Sunday, 30 October 2016

Universal Unit Volume 1

We are at the end of October and as we speak, Bandai are rolling out the next wave of Universal Unit figures in Japan. Volume 2 and the Z'Gok Experimental are already available for ordering at places such as and the premium After War GX-Bit figures should follow soon as well. High time then, for me to catch up with volume one, which released all the way back in August.

I was on the fence about UN² for quite some time, mainly because of the high prices abroad. The figures supposedly sell for around ¥500 in Japan but in semi-blind boxes. It wasn't until I actually received my order that I learnt that the basic mobile suit type is identifiable from the box top cover, but you won't know if you are getting version A or B, which kind of defeats the point of naming them anyway.

Universal Unit Volume 1 features four different mobile suits, each in two different variations. I have only built six of them, as I saw no point in assembling two RX-78s or two Zaku II's since the only differences were in their equipment.
I already did the "first impressions" part of this review in a previous installment (found here), so now we will continue with examining the figures after they have been built. I found it more pleasant work than expected, but overall I much prefer prebuilt and prepainted miniatures, which is also what this page is really about. UN² is a bit of a grey area in that regard.

1A / 1B : RX-78-02 Gundam (The Origin Version)

Accessories for version A to the left of the figure, accessories for version B to the right of the figure.
Every time a new Gundam toy line is introduced, the probability of the first figure/model introduced is going to be the RX-78 is pretty high. Universal Unit follows Assault Kingdom in this regard, although this time around we get the (awkwardly renamed) RX-78-02 Gundam from The Origin storyline. You know, the Gundam which carries the shield upside down...

As mentioned previously, there are two versions of each mobile suit in this figure series. The UN² RX-78 version A comes loaded with a beam rifle and a shoulder cannon, while version B features a bazooka, beam saber and shield. Version B also features a different back pack with only one beam saber handle, since the shoulder cannon attaches at that spot of the pack.

Stickers, stickers, stickers... Here you see five of them applied with various success. The two logotypes on the shoulders, the sights on the weapons and the red and yellow logo on the crotch. The crotch area has a molded v-fin under the sticker if you would like to paint it yourself.
Since you are actively putting these figures together, cutting them from sprues and snapping them together, you can expect a lot of clean-up work. All these small pieces will have to be polished. You have seen the same thing on the Assault kingdom figures before, but here you will have to deal with it a lot more. The instructions found on the inside of the box do a good job of explaining how to assemble the figures and I encountered no issues here. Each figure also comes with around half a dozen stickers that you should apply for improved looks. I was a bit worried here considering they are so tiny but they cooperated for the most part.

Left: A fully loaded RX-78 with all the accessories from versions A and B. Right: The Universal Unit RX-78-02 and the Assault Kingdom RX-78-2 sharing their equipment with each other. It works reasonably well in some cases but the accessories are not really compatible.
The Universal Unit figures feature a lot of articulated points. If you are familiar with Assault Kingdom you can expect to see pretty much the same type of connecting points. The joints are very stiff immediately after assembly, almost to the point of you worrying if something will snap as you try to bend an arm, but I've had nothing break on me yet.

And here the major issue of Universal Unit becomes painfully obvious. You have this figure that can do a lot of interesting poses. They are not as flexible as the Assault Kingdom figures but not that far behind; you can usually get them to do what you want. However, and this is a major issue; the figures do not come with any action bases. They do not even come with simple base plates to peg a foot onto. And the worst crime of all; they don't even have any attachment points for you to use any other custom basing (not even for the Assault Kingdom bases).

So you have fully articulated figures but no way to pose them. Way to go Bandai...

With no action base support, you will have to use your own creativity to pose the Universal Unit figures.
Another let down with the RX-78 is the fact that it only comes with two closed fist-type hands. Every Assault Kingdom figure has featured at least two pairs of hands; open and closed. Why on Earth was it dropped here? Open hands are essential to cool poses, here we only have those clenched fists.

Overall, the RX-78-02 figure is a good representation of what you can expect from Universal Unit. There is a lot of promise as well as missed opportunities here. Honestly I felt rather let down after building this figure but my faith in the series got a little bit better as I progressed to the other more interesting mobile suits.

The Universal Unit RX-78 compared to some of its 1/220 predecessors. From left to right: FW Ultimate Operation, Universal Unit, Assault Kingdom and STANDart.
If you are a cross-series collector, you will pleased to see the Universal Unit figures to be almost size compatible with the other 1/220-figure series out there. They will go well together with figures like Assault Kingdom, STANDart, Unifive Stardust Memory and Ultimate Operation.

2A / 2B : MS-06 Zaku II (Char's Custom) (The Origin Version)

Accessories for version A to the left of the figure, accessories for version B to the right of the figure.
Prudently enough, the second figure of the set is the Origin Version of Char's Zaku II. Again, I only assembled one figure as the two base figures are exactly the same. Version A included a bazooka with an ammo clip and a heat hawk, while version B included the massive anti-ship rifle and another two ammo cartridges (of the same type as found in box A).

The photos in this review section again draw from accessories found in the boxes of both versions, and again there is no problem to deck out an armed-to-the-teeth Zaku II, so the rotten practice of splitting up the accessories in two boxes just feels cheap and devious. A good example of what they could/should have done here is to look at the right shoulder shield. See those ugly holes there? They are there so that you can store two ammo cartridges there, but those cartridges only come with one of the figures. Obviously, version A of this figure should have supplied a clean shield, which would have given you more options for display. As it stands now, it would look silly without the accessories from box B. Thanks a lot Bandai...

There are five stickers included with the Zaku II. Apart from the Zeonic emblem there are four jet black pre-cut stickers that should wrap around the knees and elbows. Notice how the sticker is already coming off on the left elbow. I ended up painting those areas black with a permanent marker instead.
Save for the stickers I encountered no problems when putting together the Zaku II. The articulation is quite good, even with the non-flexible tubes that attach to the legs. The Universal Unit figures seem very brittle though, you do not want to drop this thing on the floor.

The main grief from this figure will come from its ambitious stickers. Unlike the torso and head which are prepainted/molded for you in three colours, the legs and arms are all red. You get four black stickers which are supposed to wrap around the knee caps and elbows in a nice three dimensional way. The technical design is good, but the application poor. I had problems getting the stickers to attach perfectly on the elbows, meaning they would immediately begin to peel off at the corners. I ended up painting those areas with a black marker instead. Overall, Universal Unit figures feel like they should really be worked upon similar to model kits.

The Universal Unit Zaku II is larger than its Assault Kingdom counterpart (left) and also feels a bit oversized when comparing to the Universal Unit RX-78-02 (right).
The Zaku II comes with a nice selection of gear and it can all be stored or carried at once. As we have already discussed, spare ammo cartridges go onto the shoulder, the heat hawk attaches to a peg on the left side skirt and one of the two weapons can attach to the backpack.

Wiggle it, just a little bit. Trying to perfectly balance a Universal Unit figure on an Assault Kingdom base only works so so.
The poor decision not to include any action base support again hurts the figure immensely, I wonder if Bandai will come to their senses here and work something out. I won't be surprised if we end up seeing people gobbling up action bases from other gashapons or repurposing Assault Kingdoms stands and drill their own holes into these figures.

3A : ASW-G-08 Gundam Barbatos (Third Form)

The third mobile suit in UN² is also the first 1/220 representation from the Iron Blooded Orphans series. Interestingly, apart from a coming variation of the Barbatos (hooray for recycling) no further IBO mobile suits have been introduced among the Universal Unit figures thus far. Unlike the other figures in this set, I will review the two versions separately, as they contain some minor differences in their appearances.

The Barbatos in its third form can be recognized by its two spiffy blue shoulder pads (stolen from an enemy EB-06 Graze) as well as the replacing of the right wrist armor (from the second form) with a grappling claw stolen from a Schwalbe Graze EB05s. Actually, had Bandai bothered two give us said wrist armor and two slightly different shoulder parts we would also have been able to recreate the first and second forms of the Barbatos. Thanks again for underwhelming us, Bandai.

You can clearly see the stickers attached to the knees and center torso. Apart from looking a bit iffy up close, I wonder how long they will actually stay on.
The Barbatos features a lot of tiny stickers not only for the logos but also for red and black parts on the feet and legs. With the Zaku II sticker experience clear in mind I used a red and a black permanent marker for these areas instead. I am no Iori Sei, but it worked decently if not inspected up close. I also painted the insides of the blue shoulder pads with blue marker (which seems a bit off in these photos but looks better in real life).

As for equipment we get the iconic oversize mace. The figure does a good job of holding on to it and allowing you a little bit of freestyle posing without toppling over, even though it stands on spindly legs. An action base would, you know, have been a godsend here... Surprisingly we also get an open left hand for this figure. Great, we're halfway to Assault Kingdom basics now.

3B : ASW-G-08 Gundam Barbatos (Fourth Form)

There really aren't that many differences between the third and fourth forms of the Barbatos, but I didn't feel like doing parts swapping so i figured I might as well build both of them. The main differences in the third and fourth forms of the Barbatos are the different shoulder armor components, as well as a different mold for the left forearm. The optional left hand is again included and the large mace weapon is replaced by a 300mm smoothbore gun.

The basic Barbatos figure is very white, so it is important to get all those stickers (or paint apps if you want to do it yourself, which is probably a good idea) into their proper spaces. The 3D-style stickers used on the shoulder armor are an absolute pain and I did a rather poor job with them. At least I have a spare set in the other box... pffft.

Stickers, stickers everywhere. I shudder to revisit this figure six months from now and see them peeling off everywhere...
For all the missed Universal Unit opportunities, I think the Barbatos figure(s) is a reasonably successful figure, and it actually made me a bit curious to see if more IBO figures will follow. At this point Universal Unit seems to be busy getting into as many Gundam timelines as it can, it remains to see if the series will run out of steam before it actually accomplishes something with the Iron Blooded Orphans line-up.

4A / 4B : RX-78NT-1 Gundam NT-1 "Alex" / RX-78NT-1FA Full Armor Gundam "Alex"

Accessories from version A to the right of the figure, Full Armor parts for version B to the left of the figure.
The last mobile suit to be featured in Universal Unit Volume 1 is also the deal breaker for me here. It was the only figure that really attracted me enough to want to buy in to UN². If it had been easier to cherry pick figures I may well have ended up purchasing only these two figures but you can thank most eBay sellers for either selling a full random 10 box or expensive single figures (i.e. you won't know if you are buying version A or B). So, the least painful thing to do was to purchase an opened and checked full set of 8.

You get the beam rifle and shield with the basic figure, and the wrist Gatling Guns with the Full Armor figure, which is just DUMB.
To this day I still don't understand why Bandai never got around to release the Alex in the Assault Kingdom figure line. It seemed like a perfect figure for AK, very similar to the RX-78 and with no bulky parts. They even went to the trouble of designing the Kämpfer so this would have seemed like a simple job. I can't help but wonder if there was indeed an Assault Kingdom Alex design that has since been migrated to Universal Unit.

Just like the Barbatos, the Alex goes full on with stickers. Apart from logos on the shoulders and the shield (which look just terrible) you also have to sticker or paint red areas on the knees and torso as well as the black and yellow part on the front skirt. Just like on the RX-78, the front skirt has a molded indentation with a 3D V-fin, so you could paint this area yourself quite easily (as long as you know what you are doing that is). The most difficult stickers are the yellow areas on the legs.

As awesome as the Alex is, it has been a rare sight in the 1/220 line. The FW Ultimate Operation figure remains the go-to figure in this regard, as it looks just great and isn't that hard to find either. The Universal unit figure feels very anorectic in its appearance, which is probably a necessity for the modular armor to work.

I built both of the Alex figures since I didn't much fancy the idea of choosing whether I wanted to display the standard or Full Armor version, and I imagined it would be quite fiddly going between these two modes. With the armor parts though, you merely clip them onto the existing figure which works like a charm. Of course you first need to strip down the equipment but it was all a reasonably painless affair.

Custom Alex: Combining all weapons from versions A and B (left), stealing the beam saber from the RX-78 (center) and borrowing Char's Bazooka for the FA Alex (right).
The Full Armor Alex, naturally, doesn't really do that much. The dumbest thing Bandai did was putting the wrist-mounted Gatling Guns in this box. I'd like to see how the Full Armor figure is going to fire those... Overall though, between the two versions we get a reasonable amount of gear although the lack of a beam saber and optional open hands does hurt the figure. Overall though, it is my favourite figure in this set.


Overall, I have some really mixed feelings about Universal Unit. The kinship with Assault Kingdom is very strong here, but for every development I feel there has been a glaring omission. If I were to sum up the major differences between these two series it would go something like this:


UN²: High detail, no soft plastic parts, comes with stickers.
AK: Less detail, soft plastic parts that bend, no stickers.


UN²: Good articulation, requires a lot of assembly, brittle material vulnerable to falls.
AK: Excellent articulation, mostly prebuilt, high survivability in delicate parts due to soft plastic being used.


UN²: Good range of equipment, requires multiple blind-box purchases, no action base or support for it.
AK: Decent range of equipment, sold clearly marked, action bases always included with figures.

The main problem with Universal Unit is of course the lack of action bases as well as support for such, which effectively nullifies the joy of all that articulation that is available to you. Frankly, I find it unbelievable they went through quality assurance tests with such a major flaw. It will be interesting to see if bases will be included with the Zeta Hummingbird kits, which are able to transform into mobile armor mode. At ¥3800 a pop, you'd expect them to come with a backdrop scenery kit as well. :)

Although there are a lot of things to like about Universal Unit I cannot really recommend these figures to anyone who is not prepared to give them a real overhaul. People willing to invest time and skill into painting and modifying figures will probably find a lot to work with here though, but I would expect them to be fully invested in the 1/144 model kits already.


  1. I'm really sad that Bandai made UN to replace AK (or so it seems).

    1. I think with a few fixes UN² could carry the torch that AK left behind, but ultimately I wonder when Bandai will come to the conclusion that they don't really need another scaled range of model kits.

  2. Yep, I bought this whole set just for that Alex! Really wished he had been a part of Assault Kingdom. I don't have many problems with these, but they just don't live up to Assault Kingdom, for me. They're more like models, and pose like them, whereas the Assault Kingdom figures posed more like toys.

    Ah well! I got my Alex, so I'm probably set, unless they blow me away with something in the next series.