Saturday, 21 January 2017

Gundam Converge 7-Eleven Limited

From time to time the thought crosses my mind. What drives a well known pop-cultural icon like the 7-Eleven franchise into the domain of Gunpla? Sure, they are not alone in this endeavour; ANA transferred their sky blue colours onto the RX-78, Toyota painted up a special edition of the Auris bright red and there's even an atrocious Visa Gundam out there. Lord knows how many red things are associated with Char Aznable and so on, but still I find 7-Eleven to be pretty consistent in what they do.

As far as marketing tie ins go, there seems to be an endless supply of Mobile Suit Gundam model kits, toys and other assorted paraphernalia with the 7-Eleven logo and red/white/green colours. I am really curious when and how this partnership started and what is the real driving force behind it. Is it just a cynical marketing move or is there perhaps also some heart involved? I find it an interesting topic and can only hope that the whole operation isn't as shallow as the one Aila JyrkiÀinen found while crushing opponents during the Gundam Build Fighters world tournament.

Whatever the reason, this is the third time we see a cooperation between Gundam Converge and 7-Eleven. Once again the little mobile suits have been infiltrating the shelves of the franchise's Japanese stores. Arriving in November 2016 they are probably long gone by now, but they are still readily available on the online market.

The number of figures in each 7-Eleven wave keeps decreasing. In the first wave we saw six figures, the second featured five and now they are down to three. Each figure was supposedly sold separately in 7-Eleven stores at a slight mark-up from the average ¥ 500 figure.


RX-78-2 Gundam (7-Eleven Color)

Although there have been two Converge figure waves associated with 7-Eleven before, this is the first time a figure is actually flying their brand colours. As many readers are no doubt familiar, there are virtually hordes of Mobile Suit Gundam figures and model kits in this franchise's colours. And unless you count the special colour Beargguys of last year this figure has the dubious honour of being the first Converge figure that has its origin somewhere else than in any of the various Gundam timelines.

As you can see from the photos this is a repainted standard RX-78-2 Gundam based on the original 2010 sculpt. It still has the same old head that sits on a shaped peg (so it won't turn sideways) but the right hand is separated from the beam rifle which I don't believe was the case with the original figure.

There's not really a whole lot to say about the figure apart from the fact that it is now a promo item for a convenience store chain. It is not too outrageous though, and I like the box art too. Notice also the new type of Shokugan candy in the box; gone is the "classic" blue Converge chewing gum. I've seen these white gums pop up in the Universal Unit boxes too; it appears to be a generation change. Yes, hot topic, I know...

There are a couple of detailed paint applications and tiny prints on the 7-Eleven RX-78 which you would normally associate with a Converge CORE level figure. Apparently Bandai and 7-Eleven do not shy away from such costs here even though the figure only costs ¥ 550. Then again, I guess a figure such as this would appeal both to Converge collectors and 7-Eleven promo item collectors.

RX-93 Nu Gundam (Limited Color Ver.)

The other two figures in this 7-Eleven promo set are an entirely different breed. The two accompanying mobile suits, the evergreens RX-93 and MSZ-006, have not been given the 7-Eleven make-over (did they look that bad?). Instead they sport darkened colours and are marketed as "Limited Color" versions.

Well, I don't know about you, but that looks like a pretty typical Converge Nu Gundam to me. The whites are supposedly toned down a little as is the black, but the yellow highlights feel brighter than the more orange detail on the original figure.

Again you can see that Bandai went with the old RX-93 sculpt even though it was recently rebooted as the very first figure in the Converge #01 set from January 2016. I can think of two reasons for this; either the collaboration project started before the Converge Reboot was executed or maybe the production costs are simply lower on the old figures?

Can you tell which figure is the classic RX-93 and which is the "Limited Color" version? Hint: Look at the logo on the left shoulder.
Although I am less than moderately excited for another RX-93 rehash I have no doubt it has performed well on the shelves, the demand for this machine never seems to dry up. It remains a perfect entry level figure to attract new Converge fans and possible customers/collectors/obsessed nuts too.

Converge RX-93 from left to right: Converge 13 with beam rifle and 14 with bazooka (both from Converge Vol. 3, released June 2011), the "Fully Equipped version" which is a slightly recoloured amalgamation of the previous two (Converge SP 01, August 2011), a dual fin funnel version from Operation Converge Premium Edition set (February 2014), another fully decked out metallic colour variation of the SP 01 (released as "Overseas Only" SP 01, February 2015), the rebooted RX-93 from Converge #01 (End of Year 2015) and our new 7-Eleven "Limited Colour" version.
Notice also that unlike the RX-78 figure we get no improved paint detail or markings on this version of the RX-93. I guess all the juice was spent on the RX-78-2 and I cannot really fault that strategy either.


MSZ-006 Z Gundam (Limited Color Ver.)

The third figure in this wave is the ol' Zeta, here posing with its Hyper Mega Launcher. Again this figure is a simple toned down repaint of the original version although at least here it is easier to notice. An interesting detail is that on the original figure the launcher weapon is darker than the blue on the mobile suit, in the 7-Eleven edition it is the other way around.

There aren't that many Converge figures with this type of very static pose. The launcher rifle clips to the right hand to stay firmly in the figure's grip, you can still rotate the arm but there's not a whole lot of posing to do with it.

Not a whole lot to say about this figure either. If you are familiar with the original figure this one holds no extra secrets. In my opinion I am a bit surprised that they went with this version of the Zeta; the really classic version with a beam rifle seems like a more obvious choice. Perhaps they just wanted to spice up this set a little.

Unlike the RX-93 there is no difficulty telling the darker 7-Eleven version of this figure apart from his brightly painted ancestor, which appeared in Converge vol. 11.

The Zeta line is growing more slowly than the RX-78 and the RX-93. The original Zeta figure from wave 2 (far left, released in January 2011) was alone for more than two years before figure 63 (with the Mega Launcher) appeared in volume 11 in June 2013. We then saw the transformable Z Gundam in a twin pack together with the The-O (Converge SP 06, released in September 2015) and one year later we now have the 7-Eleven version as well. Not pictured is the "Operation Revive Overseas Edition" reissue which is a reissue lookalike of the original figure, released in August 2015.


Conclusion

There's not really a whole lot to say about this set. All the figures should be usual suspects in people's collections by now. The 7-Eleven coloured RX-78 is a unique thing of course, but I wonder if it will ever become a rarity. These figures all feel like collection filler material and as such pretty much low priority. New collectors will probably find more to like here, since it is a good opportunity to snag a couple of famous faces on the cheap.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Gundam Converge : RX-78-02 Gundam (The Origin IV Advance Screening Promo Item)

One of last year's more elusive Converge figures is perhaps also one of the least interesting ones. Continuing with the movie tie-ins, Bandai again features a special promotional figure for ticket holders of the advance screening of the latest part of The Origin saga anime, which premiered on November 19th. Since it is not a retail item this means you'll need to find someone who is willing to give up theirs.

So far, I have only seen this figure pop up on the second hand market twice myself. First in a Japanese webshop for ¥5000, that one sold out before I could even consider ordering it. Next one appeared on eBay, again from Japan, with an asking price of $25.00 plus shipping, which I grabbed immediately. The box had taken a bit of a beating but otherwise the figure was pristine.

Included with the figure I also got some Gundam The Origin part IV flyers. I would assume they were all part of the same prerelease kit but I don't have any actual facts pointing toward it.

Talking about the figure itself, as you can see we are dealing with a minor conversion of the Origin version RX-78-02 Gundam which we saw as a regular figure in June last year (Converge #03, figure number 132). It has been given some shiny metallic coloring on all its components, and the base is replaced with a custom "The Origin" base.

Yup, just a bog standard RX-78-02 here. Wouldn't it have been cool if they included say a translucent beam saber?

Whether you prefer the regular figure or the promo item will come down to personal preference. While I am not that hyped on metallic coats myself it does make the standard figure look a bit plain in comparison.

And here we have the two main Origin combatants. Char's Zaku II was a similar promo item for the Origin part III movie (review available here).

One weird and somewhat unfortunate thing about the new promo figure is that the peg on the base which is used to snap the figure in place has been move forward when compared to the standard RX-78-02 figure. I don't know why they did this, it makes the figure stand with its toes over the text and leaves a lot of space behind the figure, making it seem unbalance.

Below you can see the two regular Converge The Origin figures next to their metallic promo versions. It is a nice line up but the RX-78-2 fatigue is rather strong with me now.

I would be surprised if the demand for this figure is that high. Apart from frustrated completist collectors I don't really see the appeal here for the more casual Converge lovers. The regular figure is just as good and your money is probably spent better elsewhere. Having said that, if you really want this figure, be prepared to look around and strike quickly once you find it.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Universal Unit Volume 2

Alright, January is underway, and we are nearing the halfway marker already. Only a few weeks left until Universal Unit volume 3 hits the shelves in Japan. And here I am, working my way through the backlog of last year's crazy amount of releases. Today's review is a detailed look at the second wave of Universal Unit figures, which was released at the end of October and so has been out for two months by now.

I am finding it a bit tricky to source the UN2 figures but managed to pick up this box from Japan for only 3000 yen. This was a bit of a steal, considering they retail around ¥500 per figure. It turned out that I wasn't just getting the full set of 8 as advertised but the seller sent an entire blind box of 10, although they had already been preopened and content verified.

This box contains one duplicate (triplicate actually) each of figures one and two. Presumably there will be a corresponding box out there with extras of figures 3 and 4 and so on for their alternate variations.

UN2 volume 2 keeps the shady half-random packaging with individual figure A and B variations, meaning that you have to purchase at least two of the same figure to get access to the full range of accessories. Even then you cannot be guaranteed to succeed. Apart from buying preopened/prechecked figures your best bet in securing what you really want is probably buying a full box if you can find one, these figures aren't that pricey after all.

Marketing gripes aside, the actual figures in Universal Unit volume 2 are really nice. I was quite pleased going through the mobile suits in the box and putting them together. However, I find myself doing more and more customizations to further increase their appearance. In spite of the upped detail level on the Universal Unit figures (when compared to their predecessors in Assault Kingdom), the impression is somewhat deflated by the loads of clean-up needed after you have removed the figures from their runners. Unless you are prepared to treat these figures as proper model kits, some of them will look unfinished without polishing and at least some painting. Alright, onto the figures...


1A / 1B : MSZ-006 Z Gundam

Although we have seen a number of "new" mobile suits featured in Universal Unit, the poster boy for volume two is the perennial Z Gundam. I wasn't particularly thrilled about yet another 1/220 representation of this figure. The Zeta seems to have enough lasting appeal to make it to most figure lines, almost like the evergreen RX-78 himself.

The image above depicts the two packaging variations you will encounter for the Z Gundam. Each box contains two bags; bag number 1 and then either bag 1A or 1B, and of course the little chewing gum. The pieces in bag number one apply to both models while some parts are different between bags 1A and 1B. If you want a complete Z Gundam figure, you will need to collect both of these.

Here are all the components spread out for the Zeta after having been cut from the sprues. The accessories for figure variation 1A - a beam rifle and a shield - are laid out to the left of the figure, while the accessories for variation 1B - the large Hyper Mega Launcher as well as an optional left hand - are laid out to the right. Somewhat surprisingly, no stickers are included with this figure.

The Zeta on display above is using the shield and beam rifle from the 1A set, but also the open left hand from the 1B set. It has also received a lot of custom paint applications to liven the figure up a bit, to see the actual colouring of the pieces refer to the component shot above. The most major cosmetic changes I did was painting the wing binder edges with some acrylic red paint I had lying around, the figure just looked too drab with an all-black backpack. I also used some common permanent marker pens to add a bit more detail such as the blue areas around the knees and the black innards in the thrusters. I also repainted the entire rifle.

The 1B variant of the Z Gundam features this large Hyper Mega Launcher. The launcher can be held like a regular weapon and the gunbarrel can be replaced with a beam emitter for some nice effect shots.

The Universal Unit Z Gundam (far right) is a bit larger than both the Assault Kingdom (center) and STANDart (left) variants in the 1/220 scale. I was quite depressed with the Assault Kingdom figure so I decided I wanted some more colour on the Universal Unit figure. I might give the AK figure similar treatment sometime in the future.

The articulation for the Z Gundam is quite good. It is not a bulky design so you have a lot of possibilities here. However, the joints are extremely tight and stiff on most Universal Unit figures and this one is no exception. Unfortunately the volume two figures also still lack action base support. Not only do they not include any bases, but they also lack any support such as peg holes for your own bases to attach to. The figures above are actually balancing very unsteadily on some Assault Kingdom bases, the slightest amount of movement will see them fall off. It is really depressing when you think about what could have been. So many posing abilities and nothing to do with them.


2A / 2B : MSZ-006A1 Zeta Plus A1 / MSZ-006C1 Zeta Plus C1

Next up is the evolution of the Z Gundam; the Zeta Plus. Intended as a cost-effective mass production variant, this figure actually lends itself well to multiple display, so I assembled both figures whereas I only built a single Z Gundam keeping the remainder of the second figure as spare parts.

Above is again a display of the two variations of the Zeta Plus figure. The MSZ-006A1 variant comes with bags 2 and 2A, while the C1 configuration comes with bags 2 and 2B. The common sticker sheet is similar for both figures.

All the parts for the Zeta Plus spread out. Compared to the other figures in this set, the Zeta Plus is very monochrome with a minimum of paint applications. It also features several rather tiny parts. The MSZ-006A1 configuration comes with the beam rifle and shield displayed to the left of the figure, while the C1 version of the mobile suit comes with the large beam smart gun, as well as extra fuel tanks and thrusters, an optional left hand (noticing a trend here) as well as a different crotch piece. The sticker sheet covers both variants of the Zeta Plus and gives you two individual unit numbers to choose from.

Above is the MSZ-006A1 Zeta Plus A1 variation of the figure, armed with beam rifle and shield. Notice also the smaller crotch assembly and lack of additional thrusters on its back. It is kind of underwhelming that the figure's fins have holes for booster tanks. It would have been nice to get an alternate version without these holes in the sculpt. The figure suffers a lot from ugly nub marks and could have done with a proper cleaning and repaint, but it was nothing I felt up to. Instead I used black permanent marker to add some more detail to the air intakes and I also painted the exposed areas of the inner frame at the elbows and knees. A simple touch which increases the appeal of the figure with little effort.

And here is the Zeta Plus C1 with its large beam smart gun weapon and booster back pack. The smart gun has a peg which can be attached to the figure's wrist, as holding it in hand will not work. Notice also the redesigned crotch area. Although the A1 version of the Zeta Plus is very nice looking it is the C1 that embodies its soul, and is easily the definitive version in my opinion.

The Zeta Plus has been featured in the 1/220 Shokugan range once before, as STANDart number 37 (volume 10, July 2011). It is still the go-to version in my opinion but the Universal Unit figure (right) is doing quite a nice job emulating it. And with its extensive articulation it could easily have triumphed here.

The Zeta Plus is designed for atmospheric flight. If only we had gotten some nice action bases for the Zeta Plus figures, or at least a way to attach them to the clear Assault Kingdom bases. But nooooo...


3A / 3B : GX-9900 Gundam X

The third figure in this wave is a real rarity. Not counting the inevitable hard to find resin garage kit or the atrocities that were the Universal Unit GX Bit figures, I don't believe we have ever seen any 1/220 representation from the After War Gundam X timeline. Looking at the Universal Unit track record thus far, Bandai seem eager to jump into as many Gundam timelines as they possibly can. Will we ever see a companion or better yet, an antagonist for this Gundam X?

Like all the other basic Universal Unit figures, the Gundam X comes in two different versions. Configuration A comes with bags numbered 3 and 3A, while configuration B comes with bags 3 and 3B. The sticker sheets in the two variation bags are identical.

The Gundam X design is a bit less complex than the Zetas although the parts count is still impressive enough that the GX-Bit figures can only look at those bendable knees with envy. However, the alternative parts sets for the two figures are nothing short of abysmal. The 3A figure comes with a beam rifle (left in the picture above), while the 3B variant comes with a beam saber instead (right in the picture). That's the whole difference. For this reason alone we need to purchase two figures. It is so lazy and despicable that I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

For obvious reasons I only assembled one of the two GX-9900 figures. The only modification here is a number of blue stripes on the arms and legs. These are supposed to be done by applying the included stickers but I just preferred to use a blue marker instead. The prepainted torso is especially good looking, unlike the Zeta Plus the Gundam X looks really nice straight out of the box.

The Gundam X is especially entertaining when it comes to managing its accessories. The beam rifle and saber can be used in either hand, and we also get a sporty open left hand with the figure, just like with the Zeta and Zeta Plus. Now we wait for Bandai to realize that we want optional right hands as well. Both the beam rifle and the satellite cannon can be attached to the figure's back, and the solar panels for the cannon can be displayed in folded or open mode.

When using the satellite cannon the figure's arm can easily be angled to perfectly align with the cannon, the hand can be a bit fiddly to attach but once done the connection is solid. However it is not possible to tilt or rotate the cannon while locked in this position. The stickers on the solar panels look amazing, but I wonder how long it will be before they start coming off. I seriously need to look into some suitable glue to fasten the stickers in a permanent fashion...

So here they are; the line-up of Gundam X with its autonomous GX-Bit army. These tragic non-articulated figures could have been so awesome if they had been proper Universal Unit figures, now they are just identical dummies hanging from action bases much likes paintings on a wall. The fact that these figures are the only small Universal Unit figures to yet feature action bases is a lovely irony.


4A / 4B : MSM-03C Hy-Gogg

The last figure in the wave was probably the one I was most eager to see. With the coinciding release of the Z'Gok Experimental as a special Universal Unit figure, the chance to get a full Cyclops Team line-up was not lost on me.

The two variants of the Hy-Gogg of course also come with slightly different box contents. The two variations each come with bag number four, plus the proper variant of bag 4A or 4B. Again, no sticker sheet is included with this Universal Unit figure, which I find highly surprising.

The Hy-Gogg has nice chunky components which was a welcome change after all those fiddly components n the Zeta Plus. The two versions have only one major difference. Figure 4A comes with two hands where the fingers are held close together, while version 4B features a pair of open hands.

I built both of my Hy-Gogg figures and also shifted some of the parts around. Interestingly, each Hy-Gogg comes with one rigid non movable arm, and one made up of individual links which enables a lot of custom poses. You can attach either arm to either shoulder, so I decided to put the articulated arms on different sides of each figure. it would also have been possible to place the articulated arms from both boxes onto the same figure. The same goes for the hands which you can place as you see fit.

Much like the Zeta Plus figure, the Hy-Gogg is very monochrome in its appearance. There aren't that many colour applications although we have a nice barely visible red monoeye hiding underneath its brow. For my figures I used a black marker pen to enhance some of the details primarily in the face and head. Once again this increased the appearance of the figures a lot for very little effort.

The Hy-Gogg has been featured in 1/220 scale before. Both as this early STANDart figure (number eleven, released in September 2008) and also as an FW Ultimate Operation variation (not pictured here, these buggers take up a lot of room). Each variation of the Hy-Gogg seems to have a completely different base colour. I feel as if the Universal Unit figure is the one to come closest to its actual appearance in the show, both in terms of colour and proportions.

The Hy-Gogg is decidedly lacking in accessories. This figure practically screams for the iconic orange hand missile unit. Of course adding a runner with pieces of another colour would be increasing the production costs a lot, but it would have added much more oomph to this figure.

The fact that we don't get any stickers with the Hy-Gogg is also really underwhelming. Leaving out such a well known emblem as the Cyclops Team logo is bordering on abuse. Who knows, with any luck the Z'Gok Experimental premium figure might include such a sticker (and if so, why not a couple extra ones for the Hy-Goggs too). I am not holding my breath though...


Conclusion

I honestly wasn't expecting a whole lot from this set, but I must say I feel really entertained by all the figures in it. Each of the mobile suits is interesting and I find it is hard trying to pick a favourite.

Comparing to Universal Unit volume 1 we don't really see anything in the form of evolution here, all the characteristics of those figures hold through for volume two as well. The only major problem I have with these figures is the lack of action base support, I wonder if this will eventually be solved further down the line? For now I would give a casual recommendation to pick up any of the figures in this set that you might enjoy, in spite of their hassles they are quite fun to display together with other 1/220 mobile suits. However if it is the model kit experience you are after, I see little reason not to stick with the regular HG/RG/WhateverGrade kits you enjoy.