Friday, 20 March 2015

Gundam STANDart : RX-93 Nu Gundam vs. MSN-04 Sazabi

STANDart 12 and 13 are somewhat of an anomaly. They are the only numbered STANDart figures to have been released outside of a regular wave. In STANDart history, they are sandwiched in-between volume 3 (figures 8-11) and volume 4 (14-17). I don't know if there was any special occasion surrounding this release, or if it was an attempt to push the STANDart range in a new direction. What I do know is that these two figures are quite unique in what they are, and that they came out in the beginning of 2009.

This particular review will also be a bit different in that I haven't managed to complete the full set. There are actually four figures in total, two versions each of the RX-93 and the Sazabi, numbered 012, 012 special, 013 and 013 special respectively. I suspect it would take me quite some time to find the missing figures at a price which wouldn't include an arm and a leg. Even in Japan these figures are unusual to come across, but they do surface on the secondhand market, prices I have seen are currently around ¥4000-5000.

STANDart 12 and 13 come in extra large boxes, here as seen compared to an early STANDart box (volume 1-7 utilized this type) and the currently used, tiny looking variation used on every set since volume 8.
The figures I do have in my possession are the 012 special, which is a metallic colour version of the Nu Gundam, and 013, which is a standard colour Sazabi. I might revisit this review to add more images in case I manage to trip over any of the missing figures in the future. Anyway, let's inspect the two I do have in more detail!

012 special : RX-93 Nu Gundam (Metallic Version)

Ah, yes, the mighty RX-93 with its large funnel type-weapon system attached to both its shoulders. This thing is HUGE. Apart from the Fin Funnels, it also comes armed with its iconic Beam Rifle a Hyper Bazooka and Shield.

Sorry for the blurry component shots; they were taken during the height of the dark season with a distinct lack of daylight.
Each accessory has its intended place. The shield goes on the left arm, the beam rifle in the right hand (the hand is actually molded onto the rifle, as is the norm for STANDart) and the bazooka has a peg which enables it to be stowed on the mobile suit's back. It is not possible for the figure to wield the bazooka instead of the rifle, which is a pity since it would have looked nice to display the two next to each other.

I did notice that the figure has a tendency to fall apart if you pick it up and handle it. What I mean by that is that the pegs don't seem to fit and stick as well as with other regular STANDart figures. I'm not sure if it is the material starting to show its age, or if it is simply a case of the sculpting and choice of paint, as I've seen similar loose limbs on other specially coated figures (Converge Pearl-coated Unicorn comes to mind). However, the parts do not move about or begin to droop if you leave the figure alone.

STANDart 012 (far right) towers over its younger cousins. Although the base mobile suit is pretty much the same size as the later reissues, the fin funnels were scaled back drastically on later figures. From left to right: RX-93 released in Assault Kingdom vol. 4 (January 2014) and the two STANDart RX-93s that came out in STANDart volume 14 (July 2012). Notice that the reissued figure came with its accessories split over two models, which also feature different insignias on the left shoulder.

Speaking about the paint job, the metallic style paint job gives the figure a more greyish tone as opposed to normal painted figures which are typically snow white. I can imagine some collectors might be put off by this but for me personally it doesn't bother me in the slightest. The paintjob is excellent. I'll just stop talking here and let the pictures speak for themselves:

013 : MSN-04 Sazabi (Standard Colours)

Unlike the Nu Gundam, the STANDart Sazabi has never been reissued. No doubt this helps to explain is relative scarcity. You have a far better chance of finding the RX-93 than the MSN-04. More than once I had located one in a secondhand online shop, only for it to disappear straight away. But here it is, finally, ready to serve.

I'll say it straight away: After the forceful display of the RX-93, screaming with excess of power, the immediate impression of the Sazabi is a decided lack of oomph. Although the STANDart Sazabi is a fairly large figure it feels quite tiny when placed next to the RX-93. A couple of extra centimeters might have made the tables turn drastically.

The other thing you will notice straight out of the box is the very pale red tone used on the Sazabi. Although it doesn't show up that easily in the pictures here, the comparison shot should give you a fair idea of the stark contrast between STANDart, FWUO and Assault Kingdom. But even for the STANDart figure, the colour of the figure is much more pale than on the box cover and related collector card. I have a feeling that this figure will probably look considerably meaner in its metallic version.

The STANDart Sazabi (center) as compared to its cousins from FW Ultimate Operation Plus 4 (left), released in June 2006, and the Assault Kingdom EX03, released in February 2014.

Accessory-wise, the Sazabi behaves a little bit differently from the token STANDart figure, in that its beam rifle is not molded onto its right hand. Instead the right hand has a hole where the weapon can be pegged into it, giving you some minor tweaking ability as you can choose to pose the mobile suit without both rifle and shield if you so desire. Other than that you have the traditional arms rotating at the shoulder thing going on, as far as articulation is concerned. I assume the head can turn as well, but it sits so tightly on my figure that I do not want to try and force it to do so.

Overall, I am really pleased with these two figures, impressing themselves into the already good looking team of the STANDart crew. I will probably also end up grabbing their respective colour variation if I were to stumble over them. Now that I think about it, it seems odd that the Sazabi was never reissued. It seems a perfect candidate for those limited edition figures Bandai have been coming out with lately. Meanwhile, if you like STANDart, keep your eyes and ears peeled for these ultimate crowd pleasers.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Assault Kingdom vol. 8

Assault Kingdom have come a long way. In just two years time we have already received some 40 different figures (a few of these are minor variations but still). The line has stayed true to the formula of dropping sets of four distinct figures, For some reason AK has never had to deal with secret figures or hidden colour variations or the like. Proving this point more than ever, Assault Kingdom 8 is an explosion of colour and style, from sleek melee fighters to bulky space dwellers with giant bazookas. Even the boxes themselves have become more expressive and colourful over the years, giving a very distinct impression when compared to the rather dry style of the early sets.

In AK8 we get four figures with very different backgrounds. Apart from one classic One Year War design we get a second figure from the G Gundam alternate universe, as well as the first two figures from the Gundam Build Fighters storyline. This marks the first time Build Fighters are represented in any of the Bandai Shokugan figure sets covered on this blog, it will be interesting to see if the line continues to expand.

As you can see from the combination photo above, volume 8 follows the classic Assault Kingdom set up, gum and all. But let's waste no more time here and head on over to the figures themselves.

29 : Premiere! The very first Build Fighters mobile suit for AK. This is the GAT-X105B/ST Star Build Strike Gundam used by the series' main character, Sei Iori, dedicated GUNPLA builder. The idea behind the Build Fighters show is that modelers take existing frames and modify them to their heart's content, and then send them into arenas to duke it out with other customized figures in gladiatorial fights. The Star Build Strike has its origin in the SEED GAT-X105 Strike Gundam design.

The Star Build Strike comes loaded with a good selection of equipment. The figure comes with two weapons and its signature shield. Apart from a simple toothpick style beam saber (oh, how i wish it was translucent or at least a different colour) there is also the Star Beam Rifle with its extendable barrel, which can be snapped in place to extend the weapon, transforming it to the high power Discharge Rifle in the process.

On the back sits the UB-01 Universe Booster fighter which also doubles as a power generator when not separated. Truly a good selection of gear.

"Star Buil-du Ste-rike, ikimasu!"
All figures in Assault Kingdom 8 once again feature the same type of transparent bases that we saw in AK7. After the many somewhat lackluster and gimmicky stands included with early sets of AK, Bandai seem to have settled for these highly versatile and functional bases which give a lot of posing options. Just like the GAT-X105 Gundam it is modeled upon, the Star Build Strike figure also features excellent articulation, thanks to its many sleek limbs. You'll have a lot of fun coming up with various poses for this guy.

(Saber and shield borrowed from the Star Build Strike figure).
30 : Following closely behind comes the second figure from Gundam Build Fighters, the BG-011B Build Burning Gundam. This is actually the successor of Sei Iori's Star Build Strike, and its heritage can easily be seen in the design, a little bit cheeky by Bandai (why didn't they feature one of the Star Build Strike's many opponents for example) but the figure actually has more going for it than I had first anticipated.

A very different feel from the Star Build Strike box, the accessories are very easily counted here... Still, the Burning Gundam is built for melee combat and as such actually doesn't feature much in the range of weaponry, so I can't really moan about it that much.

International Karate +.  The Build Burning Gundam has something to teach the RX-78 (AK vol. 7, released November 2014) and the Astray Red Frame (AK3, November 2013).
What the Build Burning Gundam has going for it is of course excellent articulation. The sleek design lends itself very well to this and the engineers have given it a very generous ability to kick high and low in ways that most Assault Kingdom figures can only dream about. I suspect a lot of Assault Kingdom veterans will probably think back to the Gundam Astray Red Frame from Volume 3 (pictured in the fight above) which was also a superb melee figure. These figures were designed with full contact in mind, and with the great action bases we have now the figures will be able to pull off a lot of great stunts. Extremely high entertainment factor on this guy!

31 : Alright, so this is the moment I have been waiting for. No Gundam figure series is even half-complete without the mighty Dom. In this case, we are graced with the presence of the spacefaring MS-09R Rick Dom variety. Out of all the mobile suit designs from the past 30 or so years, the Dom is one of my absolute favourites. And representing the bulky designs, it is always exciting to see how well Bandai have managed to articulate the big and bulky machine.

The Rick Dom comes loaded with its two very iconic weapons, a heat saber and a giant bazooka. The heat saber clips to a holder which is pegged into the back of the figure, making this the only Assault Kingdom figure to be able to actually store its saber weapon when not in use. "A" for effort. And here is the only major complaint I have against AK8, why is the heat saber white and not yellow? Was it really worth skimping on the cost here? It is akin to painting the Zeta's V-fin white. Meh...

Just like the Rick Dias from AK7, the Rick Dom features surprisingly good articulation. Although it is tricky to handle the large bazooka weapon I was able to pull off some various poses with it. Of course it is no dancing Build Burning Gundam but it doesn't have to be. I'm very pleased with how the figure turned out in this regard.

The Assault Kingdom Rick Dom flanked by the STANDart Rick Dom (STANDart volume 11, released October 2011) to the left, and the old FW Ultimate Operation Dom (FWUO volume 5, released April 2004). All three feature the heat saber and the giant bazooka weapons.

I wonder if Bandai will be producing the bright red Rick Dom piloted by Char Aznable. It always seems to pop-up where the standard version goes, sometimes in annoying secret or limited edition varieties. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled. Meanwhile, the vanilla Rick Dom will bring much enjoyment. I can easily see this figure becoming a bit rare as no doubt a lot of people are going to grab three of them to build a Black Tri-Star formation. Don't sleep on this guy!

32 : The fourth and last figure of volume 8 is another high performer; the GF13-001NHII Master Gundam. Again we return to the gladiatorial setting of dueling combatants, only this time the figure hails from the G Gundam universe, where it is piloted by Shuuji Kurosu (also hopelessly named Master Asia).

The Master Gundam is built and optimized for full contact combat, which again explains the absence of any rifle style weaponry. However, he does have a couple of other tricks up his sleeve. The most obvious of these is the Master Cloth, a beam type weapon which can be manipulated as if it were a belt. The part is molded in elastic rubbery plastic and invites you to get creative.

The largest accessory for the figure is the large wing binder assembly which can be attached to the figure's back. The wings are very flexible and can wiggle and turn in many directions to allow for a full spread to the sides, or folded away on the back. In the anime the Master Gundam can also fold the wings to form a turtle-like armored shell, but this level of technology is a bit above the capabilities of the Assault Kingdom figure. You'll need to use the action base to get the best poses out of the Master Gundam, his wings are very back heavy and his tiny feet do not offer much support.

Left: Master of the beam emitter. The Master Gundam's palms can emit beam energy, a handy way of discharging some extra stopping power. Right: Towel snap. The elastic Beam Cloth weapon put to good use against the Shining Gundam (Assault Kingdom 6, released September 2014).
The Master Gundam also comes equipped with no less than four types of distinct hands. It  is currently the only AK figure to feature this many optional hands and it will be interesting to see if any other Gundam will dare challenge it. Needless to say, this really opens up the possibilities for expressive stances and posturing.

The 1/220 scale G Gundam crew continues to expand. Here the Master Gundam joins Shining Gundam (from Assault Kingdom 6 released in September 2014), the two flanked by two versions of the STANDart God Gundam (volume 5, released September 2009).


Assault Kingdom 8 is a monster. It is one of those sets that deliver a little bit of everything, and doing so with a lot of enthusiasm. Apart from some minor nitpick here and there, this should be a safe buy for any AK fan. Overall I am reminded of the greatness of Assault Kingdom Volume 3, which also featured a highly dynamic figure set.

The new hand sculpts introduced with AK8 are really great for some variation (Assault Kingdom figures usually always come with the same two variations) in the poses you can get out of the figures, I am hoping we will continue to see more variations here, and of course, more variations included with each figure.

The DOM duels the RGM-79 from Assault Kingdom 7, borrowing the beautiful translucent sabers found in the Sazabi premium pack (EX 03L).

Another item that sits very high up on my AK wishlist is a weapons pack. One of the great strengths of the Assault Kingdom figure line is the modularity of the gear. Except for a few rare occurrences, any figure can pick up pretty much any weapon and use it, so a universal wepaons pack would be very useful. A couple extra bazookas, rifles, shields and most importantly a set of transparent beam sabers in different colours would really take things to the next level! Bandai's most recent Shokugan series Build Model Gundam does something similar, (although it places all weapons of the set in a separate box which is kind of silly). Here's hoping Bandai have some surprises in store for us.

Oh, and before you go; do check out Assault Kingdom 9, which has just been upped on the Bandai Shokugan page today. My heart skipped a beat...

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Gundam Converge SP01 : RX-93 Nu Gundam vs. MSN-04 Sazabi

The Converge Sazabi is one of those figures that appeared early on in the history of Converge and was then never seen or heard from again. It was released together with a version of the RX-93 Nu Gundam in the very first SP double pack in August 2011. While there have been a couple of versions of the RX-93 (the most recent in the Operation Revive boxset last year) the Sazabi never made another appearance. Until now that is.

Today we'll take a closer look at the SP01 double pack as well as its brand new overseas reissue.

Gundam Converge SP01

August 2011. Gundam Converge has exploded onto the Shokugan scene. With three sets released in the first six months Bandai take the series to the next level with its very first box set, a double pack of two high-profile combatants. The format seems ingenious and expandable. It also meant something of a mark-up; single figures were selling at ¥350 but the SP01 pack was priced at ¥1100. Fast forward to 2015 and you can still find this box set here and there. It isn't terribly rare, but the prices have skyrocketed; expect to see prices in the ¥7000-¥8000 range.

The figures come in the typical plastic bags, one each, slightly longer than what you would expect to find in a regular Converge box.

RX-93 Nu Gundam (Fully Equipped Version) : First out is Amuro Ray's hot ride, the Nu Gundam. The name "fully equipped" hints at the fact that the mobile suit now comes loaded with all the accessories which were evenly distributed between Converge 13 and 14, when the RX-93 was originally released as a double standalone figure (see a review of the original figures here). This is probably the greatest criticism against the RX-93, why did Bandai release two half-baked versions in June 2011, only to release an improved version just two months later, rendering them pretty much obsolete?

Anyway, the fully equipped version of the Nu is a brilliant Converge release, it gives you several accessories to fiddle around with; you can even do a vanilla unarmed version. Articulation is limited to the arms which rotate at the shoulder, and depending on how you equip the figure you can also rotate the right hand in its socket. The head however sits on a shaped peg which does not enable turning the head, which is a common feature of many of the early Converge figures.

Apart from getting a full set of gear the SP01 version of the RX-93 also received a slightly different colour scheme. Where the original Converge 13 and 14 figures are white and black, the SP01 replaces the black for navy blue. The unit designation is also stamped on its chest plate. If you are looking to get only one RX-93 for your Converge collection, this is probably your best choice.

MSN-04 Sazabi : Easily the main attraction of this package, the massive Sazabi could anchor the center of pretty much any Converge collection. Its striking colours and the intricate attention to detail in the mold makes this a first-rate figure. Just look at all the detail that went into that shield (and how I wish that the Jagd Dogas would have got the same treatment...).

With rotating arms and a fixed head, the Sazabi features the same articulation as the RX-93. No alternate weapons are included; the beam rifle is the only option available. I don't know if my figure is beginning to show age, but I've noticed that some of the connecting points are getting a bit loose, the head will fall off at the slightest nudge, and some of the other parts feel a bit too loose for their own good as well. We shall see how the Converge stable will deal with the passing of time.

The Sazabi dominates the Zeon Red Team. From left to right: Johnny Ridden's MS-06R-2 Zaku II (Converge 37), the Sazabi, the MSN-06S Sinanju (from box set SP02) and Char's Z'Gok (here the Operation Jaburo reissue with metallic style limbs).
Looking back at the half-dozen Converge SP-sets that have been released so far, I can say that this is easily my favourite. Well worth seeking out to add some oomph to any Converge collection. The current high price point is a problem. A problem that is now, at least temporarily, resolved with the new reissue set. Read on...

Gundam Converge SP01 Metallic Version

Right, so here we are, three and a half years down the line. Bandai's overseas division, or more specifically, their Hong Kong branch, are giving Converge fans a rare second chance to catch up on an old figure set. Released as an "overseas only" edition, I guess this means it won't be marketed in Japan, which is a pity for our Japanese friends. Hopefully they will be able to get in on the deal while still readily available. As I write this in the end of February 2015, the reissue is available from several Hong Kong and Taiwanese sellers, at rates of around ¥3000 to ¥5000 including worldwide shipping.

So, apart from the box getting a nice black makeover, what has changed in this 2015 reissue? Well the obvious difference is of course the metallic style paintjob applied to the two figures, but are there any noticeable differences? Let's take a look.

Again we see a RX-93 Nu Gundam in its Fully Equipped version, though this time with metallic colours. The figure retains the navy blue colour from the SP01 box, as opposed to the black colour used on the standalone figures (Converge 13 and 14). The same goes for the model designation, which is present on the chestplate again. The articulation points remain the same as on the original version, the head still sits on the same old square peg.

Parts-wise, nothing has changed when compared to the original SP01 release. Any hopes of receiving one of those spiffy translucent beam sabers for example, are thus quashed. Actually, the "fully equipped" moniker also is not entirely accurate anymore, since we received a second funnel assembly for the RX-93 when it featured in the Operation Revive Premium Edition boxset last year (review here). It would have been a really nice touch if Bandai would have included these pieces in the set as well, but it is understandable that they chose to run with the old design (still, a little extra bag with a beam saber and a second funnel set would have made this figure one of the best Converge releases ever).

Converge RX-93 crew, from left to right: Converge 13 (Funnel and + Beam Rifle version), Converge 14 (Bazooka + Shield version), the original SP01 Fully Equipped version, the twin Fin Funnel version from Operation Revive (Premium Edition only), and the brand new SP01 Fully Equipped metallic version.
So, in summary for the RX-93, I still think that the two versions found in the SP01 sets are the best ways to get it. Either will do the job, it really comes down to your preference regarding glossy metallic or standard paint application. Oh and there's the price difference to consider of course.

Sazabi-wise, not much has changed either. The reissue uses the exact same parts and articulation as the original version, with the glossy paint application being the standout difference. Again, the premier version here will be decided based on your own preference. As cool as the metallic version is, it wouldn't surprise me if most people would prefer the classic design after all.

Interestingly, when the Sazabi was released for Gundam STANDart back in January 2009 it came in two versions, side by side. I have seen them available for sale only a handful of times, and at those times it was mainly the metallic version available. It wouldn't surprise me if the same will go for Converge.

No matter how you look at it though, both SP01 packs contain two awesome figures, this reissue will give many people a second chance at acquiring this rare Neo Zeonic beast. Whichever version you decide to go for, you will find a lot to like in Converge SP01. Do not sleep on this one...