD. The DVD, which hits store shelves on December 4 for $14.97, includes five episodes with three of them comprising the three-part season opener, “The Natural”. Inside the DVD case is also a single playing card of the Fire Civilization phoenix-like Kenina the Igniter, featuring alternative artwork.

The Show Itself: Kaijudo’s Animation and Premise

At first I found it hard to get past Asian protagonist Ray’s blonde mom, but Ray is quickly revealed to be half-Japanese, half-white. The imagery on screen is far less detailed than the card artwork and dominated by purple shadows, which was another little obstacle for me. The directing though is spot on with grand movements and powerful action. Creatures leap and charge with energy across the screen and the Duel Masters’ summoning movements are imitable. Kaijudo’s main title is reminiscent of the animated X-Men theme, but after watching the DVD’s episodes several times I’ve come to prefer it. The rest of the music on the show and the sound effects are always spot on too. Where Kaijudo really wins me over is its premise: weak nerd utters words of power and watch out bullies! It’s essentially Adam into He-Man from the Masters of the Universe, Billy Batson into Captain Marvel, and Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk. It’s quite an adolescent fantasy and it works. Who doesn’t want a Falcor the Luck Dragon from The Neverending Story to come help? For Ray it’s Tatsurion/Bob and I wonder how many children have tried to summon Tatsurion the Unchained to come protect them from a bully now thanks to the TV show.

Typical Duel Action in Kaijudo

Kaijudo’s Characters, Plots, and Comedy

Kaijudo Creatures Unleashed Protagonist Teenager Ray with Gauntlet

Protagonist Ray

Ray (and Kaijudo) won me over partway through the first episode. Ray is tormented at San Campion Middle School by Carny and his stoolies who bully him about his mixed heritage with taunts like “Or what? Half-Japanese, half-whiteboy is going to half-ninja me? Do you have half a black belt? Hey, he’s only half good at math, probably only uses one chopstick too!” Lines like that kept me riveted. There’s a little bit of comedy in every episode with Ray’s friends Gabe and Smellison (Allison) contributing heavily. Gabe’s creature Glu-urrgle occasionally steals the show with one-liner puns. While not as powerful with her kaijudo as Ray is, Allison is full of wit and sass and also has a Dark streak which the show might explore. Will she be tempted by the villains? Lord Choten’s character design is sinister and his awful hairstyle is downright creepy. He is an excellent villain to root against and is supported by the curvaceous Alakshmi, who is designed in a Baroness fashion. While Scott Wolf voices the protagonist Ray, none of the vocal talents really stand out to me, except for Tatsurion’s awesomely powerful voice provided by David Sobolov.

The writing on the show is also solid, gradually introducing more and more elements of the secret society of Kaijudo’s Duel Masters with some slight surprises and twists along the way. After the three-part “Natural” story arc, each episode revolves around one type of kaiju with Om Nom Nom in the fourth episode and Little Hissy in the fifth. “Little Hissy” is probably my favorite episode on the disk, but also strains the suspension of disbelief the most. Tatsurion flips a van and strides down a back alleyway in Michael Bay/Transformers fashion with no one noticing. Perhaps more incredibly the three protagonists later serve after-school detention with absolutely zero adult supervision, not to mention any other students around. The subsequent attack by Razorkinder and Alakshmi is just another day in the life for the teenage Duel Masters, but when the slightly adorable Little Hissy gets captured, things really heat up. The show’s writers pull on the heartstrings and remind the viewer that the Duel Masters are actually playing for serious stakes in their battle against the evil Lord Choten.

Where’s Something to Relate To?

Scaradorable of Gloom Hollow Squeaky from Kaijudo, purple mole creature beast

MIA from the DVD: Squeaky

For true kaiju fans, Kaijudo may be perfect. Instead of a kaiju just being a monster, Ray reveals in the first episode that a Kaiju is actually a “strange beast” and that Kaijudo is literally “the way of the strange beast.” Almost all of Kaijudo’s beasts are indeed quite strange from the twisted puppet Razorkinder to Tatsurion himself (whatever he actually is) to Master Chavez’s Gilaflame the Assaulter. Take the beasts and then mix in technology like rocket launchers or wrist rockets and the theme gets even stranger. Fortunately the hybrid tech is usually kept hidden away. Kaijudo is definitely not Pokémon with its lovable little Pikachu. There’s no Bulbasaur or Psyduck here. The closest Kaijudo seems to come is Squeaky, the koala-like Darkness creature who figures prominently in all of the marketing materials for Kaijudo. Squeaky, or Scaradorable of Gloom Hollow, is one of three kaiju featured on the DVD’s cover, but you won’t find her in the DVD’s episodes! Squeaky is omitted from the DVD because she doesn’t appear in the show until the sixth episode. Instead, would-be fans can catch Squeaky on the two episodes available for free viewing on kaijudo.com.

The Kaijudo Card Game in the Kaijudo Show

From the first invocation of “Rumbling Terrasaur!” to Ray’s last summoning of Bob, the DVD’s episodes stick to its playing card game roots. The first real kaiju on kaiju battle viewers are treated to is a Rumbling Terrasaur against Gilaflame the Assaulter!. The action deviates slightly from the card game; Gilaflame the Assaulter is definitely fast in the animated series, but Gilaflame is Power 5000 in the CCG just like the Rumbling Terrasaur, which should result in both being banished, instead of the Gilaflame “winning”. While the Razorkinder Puppet of Miasma Pit card is weak and uninspiring in play, Razorkinder’s presence on the show is never a laughing matter and spells terror for any who should behold its true face. Likewise while I might pass on the card version of Flametropus, on the TV show the creature is a true behemoth requiring the concerted efforts of all the Duel Masters to bring down. This is in keeping though with Flametropus’ Lava Stomp special ability, effectively doubling its power when it is the only creature in the battle zone and granting it Double Breaker to destroy two mana shields with every hit. All in all, the show is a great compliment to the card game, making the flavor text on the cards much more relevant and increasing my desire to play Kaijudo. Which is better, the TV show or the card game? Definitely the card game, but now I’m also hooked on the TV series.

DVD Bonus Feature: Look at Kaijudo

Kaijudo: Creatures Unleashed also comes with a six minute Bonus Feature “Look at Kaijudo”, which is aptly named. It’s really more of a marketing plug showcasing some of the talent from Hasbro Studios than anything for existing fans of the series. In it Hasbro Studios’ VP of Development, Michael Vogel says that Wizards of the Coast told Hasbro Studios, “We don’t need cards. We don’t need the characters from the old show. We literally need this emotional connection between kids and their creatures. ” Based on those criteria, I would say that Hasbro Studios has really delivered with Kaijudo.

Comic-Con 2012 Hasbro Terrain Inspiration

For a number of years Hasbro, the manufacturer of G.I. Joe, Transformers, Star Wars, and My Little Pony toys, has shown off the latest G.I. Joe and Cobra action figures in its booth at Comic-Con. Hasbro employees or contractors pose the figures in elaborate dioramas and this year I believe they had at least four separate scenarios being enacted behind the glass cases. I contacted Hasbro to find out who built the dioramas and for details about their construction, but never heard back from the huge, global toy company.

The Cobra Installation

Two vignettes really caught my attention. The first is obviously a Cobra installation with Cobra Commander and his lieutenants Storm Shadow and Destro surveying the Cobra troops. Two Decepticons have bolstered the Cobra ranks. During the 80s and 90s, there were occasional crossovers between the two toy franchises in the Marvel comic books. The modeler or modelers have created a very convincing layout with a number of flat surfaces weathered to show a little exhaust and grime. While the red translucent cases and their loading carts come from the Comic-Con exclusive release of the H.I.S.S. Tank/Shockwave, most of the building seems to be scratch-built, using pieces of cardstock or styrene to create texture.

Diorama at the 2012 Hasbro booth at Comic-Con with GI Joe action figures lined up in a huge Cobra facility

I spot Iron Grenadiers, some new B.A.T.s (Battle Android Troopers), Alley Vipers, a regular Viper, a Night Viper, the Shockwave H.I.S.S. and Starscream, I believe. I love the stenciled Cobra logo on the floor.

Red Cobra stencil on floor of detailed diorama in the Hasbro Booth at 2012 Comic-Con showing Cobra Commander and Transformers

I am a little surprised that the modeler(s) didn’t add activity on the monitors for the two Cobra members on duty at the right, simply by printing out a miniaturized scene from a cartoon or comic. They also do not appear to be Tele-Vipers, which would have been extra cool. Their searchlights though probably do swivel. Can you spot the Soundwave in the picture? Who is he ejecting?

Looking down on Starscream and Shockwave as a H.I.S.S. in a GI Joe diorama at Comic-Con

Ninja Bridge Battle

The other diorama that also looked realistic to me (and therefore inspiring for building terrain for wargaming) was this Ninja Bridge Battle which seems to come straight from the second movie, Retaliation. If you have not seen the GI Joe: Retaliation trailer, these ninjas will have an aerial battle, anchored by ropes, on a mountainside in the film, battling against Snake Eyes and his team, including the yellow and black-clad ninja, Jinx. GI Joe: Retaliation‘s release date has been pushed back to March 29, 2013. These enemy ninjas are called Red Ninjas in the comic books appropriately enough.

Red Ninja action figures from GI Joe by a building and bridge at the Hasbro Comic-Con 2012 booth

The one criticism I have of this vignette is the choice of red to fill in some of the grout in the stonework. I gather that it is supposed to be blood, but if it is, the splatter is curiously not sticking to the stone faces, but instead running into the cracks. The building at the end of the bridge appears to be a straightforward construct, but the addition of the black trimming partway up makes it more believable. The clay tiles on the roof look good and 28mm modelers can achieve the same with the Hirst Arts Clay Tile Roof Mold.

Red Ninjas lay dead or falling in a bridge attack action figure vignette from Hasbro with a grey mountain backdrop

It’s scenes like these that had me playing with GI Joes throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, but back then we were limited to catalogue pictures that were nowhere near as imaginative with their environments. Similarly wargaming scenery brimming with castles, cobblestone streets, and lush forests drew me into Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40K.