Thursday, 26 June 2014

Gundam Converge vol. 14

Gundam Converge appears to have entered some kind of golden age. That, or Bandai are ramping up the pressure to make way for other projects, but whatever the case, the product line is booming right now. Converge volume 14 released in April 2014 after a five month gap since the previous set, but it is already being tailed by volume 15 which released in June and volume sixteen is scheduled for August. Add to that the Revive package which was out in February and the usual scattering of limited and extra figures and it has been a busy first half of 2014. These are good times to be a Converge addict although at the moment it is hard to keep up.

Converge 14 is also interesting in that it is the first regular set where Bandai have chosen to do away with the traditional 6 + 1 limited figure and instead opting for a full seven figure set. This is definitely a welcome change as far as I am concerned, it is more fun to get seven different boxes. If volume 14 followed the typical pattern, one of the Jagd Dogas would have been a secret version, and that would just have frustrated people to no end. Job well done in this regard.

Another interesting concept is how you get eight figures in this set. Box number 87 actually contains a little mini-set of two vehicles, something we haven't seen since Converge number 50, which sported two RB-79 Balls. It seems Bandai have entered a phase where they like to reassess the Converge formula, seeing as how set 15 for example, will contain not one but two secret figures, and how set sixteen will feature the first figure relaunches. Interesting times, but we are skidding off the track, enough about Converge in general and on to the figures contained in volume 14.

As usual, each figure comes in a compartmentalized plastic bag with a handful of pieces to snap together. The traditional chewing gum is of course also included.

81 : At least volume 14 is traditional in one regard; the set opens with a Gundam. This time around we get the elegant GNT-0000 00 Qan[T]. This is a really nice sculpt with lots of detail and a vibrant colour scheme with the transparent parts a nice bonus. Although the figure sports the typical Converge articulation pattern, which translates to a rotating head, arms rotating at the shoulder and some side to side wrist movement of the right hand, the various large components block each other's movements rather effectively. Still, a beautiful figure and a real asset in any Converge display.

82 : The other Gundam to feature in this set is the RGZ-91 Re-GZ, which was recently featured in the Assault Kingdom line as well. While waiting for this attractive figure to make its debut in STANDart we'll have to do with the Converge variant which is a nice if not terribly interesting figure. Actually, it is well made, but I guess it just fell a bit short of my expectations. My main gripe is that you will have a hard time spotting its shiny green eyes. This is not the first time we've seen a Converge Gundam that stares introvertly into the ground. A little bit of adjustment of the head sculpt could have made it more striking and memorable. The colours also came out a bit on the pale side. Now, the Re-GZ does seem to vary quite a lot in different figure lines, and I just wish that the Converge had more blue in it, as the dark navy patches seem to be on the verge of black.

83 : And here of course, is the main reason that Converge Volume 14 consists of seven named figures. No way Bandai would have gotten away with sticking one of the MSN-03 Jagd Dogas in as a secret version. So instead, we get two iconic Neo Zeon machines properly named and numbered. This first figure is the Gyunei Type, which basically means it is piloted by Gyunei Guss. I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one waiting for the arrival of these two figures. As evident in the pictures, the Jagd Dogas are quite extravagant as far as Converge figures are concerned. Striking colour patterns and lots of detail. The Gyunei Type differens from the Quess Type in having a different visor design, and a slightly different rifle. Surprisingly, it does not feature the characteristic Beam Saber (with secondary Beam Knife attachment) but instead comes with a more generic looking Beam Assault Rifle. I really, really, really wish this had been an optional accessory. This is my only complaint though, this is easily one of the top figures of the entire Converge line, go get it... now!

84 : Figure 84 is of course a variation of the previous MSN-03 Jagd Doga. This time we're dealing with a Quess Type, named after its pilot Quess Paraya. Notice the different visor design and the Mega Gatling Gun. I think Fusion Works dropped the ball here, the Mega Gatling Gun is missing something... specifically it is missing the MEGA. I guess am just spoiled with the awesome weapon which came with the Ultimate Operation version of this figure. As for articulation, the Jagd Dogas are quite bulky which leads to somewhat limited arm movements. You can rotate the weapon hand as well, but the head is part of the torso mold. However, you can remove the figure's visor and adjust the facing of the large monoeye, which is a nice gimmick.

85 : The more we move toward the end of the set, the more outlandish the figure designs become. In slot number 85 we find the RMS-154 Barzam which is a low-end mass production design fielded by the Titans. Once I laid eyes on this figure I had to go over to the Gundam Wiki to find out what it was really supposed to look like, because this doesn't look anything like the mobile suit it is supposed to represent. Massive train wreck and once again a figure (Titans again, the other was the Asshimar) gets an oversized head decoration at the expense of the overall size of the body. The Converge figures are short as they are, there's no need to go to these excesses, people. And what is that hideous oversized, shiny red crotch doing there? Total disaster and huge disappointment. Let's just move on...

86 : Next up is one of those old, loveable and freaky Zeon amphibious designs. The MSM-10 Zock is a monstrous design with the unusual feature of having identical front and back sides. The figure is suitably bulky and almost as wide as two regular Gundam figures which makes it imposing enough. The monoeye is completely static on this figure, but the arms rotate at the shoulder. Considering that the figure is quite heavy and leaning forward, lifting even one of its arms will usually topple it forward. Time to make use of that transparent leg support piece!

87 : Opening the last box of this set we find the two Zeon support vehicles. Crammed in together are a DFA-03 Dopp atmospheric fighter and a HT-01B Mazella Attack tank (also commonly spelled as Magella). The Dopp fighter has quite the oversized cockpit and diminutive wings and fins, giving it a rather odd appearance. The brightly coloured tail fins are made from soft plastic with a propensity for bending, the same can be seen on the Mazella tank. Not sure if this can be corrected by immersing in hot water, I guess it beats the risk of having these parts breaking easily. Size-wise, the Dopp fighter is a little bit larger than the RB-79 Ball, and the tank is almost up to size with the G-Bull. The Dopp sits on the very same action base that was included with the RB-79 Ball, which explains why there are two arms on the base. Surprisingly, due to it being front heavy, the fighter doesn't really sit that well on the base and is prone to toppling. The tank's turret can also be removed from its chassis and placed as a fighter next to the Dopp on the action base. Overall, I'm not entirely convinced by these two models but they are a fun anomaly in the Converge line.

In summary, Converge volume 14 is a nice lot of figures, perhaps not as amazing as I first expected but still great. The sheer diversity and variation in types is also quite commendable and will liven up your collection nicely.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Assault Kingdom EX 03 : MSN-04 Sazabi (Premium Edition)

The Assault Kingdom series has been on quite a roll lately. Running for a little bit more than a year we've already seen five basic sets of four figures each, three EX sets and at least three variations and limiteds on top of that. This review is dedicated to the third and (for at least a few more days) most recent of the EX figures, the MSN-04 Sazabi.

Now, if there is one figure which lends itself well to a pricier and more excessive set, it is the Sazabi. A fact not lost on Bandai as they decided to capitalize on it by releasing two different versions of this totem Mobile Suit. The regular "EX 03" released in February 2014 and retailed at 1200 yen. A couple of weeks later it was followed by a Premium Edition, which was basically a souped up version of the standard version, and coming at a price of around 2100 yen.


Incidentially, this was the same sneaky pattern used with the recent Converge Revive set, which also received two versions, with the "Premium" set popping up a few weeks after the vanilla set had already been released. It is hard to see any particular reason for doing this set-up other than to maybe lure some people into buying both sets once they realize they ended up buying the wrong set. Customers who have not bothered doing particular research end up getting the short end of the stick.

Blah, blah, blah. You heard the exact same moaning in the Converge Review so I will try to avoid repeating myself. if you are planning to shop for Sazabi though, I suggest you take a very good look at and memorize the picture on the left, which is the smaller box containing the vanilla version of the figure. There are a couple of other identifiers, but the box size is the easiest. The Premium version sits in a box which is as large as the Zaku triple pack (EX 02) while the standard figure comes in a much smaller box. As always, when hunting online, watch out for sellers that may use stock photos showing the wrong figure. If the item description doesn't say premium edition, well then probably it isn't one.

Anyway, this review will be focusing solely on the pricier Premium Edition of the Sazabi. Although I don't have a vanilla version to compare it to, I will still be able to point out several differences quite easily. But first things first, let's just open up the box!

Alright, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. Inside the box we find three plastic bags filled to the brim with parts. Now, we're getting somewhere!

After we've opened up everything we end up with a satisfyingly large lot of parts and accessories. The Assault Kingdom EX series really continues to deliver in this regard, if only the regular figures could be given some more optionals too.

As always, the sheer number of parts can be a bit confusing at first, and with the only assembly instructions available printed on the inside walls of the box, you may be in for a bit of puzzle mania to figure out which parts go where and what their exact intended use might be. The base mobile suit itself though, will give you no headache. Find the Sazabi's left leg, snap it into the joint then pick up a pair of hands and insert them into the wrist sockets and you're done.

The base Sazabi stands about 9,5 cm tall, nicely dwarfing the average AK figure which would reach about 8 cm. The bulky armour is presented well and must have given the designer a better challenge than all these skinny RX-78 variations we've seen pumped out during the Assault Kingdom adventure. Granted, the AK figures are primarily about superior articulation, and the Sazabi still performs surprisingly well in this regard. Without going through all the joints and moving parts in detail, let's just say there are quite a few. The bulky feet give the Sazabi very good balance and it has no problems standing up on just one of them, as long as you don't try to topple him too much. Then there is the action base of course, which can attach through sockets on the arms, on the back pack and in the groin.

The Assault Kingdom Sazabi compared to the old Ultimate Operation Sazabi, released in June 2006. What the FWUO figure lacks in articulation it makes up for with an excellent paint job and great weathering.
One area where the AK figures do not excel when compared to e.g. Ultimate Operation and STANDart, is in the overall finish. All AK figures really scream "I'm made of plastic!" and often have quite basic colour schemes. The molds though are often more detailed than you might first think, so if you like to touch up the models yourself there is considerable opportunity to improve their general appearance.

The EX 03 truly bristles with weapons. I haven't seen this many accesories in any other Shokugan figure save the Converge Awake Unicorn. Apart from the shield the Sazabi can equip two types of rifles. One is the short and stubby Beam Shot Rifle, which mostly resembles an assault rifle. Like all weapons included for the Sazabi, it can be equipped in either hand. A larger red and silver coloured long range beam rifle is also available, but this weapon is only included with the Premium version of the figure.Apart from the standard grip this weapon can also be held in a carrying mode. One of the Sazabi's hands has a plug in the palm where the rifle can be attached, offering some additional posing abilities.

For close combat, no less than four different weapons are included. There is one massive beam saber, two thin shorter ones and of course the signature Beam Tomahawk. Here the premium and the standard versions of the EX 03 Sazabi figure differ again. Although the vanilla version of the figure does get all four weapons, they are made from uncoloured transparent plastic, similar to the action base. The premium version though, gets translucent yellow beam weapons which considerably enhances their appeal. A similar thing happened with the Kshatriya figure released as EX 01. After the original release which featured transparent beam sabers had been released, a limited edition variant popped up with translucent green sabres. In my opinion, Bandai truly dropped the ball on the transparent weapons, saving a few pennies and devaluing the look and feel of the basic figures in the process. Coloured sabres should have been standard equipment, period.

Yes, speaking about the Kshatriya. You may recall the EX 01 figure featured eight funnel weapons which could be posed in various launch style poses. This feature now also comes to the Sazabi. The two backpack funnel launchers are each available in two modes, with funnels stored or released. If released you also have the choice of posing the six individual funnels dashing away on wildly different trajectories.The funnels can be attached directly into the launchers, up to four of them can also be attached to the figure's back by attaching a transparent support piece to the figure's backpack. As with the Kshatriya I'm not really convinced by this whole idea but it is a nice and playable feature.

We have now covered the basics of the Sazabi figure, but the Premium package doesn't stop there. Apart from the unique weapon and nicely coloured beam weapons the fun has only just started.

In the picture above I have highlighted the pieces included with the Premium edition which are not avalable to the standard edition. The only exception to this is that the four yellow beam weapons are indeed available with the standard edition, but then only as colourless transparent pieces. Right, but what about the other gear? it doesn't look very Sazabi, does it?

Indeed it does not.

To get the full value out of your Sazabi Premium Edition, your Assault Kingdom collection hopefully contains a Nu Gundam and a Re-GZ (both released in Assault Kingdom volume 4 in January 2014) as well. I have to give Bandai credit here, this is also a slick marketing move, but it doesn't feel as outrageous as the sneaky way of releasing improved "premium" versions of figures a month after their original release.

The Sazabi Premium Edition set actually gives the RX-93 Nu Gundam access to a couple of new useful items. Most visible is the Fin Funnel weapon system for the right shoulder. In a move similar to the recent Gundam Converge Revive Premium Edition, the Nu Gundam here receives a matching piece for its right shoulder. Since the original RX-93 figure has no slot for this item it is plugged into the socket in the center of the figure's backpack. This steals away the storage option for the bazooka weapon though, not really an ideal side effect.

Apart from extra Fin Funnels, the RX-93 can also look forward to a nice and shiny red beam saber. Of course, this weapon really should have been included with the original figure (which still came with a beam rifle, a shield and a bazooka so not that bad). Anyway, this afterthought rectifies the mistake and adds a truly excellent beam sabre. I don't understand why Bandai will not always go the extra mile and make translucent coloured beam sabres for all the figures that wield them, instead of those horrible transparent or even opaque white and green ones.

Another peculiar weapon of choice is... a red ball. I'm not up to speed on the lore here, but I guess this item is somehow featured in the anime, since Bandai saw it prudent to include two pegged hands that can hold it. One smaller RX-93 sized hand, and one larger Sazabi-size. Its purpose is unknown to me but I like the feature, and these pegged hands are also useful for holding other items in new poses. So, three new accessories for the Nu Gundam, nice!

So what does the EX 03 Premium set hold in store for the Re-GZ?

Well, the RGZ-91 Re-GZ Mobile Suit is only getting one accessory, but... man, it is all the more advanced. Here a simple additional weapon didn't do, Bandai added the BWS, the Back Weapon System instead, which converts the Re-GZ to a heavy fighter for space combat. Just look at that thing, a truly ingenious piece of engineering.

The BWS is assembled by removing two parts from the underside of the craft. The mobile suit is then slid into the hollow inside and locked in place by placing the two removable parts on top of its shoulders and locking them in place using the shield. Hats off to the guys at the engineering department that figured this out. The end result is a sleek and slightly menacing looking craft.

Of course, this whole BWS thing is pretty static. If you want to play around with it a bit you can also create some alternate configurations just for the heck of it. Turn the BWS into a fighter jet or attach it on top of the Re-GZ backpack instead, to give the mobile suit a chance to wield a weapon or two.

In summary, the EX 03 Sazabi Premium Edition figure is really outstanding and deserving of its name. However, the format is not without problems. Apart from the misery of having a standard edition of the figure which misses out on some great looking accessories, the Premium Edition figure is actually more of a Nu Gundam and Re-GZ enhancer, than truly focusing on making the Sazabi itself that much greater. Surely Bandai could have made just one version of the Sazabi, complete with the best accessories, and then stuck the Nu-Gundam and Re-GZ components in their respective sets?

But... we're getting quite used to this business practice by now, and as long as you like to collect the AK figures you'll probably want to get your hands on this set. If you are only interested in the Sazabi figure itself however, you may just want to stick with the vanilla version and perhaps apply some customization to its beam weapons yourself.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Gundam Converge : UC Episode 7 Unicorn Gundam

If there is one thing that the various celestial bodies can all align and agree on, it is that there are a whole lot of Unicorns in the Gundam Converge product line. I already felt I had too many RX-0:s in the collection back when Bandai announced the Revive and EX02 figures a while ago. But when I stumbled on the little fellow we are going to look at closer today, my heart melted for the little Gundam.

If you happen to read this blog around the time of publishing you might know that the Gundam Unicorn saga is drawing to its close, with the seventh and last volume to be released in Japan in the coming days. Leading up to this release there has been a number of advance screenings running since mid-May. People who purchased tickets for the second round of these advance screenings were eligible for getting this little figure, a "pearl clear" version of the Unicorn Gundam in its Destroy Mode.

Since I am not located in Japan I obviously haven't attended any UC7 screening, rather this little fellow is now popping up here and there online. These will probably not last long, so I encourage interested collectors to act decisively.

Anyway, that was a little backstory for the release of this particular version of the RX-0. Unless I am mistaken this marks the eighth version of the white Unicorn to appear in the Converge line (the poor old Banshee on the other hand has only managed three appearances so far). However, if you count the figures available in destroy mode, there were only two other versions available up until this point, the red and white figure from the SP01 two-pack, and the recently released green and white figure from EX02.

The UC7 Unicorn comes in a smart looking black and white box similar to the ones used for the single Converge figures, only taller and a bit wider. This is easily explained once you see the contents of the box, as the Hyper Beam Javelin weapon would not fit into the standard box. The figure comes with three accessories; apart from the previously mentioned Javelin there is also an alternative Beam Magnum rifle and a single shield. As per Converge standard, a support base is also provided in the box. Curiously this is no transparent but milky white. Luckily the figure stands well without a need for support, so you will not need it.

Both weapons are intended for use with the right hand only. The Beam Rifle has a hand molded directly onto it (similar to the Unicorn Mode RX-0 figure) while the Beam Javelin is loose and can be slotted into a gripping right hand, (the EX02 figure shares this feature as well). The shield is plugged into a socket on the left forearm, it can not be placed on the right arm.

The UC7 "Pearl Clear" coating compared to that of the Pearl White Unicorn from the limited 2011 triple-set.
The RX-0 has the typical Converge articulation, the arms rotate at the shoulder and the head can also be rotated freely. This particular figure also has the replaceable righthands, which can be freely rotated at the wrist. Surprisingly, the UC7 Unicorn differs a bit here from the newly released green and white Unicorn (figure EX02). While the UC7 has a replaceable hand with a Beam Rifle attached to it, the EX02 had a loose Beam Rifle which can be inserted into the same hand as used by the Hyper Javelin. The EX02 figure also featured a similar open lefthand allowing you to choose in which hand to display either weapon, so you could opt for arming both hands if you so chose. The EX02 variant is clearly superior in this regard.

Destroy Mode Unicorns, from left to right: Full Armor Unicorn Gundam (Awake Mode) released as EX02 in March 2014, Episode 7 RX-0 (Pearl Clear Version) released April 2014 and Unicorn Gundam (Destroy Mode) from multipack SP02, released August 2012.
Another interesting aspect of the UC7 Unicorn is that it only comes with a simple shield. Looking at the other two Full Armor Unicorns, the first one (from set SP02) included a shield armed with two Beam Gatling cannons and the new EX02 sports double shields, each with a twin Gatling cannon. I guess this is the fate of being a promotional figure, the UC7 figure was probably held back a bit for this very purpose.

There are a few more things to mention about the UC7 figure. Branded as a clear pearl version, the figure mainly looks translucent rather than pearly. The style of the figure comes off a bit more plain and plastic looking than what its name suggests. The pearl coated version of the RX-0 Gundam (Unicorn Mode) for example (which was released in a limited triple pack back in 2011) looks more sophisticated than this figure. The other thing to mention is that the this translucent plastic isn't sticking together as tightly as you are used to Converge figures doing. The arms and V-fin for example like to come off quite easily. However, I have encountered no problems in having the figure keep a pose, so it is not really a concern.

Whole lot of Unicorns. Top row: Converge 07 (with beam rifle), Converge 07 (secret version with Bazooka), Destroy Mode figure from multipack SP02. Bottom row: Unicorn with Beam Gatling gun from Operation Revive Premium Edition, the UC7 pearl clear version, the 2011 limited edition pearl coated RX-0 with Beam Rifle, and the green and white Awake Mode version released as EX02.
Overall the limited UC7 figure is a nice novelty that livens up the collection a bit. However, considering its scarcity and price, if you are simply looking for a Full Armor Unicorn to place in your collection, either of its two predecessors are better purchases. Both of them look more convincing and offer more customization options, the EX02 especially is a monster with tons of custom equipment to play around with. The UC7 figure is mainly a concern for the serious collectors only.