Monday, 20 January 2014

Gundam Converge Complete Book

And now for something completely different; a book review. Or... perhaps not. In what must surely be one of the worst and most deceptive marketing ploys to ever hit the Gundam Shokugan universe, Bandai have joined forces with the Dengeki Hobby Magazine to publish a tome by the name of "Gundam Converge: Complete Book". The publication was brought to the world in December 2013 through the Kadokawa publishing corporation just in time for Christmas. With such a bold title we can expect a truly grand work full of interesting facts about the Converge figure line, and most of all a careful look into the past, present and future of the Converge brand. The name also carried a slightly menacing touch, does this mean we're about to reach the end of the Converge line? Many questions, all which could hopefully be answered by opening the book.

Guess again, suckers.

Let's play Captain Obvious for a second. The Gundam Converge: Complete Book is a glossy product catalogue. It contains pictures of mobile suits produced as well as a daring peek into the future. To make sure we want to buy it, Bandai tossed in a pair of alternate colour versions of previously released figures.

That's it? Really? Honto? Well... pretty much.

The first thing you notice when you remove the plastic wrapping is that the "book" falls out of the bottom of the package, and you are left holding a cardboard frame with a little hole in the middle to store the figures. It is kind of like those fake books with guns inside them that you can read about in crappy spy novels. Or, for those of you who build Real Grade and Master Grade and whatever model kits, you open the box, move the instruction manual away to look at later only to realize that the flimsy paper thingy is in fact the book itself.

Wrapped in bags at the heart of the box are -fittingly- the meat of the package: The two exclusive figures. These are the reason I wanted to get this "book". I didn't really expect anything from the book but still, let's inspect it closer and see what knowledge can be obtained from this Gundam Converge tome, a one of a kind.

The "book" has a total of 48 pages, which are mostly filled to the brim with glossy product photos. The absolute majority of the pages list the Gundam Converge release sets one full spread at a time. Each figure is presented with the same old picture you've seen on all the boxes and press sheets before, plus a couple of useless close-ups and a small wireframe drawing. Many are the times I wished I could read Japanese, but considering the absolute minimum of text presentation each figure gets, you need not fret about it here. If you were hoping for some background data on the figures, behind the scenes details or anything like that you are out of luck. The information on the ordinary figure boxes seems more thorough and complete.

Once you've walked down the path of the (currently) thirteen volumes of figures you get a preview of the fourteenth set (which has been up on the Bandai page for quite a while already). After that the figures in the special sets and limited editions are presented, all the SP:s, EX01, the 7-11 set, Operation Jaburo, Operation Revive as well as the figures made in cooperation with various hobby magazines.

Not feeling the love from Bandai...
What is not included in the book is the recently announced EX02 figure (so much for "complete") or any of the overseas limited edition sets. Now, with this publication obviously targeting the Japanese market; it does seem rather sly not to mention the overseas packs to the Japanese collectors. I would guess that they are already aware however, but still, a poor effort whichever way you choose to look at it.

The last few pages contain the best part of the book, separate interviews with two designers. Now here's something I wish I would have been able to read. At the last spread of the book is also two designs that you can cut out to create Converge-style boxes for the two models included in this set. A cool idea but considering the quality of the paper as well as trying to convince someone to tear out a page of the interviews just to create boxes that won't be able to contain the figures anyway you have to wonder what they were thinking. It would have been a greater service to these figures to be included in a future Converge set.

Ah, yes, the figures... The two little repaints. Well, with the miserable book experience out of the way, you'll be pleased to learn that the two mobile suits are everything you had hoped them to be. Obviously it would have been hard for Bandai to screw up at this point, after all there are already half a dozen or so variants of each by now.

D2 : The RX-78-3 G-3 Gundam has been a long time coming in Converge. Or, actually, it was already featured as the secret figure in Converge volume 4, which was released in September 2011 (you can cross reference in the "book"...). That time around the G-3 came in a dark two-tone grey pattern wielding double bazookas. The one that comes with the book instead has a very light grey base colour and violet detail. Kind of like a Spa version of the G-3. And this time around it gets a beam rifle and shield instead of bazookas. Definitely a nice version of the RX-78-2.

D3 : The highlight of the box is the MS-09RS Rick Dom (Char's Custom), an inevitable figure that I knew just had to come at some point in the series. Back when the two Rick Doms of Converge volume ten were released I was quite surprised that they didn't make one of the versions red, but I guess that was a good thing, considering how rare anything Char-painted seems to become these days (case in point; Char's Zaku II from Converge volume 5; the secret "Garma's Custom" version is easy to find while the regular figure borders on the impossible). Char's Rick Dom comes in a red/brown/gray livery similar to the STANDart version, and is armed with the same giant bazooka as the secret version of the original Rick Dom figure. An absolute stunner and easily one of my favourite figures in the entire Converge line.

DOM-ination: Line-up of the versions of the Dom and Rick Dom mobile suits released in Converge so far.

Hold the Line: The new G-3 Gundam takes it place among the RX-78:s of the Converge line.
So, what is the final verdict on Gundam Complete Book?

Well... if you are a Converge collector, you really want these two figures, you practically need them unless you don't mind a rather serious gap in your set. If you are a casual Gundam fan, chances are you still want them, especially Char's Rick Dom. The only question, really, is if you are willing to pay the 2100 yen to get them.
And as far as the marketing brochu... the "book" is concerned; well, it should have been a downloadable pdf on the Bandai Shokugan website. A pdf regularily updated as new figures are released. Because complete, this "book" is not...

Friday, 17 January 2014

Mobile Suits Gundam Ultimate Operation Plus 5

It's time again for a dip into the historical archives, and a closer look at another smashing set from the ol' Ultimate Operation line. I love scouting these figures out online, though their availability seems to drop quite rapidly now, adding that small sense of urgency to the hunt. If you plan on getting onboard the train it probably wouldn't be wise to let too many of them pass you by.

Ultimate Operation Plus 5 was the last of the fifteen regular sets (or the last of the five extra sets after the first ten if you will) and appeared on the market in September 2006. They were not the very last figures of the line though, followed by first the "Plus - U.C. 0079" set in December (which was a repackaging of six popular figures) and then the last set ever, the Operation Maelstroem collection of three new figures. So, with this set being pretty much the last regular set, it has to be said that the series went out with quite the bang. Five great looking figures in the usual dynamic poses you've come to expect from this series. You can still find a couple of these figures popping up occasionally on eBay and I wouldn't consider any of them very rare or too pricey, but you'll need to look high and low if you intend to complete the set. Now, on to the figures themselves.

Opening the set is the RX-78GP03S Gundam GP03S, also nicked "Stamen" or "Dendrobium Stamen". It is a prototype suit featured in Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory. The most obvious feature of the figure itself is the two hip-mounted skirt-like binders for extra mobility (these two binders are also a source of much frustration as they tend to fall of the figure as soon as you look at it). The mobile suit comes armed with a M-82A Beam Rifle and a medium sized shield. It features the typical FWUO articulation at the shoulder, neck and arms. The arms have a couple of articulation points which means you can come up with a couple of variants in its pose. The legs are also -again typically of Ultimate Opreation- moulded in place. With such a dynamic pose the designers had to attach the left leg to a black plastic block which allows it to stand up. I'm not a huge fan of these foot supports, but I must admit that it allows for a nice action-like pose.

Although not evident from first sight, the AGX-04 Gerbera-Tetra has more in common with the GP03S Stamen than meets the eye. The funky red Gerbera-Tetra actually started its life as a white Gundam, the RX-78GP04G "Gerbera" prototype to be specific. However, the Gundam never reached completion and the prototype under construction fell into the hands of the Neo Zeon who had it converted into the AGX-04. This figure has a truly striking design and a look that means business. As usual with the Ultimate Operation figures the legs are molded in place, the head rotates and the arms feature multiple articulation points. Of course the somewhat bulky Beam Machine Gun weapon limits this poseability a bit. As awesome as this figure looks it has two minor flaws. The first one is the small feet. There's not a whole lot you can do about that of course, but this figure is one of those that will tip over if you happen to walk past it too quickly. The other minor flaw is, surprisingly for a UO figure, the colour scheme. The red shiny colour has a very artificial and plastic look about it, some weathering and a toned down colour would probably have worked a bit better here.

The RGZ-91 Re-GZ is yet another prototype mobile suit intended for mass production. Featured in Char's Counterattack this was the Earth Force testbed for creating mass produced transformable mobile suits. The project was ultimately a failure since the design proved too costly, resulting in this single unit built. The figure has a very attractive colour scheme in cyan and blue colour with many fine colourful details all over. The figure is armed with a Beam Rifle and a great looking multicoloured shield. Articulation comes in the usual Ultimate Operation flavour with head, arms and waist able to rotate. Out of the five figures in this set, this one proved the most difficult to locate, so if you are interested in it I recommend keeping eyes and ears peeled..

Nearing the tail end of the set, things are really getting into motion. Introduced in Char's Counterattack as newtype-capable mobile suits are the two iconic Jagd Dogas. The first of them, the MSN-03 Jagd Doga (Gunney Guss Customized) belongs to the character Gyunei Guss of the Neo Zeon faction. This is a big, chunky machine in startling colours and lovely overblown proportions in the way that only Ultimate Operation can do them. We're talking huge, golden shoulder binders, massive legs, attractive colourful detail and weathering, and a huge detailed shield in striking colours. Perhaps the least impressive thing about it is its still massive Beam Sabre which comes out a bit plain, even with the small Heat Knife that is attached to its hilt. As the blade is made of soft plastic, don't be surprised if it has been bent during years spent sitting on the card. Still, with the articulation of its arms and torso you will be able to do a lot of interesting poses for the figure and I would consider this fundamental to any Ultimate Operation collection.

Last of the set is Quess Paraya's MSN-03 Jagd Doga (Quess Air Customized). Paraya is a defector from the Earth Federation and uses "Quess Air" as her alias. Now, if you though that Gyunei's Jagd Doga was brutal, Quess' version will probably raise your pulse a bit more. Apart from the attractive red and silver colour scheme the figure has a slightly different helmet and drops the blades in favour of a mighty Mega Gatling Gun. This weapon is nothing short of spectacular and makes the figure that more intimidating. The body of the mobile suit also has the usual weathered look to it which enhances the appearance even more. Articulation is the same for both Jagd Dogas and offer a lot of poseability, I say it again, these two are absolutely essential components of your mobile suit collection. I am still waiting for the Jagd Dogas to make an entrance in the STANDart line. Good news are that these two will finally enter the Converge line with volume fourteen, which is anticipated later this year.

Comparative size of the figures in the Ultimate Operation Plus 5 set. The Gerbera-Tetra (ca 9 cm), the Jagd Dogas (about 8 cm), the Re-GZ (9.5 cm) and the Gundam GP03S (ca 8 cm).
As far as Ultimate Operation sets go, pretty much all of them were excellent, and I keep repeating myself as I try to find the proper superlatives to describe also this very fine set of figures. Something really unique was achieved with the somewhat cartoony features of FWUO, and their expressions sometimes tend to put their STANDart cousins to shame. The good thing of course is that Ultimate Operation and STANDart are size-compatible (together with Assault Kingdom as well) which means there's no excuse not to round out a collection of one with some of the cool looking mobile suits of the others.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Gundam Converge EX01: NZ-666 Kshatriya / Kshatriya Besserung

The Converge line has been going bigger and bolder lately, with more and more large figures joining the line-up. This time around, Bandai decided to nick the EX01 designation from the Assault Kingdom series and introduce a Kshatriya mobile suit of their own. I don't really know what the EX designation stands for but I would imagine it is something to the tune of extra or extended or so. Because never in Converge history has a figure been so configurable as this one.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The first thing that I must really make clear is that the EX01 package contains one figure only. That's right, you will get enough parts to complete either the NZ-666 in its original configuration, or as the semi-repaired Kshatriya Besserung variant. The box will contain one base mobile suit and enough spare parts to create either of the two versions. So as you can guess from the photos I went ahead and bought two. Don't tell the wife... or actually, she was with me and had to endure the questionable ins and outs of Tokyo's fanboy shops. I got the first one at the one and only Gundam CafĂ© in Akihabara district, fresh from the bakery at ¥1575. Ironically I found my second figure at a shop further down the street where the price was only ¥1480.

Above you can see what is actually contained in the package. There's a multitude of parts you will not end up using, so you may want to get a resealable plastic bag to contain them, as some of the pieces are really tiny. A small four page assembly manual (in Japanese of course) is included but the figure won't give you much headache. The only things to fiddle with is to figure out which way is up and down on the monoeye, and how to remove the breast plate when building the Besserung but these won't confuse you for very long.

So, taking a closer look at the optional component set you will see that the customizable parts include a bare-scraped right leg, a stump of a left arm, a busted chest plate, a different coloured monoeye and a slightly smaller antenna. The standard Kshatriya also features four binders loaded with funnel weapon systems, while the Besserung has to make do with one and a half binders, neither equipping any funnels. The versions also come with their own support base, but in spite of the heavy funnels, the figure has no problems standing up on a plane surface.

It should be noted of course that no matter which version you prefer to assemble it is easy to strip and reconfigure the figure as you see fit. You can mix and match components from both verisons freely. If you for example would like to keep both arms on the Besserung or take out one of the binders of the NZ-666 all such variations are fully possible.

Once the figure has been assembled though, it doesn't do much. Articulation is limited to the shoulders, but if you start rotating the arms the entire binder assembly will follow together with it, which doesn't really look that great and I guess not really intended. The monoeye can be placed so that it looks to either direction, but the head sits firmly pointing forward on a shaped peg.

Size-wise the Kshatriya is huge for a Converge item. It dwarves all the regular figures considerably, though its body is made to scale matching the other figures in the series. I'm not a big fan of this trend of big and beefy Converge figures that have cropped up as of late, but overall I guess that is a minor concern. Below you can see how the Kshatriya measures up to some of the other larger Converge figures.

Comparing the size of the Kshatriya with a pair of the larger Converge figures; the Sazabi and the Zeong. The Kshatriya reaches about 9 cm including the antenna, while the two others come in at roughly 7.5 cm respectively.
Rounding things up I must say that the Kshtraiya came out better than I had expected. While I have my reservations about the box only including one body (I suspect more people will end up buying two sets like yours truly) it is still a decent figure for your Converge line up.