Saturday, 21 December 2013

Assault Kingdom vol. 3

It is starting to get crowded in the hero department. At least if you are an Assault Kingdom collector. With the release of the third set of regular figures we get no less than four epic Gundams, three of them collected from SEED storyline with the fourth older design dating back to Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory. Assault Kingdom volume three released in November 2013 and the set features some fine models which will no doubt go down well with the fans, though it does leave some room for improvment.

Above you can see the four figures available in the set. As usual they are sold separately, each figure coming with a chewing gum and one fourth of a set of parts which can be used to build a device (in this case it is the gigantic Zaft METEOR support system). The idea is of course to inspire the customer to purchase all four and construct the bonus item. Besides this, these construction parts also double as action bases for the figures, something they were designed for in the first place, to allow for spectacular posturing as evident from the box photos. Let's take a closer look at the four models in the set.

09 : Set opener is the ZGMF-X20A Strike Freedom Gundam from the Gundam SEED Destiny series. This is a development of the previous ZGMF-10A model which appeared in STANDart volume 13 last year. As you can see in the parts set above the figure comes with choice of open or closed hands, and a beam saber or two beam rifles for armament. As always the Assault Kingdom figures are a bit plain looking both when it comes to detail and colouring, but the golden hands are a nice touch and the figure itself is quite spectacular for the series.

The figure has all the expected articulation points as well as wings which can be spread or closed. Due to its heavy wing assembly, the balance of the figure is not very good and there are limited ways in which you will be able to pose it without using an action base. To this end the figure offers three connection points, on the small of its back and under the soles of its feet. To protect the delicate detail, the skirt armour and the crest on its head are made from bendable soft plastic.

10 : Trailing the Strike Freedom is its partner, the ZGMF-X19A Infinite Justice Gundam, from the same series. This is another striking design to come off the Assault Kingdom series, with its many coloure parts adding a lot of character to it. In some light though, the reds and purples do come a bit too close to each other diminishing the effect somewhat. The figure comes with open and closed hands in a nice silver metallic colour, and can equip a beam rifle, a beam saber and a shield. The shield plugs into either socket found on both of the figures wrists. On its back sits a massive flight pack with swinging wings which can be extendable to a 90 degree angle from the body. The figure has action base connectors on the back skirt, under the soles of its feet, and the sockets for the shield can also be utilized for this purpose.

Again the head crest and the skirt have been made of soft plastic to enhance their longevity. However, as you can see in the photos above this is not the case with the flightpack. Its two beam cannons are very delicate and one of mine is almost broken off as new from the box. I expect we'll see a lot of these figures with missing beam cannons in the future. All in all a striking figure although it also has a lot of trouble standing upright without an action base, due to its tiny feet and heavy flightpack.

11 : The third figure in the set is easily the coolest one, and the one I was really looking forward to try it out. The MBF-P02 Gundam Astray Red Frame, belonging to the Gundam SEED Astray series comes to Assault Kingdom in a striking three colour scheme and with articulation promising some really great posing. The figure comes with the usual open or closed fists and equips a sword which is available either sheathed or drawn. The drawn blade looks great in its two colour scheme and it is there fore a bit surprising that Bandai didn't go the extra mile and paint the hilt black also on the sheathed sword, though this is something you can easily remedy yourself.

The articulation of this figure is features an extra joint on the thigh. Normally the Assault Kingdom figures have legs attached on a ball joint, a feature also present on the Astray, although just below that joint the entire leg can be swiveled 360 degrees. This is needed to create some of the rather incredible samurai style poses.The feet also sit on a joint which can be extended out in a forward direction to give that extra touch of style. Of course, most of these poses do require the action base although you can use the empty weapon sheath as a balancing device as well. Overall I am pleased with this figure except that the ball joints for the legs are not very sturdy. The legs come off easily on the figure if touched, as long as it remains in pose this is not a problem but the figure does not lend itself well to being an action figure. Another drawback of the Red Frame is the limited equipment. The Astray Gundams have some very beautiful looking shields, so it would have been nice to receive at least a beam rifle and the shield for optional posing (perhaps this is something Bandai are planning for a future Blue Frame version of the figure...).

12 : The last of the four is a throwback to older Gundam technology. The RX-78GP03S Gundam GP03S, nicknamed "Dendrobium Stamen" is a massive hulking type of figure reminiscent of the grand daddy RX-78-2. Everything about it stamds out from the SEED figures in the set, it is mainly white, has bulky and massive limbs and massive weaponry. The figure's main point of recognition is the two large hip-mounted winged binders which add mobility to the Gundam. The binders can be extended backwards which of course will cause your figure to tip over if not supported by an action base of some kind.

The figure has the typical Assault Kingdom articulation and soft plastic parts for the helmet crest and skirt armour. There are five sockets where it can be connected, the back skirt, the soles and on the wrists (the latter also doubling as attachment points for the large shield. The GP03S comes armed with a beam rifle and a large bazooka as well as the typical choice of open or closed hands. It shares a lot of its features with the other older Gundams in the Assault Kingdom series. If you are a fan of this design I suggest you hunt for the GP03S from the old Ultimate Operation series (released September 2006) where the entire body is painted in an attractive light gray which easily trumps the appearance of this one.

Right, so with the four figures collected, you will have amassed the following construction pieces from each box. As mentioned previously these sets all work independently as action bases, each figure receiving a base plats and a jointed arm to allow for some free posing. As always with the AK series, the parts are more or less suited for this purpose as they are not really fully balanced but with some imagination you should be able to find a way to pose your figures in the way you want.

If you instead prefer to build the Zaft METEOR System, there are step by step instructions printed on the inside of each box. This is really awkward since this makes it very difficult to follow without cutting open the box, and it is probably better to go about this freehand. I myself have not yet bothered with it as I think these gimmicky set pieces look pretty silly, but I might give it a hand in the future and will then expand on this review.

In conclusion, the Assault Kingdom 3 set is a delightful expansion of the series and it brings a couple of "new" mobile suits that never made it to the STANDart and Ultimate Operation series. Personally I am more interested in the up and coming set number four, which will feature some wicked looking Zeon grunt units.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Gundam Converge : SP Qubeley

Alright, this will be a quick review of one of the latest special packages for the Gundam Converge line. The reason for this is that the recent SP04 pack which was reviewed just a short few scrolls down on this blog featured the grand-daddy white Qubeley which is the base for these repainted figures in this set, and there really isn't that much to say about these without going back into repetition.

Anyway, some saga first. The Qubeley is at home in the Gundam ZZ series, and the two Mk-II:s featured in this pack are refined versions of it, piloted by ace pilots Elpeo Ple and Ple Two respectively. The third figure in this set is the beefed up AMX-004G mass-production variant. It now feels pretty safe to say that we have maxed out our Qubeley army for the Converge line.

The Qubeley pack comes in the typical box type in use with all the previous Converge SP sets. The figures come separated in half a dozen plastic bags and of course features the iconic bubble gum as well.

The two Mk-II figures are simple repaints of the original white Qubeley figure from SP04. The repaints replace the plain white with nice glossy colours in red and blue/purple. The third figure comes in a base grey colour scheme and features several redesigned parts which makes it the most interesting figure of the lot.

As you can see in the above picture, the red and blue Mk-II:s feature the exact same properties as the original white figure. The arms rotate at the shoulder and the hands in their sockets. The helmets are fixed forward but the eyes can be repositioned slightly within to give an impression of the Qubeley looking to either side. The articulation doesn't differ from the grey mass production type which shares the same articulation properties.

As for the redesign of the AMX-004G Mass Production type, you can see the differing head shape, hands and larger skirt funnel in these side by side comparisons. There is just something about the mass production type which gives it a mosquito type of face, but I like its more menacing look as compared to the standard Qubeley which looks a bit silly.

There are a couple of glitches shared with the original white figure. Basically the skirt funnel has a tendency to fall off if you touch it. The shoulder binder constructs are also a bit loose, if you touch them they will often reposition themselves. So, in spite of these figures being very massive and sturdy they need to held in a proper way to avoid frustration. Another thing I noticed is that the glossy paint jobs on the blue and the red figures made their arm-, hand- and binder sockets slightly cramped and requiring a bit more force to plug together as compared to the original white figure. And although you can fiddle around a bit with recombining parts of different Qubeleys into something new, the grey mass production figure surprisingly doesn't have the same size of its shoulder and wrist pegs, meaning it will be difficult to kit for example the Mk-II with the closed fists of the AMX-004G.

Qubeley family: The white AMX-004 Qubeley from Converge SP04, with the blue and red AMX-004 Mk-IIs and grey AMX-004G Mass Production type from the SP Qubeley pack.
All in all, there is not much more to say about this set, it is three similar looking figures without any optional equipment or weapons, and without any designated enemy to duel. I thought it was a pretty low mark for the Gundam Converge SP series and hope they will come up with something more sharp in the future. Unless you have a fetish about the Qubeley this package is for serious collectors only.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Gundam STANDart volume 13

Continuing down the line of STANDart the turn has come to wave thirteen, which was released in May 2012. Associated with this set is also one special version of number 48, which may have been released at the same time or some time later, I do not have any detail information regardng this at hand. The set itself is hardly revolutionizing, consisting of three Gundams and a Zaku II, though not the same one as seen in volume one. Let's dig our teeth into the set.

048 : Poster-boy for volume thirteen is easily the most striking figure in the wave, and as far as Gundams go, it is quite the looker as well. We're talking about the ZGMF-X10A Freedom Gundam from Gundam SEED. This is in my opinion one of the most successful designs from an esthetic perspective. It features a very stylish and balanced colour scheme with lots of fine details. Both the beam rifle and the shield are multi-coloured which adds even more oomph to the figure. Aticulation is typical for STANDart, you can rotate the head a bit, the arms at the shoulder and the right-hand wrist., You can also unfurl its wings fully and they will stay in position. Some back-heavy STANDart figures have a small transparent support for it to lean against but none is included with the Freedom Gundam, and on a plain surface you should have little problem balancing it as well.

049 : Checking in at slot fortynine is one of the most iconic Gundam mobile suits of all time, the notorious Zeon MS-06 Zaku II. There are so many versions and colourings of this figure, for this entry though, Bandai sticks with a common light green version, equipped with the equally iconic Zaku Machine Gun. STANDart has already featured another light green Zaku II, the MS-06J Ground Type version (released in the very first volume bacj in November 2007) which is a more sturdy looking machine than this sleek model. Its articulation is very basic, you can rotate the arms but the head has nowhere to go between the large shoulders. Overall a slightly unremarkable figure but a given for any serious STANDart collection.

050 : Rounding off the set is a pair of rehashes from STANDart volume one. We're talking another classic figure here, the white RX-178 Gundam Mk-II [A.E.U.G]. The mobile suit is armed with a huge Hyper Bazooka and a nicely sculpted shield. This is also a great and menacing looking Gundam with many nice details, including the nice colouring of its weapons. Articulation is the traditional rotating heads and arms at the shoulder. Notice that this figure is very similar to STANDart number three, which came with a beam rifle in hand and the bazooka on the back. More about that in a second.

051 : Last of the regular figures in the set is a blue version of figure number 050, the RX-178 Gundam Mk-II [Titans] which as you can see is simply a different paint job of the previous figure. The Titans version looks just as great as the A.E:U.G. one and taken on their own they are both good additions to your collection. However, once you put things in perspective and consider the previous release of these two figures in STANDart volume 1 (together with a similar looking Zaku II as well) which differ mainly in their equipment, it feels really cheap.And as if that was not enough, if the pictures of their boxes are faithful to the figures (which I do not own), it seems these newer models are also less detailed in their molds. And it goes without saying that Bandai should have done it right the first time around, and released figures which included two weapons as alternative equips.

So, as you can see I am not all too excited about STANDart volume 13. Although all the figures are great, some of them have the misfortune of correcting past mistakes. It is however a good opportunity to get yourself a STANDart RX-178 if you missed them early on, as they are now very pricey, if you can find them in the first place.

Before we conclude this overview, we'll also take a look at a limited edition figure which is associated with STANDart 13.

048 (special) : As you can see, this is a variation of the ZGMF-X10A Freedom Gundam. This particular version has received a metallic paint job and is marketed in a box with the "Limited Edition overseas only" blurb in the corner. It is not exactly clear what "overseas" actually means in the eyes of Bandai. For example, a recent overseas Unicorn made it all the way to Hong Kong where it was marketed heavily. It is also not clear just exactly how "limited" this figure is, as it is one of the more easily found on online. Regardless of which, the limited version is a stunner. It takes a beautiful model and adds some extra glamour to it. All the colours receive a metallic touch, the blues and reds looking especially good. Other than that the figure is identical to the regular version. If you are only going to own one of the two versions this is definitely the one to go for. Chances are you will find a very good deal online.

STANDart volume 13 size comparison, from left to right: Zaku II (ca 7.5 cm), Gundam Mk II (about 9 cm, not including the Bazooka) and Freedom Gundam (height about 8.5 cm).

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Gundam Converge SP04 : MSN-00100 Hyaku-Shiki vs. AMX-004 Qubeley

Gundam Converge SP04 is the fifth "duel pack" released in the Converge line and hit the shelves in August 2013. It seems these sets get more and more outlandish with time as the figures tend to become more and more exotic. In the SP04 pack we meet the ol' Hyaku-Shiki with its gigantic Mega Bazooka weapon in a standoff against a garish looking Qubeley. Out of all the figures in Converge, the Qubeley is one of the largest and most crazy looking. It is quite faithful to the original design though, so I won't moan about it too much even though it is one of my least favourite figures in this line.

Parts-wise there's not a whole lot to discuss. Each figure is assembled from half a dozen components, and though each comes on sturdy feet Bandai has seen it fit to include base supports for each.

Let's begin by examining the Qubeley. With its wide stance and huge shoulder mounted binders (wasn't shoulder pads a 1980:s thing by the way...) only a few figures can match its size. It dwarves even the Hy-Gogg though the badass Zeong and Sazabi will give it a run for its money as they tower above even the Qubeley. Being compacted down to Converge size gives the Qubeley an extremely stocky appearance, and it has an enormous elongated head. The figure carriers no weapons in its hands, but has a set of ten funnel weapons mounted on the inside of its skirt.

The figure has fairly good articulation (for Converge that is), reminiscent of the Zeong. The arms rotate at the shoulder and the hands at the wrist. Although the monstrous helmet means you can't rotate the head you can unplug it from its socket and move the eyes around. It is quite gimmicky but at least gives some additional interactivity for the figure.

The Hyaku-Shiki is also pretty static in its appearance. This recent trend of posing Gundams with large weapons like in this case the oddly compact Mega Bazooka weapon means the figure can't really do much with what little articualtion it has. The figure has rotating arms at the shoulder and a rotating head. The weapon has a small hole on the backside where the hand can be attached through a peg in its palm. This at least makes the display very stable and interlocks the mobile suit with its weapon conveniently. This is the only Converge figure I have where I lift the weapon and the figure tags along rather than the opposite...

There's not a whole lot more to say about the SP04 pack. It offers very little in the form of customization, you assemble the pieces and then it just stands there. Among its redeeming factors is the chance it offers you to have the Hyaku-Shiki in your collection, as the original figure (released in the very first volume back in November 2010) is now hopelessly rare and nigh impossible to find. This however will be remedied by a re-release when the Operation Revive collection hits the shelves, currently scheduled for January 2014.

Hyaku-Shiki legacy. Two versions of the MSN-001A1 Delta Plus (from Converge volume 5 and the 2012 limited edition triple pack respectively), the MSN-001 Delta Gundam from Converge volume 10, released March 2013, and the MSN-00100 Hyaku-Shiki from SP04.
And for those who enjoy the Qubeley figure there are more good news, as Bandai has just released a triple pack called SP Qubeley which features three new variations. Comparison shots of these new models will be added to this blog entry once they find their way to my collection.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Gundam Converge vol. 12

We're taking a closer look at the latest issue of Gundam Converge figures, the twelfth series which released in October 2013. At first glance it is awfully White Gundam-intensive although there are a couple of interesting figures to mix it up a little. In terms of diversity it cannot match the beauty of volume eleven, and it seems that once volume thirteen gets going we'll see some more varied components within the release.

Anyway, enough moaning about the compilation of figures for the set, the fact is that Gundam Converge 12 is made up of several high-profile and interesting figures which do warrant a closer look.

69 : Set opener and (I presume) star of volume twelve is the MSZ-010 ΖΖ Gundam. Although there have been quite a few "white Gundams" released already in Converge it seems Bandai and FW are kicking into high gear to bring out all these well known figures. Its base colour is not white but a pale cyan which reminds of toothpaste for some reason. The many details feature a nice set of colours though each component itself can feel a bit basic in appearance. The ZZ Gundam features the typical articulation of a Gundam figure, with a rotating head and arms that rotate at the shoulder. Due to the large head though, you won't get much turning from it.

70 : The old boy RX-79(G) Gundam Ground Type finally makes its appearance in Converge. Like a couple of other recent figures it features a large gun resting on the floor. Like most Converge figures the right hand is molded directly to the weapon so you have no choice but to equip it. Again, the head rotates but tends to get stuck on the torso but you can easily unpeg and replace the head for a suitable facing. Both arms also rotate freely at the shoulder, though it will make little sense to do so for this particular figure. The Ground Type figure has a very spartan colour scheme but many nicely moulded details which help bring it to life.

71 : Halfway through the set, and here comes yet another white boy. This time it is the Gundam F91, iconic from the movie of the same name. The F91 was supposed to be the hero of an animated series but due to creative issues among the project members it was condensed into a short and somewhat diluted movie. The F91 figure itself though, is anything but diluted and is a great looking figure (though with a somewhat ridiculous posture). It features the typical rotating heads and arms.

72 : Also appearing in the F91 movie is the enemy turned ally XM-07 Vigna Ghina. Easily the most spectacular figure of this set, and a first appearance for all the figure series featured on this blog. I was really happy to see this lesser known figute make its way into Converge and I only hope that this will stimulate Bandai to see it included in the STANDart series too. As for the figure itself, FW did a really good job here, the details is striking and the colours are superb. The roman centurion look and large gun and the cruel blue visor just makes this figure look like it means business. This is an absolute must for the Converge collection.

73 : Going from spectacular to the more mundane, figure number seventy three is a well known old friend. There are some mobile suits you can count on making an appearance in any new figure line, and this is one of them. The MSM-07 Z'Gok, here in a Zeon Remnants version has been featured in Converge before. Two versions were released in the summer of 2011, Char's red one as figure 18 in the fourth wave of figures, and the typical blue one, which has sadly become a hopelessly rare item, released as number 20 in a two figure set exclusive to 7-11. So if you haven't managed to get your hands on a Z'Gok yet the olive Zeon Remnants version will be a good addition to the collection, although the previous versions have more striking colour schemes. Other than that, the figures are identical. Due to the shape of this figure the head has no articulation but the arms move (and the claws have a tendency to fall out...).

74 : The oddity of this set is hot on the heels of the previous G-P.A.R.T.S. figure, the G-Bull, which appeared in set eleven. This time we get the G-Sky fighter, which is a compact and robust flyer as opposed to many of the more delicate fighters which have been featured earlier in Converge. The G-Sky also does not come with a stand and has to sit belly down which means it doesn't really pose that well next to the mobile suits which is a shame. The one big gimmick of the G-Sky is that it combines with the G-Bull into a new figure, the G-Armor. This is not immdiately clear to you (unless you can read Japanese) as there is only a small note in Japanese on the backside of the box, with no accompanying images or instructions on how to go about to do this. I just happened to come upon an instruction the other day (via an eBay link of all things), and will be doing a separate blog entry about the G-Armor set.

Secret : Adding some more colour to the set is the secret figure, which is a variation of the Gundam F91, sometimes referred to as the Mass Production Type. Since it doesn't have a box of its own I don't really know what Bandai would call it. Any which way this is a striking design that fits very well together with the white version (I recall this pair was also featured in STANDart a long time ago). Other than the colour variation the two figures are identical.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, Gundam Converge 12. Although not as striking as some earlier sets it contains a lot of interesting and well designed models. At the time of writing, these models are still readily available, so don't wait too long if you intend to pick some of them up.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

STANDart: GNR-010 0 Raiser (Dengeki Hobby Magazine special)

This time we're going to take a closer look at a curiosity in the STANDart figure line. Appearing bundled with the October 2010 issue of the Dengeki Hobby magazine is this 0 Raiser accessory pack. It is a peculiar way to release a kit, it won't be of any use to you unless you also happen to already own the GN-0000 double oh Gundam figure. The parent figure itself appeared in the regular STANDart volume 7 (as number 025), and was released in August of the same year. Technically you could also apply this kit to the companion figure 026 of the same line, which features the same GN-0000 Gundam in its glowing purple mode, but the colours of the accessories would be way off.

Alright, so we've established that the 0 Raiser pack is only an accessory kit. What then, does it contain? Well, as the picture above illustrates, you get some parts which can be used to re-equip the GN-0000 Gundam with the mighty GN Sword III weapon, and the companion 0 Raiser support fighter. The primary idea behind this fighter is for it to be mounted to the Gundam figure's back, and a small support is included for the fighter to rest upon when being suspended from the figure's back.

Let's begin by examining the GN Sword III, since this is the most obvious feature. As you can see from the sequence of photographs above the blade of the sword can be stowed or extended. The accessory has the same right hand as the original beam weapon and is freely interchangeable. An interesting detail is that if you compare it to the Gundam Converge figure set, the GN Sword (in its folded position) was used as an accessory of the 0 Raiser fighter jet. For the STANDart release there is however no method to combine the sword with the fighter (which would indeed have been odd considering there is a hand molded onto the part) which is disappointing.

Once you've put the sword in place you can also choose to stow the 0 Raiser. This is done by (cumbersomely) figuring out how to dismantle the Gundam's existing shoulder pads and replacing these with the wings of the fighter craft. There are no instructions whatsoever included with the kit (perhaps some were printed in the magazine itself) and it took me some head scratching to figure out how to go about this. The fact that the only clue is the vague silhouette on the box cover also did not help.

Above you can see the two GN-0000 Gundams of STANDart 7. The blue version has been pimped with the GN Sword III and the stowed pieces of the 0 Raiser fighter, i.e. the wings replace the standard shoulder pads, and the fighter's fuselage is mounted to its back.

Turning the attention to the 0 Raiser fighter jet, it consists of a couple of pieces which can either be assembled to display the fighter, or they can be placed onto the Gundam's body as we saw earlier. While it is easy to snap together the three pieces that make up the fighter, I struggled with all the leftover pieces. I couldn't figure out how to place it on the stand, or how to attach the sword to it. And most mysterious of all, how to attach its fuselage to the Gundam figure. The answers to those questions were all disappointing. Consider the following:

a) There is no stand. Really, what were they thinking? Who in their right mind will display the fighter jet belly down on the ground? There are no holes or pegs for you to attach it to a custom stand or action base, but if you have something useful that you can balance it on, you can try. On the right hand photo I borrowed the stand for the Gundam Converge 0 Raiser craft. Although it looks silly it still beats not having any stand at all.

The picture above shows the Dengeki STANDart 0 Raiser together with its little cousin from the Gundam Converge line (figure no. 52, released December 2012). As you can see, its little brother features both a nice clear stand and a GN Sword III which attaches to its belly. Which brings us to...

b) You can't attach the GN Sword III to the 0 Raiser. This is another serious blow to the fighter. Sadly you're clearly not supposed to display it as a stand alone model. Look at the two images above. The one to the left is again a make-shift act of balancing the sleek fighter on a stand which was not designed for it, in its sword-less condition. The second photo displays what I feel the 0 Raiser should have been allowed to look like. Obviously you can see I have fiddled to great extent to create this appearance, and the only thing I do is mimicking the Gundam Converge 0 Raiser which can do all this out of the box. And, for the final nail in the coffin...

c) yes, you can attach the fighter to the Gundam figure but it looks absolutely ridiculous. Once you figure out how to do it (by removing the engine section from the fuselage and replacing it with a pegged counterpart you can snap it into a hole in the Gundam's back) you will end up with the 0 Raiser sticking out from the back like in the image above. Since you can't see it from the front, the only good it does is occupying more of your precious shelf space...

I think you can begin to see my disappointment here. The STANDart 0 Raiser should have been a beautiful display item, but instead has been relegated to being a stupid backpack. The GN Sword III is a nice touch, and I suppose you can upgrade to the bigger shoulder pads if you want your blue GN-0000 Gundam stand out a bit more from the purple version, but overall this kit is such a tremendous disappointment that I stuffed the 0 Raiser back into its box and equipped the blue GN-0000 Gundam with the sword only.