Sunday, 29 May 2016

Gundam Converge #02

Converge #02 is the second volume in the relaunch of this popular mini-figure series. Hotly anticipated also at the Shokugan headquarters, the May arrival of Converge promises some serious mobile suit business, but will it live up to these expectations?

Converge figure are usually released in waves of wildly different figures, and this motley crew is no exception. The mobile suits in this wave come from the recent Bandai animes The Origin and Iron Blooded Orphans which finally premieres here, with some appearances from 00 and Zeta trailing them. Most surprising is perhaps the inclusion of the TR5 which is sourced from the Flag of Titans photo novel.

Figures in wave #02 follow the new pattern set in wave #01. Converge figures now feature personalized black bases, each with a single peg adapted to that particular mobile suit, although usually the figures have no issues standing to attention without the bases if you feel they are too clunky.

126 : The leader of this pack is the ASW-G-08 Gundam Barbatos from last year's Iron Blooded Orphans. I have yet to watch this show but from what I have seen in the way of artwork this appears to be a very faithful reproduction of the Barbatos in its fourth form. The many colors and patterns on its body are typical of this new wave of regular Converge figures, and is a marked improvement over older figures.

The Barbatos features the traditional Converge articulation and as a little bonus comes with two different weapons, something highly unusual for regular figures although we have been spoiled in this manner also by some previous figures. In the previous Converge era, you would have been forced to buy two separate figures, one of which would have appeared as a "secret" version in the same type of box, thankfully this praxis has (so far) been done away with in the Converge relaunch.

As you can see from the above pictures an extra accessory goes a long way to making a figure that much more interesting, and the Barbatos really benefits from the additional long sword which displays just as well as its otherwise mighty mace. This is a very well done Converge figure and a great way to start of the Iron Blooded Orphans gang.

127 : The next face doesn't need much in the way of introduction. The MS-06S Zaku II Commander Type, here in its Gundam: The Origin version and custom Char Aznable colours is now a cultural phenomenon in its own right. They even make cars in this colour nowadays. What is kind of peculiar about this figure though is that, contrary to what I just mentioned regarding the Barbatos, the Zaku II also features alternative accessories. However, here Bandai thought it would be a good idea to divide all that nice gear in two boxes, forcing you to buy two very similar figures just to get all of them. Hey Bandai, I thought we were done with this tired practice in the Converge relaunch?

Anyway, the Converge 127 figure features Char's very long anti-ship rifle and classic axe like heat hawk. Both the rifle and the heat hawk can be wielded in the right hand, and the latter can be stowed on the mobile suit's left hip when not in use. Again, this is pretty spectacular for a standard Converge figure and works very well.

Articulation follows the Converge standard. For a Zaku II that means that the arms rotate at the shoulders and that the shoulder shield can be repositioned within its socket. The right hand is also freely adjustable.

The updated Zaku II also keeps the old swiveling monoeye functionality. While the head itself appears rigid (at least it is not giving way when I try to pull it and I dare not twist harder) the monoeye sits on a doughnut shaped disk inside the head which is freely adjustable. It is a neat gimmick although a moving head would have been cooler.

128 : No doubt looking familiar. This MS-06S hasn't changed much since figure 127 except that it now comes with a Zaku Bazooka and extra ammunition instead. The extra missiles go onto the right shoulder shield, and the bazooka can be mounted in hand or stored on the back when not in use. Notice the special attachment point for the bazooka on the figure's back. This component is not present on figure 127, and is how you can tell the two apart. I guess it is a nice touch if you are a real puritan with a dying need to display the figure's back for all to see, otherwise it seems a bit overkill to create two different figures for this purpose. It would seem more prudent to remove the attachment points on the shoulder shield on figure 127 instead, something which is visible from the front, but there you go.

Both the Origin Zaku II:s look very nice and are an improvement over the old Converge Zaku II design, which suffers from unsteady feet and a tendency to list to the left side. The new figure's commander antenna however is quite loose in comparison though; you may want to consider gluing it in place to avoid losing parts. I foresee many future secondhand figures missing this vital part.

The big deal about the two Zaku II:s in this set is of course the gimmick in how they can be combined to create the Full Weapon variety. This is done by taking the rifle and heat hawk from figure 127 and attaching them to figure 128, and placing figure 128's bazooka on its back. The result is a Zaku II armed to the teeth which is of course very cool, but I still feel that we could have got all accessories in a single box...

Char's Zaku II, Converge major variants: Dengeki Hobby limited figure with machine gun, released August 2011, Converge Vol. 5 with bazooka (released November 2011), metallic paint MS-06S with machine gun from the "Converge Limited" double pack released in March 2014, Converge Revive MS-06S (comes with both the bazooka and a heat hawk) released in volume 16 in September 2014, the Full Weapon combination Origin Version figures 127+128 from this review and lastly a translucent figure with bazooka from the Gundam Front Tokyo special twin pack, released April 2016.
Char's Custom Zaku II army is now getting quite large. The early figures were quite rare up until recently, now every Converge collector has plenty of opportunities to add at least one of these to their line-up. Hopefully Bandai will put some more attention on the mass produced Zaku line, which is strangely empty with not even so much as a Zaku Ground Type available. The possibilities here seem endless.

129 : The second mobile suit to get a make-over in this set is the GN-001 Gundam Exia. This face is no stranger to Converge having seen half a dozen variations by now, and I wish we would see more mobile suits from the 00 era instead (and finally it seems Bandai are thinking the same thing as the Dynames is scheduled for release this fall).

Due to a kind of Gundam Exia fatigue this was the figure I was least excited about in this set, but once I laid my eyes on the actual figure I had to reevaluate this assessment. The revised Exia figure has many subtle changes in the sculpt improving its appearance over past incarnations. The major innovation is in its weapon suite however. This figure is bristling with optional equipment making it very fun to fiddle around with.

Not only has the GN Sword been upgraded so that the blade can be stowed or extended at will, we're also given not one but two translucent beam saber. Even more surprising, these beam sabers can be removed from the figure's hands offering a wealth of combination options. Just like with the Barbatos, this goes such a long way to creating a playable and customizable figure taking Converge one step further from their often static appearance.

Converge GN-001 Exia major variations: First release from volume 1, released back in November 2010, the metallic colour variant from the "Converge Limited" double pack from 2011, the long and short sword wielding Exia from the Revive Premium Edition pack (released February 2014, also includes the standard GN Sword/Shield combo) and finally the updated Converge #02 variant.
From a purely technical and functional point of view, the Exia is the star of Converge #02, and a vast improvement over its predecessors. Why Char's Zaku II wasn't packed with all accessories in one box remains an even bigger mystery by now. If you are only getting one figure from this wave, I would strongly recommend this one which will no doubt grow quite scarce.

130 : At the end of this set we find two similar figures. The first is the mighty ORX-005 Gaplant, a masterpiece in design from the Zeta Gundam era. This is the figure form this set I have been salivating about ever since the announcement and I am happy to say that the figure turned out really great. The Gaplant is a huge mobile suit and it has been given a reasonable size here although a little size increase would have made it that much more intimidating.

Due to its complex design the articulation in the Gaplant is a bit limited. The head sits fixed and there is no messing with the monoeye on this one (which makes sense since you can't see much of it anyway). The arms still rotate at the shoulders and although the mobile suit comes with no accessories (booooooh) both hands are actually replaceable and can this swivel in their sockets. The reason for this seems clear; rather than spending the money to give the Gaplant the translucent yellow beam sabers it so desires, we can at least settle for the next best thing and replace its hands with those from another figure.

What could have been. Stealing the Exia's beam sabers and the Nu Gundam HWS's beam rifle to trick out the Converge Gaplants which have been given the short end of the stick as far as equipment goes.
The Converge relaunch actually takes modularity to a new level, we have even seem official Fusion Works photographs indicating that this is also intended. I am seriously considering picking up some extra figures to donate their hands and weapons to both my Gaplants, but it would have been better if Bandai held the line and had made the proper accessories for these figures from the start. Still, it is better than nothing I guess.

131 : The last figure of the set is the ORX-005 Gaplant TR-5 [Hrairoo], a redevlopment of the Gaplant as featured in the Advance of Zeta photo novels. I am very happy to see these obscure figures being developed for Converge.

This is basically a heavily resculpted Gaplant with a new face and a new colour scheme. The basic features of the original figure are all the same and this mobile suit also comes without any extra accessories. Again, these figures would have been just as awesome as the rest of the figures in this set had they been given at least something extra, a beam saber here or a beam rifle there would have gone a long way towards this. Still, both are very attractive and unique profiles for the Converge collection and in my Titans fetish-opinion must haves of course.


Overall Converge #02 reaffirms some of the things we save in the first volume. The figures maintain a very nice level of detail in both sculpts and colour schemes, and optional equipment and weapons still feature among several of the figures though not all. This set should be a no-brainer for any Converge collector, the relaunch figures have so far been a great source of excitement as far as the Sergeant is concerned.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

[ Mystery Gouf ]

The latest weekly E.F.F. security bulletin featured among other items this recent reconnaissance photo from the Caspian Sea. Battalion Command believes it to be a new type of advanced mobile suit. Further scouting missions into the area have resulted in no additional data and Battalion Command have tasked us to identify the new unit. Perhaps you, dear reader, can assist in this endeavour?

This tiny Gouf figure stands only two centimeters tall which places it somewhere in the 1:930 scale range and that is pretty darn small. Highly detailed for its size, it looks and feels very much like a Mini Figure Selection figure, except for the fact that it isn't even half that size!

The Mystery Gouf is completely dwarfed by the normally tiny Mini Figure Selection Gouf.

The figure has (as you would expect) no articulation and is made from the same soft and bendy plastic that the MFS figures feature. The feet have large size-differing pegs that go into the base, which is the opposite design of the MFS figure, where the peg sits on the base instead.

Comparing the Mystery Gouf to the 1/400 Gundam Collection figure and the deformed Converge figure.

Sometimes you can pick up a few clues from the figure itself, since the factory will typically put an awkward stamp on it somewhere, in this case the only option was the underside of the base. The clues left stamped into the plastic are a little bit enlightening though: #06 © SA • S   B. CHINA  28741

A couple more size comparisons...

The number #06 clearly identifies this figure as the sixth in an unknown set of kawaaaaaaiiii little mobile suits, and 28741 is most probably stamped into the base of each and every figure of this set. Each wave of Mini Figure Selection figures for example, share the same number in this manner. Based on similar figures, I'd guess it was manufactured somewhere around 2000-2005.

Do you know anything more about this little Gouf? Production year? Brand name? Total figures in the wave? Were there more waves? Any tidbits or puzzle pieces would be highly appreciated. I have never seen this type of figure before or after, but I would wager it can't be very rare if you just know what the hell you are supposed to look for.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Gundam Converge : Gundam Front Tokyo Limited Color

On the very rectangular island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay, a full size RX-78 stands vigilant guard at the waterfront. You would think this alone would be a reason for devoted Gundam fans to flock here for a peculiar pilgrimage, but Bandai know better. Setting up shop nearby, is the Gundam Front Tokyo Gundam museum with attached café and (wait for it) gunpla store. And to make sure the punters will come and visit, Bandai are churning out lots of GFT Limited kits and items, colour variations and clear kits seem to be a recurring theme. As of April 2016, Gundam Converge has finally got a limited GFT set of its own. However, thanks to the marvels of ecommerce I did not need to actually perform the Odaiba pilgrimage myself.

If you have been keeping up with Converge lately, the Limited GFT set will be a rather familiar sight. Bandai certainly didn't go into any creative excesses here, we've already seen the Char's Zaku and RX-78 duo featured as limited items twice recently.

If you have any of these figures before, the box set will be familiar territory for you. My box did come with the shokugan chewing gum, which seems to indicate this being a Japanese import to Hong Kong and indeed not distributed locally.

As you can see, the RX-78-2 Gundam has been given the calamari treatment, with its translucent plastic, something we have rarely seen in Converge before (to my knowledge only on the UC limited Unicorn but it wouldn't surprise me if there are more clear figures floating about).

There are no surprises in store for you here. This is the same old figure which has serviced Converge fans since 2010, you get exactly one beam rifle and one shield as accessories and that's it. Although we've seen some variations on the Gundam equipment over the years, nobody bothered to update the figure here. You'd think it would have been worth the effort to design a beam saber for this figure, translucent plastic just begs for it. What we do get though, are some new markings on the body. There's a White Base sticker on one of the shoulders which is completely superfluous since it doesn't stand out well enough against the body.

Three faces of the Converge RX-78-2. The most detailed version in basic white from CORE 003 (released in December 2015), the metallic paint version from the Overseas Only limited pack from March 2014, and the new translucent figure from the GFT pack.
There have been so many RX-78-2 figures in Converge now that I can't be bothered to dig them all through, I thought it would be fun to line up a couple of them in the above shot though, to show just how little is really done with this figure. Not really that impressed here.

The Zaku II does fare a little bit better. Although the MS-06S Zaku II (Char's Custom) figure used to be a somewhat rare item, all the recent revisits this figure is getting means that we now have an army of red Zaku II:s to be commanded by the only green one from 2011 (not counting the Jaburo set version from 2012). Gundam memorabilia are funny that way, it is often difficult to do any serious army building...

The calamari Zaku II is a rehash of the recent Operation Revive Zaku II which is good news, because it means the figure includes both the Zaku Bazooka and the Heat Hawk (these were originally found on two different figures) so you are at least able to do a little fiddling around with the weapon of choice. We also get some nice new logos on the figure and here they stand out nicely against the red backdrop and so make a lot more sense here.

Although not intended, it is possible to feign a stored bazooka by carefully placing it on the figure's back. The illusion is not fully complete (certainly not when viewed from the backside) but I found it to be decent enough for display purposes.

Some select comparisons: Char's Zaku II as it appeared in Converge Vol. 5 from 2011 (with bazooka), the Overseas Limited Edition figure from 2014 (with metallic paint) and the new calamari version from the GFT package.
As I mentioned before we are starting to get a lot of red Zaku II variations in Converge now, and that is not even counting the two new The Origin versions from Converge #02 (which will be reviewed shortly), which is a bit annoying when there are so many other Zeon aces, MSV or not, still waiting for their hot rides.

Overall, the GFT Limited Color set is a nice gimmick but hardly a requirement for your Converge collection. If you lack the MS-06S or RX-78-2 there are far better versions released recently floating around the market right now. And if you are a sucker for translucent plastic you will most likely have purchased this set already anyway...

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Gundam Converge EX 09 : Superior Dragon

The Superior Dragon is the most recent in the quickly expanding Converge EX line, and appeared in April 2016. The Dragon is originally a SD Gundam Gaiden figure, meaning, it stared life as a super deformed figure. This means that hte Converge figure is actually upscaled from the original design. We've had a couple of SD conversions before so this marks the third appearance from this quirky (though immensely popular) fringe of the Gundam franchise.

Although the Superior Dragon's box is both small and slim it is surprisingly chock full of parts and pieces. It also features a proper assembly guide which does a semi-decent job of illustrating the various features of the figure.

Seriously, this is a really impressive range of gear and parts. It doesn't come cheap though, with a recommended price of ¥2200 this is on par with e.g. the Z Gundam SP06 Zeta Gundam + The-O pack and almost as expensive as the Hummingbird or Deep Striker models.

Apart from the large amount of parts, a lot of the budget appears to have gone into the glossy red, gold and silver paints applied to the figure. This coating appears to be quite delicate and my figure contains several scuffs and dents in the coat already out of the box. I would recommend against fiddling around too much with the parts since it will most likely wear it down quickly.

So, what of the figure itself then? Well, it comes in two different modes, your typical Gundam mode and in a really odd dragon mode.

The Superior Dragon figure is actually not a machine, but a divine character in the SD Gundam world. These characters are usually drawn with humanesque eyes though thankfully FW and Bandai have settled for the default machine-style eyes on this figure. In its regular mode, you could almost take this for another epic SEED or Gundam Wing style Gundam, although the mix of shiny knight armor, a dragon tail and wings plus a pair of a shiny swords does give it that over-the-top feeling that even Gundam Epyon can't match...

One of the cool features of the Superior Dragon is that we have got optional parts for both sheathed and drawn swords, and that includes both of them. This gives you freedom to pose the figure as you see fit. The swords themselves though fit very loosely into the figures hands and will fall out easily. I suspect this is to add longevity to the paint job but it will limit posing a little.

The most complicated part on this figure is the dragon faced shield. I had to squint hard at the instruction manual as well as on the box until I finally figured out how they expect you to assemble it. The shield can also be reassembled into a more offensive style weapon which is a nice touch. Just as with the swords, the parts are very loose fitting, no doubt to extend their lifetime.

The Superior Dragon has your basic Converge articulation which means that the arms rotate in their shoulder sockets, and the hands swivel at the wrist. The head can also spin although the dragon head pauldrons on the shoulders will keep this movement to a minimum (expect to see these pauldrons fall off a lot by the way). The dragon wings at the back can also swivel around in their sockets where they are held in position just fine.

In its alternative mode, the Superior Dragon goes all the way and takes the form of a golden dragon. The shield is disassembled and parts of it are draped across its face. The hands are replaced by claws and small claws are also snapped onto the feet. While a novel and well executed transformation (hats off to the Fusionsworks engineers) I think the less I say about this Zoids-like contraption the better. It is what it is, and now the dragon parts are back in the box in a zip-lock bag...

Converge SD Line up: Musha Gundam (EX 05, May 2015), Knight Gundam (EX 06, also May 2015) and Superior Dragon (EX 09, April 2016)
Overall, the Superior Dragon is a fine piece of work and well executed, although the figure does suffer from the same type of flimsiness as the Z Gundam Waverider where parts have a tendency to fall off. However it would be impossible for me to recommend this figure to anyone who is not an SD Gundam fan. Focusing on other deformed figure series feels gimmicky at best, and I think it does Converge a disservice. All these resources could have been spent into development of much more relevant figures from e.g. SEED or ZZ Gundam, where exotic designs are also plentiful. This one is for the completists only.