Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Gundam Converge #06

Gundam Converge volume 6 was released in Japan at the beginning of April 2017 and so here I am, almost two months later after having finally snared a complete set. This time it was quite a lot of work and I ended up sourcing figures from no less than five different sellers with prices ranging between anything from ¥600 to a whopping $15.00. Never mind all the rare figures released in Converge, now I am actually having trouble with the commons too.

Still, as the different candidates started arriving I could see that this was a set worth hanging out for. Although the general feel of volume six is very "blue", this set contains a lot of high-profile figures and unexpected choices and I had a lot of fun with it once I actually got to open the damned things.

I'm sure anyone who has collected records has had the classic "walking into a store and finding a lot of hard to find albums" dream. I have yet to dream about stumbling into well-stocked second hand toyshops in Japan but I am actively daydreaming about it already. I didn't know collecting toys can be so stressful. :)

Anyway, enough rambling and let's take a look at what the designers at FusionWorks and Bandai have in store for us with Converge volume six.

150 : XXXG-01W Wing Gundam (Endless Waltz Version). Before we dive into the Wing Gundam figure let's just pause for a moment and note that with this figure the regular figure line has now hit number 150. As far as collectible Gundam minis go this is a very respectable number. There are not many figure series that can measure up against this even when you include smaller Gashapon miniatures.

Unless you are acquainted with the Gundam Wing series the different designs of the various titular Gundams can be a bit confusing and I myself can never remember which version belongs where (even though I suffered through the full series as my first introduction to the Mobile Suit Gundam universe). Perhaps not entirely surprising since some of the designs are a bit similar, especially as far as the Converge Wing Gundam is concerned.

Converge Wing Gundam history: XXXG-00W0 Wing Gundam Zero (EW Version) from Converge 10 released April 2013, XXXG-01W Wing Gundam (Original TV series) from Converge 15 released June 2014 and the new XXXG-01W Wing Gundam (EW Version) from Converge #06, April 2017.
The Converge interpretations of the Wing Gundam have all been good looking and fairly detailed, but the new figure takes things to a whole new level. The new Converge figures are simply much more defined and littered with colourful detail. In case of the Wing Gundam this becomes very apparent as it is exploding with colour and intricately painted parts.

The Converge Wing Gundam next to his big brother from STANDart which was also sculpted by FusionWorks. The kinship is striking.
There's not a whole lot going on in the accessory department although we get the basic rifle + shield combo (which is more than you can say for the STANDart Wing Gundam that preceded it). Overall I find the new Wing figure a huge improvement when compared to its earlier versions and now that we have 3 of the 4 variants available I can only hope the next thing we see from the After Colony timeline will be a completely different mobile suit...

151 : XXXG-01H2 Gundam Heavyarms Kai (Endless Waltz Version). The second figure in volume six is a new face for Converge and the third mobile suit from Wing Gundam to make an appearance here. The Heavyarms is probably the most conventional looking of the five Gundams from Wing although this version from the Endless Waltz movie is a bit more spectacular looking than the original red and white design.

Heavyarms is one of those figures that just grab your attention immediately with a very stylish livery and nicely painted metallic parts. The figure actually also comes with a pair of replaceable hands which is very unusual when it comes to Converge. I am really curious why FW and Bandai were kind enough to give us two hand choices since the empty hands are just closed fists with no ability to hold any weapons. Perhaps there was some disagreement around the conference table which pose would be the best.

Speaking of looks though, there is one feature of the Heavyarms figure that is bound to cause a bit of controversy. I am fairly certain I am not the only person who was appalled to discover a clown mask covering half of the machine's face. This detail had completely slipped me by in the promotional shots. The main photo on the box shows the figure from the left side and I hadn't noticed this until it sat there in front of me grinning like some crazy toy from a Stephen King novel. I loathe it and I think it pretty much ruins the entire figure. And sadly, this cannot be unseen.

I wonder why the designers thought this was a great idea? Perhaps they enjoyed the technical aspect of this feature as it would add some novelty to the endless line of samey Gundam faces but this thing is positively hideous. It also gives me flashbacks of that mopey emo-kid Trowa Barton who was piloting the machine in the show (one of those characters that I am normally doing my best to forget).

If there was one part they should have made exchangeable on this figure it should have been the mask.

152 : RX-178 Gundam Mk-II (Titans Color). Leaving the After Colony time line and heading back to Universal Century we meet with a real senior when it comes to Mobile Suit Gundam figures. The RX-178 is a true veteran to Converge where it has appeared in at least half a dozen different variations, and now it is getting a brand new make-over again. It follows the trend of the reboot figures in having a more chunky and cartoonish appearance with a more prominent head. The new colour scheme with brighter yellow and darker blue is also the most accurate version of this figure in regards to what we saw in the Zeta Gundam show.

The Gundam Mk-II is a design very faithful to the original RX-78 and the figure has a very classic look to it. The accessories have a nice modular feel to them and we now have a beam rifle which is not molded directly onto the hand which is really nice.

If you have been following the announcements regarding the Gundam Mk-II you have probably caught wind of the fact that FW and Bandai have played around a bit with this particular figure, offering us three slight variations with the individual unit numbers 01, 02 and 03 printed on the left shoulder. This troika is nothing new among Gundam figures and we have seen similar takes on them in small Gashapons all the way up to the pricey HCM Pro 1/200 scale figures and beyond. Now, the way this was handled was in a random fashion; buy a figure and you will end up with one of the three figures. Buy another and you have a fairly good chance of scoring a different one, and then buy three more hoping to get lucky with the last remaining figure.

"What!?"

I myself did not enter this lottery but instead had to painstakingly seek out figures from different vendors over a period spanning several weeks. I managed to find units "01" and "03" fairly easily for six hundred yen a piece fairly easily, but it took me another month before finding a unit "02" which I had to spend a ludicrous $15 USD for. Then, to my great joy, after having waited for a month for Mandarake to ship me unit "03" I was exceptionally pleased to see that I had been sent a number "02" instead. So... here I stand like a bloody fool with a spare unit "02" that cost me $15.00 which is probably what I will end up paying for another unit "03" as well.

It doesn't help that clever sellers are hoarding these and then instantly creating a secondary market after having identified the contents. I can live with this when we are talking about random Gashapon at 300 yen a piece but it doesn't work for expensive Shokugan (The stupid A/B pattern in Universal Unit also comes to mind). Of course this is mainly a problem for foreign devils which, as we all know, doesn't bother Bandai too much.

Converge RX-178 (Titans Color) history: RX-178 with bazooka (Unit 01) or beam rifle (Unit 03). Both released in Converge volume 3 in June 2011. Metallic RX-178 with beam rifle from an "Overseas Only" limited edition triple back from Bandai Asia released in February 2016 and the new RX-178 from Converge #06.
Casual Converge collectors can safely ignore my ramblings though. If you want a nice looking RX-178 it doesn't matter whichever version you end up getting (unless you have a thing going on about lucky numbers) as they are all similar apart from the unit number. Wouldn't it have been really spectacular if FW and Bandai had equipped each figure with a signature weapon, say unit "01" with a beam rifle, unit "02" with a beam saber and unit "03" with a bazooka?

153 : RX-139 Hambrabi. With the recent influx of Titans design into the Converge roster it was perhaps not a big surprise that FW finally got around to sculpting the unorthodox looking Hambrabi. This is one of those designs that cannot be mistaken for something else and I am personally a great fan of the design. It might seem a bit strange to create aerodynamic transformable designs in space but it sure looks cool.

Being such an unusual design the Hambrabi does not feature the standard Converge articulation, i.e. arms that rotate at the shoulder and a head that spins from side to side. Here head and shoulders are molded directly onto the body but the arms are actually rotating beneath those awesome shoulder pads. It doesn't matter that much though, as the arms will quickly get stuck on the wings that are attached to the mobile suits' back. You will only be awarded with a slightly different bend of the arms for your effort.

Yazan Gable with Dunkel Cooper and Ramsus Hasa, a.k.a. the Titans Hambrabi Team.
The Hambrabi comes loaded with the huge Fedayeen beam rifle which is molded onto the right hand in a pretty awkward position. Unlike the Gabthley which held its Fedayeen like a spear in front of it the Gabthley instead manages some half-half pose and I can't quite shake the feeling of a violin case.

Custom Mobile Armor mode using parts from two Hambrabi figures.

The real Hambrabi transforms into a really sleek looking Mobile Armor mode resembling that of a Manta Ray. Although the Converge figure does not transform you can do a pretty nice half-baked MA-version of it if you happen to own two figures. Simply replace the rifle carrying right arm with the left arm of a second figure, the effect is quite nice.


154 : LRX-077 Sisquiede (A.E.U.G. Color). The tail end of Converge volume six also holds the biggest surprise. Upon its announcement I wasn't even sure where to start looking to identify it, having never heard of a Sisquiede before. The executive summary to its origins is that for some reason this design appeared in a console game full of super deformed (SD Gundam) mobile suits where it is inserted into the Gryps timeline, is later sketched as a fullsize Gundam and now shrunk back into Converge dimensions.

I know the background doesn't make much sense and while it seems strange such an odd mobile suit choice (a first for any Gashapon or Shokugan figure series I believe) is given preference when we still lack so many basic designs the design team clearly had some love to spare for the design. Enough love apparently two create two of them at that. Not surprising perhaps, since the design is pretty striking and the Converge figure looks really good as a result. It is just that I don't have a whole lot to say about this rather alien figure.

155 : LRX-077 Sisquiede (Titans Color). And the same holds true for the blue Titans version of the LRX-077. The two figures are simple colour variations on the same basic design but each is equally stunning. Not that there aren't many other equally stunning designs out there (now, where's our High-Mobility GINN?).

I really wish I had more to contribute on part of the two Sisquiedes since we are talking about a full third of this set. I have noticed though, that the figures themselves seem fairly sought after. From what I have seen myself the LRX's are the least commonly appearing figures from volume 06 so if you would like to add them to your collection it pays to be a little bit extra vigilant here. The two Wing Gundam designs on the other hand seem to arouse much less interest.

Conclusion

Overall Converge Volume #06 is a bit of a mixed bag. All the figures share the impressive quality which we have seen in pretty much all the new Converge reboot figures and there are many exceptionally striking designs in this volume. Still, there are a couple of questionable designs and distribution concerns here (Heavyarms and RX-178 I am looking at you) so in general this volume is perhaps more of a cherry-picking contest than a given full set pick-up.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Banpresto Ichiban Kuji Figure Collection : Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt - Gattle



As cool as mobile suits are, I've never really enjoyed the idea of them being superior to everything else. To me the suit represents a specialized cog in the military machinery and I subsequently hold just as much interest in models of ships and vehicles and other types of miniatures. Mobile Suit Gundam is blessed in that regard in that there is a rich fauna of vehicles designed for both planetary missions and space. Here we will take a closer look at one such mini - the antique Zeonic Gattle fighter spacecraft.

This particular miniature was produced as a prize item for the Ichiban Kuji lottery which is run by the manufacturer of the figure; Banpresto. Banpresto items are typically one-offs in wildly varying styles and sizes but can sometimes complement other figure series when the scale and size does not vary too much. I wasn't sure just exactly how big this thing was going to be but after having had my eye on it for quite some time I decided to take the plunge. As a prize item it does not have general retail distribution and the price also reflects that. I picked mine up for ¥1500 from Mandarake.

This Gattle figure is rated as prize item class F. Above you can see the figures produced for the other classes that also belong to this Thunderbolt mini-set. For some reason Banpresto did omit the second class-F type prize item in the photo; there is also a FF-S3 Saberfish fighter out there (which I will eventually also end up purchasing as well I'm sure).

The Gattle fighter comes in a rather large box measuring 20 centimeters on its widest side, mainly because the figure also comes with a diorama piece in the form of a segment of a space colony cylinder. Each figure in the Thunderbolt set comes with a wall segment and they can be interlocked to form a cylinder (see the instruction sheet in the image below as I won't be going into this feature any further).

As you can see the instruction leaflet is common to all the figures belonging to this set so you can get a basic idea of the composition of the other figures by looking at it. I have considered picking one or two of them up but I suspect they will not pose very well with Converge and considering their high prices I guess I'll just have to wait for Bandai to give Thunderbolt some more love in Converge.

The Gattle spacecraft comes fully assembled with a multi-piece stand which will send it high into the air. I guess to make it sit nicely above the other mobile suits or perhaps the colony cylinder.

As mentioned earlier the colony wall segment occupies most of the space in the box (and I will continue to keep it packed up in there). The wall will look really plain and boring without modifications. A lot of panel lining, drybrushing and/or washing will be needed to give it a decent look. The four small pieces that act as its "legs" do not lock in place in this mode and you end up having to balance the large piece on those legs - a frustrating experience that I do not recommend.

The Gattle spacecraft itself also looks very plain like a really cheap Gashapon. It has a lot of nice detail in the sculpt but the entire thing is made of soft plastic and the first thing I noticed was the bent landing gear and bent wings.Apart from the crew bubble is features no other painted detail. This thing can probably look really good but first it needs to have its anatomy straightened out and then it needs a lot of make-up on top.

Size-wise the Gattle actually poses quite well with the Converge Thunderbolt FA-78. it has some defects but I really look forward to having it tuned-up a bit as I am sure it can end up looking quite good in the collection. I wouldn't really recommend it to Converge collectors though, as it is quite expensive for what it is. Still, it successfully manages to scratch my spacecraft itch and I am sure the Saberfish can't be that far behind.

Gundam Converge CORE 010 : RX-93 Nu Gundam & MSN-04 Sazabi (Metallic Ver.)

In August 2015 Bandai released the first Converge Redefinition figures in what has become a rather odd breed of pricey minis. Now with ten releases down the line the series seems to have found its identity. Basically CORE is all about reissuing old figures with new tuned up colour schemes and decals, although they usually take a step away from the original mobile suit design. CORE 010 is no exception to this pattern.

The two figures come in a greyscale box which is so typical (and dull) for CORE. I thought it a bit strange that the Nu Gundam is introduced first but placed to the right in the background photo. Could it be a case of Japanese reading from the right slip-up? The positioning of the text could also have been a bit better. Right now it seems to suggest that only the Sazabi features metallic paint.

Anyway, CORE 010 returns to the tired old dancing pair of the Nu Gundam and the Sazabi from Char's Counterattack. These two evergreen mobile suits have had quite a lot of exposure in Converge as of late, with two sets appearing in 2015 after the initial release in 2011. Add the recent MSN-04II Nightingale on top and suddenly my shelf is starting to crawl with Sazabis.

CORE 010 released in April 2017 as a Premium Bandai exclusive with a price point of ¥ 3200 yen. Quite the mark-up from the basic ¥ 550 figures that they are based upon. Neither figure introduces any new parts; they are simply repainted variants of the two figures that premiered the rebooted Converge series at the end of 2015.

RX-93 Nu Gundam (Metallic Version)

First out of the two combatants is the RX-93 which is rapidly closing in on the Unicorn Gundam as the most commonly featured mobile suit in Converge. Not counting the Hi-Nu or the HWS versions this is the eighth time the Nu is released in Converge format although only the second time to feature metallic coating. The Nu comes loaded with a beam rifle, a bazooka (which can be equipped or attached to the back) and one shoulder's worth of funnels. I wonder when a figure will appear with two funnel sets, it can only be a question of time.

The RX-93 figure uses the new mold from the rebooted Converge #01 which is shared in part also by the FA-93HWS (Nu Gundam Heavy Weapon System) figure. The mold contains four peg holes on the shoulders and legs which are used by the FA-93HWS, so we get a mini-sprue with two sets of plugs that can be inserted into these holes to cover the gaping holes. Something unique for the RX-93 Converge figure. These be tiiiiiny pieces but at least we get a very helpful instruction sheet to explain what needs to be done.

There isn't really a whole lot to say about the new RX-93 figure. The metallic paint looks really great although I am not really convinced that all the grey blotches added to the body (seemingly for the heck of it) are really adding anything of value to the figure. Still no beam saber for the RX-93, this would have been a perfect fit for this figure. (If you also own the FA-93HWS you can of course consider borrowing its saber).

MSN-04 Sazabi (Metallic Version)

I mentioned earlier that CORE figures allow themselves some creative freedom and this becomes even more apparent on the Sazabi. Here we get a stark ruby-red shiny metallic coat which looks really awesome although it doesn't necessarily look like the one sported by the actual Sazabi. Come to think of it, are there even two Sazabi figures sharing the same red colour? This guy always seems to get the latest red, always staying in fashion.

Just like the standard Sazabi figure we get two main armament options and both are really good looking although the rifle cannot really compete with such a beautiful translucent saber. Notice also how the figures now come on base plates with their names printed on them. This seems more like a "what can we do to convince people to pay three times as much?"-feature, rather than something really useful.

Apart from metallic coating, the CORE version of the Sazabi mainly adds some small silver markings all over the head and body. Whether this enhances the look or just looks like bad paint chipping on a rusted up ol' Saz is up to you to decide.

Comparisons


As you can see above, the CORE versions of the standard figures don't really differ from their predecessors all that much. If you enjoy bling you will enjoy the new look but if you prefer the more show-accurate look you will probably find the base figures more to your liking.

A selection of Converge RX-93:s and the FA-93HWS, from left to right: The very first RX-93 from Converge volume 3 (June 2011), the shiny blue "Fully Equipped" version from the SP01 Overseas Only Limited pack (released February 2015), the "Limited Color Ver." released as part of a 7-11 promotional set in November 2016 (still using the old mold although the new figure had already been released almost a year earlier), the redesigned RX-93 from the Converge #01 reboot (released end of year 2015), the FA-93HWS (CORE 004 released January 2016) and lastly the new CORE 010 Metallic Ver. RX-93 from April 2017.

Not counting the MSN-04II Nightingale the Sazabi has had half as many appearances as the RX-93; from left to right: The original version Sazabi from the SP01 double pack (released August 2011), the metallic paint version from the SP01 Overseas Only Limited pack (February 2015), the resculpted Sazabi from the Converge #01 reboot (end of year 2015) and the new CORE 010 metallic version from April 2017.

CORE 010 definitely belongs in the completist only segment among Converge collectors. Unless you are only just starting out your collection chances are that most readers will have several interpretations of these mobile suits in their collections already. That money could probably be better spent filling more acute gaps in those collections. On the other hand, the figures are really nice looking and I doubt you will be disappointed if you choose to acquire them

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Converge Gossip : White Base Project

Looking back at this spring's Shokugan releases I was starting to feel a bit relieved. There were a couple of really pricey Converge figures released (with one yet to appear), supported by another couple of expensive Universal Unit releases. Should have known it was time for Bandai to drop another bomb!

There is a rather secretive post on the Gundam Shokugan blog, hinting at another jubilee release. To commemorate 150 different mobile suits and mobile armors Bandai and FusionWorks are apparently green-lighting a very ambitious project; a Converge version of the SCV-70 White Base assault carrier.

So far we don't know anything more than this. Are FW shooting for a functional "to-scale" vessel or a mascot-sized carrier with tiny mobile suits the size of a Converge figure's hand? And how much is this abomination going to sell for? We'll just have to keep waiting for more information...

UPDATE as of May 12

In other news, Bandai also launched Converge Station, a portal with information specific to the Gundam Converge brand. This sounds a bit more spectacular than it really is; since it is only a subpage of the existing Shokugan Portal page. Still, it is a good filter for those only interested in what happens in this particular brand.

At launch there wasn't a whole lot of information present, although there are some sneak peeks of things coming in the latter half of 2017. The Gundam Sentinel timeline is getting a couple more figures which should be welcome news among the fans, it remains just to see what mobile suits will be chosen.

There is also a hint of another new figure in the works, that readers on the blog have identified as the main protagonist from G Gundam. Not sure if this ruffles your feathers or not but the Converge Station blog author seems pretty stoked about it at least...