Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Mobile Suits Gundam Ultimate Operation : Bandai Museum Limited Edition RX-78/C.A. Gundam (Casval's Customized)

FW Ultimate Operation - the forever 1/220 underdog - is the precursor to FW Gundam STANDart. The figures in this line are sculpted in what is best described as dynamic poses. You will find very few mobile suits standing around to attention, instead they will usually lean, list, turn or bend as if caught in a moment. Extra articulation points in the arms and torso, as well as replaceable hands give them some additional opportunities too. One of these figures is the highly unusual RX-78/C.A., an alternate timeline Zeonic mobile suit featured in the Gihren's Greed video games, built to resemble and honor the good ol' RX-78-2. Yeah, it is kinda silly even for Gundam but there you go.

This particular RX-78/C.A. figure was specifically created as a promotional item for the Bandai Museum, which at the time of this figure's release would have been located in Matsudo. It was released sometime in 2003 with sales being limited to the museum shop only, in another fine example of Bandai cross-promotional strategy. This was probably a fairly sought after item back in the day although the advent of a booming online trade now also makes this figure available for the gaijin collectors.

I paid the very sizeable sum of $55.00 to obtain this figure back in 2014, showing my noob colours since I later found a second figure in Japan for the rather modest price of ¥1500. A lot of eBay sellers are simply taking the piss, so as with all things Gundam, it is buyer beware. The first figure I got thought was truly in immaculate condition, so much so in fact that I didn't want to spoil the packaging by trying to open it. Well, two years later I am finally able to do just that by grabbing a second figure...

If you are familiar with FW Ultimate Operation figures since before, you will quickly realize that this figure is simply a repaint of the bog standard RX-78-2. Of course the packaging has been modified slightly, and the metal dog tag in the package belongs to none other than Char Aznable himself. These nametags by the way probably require a post of their own since they are quite interesting, but I will leave that for another time. Suffice it to say, that the nametag in this package is not the same as the one I found in the box of my FWUO2 MS-06J Zaku II (Char's Customised) figure and there is a possibility that this tag is unique to this figure although I cannot confirm it right now.

The basic figure has a nice red colour scheme with plenty of weathering, something that adds a lot of personality to the FWUO figures. This particular figure has some issues with a bent leg, which is another fairly common thing affecting thin-legged figures of this line (you never see limping DOMs now do you?). The soft plastic would probably allow for some straightening action through heat application, but I am definitely not going to mess with it.

FWUO RX-78 line-up from left to right: RX-78-2 Gundam (FWUO volume 1, released February 2003), RX-78-2 Gundam Real-Type Colours (FWUO volume 3, September 2003), RX-78-3 G-3 Gundam (also from volume one) and the RX-78/C.A. Additional RX-78 family figures using other sculpts are also available.
When compared to its RX-78 brethren the C.A. does come across as a little Spartan in its look and feel. FWUO figures often sport nice unit insignias or unit recognition numbers, but in this particular case we find very little in the form of such detail.

I wouldn't consider Casval's Gundam a necessity in your FWUO collection, but I'm pretty sure the figure sells itself just by being red anyway. The only factor will probably be your budget versus the asking price. I doubt anyone with matching variables in that equation will be able to stay away... :)

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Messenger From Axis

The sixteenth and last mini-figure of the upcoming Mini Kit Collection has been revealed, just a few days prior to the scheduled release, and I am pretty excited about it. The Gate of Zedan is now getting a nice counterpoint in the Axis asteroid base. I can't believe how fortunate we are to be getting these two models! Miniature wargamers will now have two awesome map pieces ready for pick up right here. Together with the SD Colony miniature (or the larger and more detailed Takara Royal Museum of Science Island Type 3 mini) we will now be able to build some really interesting space battlefields.

It remains to be seen just how feasible it will be for us outsiders to grab hold of the mini kit figures we actually want. The first wave of figures is huge with sixteen different kits, each with two colour variations (previews have showcased transparent figures but I've seen no confirmation that this applies to all of them). A couple of sellers have begun selling these by the box, which means 12 random figures (will there be duplicates in these boxes, mot likely yes...) for about 45-50 USD which doesn't seem all that appealing. Hopefully some sellers will begin to split up the box contents too. Who knows how many Acguys there will be in each box... : )

June 28 also sees the release of the might Gundam Converge Neue Ziel and the pricy weapon kit for it also seems to have been made available to go with it. Exciting and expensive days ahead as June draws to a close.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Assault Kingdom EX 10 : RX-0 Unicorn Gundam & Banshee

So... it appears we have come to the end of the road. Assault Kingdom EX 10 marks the latest and most likely last sign of life we will ever see from this figure line. It had a short run, of roughly two years time, which initially produced a steady set of interesting figures only to decline rapidly over the last year to peter out into nothingness with a bland set of Unicorn figures. Seriously, is there anyone out there who collects Assault Kingdom who doesn't own at least one of these?

Assault Kingdom EX 10 is the last in a line of loosely counted nine waves of regular figures and ten especially pricey EX figures. The latter type has made up the entirety of the figure line for the past year, with the last regular figure wave appearing back in July 2015. EX 10 was officially released in the end of May 2016 and features a suggested retail price of ¥3200, which puts it on par with for example the ZZ-Gundam set.

As most of you are acutely aware, nothing Assault Kingdom seems to be so numerous as RX-0 variations. The closest thing out there would be the Zaku II with a total of five variations. After the Full Armor Unicorn and recent Banshee Norn I felt quite pleased that by now Bandai would have to put the Unicorn to rest. Perhaps if they had been bold enough we'd have seen a Phenex, although admittedly that would have required at least a little bit of new engineering. It was apparently way easier to just chuck the ol' RX-0:s in a new box and ship them out again.

I didn't exactly have high hopes for this last of the EX sets, but with Bandai using the term exclusive, you sort of  hope for at least something interesting other than a basic price hike. So I opened the box and out spilled what must indeed be considered a mixed bag(s). Upon seeing the contents spilling out on the floor, I was struck with a terrible sense of fatigue and déjà vu which almost stopped me dead in my tracks. I felt a sudden urge to just chuck the stuff back into the box and hide it away in a closet but decided to persevere for the sake of the review. Taking one for the team, so to speak.

RX-0 Unicorn Gundam (Destroy Mode)

Well, at this point this sucker requires no introduction, as I'm sure most people out there are familiar with the good ol' Assault Kingdom Unicorn by now. If not, there are several reviews of its previous iterations available in our archive, as I feel no need to go over it all once again. Instead, let's focus on just exactly what is unique about this particular version of the figure.

As you can see from the parts list picture, this figure is best described as a cross between the regular Destroy Mode Unicorn figure and the green Awake Mode Full Armor figure from the old (and still excellent) EX 05 set. Apart from the basic weapons we also get a new pair of pointing hands (same as those on the Full Armor Awake Mode figure) and some of the components from the Base Jabber which has to function as the figure's action base.

Since the figure in this box is basically a souped up Destroy Mode Unicorn (released as a regular figure in wave 2 back in June 2013) we can do a simple line up comparison. As the pictures clearly point out to us, the new version indeed has a couple of cosmetic changes, but mainly for the worse. Notice how the grey segments on the shield and waist have been axed for all white, including the entire backside of the shield. The previously all blue backpack which is now modified also has an ugly white peg sticking out of it.

The two beam tonfas also make a return in this pack, but where you'd think an exclusive figure might get, oh I don't know, maybe some translucent plastic, we instead get a pair of white toothpicks. Geee, thanks a lot.

Not everything is worse though. On the figure's plus side we do find a little bit of gray paint on the front legs as well as a little bit of menacing red on the figure's shoulder backside, where there previously was none. The hands are now painted in metallic grey which I suppose might also impress some collectors out there.

This new iteration really is a middle of the road thing. While far from a disaster in its own right, it is quite underwhelming from a completist collector's point of view. Apart from a pair of hands you really don't get anything Unicorn of value in this box except more of the same.

RX-0 Unicorn 02 Banshee (Destroy Mode)

The second figure in the box is pretty much the same deal as the previous one. While there have only been two previous incarnations of the Unicorn 02 both were of the RX-0[N] Banshee Norn type. This is actually the first vanilla Unicorn 02 figure so a bit of a mini-premiere at least.

As far as the figure goes, it has a lot in common with the Unicorn Destroy Mode figure. Presumably because they are more or less the exact same figure with a couple of minor variations. This however does mean that the Banshee is pretty well stocked with gear and although we have seen much of it before, the Newtype Destroyer components (again repaints of the ones found in the Awake Mode EX05 figure pack) are pretty much essential stuff for a Banshee. We also get a pair of underwhelming if slightly novel navy blue beam tonfas and a navy blue Base Jabber base plate which looks just as ridiculous as the white one.

As you can see it is quite hard to tell the standard RX-0[N] Unicorn 02 Banshee Norn (left) apart from the new Unicorn 02 Banshee figure (right). The base colours in destroy mode appear to be a bit more orange on the old Banshee Norn figure, and there are a few extra painted details on the new figure's legs. Overall, the differences between these figures are less obvious, but the extra gear is more useful here.

As you can see, Assault Kingdom EX 10 is a pretty competent set, so why do I dislike it so greatly? Well, we covered part of it already. As a standalone product this is fine, but as a tired Unicorn rehash it most certainly is not, there's simply just enough value here. You could have added the few new extra accessories and put them in a zip lock bag, selling it as an accessory. As an exclusive set, this set misses its goal by far.

The worst part is the action bases that have been recycled from the Full Armor Unicorn set. Or rather; parts of it have been. While in that particular box we got a complete Base Jabber which could, in emergencies, act like an action base, here we just get a part of it. it wouldn't exactly have been rocket science to plonk in a pair of standard transparent bases, regular ¥400 figures have been using them for quite some time, and rather successfully I might add.

Then there's that black sprue filled with extras, again taken from the Full Armor Unicorn box, simply because one two pieces were needed, the two rotating barrels that go on the one Gatling Gun. So if you happened to wonder what you were supposed to do with the rest of the stuff you can relax in the knowledge that you may as well toss them away.

The worst offence on part of the EX 10 pack though is not what it is, but what it could have been. Two pairs of translucent beam tonfas and a couple of proper action bases would have gone a very long way towards that. But it seems clear that the remainder of the Assault Kingdom budget was spent on oversized $200 limited edition figures, in some vain hope that it would turn the series around...

All is however not lost. The Universal Unit figure series, which can best be described as an Assault Kingdom v 2.0, is just around the corner, with its first releases to appear later this summer. While Bandai lauds it as figures of higher technical quality, it more importantly also gives them an excuse to peddle the same old mobile suits all over again. Just as Assault Kingdom was coming out of its corner and starting to hit some really creative ground, I fear we will be relegated to seeing the usual suspects on shelves as the UN² series kicks in.

With Assault Kingdom now dead in the water it seems way smarter to hold on to your mobile suit budget and do a gigantic skip across this depressing package. For those of you still missing out the Unicorns in your collection, this is a decent way to get them, although you'd probably have more fun collecting the original figures on the secondhand market. They're not that terribly rare as some of the other figures in the line (those that only made one single appearance that is).

As far as Universal Unit is concerned, Bandai claims it to be somewhat size-compatible with Assault Kingdom and surely it can only be a question of time before that range gets inundated with Unicorns of all shapes and sizes as well. Assault Kingdom EX 10 is for the most obssessed completists out there only.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Gundam Converge EX 11 : MBF-P03 Gundam Astray Blue Frame (Full Weapon)

The Cosmic Century designs of Gundam SEED and its various spin-offs have been largely absent from Gundam Converge. This is a bit surprising considering the many extravagant Gundam designs known from these shows, you can hardly set a foot in space without stumbling on some wing-sprawling giant gun-toting monstrosity. Even better, these designs tend to evolve as the story goes along, lending itself well to multiple toys with minor production variations. A fact not lost on Bandai who have recently unveiled no less than eight new Converge figures from this era to be released during spring and summer 2016.

The first two designs to storm out of the gate are of course the two Astray figures from the EX-line, but we can also expect SEED to infiltrate the SP-line, CORE and even the regular figure sets. This seems to be a good year for SEED aficionados. I silently hope to see some Z.A.F.T. grunt units trailing the Gundams, who wouldn't want a GuAIZ or GINN on the line-up?

Converge EX 11 was released in May 2016 together with its red counterpart, the Astray Red Frame, featuring as EX 10. Both figures being of the EX-type have a suggested retail price of ¥2000, slightly cheaper than the Superior Dragon but more pricey than the recent CORE trio, making these some of the more expensive figures of the Converge line. On the plus side though, they are distributed through the regular Converge retail line, so you should have no trouble finding one at your favourite dealer.

One reason the Blue Frame is so expensive is that it is jam-packed with accessories. All the components also feature nice paintwork, including some shiny metallic blue sections which look just awesome. Also notice the little Serpent Tail logo on the figure's shoulder which looks excellent. The only detail which comes out as a bit lacking is the shield which normally has an iconic appearance in black and red. If you are skilled at painting you might want to try fixing this yourself as it would make this beautiful figure look even better.

There is a lot of engineering going on with this figure. In the picture sequence above I try to illustrate how the figure is dressed up into its full weapon mode. You start out with your basic Converge-style figure and then add some hip-loaded missile launchers, a shield for the left arm and then the massive weapons rack mounting an 8-pack missile launcher and a large recoilless rifle.

My Blue Frame had some balance issues when not wearing its full combat gear, making it a bit front heavy. This can of course be solved by using the transparent stand which clips to its ankles or better yet, point the beam rifle into the ground as a cane. When fully geared up however it had no such issues.

As you can see from the equipment detail shots above this figure has a lot going on. It is very rare to see Converge figures with so much configuration options and it of course makes the Blue Frame very play and diorama friendly. It should be noted though that as with many recent Converge figures, these components tend to wear down quickly, so I wouldn't fiddle around with the various hands and weapons too much. I wonder if in the future a whole lot of us will end up gluing Converge figures to keep them together.

The two Converge Astray figures are really just the same figure with different accessories. This is highlighted in the Blue Frame by the inclusion of a drilled hole on the left hip, which of course is where the sword sheath is going for the Red Frame figure. Unlike with the RX-93, Bandai and FusionWorks did not include any filler piece for that whole this time, but i guess you could always fill it up with some green stuff or similar if it bothers you.

Stay tuned for the Red Frame review.
Overall the Blue Frame is a Converge smash hit and pretty much a must buy as far as I am concerned. Even if you are not particularly interested in the SEED Cosmic Era timeline, this figure just has so much interesting detail and playability, not to mention outstanding paint scheme, that it seems a given in any collection. You'll have to put some money aside though, they seem to sell for around 20 to 30 USD online which is quite a lot for what is supposed to be a candy toy.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Assault Kingdom EX 08 : AMX-004-2 / AMX-004-3 Qubeley Mk-II Set

The Assault Kingdom line is a bit of a strange beast. It had a moderately short run between 2013 and 2016 where it produced nine regular waves of figures, ten exclusive figures (two of which were released in two different version) and three gargantuan behemoths. The EX 08 twin Qubeley box which we are going to take a look at today is the oddest of the EX lot.

As you can see the EX 08 set is not distributed in the regular fashion. This is kind of strange since it holds a spot in the EX-catalogue number sequence, unlike other oddities like the Neo Zeong or the Queen Mansa which were released unnumbered.

Actually it is not clear to me just exactly how the EX 08 set was distributed. The box seems to indicate this to be a Japanese or Bandai website only release, yet the item I picked up from Hong Kong is stickered with a Bandai Asia note. So it seems while this set is more of a limited run, it was still distributed outside of Japan.

Well, I won't bore you more with musings on availability. Suffice it to say that this is somewhat of a rare bird. You will not find this set as easily as for example the regular Qubeley or the Hyaku-Shiki, so exercise a bit of caution if you are trying to locate a box. Bandai priced the box at a whopping ¥3800 which compares quite well to the EX 07 Qubeley which sold for ¥2000.

The box art comes in monochrome black and white with a kind of dithered effect similar to what we have seen on the large out of sequence figures, which further makes this set stand out from the rest of the EX line.

The contents are perhaps not nearly as exciting as the packaging. Inside you will find two plastic bags with the components for each Qubeley. They are pretty much reruns of the regular white AMX-004 Qubeley, minus the effect parts.

As you can see you are really getting the bare bones in this package. Each Qubeley comes with one beam saber and two choices of hands and that's it.

The dark purple AMX-004-2 Qubeley Mk-II is the initial prototype of the upgraded AMX-004. As far as the figure is concerned, it is a recoloured AMX-004 with only two notable differences. The first is the Neo Zeonic logo sported on the right shoulder binder (with a similar one on the mirrored component on the left shoulder flip side), and the second is that the beam saber hilt is painted in dark purple to match the suit, whereas the original Qubeley figure's two sabers were all translucent yellow.

The action base in these pictures is *not* included with the Qubeley Mk-IIs.
The upgraded paint scheme on the Mk-II is also a nice glossy finish which looks really good. However, the original Qubeley figure still outperforms the Mk-IIs by having an action base and funnel effect parts. This is a real drawback for the EX 08 set; the lack of at least one action base almost seems negligent on Bandai's part. I guess the alternative would have been two separate Qubeley Mk-IIs figures with extra components which would have cost even more, but this lack of an action base is a first in the entire Assault Kingdom series and a total flop.

The second prototype of the mark-twos is the AMX-004-3 Qubeley Mk-II. This figure is a colour-swapped clone of the AMX-004-2, so you get the same features when compared to the bog standard AMX-004 also with this one. The red and yellow is a bit garish but faithful to the original, but it makes the figure look decidedly more plastic.

No, the action base in these pictures is still not included with the Qubeley Mk-IIs...
As you can see from all the photos the action base is really a requirement if you are to create any spectacular poses with these figures. You can always buy a couple of extra regular figures (pick those that come with transparent bases) to round out your armoury I suppose.

Overall the Qubeley Mk-II set completes what it intends to do, it is just a little sad that we don't get more accessories for them. I mean, couldn't you at least include two sabers for each figure?

Size-wise the Qubeleys are on par with the Full Armor ZZ Gundam making them suitably taller than the average Assault Kingdom figure.

Haman Karn gets all the goodies...

Borrowing the funnels and base from the regular AMX-004. The pink funnels work reasonably well with the purple Qubeley Mk-II but would need a repaint for use with the red one.

So, should you grab the Qubeley Mk-II set? Well, I would give a casual recommendation to do so. The figures are certainly not must haves as far as Assault Kingdom are concerned, but it should be noted that there are no other representations of the Mk-IIs in the 1/220 scale. STANDart featured no Qubeleys and Ultimate Operation only has the white one, so if you like this quirky ZZ design I would say go for it, just be careful of the asking price.

If you are a DIY-collector, you can also consider grabbing some extra EX 07 AMX-004 Qubeley boxes and repaint those figures yourself, that would net you more equipment and action bases for display.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Gundam Converge : Char's Zaku II (The Origin III Advance Screening Promo Item)

Today we're taking a look at one of the more rare birds of the recent Converge output. Although I don't know the full details regarding the release I do know it was given/distributed/offered to ticket holders for the advance screening of the Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin Part III. Bandai did something similar for episode seven of Unicorn a couple of years ago, which featured a semi-transparent RX-0 Unicorn (review here).

As a Japan-only item outside of regular distribution you can expect this figure to become preciously rare (if it isn't already). I managed to grab this particular figure from a seller in Japan who wanted ¥4000 for it, which although painful I paid up immediately because this sucker will be showing up at the secondhand market later on, then maybe at a price around I guess 60-80 USD. And here I was thinking candy toys were supposed to be cheap and accessible...

As you can see from the images this figure is Char's MS-06S Zaku II, in its MSG The Origin version, which has a meatier look than the UC 0079 variant which we have seen before in Converge. The figure comes as a special metallic colour version of the recent Converge #02 figure.

The original figure was released about month earlier in Converge #02 in March 2016. The original figure actually came in two different versions with different equipment sets, which have been combined for this particular "Full Weapon" variant. As you can see from the component picture above, the rifle and heat hawk from figure 127 were packaged in a separate bag which was then inserted into the main bag of figure 128.

I'm not going to go into a whole lot of detail for this review, as I just completed a detailed look on this figure in the Converge #02 review the other week (review here). This figure is after all a simple if beautiful repaint. the other novelty is a small Zeonic emblem on the chest and the Origin blurb on the base (which I am not particularly fond of). As usual, the base is optional with this figure.

I thought the original version of Char's Origin Zaku II was pretty striking, but it kind of pales in comparison when placed next to the promo version. It is such a crime to collectors to make rare figures like these. Having said that though, the standard figure is more than excellent in its own right, and still a damned fine Converge figure.

Another thing I find highly interesting regarding this promo version of the Zaku II (and one which I moaned about in the review of Converge #02) is that the "Full Weapon" version fits nicely in a standard Converge box. It would have been perfectly doable for Bandai to release figures 127 and 128 as one complete item, without messing with us collectors forcing us two buy two. I thought we agreed that the lousy practice of putting a rifle in one box and a bazooka in a secret version was a thing of the past now that Converge did away with its secret figure concept.

So, should you get the Full Weapon Zaku II? Well, if you are a casual collector or want to spend your preciously hard-earned money on something else than overpriced rarities, the answer is you can safely skip it. You are not getting anything new in this box save for some glossy paint applications. Perhaps you can try repainting your regular figure in metallic colours (I'm pretty sure most of you already own both standard figures anyway...). For hardcore collectors the advice is the direct opposite; if you see it, grab it! This thing will not be easy to find, now or later (although it is not completely unlikely that another could be reissued as part of an Overseas Only limited edition box or similar).