Tuesday, 6 June 2017

SD Gashapon Senshi Forte 01

Perhaps you read GKassiday's recent review of the first installment of the newly introduced FW SD Gundam Neo Shokugan series. That figure series premiered earlier this year with the creative team at FusionWorks behind the steering well. FW is well known to Shokugan fans with an impressive portfolio of prepainted figures such as Converge, STANDart and Ultimate Operation. However, there was more super deformed Gundam action taking place around the beginning of the year.

Also premiering in January 2017 is the Gashapon Senshi Forte series of super deformed (SD) mobile suits. These figures however were a direct evolution of Bandai's previous super deformed miniatures in the SD Warrior DASH series. The Senshi Forte figures are not only super deformed but also super detailed and show how far these simple Gashapon figures have come.

I must say it is a bit bewildering that Bandai would release a Gashapon and a Shokugan figure line so similar to each other pretty much simultaneously - mobile suit overlap is bound to happen sooner rather than later. Fortunately they are cheap enough that I can stay in the game for now although pricey EX figures have already been announced...


Being classic Gashapon figures these minis are sold in vending machines commanding a price of 300 yen each. Flip the handle and you receive a figure in a plastic bubble. Pray that you get the one you wanted and if not, insert another 300 yen and try again. Hate it or love it, you know the drill. :)

As much as I would love to play the frustrating Gashapon game I had to do with a complete set grabbed from a seller in Hong Kong. Here you can see what the actual Gashapon bubbles would look like if you got them from the vending machine. The image comes from a video review by Reise Serina which I stumbled on on Youtube. Notice how two of the figures are big enough to warrant larger bubbles, those would be the Hi-Nu and Banshee by the looks of it.

As with most Gashapon each figure comes with a mini-booklet detailing the figures of the set and also hints at the next release which in this case was Senshi Forte Volume 2 (you can see it at the introductory image of this blog post). The booklets are often very bent from having been stored in round bubbles but these were fairly straight so I guess the bubbles are not too tiny.


As I mentioned previously, Senshi Forte is a refinement of an earlier generation of SD miniatures. The figures come with what you could almost call an inner frame of sorts, so far all the twelve figures seen in Volume 1 and 2 share the very same skeleton and build principles, illustrated below by the Galbaldy Beta from volume 2 (stay tuned for a review of those guys too).

The average Senshi Forte figure has three major joint sections where a limited inner frame is put to use. The arms are attached to the shoulders through a dual ball joint, allowing for wiggling and turning freely (or until the arm hits some cumbersome detail like wing binders, backpacks etc.), an elbow which can bend like a real arm and beyond (although the compact design of the figures rarely gives the arms much room to maneuver) and the underarm is also free to rotate. The legs and armored skirt attach to a T-shaped frame which allows the stubby legs to dangle around and the torso to twist while allowing the skirt some limited wiggling room. Head and hands then follow on traditional round pegs enabling left and right turns.

Super Deformed figure history, from left to right: SD Full Color, SD Full Color Custom, SD Warrior NEXT, SD Warrior DASH, Gashapon Senshi Forte and FW SD Gundam Neo.
We can follow the heritage backwards from the Senshi Forte figures by removing articulation points as we go. The SD Warrior DASH series (represented by Ramba Ral's blue Mobile Worker) features articulation very similar to the Senshi Fortes except for the legs, which tend to be given less wiggle room. The DASH series came out of the SD Warrior NEXT series (represented by the Jesta above) which is slightly smaller in stature and lacks the bending elbow joints. The underarms on the NEXT figures can only swivel left and right in their sockets. Going even further back we land on the SD Full Color Custom figures (the Gelgoog Cannon here) which are much more compact and feature no inner frame at all, arms and underarms are typically joined with simple pegs. And prior to those are the "classic" SD Full Color figures as the red Marasai above, which have little to no articulation at all. It is possible to go even further back in history to basic single colour figures but I have little interest in those.

F001 : RX-93-v2 Hi-Nu Gundam. Right, so let's get this show on the road. Bandai wisely decides to play this one safe and have chosen one of the most striking mobile suits for the honour of opening the Senshi Forte Line. The Hi-Nu is a real eye-catcher and it does a phenomenal job of showing off what this figure series can do.

As you can see from the parts count this thing is quite complex for a 3oo yen figure. Notice for example how you have to insert the eye piece into the skull of the figure and then slap the mouth part on top. This goes for a lot of the Senshi Forte figures and while it allows for cheaper manufacturing with high detail paint apps it is a bit of a chore to push the pieces nicely to where they are supposed to go. It took me around half a dozen or so figures before I started to feel relatively confident about how to put this suckers together but the assembly process was not particularly fun.

The "inner frame" pieces which allow for more freedom of expression in the figure posing also did not want to cooperate very well when it came to getting inserted into their respective sockets. And with the figures being quite tiny and full of easily bending plastic and movable parts there is not much room to hold on to the figures while forcing flip-flopping extremities into the torso for King and Country. I have since learnt that it is generally best to begin with attaching the shoulders to the torso and then build up the arms from there. The final feat involves snapping the leg assembly into the torso without exploding the mobile suit into a veritable rain of parts. Here I found that the action base was a good tool for helping to keep the figure in place during this critical phase. My fingers were quite tired after putting together the whole lot (and I began to regret having decided to army build the grunt suits...).

Ever since the days of SD Gundam Full Color Custom, parts swapping has been a steady gimmick with the SD figures and it is of course alive and well also here. The Senshi Forte figures even come with two sets of hands, open and closed where weapons are typically freely exchangeable between different mobile suits and also between left and right hands. The Hi-Nu Gundam itself comes with its typical Beam Rifle and a wonderful translucent Beam Saber, there is no way the Beam Rifle can compete here although nothing stops you from equipping both.

The Senshi Forte Hi-Nu Gundam compared to its recent Gundam Converge counterpart.
All Senshi Forte figures (so far) also come with a standardized action base. Since all figures use the same inner frame they can also use each other's bases. They are however not compatible with the action bases from the SD Gundam Warrior NEXT figures which is a shame since the NEXT-series featured very interesting bases with multiple segments allowing for more interesting poses.

F002 : RX-0[N] Unicorn Gundam 02 Banshee Norn (Destroy Mode). Ok, I admit, I was surprised here to see the Banshee Norn getting some love instead of the expected RX-0 Unicorn, but hey, so much the better. The Banshee Norn also goes full on with lots of shiny golden metallic colours (although these paint apps are missing to some extent on its backside) and a pair of nicely glowing red eyes. As usual, my photos don't tend to do this mobile suit complete justice.

Parts-wise you should see the striking resemblance with the build of the Hi-Nu Gundam. After building a couple of these it becomes second nature (although still fiddly...). Notice also how multiple hands are still mounted on a plastic runner, you will see this here and there among various parts on the different Senshi Forte figures.

Sadly the Banshee Norn is a little bit underdeveloped as far as accessories go. We only get its trademark Beam Rifle and the shield, it would have been nice to get at least something extra, perhaps if this series takes off a future RX-0 Banshee figure could complement it with a compatible Newtype Destroyer system.

The Senshi Forte RX-0[N] Banshee Norn flanked by the RX-0 Banshee from SD Warrior DASH 08 (left) and the Converge RX-0[N] Destroy Mode from Converge.

Unicorn anatomic comparison between SD Warrior NEXT (Full Armor Gundam), SD Warrior DASH (Unicorn Destroy Mode), the Senshi Forte Unicorn 02 and the Unicorn Destroy Mode from FW SD Gundam Neo.
It is especially interesting to compare the Banshee with the Unicorn from FW SD Gundam Neo, two rather different takes on the super deformed format released more or less simultaneously. As you can see the Neo figures have larger heads and feature no inner frames and only a minimum of articulation in the traditional Gundam Converge style. Senshi Forte volume 2 and FW Gundam Neo volume 2 both feature the Z Gundam which will allow a more direct comparison.

F003 : ASW-G-08 Gundam Barbatos Lupus. Next up we have the token entry from Iron Blooded Orphans. The Barbatos has cropped up in many figure lines as of late but Bandai and their counterparts rarely follow down the line which is a shame as I'd love to have some Graze or Schwalbe Graze to go with it. With the Lupus we get one of the more colourful variants of the machine and this figure is very attractive in this regard. Look at those little yellow details and even the grey toes on its feet.

A lot of the Barbatos pieces for some reason come in pairs still attached to runners. The figure seems a little bit less complex than the first two figures in the set. Again we only have one accessory here and it doesn't really help that the cricket ba... sword-mace is a bit bent.

The Senshi Forte figure holds up quite well compared to its larger Converge cousin, looking forward to see some more figures from this timeline now.

F004 :  AMS-119 Geara Doga. While it was the Galbaldy Beta and the Rick Dias that put me on the track for Senshi Forte volume 02, it was the Geara Doga that lured me into getting volume one as well. I just love common soldier units and the Geara Doga figures always come out looking really good, regardless of scale. Obviously a trait they share with Zakus and Geara Zulus.

Fortunately for Geara Doga lovers, Bandai is giving the Senshi Forte version a lot of love. Apart from two types of hands and a head with a moving monoeye it also goes into battle with a beam machine gun, a heat axe and four Sturmfaust rocket launchers. Two of the Sturmfaust rockets can be attached to the shield and the other two go on the sides of the backpack.

Please note that I have actually modified the Geara Doga figures a little bit. I simply put some orange acrylic paint on the Sturmfaust rockets to give it a simple facelift.

As far as SD figures go, the Geara Doga has featured both in the original SD Gundam Full Color series and later in the SD Gundam Warrior NEXT line which is two generations back from the Senshi Forte. Sadly I don't have either figure for comparison so you have to make do with the Geara Zulu from SD Gundam Warrior DASH and the Converge version. Not that you need any comparison, just go out and get it!

F005 : AMS-119 Geara Doga (Rezyn Schnyder Custom). Whenever we get a Geara Doga figure you know there is a 80% chance that Rezyn's blue custom will be featured next to it (in some cases like STANDart we actually got Full Frontal's custom red MSV design). The two figures are pretty much the same thing although there are a couple of details that differ. On the actual mobile suit itself, it is simple a case of putting a commander antenna on the helmet and painting the whole thing blue instead of green, but we also get two different accessories which is great for customization purposes.

Rezyn's Doga comes with the same beam emitter melee weapon but here the blade comes in the shape of a sword or pike, instead of an axe. Once again, lovely translucent beam effect here. We also get a different type of beam machine gun so you can mix and match these with the regular Geara Doga for some interesting poses. Sadly these figures are now a bit hard to find (already!), I would have loved to have an army of Dogas where they could each feature different weapon combinations.

Isn't she a beauty? Once again I painted up the tips of the Sturmfaust missiles in bright orange to make the figure look more interesting. Normally I am not that concerned by simplified colour schemes on smaller mobile suit figures but the Sturmfausts are such a signature equipment that i wanted them to stand out.

Just like with the green Doga there are two earlier versions in the SD history and I have neither of them available for comparison, so for now it sits next to the Converge version.

F006 : Musha Gundam Mk-II. Apart from all your usual mobile suits being shrunk down to super deformed size, there are actually a fair number of designs that actually originated in super deformed format in the first place. Such mobile suits are typically grabbed from various games or similar sources, and here you find the mobile suits not as machines to be piloted but as characters in likeness to the Gundam concept. Some of these figures are actually sculpted with eyes to resemble such characters while the Musha Mk-II is done more in the style of what could actually pose as a more realistic mobile suit.

Senshi Forte is currently placing one such original SD character in each set and this is a trend that has been brought over from both SD Gundam Warrior NEXT and DASH respectively. As far as I know, this is the first appearance of this particular design which is an offshoot of the more well known Musha Gundam which has red, gold and black colours. I suppose here that Musha Mk-II does not refer to the RX-178 Gundam Mk-II but simply as mark two of the original SD Musha Gundam design.

The figure follows the classic Japanese samurai style. You have your typical horned helmet and plated armor. Equipment-wise it comes loaded with two katanas but lacks sheaths for the swords which is something I have gotten used to from the Converge figures and that would have been a nice touch.

The Musha Mk-II flanked by the original Musha Gundam from Converge (left) and a Musha Nu Gundam featured in Senshi Forte volume 2.
The Musha Mk-II will probably not find much love among the UC crowd but the figure is really good looking and I kind of like building up a little group of these SD unique designs from the various figure packs (and I would prefer they stick to SD and stay out of Converge...).


Overall I am very pleased with this figue set. If dare say that if you liked any of the earlier SD Gashapon figure sets you are going to be all over Senshi Forte. The figures out so far are all very varied with vibrant colours and a lot of attention to detail. The common "inner frame" structure opens up for customization and equipment sharing across the board. While it is not possible to say how long this series will survive (new Gundam figure series seems to be getting shorter and shorter runs these days) but I will enjoy it while it lasts.

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