The second volume of the new shokugan series FW SD Neo has arrived! Well I guess it arrived at the end of May, but the review is happening now! Like the first volume, this set of adorable highly detailed figures comes from a wide array of shows, manga, and even gashapon releases throughout Gundam's long history. If there is one thing this series might be known for it is wacky mobile suit choices.
|Strike Freedom Gundam , Zeta Gundam, Asshimar, Hazel Custom, Hazel Custom (Titan's Colors), Gunlander|
Here is what you get in the box. Like Converge, these figures come in labeled boxes that contain the figure in parts separated in plastic envelopes. I was a little slow to pre-order this volume and was forced to get mine through an ebay seller located in Hong Kong, where they do not include the delicious soda flavored gum. Also worth mentioning is that a sealed box of 10 figures comes with 2 of each suit, meaning that there is only 1 white Hazel Custom and 1 blue Hazel Custom, similar to the Marasai of last volume. It seems that the color variations are poised to be rather collectible in FW SD Neo.
07: ZGMF-X20A Strike Freedom Gundam
This volume is starting off with a bang! Introducing the Strike Freedom from Gundam SEED Destiny, the upgraded version of Gundam SEED's Freedom Gundam. A really spectacular looking design this guy has a golden frame and truly impressive wings making it a favorite among anime fans and modelers alike.
The FW SD Neo version of the suit is top notch. With the excellent detailing of this figure line things like the shoulder pads and face of this Gundam really pop. Minus his wings and guns he might be a little underwhelming, but that is soon to change.
The primary points of interest on this figure are the two huge wing pieces, two high energy beam rifles, and killer gold painting details. They really nailed the color accuracy with shiny golden joints and hands nicely accenting the dark blackish blue, red, and white of the suit.
Looking closely at the figure's main focus, those wings, you will notice that they have a ton of articulation. They plug into the figure's backpack with a single peg and can rotate 180 degrees, giving you a lot of posing options for such a squat little SD. They are made out of a slightly harder plastic than the soft plastic used for the figure's body. I would say they feel somewhere between the softness of Converge and the hard plastic of a high grade model kit. This is great because it keeps their shape nice and sharp with none of the bending that sometimes comes along with gashapon and shokugan figures.
The wings themselves can fold in or out. They are connected at a single pivot point that allows each half of the right and left wings to move together or independently. This enables you to separate them as much or as little as you like, for a stowed away or fully active look.
This is what the figure looks like fully armed and with the wings completely deployed. As you can see they really add a lot of size to the figure which is easily the widest in the line so far. I was hoping that the two rifles could be combined into one longer one but unfortunately you are only able to duel wield them.
08: MSZ-006 Zeta Gundam
Following up on the RX-78-2 of last volume comes the titular suite and name sake of Gundam's second anime series: Zeta Gundam. A stone cold classic of edgy 80s design this suit is slim, agile, transforms into a jet, and has more angles than you can shake a stick at. Lets see how the SD version pans out.
Looking at the figure minus the shield and beam rifle I think it does a great job capturing the head and torso of the Zeta. With its unique v-fin and mean eyes this guy really looks the part. That being said this is one design that some what falls flat in its chibi SD form. The real elegance and speed of the Zeta is lost in translation. Also a bit lack luster is the back pack. With very little detail and no color applications it definitely weighs down the figure's appearance. Looking more like an ugly chunk of plastic strapped to the back of the suit than a legitimate part of the design.
Looking closely at the shield you will notice that it uses a unique adapter. With the pegs placed counter to one another you can swivel the shield around the figure's arm to two different positions. I don't know if this is intentional but I like the small amount of customization it offers. The shield itself looks nice with the red and black contrasting nicely, however I would have liked to see it be a bit larger. In the anime the shield is quite large and I think exaggerating it in the SD would have been nice too.
The Zeta's other main accessory is the comically large (BOWA) XBR-M87A2 Beam Rifle. This thing is a little ridiculous, being taller than the figure itself when stood up. With handles on both sides the figure can wield it like a traditional rifle or use a more casual lounging position. You can also have it held backwards, but this ends up looking a little goofy. While the details on the rifle are quite nice I would have liked it to get some paint. Being just a solid chunk of blue plastic definitely takes away from its charm.
Here is the figure fully decked out. I left it in the lounging position as the shooting position looks a little too silly for my tastes. I mean this rifle really is over the top large.
While this little figure looks great head on with the yellow red and blue really popping in its face and chest, I was left a little disappointed by it overall. Taking more time to look at it I kept noticing the flat chunks of blue and black that make up the rifle and backpack. For such an elegant design these two components really weigh it down and make it look more blocky and childish than it should. I would have also liked to see it transform, something they have done in the Converge series before.
09: NRX-044 Asshimar
Next up we have another transforming suite from Zeta Gundam, the Asshimar. This suit was piloted by the Titans against the A.E.U.G.'s Zeta and Gundam Mk.IIs. In the anime it transforms into a donut shaped mobile armor, reminiscent of a 1950s UFO. Looking in the box this has to be the sparsest and simplest SD Neo figure to date, containing nothing more than the suit, antenna, and beam rifle
Like the Zeta this figure does not transform and is stuck in its mobile suit form. While the orange and green paint job does look great, it has to be the clunkiest SD Neo figure yet. Due to its over the top shoulder pads and head the figure has zero articulation, with its head and arms stuck in a set position. It also lacks any plugs for shields and can only hold its one gun. What you see it what you get.
The gun itself is super boring, looking like a duel colored beam saber handle glued to the figure's hand. Its only real outstanding quality being the gorgeous jewel placed in its adorable little Dom like face.
Really this is the first FW SD Neo figure that I have been genuinely disappointed in. I am a serious fan of Zeta and AOZ designs, including this fun little transformer, so seeing such a cool dynamic suit rendered into an unmovable chunk of a figure is a little disheartening. While the colors and detailing are top notch the figure still feels more like a traditional gashapon than a shokugan. Its lack of movement, transformation, and accessories really make it fall flat compared to its over performing volume companions.
10: RX-121-1 Gundam TR-1 [Hazel Custom]
The love of Advance of Zeta (AOZ) started in volume one continues with this spectacular re-imagining of the Gundam TR-1 [Hazel Custom]! The main test bed and mobile suit platform of the Titans during the years leading up to Zeta Gundam, this suit has as many versions and configurations as there are stars in the sky. This one here being its most basic unadorned form.
Looking at the figure you'll notice just how great the detail is. From the back back to the back skirts this thing really nailed the boxy yet aggressive feel of the Hazel. My only real complaint being the figure's legs. While I understand it is an SD, the Hazel is known for its thick thruster filled calves and this figure just doesn't have those. Even including the back vents, which should be yellow like the front, would have been a nice touch. Other than that this little monster is pretty spot on, and I love it.
As for accessories this white version comes with a super detailed beam rifle and the Hazel's signature Shield Booster. A sweet concept for a booster pack, aiding in mobility and distance, that once depleted acts as a shield. It uses a generic adapter to connect to the suit's right or left arm, both of which have plugs. Also of note on this figure is its amazing looking top camera, the green on its head, which allows it see in more directions on the battle field. The green here really shines in the light and the little yellow details highlight the level of detail and precision in this series.
Besides being placed on the arm the Shield Booster can also be placed on the figure's back pack using a small plug. Be aware that this peg is super tiny and will easily break. I was very close to ruining mine. It also feels a little loose in the back pack and I didn't particularly trust it not to fall out.
Here is the Hazel decked out with its beam rifle and Shield Booster strapped to its arm. Quite an impressive looking figure, I will hold back on my final thoughts until after reviewing its companion color variation as well. The reasons for this will be quite apparent.
11: RX-121-1 Gundam TR-1 [Hazel Custom] (Official Color)
The second Hazel in the set, this figure is labeled as Official Color on the packaging and is sporting the Titans' deep blue color scheme. Other than the color change this is the same exact sculpt as the white Hazel. You will notice however this version does come with an additional Shield Booster.
Fully decked out this guy looks pretty mean. Not much more to say than on the first figure, except look at those double shields. With both attached this figure certainly feels beefier and more filled out than its single shielded companion.
Using the parts from both Hazel figures you can also create a fully loaded Hazel Custom. With three Shield Boosters and two beam rifles this suit is ready to tango. With the Official Color suit I particularly enjoy the contrasting colors of the white Shield Boosters against the dark blue frame. With only the second volume in FW SD Neo we have already gotten more AOZ action than most series get, ever!
While the shields work equally well on both figures there is a down side to fully loading one suit. The other is left high and dry. With only two Hazel's per box you can never really completely equip both figures without buying multiple boxes or individual figures off of ebay, which is a bit of a bummer.
After looking at both figures and their fully loaded forms I'm sure you know what I am going to say. I freakin' love these things! Again having a series that covers so much of the amazing AOZ suit line up in its first two volumes is not only unprecedented but makes me extremely happy. And these figures are a great presentation of these admirable suits. From the skirt details to the bright green head cameras and customization with the Shield Boosters and color schemes these FW SD Neo figures knocked the Hazel Custom out of the park. If your a fan of AOZ or just the Hazel Custom make sure you snatch these up now. As the color variation in this volume there are less of them than any other figure and they will likely go up in price if FW SD Neo continues for any amount of time. I just might buy some single figures myself.
I am going to be honest. Everything I know about this Gundam comes directly from a Wikipedia page I found through Google. According to it, like the Musha and Knight Gundams, Gunlander is an SD specific Gundam series which has only appeared in gashapon capsules before its FW SD Neo appearance. It is a prehistoric or ancient world setting and Gunlander is the series main protagonist, think ancient Celts and Scotts, essentially a whole series based on a pun of Gundam and Highlander.
While knowing little to nothing about this series I must say this suit is quite fantastic. The amount of detail poured into the figure's horns, hair, and weaponry are really beyond comparison. I thought the Unicorn Gundam looked good before, but this blows away all other FW SD Neo figures to date. I honestly don't know how they are doing this on such a small scale.
Here are some close ups of the figure and its shield and sword accessories. The demon represented on Gunlander's shield is almost unbelievable, like a tiny little sculpture set on this SD figure. It is also colored accurately, as is the golden and silver sword, which lends to the figures seriousness.
Armored up with his shield and sword, Gunlander is ready for battle!
In the end this figure totally balled me over. I cannot get over how much detail is jam packed into such a tiny affordable form. While I have never followed or been interested in the traditional SD Gundam fantasy lines this guy is really making me reconsider. The mixture of ancient Celtic and Gundam tropes is starting to appeal to me and I could see myself really getting into more traditional SD lines if they continue to put out quality figures like this. Part of me thinks that they went over the top with this one to bring some seriousness and maturity to a line typically aimed at kids. And man did it work! No other figure in FW SD Neo has had to much detail all the way around and I seriously think this has become my favorite figure from this volume. And that is really saying something given the way I gushed over the Hazel Customs!
Before closing I just wanted to point out some really cool things about FW SD Neo that aren't necessarily emphasized by Bandai, but totally should be. Number one is the interchangeable weapons. Most of the holes used on figure's arms and hands are the same size so they can mix and match different accessories. The main exceptions being Gunlander's shield adapter which has to stay with his shield due to its odd 45 degree angle, and the Unicorn Gundams square pegs. The ability to easily and reliably switch weapons is something that Converge never seems to emphasize, with weapons attached to hands, and is something that other series like Ensemble use as their primary gimmick. Its a little touch but one that I am really enjoying.
Also interesting is the series unique choice of suits and series to portray. At this point AOZ is literally the most represented Gundam series in FW SD Neo, with Zeta Gudam proper being a close runner up. How is that even possible? They haven't even announced the go to Zaku II and its army of slight variations and color swaps yet. Honestly I never know whats coming next from this series and I wouldn't want it any other way. They also have the flexibility to include genuine SD specific Gundams, something Converge didn't do till much later in its life span. And this eclectic nature is no coincidence, just check out their suits for Vol.3 and try and tell me exactly what their plans are.
|AOZ Line Up: Woundwart, Marasai (Titan's Colors), Hazel Custom, Hazel Custom (Titan's Colors)|
|Zeta Gundam Line Up: Marasai, Zeta Gundam, Asshimar|
The third and final point I'd like to make about the series is its lake of EX or special edition releases. In a world where gashapon figures get P-Bandai exclusives and there are as many limited EX Ensemble releases as there are standard volumes; FW SD Neo's more traditional approach is a breadth of fresh air. Coming from Converge's nearly ceaseless run of P-Bandai, EX, and CORE releases it is great to begin collecting a series that just asks you to buy the volumes as they are announced. I think Bandai would do well to take note of FW SD Neo's model and give their other series a much needed break from $35 dioramas and focus on the diversity and quality of their affordable $5 shokugan.
If you couldn't tell by now I am a fan of this volume. Even with its small faults, I'm looking at you Zeta and Asshimar, its over all evaluation has to be positive. From the immense detail on the Strike Freedom and Gunlander figures to the parts swapping and play-ability of the Hazel Customs; this is a home run for me. With an increasingly odd assortment of suits and series I am excited for the next volume and to see where this series leads. Until the next volume, see you space cowboy...