Since it has been quite a while since I have reviewed any Gundam toys, I think something of a refresher course is called for before I get into the specifics of this review.
Mobile Suit Gundam, as the "umbrella" name for a series of mecha (meaning big, generally humanoid robots) anime concept, has been running in one form or another in Japan since the late 1970's. Sometimes thought of as the "Japanese Star Wars", it has been and continues to be immensely popular, and also employs the generally effective tactic of reinventing its storyline every so often without losing its core concept. This is something that both Power Rangers and Transformers have used to generally considerable effectiveness.
In the case of Gundam, it has resulted in a core universe in which the original series, "Mobile Suit Gundam" exists, as well as a number of sequel series. But then there are also the side universes, which are not directly connected to the basic MSG concept, but which still employ Gundam robots in whatever their respective storylines are. This would encompass such shows as Mobile Fighter G-Gundam, Gundam Wing, Gundam X, Gundam Seed, and several others.
Gundam was brought over to the United States a number of years ago by Bandai, with the animated series airing on the Cartoon Network. Starting with Gundam Wing, the series then went into Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Fighter G-Gundam, and Gundam Seed, before seemingly running out of steam. A wide range of toys were also marketed.
I have pondered the reasons why Gundam didn't succeed as well in the United States. I believe there are several factors:
(1) Although the robot names in Gundam Wing were fairly straightforward, the robot names in Mobile Suit Gundam were far more complex, using alphanumeric designations and names that could sprain anyone's tongue. This had to make it hard to keep track of. Although both G-Gundam and Gundam Seed had more straightforward names, I think it was a little too late at that point.
(2) The primary toys in the United States were action figures. However, the primary toys in Japan for Gundam have always been model kits -- and Bandai tried to duplicate that over here. We don't want to have to build our toys before we play with them. Stores were selling the figures well, but I can remember seeing Gundam kits stacked to the ceiling at Toys "R" Us, and managers not even wanting to hear the word "Gundam". Bandai should've gotten a clue about this a lot sooner and dropped or at least significantly lessened the kits.
(3) Late on, Bandai introduced "Battle Scarred" figures. Now, as much as I dislike any sort of "weathered" toy as a general rule, these things were real wrecks, and so messed up that it was hard to tell one from another. These things lingered on the shelves, taking up space, and that killed the figure market, never mind the kits. Hail and farewell, Gundam in America.
However, Gundam continued to prosper in its native land. New shows were produced, and with them, new toys. And although those toys are not always easy to come by, neither are they impossible.
In Japan, the basic Gundam action figures are known as "Mobile Suit in Action!", and unfortunately, they're generally not held in quite as high regard as the model kits. This is too bad, because they're really cool toys, and Bandai does an impressive job with them.
The newest Gundam concept currently running in Japan is called "Mobile Suit Gundam 00". That's "double-zero", as in James Bond without the "7", not "OO" as in "OOoh!"
The storyline, according to Gundam 00's entry reads as follows:
The series is set in a futuristic Earth and centered around Celestial Being, a private paramilitary force and their efforts to rid the world of war and conflict with a series of unique and highly effective mobile suits known as "Gundams".
The series is set in 2307 AD. As a result of the depletion of fossil fuels, humanity had to search for a new source of power. The power was found in the form of massive arrays of solar power collectors orbiting the Earth, and supported by three orbital elevators, each one serving one of the three "power blocs" on the planet.
With this nearly inexhaustible source of energy benefiting only the major powers and their allies, constant warfare erupts around the globe among minor countries for fuels and energy. Countries that once economically relied on fossil fuels have plunged into poverty. This chaos led to the formation of a private military organization, called Celestial Being, dedicated to eradicating war and uniting humanity through the use of four humanoid machines called Gundams. The series follows four mobile suit pilots termed Gundam Meisters, sided with Celestial Being.
Anything else would likely spoil too many details of the series. However, I do want to add this -- the series actually takes place in two very distinct seasons, with the second season taking place four years after the first.
Four years have passed since the final battle between Celestial Being and the UN Forces. Humanity, having established the Earth Sphere Federation, forms an independent security preservation force, A-Laws, separate from the formal Federation army. Given unfettered discretion, A-Laws is charged with the duty to further unify nations and enforce the will of mankind.
Mobile Suit Gundam 00 began airing on the Sci-Fi Channel sometime in November 2008, the first Gundam series in several years to air in the United States. However, there's no indication that Bandai has plans to bring any Gundam 00 toys over to the United States, which is a darn shame. However, I am now the happy owner of several of the Mobile Suit in Action figures from the Gundam 00 series. This review will take a look at the GN-001 GUNDAM EXIA, GN-002 GUNDAM DYNAMES, and GN-003 GUNDAM KYRIOS. Let's start with the EXIA.
Every Gundam concept has a central Gundam. In the case of Gundam 00, it certainly seems to be the Exia. How do I know this? Apart from the fact that its pilot (yes, Gundams are piloted robotic suits, not sentient independent robots) is the central character of the series, there's generally a very easy way to figure out which is the central Gundam in any given Gundam concept -- it's the one that uses the most amount of white and primary colors in its design.
And sure enough, the Gundam Exia has a lot of white on it, with a blue torso with blue shoulder armor, a bit of red trim around its waist, red feet, and a little bit of yellow.
The Gundam Exia was developed as a general purpose mobile suit, that was used by the Celestial Being organization. The machine was armed mainly with a GN Sword Rifle, a combination weapon of a beam saber, beam rifle and a shield. It's other weapons include several beam sabers and daggers, as well as a Vulcan cannon.
The Exia is piloted by Celestial Being Pilot and main protagonist Setsuna F Seiei, a former child soldier who looks to end all war. His character can be "quiet and taciturn", which pretty well describes a lot of the main protagonists of the Gundam multiverse. He's also the pilot of the 00 Gundam in the second season of the series -- in which the question is finally answered, apparently, "So, why's the show called 'Gundam 00"?
So, how's the figure? Very impressive, but I'd like to say a few words about the packaging first. I know that's unusual for me, but in this case, it's worth it. Bandai has gone through a whole lot of different package designs for their Gundam MSiA figures over the years. Generally speaking, the figures as they are sold in Japan are boxed, not carded. The box shape hasn't changed much, but the graphics certainly have. Some designs have worked better than others. The overall design for the Gundam 00 packaging works superbly well and is probably one of the best I've ever seen.
The box is mostly black, with the traditional "Mobile Suit in Action!" logo on the upper left. What's especially notable about the front of the package is that, up against this very dark background, is this stark white lettering that reads, in relatively small print, "Mobile Suit GN-001 Gundam..." and then in letting big enough and bright enough up against the background so that you could probably read it from the parking lot at the Tokyo Toys "R" Us -- "EXIA". The same is true for the Dynames and Kyrios.
I've always found it moderately annoying, in ANY toy display, I don't care what line you're talking about, when the design focuses on the package as a whole, and minimizes the individual item within the package. I'm sorry, but if I'm looking for "Figure A", I don't really want to have to rifle through three dozen of "Figure B, Figure C, and Figure D" and practically have to break out a magnifying glass in the process. I'm nearsighted, I'm overdue for a new glasses prescription, but I'm not THAT badly off.
Believe me, in this line, if what you want is the Exia, or any other individual, you'll know you've found one. The name is also printed large on the left side of the package. The right side of the package has a partial diagram of the figure showcasing its articulation points. The back of the package shows the figure in a wide range of poses. Also on the front of the package is an illustration of the head of the Gundam, and of its pilot, the aforementioned Setsuna F Seiei. The Dynames and Kyrios boxes also have pictures of their respective pilots, Lockon Stratos and Allelujah Haptism (I'll deal with THAT name when I get to reviewing the Kyrios!)
I should also mention that you don't want to throw away the interior of the packaging, because behind the backdrop is a trading card with information about your Gundam. Okay, it's in Japanese, but it's got a cool picture on it...
The Gundam Exia stands about 4-1/4" in height. Compared to some Gundams from previous concepts, it's a little on the slender side, but also somewhat more complex in design. It has a slightly rounder head than some, but has the traditional "V" shaped antenna on its forehead (the one on mine is a tad crooked, I'm sure they're not all like that) and on the whole is very Gundam-ish in appearance.
The Exia has a roundish chest, which is extremely unusual. There is also a round protrusion on its back, almost as if the nosecone of a missile were sticking out. I have the impression this is probably the pilot's cockpit somehow. The Exia has a fairly narrow waist, and despite the somewhat roundish shape of the head and chest, the rest of the Gundam is very angular.
The shoulder armor sticks out quite a distance from the arms, and is very angular, as is the lower torso. The arms have somewhat rounded off ares, but still appear very straight for the most part, as do the legs, except for some rounded details around the legs. Honestly, any rounded detail is relatively unusual for most Gundams. In some respects, it makes this Gundam look more advanced than most of its predecessors.
Articulation is -- well, hoo-boy. If there's one thing that the Mobile Suit in Action line has always specialized in, it's articulation. The Exia is certainly no exception. The figure is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, ankles, as well as any number of other areas that I'm not really sure how to describe. There's a sort of shoulder swivel, for starters. Unfortunately, on my figure, the left shoulder swivel is rather loose, but I think this may be correctable. MSiA figures -- well, it's not impossible to disassemble them, if you can figure out how, and I know a few ways to strengthen articulation joints. Not that I'm in any great hurry to mess with this figure given what it took to get him.
Many of the articulation points are double or multi-jointed, so the Gundam Exia is capable of a truly astounding range of motion. These things make Marvel Legends look like statues in comparison.
Paint detail is also excellent, and when one considers that you're painting a robot, which tends to require a greater level of precision just by the nature of the toy's appearance, and when you consider that that painted detail level includes things like little green eyes that aren't even 1/10 of an inch across, that's pretty danged impressive. A lot of the paint detail is dark grey trim on the white limbs, and it's all been very neatly done with a superb level of precision. Bandai is to be commended for this.
Of course, there is a generous supply of accessories with this figure, which includes four spare hands in different positions, two huge Beam Sabers, two items that I would personally call Beam Daggers (then again, when you're a Gundam robot which if it existed in real life would likely be the height of a four or five story building -- what's the diff?), a couple of very solid-looking swords, a shield, and a couple of items that I'm not entirely sure what they are. Let's just say that this Gundam is exceptionally well-equipped.
Now, let's consider the GN-002 GUNDAM DYNAMES: The Gundam Dynames was developed as a long range support unit. The machine is armed with a long range beam sniper rifle, special optical sights, and advanced targeting equipment, allowing the Dynames to hit moving targets at a very long range. It was also armed with a special GN shield to boost its defenses, as well as beam sabers for close range combat.
The Dynames is piloted by Celestial Being Pilot Lockon Stratos, who is assisted in his piloting duties by an orange Haro.
The Haro, as originally portrayed in the original Mobile Suit Gundam series, was a little round machine of indeterminate purpose, more or less a child's robotic plaything as much as anything, if memory serves. And it managed to be more annoying than any Pokemon on the face of the planet. What nitwit anime writer thought it would be a good idea to bring one of THOSE back!?
The pilot Neil Dylandy, Lockon decided to join Celestial Being after losing his parents and little sister to terrorists in Ireland; because of this, he loathes terrorists. As the eldest pilot, he is considered the team leader of the Gundam Meisters, and sports a more easygoing, flamboyant personality as compared to the other Gundam Meisters.
So, how's the figure? Really superb. The Dynames stands about 4-3/8" in height, making it fractionally taller than the Exia, which is actually the shortest of the three Gundams from Gundam 00 that I have. Dynames is the mid-height one. Since these figures are designed to be to scale with one another -- some of the toys from other Gundam lines have been all over the map size-wise even though they are correct with one another -- just ask anyone who owns the 6" Sazabi -- one has to then assume that within the animated series, the Exia really is smaller than its counterparts for whatever reason.
The Dynames has an interesting color scheme. Its limbs and head are mostly white -- fairly typical for a Gundam -- but the mail color used on its torso and other armor details is a very dark, rather military looking olive green. This is not an especially common color to find on a Gundam, and it somehow makes the Dynames look that much more militaristic, powerful, and potentially nasty as a result.
The head is quite Gundam-like, with the traditional V-antenna across the forehead. Interestingly, among its accessories, the Dynames comes with a second head, with the V-antenna shifted downward over the apparent eyes. According to information on the back of the package, this puts the Dynames into "Gun Camera Mode". I'm not entirely sure what that means, but given what it sounds like, if you're up against the Dynames, and it makes this particular alteration -- run.
The Dynames looks slightly bulkier than the Exia, which actually looked pretty thin compared to some of the Mobile Suits from previous Gundam series. The Dynames is more typical in its build, and more angular in its design, although there is a round protuberance on its back, not unlike but somewhat smaller than the Exia's. I am of the opinion that this is the pilot's cockpit or some such.
Articulation is -- astounding, of course. as is the paint detail, mostly dark grey on the white, and red and yellow on the dark green, and it's all superbly well done.
Of course, there is a generous supply of accessories with this figure. Along with the spare head, the Dynames comes with two -- I'm not sure if they're supposed to be wings, shields, or both, but they attach to the figure, and they each have several points of articulation themselves! There's some other attachable equipment, four spare hands in various positions, a couple of large beam sabers, and a gun that -- considering that if this Mobile Suit existed in real life it'd probably be almost the height of a five story buiilding and this rifle comes up to its shoulder -- well, I don't want to be on the wrong end of it.
Finally, let's consider the GN-003 GUNDAM KYRIOS: The Gundam Kyrios was another of the powerful Gundam suits that was developed by the Celestial Being organization.
This suit was developed as a transformable mobile suit, able to transform into a flight mode, giving it improved flight capabilities. The suit is armed with a GN Beam Sub-Machine Gun, a beam rifle, and pair of beam sabers.
The Kyrios' pilot, who has the rather unusual code name of Allelujah Haptism. Allelujah spent his childhood as an orphan in the Human Reform League as a Super Soldier experimental subject, codenamed "E-57". While generally gentle and rational compared to the other Gundam Meisters, he has another harsher, unstable, and outright sadistic alter ego inside him, which was the result of the Super Soldier experiments. He is the pilot of GN-003 Gundam Kyrios.
As to the figure: The Kyrios measures about 4-5/8" in height, to the top of the head. That doesn't include the very long and upswept shoulder pieces. Even so, this makes the Kyrios the tallest of the three Gundams I presently possess from Gundam 00. There are two others, a GN-004 Gundam Virtue and a GN-005 Gundam Nadleeh, which I am hopeful of acquiring. Honestly, I don't know how they stack up sizewise, but if they continue to grow, then these two must be huge, relatively speaking. Interestingly, the Exia is the shortest of the group to date.
The Kyrios has a very unusual color scheme. Although its head, arms, and legs are predominantly white, which is not unusual, it's torso armor and much of the trim is orange, a sort of dark yellow orange. Orange is NOT a color that is found in the Gundam multiverse to any great extent. I can think of only two previous Mobile Suits that have had orange as their primary color, and neither was was specifically a Gundam, but rather some sort of other-named adversary Mobile Suit. I have those two as toys.
The Kyrios has a fairly standard-looking Gundam head, with the traditional V-antenna across the forehead, although it is noticeably thicker than usual here. There is also the unusual feature of a small yellow fin sticking out of the back of the head.
The body is very angular, moreso than either the Exia or the Dynames, and more slender in appearance than one usually expects for a Gundam. It has a relatively small torso, and rather long arms and long legs. There are what appear to be two jets attached to the sides of the lower legs. The shoulder pieces are unusually long for a Gundam, and distinctly angular. They also have small wings attached to the back of them.
The Kyrios also lacks the roundish item that both the Exia and Dynames have on their backs, which I am assuming, having not seen the series as of this writing, to be the pilot's cockpit.
The description of the Kyrios indicates that it can be transformed into a flying craft, and if the pictures of the toy on the back of the package are any indication, it is possible to transform the figure into this flying mode, which looks much less like a robot and much more like a futuristic aircraft of some sort. For myself, I think I'll leave the transforming to the Autobots and the Decepticons. Nevertheless, it's an impressive feature.
Articulation is incredible, of course, but I think the fact that this toy is also designed to be transformed has resulted in a moderate looseness in some of the joints that I, for one, could do without. The Exia has a couple of loose points, as well. Part of mass production, perhaps, especially of such complex figures, but I still find it a tad annoying.
There's a lot of pretty intricate paint detail, mostly dark grey on the white, and a lot of the orange is painted, rather than molded in that color, something I don't usually approve of, but it's all superbly well done.
Of course, there is a generous supply of accessories with this figure, as with them all. There's a large black apparatus that I suspect has more to do with its flight mode than robot mode, as well as two additional wings that look surprisingly conventional. The Kyrios comes with a narrow shield that has two long, sharp points on it that expand outwards. There are four spare hands in various positions, the sub-machine gun cited in the description provided of this Gundam, and various Beam Sabers.
Gundam toys are not easily acquired in the United States, but neither are they impossible. There's no indication that Bandai plans to market this line in the States, even with the series airing on Sci-Fi. However, a number of online collector toy stores carry Gundam, and there are even some English language (or at least English capable) Japan-based Web Sites that offer Gundam products.
Alas, there is growing word around that Bandai plans to end the Mobile Suit in Action series, and reinvent the Gundam product line somehow. I sincerely hope that this isn't the case. I really get very tired of hearing terms like "reboot", "reinvent", "revitalize", "reimagine" -- re- this, re-that -- and I don't just mean Gundam, I don't just mean toy products, and in my own experience and evaluation, the vast majority of these re-whatevers have been catastrophic fiascoes and disasters, I think it's way past time that anytime anyone thinks they have a "better idea" for something that's done just fine on its own.
In the case of Gundam, we'll see what happens. I sincerely hope that we haven't seen the last of the Mobile Suit in Action line. This wouldn't be the first time someone has tried to improve upon it, and those have generally ended in abysmal failure. However, there are other Gundam MSiA's yet for me to hopefully bring into my collection.
As for the MOBILE SUIT GN-001 GUNDAM EXIA, GN-002 GUNDAM DYNAMES, and
GN-003 GUNDAM KYRIOS from GUNDAM 00, they most definitely all have my
highest and most enthusiastic recommendation! They may not be easy to
find, but if you're a fan of ANY Japanese robots, you won't be disappointed!