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Gundam of The Year: 2005
The Good, The Bad, and The Just Plain Bizarre
Although It Figures! wasn't opened to the public until March of 2005, it was in preproduction for months before hand. It amazes me that we've been in operation for over a year now. Almost 70 articles later, and I'd say we've covered quite a bit in our relatively short time. Though we had originally intended the second installment of the Zeta Project for debut about now, we decided it might be more fun to use the end of the year to take a look back at our favorite subject, Mobile Suits in Action(!!).
We've put together several categories that we feel give a good overview of what we look for in good figures, plus a few extra categories purely for our own amusement. We bring you the good and the bad from January to December 2005. Think of this as a supplement - a quick reference guide to what stands out among the things we've reviewed over the course of the year, for better or worse.
Our first category is the area of Articulation. This regards not only number, but how effectively that number is used.
ExVee's Winner: MSiA Gabthley
One benefit derived from the year of Zeta is a boom to articulation. The models based on suits with an inner frame especially show this with extra joints and extra range of joints. I find the Gabthley is the best example with a design that allows not only tremendous range on the standard joints, but even a new jointing in the shoulder that gives it unparalelled poseability in the arms - very important considering the size of the main accessory...
ExVee's Loser: MSiA Gaia (Andy Waltfeld colors)
The Gaia sculpt has an incredible number of joints, which should allow it to have equally incredible posability. "Should" being the operative word. The big offenders are the leg joints, which have the wrong tolerances in the wrong places. The feet are loose and can only barely support the weight of the figure above them. The knees and hips are too stiff to pose without wrecking the delicate positioning the feet and ankles require, resulting in an effectively unposeable mess. This is a prime example of articulation gone bad.
Magnus P.I.'s Winner: Gaia Gundam (Andy Waltfeld colors)
I'm speaking more from my experience with the original Gaia than this cool recolour, but my lord does this thing make those old v.1 Wing Gundam figures weep in shame. It is a marvel of design, period. Incredible articulation without (much) of a sacrifice of stability, and joints so small and numerous it's a wonder the figure didn't cost more. For a figure of its size and complexity, the fact that it's also as stable as it is is pretty impressive. An excellent figure, and what all transforming MS's should be like (I'm looking at you Chaos :P).
Magnus P.I.'s Loser: Qubeley
Don't make me choose mommee, don't make me choose! I don't think there's any real loser in regards to Articulation with this years' crop of releases. While I've heard that the Psycho Gundam re-release has v.1 joints, not having ever played with it I can't really comment. So, again, I'll be basing my choice on my white Haman version of the Qubeley.which is a sloppy, floopy mess. Yes, it is extremely articulated, but it just droops around everywhere when you actually touch it. A very dissatisfying figure, and if the re-release is the same I'd stay clear of it for that reason.
RAC's Winner: ZAKU series
We gave the MSiA the coveted State of the Art rating at the beginning of the year, and while they lack the triple-jointed elbows enjoyed by recent EMiAs and the Hambrabi, their waist joint is still unmatched and hinged skirt-plates really ought to be standard by now.
RAC's Loser: Asshimar
Honestly, it's a tough call- most everything this year has been at least passable by most standards. Asshimar has great arms but very limited legs, and in a year as good as the one we've had that's enough to qualify for Worst. Even the worst isn't all that bad here.
Our next category covers Accessories. Like with Articulation, this has just as much to do with how well the accessories are used as it does with quantity.
ExVee's Winner: EMIA Gundam Mk II (AEUG Version)
This was a close decision between the Mk II and the EMIA Zaku. Edging the Zaku out was the Mk II's complete arsenal, all strongly sculpted. Not only does the figure come with every weapon it's shown using, but even an obscure piece of equipment used only once. I speak of course of the special connector to attach the shield directly. Add to this that the figure can store all of its gear without using its hands, and you have what I think is the best accessories and execution of the year.
ExVee's Loser: MSiA Hi-Zack
...and on the other side of the coin...
The Hi-Zack also comes with all of its weapons. But you can't store all of them. In fact, you can't even use most of them at the same time. The machinegun is so big it can't fit with the missile launchers attached. The missile launcher, which has the storage rack for the heat hawk, can just barely fit under the backpack. But not with the heat hawk stored. With the missiles off, the beam sabre grip can theoretically be stored in the same spot the missiles attach. But not, since the grip is slightly too large. The beam rifle itself is fine, except for being a terrible design. The shield even stores its extra e-packs. Except when you store them, the hatch piece that keeps them in won't stay closed and they fall out. Finally, the machinegun pretty much can't be held with both hands, and can't tuck under the arm to be held with one hand. That pretty much covers everything.
Magnus P.I.'s Winner: Destiny Gundam
This figure is like the Swiss Army Knife of the MSIA line. Gimmicks and accessories coming out the wazoo, and for the most part they all work very well! The host of interchangeable hands (including those posed for its "Destiny Finger" attack), removable beam-shield emitters, the beam shield itself, the regular shield, the rifle, the BFG canon, the anti-ship sword with beam blade, the two boomerang/blade hilts, the two boomerang blades, the two beam saber blades, and the pretty red wings.amazing! It's boggling how much we got for the price. The only way Bandai could have improved on this offering is if the Destiny had been packed with a second Beam Shield and Beam Wings (which would have made it costlier, but oh so much cooler). Apart from the looseness of the beam shield emitters and the boomerang hilts, the accessories are all great, although it is admittedly close to impossible to fit them all onto the MS at the same time (especially the two shields on the same arm).
Magnus P.I.'s Loser: Strike Rouge Gundam
This was the perfect opportunity for Bandai to release the item that fans have been clamouring for since it first appeared in the MSV files and the Destiny intro - the Integrated Weapons Pack System. Yet instead we got another aile-pack release, one that retained the same floppy and droopy plastic as the original. At the least they should have used the stiffer plastic that made the Impulse's aile pack so great. Booo.
RAC's Winner: Dark Dagger-L
It's a bit of a surprise pick, I think, but Dark Dagger-L has enough equipment for three separate configurations- Standard, Recoilless Rifle, and Doppelhorn Striker- and it's all well-executed. Beyond which, the unique bits can all be used on three other MSiA (the other Dagger-L and the Windams), which is just the icing on the cake.
RAC's Loser: Destiny Gundam
At first I wanted to say Strike Freedom, but its most frustrating accessories are the ones that *aren't* present. Destiny has a number of pieces that are supposed to attach to the MS that just. Won't. Stay. On. If something were done about the gauntlets, boomerangs and shield, it could've easily bumped Dark Dagger-L out of the Best slot. As it is, the frustration factor is far too high.
Moving along, we come to Sculpt. This category takes notice of the quality of a figure's physical appearance, and has to do with how faithful it is to the design it represents.
ExVee's Winner: MSiA Hi-Zack
This was a really difficult category to choose, since almost every new figure this year has been very good in this regard. What it wound up coming down to was little details, things that stand out from the general good sculpting present. So I chose the Hi-Zack for the shape of its head. Until now, no Zaku II incarnation has managed to capture the somewhat odd shape of the monoeye track in the original lineart. This odd shape wound up passed on to the Hi-Zack's animation model. So for the MSiA version, we actually end up finally having a reasonable representation of that shape. Too bad Bandai won't acknowledge it for the Zaku II anymore, or we could have had it on the EMIA.
ExVee's Loser: MSiA Marasai
This was pretty obvious, I think. Nobody knows what really happened here. The inappropriately slight proportions, the soft edges, it's just so inexplicable compared to every other thing we got in 2005. The only reasonable idea we at It Figures! could come up with at the time was that the designers were still thinking along SEED Destiny lines in regards to the bulk of the design. And unless it was done by a novice, or a team previously not connected to Gundam, there's simply no excuse for the soft edges all over the body. The sculpt is recognizable as a Marasai, but it should be much more so.
Magnus P.I.'s Winner: Neo's Windam
Gosh, what a good MSIA. Seriously. It has familiar Gundam-like lines, but with cool variations on the classic themes, such as the splayed-toe feet, the helmet and the antennae. The Windam's aile pack is also very nicely done, with great features, poseability and crisp lines. The figure itself is incredibly stable and well-designed, and probably one of the most playable offerings released by Bandai this year. You'd be doing yourself a disservice by not picking up at least one version of this figure.
Magnus P.I.'s Loser: None!
Seriously, I love the sculpts of all the MSIA's. I honestly can't think of one that can be labelled a loser. Now, if were talking about the AMSIA line, that'd be a different story, but as it stands I'm leaving this category empty!
RAC's Winner: EMiA Zeta Gundam
The best representation of the Zeta in MSiA form, if not in all of plasticdom. I really feel that they did the face justice, in particular. All the details are sharp, and they even remembered to put hands on the back of the transformation parts for Wave Rider Mode.
RAC's Loser: Marasai
I'd really like to know what weight-loss plan the Marasai's been using. Significantly slimmer than the animation would suggest, it lacks the bulky menace of the original design. Even the flared head design is proportionately smaller. Also, whether it's the fault of the materials or the sculpt itself, most of the details of the design are far too soft.
Following along from Sculpt, we come to Paint. This is the measure of how well a figure is painted, including quality of paint applications and how well they're put to use.
ExVee's Winner: EMIA Gundam Mk II (AEUG colors)
As RAC says, this award is pretty well guaranteed to go to something from the Extended MSiA series. In this case, I chose the Gundam Mk II. While it could have just as easily gone to any other EMIA from this year, the combination of muted colors looks especially good to me. Plus I think it also has the best "shading" or "weathering" paint apps of any of the releases so far.
ExVee's Loser: MSiA Marasai
Now, it's not to say the Marasai doesn't have its share of paint. It's more that it has it in all the wrong places. And it could stand to have a bit more paint too. Now typically, paint on toys is used only to put a needed color someplace where you can't have it with the base plastic. In this case, for example, that'd be the red backs on the orange forearms. But it also wound up including the orange backs of the grey hands. The painted grey hands, which also happen to be molded in grey. Paint on hands is a universally poor idea, and it's completely senseless when the plastic is already the correct color. Wasting these paint operations that could have gone for panel lining that would have greatly improved the look of the figure, or maybe adding some paint to the thruster nozzles to make them contrast the body a little, *something* of real benefit. So instead, you basically have all the paint bunched together, with fields of bare plastic between. Poor balance, and not really pleasant to look at.
Magnus P.I.'s Winner: EMSIA Gundam Mark II Titans Colour
Who knew navy blue could be so sexy? If there's one thing to say about the EMSIA line, it's that they have damn fine paint apps. The very excellent sculpt and high detail of this figure could have easily been washed out by a terrible paint scheme, but Bandai came through with what looks like, for all intents and purposes, a very militaristic stealth Gundam. The applications are all very crisp, and the contrast between the blue and the yellow play off each other very well. The finishing touches of the hydraulics and `dirt/wear' on the paint just seal the deal. A very beautiful toy.
Magnus P.I.'s Loser: EMSIA Gundam Mark II Titans Colour
How can this suit be both the winner and the loser in this category? Because we've gotten too much of it! While it's a very well done figure, I don't think it warrants 3 exact releases of it back to back. Suits 1, 2, and 3 are identical in every respect except for a different number on each. Yeah I know there were 3 of these suits to begin with in the cartoon, but that doesn't mean you have to release them as three seperate figures. It would make sense as a lucky draw or contest item, but as a general widespread release it's just a bit too much. The worst part is that I'm sure there were plenty of people who bought all three, and I really don't think Bandai needs any more encouragement to do this sort of thing.
RAC's Winner: EMiA Zeta Gundam
There's just no way around giving this award to an EMiA- being fully painted and inked, they do have an edge over their more economical brethren. Of the EMiA released this year, Zeta has the most complex and appealing paint job of those I've encountered, with effective but not excessive weathering and a really appealing rust-brown panel-inking which really helps to delineate the white-on-white panels on the faceplate.
RAC's Loser: Strike Freedom Gundam
I'm not sure whether it's entirely fair to lay this on the paint, but the Strike Freedom's golden undercarriage really doesn't come off well on this figure. Bandai had the choice of making the entire figure the dark gold of the joints- essentially the same gold used on the first run of US Gundam Wing figures- but decided instead to have the elbows, knees and neck a distinctly different color than the painted parts. And its hands are painted as well, which is never a good idea.
As this year has produced more transforming figures than any previous, we've chosen to also recognize the best and worst this feature has offered us.
ExVee's Winner: MSiA Asshimar
This was pretty well guaranteed too. The Asshimar had been long regarded as one of the most oddball designs from Zeta Gundam, another of many designs whose transformation schemes probably weren't really thought out in the beginning. The transforming representation in MSiA this year can convert almost perfectly between Mobile Suit and the almost flying saucer Mobile Armor form, with only the hands needing to be removed. It's the first, and so far only such complicated design at normal MSiA size to be able to make this claim. Everything else is either really simple, or requires varying levels of parts swap.
ExVee's Loser: MSiA Gaia (Andy Waltfeld colors)
This mold did something kind of new. Converting from a normal Mobile Suit mode into a four legged Mobile Armor form. Of course, this is actually a very old type of toy transformation, but it was a first in Gundam. The transformation itself is actually really simple, and so should go off smoothly. But not. Instead it involves all kinds of extra joints that destabilize the entire figure in both modes. Indeed, I blame the transformation for the failings detailed towards its articulation. It amazes me how quickly and easily such a simple transformation process can be made to ruin an entire figure.
Magnus P.I.'s Winner: Gaia Gundam (Andy's Version)
I didn't really get any other transformable figures this year besides the Gaia and Asshimar, so it wasn't very difficult to figure out which would win and which would lose. The Gaia, as I mentioned above, is just an overall great figure, with a simple transformation that nonetheless serves to completely change the profile of the MS. Most, if not all, transformable MSIA's look like Gundams that have been folded in half or something - the "legs as thrusters" syndrome of the Wing figures, the Zeta, Saviour, and Impulse all scream out "I'm a robot that's pretending to be a jet" or whatever. The Gaia, however, is another story. In MS mode it looks like a Gundam. In MA mode, it looks like some sort of robotic beast, and the effect is done almost flawlessly. Add to that the fact that it features articulated paws(!) and that nothing falls off of it in either mode, and you have a definite winner.
Magnus P.I.'s Loser: Asshimar
Yeah I know, Zeta is great, this toy is a dream come true, yadda yadda. But while it has an interesting design and is functional in both modes, I was amazed at how fragile the thing was. It is such an incredible pain in the ass to transform! No matter what, invariably some of the yellow armour on its shoulders, forearms or head will pop off and then require a few extra moments of cursing to align it all together again in vehicle mode. Quite frankly, it feels more like a badly put-together model than an action figure. I appreciate the attempt by Bandai, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
RAC's Winner: Asshimar
While the Hambrabi requires no part-swapping or removal to accomplish its transformation and that deserves recognition, I really have to give this one to Asshimar for the complexity of its transformation. As seen in the animation, the upper body reforms itself to become a relatively traditional-looking flying saucer with the only requirement being that the hands be removed.
RAC's Loser: EMiA Zeta Gundam
We've gotten a pretty fair number of transforming MSiA this year. And amazingly, they've all been very, very good. Asshimar, Gabthley, Hambrabi- and even the EMiA Zeta, which is simply Worst by the virtue of the company it keeps. Because even though it is superior by far to the Zeta Gundam Second Version, and is plenty stable in both Wave Rider and MS modes, when all is said and done you do still have to disassemble it and reassemble it with alternate parts to change between them. Even the Worst is greatly worth owning- it's been an excellent year for MSiA.
Reuse of a Feature
Now we'll take a look at what figures from this year have used previously existing features to new effect, whether better or worse.
ExVee's Winner: MSiA ZAKU Warrior/Phantom series
Back in 2004, a new sort of ball joint waist was brought into use, that allowed for a small degree of extra articulation beyond the standard swivel. This proceeded to develop and improve, and in January 2005, the first ZAKU Phantoms were released, featuring the best iteration of this joint. This waist allowed the ZAKU Phantom and the soon to follow ZAKU Warriors an important extra element of articulation that was generally not known to be missing previously. This joint continues to be used as part of the modern standard of articulation, but nothing has really made it work quite as well as the ZAKU series.
ExVee's Loser: EMIA Zeta Gundam
The Asshimar was the first transforming MSiA to come with a stand allowing the Mobile Armor mode to be displayed easily. Since then, there have been three additional uses of that stand, and we can probably expect it to resurface anytime a new transforming figure comes along. It's not always free of problems, though. Since the bulk of it is reused, only small pieces are changed to adapt it to the figure it's going to come with. In the case of the Zeta Gundam, the attachment piece has a bad habit of splitting down the middle. The stand can work, but if you try to move the figure and stand together, it's coming apart. This really needed to be factory glued. That it wasn't really brings down such an important new accessory. And that it only fails for this figure simply indicates someone wasn't thinking ahead enough when they designed the new connector piece.
Magnus P.I.'s Winner: Modular Backpacks.
The Zaku Phantoms, Windams, and Daggers all make wonderful use of modular combat/backpacks. The original Strike MSIA arguably pioneered this concept, but its successor the Impulse, as well as the above suits, really exploited this feature to its fullest. Each of the backpacks themselves are intricately designed and radically alter the profile of the suit they're attached to. My only regrets are that a) the Impulse-type, Windam-type, and Zaku-type backpacks weren't designed as perfectly interchangeable with each other (how cool would a sword-silhouette Zaku be?) and that b) more varieties of these backpacks weren't made. I would go banana's if Bandai ever made any of the silhouettes in its MSV series (Destiny silhouette, Abyss silhouette, etc).
Magnus P.I.'s Loser: Modular Backpacks.
I swear, I'm not trying to be ironic here. But while the backpacks on the Windams/Daggers are perfect, those on the Zaku's suffer from the same problem as the Impulse's and Strike's backpacks - the connection mechanism. Sure, they connect up fine, and are pretty solid, but after a while of being connected, they start to get a little.loose.to the point where they can fall off much easier with handling. The Windam/Daggers used a peg system that doesn't suffer from this flaw, perhaps being indicative of a more advanced design technology. Hopefully we'll see that trend continue should any more modular armaments be made.
RAC's Winner: Ball-joints on elbows- EMiA Series
Originally used on Qubeley and The-O, the post-elbow ball-joint returned this year beginning with EMiA Zeta Gundam. Not only does it add a touch of extra articulation to an already-excellent set of arm joints, it also functions as a swivel, allowing you to decide for yourself whether the shield should be on the side or the back of the arm. That's a feature that should've become standard a long while back, far as I'm concerned.
RAC's Loser: Combining Rifles- Strike Freedom
Previously seen on the Buster Gundam, the combining rifle gimmick was executed somewhat better there, where the biggest problem was the mounting scheme for the two weapons. With Strike Freedom, you get a pair of rifles which combine into a larger piece that looks pretty much like what it is: a pair of guns stuck together in a haphazard fashion. Combine that with the fact that the combined rifle didn't seem to be much of an upgrade in terms of power when seen in the animation, and you have to wonder why they even bothered.
This category covers the dollar value of a figure, judged on aspects including number of pieces for the price, figure complexity, and paint quality.
ExVee's Winner: Tie - EMIA Gundam Mk II (AEUG colors) EMIA Zaku II (MP colors)
This was another close run between the Mk II and Zaku, and I couldn't come up with a reason for one over the other. Both come with a respectable arsenal of varied weapons, and special accessories which make me feel very good about the price I paid for them, on top of the well engineered and painted figures themselves.
ExVee's Loser: MSiA GuAIZ R
I kind of wish the Abyss had been released on its own in 2005. It would have made an excellent choice. However, the GuAIZ R is a fine candidate as well. At a price of ¥1500, it comes with all of a beam rifle, shield, and a beam blade. Yep. It doesn't transform, it doesn't have extraordinary articulation, it's not especially large, and it's not even painted that much. Why did we have to pay ¥1500 for this? Last year this would have been a ¥1200 figure. The Strike Dagger and Production Windam were equal to this figure, and only cost ¥1200 in 2005. WHY?!
Magnus P.I.'s Winner: The Dagger L.
This little guy is probably one of the most underrated of the year. Entirely new sculpt, and one that kicks major butt. It is simple, yet very effective, stable and highly playable. Nothing falls off this guy, it can be posed out however you like, and it comes with a host of cool doodads and trinkets for a very low price, including the Windam's aile pack but with new underwing armaments. If you're looking for a solid all around MSIA for a low price, this is your Mech.
Magnus P.I.'s Loser: The Windam
Where the Dagger L and Neo's Windam came with aile packs and other cool additions, the re-release of the Windam in classic colours came with a whole heap of nothing. Which is a shame really, because as great as the figure is on its own, it's just that much better when it comes with a backpack to attach to it. I thought it would be a no-brainer for Bandai to throw in, at the least, the BFG cannon backpack that came with the Dark Dagger, but I guess I was wrong. I would only get this figure if you absolutely love the paint job. Otherwise, Neo's Windam is a much better deal.
RAC's Winner: Dark Dagger-L
Basically, for all the same reasons I voted it the figure with the Best Accessories, coupled with the fact that it's the standard price of 1500 Yen. Hard to beat that.
RAC's Loser: Strike Freedom
There is absolutely no reason I should have to pay 100 yen extra for this figure. The original Freedom was 1500, and this has no more equipment than that figure- perhaps less.
This is the figure which most exceeded our expectations, and/or overcame our initial reservations ultimately proving to be an excellent figure.
ExVee's Winner: EMIA Zeta Gundam
When first announced, the automatic assumption towards the Exteneded MSIA Zeta Gundam was that it'd be a simple new paint job on the existing and pretty well flawed MSiA Zeta Gundam Second Version. But we couldn't have been more wrong. While based closely on the Second Version, this was an entirely new sculpt, and reengineered to correct all of the problems the Second Version had. Surprise doesn't really adequately convey my reaction to this figure. It's really proof of how Bandai can totally get it right if they set themselves to it.
Magnus P.I.'s Winner: Freedom Gundam
I was an embarrassed owner of the original Advanced MSIA Freedom Gundam, and compared to it the MSIA Freedom just blows it out of the water. It was so nice to play with a Freedom figure with wings that wouldn't fall off at the slightest touch. Little extras like the dual-ended saber hilt made me appreciate the figure even more. If it was capable of a full-burst pose it would be perfect, but as it stands, it's the Freedom we've all been waiting years for.
RAC's Winner: EMiA Zeta Gundam
ExVee and I talked about the EMiA Zeta at length, and to be quite honest we were expecting a simple fancied-up repaint of the Zeta Gundam Second Version, which has its flaws and honestly isn't worth owning twice. Instead, we got a completely new figure which took the best parts of Zeta Second and made leaps and bounds in terms of articulation, stability, and appearance. I don't foresee there being a better MSiA rendition of Zeta Gundam any time soon.
In contrast to the previous category, this represents the figure we had the greatest realistic expectations of that were simply not delivered on.
ExVee's Loser: MSiA Strike Freedom
And this is proof of how Bandai can totally screw up. This was the first plastic representation of the Freedom replacement, and apparently that meant it was doomed to suffer. The trademark DRAGOON system making up the "feathers" of the wings are permanently fixed. So, without that, what is this? A dumber looking Freedom that costs ¥100 more? I sure don't need that. Add to it that every version released since, including the smaller HCM-Pro figure, has had removeable DRAGOON units, this just becomes insulting. Way to blow it, Bandai.
Magnus P.I.'s Loser: Infinite Justice Gundam
Oh Bandai, why must you stop at 95 percent instead of reaching 100? This figure could have been the jewel of the MSIA line this year - a Justice figure with a great sculpt, excellent articulation, great stability and durability. Yet, it *just* missed the mark. The defining characteristic of this Suit is its exceptional melee armament. This thing is supposed to be like a beam-saber porcupine, with a total of 10 listed beam weapons on itself and its lifter pack. While Bandai gave the actual figure the armament it needed (in the form of 2 saber blades, a boomerang blade, and knee blades), it completely neglected this figure's lifter pack! At the very least, the MS should have gotten blades for the lifter's wings, but although the wings were molded in such a way that they could have easily fit them, no dice! For an already over-priced figure, surely the addition of a few extra strips of transparent pink plastic couldn't have been THAT difficult! I'm also pretty sore that they didn't include the grappler weapon on the MS's shield. I know it could have been possible.
RAC's Loser: Strike Freedom
It's a MS design with two notable alterations to the Freedom Gundam from which it was derived: DRAGOONs and the gold undercarriage. One is totally absent, and one is executed poorly enough to ruin the appearance of the figure. It's such a pity, too, because the base figure is quite solid, and the wings are actually lighter and more stable than the original Freedom's.
Best New Feature
MSiA is always improving as time goes by. To realize that the line has only been around since late 1999, it's really amazing how far it's come in such a short time. This category acknowledges the best new addition from this year.
ExVee's Winner: EMIA Zaku II
While there's a whole range of new features to choose from, I decided this long awaited advancement deserved some recognition. It's been anticipated for years, as well as the subject of endless figure mods. With the latest entires into the Zaku II series, it finally comes as a standard feature. And I have to say, it's pretty fun to play Shifty Zaku!
Magnus P.I.'s Winner: Beam Plastic
I cannot emphasize enough how overjoyed I am with the new plastic that Bandai is using for its beam weapons. No more floppy swords or drooping sabers, this new rigid plastic is tough and keeps its shape no matter what. Arguably one of the only good things to come from the death of the MSIA line in North America (as there's no way these new sabers would pass the extremely high safety standards of the U.S.), they could easily poke an eye out if not careful. But that's half the fun!
RAC's Winner: ZAKU series' Hinged Skirt Armor
They really should find a way to work this feature into just about all MSiA. While ball-joints have been used before with some success, the hinged skirt plates made their debut on the ZAKU series, along with the first fully-articulated skirt, where even the rear plates are fully mobile. The biggest danger is having one of the skirt plates pop off- a problem which was pretty much solved by the release of the ZAKU Warriors. There's absolutely no resistance lowering the ZAKU series' leg mobility, which in part earned them their State of the Art rating. And it really was nice to be able to get a couple of reviews out without having to use the standard "Beware of Warping" sentence.
Best Reissue Concept
Reissues in whatever form they take are a fact of toy making. Sometimes they're used to positive effect. This category recognizes good uses of reissued figures.
ExVee's Winner: Tie - MSiA Qubeley and Psyco Gundam
This wound up being a hard category to choose for, so I decided to give a token award to the Qubeley and Psyco Gundam for at least being relevant and not especially flawed or anything. Way to tie in to your current marketing campaign, Bandai!
Magnus P.I.'s Winner: Psycho Gundam Re-Release
I don't own this figure, but I would very much like to. Since Bandai has re-released it, it means it's that much closer to being on my shelf (just need some of that wonderful thing called money now). Given that Seed Destiny received very strong criticism from its fans, it seems doubtful that Bandai will be releasing any more original MS suits from its roster for quite a while. Super-huge expensive ones such as the Destroy Gundam will probably never see the light of day. So kudos to Bandai for giving fans the opportunity to at least be able to settle for the next best thing, the MS that the Destroy was arguably based on.
RAC's Winner: ZAKU series
Though the more recent releases have gotten a bit repetitve- how many Blaze ZAKU Phantoms does anybody really need?- the ZAKU series shows Bandai's marketing skills at their most shrewd, mixing equipment, color, and styling variations on a spectacular base figure. If they were to introduce more colors and Wizards today, I'd probably end up with at least one more ZAKU to go with the three I already own.
Can't Give It Away
On the other hand, some reissues are so poorly thought out, that they won't move at any price. So here's our special category for the reissues that should not have happened. Ever.
ExVee's Loser: MSiA Strike Rouge Destiny Version
Okay, what's one of the most sought after MSiAs of all time? The original Strike Rouge, which due to the utter dismal failure of Gundam in North America wound up coming with an exclusive Striker Pack that everyone wanted. Jump ahead a year, and Bandai says, "Let's release the Strike Rouge again with a spot of new paint and the same Aile Striker everyone has five of already! It'll be a huge success because everybody bought the first Strike Rouge!" What they failed to realize or possibly care about was that few people really wanted the Strike Rouge, but instead wanted the Sword Striker. Few if anyone cares about the Strike Rouge with a new custom marking and the accessory released no fewer than five times now. I don't see why a compromise couldn't have been made, such as losing the SkyGrasper (released as many times as the Aile Striker) and giving it the Aile and Sword Strikers. Bad move here, Bandai. You're gonna be sitting on these for some time to come.
Magnus P.I.'s Loser: Zaku Phantom (whichever version)
I don't think any explanation is necessary for this one. I can understand mold re-use, but come on! SIX versions of what is effectively the same figure in the span of 9 months? Good lord! At the very least, the later releases should have been given a tweak to their combat-pack modules or an extra accessory or something.
RAC's Loser: Strike Rouge (Destiny Version)
The Aile Strike Gundam is the most issued of all the Strike configurations. There's a US Aile Strike. There's a Japanese Aile Strike. There's a Hong Kong Aile Strike. If somehow you missed every single one of those, Dengeki Hobby gave away an Aile Skygrasper last year. The least issued Striker Pack is the Sword Striker, which was only available with the first issue of Strike Rouge. But Rouge used the Aile Striker in Gundam SEED: Destiny, so that's what we get- Aile Strike Rouge with a new insignia on the left shoulder. Bleh.
What Were They Thinking?!
This special category looks to the past year of figures for the one that most stands out for being glaringly flawed. Flawed to such marvellous extent that it's unthinkable that someone didn't stop it long before it went to retail.
ExVee's Winner(?): MSiA Marasai
This special award goes to the Marasai, which defies every bit of sense that could be applied toward the MSiA line. Aside from the previously mentioned failings, there's a big issue. The plastic its made of. This looks like the kind of thing you're supposed to find on cheap knockoff toys. The colors all seem off because the plastic seems almost translucent like the original Gundam and GM MSiAs. This plastic is so unlike what MSiAs basically always use that the figure barely even feels like it's from the same product line. Panel inking certainly would have been helpful here, but the only way to have fixed this would have been to not allow it to happen in the first place and simply use a different grade of plastic.
Magnus P.I.'s Winner(?): Strike-Freedom Gundam
I almost wanted to launch my own personal Crusade against Bandai for their failure with this figure - it had so much promise, so much potential, and it didn't live up to any of it. Don't get me wrong: the mold itself was very well done, and on its own the SF is a solid figure. So why am I railing against it? One word: DRAGOONS. Or lack thereof. THE defining characteristic of this Mobile Suit is its ability to launch 8 remote-controlled, self-propelled laser weapons. Yes, it has a chest gun, yes it has a gun that can uh..split into two guns, but it's these 8 little blue guns of death that are what truly separate it from its predecessor, the plain old Freedom Gundam. And the MSIA doesn't have them. Why? It can't be due to cost or technology, since both the Cosmic Region and HCM-Pro versions of this MS have them (with the HCM-Pro being in a smaller scale than the MSIA!). Some people theorize that this feature was added to the SF at the last minute, when the toy was well in its final stages of production, but I find that idea pretty tough to swallow. Hopefully Bandai will re-release this figure as a v.2 with a new set of wings sometime in the future (and a more consistent gold-paint scheme throughout). One day maybe..
RAC's Winner(?): Marasai
This was a close one, but Marasai edged out Strike Freedom because its flaws are simply more baffling to me. There's no good reason it should be too skinny, or the plastic should look this cheap. Strike Freedom's deco failure represents something Bandai hasn't done before- gold joints. Much as I don't like the end results, I can chalk that particular problem up to growing pains, to a certain extent. Marasai falls down on obvious, simple things which are done well on MSiAs quite regularly, and so it's far more frustrating.
Finally, we come to the conclusion. This is not necessarily representative of the winners of the individual categories. Rather, this is simply what we feel to be the best offering overall. It may be a figure that doesn't stand out enough to place much in the specific categories, but just works well, or just a simple matter of personal preference. Here now, are the best and worst overall figures.
ExVee's Winner: MSiA Gabthley
While it may have only won a single category, the Gabthley doesn't really have any particular flaws. It does everything just fine, and I'm happy to call it the best MSiA of 2005. It's one of my favorite MS designs, and to see it executed so well satisfies me greatly.
ExVee's Loser: MSiA Strike Freedom
Y'know, even as bad as the Marasai has made out, it at least accomplishes its basic function as being representative of the Marasai. The Strike Freedom fails even in that most basic respect by lacking the primary gimmick - the very reason the design exists. It has no significant feature not present in the original Freedom, and it costs more. This failure becomes even more shameful as it is the only such representation to suffer it, besides the ¥350 no-grade model kit. To make a figure of a headline suit that cannot even adequately recreate its features? This is inexcusable.
Magnus P.I.'s Winner: Destiny Gundam
What can I say, I'm a sucker for hero suits. This figure was probably the one I was looking forward to the most all year, and it did not disappoint. From the oodles of accessories, to the inspired head-sculpt, to the innovative way it incorporated all those things that made the Impulse so cool, this suit is the one I'd recommend over all others. It's not without its flaws, but overall the positives outweigh the negatives. Now if only Bandai would make some Wings of Light...
Magnus P.I.'s Loser: Strike-Freedom Gundam
Did I say I was a sucker for hero suits? Yes I am, but only when they don't suck. And I just can't see past the flaws of this figure. The missing DRAGOONS are inexcusable. Couple that with the bizarre mixture of gold paint and gold plastic scattered throughout, the missing shin thrusters on the rear of the legs, and the irritating weapon swap mechanism on the waist and you have a figure that just doesn't cut it - one that falls far short of its potential. This figure should have been the ultimate MSIA this year, to represent the mech of one of the most popular Gundam characters in the last few years. Instead, it's mediocre (much like the ending of Destiny, ironically). If ever a figure needed an EMSIA or v.2 treatment, it's this one.
RAC's Winner: ZAKU Series
It's hard to narrow down an entire year of excellent MSiA to a single must-have purchase. But the ZAKU figures are the finest examples of how far the line has come- and hopefully gives an insight into where it's going. To put it another way: If you haven't bought an MSiA since the US line died its slow, horrible, embarrassing death, treat yourself to a ZAKU. If you had a complaint about MSiA from that time, the ZAKU probably fixes it- outside of panel-inking, that is.
RAC's Loser: Strike Freedom
Be honest, now: are you the least bit surprised? To sum up, despite a fear of repeating myself: the combining rifles are pretty dumb-looking, the gold parts are repulsively mismatched, and it lacks the DRAGOON system that is the defining nature of the redesign. I have seen more modifications of this figure online than any MSiA I can think of, which I hope will be a sign of how utterly unsatisfactory it is.
I'd like to extend my thanks to RAC and Magnus for indulging me in this incredibly last minute affair. I promise next year you'll have more time. I'd also like to thank our audience for sticking around through this lengthy article, and hope you come away a little better informed about the year's worth of figures 2005 brought to us. Remember, full reviews of the figures awarded and shamed here can currently or will be found on the site in the near future.
And stay tuned; coming soon - Zeta Project II
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