Thursday, 26 September 2013

Gundam Converge : SP03 - RX-78-2 Gundam vs. MSN-02 Zeong

Aside from the regular figure sets that appear in the Gundam Converge line there are also a couple of boxed sets containing more than one figure. Bandai has to my knowledge never re-packaged a figure into a set without tweaking it (even if only slightly), to give the collectors an incentive to give in. After the early limited set featuring the Exia and the Union Flag Custom in 2011 a new category appeared in the Converge line featuring several larger never before seen figures. These boxes are labelled SP:s. The sets contain both previously released (but modified) figures as well as completely brand new figures. Up until this point there have been four such sets made, depicting a pair of duelling combatants from some of the many Gundam storylines (in the near future though, the SP line will forgo the "duel" theme with a trio of Qubeley figures, but more on that set once it hits the store shelves...).

Today we will be taking a look on set number three, or SP03, which depicts the classic antagonists at the end of the very first war with Zeon. They are the classic RX-78-2 Gundam, armed with bazookas for the end battle with the half-finished Zeon experimental and massive MSN-02 Zeong suit. SP03 was released in February 2013. I have to admit that when I first laid eyes on this set I wasn't exactly thrilled. The Zeong has received an unusually cuddly look (even for a Converge figure), which didn't really convince me as it is supposed to be the most dangerous opponent in the entire Zeon force. However, I have since warmed to it for various reasons, let's begin by taking a closer look at the two figures.

As you can see in the picture above, this set allows for quite a bit of customization, something we are not spoiled with in the Converge line. While the Zeong doesn't come with any equipment (the weapons are installed in the figure's hands) it does feature a nifty stand with a ball joint, which allows for enough flexibility in posing the figure. The fact that this also suspends the Zeong in mid-air, floating on its thruster output is a really nice touch. I am not entirely convinced by the huge deer-like antennas which in my opinion could have been scaled down a little. Other than that the figure benefits from rotating shoulders, hands and head, which allow for a couple of interesting poses.

Looking at the ol' RX-78-2 Gundam, here's where things get really interesting. The Gundam comes armed to the teeth with not only a pair of bazookas, but also a shield and a beam rifle. Best of all is that you are given several choices in how to make best use of this equipment. Bandai have really gone out of their way here. As you can see below it is easy to design your own personal load out according to preference.

What takes the figure even further is the fact that it has two small holes on the back, where you can attach and store the shield and beam rifle when not in use. And here's where the novelty kicks in. The beam rifle which comes delivered attached to the hand is in fact not molded into it. This enables you to mount a clean beam rifle to the figure's back, and you can even choose to go with a figure with nothing but two empty fists. Although not designed for this, with a bit of fiddling you will also be able to balance a bazooka on the figure's back, much like they are stored by several other mobile suits in the larger figure lines.

After Freedom Gundam, Wing Gundam and Buster Gundam, say hello to Packrat Gundam...
This customizability might seems nothing special for those who collect the bigger figures in the HCM Pro or MSIA lines, but for these small figures it is nothing short of a revolution. Of course this is the standard that all Converge figures really should have upheld in the first place...

It is worth noting that the RX-78-2 from the SP03 pack is very similar to the now hopelessly hard to find RX-78-2 that was released in the original figure line back in November 2010. That RX-78-2 debuted as Converge item number 01 (which came in two versions, with a standard beam rifle and as a secret version replacing the rifle with a bazooka) and also appeared again in a "Final Decisive Battle version" (volume 4, figure no. 21). The latter is of course depicting the very same battle as the figure in SP03. That figure also came with two bazookas but had no beam rifle or shield, so you can identify it by inspecting its left arm which does not have a hole for a shield like this SP03 version has.

I don't know how to identify the the original figure 01 from the one in the SP03 set, but I would imagine the original figure has no hole for a shield on its back, but that is just a guess. Finally, there is also an RX-78-2 in the Operation Jaburo multi-pack, but that figure has a green and white colour scheme so they are easy to tell apart.

"Hey man... did you see those two guys? That's the RX-78-2 from STANDart volume eleven, he was released in October 2011. That old grandpa Zeong over there is from the old Ultimate Operation 10 set, which came out already back in June 2005."
In summary, although I was a bit sceptical about the SP03 set at first it proved me dead wrong. It is a very nice addition to the Converge collection, not only because of its theme but because Bandai managed to pull off these two figures really nicely. This might even contend for my favourite SP-set so far.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Gundanium Gossip: Latest news from Bandai

Bandai have unveiled the final results of the multi-tier elections for the Operation Revive campaign, which will bring back into production the users' choice of now discontinued Converge figures. Above you can see the five figures which got the honour, the Jegan managed to fight its way into one of the last slots but other than that you can see a range of various high-profile Gundams which were released in the early waves of the product line. Just to make sure the serious collectors won't pass up this set Bandai have tweaked all the figures with more detail and alternate weapons loadouts, and of course most obviously they added a new figure, the RX-93-v2 Hi-Nu Gundam. Expect to see this set released in February 2014.

There is more excitement on the Converge front. The thirteenth set has also just been announced and compared to the seemingly lacklustre twelfth set (I might change my opinion once I see it), number thirteen looks to be really spectacular. Just look at that line-up! Converge 13 is scheduled to hit the market in December 2013.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Gundam STANDart vol. 18

We have arrived at the latest entry in the long running STANDart figure series, now celebrating its eighteenth installment. Released in August 2013, STANDart 18 features a somewhat unusual mix of mostly unglamourous workhorse mobiles suits. Apart from the unique looking ZII the set seems comparatively bland, after all, each of these figures is the basic old Gundam design and then tweaked somewhat. With the multitude of outlandish and original designs present in the various story universes I can't help but feel a little miffed at the selection. Still, the set is made up of four welcome additions to the range, the Full Armor Gundam and the two GM III:s ought to have been released a long time ago, really.

When lined up next to each other, you can't help but feel that the figures have an awful lot of things in common. Let's go ahead and drill deeper into the specs of each figure.

068 : Well, the MSZ-008 is the looker of this crowd no doubt. The ZII (Mega Beam Rifle), or Z-Two, is a prototype transformable mobile suit designed for space combat and as a replacement for the iconic Zeta Gundam. Developed by Anaheim Electronics the prototype was never allowed to complete as the A.E.U.G. had placed priority on the larger ZZ Gundam. It sure is nice of Bandai to allow this concept mobile suit a slot in the collection. The Z-Two is richly detailed and has an attractive blue and grey colour scheme with lots of colourful details. The tall and funky outcroppings on its back are of course assembly components for its fighter mode. As a STANDart figure though it of course does not transform. Instead you have to make do with the basic arm rotation at the shoulder and some minor movement of the head.

069 : Another prototype design, although more iconic and well known than the ZII is the FA-78-1 Gundam Full Armor Type. You've seen it and its blue variant in several figure lines already, including Converge and Ultimate Operation (and it can surely only be a question of time before it pops up in Assault Kingdom, considering how Bandai love plopping RX-78 variants into it..). The STANDart FA-78-1 figure is reasonably successful, it has a very attractive colour scheme and many nice details. However, standing next to another STANDart Gundam of your choice, it doesn't feel very fully armored at all. The Ultimate Operation figure in contrast, had a grim and meaty appearance which suits this concept better in my opinion. On a meta-level, I would have expected the Full Armor Gundam to pop up in one green and one blue variant, like it has in the other figure series. Considering all STANDart releases always feature one figure in two slight variations this would have been an obvious candidate. Perhaps we have not seen the last of the STANDart FA-78-1.

070 : Instead, the mobile suit which gets to fill two slots in the STANDart 18 group is the RGM-86R GM III, here in its typical white colour scheme and armed with a beam rifle. Although quite plain compared to many figures in the STANDart line, both in terms of model complexity and colour scheme (awfully white, isn't it?), its noble heritage makes it a very welcome addition to the series. As you can see from the pictures it doesn't really differ much from a vintage RX-78-2 Gundam, but as a grunt type army unit it fills a very critical slot in the collection. Again, though, the STANDart GM III feels rather plain and uninspired when placed next to the old Ultimate Operation GM III which featured shoulder missile pods and more coloured detail (see a separate review of that figure here). As such, the GM III figure is mostly of interest because of its role in Gundam lore, rather than because it is an inspiring and attractive model.

071 : The second variant of this figure is the RGM-86R GM III (Desert Color version). It differs from the white GM III in having a nice sand-shade to its colour scheme and has replaced the beam rifle with the somewhat odd looking Beam Javelin anti-mobile suit weapon. Again the figure comes out a bit lacking in the colouring department, those legs just feel awfully pale compared to the detail on the older Ultimate Operation GM III figure. It is worth noting that the right hand is moulded directly onto the beam javelin, so you won't be doing any standing to attention pose or the like. Apart from a head that can turn the arms feature unusually good articulation. Both GM III:s have arms that rotate at the shoulder as well as above the elbow.

In conclusion I feel that STANDart 18 is one of the less inspiring volumes as of late. The ZII can only stir things up so much; a second stand-out figure with bright colours would have improved on this set tremendously. Still, there are several well-known figures in this set and I can easily recommend it to serious STANDart collectors. The casual collector though can safely skip on most of these figures.

Size comparison between the three types of mobile suits which feature in STANDart 18, from left to right: GM III (ca 8,5 cm), ZII (about 12 cm) and FA-78-1 (ca 10 cm).

Monday, 9 September 2013

Gundam Converge 54 : MS-07B-3 Gouf Custom

It is time for a closer look on the secret figure of Gundam Converge volume 9, which is a variant of the already great looking Gouf Custom. The figures appeared in the last set of the year, in December 2012. The Gouf Custom is basically an improved Gouf, which does away with its fixed weapons for a more flexible approach. This is reflected nicely in the two versions of the Gouf Customs that appear in the Converge line.

Where the standard figure comes with a type D III heat sword and a wrist-mounted triple barrel-machine gun, the secret verison does away with the blade and instead equips a Gatling Shield, which houses a 75 mm gatling gun and a large ammo drum. Thus you end up with two Goufs equipped with very different loadouts that nicely sets them apart.

The image above illustrates a combination of all different parts available from both versions of the Gouf Custom figure. The components that differ between the two versions are the two types of right hand, and the three part assembly which makes up the Gatling Shield. Notice also how the helmet can be removed allowing for the doughnut-shaped monoeye-piece to be rotated on its peg. The figures come with a plastic support but are generally sturdy on their feet. There is, of course, also the classic shokugan chewing gum in the box.

As for articulation, the Gouf Customs feature a somewhat limited range here. The arms rotate at the shoulder and the right hand rotates in its socket, while the left hand is molded as part of the left arm. Although the monoeye can be adjusted the head sits firmly facing forward which is common for all the Goufs and Zakus in the Converge line. However, it is possible to come up with a wide range of heat sword wielding poses, from stabbing to defensive blocking moves which enlivens the figure a great deal.

The secret version shield attaches with a peg onto the figure's left wrist, on top of the machine gun assembly. If you want to make the figure even more formidable you can replace the empty right hand of the secret version figure with the heat sword hand of the standard version. Suddenly you have one very stealthy figure and one tanking powerhouse at the ready. This level of customization is excellent for Converge and I wish there were more optionals like this in the whole figure range.

Converge line up of Goufs. From left to right: Jaburo multipack Gouf (December 2012), the standard Gouf (volume 2, released January 2011) and the basic and secret version of the Gouf Custom (volume 9, released December 2012).
In conclusion the Gouf Custom is a great figure for the Converge line, and the two versions are a good start to an army. The nice colour scheme also breathes life into the collection and their bright colours make them stand out nicely even in a larger group.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Random Post : RX-178 Gundam Mk II

The RX-178 Gundam Mk II has been getting a lot of Bandai love. Depicted here are the Assault Kingdom version (AK vol. 2, released June 2013), the Ultimate Operation version (FWUO Plus 2, released back in December 2005) and one of the many STANDart versions (volume 13, released May 2012).

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Assault Kingdom EX 02 : MS-06R-1A Zaku II High Mobility Type (Black Tri-Star Color)

This July saw the release of the second special pack in the Assault Kingdom series, and boy does it give the whole figure line an awesome boost! Apart from the fact that the Black Tri-Stars are always sought after, this triple-pack with all its optionals is quite simply the best product to come out of the Assault Kingdom line so far. Bandai have really gone out of their way to create a truly customizable figure set which at the same time really raises the bar for future releases. If only STANDart was up to this customization level...

Anyway, this set has probably not passed by that many Gundam fans unnoticed. I myself had been itching to get it once it was announced and now, with the figures in hand, I dare say it was easily worth the wait. The way this set expands the figure line is just tremendous. I myself can't wait for more Zeon forces to join the line but with the Black Tri-Star pack I will at least be able to overlook the fact that the next set will contain nothing but hero Gundam units...

This Zaku triple-pack comes in a small (14 x 11 x 6 cm) cardboard box similar to those used for the Gundam Converge SP-packs, and it is filled to the brim with utensils for bringing the troika to life. The three figures come in the same multi-compartment type of plastic bags as used in the normal figure line, except the three bazookas which are wrapped in a protective bubble bag.

Apart from the three figures themselves, the package contains a multi-part action base which can be assembled by following some illustrations on the inside of the box. While I personally do not bother with these action bases so much can be said, that this one consists of a two-part flat tile which is placed in a sloping fashion on top of four legs. Three multi-part arms of varying length can then be pegged to the base by choosing from nine available holes. Each arm can attach to one figure, allowing for it to take a flying or similar pose without needing to balance it on the ground. It is worth to note however, that the the three figures only have three points where you can attach it to the action base, there is a hole under each sole and one on the skirt-back, somewhat more limited than many of the figures in the Assault Kingdom line. Considering that the peg on the skirt-back is also used to carry the bazooka if not in use, this brings the available slots down to only two.

Alright, enough moaning about the action base. What will really get you going is this lot of accessories. Just look at that picture, you would be forgiven to think this was an MSIA action figure, or at the very least a HCM Pro figure. Each Zaku is given a complete set of weapons, and there are a total of sixteen hands (strangely enough all types are replicated in three except for the left hand forward leaning grip) to choose from. Interestingly, unit 03 which has the typical Zaku leader antenna has been given an alternate helmet without antenna which can be used instead if you so choose.

The figures can be loaded out way beyond any reasonable capacity. Apart from placing one or two weapons in their hands, you can also fit spare weapons on each Mobile Suit by pegging them into one of three available slots. As already mentioned, the skirt-back has a larger hole which can be used to attach the figure to the action base, or to place the unused bazooka on the figure's back, as is commonly seen in many figure lines.

A novel touch which appears in the Assault Kingdom line for the first time is the two small holes on each figure's hips. These can be used to peg a Heat Hawk (which is a fancy word for an axe with a high temperature blade) and/or the ZMP-50 120mm machine gun to the figure. Admittedly, once you start pegging weapons to the figure front, right and center, the articulation will become more limited with all the gear obstructing movements, but this of course is an acceptable feature.

Spaghetti western-style: These three Zakus are fully loaded with extra weapons.
Speaking about articulation, the three mobile suits feature great if not fantastic articulation at all the expected joints. You can rotate many of them 360 degrees as long as the limbs don't run into something hanging in the way, like a pegged weapon or the shoulder shield for example. The skirts are made from soft plastic and can be bent gently for some extra room for the legs to move more freely.

Still, the forward motion of the thigh is somewhat limited and the feet don't twist side to side, which makes it difficult to create a kneeling stance. Apart from this there is nothing to complain about, and you will be able to come up with a lot of interesting poses for the figures, especially when you utilize the action base components.

Below are some comparison shots to other similar Zaku figures. The first image shows the red standard Zaku II which was released in the second volume of regular Assault Kingdom figures this June. As you can see the two figures share many similarities though the red figure is slightly more articulated. Its look is nowhere near as impressive though.

STANDart also featured a Tri-Star figure, number 06 to be precise (STANDart volume 10, July 2011). The two figures are remarkably similar in size and appearance, though of course the STANDart figure has an overall less plastic appearance and finer details. The Assault Kingdom figure still looks very good next to it and has the STANDart figure outclassed on articulation of course.

Lastly a comparison can be made to the old FW Ultimate Operation line figure, which appeared in June 2004. Like most FWUO figures the old counterpart has a strong expression and a lovely chunky design. This is something which is hard for the Assault Kingdom figures to replicate, as they generally need be as slim as possible to allow for more articulation. On the other hand articulation on FWUO:s is generally limited to parts of the arms and a swiveling torso though. Both figures are great in their own right and ultimately it comes down to what you wish to accomplish with your collection.

In conclusion you may already have gathered that this Assault Kingdom triple pack is an absolute mandatory entry into your AK collection. It simply trumphs all the figures that have so far preceeded it, and I look forward to seeing future AK-sets drawing inspiration from its level of customization. Top marks to Bandai for this set, and I recommend you grab it now while it is still fresh and easily available.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Gundam Converge : Operation Jaburo

This Operation Jaburo multipack is an oddity in the Gundam Converge line. Appearing in December 2012 this collection box contains eight previously released mobile suits that all relate to an event described in the original One Year War series storyline. Jaburo is the name of an advanced underground E.F.S.F. facility in South America, which was attacked by Zeon forces in an attempt to destroy or prevent production of new mobile suits. The set contains figures that were typical for both the Earth and Zeon forces operating at the time.

To make this package more interesting to collectors (and at the same time helping to keep the value of long out of production figures intact...) each figure has received certain minor colour modifications. There are no other differences from the original figures that appeared in the standard line, which makes the set fairly redundant for those who have managed to collect these figures previously. However, considering the rarity of some of these figure today, the set should be very interesting for latecomers who would like to have these hard to come by figures in their collection. The Jaburo set is a welcome to those collectors indeed.

The set contains eight figures which come in individual plastic bags similar to those used in the standard Converge boxes. Each figure has the same weapons and/or equipment as you would expect from the original figures as well. As you can see from the image above, some minor assembly is required, especially for the Z'Gok and its delicate claws. Each side receives four figures.

E.F.S.F. forces:
RX-78-2 Gundam Real Type - original white version appeared in Converge vol. 1 in November 2010.
RGM-79 G M - Original version appeared in Converge vol. 3 in July 2011.
RX-77-2 Guncannon - Original version appeared in Converge vol. 1 in November 2010.
RX-75 Guntank - Original version appeared in Converge vol. 1 in November 2010.

...and Zeon forces:

MS-06 Zaku II - Original version appeared in Converge vol. 2 in January 2011.
MSM-07S Z’Gok (Char's Custom) - Original version appeared in Converge vol. 3 in July 2011.
MS-07B Gouf - Original version appeared in Converge vol. 2 in January 2011.
MS-09 Dom - Original version appeared in Converge vol. 5 in November 2011.

Below are some comparison shots of how the standard Converge figures differ from their Operation Jaburo counterparts. Unfortunately my own collection at this point contains none of the original E.F.S.F. figures, so I will only be able to compare the Zeon figures right now (this might change in the future if I manage to hunt down the missing figures, good luck with that...).

Comparing the Dom and Z'Gok figures from Operation Jaburo (left) with their original counterparts (right).

Comparing the Gouf and Zaku II figures from Operation Jaburo (left) with their original counterparts (right)
To sum it up I would say that the Jaburo set is a real treasure box for those who collect the One Year figures in particular. It contains several really iconic figures and the updated colour schemes are nice enough to warrant a closer look even if you already have some or all of the original models.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Gundam STANDart vol. 15

STANDart volume fifteen occurred in October 2012 and is truly a set to my liking. It contains a vivid selection of figures and colours, and a good mix between hero units and standard grunt types. This is the type of balance I would like to see in all sets, though of course it should not be expected more than occasionally. At the time of writing, almost a year after the set was made available, several of these figures are still readily available through the online market. The GM Sniper seems to be the most easily found at the moment, and there is where you can probably strike a good deal if you act soon.

As with the later STANDart volumes these figures come in the smaller type cardboard boxes, sandwiched in plastic and with the few loose accessories kept in a plastic bag taped to the plastic container. And since these are shokugan items you can of course look forward to your four pieces of blue gum.

Let's take.a closer look at each figure in the set.

056 : Set opener is the one hero unit of the set, the Sword Strike Gundam (or if you want to be more obtuse and use its full designation, repeat after me; GAT-X105+AQM/E-X02) which is taken from the Mobile Suit Gundam SEED series. It is basically a white gundam with a blue shoulder pauldron and a gigantic sword slung to its back. The figure's articulation is slightly more advanced than a regular STANDart figure but won't exactly impress you. The head tilts from side to side, the arms rotate at the shoulder and the shield arm has an extra rotating joint underneath the shoulder, which allows for some very basic stances. The sword is attached to the backpack and that is where it is going to stay. This is perhaps the most disappointing feature of the figure, as it is just going to stand there silently with its fists clenched at the side. Overall though an attractive and fairly detailed figure.

057 : Next up is the RGM-79SP GM Sniper II, an upgraded and refined version of the standard GM and intended as a cheaper replacement of the original Sniper Custom machine. The Sniper II certainly looks the part with a very attractive blue and cyan colour scheme and a number of small details and stickers in other colours. It resembles the figure issued in the old FW Ultimate Operation series very much and looks great beside it. The figure has some basic rotating features of the head and the shoulders, the shield is pegged to the left arm and the rifle is moulded into the right hand into a carrying posture. Overall a really beautiful entry into the STANDart series.

058 : Rounding out the set are two awesome and imposing looking versions of the Neo Zeon AMS-119 Geara Doga. The green mass production type comes equipped with a beam machine gun and a stowed away beam saber fit on the skirtback. The left arm also has the large shield which is supposed to be able to carry up to four sturm faust rockets on its backside. Just like the old FW Ultimate Operation figure though, the STANDart version somewhat sadly ignores this feature completely, there are no indications that such rockets would even exist. You will have to look to more advanced figures such as the HCM Pro or MSIA action figures for this equipment. Besides this drawback though the Geara Doga looks massive next to the other figures in the set and it weighs almost twice as much. As for articulation you get the standard rotating head and shoulders. One other odd feature about the green version is that the helmet has the hole for the commander unit antenna, surely it would have been easy to make a proper version of the helmet for this figure.

059 : last in the set is the red AMS-119C customized version of the Geara Doga in bright red livery as used by Neo Zeon ace pilot Full Frontal. Apart from the obvious colour cheme change it differs from the green version in that it has a leader type antenna on the forehead and it is wielding a larger beam machine gun. In spite of their shortcomings I feel the two Geara Dogas are absolute requirements for a nice STANDart collection and can easily recommend them. If you are looking for a more advanced (or blue...) Geara Doga though the slightly larger HCM Pro version might be more up your alley.

In conclusion the fifteenth installment of the now long running STANDart series is an easy recommendation, since all figures are really good looking and add variation to the series. As mentioned earlier, do not linger too long, as they are still readily available online but probably not for long.

Comparative size between the three types of figures in STANDart fifteen. From left to right, GM Sniper II (almost 8 cm), Sword Strike Gundam (about 10,5 cm) and Geara Doga (ca 9 cm).