Sunday, 30 June 2013

HCM Pro SP-002 : MS-09RS Rick Dom

It is time to introduce a new product line here on the blog. Today's figure is just to be considered a guest though, as I had the opportunity to snatch this Rick Dom and was curious to see how it compared to the other figures. A couple of words first about the HCM Pro figure line. As cool as the acronym might be, the contrived readout "High Complete Model Progressive" severly dents the hipster-factor. Apart from that, there are a lot of things to like about this line.

HCM Pro models are made to the 1/200 scale and as such are a bit larger than the STANDart and Ultimate Operation figure lines which are generally considered to be somewhere around 1/220. The HCM Pro models typically have a much higher level of detail, smoother finish and offer many posing options and alternate equipment. You can think of them as display models with articulation nearing the MSIA action figures. The price tag is also reflecting this, as figures in this line are considerably more expensive than their STANDart counterparts, and should instead be compared to Robot Spirits and other such model lines.

Compared to the usual crowd here on the blog, the HCM Pro models are also made from a harder type of seemingly fragile PVC and I don't think a HCM will fare too well if accidentially dropped. At least in case of the Rick Dom, he's got his feet solidly on the ground which should help keeping him in place.

Taking a look at what's inside the (hideously oversized) box, you'll find Char Aznable's Rick Dom painted in a glossy red metalic which is really attractive (and puts the STANDart one to shame). It has a couple of alternative hands and weapons loadouts, and a removeable helmet which allows you to position the monoeye sensor in a preferred direction. There are many fine articulation points on the entire body from ankles to neck which is perhaps best described by the following photos.

Notice that the beam sabers need to be carefully removed from a plastic frame, just like a traditional model kit. This should be done with some sort of precision item like a good knife to make a clean cut which is needed to avoid damaging the sabres. Notice also that the sword hand's ball joint which attaches to the wrist is made from transparent plastic, if you remove it by accident the weapon will be useless. There is also a transparent tap on the yellow sabre which you can either keep and use to place the yellow sabre directly on the figure's back, or, remove said tap and instead place on the figure's back a little black plastic pegged ring which acts as the beam sabre attachment point. I was just too lazy to mess with it.

Size comparison of HCM Pro and STANDart Rick Dom figures and their boxes.
Overall it is really entertaining to think up poses for this Rick Dom, and I wish that Bandai had considered at least alternate weapons for some of their STANDart figures. They just come off really static in comparison. On the other hand the HCM Pro figures take up much more space, their oversized boxes are really putting me off from grabbing more of them (unless there is something really spectacular on offer).

Although the packaging is first rate it just seems overly contrived. Apart from the figure encapsualted in this spacey blister there is also an oversized assembly instruction in a separate plastic bag (plus a promo card from JCB bank about how to get Char on your personalized credit card...). The alternate parts could have easily been stored in a much more compact fashion. Sure, the boxs grabs your attention, but it also poses the most obvious drawback in my purchasing decision.

HCM Pro Rick Dom together with the STANDart and Ultimate Operation Doms.

When all is said and done though, this HCM Pro Rick Dom is an awesome figure with a spectacular paint job. It does not scale with the STANDart and Ultimate Operation series though, but if you like Doms you really can't go wrong with this one.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Gundam Converge : Operation Revive

A few days ago Bandai announced the latest development in the Converge line, Operation Revive. As the name implies this is about making old figures available once again. Users registered with the Bandai Premium service are being invited to vote for their favourites in a tiered election system, which will weed out candidates until only five remain. It can't be said to be a true revival though, since the new figures will be receiving some slight colur variations or so to differentiate them from their first editions. To see all the candidates and the plan of the vote which will be spread out over a number of months, visit the Bandai page for Operation Revival by clicking on the image below.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Gundam STANDart vol. 11

Somehow, the eleventh wave of STANDart seems to be dedicated to bazookas, three of the four figures are equipped with them. The set features (another) two white Gundams and a couple of Rick Doms, the latter two always a highlight in my book. The figures come in the revised smaller cardboard boxes with plastic blister and a tiny piece of gum.

Although the wave is quite old by now (by Bandai shokugan standards anyway), having appeared in October 2001, the two Gundams in particular appear to be readily available and easily found online. The Rick Doms are a little more unusual and my advice would be to grab them if you stumble over them. Right, over to the detailed look on each figure in the set...

040 : The set-opener is also the odd one out. While the other three figures go for bazookas the Gundam AGE-1 Normal is content with its beam rifle. The rifle looks quite nice, a shame then that the poor sod can't lift his arm to point it at anything. This AGE-1 is not getting the love from Bandai, it's shoulders are pegged on to the torso's topside making them unmovable, so the figure is left standing to attention forever. It can't even turn its head. As if to compensate for this the torso sits on a waist-level peg, so that you can turn it a couple of degrees to the left and right. Not terribly exciting since if you grip the figure by its waist it'll typically come apart with the legs still standing on the ground. Sorry AGE-1, maybe they'll give you a break in the Assault Kingdom line.

041 : Behaving more like a typical STANDart item is the bazooka wielding RX-78-2 Gundam. It has the moving shoulders, swinging head like you would expect from items in this line. The figure has strong colours and attractive White Base decals and some excellent details like the multi-coloured shield which has a lot of features also on its backside. Perhaps this is the reason why the shield visor is not see through. A solid representation of the RX-78-2, but of course you have to keep in mind that it was already released in the STANDart line back in the third wave (which in itself is a bit odd because the RX-78-2 typically gets to open most toy lines), albeit with A.E.U.G. decals but still pretty much the same. The old one had both a beam rifle and a bazooka (which clips to it's back) and of course this is where the STANDart line comes out a bit lacking compared to the action figures or the more expensive models. Is it really so much to ask for a few optional items to equip? An extra beam rifle hand or even just a fist would have added more character to this figure.

042 : Alright, here is the figure I was really excited about. The awesome looking MS-09R Rick Dom. There's just something outrageous about the Dom design which makes it really funky looking, and the STANDart version is no exception. If there is one figure that will never fall over, it is the Dom. This figure has arms that rotate at the shoulder, the bazooka is attached to the hand and the head does not turn. Unusually for this version, the monoeye is not modelled, so the cross shaped visor is all black. This seems a bit odd for such an iconic detail, but the figure does not suffer from it. It has a nice crisp colour scheme and some very fine metallic painted thrusters hidden under its various skirts. Just like on the Converge version, the Heat Saber is relegated to being clipped to its back. An optional hand to wield it would have been much appreciated. I hope they will finally get this right in the Assault Kingdom series once the figure debutes there. It is worth noting that the arms are a little bit loose in their shoulder sockets, the heavy bazooka tends to wanting to kiss the ground, but if you squeeze the shoulders a bit you can usually get a pose to stick.

043 : The custom MS-09RS Rick Dom as used by the fine gentleman Char Aznable rounds off this set. Painted in his trademark red colour this figure also differs from its brother in having a different logo on the left shoulder and an even meatier Giant Bazooka. Other than that the figure shares the same features as its blue brother, it can't wield its heat saber and the arms are also a bit loose. Still I had no trouble making it raise its giant bazooka even though it is a bit heavier.

At the time of writing STANDart eleven is still one of the easier sets to find out there. While the two Gundams can be safely skipped (especially if you have the previous RX-78-2 version with a beam rifle) the two Rick Doms are absolutely essential to the STANDart collection, and should be hunted down. Note also that so far, there have been no other Dom variants released for the STANDart line, so the two Rick Doms should be a high priority target for you.

Comparative size of the three figure types in STANDart volume eleven from left to right; RX-78-2 Gundam (ca 10 cm), Rick Dom (about 9 cm) and the Gundam AGE-1 (ca 8,5 cm).

Monday, 24 June 2013

Assault Kingdom EX 01 : NZ-666 Kshatriya

At the moment, the Assault Kingdom line is Bandai's latest shokugan effort, taking the popularity of the STANDart series and giving it a massively articulated overhaul. At the time of writing it currently consists of two sets with a total of eight figures, out of which six are various white Gundams and then rounded off with a Sazabi and a Zaku II to form some sort of opposition. Not too exciting right now, but obviously it takes time to design new articulated models so it is not unexpected that the default Gundam frame is utilized a lot in these early waves, hopefully further installments will see some branching out into other weirdly articulated models.

Proving that Bandai are on the right track is the first special kit in the series, the April 2013 offering of a massive NZ-666 Kshatriya mobile suit. Considerably larger than the average figures in the series the Kshatriya dwarves its Gundam counterparts, and it is so nice to get some more colour into the series. The figure comes in a box similar to the regular figures but larger. Inside are two dozen or so pieces to assemble to prepare your mobile suit for flight.

As you can see in the above picture the basic body is already assembled, one leg needs to be attached to its ball joint and the head snapped into place, but that's it. Next is a choice of hands. Each hand is available as a clenched fist or open; in the fist mode each hand can wield a beam sabre. With that out of the way comes the iconic feature of the Kshatriya, the four "shoulder binders" which attach to the upper shoulders in one of two configurations. The image below illustrates the binder assembly and its two options. Two binders are attached to each shoulder, either on a common peg assembly (see middle of image) which locks the binders into a tight shielding cloak. Alternatively each binder is attached to a jointed assembly which gives each binder the option to swing independently left and right, as well as up and down.

The second defining characteristic of this outrageous looking mobile suit is its funnel attack system. Each shoulder binder stores several projectiles, and you can attach up to eight of them to the figure to simulate its ferocious all out attack. Putting aside the look of this concept for a moment, they way it works is that you can attach up to eight independent projectiles, one for each shoulder binder and the remaining four sit ball jointed into a clear plastic piece which is inserted into the figure's back. This may look somewhat convincing from the front, but the big clear plastic block on its back breaks immersion much like the clothes pins on the backs of magazine models showing off tight dresses.

Lastly, the figure comes with a large clear base to allow for it to strike some action flying poses. Just like the other Assault Kingdom figures the Kshatriya has a couple of extra holes under its feet and on the back to allow for it being pegged in different ways, but due to its comparatively heavy weight it will not  agree well with the small plastic assemblies that are normally included with the ordinary Assault Kingdom figures. The Kshatriya's own support also differes in that its arm is not freely moving, you need to peg it into place in one of a few predefined settings, since the figure's heavy weight would otherwise cause the stand to drop it back to the ground. A nice touch is two small pegs on the base where you can store the two leftover hands, but since you will end up with other leftover parts anyway you might as well store the hands together with those.

My initial reaction to this figure was "meh", but after having seen it up close I have taken a liking to it. There are some ridiculous design aspects of the basic concept, which you can hardly blame the model for. The diminutive head especially looks really silly peeking out over the massive chest. As for the model itself, I am not a big fan of the clear plastic parts. The beam sabers would have looked nicer with some colour, and as far as the projectiles go, the idea is great but comes off a bit unconvincing. The Kshatriya definitely looks meaner when not firing its fire crackers all over the place.

So, should you get this figure for your Assault Kingdom collection? I guess that mainly depends on how you feel about the implementation of its weapon systems -does it look cool or just silly? The price is certainly a factor as well, as this figure is considerably pricier than the average one. On the other hand, with all the white Gundams ganging up on the poor lone Zaku II it sure is nice to give them something else to try their luck on, especially the two Unicorn Gundams. However, Bandai have already announced the next EX special item, which will be a triple pack of Black Tri-Star Zaku II:s, which would probably the better buy if you can't get both.

July 2013 update: A special version of this figure has been released exclusively for the San Diego Comic Con (SDCC 2013). This particular version has all its transparent parts replaced with translucent green ones, which better mimics the way the funnels appear on the show. However, this also means that the action base (the stand) is now also a neon green which looks a tad silly. If you are really hardcore about it I suppose you could get both versions and use the clear action base and translucent green for the beam sabres and funnels for best effect.

Friday, 21 June 2013

On collecting...

This post will be dedicated to a few pointers and advice about the noble art of collecting Gundam miniatures. Other rules of engagement apply for the larger action figures and various model kits.

00 : Formulate your strategy. This is perhaps the most important tip of all. Before you go in, spend some time researching your options. There are dozens of figure lines out there, find one (or more...) that fits with your criteria regarding assortment, quality and price. Consider if you are going to focus on particular mobile suits from various figure lines, or spending time to get many types in a series instead. Are you going to focus on a particular Gundam time period, or a particular faction? Are you looking for advanced details, moving parts or something handy? Setting this goal early will make it easier for you to trawl through the thousands of Gundam related items available online.

01 : Grab it while it's hot. One obvious feature of the miniature figures is that they are usually released in waves over time. As a consequence most models would quickly disappear from the market and end up on the second hand and collectible arena, now with very different price tags attached to them. Although some figures in the Ultimate Operation and Converge series have shown up in re-packs (these often differ in some slight aspect, such as colour tone), the overwhelming majority quickly came, conquered the shops and then left. If you have the opportunity it is often a good idea to pick items up while they are still fresh in the shops.

This problem is even more exacerbated for promotional items such as items bundled with magazines or sold exclusively through specific retail channels. The most striking example I can think of is the two items in the Converge line which were available through 7-11 only. They would have showed up in convenience stores all over Japan and probably cost a few measly hundred yen. Now they are hidden on the second hand market where you might come across one with a VERY RARE tag and a heavy multiplier on the price. That is, if you are lucky.

02 : Two's a company, four a set. Since items are released in sets, carefully consider if you would like to grab all the figures in a particular set or if you are happy with just some specific ones. While figures are typically sold one by one in shops, letting you pick and choose, you will also have plenty of opportunities to grab complete sets, especially when hunting online. The set option can be very handy especially to catch up on previous sold out waves, so consider this option before bidding on loose items.

03 : A set is a set, not a whole box! If you are looking for sets, inspect the product or read the item descriptions closely. Apart from limited versions or specials, all the figures in the Gundam Converge, STANDart and Assault Kingdom series are considered trading items. This means that Bandai will ship figures in semi-randomly packaged boxes.

A normal STANDart wave contains four different models, but they are sold in boxes containing six figures. Assault Kingdom figures (four per wave) come in boxes of ten, as do Converge items (which are six plus one secret figure per wave). Make sure that you know if you are purchasing a hand-picked set or a random box. And if you are purchasing a Converge set, make sure you know if the secret seventh item is included in the set or not.

04 : Know the market. Before jumping into the fray, take some time to look around what is available to try to get at least a rudimentary feel for the going rates for the different waves of figures. Older figures will quickly rise in price, a fate that also befalls popular models from recent waves. Unless you are looking for some really old models there should be a fairly decent supply of the later waves, so start your bargain hunting there. This will give you a better idea of availability and pricing, which will aid in your purchase decisions for more expensive and long out of production figures.

05 : Yes I'm limited... Try to keep an eye out for limited versions of  figures. Limited figures can be exclusively awesome or just a meh-repaint. In the Gundam STANDart series alternate limited versions pop up from time to time. These are typically repaints in alternate colours, often glossy or even clear versions. The Assault Kingdom series has no true limited releases yet, although it has seen a unique figure in a magazine edition. the same goes for Ultimate Operation. As for the Converge series, it has a theme of doing a "hidden" version of one of the figures in each wave, these are typically the same mobile suit but kitted out with an alternate weapon, though sometimes colour variations occur as well. Converge items also pop up in limited packaging and as magazine features from time to time.

06 : Stay up to date. Many blogs and shops repost information from the manufacturers, but it is just as convenient to go to the source and keep an eye on the Bandai shokguan page directly. Here you can keep track of new releases in the still running product lines.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Gundam Converge vol. 7

The seventh wave of Gundam Converge follows the established pattern of half a dozen new figures as well as a secret version of one of them. I am never too excited when a set contains several Gundams, especially if they are white, but there are some really interesting figures to balance them out. The models where made available in May 2012 and the wave consists of the following units:

39 : Starting off the wave is the red eyed RX-0 Unicorn Gundam 02 Banshee (Destroy Mode). Although the original white Unicorn RX-0 was featured already in the first wave its blue sibling had to wait a while longer. Seen here in its aggressive Destroy Mode it is worth noting that this figure was also released in its Unicorn Mode as a special promotional item issued by Dengeki Hobby. Talking about this figure though, it has the expected rotating head and shoulders. The underarms sit on square pegs and do not rotate, but can be reattached in different 90 degree angles.

40 : A rather vanilla looking RX-178 Gundam Mk-II as used by the A.E.U.G. The figure comes with an attachable shield and hyper bazooka. However, the bazooka handle is a part of the arm and so you cannot really choose to unequip it. Notice also the angle of the bazooka since its compact shoulder is too big for it to rest on, a generic trouble for many of the bazooka wielding Converge figures. Surprisingly, the head sits on a shaped peg which means the head cannot be rotated or even repositioned. I never get too excited about these white Gundams, but number 40 has a really interesting feature to make up for it; it can be joined together with the G-Defenser fighter to simulate the docked tandem unit.

41 : This is the second time a fighter craft appears in the Converge line, which really livens things up a bit. The FXA-05D G-Defenser has a very compact and square look just like the mobile suits in the Converge line, which fits well with the overall style. It is assembled through guesswork or following a very tiny piece of paper with rather obtuse instructions. I found my model to look a bit like what it is, an assembly of various parts, but overall its style is great and a small sturdy stand is included for it to sit on. I only wish the stand was made in clear plastic and not milky white (overall the fliers in the Converge line have wildly different looking stands which could have been improved a bit). As mentioned above, the G-Defenser can be combined with the Mk II Gundam to create a docked hybrid unit. I might cover this in a separate post but right now I don't feel like disassembling this neat little craft.

42 : Halfway through the set and we get another Gundam again. This time it is the admittedly attractive blue/white RX-78 NT-1 Gundam NT-1 Alex. This figure has a couple of nifty features worth mentioning. Apart from the fully rotating head and shoulders, the underarms sit on square pegs and can be repositioned in various 90 degree angles, which you can see in the above picture. Even more fun is the way the gatling gun is customizable. The blue panels on the wrists can be removed and the gun attached in between, so that you can choose to place the deployed gun on either wrist, or remove it and leave the figure with the weapon concealed. It is a bit of a mystery that the figure only comes with one gun though, there should definitely have been two.

43 : And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the star of volume seven; the mean looking MS-18E Kämpfer. This could well be one of the best figures ever released in the entire Converge line. This is mainly due to its improved articulation, the figure has a rotating head, shoulders and underarms. Certainly not much compared to more advanced figure lines but for Converge this adds a lot of flexibility in posing, which would have come in very handy on more mobile suits. Add to that the figure's expression and colour scheme and you've got a real killer unit here.

44 : Concluding the wave is another iconic unit, the old MSM-03 Gogg. Its size and hulking posture make it resemble a mechanical gorilla (complete with Terror on Elm Street claws...). The figure has a nice two tone colour scheme with several good looking details. And just like the Kämpfer unit, the Gogg can also rotate both shoulders and underarms which adds to its customization. The head is firmly locked forward though, but like on some other Zeon units you can remove the helmet and supposedly also adjust the monoeye. However, the eye was so firm in place on my figure that I decided to let it be. As you can see from the photo above mine also has a tendency to look down, the monoeye isn't really levelled with the visor cross.

Secret : The secret model for this wave is a variant of the MS-18E Kämpfer armed with two Giant Bazookas. This is a good complement to the standard figure although I think all dual bazooka-wielding figures looks a bit silly. With this figure though, you have a choice, since only the right hand is attached to the weapon. The left fist has a slot for the second bazooka making it optional (this is also the case on the standard figure) which gives even more customization abilities if you have both variants. The two Kämpfers really shine.A closer look a the two Kämpfers is available here.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Gundam Converge 36 : FA-78-1 Full Armor Gundam

There's not a whole lot to say about the Full Armor Gundam really. It appeared on the Converge Line as item number 36 in February 2012, being part of the sixth wave. It also held the honour of being the secret item of the wave, as you can see from the two colour variations in these shots. I don't really know what the blue colour verison is supposed to represent, but since it has been featured in other product ranges as well I am sure there is place for it somewhere in the story universe.

Returning to the characteristics of the two variants, the secret version is essentially the same save for blue colour replacing green, and the V-shaped assembly on its head being painted yellow instead of white. Both figures feature arms rotating at the shoulder and a turnable head. Due to the (extremely frustrating) assembly of the shoulder rocket launcher you can also manipulate its angle by not pulling the connecting pin all the way down into its socket. Getting the rocket launcher exactly into place proved a little tricky and the contraption gladly fell out of its socket half a dozen times until I got it to stick. Yes, on both models... I noticed also that the two Gundams are a bit wobbly on their feet, meaning they have a tendency to fall over without the included support. I'm not too thrilled about the figures due to these minor niggles, but other than that they look great and add lots of colour to the collection.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Ultimate Operation : Advance Of Z RGM-79C GM Type-C

Here's an oddity based on the regular RGM-79C of the FW Ultimate Operation line. It appears to have been included with an issue of the Dengeki Hobby magazine in 2003 (different Internet sources suggest September or December). I don't know much about this item, it surfaced as a non-expensive item on eBay and with the attractive Titans-colouring it looked quite neat so I decided to grab it. Years sealed in the cardboard box hasn't done it any favours though, the whole kit has a nice smell of mildew about it so he'll be out to catch a breath of fresh air for a couple of days.

As can be seen above, the figure comes in a plastic blister sealed in a plastic bag. This was then plonked into a very oversized sturdy cardboard box which at least might be useful for storing any additional unboxed items or spare parts you have acquired...

As is the case with many FWUO items the figure comes in a great looking pose. Articulation is limited to the head turning a bit, and the arms rotating underneath the shoulder armor (i.e. .horizontally rather than vertically). I'm not sure if it is the years spent in neglect inside its box that has caused it, but my figure does not place both its feet solidly into the ground and so has a strong urge to fall on his nose. With its lively Titans colour scheme full of little details and logos though, this figure must be considered really attractive and worth to keep an eye out for.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Gundam STANDart vol. 17

Volume seventeen in the now long running STANDart series appeared in April 2013 and has an excellent mix of units and allegiances.It follows the tried and tested formula of four mobile suits out of which two are slight variations on the same, in this case it is the Marasai that gets cloned. Comparing to the older STANDart sets these figures now come in the typical blisters but also wrapped in additional plastic bags. So, what do we find inside the boxes?

064 : First out is the XXXG-01W Wing Gundam as depicted in the Endless Waltz sequel movie. Please note that the photos below are not to scale, the Gundam is shorter than the Sinanju and definitely more petite than the sturdy Marasais. The figure has a small assembly on its back where the wings are attached. The wings themselves do not adjust in any way and the figure has no weapons in its hands so its appearance is really static. Due to the weight of the large wings Fusion Works have seen it fit to include a small support in transparent plastic which can be placed behind its back for extra balance, though the figure can also stand without it though balancing a bit on its heels. For being a "white Gundam" is is really a beautiful and colourful model.

065 : The tall and imposing MSN-06S Sinanju Stein prototype from Anaheim Electronics comes in two tone gray livery with some striking details in red and metallic. An attractive multi-coloured shield attaches to its left wrist and its powerful looking high beam rifle can be placed in the figures clenched right hand fist. The model also has a neat looking flightpack with external propellant tanks that attach to it. Again, the figure doesn't do much, the arms rotate at the shoulder and the righthand wrist can also be adjusted. An awesome looking mobile suit that should feature in any STANDart collection!

066 : The first of the two RMS-108 Marasai is the orange/red version belonging to the Titans. It sports a short beam rifle which can be attached to its hand and a two-panel shield which is attached to the shoulder. The figure has many attractive details including green tubes, metallic details and a yellow Titans logo on the shield. In comparison the beam rifle looks quite unspectacular, like it belonged to a lesser quality figure. Modders will probably want to give the rifle a metallic coating and spice it up with some detail as it looks really bland. The figure itself though is absolutely awesome and another easy recommendation.

067 : Last of the lot is the alternate version of the RMS-108 Marasai belonging to some Neo Zeon faction. The figure comes in two-tone green livery with some metallic details and orange tubes (perhaps as a nod to the Titans version which reverses these colours). Apart from the shoulder shield which is decorated with a yellow Zeon insignia this figure instead carries the highpowered Feyadeen rifle, which is taller than the figure itself. It is not entirely clear just exactly how the figure is to hold this weapon. The right hand has two small indentions, one at the top and one at the bottom, which seems to indicate that the weapon should be clipped on to the hand. Looking quite fragile though I avoid messing with it and just allow it to hang freely under its arm which seems to work well enough. In the photo below I have cheated by leaning it against the figure's hand giving the impression it is being held. Still, this is another great figure that I would recommend for the collection, all in all the STANDart 17 series is really impressive looking.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Gundam Converge 62 : MS-09R Rick Dom

The Zeon Rick Dom recently appeared as the last figure of the tenth wave of the Converge line in March 2013. This is also the secret figure of the wave and here is a closer inspection of how the two compare. It is not terribly exciting really, while the standard Rick Dom is armed with a giant bazooka the hidden version comes with the larger beam bazooka instead. Both figures feature the heat saber snapped to the back. Considering how Char Aznable pilots a red Rick Dom with a beam bazooka it just seems a missed opportunity not to make the secret version red. Hopefully there will appear such a Char colour-conversion in a future wave.

As usual with most items in the Converge line, the weapon of choice is attached directly to the hand and no optional hand is given, so your figure will stay equipped. Due to the shape of the shoulder armour care should be taken to position the hand and bazooka so that the weapon does not get bent over time, while resting on the figure's shoulder. The arms plug into sockets in the torso and I noticed that the shoulders were a bit loose on both Rick Doms when compared to other Converge items, but the figures still didn't have any issues with retaining a pose.

Given that the figure is a further development of the MS-09 Dom the two resemble each other very closely. As for articulation the head sits firmly in place, but you can rotate both arms at the shoulder, and the right hand rotates at the wrist. Not too exciting. The great failed opportunity here is not allowing the Doms to wield their heat sabers. It wouldn't exactly have been too difficult to offer a lefthand fist grip where the saber could have been inserted.

As you can see in the comparison figures between the Rick Dom (left) and the Dom (right) the major differences are the colours, the Rick Doms are more blue than violet, and they also have a slightly larger skirt... Still, the iconic Doms are both excellent additions to the Converge line but you may find that one of them is enough for your collection.

Update: Extended Converge Dom line-up. From left to right; figure 32. MS-09 Dom, figure 62. MS-09R Rick Dom (standard version), figure 62. MS-09R Rick Dom (secret version) and the MS-09 Dom from the Operation Jaburo 8-figure multipack.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Assault Kingdom : Unicorn Gundam 02 Banshee Norn (Unicorn Mode) (UC magazine special)

Today we're going to take a closer look on a recent item in the still infant Assault Kingdom line. As I write this, the second set of four mobile suits has just been released this June, leaving a total number of eight models in the ordinary line as well as one additional larger item (the NZ-666 Kshattriya). Here however, is what appears to be the first special model in the line. Given away with the April issue of the Gundam Unicorn Ace magazine is this attractive dark blue RX-0[N] Banshee Norn. Considering the fact that out of the first eight models six are white and the remaining two are red this Gundam would add some much needed colour to the roster. Although there have already been two white RX-0 Gundams in the line so far, I don't deem it unlikely that this Banshee Norn will eventually join the regular line, but just in case it won't I decided not to sleep on this one and sought one out.

Whereas the regular Assault Kingdom figures come in small boxes similar to the Gundam Converge line (just a little bit bigger) - complete with the typical chewing gum and all - this particular figure comes in an oversized but pretty flat cardboard box. Inside is the figure packaged in a compartmentalized plastic bag, though no gum is included. The Assault Kingdom figures are designed to be attached to customizable stands for some out of the ordinary posing, and although this one is no different, no stand components are attached with this particular figure and so you'll need to use parts for one of the regular figures. As you can see from the image above the figure comes with a choice of hands as well as its Beam Magnum weapon and shield. The shield can be attached to either of the wrists or onto the figure's flight pack, which is not removable. The figure has a total of six hot spots where it can be pegged to the modular stands designed for the Assault Kingdom line; two on the wrists, two under the feet and two on its back.

As you can see in the above comparison image the figure scales perfectly with its older counterpart in the STANDart series, and although the older one lacks much articulation (head and shoulders rotate only) it has a lot of details and colouring that the Assault Kingdom model can only dream of. This is a typical distinction between these two product lines, but given the extreme articulation and poseability of the younger figure it outclasses the STANDart in terms of creative display. Which one you prefer is up to you, I suppose.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Ultimate Operation Plus 4 : AMX-003 Gaza C

So... I decided to branch out a little. When looking around the net to obtain more information about the current miniature sets offered by Bandai I soon stumbled on the now slumbering Ultimate Operation series. For those that don't know, this is the precursor to the STANDart series, also produced by Fusion Works, and again sculpted by Volks. The full name is Mobile Suits Gundam : Ultimate Operation, though it is commonly referred to as Ultimate Operation or simply FWUO. Some hundred or so models were released in this range between 2003 and 2007, though many were simple colour variations or re-packs, rendering the actual number of models significantly lower.

Ultimate Operation models come on J-cards sandwiched in plastic blisters, similar to action figures in general. In addition they are tied down to the bottom blister by plastic cords that need to be untwined, eleven per model in total. It wasn't immediately clear if the figures scaled with the STANDarts but since the line features some really neat models I decided to try out a pair of Gaza C:s. As you can see in the below picture the models feature some optional and moveable parts.

The figures in the FWUO range are known for their often outrageous posing, and the two I obtained certainly have a really cartoony feel about them. Frozen as they are in a turning step they look more like som nefarious cyborgs than pilotable machines. The two models are similar save for a colour scheme variation; poor ace pilot Karn doesn't even get any alternative weapon to duke it out with, she is stuck in the vanilla model.

The first thing you will notice when assembling the Gaza is that it is not a sturdy machine. Parts snap together or go on pegs, and though the most components stay in place the torso's attachment to the lower spine is really loose on both models, and you can expect that the model will come in two as soon as you attempt to move it. There is no particular instruction as to which part goes where, I had to check the little images on the cardback and only then did I notice that I had assembled the flight pack upside down...

The figure has some limited and uneven articulation. The head stays in a fixed position, the right arm rotates at the shoulder while the left arm rotates both at the shoulder and the elbow. The torso sits on a rotating spine however its slumped posture will give a fairly limited turning arc due to the positioning of the massive legs, which are fixed in the tripping over its own feet pose.

You have a choice of hands meaning you can equip the mighty Knuckle Buster beam cannon or go for a fist fight. One neat detail is that the beam cannon is attached on a peg to the torso, and a pegged tube also connects into the cannon's rear, meaning you can remove the cannon and attach the tube into the torso. With some clever positioning you can also remove the fin from the flight pack, place the legs lying down and balance the torso in a position above it, giving it a desperate final stand kind of pose.

As you can see in the figure above, removing the massive gun does leave a rather unattractive gaping hole making the figure look like some sort of skeleton. The last image is a scale comparison with the Zaku II and the Rick Dom from the STANDart series. In other words the Ultimate Operation figures seem to go well together with their replacements. All in all I like the Gaza C a lot despite its quirkiness. There are quite a lot of models in the FWUO series that have so far not appeared in the STANDart line which makes it an attractive complement to a STANDart collection.