Monday, 19 January 2015

Gundam Converge vol. 17

Gundam Converge volume seventeen hit the shelves in Japan just in time before Christmas 2014. Although several more figures have been released, with this set Converge received its hundreth numbered regular figure, an event Bandai have also seen fit to commermorate with an announced special release of two super detailed Converge figures (the Musha Gundam and Knight Gundam) which are scheduled for release in May 2015. For its part, volume 17 got some small jubilee markings on the boxes as you can see above.

Indeed, Converge has come a long way. In roughly four years time, the series have managed to see released some 175 figures (where a lot of them are variants though), and there is no sign of any slowdown. With the seventeenth set, focus again lies on After War Gundam X which received two new designs, but the big focus here is on Turn A Gundam which gets no less than four new figures. As with Converge 16, the line-up is trailed by a Revival figure, but the set deviates from the norm in that it contains two secret figures instead of the usual single one.

99 : First in the set, and a first for Converge, is the System ∀-99 Turn A Gundam from the anime with the same name. It is in all respects an alternate timeline RX-78-2 with some rounded features and a V-fin that has slipped down from the forehead and onto its mouth. It is a cool little figure with lots of detail and shiny eyes hidden deep inside. I would think Turn A fans will be very pleased with this figure and it is a nice departure from the typical angular Gundam styles we've seen over the years.

The Turn A comes with the typical Converge articulation, which means the head will rotate, as will the arms at the shoulders. The right hand will turn at the wrist, and both the rifle and shield are optional equipment, which is a nice feature.

100 : So, here he is, the much lauded hundredth figure of Gundam Converge. The honours have befallen the Concept X 6-1-2 Turn X, which has also been fetched from Turn A Gundam. An unexpected choice for a jubilee figure perhaps, but there you go. The Turn X is the natural rival of the Turn A so it seems fitting that they are released together.

In terms of figure complexity, the Turn X is an ambitious engineering project and it comes with a load of optional parts. This is quite unusual for Converge figures and shows that Bandai really wanted this figure to be a bit special. The figure features two optional right hands (a.k.a. "Destruction Manipulator"...), with its beam saber like Beam Emitter in deployed or deactivated configuration. The figure also has a large backpack (a.k.a. "Carapace Weapon Platform") featuring no less than four alternate weapons, all of which can be equipped in the figure's left hand.

The articulation follows Converge standard practice with a rotating head and shoulders, but with the backpack attached the head has nowhere to turn since it is locked in place by the pack. Overall this is an awesome piece of engineering, but the overall aesthetic design could have been much better. The Turn X figure does not look menacing or powerful at all, it more resembles a shy rabbit glancing down to the floor in silence, and the tiny little weapons end up looking very underpowered. With a better appearance this could have been one of the best figures ever released in Converge, now I find it to sit in the "meh..." category.

101 : Next in line is the GX-9901-DX Gundam Double X, which -unsurprisingly- is an improved version of the Gundam X which we saw in Converge sixteen. It is a very meaty design with lots of things going on. It is armed with a large Buster Rifle and a removable shield, and stores two Satellite Cannons on its back. Unlike the Gundam X, the Double X has its rifle molded directly onto the hand, so it is not possible to make it wield a Satellite Cannon (or two; imagine if Bandai had given the figure two open hands for that purpose). However, there are two slots in the shoulder pads, where the Satellite Cannons can be attached when deployed.

The figure has all the expected articulation points at neck, shoulders and right hand wrist. It also features the same gimmick as several other Converge Gundams that were released with support fighters; the ability to combine two figures into one. The support craft is of course the G-Falcon, as shown below.

102 : Completing the Double X Gundam is this fighter-like GS-9900 G-Falcon craft. It follows the tradition of pairing a Gundam with a support unit which it can also combine with the main mobile suit to increase its performance.

Apart from being a graceful and lively coloured fighter on its own, the G-Falcon can also work together with several Gundams. However for Converge it has been designed as a complement for the Double X figure only. According to Gundam X lore, the G-Falcon is used to power up the Gundam's two Satellite Cannons.

To transform the two pair required a bit of fiddling around and there isn't much in the way of instructions. You can see from a tiny picture on the back of the box that these two figures combine somehow, but there is no step by step guide included. Well, since there was an extra part included with the G-Falcon (which was not used in the assembly of the model) I knew it was involved somehow, but it took me some effort to figure out just what I was supposed to do. Basically, you remove the front section of the G-Falcon and then carefully split it in two. You discard the larger section with the small wings and instead attach the canopy section onto the leftover piece. Next, you carefully remove the little breastplate from the Double X Gundam -you can now attach the front of the G-Falcon onto the Gundam's chest.

The whole contraption is a bit fiddly and the G-Falcon section did not attach very well to the back of the Double X figure. Thanks to the transparent stand though, they can simply stand behind each other. Overall, I feel this is more of a gimmick than a nice display. I will certainly not grab duplicate figures because I doubt I will bother with this combo again. 

103 : At the far end of this set we have a pair of Zeon design to spice things up. Slot 103 is held by the AMX-109 Capule which originally featured in ZZ Gundam and was later carried over to Unicorn as well. It is a chunky amphibious mobile suit which is a descendant of the mighty Hy-gogg. This is one of those outlandish designs that just look even odder when compacted into the Converge mini-figure format, and I have a very soft spot for such figures...

There's not a whole lot going on with the Capule figure. Due to its special body shap the articulation is limited to arms only, and unless you want to clip its legs into the clear stand, the large and heavy claws will easily tip the Capule over unless you let at least one hand dig into the fround for support. My figure also has some slightly warped legs, which makes it less stable. For the Zeon amphibious lovers though, this is a definitive must-have.

Secret : And here we have the first of the two secret figures of Converge 17. Appearing as a simple colour variation, this particular design is actually referred to as the AMX-109 Kapool, and it has been lifted straight into the Turn A Gundam universe with this new designation. Here it instead fights for the Inglessa Militia rather than Zeon.

As you can see there are no design changes between the Capule and the Kapool, two names for the same thing. Always nice to have a second grunt type unit in the collection though, shouldn't be too hard to display this together with the typically green coloured Zeon mobile suits.

The image above compares the Capule/Kapool to its ancestors, the MSM-03 Gogg (Converge 7, May 2012) and the MSM-03C Hy-gogg (Volume 10, released April 2013).

48R : The very last figure is the revival figure of the set. Bandai here continues resurrecting old figures from the Converge line. The choice for the second figure to be released was a little surprising, considering that the MS-05B Zaku I hasn't exactly become very rare, and the Converge version was one of the blandest figures ever released in the line. Considering that the revival version of Char's custom Zaku II featured a bonus weapon I had high hopes that Bandai were going to upgrade the Zaku I figure into something awesome as well. Unfortunately, they let us all down in that regard.

Can it be clearer than in the above picture? The reissued Zaku I is exactly as bland and unexciting as the original. It is one of few Converge figures to feature no accessories, not a single weapon, not even a shield. In Gundam lore, the Zaku I has appeared with rifles, heat hawks, spiked shields and bazookas, just take a look at how the same mobile suit appears in the FW Ultimate Operation figure line:

It wouldn't have been difficult for Bandai and FW to do a Zaku I equipped with the shield and machine gun, because the original figure also came out as a secret version in the Black Tri-Star colour scheme. That particular figure had these accessories, so it was merely a fact of setting them up for a colour change. I am surprised that Bandai weren't prepared to go that extra mile; it could easily have been one of the better Zeon figures in the series.

Brothers in arms? The original Zaku I from Converge volume 8 on the left, with the reissue on the right.
This revival figure is a huge disappointment not only because it features absolutely nothing new. The colour scheme also does not have any distinguishing features from the original release, so if you mix them up you'll most likely not be able to tell them apart.

Secret : The second secret figure in Converge 17 is yet another colour variation, and it is the newly reissued Zaku I that gets the honours. At the first glance it appears to be some sort of Zeon Black Tri-Star thingy? Wrong. Just like with the Capule, this is actually a Zaku I from the alternate Turn A Gundam timeline, where it goes by the name MS-05 Borjarnon (Gavane Goonny Custom).

Well, secret figure and all; as you can see this figure isn't all that exciting either. Poor Gavanne doesn't get any weapons in the alternate universe either, it seems. Oh, and too bad for all Converge lovers who were hoping for a reissue of the very hard to find Black Tri-Star Zaku I, this reissue won't do anything for you.

Converge Zaku I line up, from left to right. The original Zaku I (Converge volume 8, October 2012) together with its secret Black Tri-Star version armed with machine gun and shield. Next came the awesome MS-05L Zaku I Sniper Type in Converge 13, released in December 2013. And lastly the two new figures from Converge 17.


Going in, I didn't have very high expectations for Converge 17, mostly because I don't feel that strongly about the designs coming out of the X and Turn A series. The individual figures though are (as always) top notch, however the two secret figures feel kind of wasted. The thing that bothered me the most though, was the lousy new version of the Zaku I, which crushed the hopes that the revival series would be upgrading the old figures.

Now, considering that volume 18 will feature not one but two reissued figures (and who knows, perhaps a secret alternate colour version or two), my expectations will be set even lower. Converge 18 is the first set I am not really looking forward to.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Assault Kingdom vol. 7

Alright, the wait is over. Ever since it was announced, I was drooling at the thought of examining the figures of Assault Kingdom volume seven. Here is an incredible line-up of Gundam All Stars mobile suits which would seem impossible to mess up. Volume seven released in November 2014, and it is the fourth regular set to come out of an explosive year of expansion for the AK-line.

If Assault Kingdom volume 5 was the blue set, and volume 6 was green, then red is surely the predominant colour of choice for volume seven. Not only that, but with a strong line up of early One Year War designs, this set is loaded with classic designs that were just bound to show up eventually.

To fit all these goodies, Bandai have done a really great job of topping up the small boxes to their very brims. Let's dig into the plastic bags and see what we can find inside.

25 : With volume seven we see the first true figure reissue in Assault Kingdom. Although there have been colour variations of the Zaku II and Gundam Mk II before, here the granddaddy RX-78-2 Gundam of volume one appears again although this time with a closet full of new accessories. The base figure however remains pretty much the same, there are a few cosmetic differences which will are shown in a photo below. I can understand why Bandai choose to reissue the RX-78-2, but at the same time I don't see why they couldn't have gone one extra step and instead made a G3 or Real-Type figure with a different colour scheme; this would have been great for collectors to be able to display the two together.

Reissue or not, the RX-78-2 is absolute blossoming with weaponry. Shown only with the Beam Javelin on the front cover I was totally unprepared for the massive armory that came with it. This is a truly spectacular set of items but it is the flail-like Hyper Hammer weapon that steals the show, although the other items are all very nicely detailed. I don't want to complain about such an awesome figure, but it does seem a bit incomplete without its trademark red shield, and a beam saber would have truly completed the figure. If you have the original figure you can of course grab the shield from that one (or the GM), the modularity of the AK weapons is as always phenomenal.

Although the two figures may look similar at a quick glance, there are a couple of details which will easily tell the two versions of the RX-78-2 apart. The three main differences to look for are the different colouring of the feet, the different blue and red combo on the back, and the stand attachment point on the back skirt. The new version of the figure also looks distinctly more white than the older counterpart.

26 : Next up is another vintage E.F.S.F. design, the RX-77-2 Guncannon (worst name ever?). It is great to have this figure coming to the AK-range and although not entirely without faults it adds a unique profile and much needed variation to the figure line. Due to its bulky design the articulation s rather limited when compared to more fluid moving figures like the RX-78-2 or the GM, especially the legs and feet suffer from limited movement which makes it a bit tricky to pose. Bandai even suggest posing it lying almost flat on the ground, perhaps great if you want to recreate a scene from the movie, but not for much more.

The Guncannon figure comes with a simple set of hands and its traditional Beam Rifle. This is a Spartan set of equipment but it follows the lore of the figure. On its back are two cannons that can be tilted 90 degrees between forward-facing deployment to vertically stowed. As with other Assault Kingdom figures there are no unit markings or logos on the hull, so there is nothing stopping you from getting two and sticker them with "108" and "109" or so. All in all a basic but still very welcome figure for the E.F.S.F. line-up.

27 : The E.F.S.F. invasion continues with the awesome RGM-79 GM army builder figure. Considering how much this figure has in common with the RX-78-2 Gundam I am a bit surprised that we have had to wait for so long for it, but finally here it is. Being a vintage mobile suit design, the GM also comes across as a bit plain when compared to later generation mobile suits, but this does not detract from the figure at all. The colour scheme is simple and effective, and the shiny green visor (also found on the Ball mini-figure) is a very nice touch. The figure has more or less the same articulation as the RX-78-2 although the single-piece front skirt makes leg articulation a bit limited.

As with the Guncannon, the accessories for the GM are a bit limited. We are given the small Beam Gun armament and a typical E.F.S.F. shield of the type that the RX-78-2 should also have had. This figure would have benefited immensely from a Beam Saber weapon, especially for army building purposes. You can of course always steal one from another Gundam figure, but surely this would not have been a costly item to include with the kit. Overall, this figure is essential if you are planning to do an E.F.S.F. line-up, so grab it while it is hot, I have a feeling that this figure will be especially difficult to find as time goes by.

28 : After three vintage One Year War-designs, the last figure in this set is surprisingly from the Zeta Gundam-era. This was also the figure I was most eager to obtain, as the RMS-099 Rick Dias is one of my absolute favourite designs. There are two main colour variations of the mobile suit, red and black; here we are treated to the red version. Although this is a bulky and heavy design, the model is admirably articulated, and allows for far more variation than what you can accomplish with for example the Guncannon. As it is rather back heavy, you will of course have to take that into account when posing it without a stand.

The Rick Dias comes with its most commonly seen equipment, the Clay Bazooka and a pair of Beam Guns that can go either as stowed on the back or into the figures hands. Again fair enough, but a beam saber would have also come in handy. I wish they would be more common among Assault Kingdom figures. As will all bazooka type weapons, the large weapon can be a bit clunky to place in the hand, but with a bit of fiddling around you should be able to sort it out. Now because I have a strong Rick Bias I will say this figure is absolutely essential to any AK collection, but I know that opinions are divided on the subject...

Bonus Item : As is the tradition in the Assault Kingdom line, every figure contains some spare parts that allow you to construct something from them, provided you buy all the four figures in the set. With volume seven, Bandai have got rid of the mostly tired and gimmicky items and instead provide us with an actual bonus figure which not only features the same level of the detail as the main figures, but it actually also sits hand in glove with the figures it accompanies. Ladies and gentlemen; the awesome RB-79 Ball.

This is hands down the most useful accessory to ever come out of a bonus set, and is absolutely essential to go together with the E.F.S.F. mobile suits in this set. Frankly this figure is so good that it could have featured as a main figure on its own, a twin pack (like in Converge) together a yellow Improved Ball would have been brilliant. The new transparent stands that come with the figures in AK7 also lend themselves well for displaying the Ball. It is a good thing that volume seven contains so many related figures because you will want to get this one as well.

While we are on the topic of accessories, I do have one major complaint against AK7. For the first time in the product line history, Bandai have seen it fit to strip all weapon handles of paint, allowing the underlying white or red plastic to shine through (and here I was thinking the entire piece was grey or black...). I imagine the reason to be either a cost saving gesture or some convoluted idea about making the weapons fit better into the hands, but since that was never a problem I can't really see any saving graces behind this idea. It makes the weapons look absolute terrible and useless for display purposes unless they are placed in hand. May I humbly remind Bandai that you made quite a big deal about assembling a weapons rack from the bonus parts shipped with volume 2? Well, here's a set of weapons that won't go into any such configuration unless you decide to paint them up. A horrible and useless decision that I hope never to see in Assault Kingdom (or any other line for that matter) again.

Although there are a couple of weird design choices for AK7, as a whole it truly shines. As an E.F.S.F. builder it cannot be bested, and the overall feel for the set just oozes Gundam ambience. I recommend interested readers to go out and obtain this set with due haste, as it will no doubt become scarce before long.