Friday, 26 May 2017

Banpresto Ichiban Kuji Figure Collection : Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt - Gattle

As cool as mobile suits are, I've never really enjoyed the idea of them being superior to everything else. To me the suit represents a specialized cog in the military machinery and I subsequently hold just as much interest in models of ships and vehicles and other types of miniatures. Mobile Suit Gundam is blessed in that regard in that there is a rich fauna of vehicles designed for both planetary missions and space. Here we will take a closer look at one such mini - the antique Zeonic Gattle fighter spacecraft.

This particular miniature was produced as a prize item for the Ichiban Kuji lottery which is run by the manufacturer of the figure; Banpresto. Banpresto items are typically one-offs in wildly varying styles and sizes but can sometimes complement other figure series when the scale and size does not vary too much. I wasn't sure just exactly how big this thing was going to be but after having had my eye on it for quite some time I decided to take the plunge. As a prize item it does not have general retail distribution and the price also reflects that. I picked mine up for ¥1500 from Mandarake.

This Gattle figure is rated as prize item class F. Above you can see the figures produced for the other classes that also belong to this Thunderbolt mini-set. For some reason Banpresto did omit the second class-F type prize item in the photo; there is also a FF-S3 Saberfish fighter out there (which I will eventually also end up purchasing as well I'm sure).

The Gattle fighter comes in a rather large box measuring 20 centimeters on its widest side, mainly because the figure also comes with a diorama piece in the form of a segment of a space colony cylinder. Each figure in the Thunderbolt set comes with a wall segment and they can be interlocked to form a cylinder (see the instruction sheet in the image below as I won't be going into this feature any further).

As you can see the instruction leaflet is common to all the figures belonging to this set so you can get a basic idea of the composition of the other figures by looking at it. I have considered picking one or two of them up but I suspect they will not pose very well with Converge and considering their high prices I guess I'll just have to wait for Bandai to give Thunderbolt some more love in Converge.

The Gattle spacecraft comes fully assembled with a multi-piece stand which will send it high into the air. I guess to make it sit nicely above the other mobile suits or perhaps the colony cylinder.

As mentioned earlier the colony wall segment occupies most of the space in the box (and I will continue to keep it packed up in there). The wall will look really plain and boring without modifications. A lot of panel lining, drybrushing and/or washing will be needed to give it a decent look. The four small pieces that act as its "legs" do not lock in place in this mode and you end up having to balance the large piece on those legs - a frustrating experience that I do not recommend.

The Gattle spacecraft itself also looks very plain like a really cheap Gashapon. It has a lot of nice detail in the sculpt but the entire thing is made of soft plastic and the first thing I noticed was the bent landing gear and bent wings.Apart from the crew bubble is features no other painted detail. This thing can probably look really good but first it needs to have its anatomy straightened out and then it needs a lot of make-up on top.

Size-wise the Gattle actually poses quite well with the Converge Thunderbolt FA-78. it has some defects but I really look forward to having it tuned-up a bit as I am sure it can end up looking quite good in the collection. I wouldn't really recommend it to Converge collectors though, as it is quite expensive for what it is. Still, it successfully manages to scratch my spacecraft itch and I am sure the Saberfish can't be that far behind.

Gundam Converge CORE 010 : RX-93 Nu Gundam & MSN-04 Sazabi (Metallic Ver.)

In August 2015 Bandai released the first Converge Redefinition figures in what has become a rather odd breed of pricey minis. Now with ten releases down the line the series seems to have found its identity. Basically CORE is all about reissuing old figures with new tuned up colour schemes and decals, although they usually take a step away from the original mobile suit design. CORE 010 is no exception to this pattern.

The two figures come in a greyscale box which is so typical (and dull) for CORE. I thought it a bit strange that the Nu Gundam is introduced first but placed to the right in the background photo. Could it be a case of Japanese reading from the right slip-up? The positioning of the text could also have been a bit better. Right now it seems to suggest that only the Sazabi features metallic paint.

Anyway, CORE 010 returns to the tired old dancing pair of the Nu Gundam and the Sazabi from Char's Counterattack. These two evergreen mobile suits have had quite a lot of exposure in Converge as of late, with two sets appearing in 2015 after the initial release in 2011. Add the recent MSN-04II Nightingale on top and suddenly my shelf is starting to crawl with Sazabis.

CORE 010 released in April 2017 as a Premium Bandai exclusive with a price point of ¥ 3200 yen. Quite the mark-up from the basic ¥ 550 figures that they are based upon. Neither figure introduces any new parts; they are simply repainted variants of the two figures that premiered the rebooted Converge series at the end of 2015.

RX-93 Nu Gundam (Metallic Version)

First out of the two combatants is the RX-93 which is rapidly closing in on the Unicorn Gundam as the most commonly featured mobile suit in Converge. Not counting the Hi-Nu or the HWS versions this is the eighth time the Nu is released in Converge format although only the second time to feature metallic coating. The Nu comes loaded with a beam rifle, a bazooka (which can be equipped or attached to the back) and one shoulder's worth of funnels. I wonder when a figure will appear with two funnel sets, it can only be a question of time.

The RX-93 figure uses the new mold from the rebooted Converge #01 which is shared in part also by the FA-93HWS (Nu Gundam Heavy Weapon System) figure. The mold contains four peg holes on the shoulders and legs which are used by the FA-93HWS, so we get a mini-sprue with two sets of plugs that can be inserted into these holes to cover the gaping holes. Something unique for the RX-93 Converge figure. These be tiiiiiny pieces but at least we get a very helpful instruction sheet to explain what needs to be done.

There isn't really a whole lot to say about the new RX-93 figure. The metallic paint looks really great although I am not really convinced that all the grey blotches added to the body (seemingly for the heck of it) are really adding anything of value to the figure. Still no beam saber for the RX-93, this would have been a perfect fit for this figure. (If you also own the FA-93HWS you can of course consider borrowing its saber).

MSN-04 Sazabi (Metallic Version)

I mentioned earlier that CORE figures allow themselves some creative freedom and this becomes even more apparent on the Sazabi. Here we get a stark ruby-red shiny metallic coat which looks really awesome although it doesn't necessarily look like the one sported by the actual Sazabi. Come to think of it, are there even two Sazabi figures sharing the same red colour? This guy always seems to get the latest red, always staying in fashion.

Just like the standard Sazabi figure we get two main armament options and both are really good looking although the rifle cannot really compete with such a beautiful translucent saber. Notice also how the figures now come on base plates with their names printed on them. This seems more like a "what can we do to convince people to pay three times as much?"-feature, rather than something really useful.

Apart from metallic coating, the CORE version of the Sazabi mainly adds some small silver markings all over the head and body. Whether this enhances the look or just looks like bad paint chipping on a rusted up ol' Saz is up to you to decide.


As you can see above, the CORE versions of the standard figures don't really differ from their predecessors all that much. If you enjoy bling you will enjoy the new look but if you prefer the more show-accurate look you will probably find the base figures more to your liking.

A selection of Converge RX-93:s and the FA-93HWS, from left to right: The very first RX-93 from Converge volume 3 (June 2011), the shiny blue "Fully Equipped" version from the SP01 Overseas Only Limited pack (released February 2015), the "Limited Color Ver." released as part of a 7-11 promotional set in November 2016 (still using the old mold although the new figure had already been released almost a year earlier), the redesigned RX-93 from the Converge #01 reboot (released end of year 2015), the FA-93HWS (CORE 004 released January 2016) and lastly the new CORE 010 Metallic Ver. RX-93 from April 2017.

Not counting the MSN-04II Nightingale the Sazabi has had half as many appearances as the RX-93; from left to right: The original version Sazabi from the SP01 double pack (released August 2011), the metallic paint version from the SP01 Overseas Only Limited pack (February 2015), the resculpted Sazabi from the Converge #01 reboot (end of year 2015) and the new CORE 010 metallic version from April 2017.

CORE 010 definitely belongs in the completist only segment among Converge collectors. Unless you are only just starting out your collection chances are that most readers will have several interpretations of these mobile suits in their collections already. That money could probably be better spent filling more acute gaps in those collections. On the other hand, the figures are really nice looking and I doubt you will be disappointed if you choose to acquire them

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Converge Gossip : White Base Project

Looking back at this spring's Shokugan releases I was starting to feel a bit relieved. There were a couple of really pricey Converge figures released (with one yet to appear), supported by another couple of expensive Universal Unit releases. Should have known it was time for Bandai to drop another bomb!

There is a rather secretive post on the Gundam Shokugan blog, hinting at another jubilee release. To commemorate 150 different mobile suits and mobile armors Bandai and FusionWorks are apparently green-lighting a very ambitious project; a Converge version of the SCV-70 White Base assault carrier.

So far we don't know anything more than this. Are FW shooting for a functional "to-scale" vessel or a mascot-sized carrier with tiny mobile suits the size of a Converge figure's hand? And how much is this abomination going to sell for? We'll just have to keep waiting for more information...

UPDATE as of May 12

In other news, Bandai also launched Converge Station, a portal with information specific to the Gundam Converge brand. This sounds a bit more spectacular than it really is; since it is only a subpage of the existing Shokugan Portal page. Still, it is a good filter for those only interested in what happens in this particular brand.

At launch there wasn't a whole lot of information present, although there are some sneak peeks of things coming in the latter half of 2017. The Gundam Sentinel timeline is getting a couple more figures which should be welcome news among the fans, it remains just to see what mobile suits will be chosen.

There is also a hint of another new figure in the works, that readers on the blog have identified as the main protagonist from G Gundam. Not sure if this ruffles your feathers or not but the Converge Station blog author seems pretty stoked about it at least...

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Gundam Converge : NZ-999 Neo Zeong Option Parts Set

Following up on the Neo Zeong review here comes the optional parts set for the same figure. It was a separate Premium Bandai release from March 2017 and thus appeared about the same time as the retail Neo Zeong figure. There were also bundles where the two boxes were sold together with the Awakening Version Unicorn Gundam (CORE 009) which offered buyers a slight discount from the individual products.

The NZ-999 Neo Zeong figure itself has a Bandai-recommended retail price of ¥3500 where as the optional parts kit was priced at ¥2000. Interestingly enough; as I was browsing Mandarake today the Neo Zeong figure is available at ¥2500 whereas the parts kit was going for ¥3500.

The Neo Zeon Option Parts Set is the third add-on product for Converge figures that we have seen. First came the Stardust Memory themed "0083 The Last Decisive Battle Option Set" in June last year, which decked out the Neue Ziel and the Dendrobium. It was followed in November by the "Wings of Light Option Set" for the Strike Freedom and Destiny Gundam figures. I'm not a fan of this latest Converge trend but still not strong enough to say no...

This will be a pretty short product feature because there isn't a whole lot to say about the Neo Zeong option kit. Apart from all the excessive packaging we get exactly nine components and a somewhat superfluous instruction leaflet in the box. My copy comes from Bandai Asia in Hong Kong so chewing gums are never included with those, but I wonder if it was included in the Japanese edition (Trying real hard to add value to the ¥2000 investment here).

As far as options go, there aren't a whole lot in this box. The most obvious part is of course the get the large transparent ring-shaped Psycho Shard field, which attaches very securely to a peg on the figure's stand. I do wonder though if over time this peg will loosen up with wear and tear. That could lead the ring to start sliding left or right and requiring glue, which would be a bit of a nightmare since you'd have no choice but to store these parts in assembled condition. I am surprised that they didn't go for a two-peg solution here.

The second and last option is four replacement parts for the secondary arms in their deployed condition. The standard figure comes with all four secondary arms stowed on the back so here is your chance to replace them with wildly grabbing hands desperately trying to reach something.

All secondary arms have similar components and offer some slight articulation which enables you to do some rotation and bending, but the articulation is of course limited by the huge bulk of the mobile armor on one side, and the psyco shard ring on the other side. There's just enough movement in there to create a little bit of asymmetry but not much more.

Each secondary arm also comes with the five fingered hand, and each hand rotates in its socket. For hand options, this is pretty mediocre. The Neo Zeong can launch the individual fingers from its hands to act as remote weapons. It is highly surprising that for this price we couldn't get at least one or two hands with fingers shooting out. This was handled quite well on the Assault Kingdom figure:

Promotional Photo from the Bandai Shokugan page showing off the Assault Kingdom Neo Zeong's arm features.
Granted the Assault Kingdom figure is in another scale and price range but really, a couple of extra hands with fingers being released or as shown above with fingers locked in W-shape shouldn't have been very difficult or pricey to deliver. Especially when we consider all the advanced features that we've seen on recent premium Converge figures. Even the Neue Ziel included psycommu controlled hands.

"Pick on someone your own size..."
Overall the Option Parts Set for the Neo Zeong is pretty barebones, but the things it does add are all good. The Neo Zeong figure looks even more intimidating and majestic with half a dozen flailing arms and the massive golden ring, but for the price Bandai is asking the set feels incomplete. I can't really recommend this parts set to anyone other than die-hard Neo Zeong fans and you probably went ahead and ordered this set a long time ago anyway...

Monday, 24 April 2017

Gundam Converge EX 15 : NZ-999 Neo Zeong

Gundam Converge's BIG thing going this spring is of course the latest oversized Zeonic-style Mobile Armor - this time the triple nine from MSG Unicorn. We've seen a couple of larger EX figures before, but nothing that compares to this latest excess on part of the designers. Considering that Converge is not a scaled figure series you are excused for wondering what the designers have been smoking when they came up with this figure.

What's up with that dreadful font? And will the designers finally choose one font and stick with it?
The Converge Neo Zeong is a standard retail figure, released on March 28 and with a recommended asking price of ¥3500. The release coincided more or less with two other Unicorn-themed Converge releases; a Unicorn in its green Psycho Frame mode as well as a parts-set which expands on the Neo Zeong. The latter two were released as Premium Bandai figures only, and all three were also offered as a premium bundle for ¥7100.

The Converge NZ-999 comes in a pretty large box but it contains a surprisingly small amount of components. The body and extremities are satisfyingly large and chunky, whereas the body of the Sinanju mobile suit at the heart of the Neo Zeong is actually the most complex assembly you will find here.

Before we rush on and assemble this monster let's just pause for a second and enjoy the nice detailing and paintwork on the massive skirt armor of the figure. Considering a lot of this detail will be hidden from view once the figure is assembled, you have to admire the detailed work which went into the creation of this piece in particular:

Assembly instructions are included for one variant of the Neo Zeong only. Looking at the recent release of the Neo Zeong in Assault Kingdom that figure featured a couple of different poses but here all the pieces will be put to use for a single pose only.

All the pieces fit together easily with the exception of the Sinanju mobile suit. While the figure rests inside the armor fairly well the way it attaches could have been better. The torso is attached to a peg on the inside of the MA chest area, so it is not too difficult to accidentally push the figure out of its socket. I wish the torso would have attached vertically instead. The little backpack and shield on my figure are also very easily falling off when touched and I have considered glueing them in place.

I had no less than three major surprises when first examining this figure. The first was that the entire body of the mobile armor is made out of the same type of hard rigid plastic you normally find in various model kits (including Universal Unit). I don't know the exact materials involved here as the Bandai Asia H.K. sticker has been glued over the product data on the box itself (duuuh) but standard Converge figures are made of a softer PVC / ABS combination while Universal Unit figures are mainly made from ABS. The Neo Zeong differs here from the other large mobile armor we had in Converge - the Neue Ziel - which featured traditional softish plastic which I like better. The details on the Neo Zeong are sharper, but the figure is also more fragile.

The second major surprise was that the pale dark red colour of the Neo Zeong's body does not match the vibrant bright red of the MSN-06S Sinanju mobile suit contained within. This bugged me at first but I must say it does give the figure an interesting and not unattractive colour twist. The Neo Zeong is overall really attractive with lots of well separated colour applications.

The third and last major discovery was that the Sinanju part of the Neo Zeong figure is a partially repurposed mobile suit; but we only get its upper body. The legs are missing completely and I am surprised we weren't given optional parts to put together a complete Sinanju standalone figure. This is after all something we got with the Dendrobium mobile armor as well as the older EX kits like the Hummingbird and the Deep Striker. Not to mention that almost five years have passed since the last Converge Sinanju figure, it is definitely time for it to make its comeback by now.

Articulation wise there is not a whole lot going on with this figure. Basically it boils down two its two arms. Each arm can swivel a bit to the left and right and the underarms can also bend forward. Each hand also rotates a full 360 in its socket. It is not much to work with but at least offers up a little bit of customization. Still, the Neo Zeong, being such a large figure, does feel kind of static with this limited articulation. I am more willing to forgive it in a tiny candy toy than a behemoth plastic kit.

Converge Sinanju history: Standard MSN-06S Sinanju (Converge vol. 4, released September 2011), Bazooka version (from Converge SP02 double pack, released August 2012) and the torso stuck inside the Neo Zeong.
And speaking of size, the Sinanju is really outrageously large. With a height of roughly 17 centimeters it is about three times as tall as your average Converge figure. While its size is both imposing and attractive I still think it would have benefitted from a more manageable candy toy size. A height of ten centimeters would have been more than enough in my book. The Zakrello mobile armor for example was released as a standard Converge figure and it didn't hurt its presentation in any way.

"Never tell me the odds..."
Size comparison of the Neo Zeong next to the Neue Ziel (EX 12) and the Nightingale (EX 14).
I think ultimately your appreciation of the Neo Zeong will depend a great deal of how you feel about supersize figures in the Converge range. After all, the reason I fell for the Converge figures was their petite charm and the simplicity in building a sizable collection without running into major storage problems. A few larger figures here and there can be a fun thing but the recent turn Converge is taking seems to be going against this philosophy. And while I really do like the Neo Zeong it doesn't give me that same fuzzy feeling as I get from playing around with the Neue Ziel, a part of its Converge soul has been lost in the change of material.

The lack of accessories and display options also hurts the Neo Zeong a bit. In part this is remedied by the Option Parts Set, which will be covered in a separate review, but I can spoil that conclusion a bit by saying that you should definitely consider getting the option kit if you intend to go for the Neo Zeong. It breathes some more life into the figure.

With another supersize Converge figure just around the corner (the Shamblo Mobile Armor is scheduled for release in July) I do wonder if that figure will also be made of hard plastic. i certainly hope not. The soft plastic figures (traditionally associated with Gashapon) are currently being overtaken by hard plastic successors in the Shokugan 1/220-scale, and I sincerely hope we won't see a similar trend in Converge. I wonder what material the recently released Converge-look-alike MS Ensemble figures are made of. Do we have any readers out there in the know?