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Toy Tuesday - Takara Tomy's Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Trains are a rarity in the Transformers world.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some, Astrotrain from G1 most notably, but also there’s Team Bullet Train and their combined form Rail Racer from 2001’s Robots In Disguise series. Even in Japan, there’s Raiden, the combined form of the six Trainbots from the Headmasters era of G1 and Sixliner, a Micromaster combiner from the waning days of G1…and that’s it. Now, in my head-canon, I’d put forth that most civilizations have at some point committed or witnessed at least one genocide and I suspect that Cybertronians were no different. At some point in their history, I suspect Trainbots were rounded up and eliminated.

Of course, the reality is far more banal.

While a popular mode of transportation in Japan, the US has always had trouble embracing the rails, favoring the more individualistic automobile. However, if you recall my 2018 trip to Japan, well, I absolutely fell in love with their train system over there and would positively sell my soul to have something like that Stateside. It was fast, reliable, routine and able to take you damn near ANYWHERE you could ever want to go. I’m off topic. The fact that while popular in Japan and not so much here, and the Transformers toyline is a co-production between Japan-based Takara Tomy and US-based Hasbro, if something doesn’t fly in one half of the partnership, it’s relegated to either a seldom-used alt-mode or a regional exclusive.

Given their prominence in Japanese society though, train toys are a big deal over there…and in the instances where Takara Tomy doesn’t have to partner with Hasbro, they’re free to make whatever they damn well please. This leads us to Takara’s Pla-Rail system of toys: trains and train stations with a universal track system that allows for, well, think of it like Hot Wheels-style ramps and such…just for trains instead. Taking that a step further and introducing transforming robots into the mix, as Takara Tomy is wont to do, we have the Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion anime and toys. [We’re just gonna call it Shinkalion from here on out. – Ed.] The first toys in this line were a little on the basic side at first, leaning more toward gimmick than poseability. The front and the rear cars of the train would combine with spring-loaded reveal features and while the top half would sport fairly poseable arms, the legs were totally static. The most recent line, Shinkalion Z, introduces a full range of motion to all limbs…but at the expense of the toys now being ‘parts-formers’.

Of course, this is going to trigger a particular sect of Transformers fans that poo-poo taking apart vehicle modes then recombining everything to create a robot mode. However, with the recent inclusion of Weaponizers, Modulators and Fossilizers from the War for Cybertron Trilogy lines of toys, all of which required at least some amount of parts-forming, the hostility toward this practice may be on the decline. I’ll admit, thanks to these most recent entries, I can certainly attest that I’m one of those easing up on the practice…and the Shinkalion Z toys are pushing me even further into this acceptance.

Like the original Shinkalion toyline before it, even though we’ll be looking at three distinct characters in this review, each one transforms very similarly and results in the same basic robot mode with either minor cosmetic shifts or, in the case of Dark Shinkalion, additional cars in the train that allow for additional modes and armor, helping to differentiate him from the others.

Hell, since we’re already talking about him, let’s tackle the big guy first since he covers all the bases and then some. Dark Shinkalion has five cars total. The front, designed like a dragon’s head and the rear, representing the dragon’s tail, end up being the basis for the basic robot mode. This is universal to all the bots we’ll be looking at in this review: the lead car will form the head, torso and arms while the rear forms the abdomen, legs and, depending on the model, either additional leg armor or wings for the back. In the case of Dark Shinkalion here, it’s the latter. The three middle cars can also be taken apart and parts-formed into a horse for the main basic robot to ride…and sure enough he fits on his mount just fine. I’d have liked it better if there were a way the main bot could peg in to the horse [Okay, that sounds like beasiality. – Ed.], so that the rider would be more stable, but with such a unique feature, it seems unfair to nit-pick.

Speaking of unique features, this bot has two combined forms that will use up all of the parts. The first is just…bonkers, yet amazing: Centaur mode. Yes, combine rider and mount into the mythical Greek creature. I won’t hesitate in saying…I love it. It’s a fantastic use for all the bits and bobs, it’s such a unique mode…far more adventurous than mainline Transformers have been since the heyday of G1, and it just oozes fun. The other combined form is a little less unique, but still makes for imposing presence on the shelf, that of a Super Robot mode. This mode is armed to the teeth with a cannon on one arm, shoulder guns and a trident in the other hand…all the while still maintaining a large amount of the core robot’s poseability.

Yes, the middle cars in train mode look kibble-y, but the audacity of the entire Dark Shinkalion package is simply rife with fun and possibilities, the very most one can hope for in a toy. Certainly on the expensive side of the line…to say nothing of the shipping costs from Japan, I still feel very comfortable in saying that you get what you pay for here: a premium price for a premium toy. I wouldn’t make this your first purchase into the Shinkalion line, grab one of the more basic bots just to see if you dig the concept. But as a second purchase, your first step toward investing in the line? Hell yes. While I do have to deduct some marks for the kibble, this here is a very high-end Happy Cat rating.

As we move beyond the Dark one, the remainder of the line doesn’t really name its bots, instead using the make and model of the train the figure is based on as its identifier. Given the similarities between it and the base robot mode of the Dark Shinkalion, let’s turn our attention next to the 800 Tsubame. As mentioned with the previous bot, the front and rear cars become the head & arms and the legs & shoulder wings respectively and the transformation between modes is identical to the basic mode for Darkie. The middle car in this case, and with the majority of the more basic bots, is storage for the robot mode weapons. In the Tsubame’s case, a pair of daggers and the mount for the shoulder wings.

I was able to find this guy on sale and honestly, it’s the perfect entry level purchase to get into the line as it displays exactly what you can expect from the line. For $50 including shipping, while dependent on parts-forming, the basic robot modes of each of the Shinkalion bots stands a head over the current Transformers Leader Class average height, making for a lean, tall bot. At this price point, it feels like you’re getting your money’s worth, especially for an import toy. With this particular bot, I do have to say that the daggers feel a bit dinky, so that does kind of knock this guy down a peg from greatness. Still, like Dark Shinkalion, this is easily worthy of our Happy Cat rating.

To finish our look into the line, another purchase option that Takara Tomy provides with this toyline is a basic three-car train with what they call a support train. While the basic bots all come in the form of bullet trains, the support trains are modelled after subway lines of the Japan rail system. These support trains can be linked up to the main bot, often at the exclusion of at least one of the main cars. The purpose of these subway cars is to form an additional pair of limbs, either arms or legs, and a larger weapon. This, as I’m sure you can imagine, plays well into the parts-forming aspect of the line and brings additional variation and play value to the toys. For this review, we opted for the main train from the anime, the E5 Hayabusa paired with the Yamanote support train.

Hayabusa has the closest link to the original series that I mentioned at the start of this review, where the majority of the rear car forms the legs and what’s left forms leg armor. In spite of the above two reviews that sported shoulder wings, you’ll find that the majority of the line takes its notes from Hayabusa here. Amongst all of those, what makes the Hayabusa unique is that the nose of the lead car opens to reveal a hidden cannon…your stereotypical anime ‘finishing move’ weapon. Like the Tsubame, Hayabusa here is armed with melee weapons, in this case a pair of knives that look a bit more threatening than the aforementioned bot’s daggers. When we add the Yamanote into the mix, those knives plug into a pretty sizeable sword that, when coupled with a beefier pair of arms makes for a fairly cool bot! Of course, this begs the question ‘So what do I do with the pair of regular arms?’ Thankfully, due to the lack of shoulder wings, unlike the previous two bots, you can stow these arms into the back of the bot, where they’d normally reside in train mode. Of course the price for this is that this can make the bot a little back heavy and possibly trigger another sect of Transformers fans, the backpack haters.

There is one last negative I should talk about that spans the entire line. Even though they are parts-formers, you’re still going to have bits leftover, even with the nearly all-inclusive Dark Shinkalion: the train wheels. In the cases of the Tsubame and Hayabusa, you can store these in the middle car (though the car wasn’t necessarily made for this purpose)…but that also leaves you with the middle car just kinda hanging around, where there’s just not bot-based solution on what to do with it. So, sadly, this introduces an increased risk of the dreaded ‘lost parts’ conundrum. Alas, I have no suggestions for this.