Friday, 26 June 2015

The latest Converge news...

Mother of...

I think I must have done an involuntary double take when I checked Bandai's latest shokugan update today. Storming out of the screen is a brand new Converge EX figure. It is a ginormous mobile armor set to blast all prior size expectations into smoking rubble.

The Dendrobium price point is no laughing matter either; recommended price is a whopping ¥3200. That's up ¥800 from the previously most expensive Converge EX item, the recently reviewed Zeta Plus. Even the Operation Revive and Jaburo boxsets fall shy of this price.

I wish Bandai would take the Converge series back to its mini figure roots rather than trying to one up itself with larger and larger EX figures. At this point I won't be surprised if the Neo Zeong is coming next... pfft.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Gundam STANDart volume 8

Continuing the trip down memory lane, having recently obtained the missing Mobile Suit to complete the quartet, we now turn our eyes to STANDart volume 8, a four figure set released in December 2010. The set contains, as I have a habit of saying, four absolutely amazing looking mobile suits. Seriously, there are so many good looking STANDarts out there that it would be impossible to try and put together even a top 20 list.

Since I have now given away my thoughts on these figures at the start, I will instead try to explain just why they are so great. And for that job I won't need many words, the pictures will hopefully speak for themselves.

The figures in STANDart volume 8 are the first to come in the downsized boxes which have been in use ever since (save for a few special figures of course). All the previous seven sets came in rather large oversize boxes where each part had a slot assigned to it in the plastic insert. Very nice at a glance, but rather ineffective from a logistical point of view. No doubt eager to slash costs Bandai and FW premiered these smaller boxes which are much more compact in size, the insert now barely fitting the figure itself (would they have been able to release the Hygogg in this format for example?). All additional pieces such as weapons and wing binders are placed in multi-compartment-style plastic boxes common to many other figure lines.

028 : Towering (literally) above the other mobile suits in this set is the mighty MSA-0011 S-Gundam. Developed from a fine line of titular mobile suits the S Gundam (a.k.a. Superior Gundam, a.k.a. Supreme Gundam, a.k.a. Iota Gundam) is a champion of the Gundam Sentinel novel (which featured several other interesting designs by the way) and one of the largest figures to see release in STANDart.

Figure-wise, there is of course not a whole lot going on. Once you have snapped together the half-dozen or so parts it will pretty much just stand there. The figure has the traditional STANDart articulation which means you can turn the head, rotate the arms at the shoulder. The very large Beam Smart Gun is molded directly onto the figure's right hand and is a required part of the display. A small support is included which can add some foundation to this thin and top-heavy figure. Although my figure is not in need of one, I wouldn't be surprised if some figures may have slight imperfections such as a slightly bent foot or so, which would make the support a cruical accessory.

S-Gundam lineage, harking back to the good ol' days of Zeta Gundam. From left to right: RX-178 Gundam Mk-II (bazooka version from STANDart volume 13, released May 2012), MSZ-006 Z Gundam (with the Zeta logo from STANDart vol. 4, March 2009), the FA-010S Full Armor ZZ Gundam from volume 9 (released March 2011) and finally the S-Gundam.
There aren't any S Gundams from Assault Kingdom or Ultimate Operation to compare this bad boy to, so I am very happy that FusionWorks pulled this one off. In fact, the Zeta and Delta designs have always been well represented in the STANDart line. There is also an exclusive limited figure of the MSA-0011[Ext] Ex-S Gundam available which I would like to place next to this one (as soon as I can find one that I can afford that is...).

029 : And on the topic of the Zeta Project, here we have the next representative of this awesome Gundam line; the MSN-001A1 Delta Plus. As some may have figured out I am not that much into the actual Gundam units themselves, but the Zeta-era designs never seem to disappoint, and the Delta Plus is no exception. Just look at all those intricate parts opening up to display the inner frame. No surprise we haven't seen this mobile suit in the Assault Kingdom line, it must be a modelling nightmare.

The Delta Plus shares its history with the well known MSN-00100 Hyaku Shiki, in that they are both developments of the MSN-001 Delta Gundam. The Delta Plus continues to morph into some other awesome designs that we are unlikely to ever see Shokugan models of, such as the MSN-001X Gundam Delta Kai for example.

The Delta Plus (center right) with some of its extended family. Immediately to its left stands the MSN-001 Delta Gundam (STANDart vol. 14, released July 2012), which parented both the Delta Plus and the MSN-00100 Hyaku Shiki (far left, from STANDart volume 2, which appeared in April 2008). Also in this combination shot is the MSZ-006C1 Zeta Plus C1, which is an offspring from the Z Gundam (figure is from STANDart vol. 10 and released in July 2011).
The Delta Plus has very tiny feet, but my figure has no balance issues at all, which is good, since no support is included with this figure. It features the basic STANDart articulated head, shoulders and right hand molded directly onto the beam rifle. Again a really inspired design that I wish was better represented in the other figure lines.

030 : Halfway through the set and we now turn our eyes to the principality of Zeon. STANDart is about to receive an injection from the One Year War, a design that I doubt anyone would fail to recognize. Char's oddly pinkish red Commander Type MS-14S Gelgoog is a very nice representation of the suit, although you will immediately notice the lack of a monoeye. We saw this also in the STANDart Rick Dom figure, it seems an odd design choice though no doubt there is a carefully considered decision behind at all. I can see before me a conference room full of engineers and project leaders tearing their hair out over this issue.

The STANDart representation of Char's Gelgoog (right) teamed up with the two representations from the Ultimate Operation figure series. On the left is the naginata wielding version from FWUO volume 6 (released in June 2004) and centered is the beam rifle (sans shield) figure from the Ultimate Operation Plus U.C. 0079 set, one of the last releases in FWUO which appeared in time for Christmas 2006.

Nevertheless, apart from being blind the Gelgoog figure has many striking details, I guess it is the shield that deserves the most mention, it is simply awesomely sculpted and painted. The mobile suit comes armed with the classic beam rifle and has a stowed beam naginata stored on its back. Typical for STANDart, the right hand is molded directly onto the beam rifle which means there are no optional displays available. This figure would have really shined if they had included an optional piece with a right hand wielding the naginata. A missed opportunity although we've come to expect no such frills from the STANDart figure line.

031 : Fourth and last mobile suit in this set is also the one I had to look for the longest. None of the volume eight figures are easy to source but the MS-14A Gelgoog (Gato's Custom) really surprised me with its tenacity in successfully staying hidden. In fact, now that I think about it this figure has no representative in either Assault Kingdom or Ultimate Operation, strangely enough, not even in Converge. This seems a rather strange omission due to the popularity of Gelgoogs in some of those lines.

Sadly, there is not much to compare Gato's Gelgoog to, here it is next to the basic FW Ultimate Operation MS-14A Gelgoog, which appeared in volume seven back in September 2004.

The figure itself is a basic colour variation from Char's red Gelgoog, painted in the blue and green of Zeon ace pilot Anavel Gato. There are some subtle differences; the commander antenna is stripped from the helmet, and the beam rifle is replaced by the extra large prototype rifle which he wielded during the events in the Stardust Memory storyline. His mobile suit otherwise comes with the same beam naginata and oval shield as used on the Char version.

As mentioned in the previous figure description, the beam naginata cannot be wielded by either mobile suit. The naginata and shield both share the same peg size though, so you can customize the Gelgoog appearance a little by getting rid of the naginata and storing the shield on the figure's back. This turns out really well and remains in line with the actual anime.

Sizes fluctuate more than usual in this set. The S Gundam stands some 10 cm tall (tip of smart gun at nearly 12 centimeters), the Delta Plus comes in at about 9 centimeters and the Gelgoogs are about 8 cm tall.
Overall, I am really impressed by STANDart volume 8. It features a selection of excellent mobile suits, several of which are rarely made available, and each of which adds a lot of character to any display. The only downside is that you will have to hunt high and low to find them, three of the four I managed to located in second hand shops in Japan, which I think will be the your best chance to actually discover them.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Gundam Converge EX04 : MSZ-006C1 [Bst] Zeta Plus C1 "Hummingbird" (Red Ver.)

A couple of weeks ago we took a closer look at the Converge EX04 Hummingbird figure. That is, the bog standard blue version. While the blue figure entered the regular distribution network, the red version was more of a limited thing, intended for sales through Bandai's own website. As a result, the red Zeta Plus is a bit scarcer although it has been readily available for the time being. This will no doubt change very soon.

I picked up this red Zeta in a tiny toy shop in Hong Kong in May 2015, shortly after its release. While in town I stumbled on at least half a dozen sellers each offering one or more of these figures, but this limited stock is likely to run dry pretty soon (if it hasn't already).

If you think the red Zeta Plus looks familiar it is because it is a simple colour variation on the standard blue figure. Still, I couldn't resist its striking paint scheme, not to mention a chance to display the mobile suit in another mode together with the standard figure.

It is easy to be misled by the seemingly low number of parts included in this package. However, as you begin to fiddle with the parts you will notice how they come apart in several tinier pieces. The Fusion Works engineers really excelled on this model.

At first I planned to do a full review to show the three different modes of the red Zeta Plus. However, with the fiddly assembly of the blue Zeta Plus still fresh in mind, I haven't really been willing to go through this process just yet. At the moment, the figure is displayed as a basic Converge figure and I kind of like it that way.

This review will be updated if I do decide to go through the paces of additional assembly. You can still see the transformation process taking place in the review of the blue version. Apologies if this makes the current review a bit substandard, but I still wanted to present this awesome mobile suit on the blog, since it will most likely be readily available for a limited time only.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Gundam STANDart volume 3

In this latest visit to the Gundam multiverse we are going to do some moderate time travel back to the glory days of early STANDart. I try not to think about the fact that apart from a pricey Sinanju that appeared in time for Christmas, there hasn't been a single set released since August last year. I fear that the STANDart series is about to go extinct but hope that it isn't so, since the figures in this collection are truly beyond awesome.

Today we are taking a look at STANDart volume three, released a surprisingly long time ago, back in September 2008. The set features the very first RX-78-2 to grace the product line, coupled with a pair of iconic Cyclops Corps mobile suits form the ever scheming Zeon Republic.

As the component photo show, these figures come in the early oversize boxes where each part has a carefully designated slot in the inlay, and all figures contain a nice looking information card. This set contains no optional parts though; you simply grab the handful of items and pop them into the corresponding sockets on the respective figure. The early STANDart figures have a tendency to fall apart when you handle them, feet, armor panels and other small pieces don't always attach very securely, but once the figure is left alone this will not be a problem.

008 : Enter the RX-78-2 Gundam. It was pretty brave of STANDart to open up without any of the classic Universal Century mobile suits (well, there was a ground type Zaku II in the first set, but still). Unsurprisingly though, it would not be long until the granddaddy of them all would make its debut. This first version of the RX-78-2 comes armed with a beam rifle, a bazooka and two shields. Each accessory goes into one designated slot, so there will be no customizing the weapons loadout. The figure is a bit of a mixed bag. While it looks a bit plain at first sight it still features many nice details, especially in the shoulder and ankle areas, but the lack of logos and insignias makes it feel a bit vanilla.

STANDart progression; the boxes have been getting smaller, but the figures are getting taller...
The RX-78-2 would be released again in volume eleven, equipping the Hyper Bazooka this time, and finally appeared in volume nineteen (January 2014) in an "open hatch" version which pretty much blows the early versions out of the water in terms of appearance and detail. Overall the version released in STANDart 03 is serviceable, but probably not worth seeking out when the new version is so superior.

The STANDart RX-78-2 with a pair of sample counterparts from Assault Kingdom (left) and FW Ultimate Operation (right).
Articulation-wise there is never a whole lot going on with STANDart figures and this certainly is no exception. The head will twist from side to side and the arms rotate at the shoulder. You can also tweak the angle of the right hand a little since it is a separate part, but that's pretty much it. In general I would also advice from fiddling around too much with the moving parts on STANDart figures as the joints tend to get worn easily.

009 : The RX-78-3 G3 Gundam is of course the token colour variation figure of this set. As you can see from the images this is a very simple colour conversion of the RX-78-2, but the effect is rather striking. The G3 certainly looks the part and has some lovely detail going on, giving it a very metal kind of feel. Between this and the RX-78-2 model, this would be the figure to grab first.

Now that I think of it, it seems pretty strange that the G3 is yet to make an appearance in the Assault Kingdom figureline, it must be such an easy conversion for Bandai to make. Here it is displayed next to the G3 Gundam from FW Ultimate Operation (center) and the companion Cold District Type GM (right), both released in Ultimate Operation Volume 1 back in June 2003.

010 : Things get very interesting at the tail end of this set, where the two Cyclops Corps mobile suits hang around. The first of these is the now very hard to find MS-18E Kämpfer which I was finally able to pick-up without having to pay an arm and a leg (and still it didn't come cheap). Together with the Hygogg and the Gouf, this is one of the trickier Zeonic STANDart figures to locate. I guess not many owners want to give them up, and I can understand them very well, this figure is such an awesome realization of the nimble Kämpfer, full of vibrant colours and detail. The mobile suit comes armed with a shotgun (attached directly to its right hand) and two optional bazookas that can be mounted on a rack on the suit's back. The unit I photographed here has a disfigured helmet antenna due to a lazy packaging job, but the plastic is soft and probably be straightened out with some hot water treatment without too much trouble.

Articulation follows the STANDart norm, the head can turn from side to side, and the arms can be rotated at the shoulders. You can also do some fine adjustment of the right hand. On the above picture it is displayed together with its cousin from the old Ultimate Operation Volume 8 set (released December 2014), but it is also about to be released in the next wave of Assault Kingdom (currently scheduled for July this year), so there will be a good opportunity to update this comparison shot at that time.

011 : When it comes to curious mobile suit design, the MSM-03C Hygogg is a lovely example of when both quirky and awesome come together. There's just nothing out there that looks even remotely similar, the Hygogg will stand out wherever it goes. And the STANDart version, with its amazing attention to detail will impress even more.

Although it doesn't do much in the articulation department -forget about moving the head, and flipping the arms around won't make much sense- it still just has that commanding presence. I love this one to bits. Sadly, the STANDart Hygogg figure is now rather rare and won't show up very often, it pays to keep tabs on your usual dealers and strike fast if you wish to pick it up.

Hygogg figures always seem to differ in the colour department; the manufacturers seem to have many different ideas about the proper base colour. This is clearly seen when the STANDart figure is paired with the Ultimate Operation version (from set ten, which released back in June 2005). What is a little bit surprising perhaps, is that the STANDart figure does not feature the orange Hand Missile Unit. Since the Hygogg's hands are not detachable parts but molded onto its arms this was probably a cost cutting decision (the Ultimate Operation figures do come with optional HMU:s by the way).

The RX-78-2 (and the G3) stand about 8 cm tall (tip of Beam Sabers), the Kämpfer is also about 8 cm tall at the shoulder (10,5 if you measure the tip of the bazookas) and the tips of the Hygogg shoulders binders are about 7 cm from the floor.
In conclusion, I will say this much; STANDart volume 03 is one of the better STANDart sets to be released (I have a feeling I say this about most of them...) with some really iconic mobile suits with vivid colours that make your collection come alive. I'd pass maybe on the RX-78-2 since there are better versions now, but the other three are highly recommended for your STANDart shelf. Keep your eyes and ears firmly open and remain vigilant.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Gundam Converge EX05 / EX06 : Musha Gundam / Full Armor Knight Gundam

When Converge recently hit the 100 mark with the Turn X Gundam (released as part of Converge wave 17 back in December 2014) Bandai saw it fit to do a little celebration. Two special figures were introduced under a "100" logo and finally materialized as the EX05 and EX06 respectively. Released in May 2015 the jubilee might seem a bit stale half a year later, but the figures promise to make up for it. While the two figures are sold separately, we'll be covering both of them in this review.

Up to this point, the mobile suits presented in the Converge EX series seem to have been growing in size (and price) continuously, outsizing each other as they go along. With the Musha and Knight Gundam however, the figures have shrunk back to standard Converge size and the boxes are now even smaller than your typical Converge SP package. However, with a suggested retail price at ¥1400 they are still more than three times as pricey as your ordinary Converge figure.

You know the drill by now; a figure in a multi-compartment bag (in this case two bags per figure due to the unusually large count of accessories), and if your figure is sold in a market where Shokugan candy toys are the thing, bundled with the traditional Converge chewing gum.

Unlike the larger EX figures there are no assembly instructions included with these two, and there are also no instructions printed on the inside of the box, something we have seen with for e.g. the Assault Kingdom figures.

EX05 : Anyway, the first figure is the outlandish Musha Gundam, which is a fair representation of your average Giant Robot/Samurai crossbreed, leaving behind the seriousness of One Year Wars and Collateral Damage running into millions of innocent civilians. The Musha was built for a good fight, and that's exactly what it gets to do in the 1980:s manga Playmo-Kyoshiro, a comic centered on fights between custom-built plastic models, a concept very similar in tone to the Gundam Build Fighters show of more recent years. As such it has no allegiances or armies to back it up, in fact not even a pilot.

As the above illustration shows, the Musha Gundam is a fairly standard piece of Converge. If you've snapped one together before you will find no surprises here. It shines of course in the superb paint applications given to it. The great attention to detail reaches a level far beyond you average Converge figure, and this may well be the best painted figure of them all, rivaling even the Art of Gundam realtypes. As for articulation there are no surprises. You've got your basic Converge moving parts where you expect them, however the large armour quickly gets in the way if you try to wiggle the head or the arms more than just a little. The separately molded left hand is a nice touch, something more Converge figures really should have.

It is also highly unusual to see optional gear on a Converge figure. Rather, the trend is usually one accessory per figure. There are several examples where you end up having to buy two figures to get e.g. both the beam rifle and the beam saber. Good for sales volumes I'm sure, but I prefer somewhat pricier figures instead. The Musha however, is loaded with gear. We get a shiny katana (available both in sheath and brandished with an empty sheath), a crescent blade spear, a vintage looking Tanegashima gun and a large multi part shield.

Just like the weapons, the shield can be held in either hand, but it may also be attached to the figure's back. Clipped into place, you can then stow the spear and the rifle on the shield, using the small adapter pieces included with the figure. I would really have liked a little instruction on their intended uses, as I fumbled with these for quite some time and I'm still not sure I am using them as intended by the designers...

A more novel thing about the shield is the way in which it transforms, splitting in half and spreading what looks like wings. I presume this is some sort of support fighter thingy, but it really looks silly and there is no good way to display it anyway, so after snapping a photo I decided to forget about its gimmicky existence. Overall though, the Musha Gundam is an impressive eyecatcher which will liven up any collection.

EX06 : The second jubilee figure has a lot in common with the Musha. Also inspired by historical armor, the Full Armor Knight Gundam is another outrageous design based on medieval European warfare. It typically does so in the odd SD Gundam universe, which is home to tiny and extremely short super-deformed figures that make the Converge models appear tall.

The Knight Gundam feels even more like a regular Converge figure, with just one extra accessory to show for its EX status. That, and the superb paint applications of course, which are even more detailed than on the Musha.

The Knight Gundam features the same type of articulation as the Musha Gundam, giving you some flexibility in which weapon to wield, the fire sword or the knight's lance and shield. The lance can also be stored on the figure's back when not in use. As garish as the design is, with its angel-like wings and shiny equipment it still makes a reasonably interesting figure, fun for its outlandishness, but not really up to the style displayed by its samurai cousin.

The Musha and the Knight are pretty unique figures in the Converge line (although they will soon be joined by more novelties from the Gundam Build Fighters line), and as such probably do not appeal to all types of collectors. If you like whole concept of armored knights duking it out mobile suit style, these figures will probably be of interest to you. If not, well then these figures, as detailed as they are, are unlikely to sway your opinion either.

Personally I would rather have given these spots to a pair of super detailed Jagd Dogas, they would have been just the thing for a set like this. We also have the first two Converge CORE figures to look forward to, which are souped up reissues of traditional Gundams. First out are the 00 and the S Gundam later this summer, let's hope they pave the way for more lavish Converge figures at the detail level seen in the Knight and the Musha.