Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Gundam Converge EX 07 : RX78GP03 Dendrobium

The Dendrobium, one of the huge and quirky looking weapon platforms featured in the Stardust Memory storyline is the largest monstrosity we have yet seen in Converge. Released as a premium style figure in November 2015 with a suggested price tag of ¥3200, it narrowly beats the older six figure Operation Revive premium set by 200 yen, making it the priciest figure in the line to date. And although we have seen some rather large EX-series figures before, nothing compares to this behemoth.

The Dendrobium also stands out from its Converge brethren in that the almost all platform parts are made of traditional rigid and hard plastic of the non-bendable type that you normally see in model kits, unlike your common Converge figure which has a softer almost oily feel to it.

Even the box itself is quite large and is seriously moving out of the zone with which you typically associate candy toys. And speaking of candy, there was no chewing gum in this package. This is something we've seen before on export versions of Converge. This particular box hails from Hong Kong and was distributed by the local Bandai Namco Asia company there.

In the box we find four plastic bags and a decent (Japanese only of course) assembly instruction.

Before we assemble the Orchis, the huge weapons platform, we will start by taking a closer look at the attached mobile suit figure.

RX-78GP03S Gundam GP-03 "Stamen" : The Gundam GP03, a.k.a. Stamen sits at the heart of the Dendrobium weapons platform system, surrounded by the large unmanned Orchis unit. Related to the GP01 and GP02, the Stamen is easily identified by its large hip-mounted wing binders, which allow for extra thrust and maneuverability.

The GP03 comes with a respectable equipment selection for a Converge figure. We are getting a basic beam rifle as well as two folding bazookas and a shield. Best of all is how all weapons are modular and can be attached to the suits hands at will. This is something I would have liked to have seen on the pricy Converge CORE figures as well. Notice also the two gray rings that function as the mobile suit's neck. When attached to the Orchis mobile armor the alternate neck piece is used to allow for the figure to fit in better.

The Gundam GP03 as it appeared in Converge Volume 13 (left), and with improved features in EX 07 (right).
We have actually encountered the Stamen in Converge once before. It originally appeared as a basic figure in Converge Volume 13 as number 77. The figure included with the EX 07 is vastly improved, not only by the addition of extra accessories, but the figure also has a more toned down white body colour and some nice decals on its shoulders (and if Bandai had made a CORE figure out of the GP03, you can be sure we would have gotten the colour changes and decals, but not the extra weapons...).

Dendrobium Stamen Configurations

The EX 07 figure has two optional display choices for the full mobile armor. They are really only minor variations on the same theme, but are entertaining to play around with none the less.

The first mode sees the GP03 Gundam being partially concealed wihtin the main fuselage of the Orchis weapons platform which locks the figure neatly in place.

As you can clearly see, the Dendrobium is huuuge. Still, I must confess it looks and feels much better than I had expected. The material used for the mobile armor is very easy to assemble, without any of the convoluted parts manipulation required for some of the more recent extra large Converge figures. Still, there is also something of the Converge soul lost in the process.

While the two large doors covering the multi-compartment weapon bays don't move, they can be attached in either fully opened or closed mode. In addition, two of the weapon systems (a three tube missile launcher and a micro missile array) can be extended from their compartments, which would be a really nice touch if the damned things would stay in place. Unless there is some gimmicky way of locking these pieces in place that I have yet to discover, these two weapons will just fall straight out of their sockets. Incidentally, that is also why they are drooping toward the ground in the photos. I do hope this is a massive oversight on my part, because otherwise you'd need to modify them somehow. Not exactly something we are used to with Bandai and FW precision models.

Another two optional weapons are included in the set. One is a weird wire-like thingamy (sorry, not up to speed on that one) which extends from one of two optional sockets on the Orchis frame, and the other a really nice translucent beam saber. The saber has a peg which lets it attach steadily into either of the two claw-like manipulators. These claws can open and close, and can also swivel a little, which is a nice touch.

The optional display mode for the Dendrobium Stamen is to have the GP03 Gundam crawl out of its innards and pose menacingly on top of the hull. To do this we first transform the actual mobile suit mini back to regular Converge configuration and then attach the clear leg locking piece to the spine of the Orchis.

This mechanic is a simple and effective solution which allows you to clip the mobile suit steadily to the Orchis without having to worry about it falling off at the slightest vibration, which would have been the case otherwise. It also allows for more aggressive poses with arms extended forward without toppling the mobile suit.

Overall I must say I am quite impressed with the Dendrobium package. The model is a reasonable compromise of size, price and functionality, and the new GP03 Gundam figure is a marked improvement over the existing one. In the end though, due to its size and general non-Converge style, I have a feeling the Orchis weapons platform will be disassembled and stored back into its box, while the GP03 figure will be the one going on actual display (just like some of the previous EX figure before it).

Monday, 28 December 2015

Gundam Converge CORE 003 : Earth Federation Space Force

After a bit of a hiatus Converge is exploding back into action as the end of 2015 is rapidly approaching. In recent weeks we have seen three different releases being pumped out, this being the second of them, and perhaps the least novel. We're looking at CORE 003, the third installment in the Converge Re-definition series. Thus far, CORE has been bringing back old Converge high-profile Mobile Suits and made some minor changes to their looks, adding more detail or colour alterations.

CORE 003 focuses on the classic vintage E.F.S.F. team from the granddaddy Mobile Suit Gundam television series that started it all. The set released as a special triple pack at a suggested price of ¥2500, making it a both pricier than its two CORE predecessors (as in total price) yet also improving the mobile suit per yen-ratio. CORE 003 also appears to have entered general distribution, whereas the previous figures were Bandai web shop exclusives. My box which came out of Hong Kong even had a Bandai Namco Asia subsidiary sticker applied to it.



Another thing which has changed from CORE 001 and 002 is that we now have classic Gundam Converge-style packaging as opposed to a tiny box plonked into an oversized, dull, brown cardboard box (see the previous reviews). I doubt we will see a return of that dreaded thing (if there will ever be any more CORE sets announced after number four).

If you have been with Gundam Converge for a while, chances are you will recognize most everything that this set has to offer. All the figures in this set have been released several times over, and you will feel instantly familiar with the components for the various figures if you have ever built them before.

As you can see, there's not a whole lot going on in the assembly department. These figures are tried and tested ever since the first Converge release saw the light of day five years ago in November 2011. Therefore it will also not be a great deal to say about them here.

RX-77-2 Guncannon : The first figure in the box, and in my opinion also the one which has benefitted the most from this release, is the Guncannon, the Gundam's trusted ol' sidekick. You are getting the same old model here, now for the fourth time, with some minor tweaks to its paintjob.


The CORE 003 Guncannon (far right) together with its predecessors from the Operation Jaburo box set (far left) and the Selection V set (center). There is also a vintage figure from Converge Volume 1 which is not yet in our armory which is best described as a something in between of the previous two versions.
The eye-catching white stripes that immediately set it apart from the previous versions are also accompanied by some more subtle tweaks, such as its darker red base colour. Considering that the Unit 108 emblem was attached to the 7-11 limited figure from last year, it would have been a nice touch if they put 109 on this unit instead The yellow colour is back on the beam rifle sight, which was inexplicably omitted on said 7-11 version. Over all, this is how it often feels with all the re-releases of Converge figures, fixing one problem yet introducing another. As for the CORE 003 versions though, they feel like they are getting everything just right (as long as you don't have a problem with the excessive striping on them, which seems to be a thing done for its own sake).


RX-78-2 Gundam : Depending on how you do your counting, the Gundam is now making its sixteenth appearance in Converge. Subtract the G-3 and the Prototype RX-78-1 versions we are down to 12. Drop the silver and gold figures and the Realtype colour versions and we are now at eight. So, chances are you've seen this guy around a couple of times already.

The CORE 003 Gundam hanging out with some of its previous Converge incarnations.
The New RX-78-2 figure, is still basically the same five year old figure in its most basic form. While it does add a lot of tiny text on its shoulder armor, as well as some seemingly random white striping and a pair of panel-lined feet, the mold hasn't seen any upgrades. The shield still does not have a see through section (like on more modern versions of the figure like the RX-78-1 and the Detail Up version), the head still leans down toward the left shoulder, and we are not getting any alternative weapon load out, not even the existing bazooka. A nice enough figure, but far from stellar.

RX-75 Guntank : This cute little hybrid prototype vehicle, which usually appears teamed up with the Guncannon, has also followed the Guncannon faithfully through the Converge history. The two have always appeared in the same product sets, seemingly inseparable.

Converge Guntank family, in order of appearance: The basic figure from Converge Volume 1, the shiny metallic limbed version from the Operation Jaburo boxset, the named figure from the Selection V limited edition set and finally the new CORE 003 figure.
Looking back on the various Guntank versions we have seen in Converge, this figure has never been one to display and significant differences. The CORE release mainly tweaks the base colours and adds a couple of white stripes for the hell of it. While the Guntank is a logical inclusion in a MSG combo pack, even Fusion Works clearly couldn't come up with much to alter in it.

Conclusion

As I think the pictures above speak clearly, Converge CORE 003 is not exactly reinventing anything in the Converge figure line. Both CORE 001 and 002 were fairly unimpressive in this regard as well, but at least here the price has been lowered a bit to reflect that. Still, at more than ¥800 per piece (which multiplies nicely for the foreign market, expect to pay somewhere around $25 to $45 for this set) they are even twice as expensive as the regular figures, with just a few stripes to show for it.

Ultimately, CORE 003 is a great way for recent collectors to get their hands on three iconic Converge figures, which are all now very difficult to obtain, and with the recent revivals of both the GM and the Ball, stand a good chance of building a nice Earth federation line-up. More seasoned collectors with one or more variations of these minis already in hand, will probably want to give this one a pass unless you happen to be completists.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Gundam STANDart volume 4

STANDart volume four was released in March 2009 and focuses on mobile suits from the Gundam Zeta era. Sadly, all of these figures are now quite rare, practically almost only showing up in Japanese second-hand shops at this point. And when you manage to do find them you can bet on them typically being sold as complete sets of 4. They've come a long way from the Bandai ¥660 list price by now, although none of these belong among the most sought after STANDart figures. Expect figures in this set to show up at around ¥1500-3500 or so.

Being one of the early generations of STANDart figures, the figures of volume 4 all come in those original oversize boxes where all parts fit into their own slots, which makes storage easy if wasting previous space at the same time. The figures also contain the nice collector cards wrapped in plastic together with a piece of Bandai shokugan style-gum (same type as used for Converge).

As you can see from the box photos, there aren't very many pieces that need to be assembled. Some pieces fit better than others. You normally do not want to touch the wing binders on the Zetas as they are often ready to fly off very easily. Notice that the Dijeh figure comes with a small white support piece to clip around its foot, although I needed not use it since I encountered no balance problems with this particular lot.

014 : The most iconic figure in this lot is of course the MSZ-006 Z Gundam. This figure is the most detailed version of the 1/220 scale Zetas I have encountered and has a lot of nicely painted little details and logos. The figure has the typical for STANDart articulated arms that can rotate at the shoulder. I am not entirely sure if it can also turn its head, I didn't dare to pull hard enough to find out...

MSZ-006 Z Gundam from STANDart volume 4 (left) and STANDart volume 16 (right).

Zeta 1/220 scale family, from left to right: The reissued Z Gundam (A.E.U.G. logo) from STANDart volume 16 (released January 2013), one of the two different Zetas from FW Ultimate Operation (this one from set FWUO Plus, released September 2005), the Assault Kingdom Z Gundam (AK6, released September 2014) and lastly the Z Gundam (Z logo) from STANDart volume 4.


An interesting thing about the Z Gundam is that it is one of a very few STANDart figures to have been re-released. It is not a straight reissue as such, but a revised figure featuring E.F.S.F. and A.E.U.G. logotypes (as opposed to the base Z logo on the original figure) and the reissue also has some watered down detail and paint job although it still looks very good. Overall, the Zeta is a brilliant looking figure, especially for its size, and well worth hunting for.

015 : The MSZ-006-3 Z Gundam Type-3, or rather, Type 3A (or Third Zeta, or White Zeta... there are many names floating about), is a bit of an oddity. The design featured in a short film called Gundam Neo Experience 0087: Green Divers, or Green Divers for short. The machine is supposed to be the third Zeta prototype and intended for the personal use of Amuro Ray, hence its big A splash on the shoulder pad (although the entire colour scheme does seem to lend itself well to some anarchistic reclaim the city graffiti-stunt...).

STANDart Z Gundam legacy, from left to right: The Zeta (Z logo) and the Type 3A Zeta from STANDart volume 4, followed by the gray MSZ-006C1 Zeta Plus C1 from STANDart volume 10 (released in July 2011), the re-release of the Zeta (A.E.U.G. logo) from volume 16 (January 2013) and the Karaba Airforce MSZ-006A1 Zeta Plus A1, again in Amuro's personal colours (STANDart volume 19, released January 2014).
Unsurprisingly the two Z Gundam figures are similar in design and feature only different colours. While it is definitely less slick than the original figure the colour scheme works quite well and can break up the monotony on the shelf a little.

016 : Another oddity from the Karaba team is the MSK-008 Dijeh. It is a rather ungainly sight, mostly resembling a pig with butterfly wings. Although it is supposed to be a redevelopment of the successful RMS-099 Rick Dias design, its Gelgoog heritage seems rather obvious, a testament to those ex-Zeonic designers on the Karaba development team.

The design of the Dijeh can be traced to the Principality of Zeon's Gelgoog and A.E.U.G.'s second generation Rick Dias. The design culminated in a badass MSV (official Mobile Suit Variation) known as the Dijeh SE-R. Now that's a figure I would have loved to see in the STANDart armory. All images taken from the Gundam Wiki (and are not to scale).
The Dijeh comes armed with the same type of clay bazooka that we've seen the Rick Dias and Hyaku-Shiki using, and also features a Zeonic style Beam Naginata weapon stowed on the back of it s skirt. Sadly there is no alternative Beam Naginata for the figure to wield, which feels like a missed opportunity. In spite of the outlandish appearance of this figure, the STANDart figure still appears to be quite popular and its price is higher than I would have expected.

017 : The last mobile suit in this set is the RMS-117 Galbaldy-Beta, the only non-ace mass-produced mobile suit of the four. Of course, following the basic reverse-logic of Gundam collectibles, this is of course also the figure in this set that appears to be the most difficult to find. Although flying the Titans flag, the purple Galbaldy-Betas featured in Zeta Gundam belonged to a regular Earth Federation unit (though its pilots were later promoted to Titans service).

Even the Zeta Gundam television series seemed to have issues deciding what colour the Galbaldy actually sports.
There are some quirks with the look of the STANDart Galbaldy-Beta. Most notably the Titans logos on the shield seem misplaced. I can't recall having seen these markings anywhere else than on this particular STANDart figure. The base colour also feels a bit red in comparison to its appearance on the show (where it seems to fluctuate between various shades of reddish-purple). These are minor niggles but I still feel that they are a bit distracting. Overall though, a "necessary" collection item as far as I am concerned.