Monday, 20 April 2015

The latest Converge news from Bandai

Alright so the day of the big announcement came, I followed my bookmark to the Bandai Shokugan page with not a little bit of anticipation.... and what did I see? Not one but two new announcements.

First of all, the shadow figures hinted at were revealed in full colour. It turns out it was simply a new SP set, but yeah, it looks really nice. The O promises to be an awesome new figure, and a bland Zeta reissue was avoided by making this figure transformable so that you can display it in the mobile armor Waverider mode. Looks quite interesting, expected release is September 2015 and the suggested retail price is 2200 yen.

Now, as for the hyped April 20 announcement, it was a total letdown. Bandai are opening a new Converge figure line called CORE. And guess what; it promises to deliver expensive reworkings of things you've seen before...

The first Core figures to be presented are none other than the MSA-0011 (previously released as Converge no. 75)  and the 00 Gundam + 0 Raiser (previously released as figures 51 and 52). Two new reissues at 1400 and 2200 yen respectively. Yeah, and you get some stickers and improved paint apps. Whoopdeedo... rather lackluster figures for Converge veterans, though they should promise to be of more interest for those who are yet to source the original figures for their collections.

Core debuts in August 2015 and it remains unclear (to me at least) if this is to be a Bandai exclusive thing or if the Core figures will also make it to the regular distribution network.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Gundam Converge vol. 18

Converge had a slow start this year. Apart from a couple of reissued limited figures there have been no releases until now. Things promise to get busier during the spring and summer and here is Converge Volume 18 to kickstart that activity. Released in the end of March 2015 this is the first regular set of the year.

There is this interesting contradictory aspect of Converge 18. While it is one of only two sets to feature a mighty eight figures (as opposed to the regular six + one secret figure) it is also the very smallest set, in that there are only four new figures, with the other four being reissues (albeit with a few tweaks as we shall see).

I picked up a full set from a seller in Hong Kong, which turned out to be an export version (the boxes have extra Bandai H.K. stickers on the sides) so no Shokugan chewing gums for me.

There seems to be a lot of things going on here! And I thought this would be a boring review; let's head on to the figures themselves...

104 : The signature figure for volume 18 is a familiar face. But although at first glance the RX-78-1 Prototype Gundam may seem like the last in a line of simple RX-78-2 repaints, this figure has several subtle resculpts and tweaks that modify its overall appearance. The paint scheme itself is also striking and a welcome infusion of colour into the collection. As a basic Converge figure though, it behaves just like any of the RX-78:s before it, articulated head, shoulders and right-hand wrist are par for the course, and the shield is removable.

The closer you look at it, the more subtle detail changes become apparent as you compare the RX-78-1 with the token Converge RX78-2.

Not only the mobile suit itself is different, the equipment changes are clearly visible as well.

The Prototype Gundam slots in nicely in the RX-78 crowd. Above is a sampling of some of the many variations released in Converge. From left to right: A tweaked RX-78-2 from the 7-11 Selection V set (October 2014), the Realtype painted RX-78-2 from the Art of Gundam event released in July 2014, the metallic RX-78-2 from the limited edition double pack (with Char's Zaku II) from March 2014, the G3 Gundam from the Complete Book set (released December 2013), the dual bazooka wielding RX-78-2 from Converge Volume 4 (September 2011), the Prototype Gundam and lastly the "Detail Up version" of the RX-78-2 released as figure 98 in Converge 16 (September 2014).

105 : The Prototype Gundam may have been the poster boy, but it is the MSK-008 Dijeh that represents the technical innovation in this figure set. This Karaba Air Force unit is not seen so often and I have a special soft spot in my heart for Zeta era designs, so this is a very welcome entry into the Converge series.

The figure itself resembles a souped up yet more delicate Gelgoog with several tiny parts. This figure is a testament to the level of greatness achieved in the Converge figure line, vibrant colours and great attention to detail makes this a stand out figure in any collection. However, my unit was not without defects. This is the first time I have encountered a flawed figure, in that a part did not fit properly into its slot. The little plug intended to attach the top antenna to the helmet was too tiny making it impossible to attach. This was quickly amended with a drop of superglue but still a notable defect in an otherwise clean Converge run.

Due to the large headsize this figure cannot turn its head but otherwise features the standard articulation, i.e. arms rotating at the shoulders and a twistable right hand. However, to my great surprise (discovered by accident) the monoeye can actually be manipulated like on some of the Zeon designs. The helmet can be lifted and a small transparent cylinder with the eye painted on it can then be manipulated inside the head. Neat. Overall, one of the better Converge figures in my opinion.

106 : Obviously wanting to capitalize on the design work that already went into the Dijeh figure, Fusion Works also sculpted for us another obscure version of the Dijeh present only as a Zeta Mobile Suit Variation; the cryptically named SE-DJ-1R Dijeh SE-R. This is a prototype improvement of the original Dijeh and a unit whose history is sadly unsung in the Gundam universe, so I am very happy to see it getting some love in Converge.

Although the relation between the original Dijeh and the SE-R version can easily be seen at a glance, the actual figures are quite different. The SE-R mobile suit has a much more lean and deadly look to it, from certain angles it even reminded me of the xenomorph design from the movie Alien. Figure-wise it comes with the same limited articulation as the original Dijeh. There is no moveable monoeye on the SE-R though, and the head is locked into place by two pipes that are connected to the back of the head. This figure is the true star of Converge 18 in my opinion, and one of the best looking MS ever to have come out of Converge, overlook it at your own peril.

107 : Bandai continues to expand the After War Gundam X series with a new meaty mobile suit, the GX-9900-DV Gundam X Divider. This is actually a variation on the previously released GX-9900 Gundam X figure which was featured in Converge volume 16 last September.

The new Divider version ditches the old Satellite Cannon assembly on the back and replaces it with a large flightpack and, rather more notably, adds a large hand held shield; the Divider. The Divider shield is held in opened up mode, which displays an array of no less than 18 beam guns. The shield has no moving parts and is molded directly onto the left hand, so you will not get much variation in the pose. The figure articulation features the usual arms rotating at the shoulders, and a rotating head (the head is jammed in between the shoulders but can be raised slightly on its peg to allow free movement) and two rotating wrists, since each hand is a separate part.

The Converge After War Gundam X team released so far, from left to right: Gundam X with Satellite Cannon from Converge vol. 16 (released September 2014), the fresh X Divider and two figures released in volume 17 last December; the GX-9901-DX Gundam Double X and its compatible GS-9900 G-Falcon.

Right, that's the four new figures out of the way. The next portraits will be those of familiar faces.

17R : The first of the two reissue figures from Revival Selection is a real classic; the early E.F.S.F. mobile suit design RGM-79 G M, almost as ancestral as the RX-78-2 itself. The figure appeared relatively early in Converge, seeing its first release in volume 3 in June 2011. The figure has been relatively scarce since then, and only ever appeared as a reissue in the Operation Jaburo which is now even harder to come by (released in December 2012).

The figure itself is pretty basic, but that's in order considering the GM was a very basic design both aesthetically and equipment-wise. We get a shield that attaches to a peg on the left arm (this construct is quite unusual in Converge, as pegs tend to sit on the shields nowadays, for obvious aesthetic reasons) and the right hand has the GM Beam Gun molded into it. The figure features the basic rotation of arms at the shoulders, as well as at the right wrist, but the head appears to be molded directly onto the torso, just like the other GM figures it refuses to budge (and I won't try and force it...).

The Revival Selection figure is pretty much identical to the original release (perhaps best illustrated by the fact that I mixed them up after the photo shoot and now I can't tell them apart...) but not entirely without changes, as Bandai made a secret version of it as well. Enter:

Secret : RGM-79 GM (beam saber version). Yup, rather than tweaking the original figure, Bandai simply decided to do a revised version and plonk it in as a secret figure. Thus, your Revival GM figure will either be the actual old figure you were expecting to see revived, or a version equipped with Beam Saber instead of Beam Gun.

I'm not entirely sure it was a good idea to enter secret versions into Revival boxes as it sort of goes against the main purpose, but I will let it slide since this is a really cool version of the GM. Not only is the figure now holding a spiffy semi-translucent beam saber in its right hand, but the actual beam saber is also removed from the back pack. This is a very nice touch and at first I thought this explained why Bandai decided to create a separate figure, seeing as they would have to rip apart an existing mold to create replaceable backpacks. Well, that was until I tried removing it and realized it was a separate part after all.

So... a very nice figure, always good to have more GMs, but still it would have been preferable if the revival figure had been upgunned with both weapons and both backpacks in the same box. Of course, that would have hurt sales... :)

All the Converge GMs displayed next to each other, from left to right: GM from volume 3 (figure 17, released June 2011), the Jaburo version with the revised colour scheme (from Operation Jaburo multipack, released December 2012) and the two new figures from Revival Selection.

50R : The second figure to receive the Revival Selection treatment goes hand in hand with the GM; the awesome little RB-79 Ball. Just like with the GM the Ball (which first appeared as figure 50 in Converge volume 8, October 2012) the Revival Selection version is pretty much identical to its predecessor.

The best thing about the Ball (apart from its kawaiiiii-ness then...) is that you get a pair and that they fit on a convenient little transparent stand which allows for a bit of creativity in posing them. You can choose to remove the top-mounted cannon and both it and the tiny little arms rotate in their respective sockets. The RB-79 is a credit to any Converge collection, and here's a good opportunity to grab it if you missed i last time around.

-Balls, Q? If you squint really hard you might convince yourself that there is an actual colour variation between the original RB-79 set (left) and the revival selection pair (right).

Secret : Only once before in Converge history did we encounter a second secret figure. Converge 18 follows suit and gives us a hidden version of the Ball Revival Selection figure, here in the unmistakable orange livery of the improved RB-79K Ball Kai, or as it is also known, Type K. Great idea!

However, as you can see from the parts distribution, the Ball Kai is a simple repaint of the original figure, which is rather disappointing. If the idea was really to represent the K-type (there might after all be an orange version of the regular RB-79 that I am unaware of) then this figure got off a bit half-baked, as the improved ball differs in several ways. On a true Ball-K, the grappling arms are redesigned, the recoilless cannon is replaced by a two barrel variation, and there would also be a rack of floodlights mounted above its "eye". A decent figure, fun to have, but something of a missed opportunity.

-Bolas, 007! All the Converge Balls formed up into two combat teams, each led by a Ball Kai. I decided to split up and mix the volume 18 figures so that I can tell which grey balls are the original ones... :)


Summing things up, Converge volume 18 is a real blast! If you are fairly new to Converge and missed the GM and the Balls first time around, this set is pretty much a must have if you want to flesh out your E.F.S.F. contingent. For Converge veterans I feel we get enough interesting stuff thrown at us to warrant a purchase of the entire set, though some will probably settle for picking up only a few of the genuinely new designs.

Converge volume 19 is currently planned for release in June, and also promises to be a highly interesting and varied set. And between the two sets there are a couple of high-cost singles coming out, the Zeta Hummingbirds are already out and the 100th anniversary set is expected in May. Right now is a very interesting time for the Converge collectors!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Report: Bandai planning a Converge extravaganza?

Well, Google Translate can only take you so far, but it is clear that the team over at Fusion Works have something unusual in store for Converge later this year. The announcement for volume 20 is on the way, and they also mumble about something they refer to as a Gundam Converge 8, which seems to indicate something coming up in August. Don't take it from yours truly, head on over to the Shokugan page and take a look yourselves.

So far we have a ghostly silhouette image of two coming Mobile Suits, the MS on the left does look very much like the Titans PMX-003 The O, but what about the one on the right? More information is to be announced on the 20th so let's see what will follow. For now, I will be a loyal sheep and simply spread the word.