Friday, 30 May 2014

Gundam STANDart volume 20

May 2014. We are three and a half years down the line from the STANDart origin and have now arrived at volume 20. Bandai makes no big deal out of this small jubilee but continues its practice of releasing sets of four figures, where the fourth figure is always a slight variation of the third. Amazingly they have kept this practice up for twenty volumes straight, not once did they stray from this formula.

You will find the rest of STANDart 20 to follow the regular practice as well. Except perhaps the figures in the set. It is a really motley crew that has been assembled to star in volume twenty, and the set fills a couple of notable holes in the figure line. One thing that is new for STANDart though, is that we are receving a pair of transformable mobile suits. Unless you count the 0 Raiser accessory set this is the first time STANDart has wandered down this level of customization. We'll be taking a closer look at this further down in the review.

As you can see above the figures come in the typical STANDart boxes and require a minimum of assembly, at least in the case with the Unicorn and the Gyan. Conspiciously absent from the boxes I received where the traditional blue shokugan chewing gums. I have a theory here that these gums are stripped for sets that are exported out of Japan, but I have received many sets from sellers abroad where the gums where included. Be that as it may, let's not waste any more time on chewing gum and instead take a closer look at the figures of volume 20.

076 : First in the set, gunning for the highlight slot, is the RX-0 Unicorn Gundam 02 Banshee (Destroy Mode). Finally the Banshee is receiving its destroy mode modifier. This model is very exquisite in the detail department and appears quite tall when compared to its Unicorn Mode namesake (which was released in STANDart volume 12 back in January 2012).

Unicorn Banshee family: The Unicorn 02 appears in Destroy Mode (STANDart vol. 20), Unicorn Mode (STANDart vol. 12) and in the upgraded Banshee Norn configuration (Assault Kingdom limited edition release). Rumour has it that the Destroy Mode will be released in the sixth set of Assault Kingdom which should be available later this year.

Although the new Banshee figure is both slim and tall, with relatively small feet, it still stands up with ease and balances without the need of any support. The colour scheme feels quite exquisite, especially when compared to the Unicorn Mode fiugre in its brighter blue colour. The STANDart figures can be a bit delicate and the large V-fin of the Banshee seems especially prone to damage if handled carelessly. Overall, the figure's pose comes off as pretty static. Shoulders and neck rotate as per STANDart standard, although the general impression of the figure is a bit two dimensional due to its flatness. If the Unicorns had been around during the days of the Ultimate Operation figure line, I am sure they would have received quite spectacular dynamic poses.

STANDart Unicorn family. from left to right: Banshee Unicorn Mode (STANDart 12), Banshee Destroy Mode (STANDart 20), Unicorn Destroy Mode (original figure with red tone released in STANDart 6, this green Rouse Drive version was released three years later) and the Unicorn in Unicorn Mode (STANDart 9).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Destroy Mode Banshee has very much in common with the white Unicorn equivalent. The image above clearly displays the similarities and differences of the two figures. There have been a lot of Unicorns appearing in the shokugan figure lines lately, so it is good to see the Banshee getting some love as well. This is an outstanding sculpt that will be a highlight for any STANDart collection.

077 : Now here's a real classic. It is hard to mistake the YMS-15 Gyan for another. This cool mobile suit is specialized for close combat and brings a large beam saber and a shield loaded with auxiliary weaponry to the battle. The model is very crisp and stylish, with a lot of attention to detail. As we've seen with several Zeon figures in STANDart before, the designers have decided to omit painting the glowing monoeye inside the visor.

The STANDart Gyan compared to its old namesake from the FW Ultimate Operation figure line (FWUO9, released March 2005).
Thanks to unusually good articulation, the STANDart Gyan allows for a lot of freedom in posing its weapons. Apart from the traditional rotating shoulders and neck, the Gyan's arms also rotate horizontally underneath the elbow, as do the wrists. The joints feel quite loose though, I would not recommend fiddling with this too much. However, the largest issue preventing you from dreaming up and implementing a wild amount of cutting and parrying poses is the fact that the Gyan suffers from terrible balance issues. The figure is sort of learning forward, which means he will gladly topple forward. You can prevent this by making him hold back the shiled below the waist, or by planting the beam saber into the ground. This is a rather big disappointment considering how many cool poses that can not be realized. Overall though a great figure which could have been awesome.

078 : Alright, we are reaching the tail end of the set, where the two variations of a single design will typically appear. This time Bandai has chosen for us, the massive NRX-055 Baund-Doc, a transformable mobile suit operated by the Titans. Although not stated on the package this pink and blue unit was piloted by Rosamia Badam. Now, there are a couple of odd looking and ugly mobile suits but this one really takes the cake. I find this design absolutely dreadful. With so many awesome suits to pick from I can't understand why the Baund-Doc was picked up (and then there's the added insult of there being two of them). According to the lore there were a total of three Baund-Docs completed, I suppose I should thank the makers that the yellow variant was not pumped out as well... Let's face it, we are looking at a pink thingy with a large gypsy skirt and an aardvark snout. Brrr...

079 : Now that I've spent an entire paragraph moaning about the Baund-Doc design let's take a closer look at its properties. As you can see the last figure of the set is also an NRX-055 Baund-Doc though this one is referred to as a Twin Seat Type (lore has it that it was piloted by one Gates Capa). The figures are completely identical though, save for the colour variations. The Baund-Docs are very delicate and large figures with many small parts. Ignoring my personal preference for a second I must say that the figures are very finely detailed and have excellent paint applications. Due to the one-piece chest section these figures feature no shoulder articulation, though you can swivel the left arm underneath the shoulder section. It barely clears the large skirt section though, so you can't really move it much. The head is also a part of the chest mould and so cannot be rotated at all.

Instead, Bandai have chosen to spend its energy on creating the very first transformable mobile suit to be featured in STANDart. As evident in the picture above, the Baund-Doc is separated at the waist where the skirt has to be inserted. Using elements from its left arm it is possible to remove the torso and create the mobile armor mode by attaching the left-arm components into the opening of the skirt. This creates some sort of armored chicken looking thing vaguely similar to how the figure appears in the cartoon. The legs however must remain in place, so you will not be able to go all the way and have the legs point forward which would be expected in the figure's flight mode.

Words really do fail me. I was skeptical when these figure was first announced, and here with the result in hand I can safely say that this must be the worst thing to ever have come out of the STANDart line, past, present AND future. Who in their right mind is going to place that robot chicken thingy on a shelf next to a Z Gundam and say whooouuuuwww? Bandai, please don't turn STANDart into a freakshow, you have the SD-series for that very purpose. Let's hope we never have to see further atrocities (such as Qubeleys and Kshatriyas) in this line.

STANDart 20 size comparison. The Gyan is roughly 9 cm tall, and the two other figures come in some where around 95-98 mm.
Summing things up, STANDart 20 is a mixed bag. I cannot in earnest recommend anyone to buy the full set, but by all means do get the Banshee Unicorn and the Gyan and let's just forget about the rest. Also, STANDart 21 is waiting around the corner, and from the first glimpses that set promises to be fantastic.

Friday, 23 May 2014

New Converge feature; Revival Selection

With Gundam Converge 15 soon to be released, Bandai today unveiled the line-up for the next set in this popular little Shokugan series. See something familiar in that line-up? Yes I bet you do. Bandai have decided to go down the reissue route, and will continue to release old and out-of-print models, the first being Char's Zaku II.

Ironically, in my recent Operation Revive review, I longed for and moaned a bit about the fact that Char's Zaku II didn't make it to the finals. It remains very diffcult to find, the only figures I have found to be more rare and hopelessly difficult to stumble on are the G M and the Marasai, both of which I have never come across at all. Anyway, Bandai explains on their shokugan page that there had been many calls for a reprint of this figure (and understandably so), and they further claim that this figure will be the first in a line of reissues under the "Revival Selection" moniker.

I expect we will soon be seeing more of these old figures popping up in the new Converge volumes and that is really ticking me off. The revived figures should be handled spearately, as those of us buying complete sets will be ending up with duplicates. Bandai states that they will be using the mold of the original Zaku II, and that they haven't yet decided if they are going to make any slight detail tweak or colour change (whichever they pick, some will moan about it of course).

Have you also noticed the RX-78-2 in the set? This is a figure that is being upgraded with "more detail". So that's two slots out of six filled with old stuff we've seen before. I really do hope this is not the beginning of a watering down of the incredibly successful Converge line. It has been a great source for unusual figures and if they are now going to start recycling mobile suits instead of continuing to expand the figure line, I for sure will be disappointed.

Gundam Converge volume 16 is scheduled for release in August 2014.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Assault Kingdom vol. 2

Today we are jumping back a bit in time to take a look at the second wave in the Assault Kingdom line. The set followed three months after the initial wave, releasing in June 2013. As usual each figure comes with a set of parts to create an action base, and these pieces in turn combining to something larger, in this case a mobile suit launch catapult.

With set number two Bandai continued to set the focus on classic and well known mobile suits, keeping the heavy focus on Gundams in particular. I suspect that a strong reason for this is the relative ease for the designers to tweak the existing moulds into new figures. It would be relatively easy for Bandai to have the Unicron and the RX-78-2 from the first wave modified into the Unicorn Destroy Mode as well as the two new Gundams in this set. The Zaku II though is a brand new sculpt here, and it will lend itself well into being modified into variations such as the High Mobility Zakus and the Gouf (which is also exactly what happened down the line as more waves were released). Alright, on to the figures themselves!

05 : Set opener is the RX-0 Unicorn Gundam (Destroy Mode). If you consider that the Assault Kingdom line was a total of nine figures (counting the Dengeki limited Unicorn Banshee) at this point, the fact that three of them were Unicorns left me a bit miffed. The figure itself is great though, although I recognized most of it from the two previously released figures. The articulation is flexible but it shares the Unicorn problem of small and unsteady feet; an action base will help it a lot. However, with a bit of fiddling around I was able to pose it in more ways than I had first anticipated. The figure comes armed with a pair of wrist-mounted beam sabers, a bazooka and the cool looking shield which gives you a lot of customization options. Hands are offered as open or closed. As you can see in the pictures the figure's gold coloured V-Fins are made of soft plastic (mostly resembling insect antenna), this enhanced durability is much appreciated.

06 : Derived from the original Gundam the improved RX-178 Gundam Mk-II also has a lot in common with the RX-78-2 figure which preceeded it in the Assault Kingdom series. Mostly it looks like a beefed up and more colourful version of the original. And considering that the RX-78 was a really sharp figure in regard to articulation the same can also be said about the mark two. As great as it looks, I still can't shake the feeling of white Gundam overflow in the AK line, surely the blue version of the Titans would have been cooler to liven things up a bit? Anyway, apart from its excellent articulation, it also offers a beam rifle, a spiffy shield and the regular open and closed hands.

07 : Although at first look, the RX-79(G) Gundam seems a bit spartan it makes up for it with some cool features. This G-model Ground Type Gundam is geared for heavy combat and comes armed with a light beam rifle as well as a massive 180mm cannon and a simple shield. The shield can be clipped into the action base and act as a support for the cannon when fired from a kneeling stance. Not all Assault Kingdom figures manage do to a convincing kneeling  pose but the RX-79(G) figure seems to have been developed specifically for this purpose. As you can see from the pictures above you will have lots of posing opportunities for this figure.

Note that the Heat Hawk weapon on the last panel is borrowed from one of the Black Tri-Star figures and is not included with this figure.

08 : Ending the set is the truly new sculpt of AK volume two. it is the MS-06S Zaku II. Although not evident from the packaging, this Commander Type Zaku II is of course painted in Char Aznable's red colour. Considering how well his name sells it seems odd for the packaging designer to omit it from the box. Nevertheless, not only is Char Aznable a popular guy, his Zaku II is also one of the classics, and you will be pleased to learn that the Assault Kingdom version of it has turned out really well.

Although a Zaku has slightly more bulky limbs than a Gundam the AK figure has really excellent articulation, offering lots and lots of cool poses. The commander antenna on his helmet is not made from the soft plastic as the Gundam V-Fins, and is therefore crisply straight (and a little bit more fragile). The figure comes with the typical open and closed fists, and you can place the Zaku Bazooka in either hand, using the other hand as support. The bazooka also clips into the peg hole on the figure's skirtback for storage. A truly great figure which really only has one fault - it lacks extra weapons. This figure really should have come with optional machine gun and heat hawk axe weapons, but you can always borrow these weapons from another Zaku figure in the line.

If you collect all four figures you will end up with the action base parts as seen above.Although the components in each box will give some basic support for your figures things get more interesting when you combined them. You can combine the two pieces with rail to create a launch pad catapult, then place one of the smaller base plates onto the rail and place a Gundam on it. As mentioned previously the ground Type Gundam also interacts specifically with the smaller plate, clipping its shiled into it.

Overall Assault Kingdom 2 is a great set, though at the time of its release it felt a bit limited with so many Unicorns and an overall white and red figure mix. Things did liven up come volumes three, four and five, and of course with the Black Tri-Star triple pack, so in hindsight I find this set is more interesting to the collector than when it first appeared.