Kamen Rider Den-O Sword Form
Souchaku Henshin Series GE-21
While Den-O has all manner of transformation modes, configurations and upgrades over the course of the original TV series and subsequent movies, Sword Form is the "standard" appearance. It's the first form in the series that actually has any fighting capability, and all the other original forms are essentially built around this one. Since Souchaku Henshin's main gimmick is a common base body that you build armor on to, there's going to be a lot of variations on one otherwise identical figure design. To save myself some headache along the way, I'm going to use Sword Form as a baseline. All matters concerning the build of the figure body will be brought out here, with subsequent articles referencing back to this, and noting any individual variances as needed.
Absent any armor or other added parts, the base body will look ...kind of oddly proportioned. Maybe not as weird as the tiny human heads of the older body style, but now it's the chest that reads strangely. The cause for that is part of the advances in articulation this body style has over G3-X. The complex shoulder jointing aims to replicate clavicle movement. What looks like the socket for a ball jointed shoulder is a rounded cover to prevent big, ugly gaps left from having the shoulder joint attached so deeply in to the sides of the chest. What initially looks and even feels like a double joint here is just a long-stemmed single ball joint connection giving an extensive degree of mobility. In fact, the only restrictions to the movement are purposely built in so that it more accurately resembles the extents of human movement. Without the armor, you can get closer to a proper crossed-arms pose than I've ever managed with an action figure. As for how this impacts the appearance, to allow the needed movement, the chest sculpt had to be truncated. The shoulder joint covers don't quite follow the lines of the chest, and make the arms look like they're set very far out from the body and you end up with an extremely skinny looking dude with really wide shoulders. Once the armor is attached, this ceases to be an issue, but it can be seen as a flaw in the body design.
The torso jointing itself is well done. The mid-torso joint I think is itself a model for how these should come off in general execution. The ball joint waist has similar potential, but is restricted by the belt sculpted in to the top of the pelvis. The joint is recessed down within the belt to disguise its presence, but in doing the range of movement is compromised. At maximum you will get in the neighborhood of about 60 degrees travel in either direction. But for bending to one side or another rather than swiveling, it works fantastically with an extreme range even with the belt hindering it a bit. In contrast to this, the neck is not really so flexible. The neck is theoretically double jointed, having a ball joint at either end of the neck piece. The joint at the base of the head works pretty well. It's seated up inside the head some distance though, which means the rim of the helmet limits its movement. The joint at the base of the neck ...can swivel, if you hold directly on to the neck. But with the sculpted detail on the neck, swiveling it is not necessarily a beneficial option. In terms of any tilt or tilt-like movement, it's simply out of the question. The base of the neck fits so specifically to the hole in the torso that it's locked against any kind of movement you might actually want or expect to have from a double joint neck set up in the first place. So I'm really not even clear on why anybody bothered adding this to the design at all.
The appearance of the helmet is consistent across all the main Den-O forms. Very basic, with the only real distinguishing elements being the yellowish-gold stripes curving down the sides, and the strip down the middle of the helmet that looks like a cross between train tracks and a giant zipper. To either side of it are thick black stripes which flare out in to the visor lenses on the face of the helmet. It's all accurate to the costume design, save for the slots in the zipper track. One on top is present in all figures using this head design, and seems to primarily be to relieve stress from the ball joint. The other, on the face, is specifically for adding a Form-specific mask to later. This being the default "face" of Plat Form, the big, rounded eyes make it look really harmless, appropriately.
The arms themselves are very similar to how Figuarts ended up, even using a similar double elbow hinge where the top half has a more limited movement to keep the arm from bending to more than a tight V. Still waiting on the leap to Figuarts is the wrist, which remains a simple swivel here, instead of the hinged and ball jointed affair it would develop in to. Overall range of motion is really good. The outward shoulder swivel is very sturdy and offers a rise of the arms to right about shoulder-level, and a little more when you make use of the clavicle joint. The arms also show the only distinction between particular variants, having two armor caps on the back of the shoulders as a sculpted part of the arm. The other version that's used for Axe, Rod, and Plat Forms lack this element.
The legs are much less notable in terms of design evolution. Improved over earlier Souchaku Henshin releases is a thigh swivel, but otherwise it's the same kind of build. The legs are where the structural diecast parts come in to play, making up the knee joints and the feet. Adding this metal weight in the lower body will help to offset weight from the metal armor that will be added later. G3-X featured similar uses of diecast for the same kind of reasoning, though the construction wasn't as involved as it is on the Den-O bodies. The legs have essentially the same poseability as you'd find on an average Figuarts today. The hips are ball jointed instead of universal like most Rider Figuarts, and they don't have the hinged stem like the sentai Figuarts are using and early Riders had. It's just a simple one like you'd find with any average action figure. The rounded hip and reasonably open design of the pelvis gives you considerable range of movement even without any of those extras Figuarts would put in it later on. The knee joints are pretty well solid. Though being metal, there is a chance that the fittings could loosen over time and lead to trouble even standing unaided. Something to consider. The knees bend to a V much like the elbows, and are more than adequate for just about any pose you might think of - even sitting cross-legged on the ground. The ankles are simple ball joints. I think the ball part is plastic and not metal, but I can't determine for sure. I have found across my many examples of this body type that there will sometimes be weak spots in the ankles. Random places where the joints doesn't grip strongly and the figure won't stand on it. Being that it is random, most likely the other foot will be able to help stabilize any such problem areas since it shouldn't have its own matching weak point. A couple figures I've gotten haven't shown the problem at all so far, so your mileage will likely vary on this one.
Sword Form's armor comes in six parts: Front and back armor vest, two shoulderpads, back armor, and the mask. Attaching all the body armor is not as simple as you might think. The back half of the armor needs to attach first, with its flaps left open. Then you carefully thread the shoulderpads on tiny tabs inside the breastplate and fit the figure on to it very carefully so as not to knock the shoulder bits off in the process. Then you can close the flaps from the back, which helps lock the two halves together before you plug in the back armor and tab the mask in. At which point Sword Form has arrived. If you hadn't already, you'd want to attach the belt buckle and DenGasher holsters, too.
Den-O has a much lesser quantity of armor, and I feel like in exchange for that, the assembly of the armor has been made more involved to maintain a level of engagement with the toy and still feel like you're doing just as much as when you'd be quickly and simply snapping on a full body's worth of armor with an older figure. And the only part of it that falls short for me is the way the shoulderpads are added, since it can be really easy to drop them at the last moment before the armor closes around them enough to hold them in place. It's also worth noting that none of the armor actually hooks to itself, aside from the abdomen flaps which kind of stabilize things. The pegs and holes in the torso are doing all the work of holding the armor halves in place. And it actually holds really solid on the body for it. I think if they'd tried to mechanically fasten the armor to itself, not only would stability on the body be a problem, but you'd run risk of wearing out the armor more easily so it eventually wouldn't be able to be attached anymore. Though as it is, I find it's hard to get the breastplate to let go with a comfortable level of effort, but individual variation may apply.
Visually the armor is a good match for the costume, though the red it's painted in might stand to be more like the cherry red used on the mask. But all the expected shapes and details are in place, even down to the (non-working) hinges at the top of the chest. The shoulders don't look quite right, being that they're articulated here for better arm movement, while the costume can have them just bend out of the way. The majority of the armor is metal parts, including the shoulders, breastplate, and back. Notably the back armor itself is a plastic piece, as is the mask which is made of a softer plastic. The belt buckle is also made of diecast, letting it give a very nice metal gleam when the light hits it the right way. With the armor equipped, the figure gains a satisfying bit of weight, feeling fairly substantial when you pick it up. I'm not a fan of diecast, and especially not for the sake of just having diecast, but I'll admit I can't argue with how this all works together to make the figure feel different from an ordinary action figure of similar size. For only covering over the torso, the armor does a lot to change the appearance of the figure. The red and silver of the armor match the red and silver on the legs, and it all ties together to make things look really cohesive.
The armor also has a lot less impact on poseability than I would have expected. The shoulder joints are left mostly unaffected, thanks to extra large arm holes left in the armor halves. The only impediment is that the bulk of the armor limits how far the arms can go across the chest, but even there, it's not a lot and it's certainly less than you would expect it to. The armor does pretty much lock the mid-torso joint and removes it from contributing to poses. All that it can still do is turn a bit to either side. In concert with the waist joint which is not impacted by the armor, you can give the figure a pretty good degree of torso twist even with the waist limited by the belt. Meanwhile, the waist ball joint will still give you a fine range of bend in all directions for posing needs, so ultimately you're losing only a little bit.
Paint and Detail
The best instance of detailed painting would be with the belt, I think. It has tiny buttons and small details that require colors not otherwise found on the figure. To my eye at least all of those details are painted in correctly and cleanly, especially the form change buttons which are so small and bunched together they could have easily become a mess. The white paint on the gloves has a thick appearance, a typical problem of applying white over darker colors, and it also results in the edges not being especially clean. The armor itself is done over well, and the only kind of problem I can point to with it is painted surfaces on separate pieces that back up to each other have the usual deal of the paint not wrapping around the corners, so you see the base color between the parts. Meanwhile, Sword Form's eyes are painted in this metallic cherry red color which is absolutely beautiful on here, and has just the right reflective quality to resemble the translucency of the costume's mask.
Unsurprisingly the signature weapon of Sword Form. It's a fair reflection of the show prop, though with some proportion differences seemingly to try to help it match the general size of the regular DenGasher parts also included. For example, the prop has a handle long enough that Den-O can grasp it with both hands, while this piece is most assuredly one-handed only. The sword is a soft plastic, and can probably be a warping concern along the thin blade, but I'm not too worried about it for some reason. There's just a little paint added to the sword since the DenGasher pieces are supposed to largely be black anyway. The metallic light blue manages to accent it just enough that you don't think about it being majorly unpainted plastic. The sword blade is done in silver and a nice metallic red like how the mask is painted. Unfortunately, there's more problems here from trying to match the proportions of the separate DenGasher pieces. Most notably the handle is very thick and so it does not fit very well to any of the included hands. In the end it's extremely difficult to get the figure in any pose with the sword where there isn't a constant risk of it falling out of the hand. To me this is a kind of major problem which could easily have been accounted for by hand-waving away the size-changey-ness of the DenGasher just as the show always has.
All of the regular release Den-O figures come with the same assortment of option hands. As packaged there's a pair of fists attached, which can be changed for a set of relaxed hands, or a set of gripping hands with hinged fingers, carrying on the original Souchaku Henshin tradition from all prior series. (remember G3-X a little while ago?)
The fists and relaxed hands have a hinge at the wrist for some added posing, in kind of a prelude to the extensive wrist mobility Figuarts would have upon their introduction. The grasping hands skip this since they're already articulated at the base of the fingers. As G3-X proved, these articulated hands are not inherently flawed for holding things. But the DenGasher sword proves pretty clearly that they're limited and really need parts designed around them carefully. In this case, it turns out that the hands aren't very good for holding any of the parts the figure comes with, and the sword's grip is much too thick to try to force in the relaxed hand for a more solid grip.
Swapping the hands isn't a big deal, and its ridged-post system is similar to older MSiAs. Getting the hands with hinged wrist pegs in can be a little bit of a chore but nothing terrible, especially if you're already used to Figuarts style wrist joints.
There's actually two of these, which I can only see as a kind of mercy from Bandai. As these have no possible storage and are simply tiny little plastic chips essentially they'll be the most easily lost bits from any of these figures. These also account for the only instance of stickers to be added, for the detailing of the Rider Pass. There's two stickers for each Pass, one of the inside and one to represent the embossed Den-O insignia on the back. It seems to vary, but on my Sword Form at least the back sticker is printed so faintly that it's almost not even worth applying.
This is also another case of handrage, since only the hinged gripping hands have a possibility to hold this, but it's such a terribly thin bit of plastic and has to try to be wedged against the immobile thumb as well, so it's always more loosely dangling in the hand than it is really being "held" in place. If you keep packaging -which you really should with these figures- then I'd suggest just keeping these stowed in the baggie with the instructions which is where they're packaged in the first place. Unless you're posing the figure doing a Full Charge there's little or no need to ever have these out anyway.
So, let's assume you're new to Den-O and have no idea what a DenGasher actually is. See, part of the design theory of Den-O is having all the needed parts for various transformations all on board from the start, and they're just arranged differently as needed. The DenGasher is an extension of this, as in the show and DX toy, its parts can be arranged to make first four weapons, and then another four distinct weapons spread over the various movies, all from a single set without any mods.
In addition to the Sword Form sword, the Den-O figures all come with a set of individual DenGasher pieces and two holsters with which to attach them to the belt. These don't combine, although with some extra pegs and tabs and such I imagine it wouldn't be impossible to have done so. But given most or all of the weapons require size-changes to match the show, it's just as well they didn't bother. Unlike the Sword, these are fully unpainted, just being base black plastic. In a really good move, each Gasher component attaches to the holsters with a uniquely shaped tab and groove, so it's impossible to attach them any way but the correct one. The holsters aren't as clear, but if you remember the tabs should be angled upward in front, you'll get it right. The parts all attach on the holsters solidly, and I haven't had an instance of them falling off on their own so far. The only real drawback is that the holsters hang a bit low and get in the way of the thighs if you're doing anything other than a straight-legged pose. The holsters can be swiveled back so they're more out of the way though, so at least it's not like a Gundam's warpable skirt armor or anything.
With a really well designed base figure and surprisingly unintrusive armor, Den-O Sword Form is a very enjoyable figure. Being in a very close scale and degree of articulation to SH Figuarts also not only makes it a good placeholder for a yet-unannounced Figuarts Den-O Sword Form, but could simply be a solid replacement entirely. With the only fault that the hinged gripping hands are poorly planned for holding the included accessories, it's still a very positive outcome.
Sword Form is one of the most commonly available Den-O Souchaku Henshin figures, and can typically be had for under $25 shipped. If you're in to articulation as a main feature of your toys but want a little more of a gimmick than what Figuarts can offer, getting one of these might be just what you're looking for. But beware, this is as much of a gateway drug as a cheap Figuarts - I went on a spree after getting this Sword Form, which is ultimately how we ended up here this week. Den-O Sword Form is Excellent, but if this isn't exactly the right climax for you, we have plenty more to choose from all week...
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