Monday, September 24, 2012

Beast Saga Kingdom of the Sea Death Heart Deck

One day, years and years ago, my father found a small rubber figure of a gorilla in red armor on the floor of his workplace and knowing his son well, brought him home for me. Turns out he knew me quite well, I loved that gorilla and after a bit of nosing around, I found his name was Gargantuan Gorilla and that he belonged to a line called Battle Beasts. Most of you need no explanation of what Battle Beasts were I'm sure, but for the uninitiated they were roughly two inch high, anthropomorphic animals in colorful armor who waged war with each other using an advanced form of rock, paper, scissors substituting fire, water and wood instead. None of that mattered to myself or other kids, we just loved warrior animals beating on each other in cybernetic armor.

Battle Beasts eventually faded away like most great 80's toy properties but last year, strange rumblings began to come out of Japan. Prototypes figures of armored animals with chest insignia began to make the rounds on the net and soon enough, Takara-Tomy unveiled Beast Saga, a spiritual successor to Battle Beasts that frankly looked amazing. I immediately placed pre-orders for a few things and after a long (LONG) wait, they finally arrived a couple of days ago. So today we look at my favorites from my order, the Kingdom of the Sea Death Heart Deck!

While Battle Beasts' game system was a really simple variation of rock, paper, scissors, Beast Saga figures are heavily themed around a more involved, dice based game. Each figure has a launcher in their chest that can fire a small die used in the game. Hence the Shark blasting a fiery cube of vengeance across the front of the box.

At this point, I should mention that I can't read Japanese so I'm using my best guess on how the game itself works. Each figure has a unique die with their personal symbol on one face and various numbers of pips on the other faces, plus a separate light blue die that appears to be for bonus damage points. By pushing in a plunger on the figure's backs, the die in their chest launches a decent distance and gives you your game rolls. The instructional photos seem to indicate that each player "fires" their character's unique die, fires the bonus modifier die, then adds the result. The winning player is determined by the highest total value, though I'm sure it's slightly more involved with that. Each figure's bio card has what I assume to be a "hitpoint" value and the Sea Death Heart Deck set also includes two black die with different symbols that I'm guessing are random effects that makes play more exciting. My lack of Japanese comprehension and having more interest in the figures themselves lessens my enthusiasm for the game aspect, but if games are your thing, there are plenty of boosters sets, play mats and more that offer unique dice to spice up play. Kudos to Takara-Tomy for putting in such effort.

Cracking open the box, the figures themselves are nothing short of amazing. Though they are slightly taller and a bit bulkier than the original Battle Beasts, they capture the spirit of the line so perfectly, I felt like I was ten again after handling them for a bit. The Sea Death Heart deck consists of three aquatic and (I assume) evil warriors; A Great White Shark, a Piranha, and a Coelacanth, each with their own spears and shields. I feel like I don't even need to say anything about them and just post picture after picture after picture, captioned only with increasingly long strings of exclamation points. But I suppose you guys expect SOME explanation accompanying them.

Though the single packed figures are usually listed on sites under their English names, I have yet to see names for the figures in the Deck sets, so I'm just going to call them by their animal inspirations. Starting with the Great White here, the de facto leader of the pack. Just look at him, isn't he fantastic? Clad in what looks like a cross between a knight's suit of armor and a SCUBA suit, his detailing is incredible; bladed fins on the forearms and shoulders, tubes around his neck and plugging into the back of his head, intricate shoulder pauldrons and my favorite, tattered remnants of cape around his shoulders and waist.

The head sculpt is very nice and closely resembles a real Great White, with rows of sharp teeth and the soulless black eyes of a killer! His personal die is cast in dark translucent blue and features the iconic "rising up from below" shark head profile. The placement of the die in the figure's chest also brings back fond memories of the classic Battle Beasts, some friends I've shown these too have actually mistaken them for classic versions due to the near identical design aesthetics.

Great White's head sports what I can only imagine is the anthropomorphic shark equivalent of rank insignia, crossed bones over red wings with a golden shark head topping it. Rough translation, this shark is the boss.

As I said, each figure includes a weapon (for these guys, all pole arms) and a shield. These pieces are cast from a soft, semi-rubbery plastic that some collectors have voiced concerns about, but this is not really an issue in my opinion. I wouldn't put a lot of weight on them as they may get warped out of shape, but for display on shelves or normal play, they should hold up just fine. In a nice touch, some figures' weapons are themed to their wielder, the central tine of the Great White's trident being sculpted to resemble a tiny shark for example.

Here's a shot of the arm to show off the detailing in the pauldrons and the cape tatters. I only wish there had been budget for a couple more paint aps because a spot of color on the cape or armor details would have been amazing. Another interesting thing to note here is that in lieu of multiple paint applications, the figures appear to be constructed from a multitude of small pieces cast in the appropriate color. The Great White's gray fists for example appear to be separate pieces that were then glued to the dark blue forearms. This is a very intriguing method of construction and I can only imagine it must be related to cost effectiveness. I don't know if it's cheaper to mold multiple colored parts than it is to cast them all one color then paint them, but that's my guess.

Articulation is minimal, due to the size and the fact that the majority of the figures' bulk is taken up by the launcher gimmick, but Beast Saga actually trumps Battle Beasts by adding hip joints as well as the standard shoulders swivels those little guys sported. The result is that you can get some decent action poses out of Beast Saga figures, but they won't be joining your Marvel Legends for yoga anytime soon.

Next up is the Piranha whom I see as the psychotic wise-cracking type. Kind of a scaly Joker if you will. The Piranha's armor more closely resembles the style used by classic Battle Beasts, with gaps between the shoulder pauldrons and gauntlets, then again between the waist armor and boots, showing his well detailed scaly skin between. The fins sprouting from the shoulders and forearms are a nice touch.

Pirahna's personal symbol is a slightly exaggerated pirahna fish that is mostly mouth and teeth. It meshes with his head sculpt nicely.

The head is nice and toothy, the eyes are bright and orange and the gill flaps are well defined. The Piranha's weapon reflects his form yet again with wickedly barbed prongs and a small fin-like protrusion from the handle. I'm not sure if the small loop opposite the fin is just a design aspect or if it is meant for something, you can push the handle of a shield or another weapon through it, but the fit is so tight I'm afraid it will tear.

Here's a shot of the figure from the back to illustrate the plunger for launching dice. I was a bit worried when I first heard that the plungers protruded so much from the figure's backs but after having them in hand, I really don't mind. The plunger isn't very visible from the front and it actually seems to help balance the figures a little better when extended. You can push the plunger flush to the character's chest if you remove the die, but it looks a little plain without the insignia clearly displayed.

Finally, we have the Coelacanth, a fish whose story is fascinating on it's own without having to be an anthropomorphic fish warrior. The Coelacanth is an ancient species of bony, lobe-finned fish that for a very long time was thought to have died out during the Cretaceous Period until a living specimen was hauled up by a fishing trawler in 1938 off the coast of Africa. One can only imagine this Coelacanth is the evolutionary future of the species. Woe be to the fisherman who hauls this guy aboard however.

While the other two members of the team are more lightly armored, the Coelacanth's suit seems heavier and more solidly built, resembling both the old, clunky deep sea diving suits of yore and a submarine. The shoulder pads especially resemble the hulls of submarines to me and this deep sea theme is fitting since the real fish is a deep water beastie. His dour expression and squat form make me think Coelacanth here is the team sourpuss, but maybe I'm just projecting the personality of the Transformers character Skalor on him as they're both based on the same fish. A nice touch that thrills the amateur ichthyologist in me is his feet, styled to resemble the limb-like fins of the actual Coelacanth.

Coelacanth's symbol is a slightly stylized profile of a real Coelacanth, showing off the distinctive lobe fins, thick scales and split sectioned tail. Like the rest of his teammates, Coelacanth's die is cast in translucent blue plastic.

Coelacanth's weapon is a spear topped with a bladed, fish-shaped head. None of the details are particularly Coelcanth-ish, but it is certainly fishy in theme with eyes, fins and a toothy maw.

I cannot stress enough how much I love Beast Saga. I was a little leery about the game plunger ruining the the aesthetics of the figures and the soft weapons, but once I played with the little guys for a bit, all my fears melted away. These figures are amazingly detailed and a ton of fun to just fiddle around with, and even though I'm not really into the game, I'm completely in love with the figures for their own merits and the fond memories of the originals that they bring back. If these guys look the least bit interesting to you, order some. Don't even think about it, I promise you won't be sorry. Currently there are two other "decks" of three figures themed around animals of the land and air available, but there are also a slew of single packed figures not available in deck sets. On top of that, there are also blind boxed single packs that contain translucent versions of figures from the single packed line and seemingly one member from each of the three decks. As this is a Japanese line, you'll need to get them from an importer (I used Big Bad Toy Store myself) and the deck sets will run you around twenty bucks whereas the single packs and blind boxes run about eight. Well worth the prices in my opinion if you loved classic Battle Beasts or want to introduce a new generation to the idea of warrior beasts fighting for survival. Highly recommended.


  1. I believe the Piranha's weapon (and associated ring structure) is a take on a variety of sea fish hook.

  2. Ah, that would make sense. I haven't been fishing in years and never sea fishing, thanks.