LEGO Star Wars – Rey’s Speeder and General Grievous Playtest plus Giveaway

With less than a month to go until the release of The Force Awakens, Star Wars continues to dominate our leisure time. As well as enjoying watching Episodes IV – VI in anticipation, checking out trailers, speculating what may happen in the new movie (my daughter already predicts that Kylo Ren will get both hands chopped off), we’re also working our way trough the six season Clone Wars animated series. So it was great to receive two terrific LEGO sets that encompassed these strands of the saga.

Rey’s Speeder

Appearing early on in the very first trailer for The Force Awakens, this was one of the first new vehicles to be revealed.

Rey's Speeder, Star Wars, The Force Awakens, Daisy Ridley

Its blocky, lo-fi, junkyard style design quickly became a fan favourite.

This LEGO version is a lovely little set to construct.

LEGO Star Wars 75099 Rey's Speeder

This was one of my favourite looking ones from The Force Awakens line (admittedly, the iconic , far larger, and more expensive Millennium Falcon just edged it). The suggested age is 7-12, but my 3-year-old daughter put it together with minimal supervision.

Rey is clearly a central character to the new saga, so it is great to have a minifigure of her. My daughter loves the fact that she is another female Star Wars character to play with.

Rey LEGO minifig

The minifigure has the usual two faces, though the expressions are a fairly subtle ‘wry smile’ and ‘displeased frown’. The freckles are a nice detail, that reflects some of the close up pics we have seen of Rey so far. She also has a mask with goggles, as seen in one of the more recent trailers.

Rey wearing mask and goggles, Star Wars, The Force Awakens

The set also comes with a second mini figure, the hooded and mysteriously named Unkar’s Thug.

How much the speeder features remains to be seen, but it already feels like one of the more iconic new vehicles of the new saga and is a great addition to our LEGO Star Wars collection, that that my daughter frequently plays with already.

General Grievous

We are also currently watching the Star Wars cartoon The Clone Wars, which is set between Episodes II and III of the prequel trilogy. Whatever your opinion of that set of movies, their existence is entirely justified by the fact it led to this show being made. We are only on season 4 of 6. It is full of thrilling space fantasy action adventure, with (IMHO) much more rounded characterisations of the main characters, than the movies the show is sandwiched between.

General Grievous originally appeared in Revenge of the Sith (2005), and it was pretty widely accepted that for such a cool looking character, he was a bit wasted.

General Grievous, Revenge of the Sith, lightsabers

However, he is a major recurring character in The Clone Wars, and here he finally gets his due (though he’s still a bit of a tool).

This set is part of the recently released six buildable LEGO Star Wars figures. We have previously reviewed the Darth Vader figure, which was a fine set – but even then I could tell that this General Grievous figure was the one that suited this format best.

General Grievous vs Darth Vader

The skeletal construction pieces suit Grievous’ robotic structure perfectly. The sculpt on his head is great. This is basically an awesome General Grievous figure that you put together yourself!

Unlike Rey’s Speeder, this set (recommended age 9-14) was totally out of my 3-year-old daughter’s ability to put together – but not mine 😉 I had a great time putting it together – albeit with expert supervision from my daughter. She loves playing with it though, and one of the first things she wanted to do was stage a fight between Grievous and Darth Vader.

Who would win in a fight between Darth Vader and General Grievous?

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If you have a young Star Wars fan in your life, then two things they probably should be are a) Fans of The Clone Wars cartoon, and b) Excited about The Force Awakens. Given that, either of these sets would perfect gifts for them.

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  • Rey’s Speeder has a RRP of ÂŁ19.99, and is available here
  • General Grevious has a RRP of ÂŁ29.99, and is available here

Or if you fancy your chances, how about entering our General Grievous giveaway?

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LEGO Star Wars 75112: General Grievous
**This giveaway is for UK residents only**

 

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Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this review, we did receive these LEGO sets free of charge.

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These sets are based on the Star Wars prequels, cartoons, and the forthcoming sequel. Do you or your little ones have a Star Wars preference – originals, prequels, cartoons, or new series?

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Family Fever
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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 Review: Thrilling end to an intelligent action adventure saga  

The Hunger Games movie saga, which stars Jennifer Lawrence as revolutionary poster girl Katniss Everdeen, reaches its conclusion with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. I saw it last week, and the review embargo has just been lifted.

The series – based on Suzanne Collin’s popular book trilogy – took me by surprise. I was lukewarm about the initial instalment, both before and after seeing it. In hindsight, this is probably not because of the quality of the film itself (directed by Gary Ross), but rather my own prejudice.

The Hunger Games: A Running Man and Battle Royale rip off?

As a teen I had seen Arnie in The Running Man (1987) – based on a book and set in a dystopian future where the state sanctions a TV death match as a means of pacifying the populace. Later, I had marvelled at the magnificent Japanese movie Battle Royale (2000) – also based on a book and set in a dystopian future where the state sanctions a TV death match as a means of pacifying the populace.

Sound familiar?

So with what seemed to be the same set up – teenage ‘tributes’ battling to the death for the masses on mass media – it was through this lens that I watched The Hunger Games (2012). As far as I was concerned it was as expected – largely derivative of Battle Royale and The Running Man (the latter of which isn’t even particularly good) with added YA (young adult fiction) dust.

But looking back, the beginnings were there for what has become an intelligent an engaging saga. With Francis Lawrence installed as the new director for the rest of the series, the first sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) added layers of political and media commentary & satire, while remaining true to being a YA action adventure. The first part of the follow up story The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014) took us into the territory of the war film, which is where this concluding chapter remains.

Jennifer Lawrence embodies the how good a female action hero can be

Central to the success of this saga remains the confident and engaging performance from Jennifer Lawrence, who as Katniss Everdeen has come to embody how powerful a well realised female action hero can be.

The film picks up immediately after the events of Part 1 – Katniss is suffering both mentally and physically from the effects of being almost strangled to death by her former District 12 fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who has been brainwashed by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) into believing that Katniss is evil.

The new Katniss/Peeta dynamic is central to their relationship in this film. Katniss spends much of the story afraid of him, and lamenting that the Peeta she knew is gone. He in turn is full of hate for Katniss, and simply wants to kill her. Despite their mutual distrust/loathing, they are thrown together for the sake of the continuing media battle of Penem, and the pair’s importance as propaganda puppets.

Katniss Everdeen – not just a symbol of revolution

Katniss is beginning to tire of being used as a political tool, this time by President Coin (Julianne Moore). In this film, Katniss finally decides it’s time to write her own story. Like Peeta’s hate for Katniss, she has a singular vengeful purpose now – to kill President Snow. As far as she’s concerned he is solely responsible for the misery of the world about her. She wants to see him dead, and preferably by her hand.

Also remaining in the mix is Gale (Liam Hemsworth). As well as his ongoing role in the love triangle with Katniss and Peeta, he continues his transformation into a callous revolutionary fighter – displaying a crueller streak than before. He is another character hardened by the ongoing war.

Of the other key players, President Snow continues his unsettling relationship with Katniss, and Sutherland is as sinister as ever. In not dissimilar fashion, Julianne Moore’s President Coin is on the surface a heroic leader, but what lies beneath is also troubling. Her determination to control Katniss plays out in the wider context of the war and its aftermath.

The Hunger Games reimagined

There are no ‘Hunger Games’ per se in this movie. Instead, Snow deploys the gamemakers to devise ever more imaginative (and TV friendly) ways to defend the city from the invading rebel army. This leads to some visually stunning scenes, but the stand-out sequence is a subterranean set-piece that is as tense and exciting as anything you are likely to see this year. Jennifer Lawrence displays Katniss’s archery skills to full effect, in a thrilling ensemble action scene.

The previous film suffered from an obvious fault – it was only part of the story, where not very much happened, and there was very little payoff. The whole thing felt like a preamble towards the next instalment.

But this film is given the chance to explore themes and characters fully. It brings the story to a satisfying conclusion, in a way that is surprising, dramatic, and powerful. Friendships are shattered, and loved ones are lost. For everyone left standing at the end, the world will never be the same.

All is not perfect with this concluding chapter. The story has a clear conclusion, and what follows is a lengthy epilogue that is crying out for a pair of scissors to wrap up the story with the brevity it deserves. It’s not quite Return of the King level, but disappointing all the same. Also, while I’m not familiar with the books, a few of the characters seem to get short shrift in the movie, despite the 2hr+ running time.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last movie

Someone who certainly doesn’t feel absent – but with less do do than previously – is Philip Seymour Hoffman. He died during filming and before his scenes had been completed. I think I spotted a couple of occasions where he may have been digitally inserted into scenes, and there appears to have been one obviously important passage that was rewritten for another actor. But I was on the lookout for these instances and I don’t feel they will distract from the story.

Overall, this is an engaging conclusion to a saga that began with what seemed to be less ambitious aims. The series has cleverly dealt with themes of political manipulation, propaganda, and the damaging effects of war on society. These are all messages that are of great relevance today, and will continue to be so.

The fact that these ideas are dealt with so thoughtfully within an exciting action adventure, that appeals especially to teens, is a great credit to all involved with this – from author Suzanne Collins to the actors and filmmakers. Teens obviously have a natural defiance against authority and the status quo. These stories highlight the positives of that attitude, and how we would all do well to remember that feeling as we move beyond those years.

Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen has inspired a generation of girls

The character of Katniss, and Jennifer Lawrence’s terrific performance, will continue to be a benchmark for female led action adventures. She has inspired a generation of girls to aspire to become confident and proud women, and hopefully educated their male peers to accept this as a reality.

The Hunger Games series has demonstrated once and for all that the time of the female led action adventure is now. That they can be engaging across a series of movies and be hugely popular with audiences, especially if created with integrity, respect, and intelligence like this series.

Fa`mily Fever

Immerse Yourself in Star Wars With This Stormtrooper Homeware Set

Being a fan of something – and showing that fandom – has many outlets these days. As well as toys, there are clothes, accessories, and homewares.

My daughter is easily identifiable as a Star Wars fan, and was lucky enough to be sent this great Stormtrooper set from Character World.

The classic stormtrooper look has always been a favourite of mine, and now it’s one of my daughter’s too. Their distinctive black & white design lends itself well to reproduction, as these items show.

The classic Stormtrooper rug (ok, among other items) has added an eye catching Star Wars look to my daughter’s room.

Vader top, Star Wars skirt, and a lot of Stormtrooper stuff. #starwars #DarthVader #stormtrooper #mysewingcircus

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The trooper cushion has become more of a toy to cuddle, though other times she likes to pretend it’s a mask!

The force is strong in my family….

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The trooper look has been updated for the forthcoming The Force Awakens.

STAR508 AWAKEN SINGLE 91 ROTARY2It is this design that features on the single pillow and duvet set. These new troopers also look pretty good when reproduced, although I think the duvet isn’t as visually striking as the classic trooper items. It is also reversible with a fabric design that matches the pillow on the reverse.

As with many of these things, the stated target market is young boys, but don’t let that make you think for a second that these are not for girls too.

My daughter loves this set, and her favourite is definitely the cushion. As she currently favours the classic Stormtrooper look (that may change once she has a chance to check out the new movie) this was always going to be a hit, plus it’s a good size for her to play with.

She also calls it Stormy (who is a ‘she’ in case you were wondering – take that Captain Phasma).

The use of the stormtrooper design on all these items is nicely realised (although as mentioned I favour old trooper over new). All items are made of artificial materials if that’s something you look out for.

If you like the look of these and you’re feeling lucky, why not enter our giveaway?

Character World Star Wars Stormtrooper Bedding Giveaway
This giveaway closes at midnight on November 15 2015. Open to UK entrants only.

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Bedding: RRP ÂŁ15.99

Cushion: RRP ÂŁ14.99

Mat: RRP £19.99 

We received all these items free of charge from Character World for the purposes of this review.

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What Stormtrooper / Star Wars homeware items would you like to have in your home? Please comment below.

Review & Giveaway: Karate Lottie, Ballet Lottie, plus Sweet Dreams Accessory Pack

We already have a varied collection of Lottie Dolls. We love them for many reasons, but particular because it’s easy to see similarities between them and the kid.

Why we love @lottie_dolls – she's a lot like my daughter 🙂

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Well, this week we were sent a suitably eclectic trio of items that my daughter had chosen to complement the likes of her Rockabilly Lottie above.

Karate, Ballet, and Sleepy – our latest collection of @lottie_dolls are ready for action (or inaction).

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The first of these items was the Sweet Dreams Outfit Set.

This is an accessory set, so there’s no doll just the clothes – but it’s great to have more outfits for them. Our daughter has always liked putting her toys down for naps and sleeps, and this accessory set gives her a chance to do that while at least one of them is dressed and ready for bedtime.

It comes with all-in-one pyjamas, a dressing gown/robe, and fleece slippers – all perfect for making sure your Lottie doll is nice and snug.

Next up was the first of the two dolls – Spring Celebration Ballet Lottie.

Our daughter has been going to dance class on Saturday morning for a while now, and loves it. Like this Lottie, her outfit is also all pink (the choices for children’s tights and leotards for dancing seemed to be pink or pink), plus she has a tutu she wore last term too – so this Lottie is one she definitely associates with her experience of dancing.

Ballet Lottie is nicely decked out in her special ballet costume (with a 3-layer tutu), a sequin leotard, ballet slippers, and a drawstring shoe bag.

My daughter’s final choice is my personal favourite – the Kawaii Karate Lottie:

As mentioned on this blog previously, Kawaii essentially means ‘cute’ in Japan, and as well as providing a handy instance of alliteration, it’s an accurate description of this doll (although Kickass Karate Lottie would’ve worked too).

Kitted out in full karate gear, plus a choice of white or yellow belts, a rising sun headband, a helmet, plus some collector cards displaying how to hit and kick like a girl, this is a great set.

Playing with her new Lottie Dolls
Playing with her new Lottie Dolls

We are a multi-racial family, and we have toys around us that reflect that diversity. Lottie have dolls of various skin tones, and I was glad that our daughter has chosen a brown skinned Lottie to add to her collection.

The choice of Ballet and Karate Lotties is not as random as it seems. Our daughter’s been very interested in Batgirl of late, and often picks out my Batgirl of Burnside trade paperback to look at (I’ve read the whole thing to her – dating apps, transgender villains, evil algorithms and all).

There’s a page showing the pre-Batgirl Barbara Gordon doing ballet (pink outfit) and martial arts (white training gear), and I think that’s made an impression.

Karate + Ballet = Batgirl. And now Lottie too.

This selection of dolls displays yet again why Lottie is such a great product. Her range of outfits and interests continue to reinforce the message that being a girl shouldn’t limit your aspirations – and you can like frilly pink skirts while also being kickass at karate.

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Kawaii Karate Lottie, Spring Celebration Ballet Lottie, and Sweet Dreams Outfit Set are all available from Amazon.

Or alternatively, enter our giveaway below!

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Lottie Dolls Giveaway

*** This competition is open residents of all countries ***

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Lottie doll retails at ÂŁ16.99 (USD $19.99); accessory sets and outfit sets retail at ÂŁ7.99 (USD $9.99)

Lottie is also available online at www.lottie.com.

In the UK, Lottie is also at Debenhams, Ocado, Natural History Museum, Jo Jo Maman BĂŠbĂŠ, and independent toy stores.

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Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this piece, my daughter did receive the featured dolls and accessories free of charge.
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Which Lottie doll is your favourite? Check out the range at www.lottie.com, then head back here and tell us!

Tara Binns – Books That Empower Little Girls to Dream Big

One of my issues with princesses has always been this. The role is not a career aspiration. I live in an actual monarchy, where there really are princesses, and there is even a possibility of our daughters becoming one. But I think we can all agree it’s a fairly narrow life path to target.

I suppose it’s a more realistic aspiration than being a superhero, but at least most of them have real jobs as journalists, lawyers, wealthy industrialists, Amazon princesses… er, where was I…?

Anyway, of the many characters aimed at children, male ones tend to be the only ones tied to a profession. Think Postman Pat, or Fireman Sam. Female characters are far more likely to be more fantastical.

In a clever twist, tying the two together, is the Tara Binns series. Created by Lisa Rajan and illustrated by Eerika Omiyale, these books have the tagline of “Giving Little Girls Big Ideas”. The format of each tale involves our eponymous girl hero playing dress ups in her attic, and being magically transported into a fantasy (or is it?) involving the profession one of her outfits.

From 'Tara Binns - Eagle-Eyed Pilot' written by Lisa Rajan and illustrated by Eerika Omiyale
From ‘Tara Binns – Eagle-Eyed Pilot’ written by Lisa Rajan and illustrated by Eerika Omiyale

In Tara Binns – Eagle-Eyed Pilot, she suddenly becomes a jumbo jet pilot – in mid-flight – and quickly has to learn not only how the cockpit works, but also has to navigate a storm and wrestle with a moral dilemma involving old pirate treasure.

The next book is Tara Binns – Crash Test Genius, where she becomes an engineer who quickly learns how the application of science benefits us all, and is inspired to invent a new concept of her own.

Coming soon is Tara Binns – Double Choc Doc, where she has to deal with everyone’s winter nemesis – the common cold!

My 3-year-old daughter loves being read these books, and requests we revisit them regularly. She is full of questions about the professions themselves as well as the way Tara deals with the dilemmas and opportunities presented to her. She’ll often ask questions about them out of the blue, when we’re not even reading one. They have clearly made an impression, and an immensely positive one at that.

The prose is bright and snappy, and the illustrations whimsically delightful. Tara, as both herself and when she’s exploring her various professions, is a great role model. One that is thankfully a world away from fairy princesses.

These books would be terrific for any child – but parents of girls in particular may find these to be essential bookshelf additions.

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Tara Binns Man vs Pink Giveaway

This giveaway has now ended – but Tara Binns – Eagle-Eyed Pilot, and Tara Binns – Crash Test Genius, can be purchased from Amazon.

Keep up to date with all the latest news about Tara Binns on Facebook and Twitter.

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Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this review, we did receive these books free of charge.

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What profession would you like to see Tara Binns explore next? Please comment below.

Playtest and Giveaway: New LEGO Star Wars Buildable Figures

The latest LEGO Star Wars figures are a little bigger than the previously available ones!

This giant (in LEGO terms) Vader is one of a series of six new buildable figures from their Star Wars line – Jango Fett, Clone Commander Cody, Obi Wan Kenobi (Clone Wars) General Grevious, Luke Skywalker (Return of the Jedi), and Darth Vader.

Unlike the previous LEGO Star Wars sets, which have been in the classic LEGO format, these are more like Bionicle and other similar buildable LEGO figures. When constructed you have a fully poseasble and articulated Star Wars figure.

We chose Darth Vader, as he is probably my daughter’s favourite character after Princess Leia.

The set a seemingly manageable 160 pieces. But this was my first constraction set, and many of the pieces were unfamiliar to me – with only a few seeming LEGO-like. The build was a different experience too.

My daughter and I like building LEGO sets together, even if the recommended age is far older than she is. However, it soon became clear that this was probably going to be something I built myself – which was obviously no great hardship!

This is not a criticism, as the recommended age is 9+, but other sets we’ve built had a similar age recommendation and we were able to collaborate on. This set, with it’s different style, was a more complex proposition, plus it required gross & fine motor skills which she simply does not have at 3 years old.

However, the finished result is a great toy for her.

It has some cool custom features, such as the cape, the lightsaber, and the head is a great Darth Vader sculpt.

We only had access to Vader, one of the six sets, and while it’s pretty cool when constructed, I would say that General Grevious appears to be the most successful. As he is a robot, his body of metal struts and joints suits the style of these sets perfectly.

These sets offer a nice point of difference to LEGO’s Star Wars line, as well as the wider range of Star Wars toys available. This is a far more stylish Darth Vader toy than many of the other official figures you see out there.

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Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this review, we did receive this LEGO set free of charge.

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These LEGO Star Wars buildable figures are available from Amazon

Or, enter our giveaway below for your chance to win a Jango Fett figure (UK residents only).

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buildable LEGO Star Wars Jango Fett #75107

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This set of buildable LEGO figures feature a mix of goodies and baddies. Which characters do you or your little ones like best in Star Wars – the heroes or villains?

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Family Fever

Review & Giveaway: Kawaii Box – a Collection of Cute Items from Japan and Korea

This week we received a box of delights from Asia. Kawaii Box is a subscription based service where you receive a monthly box of assorted Kawaii items – which basically means ‘cute’.

While some brands will be recognisable (previous boxes have included Hello Kitty and Totoro for instance) for the most part these products from Japan and Korea will be new to most westerners.

The monthly boxes are crammed with random cute stuff from Asia, ranging from sweets to stickers and accessories.

It’s always fun receiving parcels, especially if you don’t know what’s inside. When our slightly battered box arrived from Singapore, it was with great anticipation that we opened it…

So, as promised, here’s a more detailed look of what was in the box:

Kracie DIY Chain Candy

Kracie DIY Chain Candy Kwaii Box - July 2015
Some Japanese pink & blue (good choice) sweets that interlink to form a chain. Or you can eat them. They tasted… sugary.

Squishy Doughnut Mirror

Squishy Doughnut Mirror Kwaii Box - July 2015
My daughter’s favourite. It’s the perfect size for her hands, flips open to reveal a mirror, is colourful, and makes you really want a doughnut!

Dessert Eraser

Dessert Eraser Kwaii Box - July 2015
“Can you eat this?” asked my daughter. No, but it is a cute looking cake shaped eraser (aka ‘rubber’)

Kawaii Toast Coaster

The simplest item in the collection. A thin piece of wood, in the shape of a piece of toast, with a minimalist face stamped through it.
The simplest item in the collection. A thin piece of wood, in the shape of a piece of toast, with a minimalist face stamped through it.

Pastel Pearl Bracelet

My daughter liked this stringed collection of pastel balls as well.
My daughter liked this stringed collection of pastel balls as well.

Korean Glitter Glue Set

This made my daughters eyes light up - six colours of glitter glue, plus four colours of hearts, stars, and flowers to stick.
This made my daughters eyes light up – six colours of glitter glue, plus four colours of hearts, stars, and flowers to stick.

Rilakkuma Notes

This is a very cute fold-out collection of post-it notes of different shapes and sizes, all featuring the equally cute Rilakkuma character (roughly translated as ‘Relax Bear’.
This is a very cute collection of post-it notes of different shapes and sizes, all featuring the equally cute Rilakkuma character (roughly translated as ‘Relax Bear’).

Mushroom Mini Plush

The kind of thing you might see in a Nintendo game.
Reminds me of the kind of thing you might see bouncing around in a Nintendo game.

Cute Pencil Set

As described really - ordinary pencils with cute colourful patterns.
As described really – ordinary pencils with cute colourful patterns.

Flake Seal Stickers

I was expecting seals. We get what appears to be hordes of pandas, pink rabbits, and yellow birds (one with a bow in their hair).
I was expecting seals. We get what appears to be pandas, pink rabbits, and yellow birds (one with a bow in their hair).

Alpaca Keychain

My favourite. To me it seems utterly random to have three pastel coloured alpacas on a key ring, but here we are. Might try and keep this for myself…
My favourite. To me it seems utterly random to have three pastel coloured alpacas on a key ring, but here we are. Might try and keep this for myself…

So there you have it. A nice little collection of pop culture curios and oddities from the east. We enjoyed getting this Kawaii Box, and I can imagine it would be fun to get one of these each month – a regular little box of surprises.

It may all seem rather pink and pastel. As I’ve said before, I don’t object to the colour pink – just how it’s used to market things to girls, and there is nothing in the Kawaii Box offering to indicate that these items are for girls only. They’re for people who want a bit of cute in their lives. And why not.

Fancy getting your very own Kawaii Box delivery? Then click to enter the giveaway. Competition closes on 20 September 2015. Good luck!

Kawaii Box Man vs Pink Giveaway August 2015

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Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this review, we did receive this Kawaii Box free of charge. All opinions stated remain our own.

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