Friday, 28 February 2014

Gundam Converge vol. 13

Converge seems to be doing quite well at the moment. There are already two figure sets announced for the first half of the year, and there are a couple of specially packaged figures to be released in parallell, including two high end figures and a set of six old figures now reissued (which by the way will appear in a limited edition version as well). In any which way, Converge volume 13 was released in December 2013 and it features a very strong line-up of mobile suits.

Just look at these guys. A very varied set including some really unusual types. This is exactly what I like the most about Converge; the chance to encounter a lot of odd mobile suits and not just the usual suspects. I really hope Bandai will keep this line alive for as long as they can, it is turning out to be a very well stocked figure line. Now if they could only get to work on doing some Wing Gundam figures...

75 : The poster boy for this set must surely be the beefy looking MSA-0011 "S"-Gundam. I would hazard a guess that this is the figure that will sell best out of the seven in this set. And as you can see from the above pictures it is not without merit. It is a very detailed figure with attractive colour configuration, as long as you can overlook the fact that its head looks like that of a chicken. There is something slightly disturbing about how you cannot see its eyes when the figure is facing you, perhaps this could have been tweaked a bit by Bandai. Overall though, an awesome little compact figure for your Converge collection.

76 : Here is the unexpected highlight for me in this set; the awesome, unheard of, RMS-141 Xeku Eins. If you are unfamiliar with the type, it is because it was featured in a novel called Gunam Sentinel only. It is well worth to check this out as the original design is awesome, a very Marasai looking thing. Apparently there are three different types of the RMS-141 and here we are looking at the third type, an assault configuration, which is recognized by its large shoulder-mounted ammo drums. Due to its compact appearance there is not much in the way of articulation here. In addition, when assembling the few pieces of this figure I was left with two white parts that puzzled me greatly, I could not figure out where to attach them. I ended up having to look through pictures on the Gundam Wiki to figure out that they were boost tanks which fit onto the backside of the legs. Still, a true favourite for me, one of the best figures in the line in my opinion.

77 : The RX-78GP03S Gundam GP-03 "Stamen" is perhaps the least succesful figure in this set. Being a typical blue and white Gundam, what sets it apart from the others are its wing-like skirts with thrusters for extra mobility. While the sculpting came out reasonably well the colour scheme is really basic; plain white with a few specks of colour on the torso. The legs, skirts and backpack are all boring white. This reminds me of the GP-03, which was recently released in the Assault Kingdom volume 3 a little while ago. That figure also suffered from an air of boring white and blue. Comparing these to the old GP-03S from the Ultimate Operation line the two modern counterparts look awfully pale, whereas the FWUO figure had an attractive light grey and blue colour scheme. This is a figure for the completists only.

78 : At slot number seventy-eight we find a perfect army-builder figure. Specifically it is the updated RGM-86R GM III Earth Force mobile suit. Looking quite similar to a typical Gundam it has a rich colour scheme with several nice details, especially the blue helmet visor. Due to its large shoulder pads this figure is very compact in appearance (especially when compared to its original counterpart) and as a consequence this limits articulation to a little bit of rotation at the shoulders. If I should moan about something I guess it would be the fact that the legs are nearly completely plain white. This was the case also with the GM III that appeared recently in STANDart volume 18. There is however a much more colourful variant in the now somnolent Ultimate Operation line which still is the benchmark unit for the GM III in my humble opinion.

79 : Another sure to be highlight of this set is the MS-05L Zaku I Sniper Type. Besides the fact that it is a Zaku (which automatically makes it popular) we're talking here about a very odd and customized version which has turned out very successful. Just look at all those tiny details! An absolutely incredible looking figure for Converge, and one of the few to hold his rifle in a more refined and natural looking pose. High marks all over and for those of you who only collect the absolute cream of the line; get this figure into your collections!

80 : The last figure of the set is a personal favourite of mine. It is the wonderfully odd-looking NRX-044 Asshimar, a transformable mobile suit operated by the Titans. Its odd looking head is intended to swivel sideways in between the shoulders and form part of a doughnut shaped segment. The Converge item of course has no such transformation. The head is firmly stuck in place and only the arms rotate at the shoulder. Although the figure turned out reasonably well, the antenna feels quite out of proportion to the rest of the figure. This gives the Asshimar a rather diminutive appearance when placed next to another Converge figure.

Secret : The secret figure for Converge thirteen is a variation on the RGM-86R GM III, the (Desert Color) variation in sand-toned colours. This mimics the recent line-up in STANDart volume 18, which featured the same GM III in these two colour variations. The secret Converge item however still equips the same Beam Rifle as the standard white type, being a simple colour variation only. Still, it is a welcome addition as an additional army builder and it would be nice to see more desert themed figures in the Converge line, such as the Ez8 Gundam or the DOM Tropen for example.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Random Post : Titans Strike Team

A formidable line-up of mobile suits from a Titans strike team. All figures belong to the Ultimate Operation line, from left to right: RMS-108 Marasai (FWUO Plus 1, released September 2005), the PMX-000 Messala (also from FWUO Plus 1) and the RX-110 Gabthley (FWUO Plus 2, released December 2005).

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Gundam Converge 7-11 Selection

This time we will take a closer look at one of the more odd sets of figures to appear in the Gundam Converge line. Ten months down the line, in September 2011 to be precise, after three regular figure sets had been released there appeared a special set geared for sales in Japanese 7-11 shops. The set contained a selection of four repackaged figures from the previous three lines as well as two brand new repaint versions which were given the brand new numbers 19 and 20 in the Converge series. It is primarily these two figures that we will inspect in this review.

The entire 7-11 Selection set contains the six figures displayed in the image above, and are the following:

02 : RX-77-2 Guncannon (a repackaging from Gundam Converge volume one)
03 : RX-75 Guntank (a repackaging from Gundam Converge volume one)
11 : MS-06 Zaku II (a repackaging from Gundam Converge volume two)
12 : MS-07B Gouf (a repackaging from Gundam Converge volume two)
19 : RX-178 Gundam Mk-II (A.E.U.G) - A brand new version of this figure, unique to this set
20 : MSM-07 Z'Gok - A brand new version of this figure, unique to this set

As you can clearly see, the 7-11 set goes straight for the roots of Gundam and the really iconic old figures. Since the four repackaged figures are identical to their original counterparts (save for the boxes which now contain a small promotional leaflet and feature slightly different images of other figures on the back cover) these four will not be discussed here. Instead we'll dive into figures 19 and 20.

Above you can see the component sets for the two new figures. They come with the same old chewing gums as the original figures but also feature a small four page leaflet which shows the figures released so far in the Converge line.

19 : The first of the two unique figures is the RX-178 Gundam Mk-II (A.E.U.G), flying the white colour of the Anti Earth Union Group. This is a colour variation of figure 15 which was painted blue in the Titans colour scheme. The equipment of the two is the same (although the Titans figure also has a secret variant which comes armed with a bazooka).

20 : The other unique figure is the MSM-07 Z'Gok in a blue repaint of Char's red version which originally appeared in Converge volume 3 as figure number 18 (I think this must be the first time a regular army builder unit is more rare than a custom Char machine). Again you need to assemble its claws which can be something of a pain if you don't have suitable tools to smoothen the pieces after you take them off the plastic runner

Looking at the bigger picture, the RX-178 mark two Gundam has now been released three times (four if you count the secret version of figure fifteen) in slightly different configurations. As you can see above, the bulkier A.E.U.G. version which appeared in Converge volume 7 (released May 2012) now also features the hyper bazooka and omits the bendable wrap-around headpiece. The later version was also remolded to make it combine with figure 41, the G-Defenser flyer.

As for Z'Goks, well there is a whole lot of them by now. Apart from the experimental MSM-07E Z'Gok (figure 60 from Converge volume 10) there have been four colour variations of the standard MSM-07 figure. Char's figure appeared as mentioned previously in volume 3, then came the 7-11 repaint and two years later the recently released olive coloured Zeon Remnants version (figure 73, Converge volume 12). Char's red version was also reissued in the Operation Jaburo multipack (released December 2012) which updates its look with a metal-style paint job. Colour apart, the Z'Goks are identical in all other aspects.

Whether you wish hunt down these two 7-11 exclusives is up to you of course, but beware that they are hard to find and when they do pop up are often priced prohibitvely expensive. The best bet is is probably trying to find them in a Japanese second hand shop, which is not exactly an easy thing for all of us who live in the rest of the world.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Gundam STANDart volume 19

The latest STANDart figure set is in town, and after having examined them for a few days it is time to come up with some useful blah-blah to describe them. My initial reaction when the set was introduced was, "What, another RX-78 again!?" but the three other figures looked more interesting. With only three types of mobile suits (typically for STANDart) it seemed a slot wasted on something we've already seen a gazillion times. Granted this time they tried a new approach with "open hatches", which all things considered seems more a novelty than anything else. Do we now have to brace for a Zaku II (Open Hatch version), RX-0 (Open Hatch version) and so on?

Anyway, I shouldn't moan too much, because as you can see above this is a fine set with four attractive figures although perhaps a little bit of imagination at the Bandai HQ wouldn't hurt. There are still so many mobile suits never seen in either of the Shokugan figure lines, and I tend to get the impression that once a figure pops up in one series the designs are milked by passing them over to Converge or Assault Kingdom. If so, perhaps the coming Converge Jagd Dogas will spill over to STANDart (wishful thinking mode I know).

Some assembly required...
After taking the figures out of the sandwiching plastic blisters you'll find that assembly required is at an all time minimum even for STANDart, one piece stands between you and completion. The only other loose piece dangling around in each box is the iconic chewing gum of course.

072 : Alright, we'll begin by taking a look at the much fussed about gimmick of the first mobile suit in the set, the granddaddy RX-78-2 Gundam with the added (Full Hatch Open Version) twist. The 78-2 is hardly a newcomer to STANDart, it has been featured twice before; first in Volume 3 in September 2008, then with the Hyper-Bazooka in volume 11, released in October 2011.

The first thing you notice is that the Open Hatch version is really slick, and admirably detailed. It is not so much the fact that it has a couple of hatches opened (and no, they are not moveable) as it is the amount of detail that has gone into this figure resculpt. While the STANDart 3 version was pretty detailed (the early STANDarts were in a class of their own compared to the later ones) it can't hold a breath against the open hatch version. Modelwise, small details such as the beam rifle having a proper handle, and the shield having a small porthole are now corrected, where earlier molds lacked these features. The figure itself is also taller and features more panel lining. The hyper bazooka-version of the figure now looks awfully toy-like in comparison. So, open hatches or not, the new RX-78-2 is a marked improvement upon the older two, and worth to get for this reason alone. I just hope this doesn't mean we will see the relaunching of updated old figures at the expense of never before seen ones.

073 : MSZ-006 A1 Zeta Plus A1 (Amuro Rei Color). It seems some guys get all the love around here. Not only is Amuro Ray the legendary pilot of the original RX-78-2 Gundam we just looked at, here STANDart 19 is showing off another ride of his, the Zeta Plus. Lore has it that the Zeta Plus is a scaled down mass-produced version of the Z Gundam, eliminating equipment for space flight and limiting it to use within atmosphere only.As leader of the 18th Tactical Fighter Aggressor Squadron our ace friend has the ignition keys to one of these puppies as well. Painted in a striking red and white livery of the Karaba Air Force this unit is the definitive highlight of volume 19.

What the Open Hatch Gundam has in detail, the Zeta Plus has in style. And if you place it next to any of the other Zeta Gundam figures it will put them to shame. We're talking beautiful detail and markings on this figure, absolutely essential for a collection in my opinion. The only drawback of this figure is the wide stance of its feet. It makes the figure a little bit unbalanced and easy to topple, don't place him close to a shelf-edge unless you have something to anchor with. Considering that a couple of the STANDarts have in the past featured small transparent supports (the last I recall, was the Wing Gundam of volume 17) for the mobile suit to lean against, this was a curious omission.

074 : Here's another new aquaintance I was not familiar with before. Described as a late version, the MS-06F-2 Zaku II (F-2 Type) (Neuen Bitter's Custom) is the choice ride of ace pilot Neuen Bitter, featured in the 0083 Stardust Memory story-line (interestingly referred to as a "fictional character" on the Gundam wiki as opposed to all the other heroes walking among us, unseen). Bitter had the dubious glory of being stranded on Earth once the war against Zeon came to a close. STANDart 19 models his F-2 type Zaku II in a pale dark green livery with unit insignia on the shield. Unlike the other figure in this set he is armed with the classic Zaku type machine gun. The figure has lots of nice little details and panel lining, and is easily one of the better Zaku II:s to appear in STANDart as far as I am concerned. Wow, so far volume 19 is turning out to be a real winner!

075 : MS-06F-2 Zaku II (F-2 Type). Closing the set is the customary colour variation figure. In this case Bandai go the same route as in the previous set, making a E.F.S.F. variant sporting desert colours. This of course means bonus points if you got the GM III from STANDart 18 as you can display the two together, although they have slightly different sand tones. The E.F.S.F. version is similar to Bitter's Zaku II save for the lack of a Commander Type antenna and a different type of Zaku Machine Gun. I would say the figure's main purpose is army building as it does not come off as impressive as the other figures in this set. But on the other hand... you can never have too many Zakus.

As this set basically contained repaints and remodellings of older STANDart figures I figured we should add some pictures for comparison.

Above you can see the new Open Hatch version Gundam (far right) compared to the Hyper-Bazooka version from STANDart 11 (middle) and the RX-78-2 from STANDart volume 3. In this case, pictures really do speak louder than words. The refined sculpt of the open hatch version really relegates the previous figures to obsolete status.

Let's also take a closer look at the various Zeta Gundams. All of the Zetas released in STANDart so far are quite spectacular in their own right, and the new Zeta Plus fits the bill. From left to right are the MSZ-006 Z Gundam (with logo on the shield) from STANDart 4 released March 2009 (volume 4 also features a colour version, the white and purple Z Gundam Type-3). Next up is the MSZ-006C1 Zeta Plus C1 from volume 10 which was released in July 2011. March 2013 saw a reissue of the MSZ-006 Z Gundam in STANDart volume 16 (this time with an A.E.U.G. logo on the shield). And finally we are at the MSZ-006A1 Zeta Plus A1 of STANDart 19.

Talking about the Zaku II, above is a chronology of their appearances in STANDart. Missing in this shot, obviously, is Char Aznable's red Zaku II due to the simple fact that I do not yet have it. The other figures are, from left to right, the very detailed MS-06J Zaku II (ground type) from STANDart volume 1 (released November 2007), a decidedly blander but classic and lean looking MS-06 Zaku II from volume 13 (released May 2012) and the two new F-2 Types from the latest set. As far as quality goes, the MS-06J type is the premier version here, released in a box with optional partsand superb details, though it looks quite bulky by comparison to its space flight-capable siblings.

There are also a couple of high mobility versions available that differ a bit with more thrusters and wilder colour schemes, they don't really belong in the comparison but here you go. From left to right: The Black Tristar Custom MS-06R-1A Type (STANDart 10, released July 2011), ace pilot Johnny Ridden's MS-06R2 (STANDart 16, released January 2013) and another MS-06R-1A Zaku II from set 10, this time Shin Matsunaga's Custom.

Size comparison: The Open Hatch RX-78-2 comes in at about 8.5 centimeters, the Zeta Plus at 10 centimeters (top of shield) and the Zaku II at about 8 centimeters.
Wrapping things up, although STANDart 19 does not contain many new surprised, it is an excellent set and especially so for recent collectors who can now get hold of several classic designs without having to search high and low for the original figures (which is a real pain in the back side I might add). So, all in all, STANDart volume 19 does come recommended, and as usual, get it while it is hot, these figures never seem to sit on the shelves for very long.