Saturday, 29 April 2017

Gundam Converge : NZ-999 Neo Zeong Option Parts Set

Following up on the Neo Zeong review here comes the optional parts set for the same figure. It was a separate Premium Bandai release from March 2017 and thus appeared about the same time as the retail Neo Zeong figure. There were also bundles where the two boxes were sold together with the Awakening Version Unicorn Gundam (CORE 009) which offered buyers a slight discount from the individual products.

The NZ-999 Neo Zeong figure itself has a Bandai-recommended retail price of ¥3500 where as the optional parts kit was priced at ¥2000. Interestingly enough; as I was browsing Mandarake today the Neo Zeong figure is available at ¥2500 whereas the parts kit was going for ¥3500.

The Neo Zeon Option Parts Set is the third add-on product for Converge figures that we have seen. First came the Stardust Memory themed "0083 The Last Decisive Battle Option Set" in June last year, which decked out the Neue Ziel and the Dendrobium. It was followed in November by the "Wings of Light Option Set" for the Strike Freedom and Destiny Gundam figures. I'm not a fan of this latest Converge trend but still not strong enough to say no...

This will be a pretty short product feature because there isn't a whole lot to say about the Neo Zeong option kit. Apart from all the excessive packaging we get exactly nine components and a somewhat superfluous instruction leaflet in the box. My copy comes from Bandai Asia in Hong Kong so chewing gums are never included with those, but I wonder if it was included in the Japanese edition (Trying real hard to add value to the ¥2000 investment here).

As far as options go, there aren't a whole lot in this box. The most obvious part is of course the large transparent ring-shaped Psycho Shard field, which attaches very securely to a peg on the figure's stand. I do wonder though if over time this peg will loosen up with wear and tear. That could lead the ring to start sliding left or right and requiring glue, which would be a bit of a nightmare since you'd have no choice but to store these parts in assembled condition. I am surprised that they didn't go for a two-peg solution here.

The second and last option is four replacement parts for the secondary arms in their deployed condition. The standard figure comes with all four secondary arms stowed on the back so here is your chance to replace them with wildly grabbing hands desperately trying to reach something.

All secondary arms have similar components and offer some slight articulation which enables you to do some rotation and bending, but the articulation is of course limited by the huge bulk of the mobile armor on one side, and the psyco shard ring on the other side. There's just enough movement in there to create a little bit of asymmetry but not much more.

Each secondary arm also comes with the five fingered hand, and each hand rotates in its socket. For hand options, this is pretty mediocre. The Neo Zeong can launch the individual fingers from its hands to act as remote weapons. It is highly surprising that for this price we couldn't get at least one or two hands with fingers shooting out. This was handled quite well on the Assault Kingdom figure:

Promotional Photo from the Bandai Shokugan page showing off the Assault Kingdom Neo Zeong's arm features.
Granted the Assault Kingdom figure is in another scale and price range but really, a couple of extra hands with fingers being released or as shown above with fingers locked in W-shape shouldn't have been very difficult or pricey to deliver. Especially when we consider all the advanced features that we've seen on recent premium Converge figures. Even the Neue Ziel included psycommu controlled hands.

"Pick on someone your own size..."
Overall the Option Parts Set for the Neo Zeong is pretty barebones, but the things it does add are all good. The Neo Zeong figure looks even more intimidating and majestic with half a dozen flailing arms and the massive golden ring, but for the price Bandai is asking the set feels incomplete. I can't really recommend this parts set to anyone other than die-hard Neo Zeong fans and you probably went ahead and ordered this set a long time ago anyway...

Monday, 24 April 2017

Gundam Converge EX 15 : NZ-999 Neo Zeong

Gundam Converge's BIG thing going this spring is of course the latest oversized Zeonic-style Mobile Armor - this time the triple nine from MSG Unicorn. We've seen a couple of larger EX figures before, but nothing that compares to this latest excess on part of the designers. Considering that Converge is not a scaled figure series you are excused for wondering what the designers have been smoking when they came up with this figure.

What's up with that dreadful font? And will the designers finally choose one font and stick with it?
The Converge Neo Zeong is a standard retail figure, released on March 28 and with a recommended asking price of ¥3500. The release coincided more or less with two other Unicorn-themed Converge releases; a Unicorn in its green Psycho Frame mode as well as a parts-set which expands on the Neo Zeong. The latter two were released as Premium Bandai figures only, and all three were also offered as a premium bundle for ¥7100.

The Converge NZ-999 comes in a pretty large box but it contains a surprisingly small amount of components. The body and extremities are satisfyingly large and chunky, whereas the body of the Sinanju mobile suit at the heart of the Neo Zeong is actually the most complex assembly you will find here.

Before we rush on and assemble this monster let's just pause for a second and enjoy the nice detailing and paintwork on the massive skirt armor of the figure. Considering a lot of this detail will be hidden from view once the figure is assembled, you have to admire the detailed work which went into the creation of this piece in particular:

Assembly instructions are included for one variant of the Neo Zeong only. Looking at the recent release of the Neo Zeong in Assault Kingdom that figure featured a couple of different poses but here all the pieces will be put to use for a single pose only.

All the pieces fit together easily with the exception of the Sinanju mobile suit. While the figure rests inside the armor fairly well the way it attaches could have been better. The torso is attached to a peg on the inside of the MA chest area, so it is not too difficult to accidentally push the figure out of its socket. I wish the torso would have attached vertically instead. The little backpack and shield on my figure are also very easily falling off when touched and I have considered glueing them in place.

I had no less than three major surprises when first examining this figure. The first was that the entire body of the mobile armor is made out of the same type of hard rigid plastic you normally find in various model kits (including Universal Unit). I don't know the exact materials involved here as the Bandai Asia H.K. sticker has been glued over the product data on the box itself (duuuh) but standard Converge figures are made of a softer PVC / ABS combination while Universal Unit figures are mainly made from ABS. The Neo Zeong differs here from the other large mobile armor we had in Converge - the Neue Ziel - which featured traditional softish plastic which I like better. The details on the Neo Zeong are sharper, but the figure is also more fragile.

The second major surprise was that the pale dark red colour of the Neo Zeong's body does not match the vibrant bright red of the MSN-06S Sinanju mobile suit contained within. This bugged me at first but I must say it does give the figure an interesting and not unattractive colour twist. The Neo Zeong is overall really attractive with lots of well separated colour applications.

The third and last major discovery was that the Sinanju part of the Neo Zeong figure is a partially repurposed mobile suit; but we only get its upper body. The legs are missing completely and I am surprised we weren't given optional parts to put together a complete Sinanju standalone figure. This is after all something we got with the Dendrobium mobile armor as well as the older EX kits like the Hummingbird and the Deep Striker. Not to mention that almost five years have passed since the last Converge Sinanju figure, it is definitely time for it to make its comeback by now.

Articulation wise there is not a whole lot going on with this figure. Basically it boils down two its two arms. Each arm can swivel a bit to the left and right and the underarms can also bend forward. Each hand also rotates a full 360 in its socket. It is not much to work with but at least offers up a little bit of customization. Still, the Neo Zeong, being such a large figure, does feel kind of static with this limited articulation. I am more willing to forgive it in a tiny candy toy than a behemoth plastic kit.

Converge Sinanju history: Standard MSN-06S Sinanju (Converge vol. 4, released September 2011), Bazooka version (from Converge SP02 double pack, released August 2012) and the torso stuck inside the Neo Zeong.
And speaking of size, the Sinanju is really outrageously large. With a height of roughly 17 centimeters it is about three times as tall as your average Converge figure. While its size is both imposing and attractive I still think it would have benefitted from a more manageable candy toy size. A height of ten centimeters would have been more than enough in my book. The Zakrello mobile armor for example was released as a standard Converge figure and it didn't hurt its presentation in any way.

"Never tell me the odds..."
Size comparison of the Neo Zeong next to the Neue Ziel (EX 12) and the Nightingale (EX 14).
I think ultimately your appreciation of the Neo Zeong will depend a great deal of how you feel about supersize figures in the Converge range. After all, the reason I fell for the Converge figures was their petite charm and the simplicity in building a sizable collection without running into major storage problems. A few larger figures here and there can be a fun thing but the recent turn Converge is taking seems to be going against this philosophy. And while I really do like the Neo Zeong it doesn't give me that same fuzzy feeling as I get from playing around with the Neue Ziel, a part of its Converge soul has been lost in the change of material.

The lack of accessories and display options also hurts the Neo Zeong a bit. In part this is remedied by the Option Parts Set, which will be covered in a separate review, but I can spoil that conclusion a bit by saying that you should definitely consider getting the option kit if you intend to go for the Neo Zeong. It breathes some more life into the figure.

With another supersize Converge figure just around the corner (the Shamblo Mobile Armor is scheduled for release in July) I do wonder if that figure will also be made of hard plastic. i certainly hope not. The soft plastic figures (traditionally associated with Gashapon) are currently being overtaken by hard plastic successors in the Shokugan 1/220-scale, and I sincerely hope we won't see a similar trend in Converge. I wonder what material the recently released Converge-look-alike MS Ensemble figures are made of. Do we have any readers out there in the know?

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Gundam Converge CORE 009 : RX-0 Unicorn Gundam Awakening Ver.

It has been a couple of months since we saw MSG Unicorn being featured in Converge but now they are back and in full force. We have no less than three more or less simultaneous releases, and all of them sitting in the premium segment. This also means that your wallet will hate you if you do decide to join in.

One of the three figures is the latest Converge CORE offering, another RX-0 Unicorn. This time around it comes with some new equipment options though, and a price tag of ¥2000, equalling four standard figures.

I picked up my Unicorn as part of the Premium Bandai Converge UC0096 bundle, meaning it shipped together with the NZ-999 Neo Zeong and an optional parts set for the latter. All three products are sold individually although the Unicorn and the Neo Zeong Parts Set are limited Premium Bandai items. The Bandai suggested price for the three separate products is a whopping ¥7500 yen. Customers could also order the full set at a slightly discounted price of ¥7100. It is one of those bundles that I picked up from a seller in Hong Kong, paying 100 USD for the privilege. That's a 50% mark up from the original price but I decided it was worth the hassle this time.

As this item shipped from the local Bandai Asia H.K. the classic Shokugan chewing gum was not included with this package. So much for being a candy toy. Alright, let's open this sucker up:

Nothing out of the ordinary thus far. I still think it is a pity that the CORE box art is in black and white, it would have looked really good in colour.

As you can see from the contents this is a pretty basic Destroy Mode Unicorn with a single beam rifle as part of its standard equipment. The majority of the parts in the box are dedicated to the new shield booster units.

I think it would have been nice to get one or two additional gear choices with this figure. Granted this figure is aimed at depicting a specific battle scene only, but it wouldn't have hurt to get a couple of bazookas or so in there, now that we have two hands that are able to hold equipment. A bit of a missed opportunity as far as I am concerned.

The basic Unicorn figure is turquoise, very turquoise. As in toothpaste turquoise. The basic colour is pearly whitish-green with a coat of turquoise which creates a rather pleasant luminous effect once you get used to it. Although not clearly evident in these photos, my figure's right arm has less of this top coating making it appear more white. I don't know if this is an intended effect or just a manufacturing inconsistency.

The three Shield Booster units each feature a dual Beam Gatling Gun which can be removed if you feel like it. There are pegs on both arms on the figure which allows you to equip one or two shields in traditional fashion. Due to the figure being ambidextrous you can also plonk the beam rifle into either hand. Even better; if you have more weapons lying about you can create interesting dual wielding poses with those as well. The figure also features tiny holes on its lower legs. These are for the missile pods that came with the Full Armor Unicorn figure (Converge EX 02), which the new figure is obviously based upon.

The Awakening Version Unicorn can dual wield weapons. Here it borrows a Hyper Beam Javelin from another Unicorn figure.
The figure is made of a more rubbery type of plastic, which is not a good mix with articulation. The pieces seem to latch on to each other and the friction can cause limbs and head not wanting to rotate in their sockets like you are used to. I get the feeling that the plastic material inside the actual arms for example, is more likely to twist and bend than the arm rotating in the socket. Be very gentle when you attempt to reposition the figure's arms or head as you could end up damaging them.

Now that we have talked about the basic figure itself, let's take a closer look at the three Shield Booster Units. Bandai and FW ship three plastic stands of different size that you can use to create the impression of them zipping around like funnel type weapons. Each figure has a triangular base and a transparent arm with a ball joint attachment, which allows you to wiggle the Shield Boosters in flight a little, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. The picture above shows how much variation you can expect to get out of them.

I think the cooler way to display the Shield Booster Units is as a shield wall. Thank goodness for the instruction leaflet because this looks much easier to do than it was to pull off. Due to the very limited articulation for each Shield Booster you need to perfectly position each arm in a very specific fashion. When completed though, it looks pretty spectacular.

Be aware that ball sockets like the ones used here do not always age well. Sometimes it can be hard to disassemble a ball jointed figure like this. I have seen several pegs of this type break apart with the ball coming off the peg and remaining inside the joint. This happened in several Mechwarrior Age of Destruction figures and I also had a similar joint break apart on an old Cosmo Fleet Zanzibar vessel. 
Converge Destroy Mode Unicorn line-up, from left to right: Bog-standard red psycho frame (from SP02 double pack, released August 2012), the Pearl Clear red version (UC episode 7 advance screening promo item), Full Armor Unicorn Awake Mode (EX 02, released March 2014), Metallic Color Awake Mode (from SP Overseas Only double pack released August 2015) and the new CORE 009 Awakening Version from March 2017.
The Destroy Mode Unicorn line-up is starting to look more and more like a rainbow by now. I still think the old EX 02 Full Armor Unicorn is the pick of the pack for all its extra equipment, the traditional red psycho frame figure from SP 02 looks pretty good too.

Overall the Awakening Version RX-0 is a really nice figure, but I would still consider it highly optional in your collection. There are so many Destroy Mode Unicorn figures released already and all of them fill the role just as well. Then again, the older figures aren't always that easy to find either...

Friday, 21 April 2017

Random Post : Converge Hummingbird Trio

The Converge EX 04 Hummingbird originally released in April two years ago at a price of ¥2400. The price has not held up however (at least not for the "common" blue version), as I recently picked up an extra pair for ¥1500 each. The Hummingbird was one of the better value Converge EX figures when it came out and certainly an even better deal these days. I don't expect to be able to a display like this for the red version though... The stands used in the picture come from various Assault Kingdom figures.

Monday, 3 April 2017

HCM Pro Chronicle 2004.4-2008.9

Today we are examining a rather sizable tome of the type that is likely to attract only the most adamant of collectors out there. Published by Softbank Creative this hobby magazine-sized book is a detailed walkthrough of the High Complete Model Progressive 1/200 figure series, or HCM Pro as collectors know them for short. Actually this is a bit of a simplification as there are a couple of larger figures thrown into the mix but the description holds valid for the most part.

The HCM Pro figure line itself ran as the title suggests mainly between 2004 and 2008 and saw some 60+ figure releases (depending on how you count colour- and detail variations). It represents some of the more high-end Gundam-related collectible figure series out there. I guess you can say that this torch is currently carried by the Robot Damashi and perhaps the Fix Figuration series.

Although HCM Pro is not a mainstay on the Gundanium Gateway site (or in the collection for that matter) it deserves special mention here since the figures do scratch the very same itch as their smaller Shokugan cousins. This holds especially true when you realize that you can pick up some of these guys for as low as ¥600-¥1000 in unused condition from sellers in Japan. And although they are notably larger than the 1/220 Shokugan figures they can still work together in some 3D-oriented displays and help to fill out some glaring gaps in the smaller figure lines.

The book chronicles all the known figures released in the HCM Pro, HCM Pro Limited, G-Box (box sets), HCM Pro SP (Special Painted) and SHCM Pro (Super HCM Pro) series and does a good job of covering most of the figures released. Mind you I have noticed some missing content near the end of the line. The book obviously tries to skirt around this problem by pointing out the time frame on the cover which seems a bit sneaky.

The main index is arranged by figure series and then individual figure numbers. The HCM Pro numbering system is a bit of a mess though and doesn't always make a lot of sense. Each basic mobile suit is given a number and a trailing variation number. The very first figure e.g. is the 01-00 RX-78-2 Gundam from 2004. Figure 01-01 is an updated "Master Markings version" of said mobile suit released 2007-03 and so on. However, you will find that the MS-14A Gelgoog does not share main suit number with the MS-14S, while the MS-09RS (Char's Rick Dom) is listed as a variation of the basic MS-09R. It is not the most obvious of numbering systems.

The main feature of the book is the display of the basic HCM Pro figures. A couple of notable figures like the RX-78-2 and the Zaku II get full spreads like above while most of the figures have to settle for being crammed together 2-3 on a spread.

It is not really as much of a "book" as it is a stylish product catalogue and collector reference sheet. Although I have no clue what the text is about I can't imagine it being more than the most basic of trivia.

Apart from showing off the figures we also get some detailed info about the accessories that come with them, although the publisher "forgot" to show that most of the accessories come on plastic runners from which they need to be (very carefully) removed.

While HCM Pro figures are normally fully articulated the actual posing options aren't always that great. On the other hand it is quite common for figures to feature with some removable panels or moving pistons, and some figures can also transform into Mobile Armor mode.

The G-Box series contains a handful of items where mobile suits and sometimes vehicles are sold together in extra large box sets. However, some of the regular single figures are actually also sold as "G-Box" sets, where two packages such as 08-00 (G-3 Gundam) and 08-01 (Casval's Gundam) are bundled and sold together. As I mentioned before, it is all a bit messy.

Under the Campaign Items heading we find a couple of odd accessories and promotional items. I would guess they could have appeared as hobby magazine promos or maybe first edition extra gifts etc.

The Special Painted series figures are basically repainted standard figures, typically using metallic colours.

The Limited Edition section also contains a number of interesting and odd items. The Heine Team ZAKU Warrior for example doesn't have its own figure number and recycles the packaging for the standard figure. Then there are odd combos like the Hyaku-Shiki. The basic matte-finish almost yellow Hyaku-Shiki (figure 10-00) is listed as a limited item while the gold coated version (10-01) is listed in the basic figure section. You would have thought that the gold coated version belonged in the special painted section and the plain figure in the basic list. Perhaps the first edition was deemed scrapped after the first series.

Coming up last are extra large 1/144-scale Super HCM Pro figures which feature some more gimmicks and improved articulation. Only a few items ever saw the light of day, I think it would have been more beneficial to continue expanding the basic line.

The second part of the book contains some general tips on modelling to get the most out of your HCM Pro collection. The chapter about coloring and marking points out ways to place additional decals on figures and of course also how they can be repainted into brand new liveries pushing you for picking up a second or even third unit. Seeing as the prices on certain figures are quite low I could definitely see that happen. And the book even comes with its own sticker sheet designed for this very purpose (see further down).

If the thematic suggestions were not enough we also get a helpful "Customize" chapter were some professionally tweaked figures are displayed in the hope of pulling you in.

Of course the Super HCM Pros are used to full effect in this section to help sell the deal.

There is for example no RGM-79 GM or Black Tristar High Mobility Zaku II available in the line (you've really got to wonder why they were left out in the first place).

We also get some instructions on panel lining and how to improve detail to your figures.

One of the less interesting sections is the box art gallery area which seems like pointless padding considering we already have the box art lined up next to the individual suits but whatever.

The book also features a second index where all the releases have been grouped by TV series which is a really neat feature for those wanting a quick overview.

At the end of the book we found the custom decal sheet which has quite a lot of 1/200 stickers to use, but there is no way I would pull it out of the book. : )

Overall the book does a good job of introducing you to the possibilities of the HCM Pro line. The book was originally priced at ¥2000 and I picked up my copy a while ago for ¥1400 so the price hasn't come down that far. I suspect the decals might have something to do with that.