Saturday, 23 July 2016

Gundam Converge Custom Part 2

It is time for a new departure into custom Converge territory, as we have a new set of repaints of a couple of the basic figures. I guess once you reach that plateau in your collection where stuff becomes hard to find, you begin to press on in new directions. Suddenly it begins to make sense to army build and customize stuff just because you can't resist those little figures on that shelf. So, once again my friend Marcin has been messing around with Converge figures based on some suggestions on my part. Let's dive in and see what he came up with.

MS-06R-1A Zaku II High Mobility Type

Converge has been blessed with two versions of the High Mobility Zaku II, the R-1A in Black Tristars livery and the R2 in Ace pilot Johnny Ridden's red colour. Both figures came out in 2012, and are not too difficult to find these days, the Black Tristar machine being the easier find. I find it a bit strange since I know there are a lot of Zaku II fans out there.

Here we've taken the R1-A type and converted it into a basic grey/white machine clearly inspired by Shin Matsunaga's custom white. However, with no commander antenna readily available I didn't want to steal one from another figure so this is just an ordinary grunt suit. Not familiar with Gundam lore, Marcin didn't realize the crappy mold of the bazooka front handle and painted up the part that was supposed to be empty as part of the targeting system. I think it turned out really cool so we decided to let it stay. Another option for this machine could have been Anavel Gato's custom machine, which also features no antenna. Perhaps we will do it in the future as well.

XM-07S Vigna Ghina (Berah Ronah Custom)

I happen to think that the Vigna Ghina (of Gundam F91 fame, or rather lack thereof...) is one of the best basic Converge figures, especially when you compare it to the figures we had seen up to that point. It has a remarkably sleek and deadly look about it, and the colours are perfect. The Converge figure looks even more menacing than the "real" thing. Its F91 heritage of course makes it less popular, and it makes my heart sad to see that it doesn't get more attention. The Converge Vigna Ghina appeared in October 2013 and I would say it is readily available and one of the cheaper things out there.

Our custom Vigna Ghina is based on an MSV repaint of the basic machine which is also piloted by Cecily Fairchild/Berah Ronah. The full MSV design is a bloated mess of ornate detail so our figure is a bit spartan by comparison. I can't wait for Bandai and Fusion Works to turn some love into F91, the Crossbone Vanguard has a pile of awesome looking machines in the XM-series. With any luck though, one can be sure that if we will get more Crossbone Vanguard stuff it will be robed Gundams.... sigh.

AMX-107 Bawoo (Glemy Faction use)

The AMX-107 Bawoo is a Neo Zeon design from the ZZ Gundam era. Although the Converge figures (especially the red one) have a rather garish look, it still feels rather conservative when compared to many other designs from that show. The Glemy faction splinter group however, preferred a more basic light grey livery. The Gundam Converge Bawoo premiered in September 2014 and the basic red figure also had a secret green variant of the mass production model (ironically you would think it should be the other way around...). I'd say neither of the two Bawoo figures is particularly difficult to find, with the green slightly pricier.

I think that the toned down colours of the Glemy Faction really make this figure feel more believable and interesting. I guess that's just what happens when companies design figures to sell toys. : )

RMS-141 Xeku Eins (Titans use)

I guess if I was asked to pick a second favourite faction, the New Desides have a really strong position here thanks to their awesomely unique Xeku series of mobile suits. When the Converge Xeku Eins figure appeared in late 2013 I was still much of a Gundam novice and hadn't yet heard of this design and it just punched me in the gut much the same way the Marasai did before.

It is too bad that the Titans and New Desides are predominantly major assholes, because they have the most awesome fleet out there! And with the New Desides originating out of the Titans, it made perfect sense to have a Titans conversion for it. Especially since I don't know of any official MSV's or custom repaints of this thing. I am really thankful that FW and Bandai gave us this figure, perhaps the S Gundam simply needed something next to it to seem more imposing... On the collector market, the Xeku Eins is still a moderately easy figure to find, and generally not too expensive.

So, there you have it folks, another round of custom Converge. Hope to be able to see more of these in the future.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Gundam Converge : 0083 The Last Decisive Battle Option Set

As promised in the Neue Ziel review, here comes the continuation in the form of the special edition Stardust Memory equipment set. This introduces a brand new product category in Gundam Converge; we have never seen an add-on kit for a Converge figure before. This feels natural when you are dealing with Shokugan candy toys but as we all know, Converge has evolved beyond that phase by now. This equipment set is not only not a regular candy toy, it is also not distributed through the usual retail channels, being a Bandai exclusive item. In fact I bought mine in a bundle with the Neue Ziel figure itself, which is how it appears to have been distributed directly by Bandai. Below is the traditional and boring unboxing process, showing how the Neue Ziel and the gear set were packaged together in this case.





The actual equipment option set is a thin black box with roughly the same dimensions as an Assault Kingdom EX box.

Inside we find three bags chock full of stuff and somewhat surprisingly a printed leaflet showing the new assembly options. A nice touch that I had not expected.

As you can see from the below image we have a set of about twenty new components with a clear overweight on gear for the Neue Ziel.

We'll go through all the components and see just exactly what it is they do.

RX-78GP03 Dendrobium Option Set

Let's just get this guy out of the way first, because frankly, there is not a lot of Dendrobium action in this pack. Specifically, there are only three parts for the Dendrobium, below you can see them together with the related parts from the standard Dendrobium figure.

Comparison picture of the old and new manipulator arms as well as the old (left) and new (right) beam saber.

Basically we are getting one additional beam saber, to be held in the second of the two manipulator arms. We also get two alternate moulds of said manipulator arms, in extended mode. You will need to reuse the upper claw piece from each original manipulator and attach it to the new corresponding lower part. Both new manipulator arms retain the same holes for the beam saber pegs, so that you can choose to equip one or two just as with the old claws.

The Dendrobium using the new extended manipulator arms and the additional beam saber.
While the new parts are all nice and dandy, the Dendrbobium is really getting shafted in this pack. If you were hoping for openable hatches and their contained goodies, or perhaps some optional gear for the Gundam figure you will be disappointed. It doesn't help that the new beam saber, will nice and shiny, is not really matching the color of the old one. You have to wonder why they didn't just include two sabers in the standard kit or at least produce the bonus sabers in the same run as the original ones. Not impressed.

AMA-X2 Neue Ziel Option Set

With almost ninety percent of the contents in this box aimed at the Neue Ziel this mobile armor is getting really configurable by now. Here is a comparison image showing the new parts (left side) and their matching counterparts from the standard figure (right). Displayed underneath the shoulder assembly is the new skeletal frame (left) which replaces the old (right) if you want to make use of the remote claw arms.


Basically, the new equipment can be sorted into two different categories; beam sabers and remote arms.

Beam Sabers

Thanks to the option set, the Neue Ziel is now bristling with half a dozen elegant translucent beam sabers. Two new main claws with their fingers closed can now project a beam saber from the fingertips, and the two support claws on each arm can do the same. The two supporting arms on each side can also be titled individually up and down, for some nice display action.

While it may look a bit messy if you decide to activate all six beam sabers the figure deals with it without any problems, and it is good fun to mix and match to find a suitable combo. This is easily my favourite aspect of the option set.

Remote Claw Arms

The second new feature is the two remotely controlled arms, which now replace the existing arms of the standard figure. To equip them, you also need to dismantle the entire arm and use the new skeletal frame (the one with transparent pegs) instead of the old one, as it contains the hole for the balljoint cable mount.


The cables then attach into similar holes on the forearms which enables each arm to dangle around as it pleases. The cables are rubbery in feel and are fully flexible. A pair of transparent stands are included with the option set, which the arms can attach to, to allow for some more interesting poses than just letting the arms hang freely.


The remote arms are a little bit more fiddly to display nicely and I am not a huge fan of them due to the large footprint of the respective action base. While it is nice that these bases are transparent, it does look a bit odd when the figure itself has a black action base. You can of course mess with display poses where an arm is grabbing some poor E.F.S.F. mobile suit and skip using the support entirely. In addition to the arms, we also get two new open claws which are not hugely different to the ones that came in the standard box, but they do add some variety.

No matter how you put it, the 0083 Option Set was clearly devised with the Neue Ziel in mind. There is not a great deal of value here if you only want to pimp your Dendrobium mobile armor, it would make little sense to buy this set just for that extra beam saber. Bandai might as well have included those few Dendrobium parts with the original figure directly.

Not looking too good for the E.F.S.F.


Ultimately your lust for this option set will be driven by your owning a Neue Ziel figure or not. I can't shake the feeling that the Neue Ziel beam sabers were purposely separated from the main figure, perhaps to keep the price down, and also to test the waters for future equipment sets.

Certainly not a necessary purchase, but it really enhances the playability and coolness-factor of your Neue Ziel mobile armor.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Gundam Converge EX 12 : AMA-X2 Neue Ziel

No doubt turning a few heads and raising even more eyebrows as it was announced, the Neue Ziel is storming into the Gundam Converge universe and demands a lot of space in the process. While technically we have seen large Converge figures before, the Neue Ziel really is in a class of its own. This is also the first Converge figure that is based on a pure mobile armor design, with no matching "regular-size" figure in the box.

The AMA-X2 Neue Ziel (or AMX-002 as it is sometimes known) was released as a regular EX-figure with a suggested price of ¥3200. Together with the Dendrobium these two figures are the priciest figures upon release (of course the second hand market looks quite different). So, is it worth shelling out the equivalent of seven standard figures to obtain the Neue Ziel? Let's take a closer look.

The extra large box is filled up with parts but unlike past transformable figures such as the Deep Striker and the Hummingbird the number of pieces here isn't too overwhelming and most of them are large and chunky components. An assembly guide is included but this figure will not give you much trouble thanks to the clean design.

There are no alternative display modes for the Neue Ziel so all the parts are good to go without having to fuss with pulling pieces apart and rearranging. You just sort out which parts go to the left and right and then you are good to go.

Structurally the shoulder attaches to a small skeletal joint, the arms and binders then attach directly onto the shoulder component via a set of sturdy pegs with matching holes. This makes the figure very stable although I am not sure how quickly these joints will wear out if you mess around with them (this will become more apparent in the Stardust Memory Equipment set review, which introduces alternate components).

Just look at this thing. Fusion Works really nailed it this time! So many beautiful details in the mold and a clean and simple colour scheme make this a real stunner. And it is heavy too, weighing in at about 140 grams you can feel the tremendous power it exudes just by holding it in your hand. :)





The Neue Ziel is held upright by a stand with three clear components that wrap around its lower body and the tip of the body is placed in a hole in the action base, making the figure extremely stable. This guy is not going to fall off his stand any time soon.

Articulation-wise there is not a whole lot going on here. Most components have shaped pegs which effectively nullify any attempt to move parts around. The main arms and claws have a little bit of rotation going on but there is no real reason to bother with it (We will return to this topic in the equipment set review which changes the game a little).

Comparisons

This is probably the most interesting segment of the review. After all, it is a Converge figure, and as such it does not exist in a vacuum but as part of a very long running figure series. Just exactly how good of an idea is it to create a very large Converge figure, when the whole concept is supposed to be a cheap candy toy?

Regular readers know how I like to moan about the direction that Assault Kingdom went with its ultra-large figures, so I had my reservations about this thing as well. The Converge Neue Ziel isn't that much of an abomination though, since it is after all reasonably priced and still a manageable size (about 13 cms tall) for being a candy toy. And speaking about candy; this particular figure is a Bandai Asia Hong Kong import, so no chewing gum is included in this box.

The Converge Neue Ziel together with some of its Gashapon counterparts from SD Gundam Full Color (released 2001), Mini Figure Selection Plus (released 2005 or 2006) and Bandai Mobile Armor Selection (released in 1999).
I guess the most interesting comparison though will be the one made to the Converge Dendrobium, and you will be pleased to see that they display together very well.



Both the Dendrobium and the Neue Ziel also get some optional parts in the Stardust Memory Equipment Set. We will be returning to them in a separate review of that kit.

So, should you fork out the asking price for the Converge Neue Ziel? Well, it will certainly be the centerpiece of your collection if you do, at least until they pump out an even larger Psycho Gundam or a Neo Zeong... I have some very mixed feelings about this. The success or not of the Neue Ziel could open up for more oversized and overpriced Converge figures so this whole topic is really a can of worms.

The Neue Ziel figure itself though is, as you have seen, a very attractive design and I have a feeling most of you have ordered it already anyway. I am confident most of you will adore it just like I do.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Universal Unit wave 2 revealed

Today Bandai revealed the autumn's releases for the up and coming Assault Kingdom replacement; Universal Unit. And it is a pretty impressive line-up at that. The initial wave seems a little lackluster, a couple of the usual suspects and some horribly overpriced extra large figures. Wave two seems more grounded in more reasonably priced figures, your average standard figure will cost ¥500 with the premium GX-Bit set coming in at ¥1200 and the Z'Gok-E at ¥1500.

What is less endearing is the fact that all regular figures will, just like the Kämpfer in Assault Kingdom, come in two different configurations, meaning there will be two versions of each one. This typically translates to different equipment so you will end up having to spend the double just to get a complete figure. Char's MS-06 will come with a bazooka in one box, and with an anti-ship rifle in another and so on. And if you consider that out of the eight different mobile suits in the first two waves, only one can be used to army build this is totally lame and disrespectful to the customers.

Based on the available box artwork on the wave one page it also looks like Universal Unit might be a blind box series. Wow, this has all the hallmarks of frustrating experience written all over it. I can only hope that things won't start out that bad, as the series seems to have a lot of nice things going for it as far as the actual figures are concerned. Still on the fence about joining in, but wave two does seem quite tempting. I guess the price will be the deciding factor once we see what the distributors are expecting us to pay up.

Universal Unit premieres in August and Gundanium Gateway are currently keeping track of all known figures on the Assault Kingdom page.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Gundam Converge EX 10 : MBF-P02 Gundam Astray Red Frame (Flight Unit)

Companion release to the recently reviewed Astray Blue Frame, the Converge Red Frame is one of those figures that you just know will be great. Everything just comes together perfectly creating a highly playable and collectible figure at the same time. If, for some reason, you haven't yet picked this adorable little Converge figure, spend no more time reading this review and go grab yourself one. Your collection requires it.

The Converge Red Frame figure was released in May 2016 through standard distribution channels, making it readily available to all collectors out there. ironically, while Bandai's suggested price at ¥2000 is four times that of a regular Converge figure, a quick look on the online market will often confirm that these guys are pretty good value in comparison. While prices for regular figures keep getting jacked up to 10-12 USD, the price for the Blue and Red Frame figures seems to hover around 25 USD. So in essence, these guys are about the same price as two standard figures, pretty good value indeed.

The Astray Red Frame comes in your typical EX box and is stuffed with parts, even more so that the Blue Frame. All the multi-coloured parts here remind us of how far Converge has come since the beginning.

This box is teeming with parts, and pretty much all of them are optional accessories. There is a lot fiddle around with here!

The "default" mode of this figure is kitted out with a beam rifle, a sheathed sword, back pack with two sabers and the flight pack. This thing is armed to the teeth. Because of the many large accessories you might experience some balance issues depending on how you configure the figure. A figure without flight unit can at times have some problems with holding out weapons in front, although the sheath counters it somewhat, and you can always discreetly point the blade or rifle downwards to act as support.

The least obvious of the equipment choices is the twin bladed head of a Z.A.F.T. BuCUE mobile armor unit, which replaces the right hand and is wielded like a dual sword. I am really amazed that Bandai decided to include this piece in the box, thanks a lot for that! The only missed opportunity here is the lack of a dual wield, the left hand is resigned to being a fist. This is of course dependant on the weapons being molded directly onto right hands, which is the traditional thing we've seen in Converge since the beginning, although lately more and more figures are receiving loose weapons and multi-purpose hands.

The centerpiece weapon choice for the Red Frame is of course its oversized katana "Gerbera Straight". Converge does it full justice with tastefully painted parts to represent it in both drawn and sheathed mode. The detachable handle for the sheathed sword is a nice touch, especially when you compare to the Assault Kingdom figure which got two different pieces for this representation (no doubt because it was cheaper to do two white parts while the Converge sword required several colours).

The large flight unit is attached to the figure's back in the spot where you would normally attach the regular backpack. Again, FusionWorks and Bandai went out of their way to address this; they gave us two backpack pieces with slightly different lengths of the beam sabers. The regular backpack is then moved down to the small of the Red Frame's back, and the flight unit goes into its former place. Very nice solution and one they could have easily decided to ignore completely, clearly a lot of love has gone into the crafting of this figure.

The current Converge SEED Cosmic Era line-up, flanked by a BuCUE and LaGOWE mobile armor from the SD figure line.
The Converge SEED revival has only just started; we still have half a dozen figures scheduled for this summer season alone. What might come after that is anyone's guess. The Cosmic Century is poised to enter all Converge brands, the Akatsuki is out already as a standard figure, and CORE and SP figures are up next. Still we're only seeing over the top Gundam models, I hope we will also be getting some love for the many awesome grunt suits out there.

If you are a Converge SEED fan however, I think the two Astrays should be your focal point of interest. These two figures just do everything so well. A definitive recommendation also for the more casual Converge fans out there.