Thursday, 16 October 2014

Assault Kingdom vol. 6

I keep saying it, but it has been a busy year for Assault Kingdom. Volume six is now here, released in September, and it marks the third full set this year. Apart from these we've also seen two exclusive figures and unless production becomes delayed, there is a chance we will see volume seven hit the stores before the end of the year as well.

Volume six is going to meet a challenging crowd out there, because it follows on two successful releases and thus expectations are bound to be high. Just like in volume three, this is again a set entirely filled by Gundams. When the set was announced, this fact alone dropped my expectations significantly and I've remained a bit cautious about it, but with the figures now in hand I am happy to say that it turned out better than I had expected. Barely.

As you can see from the images the figures come in the traditional boxes and plastic bags. One nice little novelty is that the plastic bags are no longer machine sealed. They have instead been folded and taped shut, which makes it much more convenient top open them. This is also the first time I received no classic shokugan chewing gums inside the boxes, apparently this must be an export version of the set, which found its way to me from a seller in Hong Kong. As always with Assault Kingdom, the plastic bags seem to be full of parts and accessories, so let's open them up and take a look at each figure up close.

21 : The first mobile suit and Gundam to appear is the RX-0(N) with its wonderfully tongue-twisting name Unicorn Gundam 02 Banshee Norn (Destroy Mode). This figure was simply bound to happen. The classic ol' white Unicorn received both a Unicorn Mode and a Destroy Mode, so it would have made little sense for Bandai not to milk the Unicorn franchise on the Banshee as well. We now have a total of four Unicorns in Assault Kingdom and it wouldn't really surprise me if a few more variations get tossed into the mix in the future as well.

All Unicorns currently released in Assault Kingdom, from left to right: Unicorn (Unicorn Mode) from AK1 (released 2013-03), the Destroy Mode from AK2 (June 2013), the Banshee Norn (Unicorn Mode) which was a Dengeki Hobby Magazine special item for the March 2013 issue, and finally the new Banshee Norn  (Destroy Mode) figure from AK6.
Talking about the Banshee Norn itself, well, all I can say is that it has an awesome presence; it stands out from the pack in an almost brutal type of way. The Destroy Mode version basically recycles the Destroy Mode used for the regular Unicorn and adds more plating especially on its back and shoulders, making it seem very powerful. The same goes for its large shield which now becomes even bigger and meaner looking.

Equipment-wise, apart from the shield, the figure only gets one weapon, and it is the exact same Beam Magnum rifle as was included with the Unicorn Mode version of the figure released earlier. The Unicorn got a couple of Beam Sabers in its Destroy Mode and I kind of wish Bandai would have included a pair for the Banshee Norn as well, as the equipment is a bit basic. Thankfully, due to Assault Kingdom modularity, you can always mix and match weapons between your figures, but more accessories are always a good thing.

"Hey man, gimme dat!" - Double trouble as the Destroy Mode Unicorn kits up with two beam Magnum rifles or shields respectively.
 The base Unicorn figure retains the same features in terms of articulation and poseability as its predecessors, although the large armor plating on the shoulders and the increased size of the shield means the two will get in each other's way a lot. If you are going for a dynamic pose you might end up ditching the shield completely (you can always attach it to the backpack). The figure's slender frame otherwise lends itself well to posing, although the small feet don't give it a whole lot of balance when standing, and you'll have to fiddle a bit to get it right. The action bases help here of course.

The AK6 Banshee Norn as compared to the recently released Banshee (Destroy Mode) from STANDart volume 20, which appeared in May 2014. In Gundam lore, the Banshee Norn is an upgraded variant of the Banshee.
The Banshee Norn is an awesome piece of machinery and even though the base AK figure is a bit bland in terms of colouring it still looks great. It is definitely my favourite version of all the Unicorn variations released so far.

22 : Now, the Zeta, or MSZ-006 Z Gundam, probably needs no introductions. Wherever it turns up, it usually means an awesome looking figure guaranteed. The Assault Kingdom Zeta seemed very promising when I began putting it together but soon its quirks began to appear. The figure looks great for an AK Gundam, which often tends to be quite bland and white. The overall feel of the Zeta is more appealing here, but still falls monumentally short when compared to other fully painted variants of the mobile suit.

Front and back views of the Zeta as it appears in the following series, from left to right: Z Gundam (with A.E.U.G. markings) as released in STANDart vol. 16 in January 2013, the Zeta from Ultimate Operation Plus 1 (released September 2005), the Zeta from AK6 and finally the Zeta with Z logo from STANDart volume 4, released March 2009.

I can imagine that the Z proved to be a bit of a challenge to the engineers who crafted it. There are many bulky pieces of armor that have been slimmed and trimmed to give the figure a bit more movement in its limbs, but it still feels clunky and difficult to pose. I had the shoulder armor pieces pop out and fly away more than once, and the flight pack on the back effectively hinders much movement of the arms as well (not to mention how scrawny they look when compared to other versions of the figure).

The Zeta Gundam comes with a good range of accessories; apart from its iconic BOWA Beam Rifle two beam sabers are also included. Still, no translucent or spiffy colours on these, but a dull white. One of the sabers has a handle that attaches to either of the fist type closed hands, while the second is an accessory to the beam rifle. You can remove the barrel from the rifle and insert the saber to turn it into the world's most awkward melee weapon. The words "lancer droid" come to mind.

Almost as long as its name; the saber extension to the (BOWA) XBR-M87A2 Beam Rifle.
Overall, the Zeta is a decent figure, but it comes off as a bit bland and the limited articulation is kind of a disappointment. Of course, you can always ditch the flight pack and use smaller beam rifles or beam sabers to strike up interesting poses more easily.

23 : The third figure, and Gundam, of AK6 is an old friend. The RX-178 Gundam Mk-II in the Titans dark navy blue colour scheme. If you are a veteran of Assault Kingdom, chances are you have his white counterpart in your collection already. The previous (white) Assault Kingdom Mark II was a really successful figure, it had excellent likeness, poseability and an attractive colour scheme.

The Mark II of the Titans compared to the previously released white Mark II, from Assault Kingdom 2, released in June 2013..
The Titans version simply builds upon this fact and goes a bit further by ditching the ol' white thing and converting the Gundam into something darker and meaner looking. I knew this figure was going to be successful even before I laid eyes upon it.

There isn't really a whole lot to say about the new version of this figure since it shares the excellent properties of its predecessor. The Titans version has one new accessory though; the head mounted Vulcan Gun Pod. It clips around the head as an optional boost to the RX-178's firepower. Again, it would have been nice of Bandai to include at least one beam saber here -and why not the bazooka too?

The AK6 Titans Mark II compared to one of the two released in STANDart, this one being armed with a Hyper-Bazooka and belonging to STANDart wave 13, released in May 2012.

All things considered, the RX-178 is one of the better Assault Kingdom figures in terms of its versatility. You can have a lot of fun with it, as it lends itself very well to custom poses, just like the original RX-78-2 did.

24 : The last figure of AK6 is a real novelty, and an odd one at that. Here comes the GF13-017NJ Shining Gundam, whose main claim to fame appears to be having an oversized green hand. Out of all the extraordinary and weird mobile suits out there, Bandai actually settled for a very basic looking white Gundam with green fingers. Uhm... ok.

Not a whole lot going on in the equipment department here. The Shining Gundam's signature weapon is its right hand turning immensely powerful and glowing green, and then becomes a crushing weapon. Alternatively, this energy can be channeled into one of its ordinary beam sabers, turning it extra long and green. The Gundam also has some additional support weapons mounted directly in its body, but at least Bandai could have included an unaugmented beam saber for some variation. And why on earth couldn't we get a right open hand in dull gray? Some of the Zaku II:s come with seven hands, I think it is not too much to ask for a fifth hand for such a dull figure as this one.

The Bolshoi Gundam mastered the difficult pirouettes a long time ago...
You can of course cannibalize your other figures for some rifles, sabers or hands, but we shouldn't have to take away from one figure to breathe life into another. I was also put off a bit by the Shining's clunky articulation. Considering its rather traditional build I found it surprisingly hard to pose, it seemed to be mostly interested in doing graceful skips and jumps not entirely out of place in a ballet performance.

I don't have much in the way of G Gundam figures, here are the two God Gundam (a.k.a. Burning Gundam for you in the U.S.) figures from STANDart volume 5, released in September 2009. In the G Gundam lore, the God Gundam is a successor to the Shining Gundam.

Action Base component assembly

As usual for Assault Kingdom, each figure in a normal wave also includes a few pieces that can be used as a rudimentary action base for it. By collecting all four you are usually allowed to build something out of these parts, typically a quirky looking building or vehicle. In Assault Kingdom 6, you get to build two additional tank-like vehicles or transformable mobile suits.

I am not going to spill a great deal of words over these, as usually they don't work out all that well. In AK6 however, the outcome is really poor. Kudos to the engineers for trying and I bet children can have a lot of fun with it, but other than that... well these pieces will probably end up in a ziplock bag.

In summary, I suppose AK6 is a decent set, but I am not really feeling it. The Banshee Norn and the Mark II are the best of the four, with the other two trailing a bit behind. I don't think that AK6 is a must buy unless you are a completist, perhaps simply pick the figures you prefer the most and then move on.

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