However, that doesn't mean that Gundam toys are no longer being produced. They certainly are. These are all from the "Mobile Suit in Action" line, or "MSiA's", as collectors call them. They're the basic action figures for Gundam. They're not the figural kits, or the over-painted, sometimes weathered "Extended MSiA's". They're the same sort of good, basic, Gundam action figure that were very popular in the United States for several years. I've never understood why they were pulled, although I can think of three possible reasons:
#1 - The Battle Scarred line. These battle-damaged things were atrocious. They were so heavily weathered you could hardly tell one from another.
#2 - The SD line. These exaggerated weirdos may have just put too much Gundam merchandise on the shelves at the same time, and they weren't that popular. If Bandai was looking at Gundam as a whole, they probably saw failure.
#3 - The figural model kits, which as a rule were a lot more expensive than the figures, never fared very well over here. They're extremely popular in Japan, where the standard figures are almost seen as an afterthought. But here, fans went for the figures and ignored the kits. If Bandai didn't like that, they might've decided to yank the whole works.
Whatever the case, their departure from the United States - speculation about what their paint jobs might be like today notwithstanding - has been terribly unfortunate. But not impossible to overcome. A handful of online stores carry a certain amount of Gundam merchandise, and as I said, it helps to have a friend that's willing to trade.
The four new figures he sent me are all from GUNDAM SEED DESTINY, which is the sequel series to GUNDAM SEED, which was the last Gundam series to air in the United States - admittedly at a horrible time on Cartoon Network, and the last to have toys released in the United States, even if the line was cut short well before completion.
The odd thing about the toys from Gundam Seed Destiny is that they're slightly smaller, scale-wise, than most other Gundam products. Most of the Gundam lines have maintained a fairly consistent scale across the different concepts. Gundam Wing, Mobile Suit Gundam and its sequels, G-Gundam, Zeta Gundam, and Gundam Seed all have compatible figures, even if that means making some pretty sizeable toys, such as the larger-scaled "Char's Counter-Attack" line, with the massive Sazabi.
For whatever reason, the Destiny figures are a bit smaller. Not seriously so, I suppose, but noticeably. Fortunately, detail and articulation have not been sacrificed. These figures remain some of the best-designed, most highly-articulated action figures around. And I'm pleased to be able to continue my collection. Let's consider these toys individually now.
ZGMF-X20A STRIKE FREEDOM GUNDAM
The description for this Gundam reads as follows:
The Strike Freedom Gundam was an improved version of the Freedom Gundam. After losing the Freedom Gundam during the course of Gundam SEED Destiny, its pilot, Kira Yamato, was left without a decent mobile suit to pilot. He eventually receives the Strike Freedom from Lacus Clyne, who had the suit developed in secret. The Strike Freedom was an overall improvement over the already formidable Freedom. The suit was armed with a large number of weapons, including two race guns, a powerful beam rifle, as well as a DRAGOON system, which gave the Strike Freedom the ability to attack its enemies from all directions. In addition to its power offensive capabilities, the Strike Freedom also had a beam shield.
Kira Yamato was the central character of the original Gundam SEED series, and is obviously a major player in its sequel. As one might expect from a "central" Gundam, it uses mostly primary colors in its design with a lot of white. Nothing all that exaggerated about its design, but it's a good solid design. This Gundam has a lot of white on it, not much red or yellow, some black, and a lot of blue, especially in the double-wing system that it has. Interestingly, one additional color in its frame is metallic gold, which can be seen in its articulation joints, as well as its hands and a few spits on its feet. This adds a certain "regal" look to the toy. Quite interesting.
The weaponry includes a large transparent shield, which is very impressive looking, and the aforementioned beam rifle, actually two guns that can combine as one, and are taller than the figure. Given that if it existed in real life, this piloted robotic suit would be about the height of a five story-building, that's not something I'd want to be on the wrong end of.
Very much to my dismay, I think I detect a couple of areas of hand- painted detail on this figure. As I have discussed many times in the past, this is an abhorrent practice that, regardless of whether it saves a few pennies, needs to be stopped, and I've never seen it on a Gundam before. But the tips of some of the weaponry on the figure, as well as a few detail areas on the lower torso and legs, definitely show evidence of this. It almost couldn't be given the intense paint detail on Gundams. But, much as I'd like to think I'm wrong about this, I think it's there.
However, it's not as bad as some, and it even if I'm right, doesn't detract from the appearance of a truly superb and very impressive Gundam figure. The STRIKE FREEDOM GUNDAM is definitely a winner!
ZGMF-X19A INFINITE JUSTICE GUNDAM
I like Gundams that are a little bit off the usual color scheme. One tends to get weary of mostly white Gundams after a while. Fortunately, the Infinite Justice Gundam is one such specimen. It's mostly a sort of light red. Here is its origin:
The Infinite Justice, like the Strike Freedom, was an improved version of its predecessor. Having been developed in secret by the Clyne Faction, the Infinite Justice was a well armed mobile suit. It was able to use a high powered beam rifle, beam sabers, beam blades attached to the suits legs, and a powerful beam boomerang as well as an assortment of other weaponry. The suit was also able to dock with a METEOR weapons platform, giving the suit even more fire power. The Infinite Justice is protected with a powerful beam shield. The Infinite Justice would be piloted by Athrun Zala.
Athrun Zala was another major player in the original Gundam SEED series. He was Kira Yamato's best friend, but for much of the series, was on the opposing side of the war, until they both got fed up with it and teamed up to help bring as much of an end to it as possible. Athrun's original Gundam was called the Aegis Gundam, which Bandai still hasn't gotten around to making an MSiA of yet, much to the supreme annoyance of several collectors I know, and probably a lot that I don't.
If the color of his Gundams is any indication, Athrun's favorite color is red, and the Infinite Justice Gundam carries on in this pattern. The Gundam is mostly red, with a limited amount of white and black trim, and just a little bit of bright green, which is pretty cool.
The toy comes with this absolutely immense flight pack, which I assume is the aforementioned METEOR weapons platform. This purple wing-pack is so huge that the figure also comes with something I've never before seen with a Gundam action figure - a display stand to make the figure appear to be in flight. I suspect that with this pack attached, it's impossible for the toy to stand up on its own.
Even not taking this into account, this is a well-armed Gundam, with the beam sabers, rifle, shield, spare hands, and other equipment.
I almost thought I saw some hand-painted detailing on this figure, but I'm not sure, and I may have to rethink the other one. It's one thing to take a G.I. Joe figure and hand-paint its boots. As abhorrent and inevitably sloppy as this is going to be, it's within the realm of possibility. I don't think it's quite as plausible to hand-paint the minuscule jet exhaust ports on the back of a leg of a Gundam, certainly not in a mass production setting. This is something that I, a reasonably talented individual artistically, would have some trouble doing on an individual basis. I think perhaps what I'm seeing here is a little excess paint that goes beyond its assigned "lines". It's still sloppy, but not as severe an issue. Moreover, I'm not seeing any brush strokes. But I'm not sure. Given that I have seen hand-painting on another Bandai product, it's certainly possible - and needs to be stopped if possible.
In any case, the INFINITE JUSTICE GUNDAM is certainly a worthy, interesting, and distinctive addition to any Gundam collection!
ZGMF-X88S GAIA GUNDAM
Don't ask me where they get the names for these things. I really don't know. At least it's pronounceable, unlike some of the names that have cropped up from time to time. I still have no idea how to pronounce something like "Jagd Doga". I think we're losing something in the translation from Japanese, if nothing else.
The Gaia Gundam is an interesting addition to the collection. Certainly visually, it's distinctive. There haven't been very many mostly-black Gundams over the years, and this one is very definitely black. Not dark grey. Not steel. BLACK. It has a limited amount of dark grey trim, and a bit of red and yellow, which up against the black of the figure really stands out. It also has blue eyes. Its description reads as follows:
One of several new ZAFT Gundam designs, the Gaia Gundam was built as prototype transformable mobile suit. The Gaia was built with the ability to transform into a four legged mode, giving it greater speed and maneuverability. In addition to its transformation, the suit was armed with beam sabers and a high powered beam rifle as well as phase shift armor. As fate would have it, the Gaia Gundam was stolen from ZAFT by an Earth Alliance pilot Stellar Loussier, who would use the suit against ZAFT during the following battles.
They're not kidding about that "transformable" part, either. The Gaia can, as stated, assume a four-footed motif. So can the toy. This is a cool capability, but it almost makes the figure over-articulated. While articulation has certainly been a hallmark in Gundam action figures since the start, to the point of ToyFare once remarking, about the Altron Gundam from Gundam Wing, that they gave up trying to count its articulation points, the Gaia Gundam has enough points on it that I think it'd send whoever tried to count the Altron into a corner, gibbering like a lunatic.
A fair percentage of this articulation is to enable the toy to transform and assume its four-footed version. Unfortunately, the one detrimental effect to this is that it's danged hard to get the Gaia to stand up straight. Oh, it'll stand, but it always looks like a few points on it are just a little out of place somehow, and trying to get them back into place is likely to send something else out of whack. I have no idea how many individual parts are in this figure, but I wouldn't've wanted to have been on the assembly line.
It's still a cool figure, and I certainly recommend it, and it comes with a generous supply of accessories. There's also a red version out there, which hopefully I'll add to my collection someday. I certainly recommend the GAIA GUNDAM. It's just a little tricky to work with.
ZGMF-X31S ABYSS GUNDAM
Then you have the Gundams with the weird features, and this is one of the strangest-looking Gundams I've seen since some of the very weird oddballs of G-Gundam. Granted, it's nowhere near as weird as a lot of those characters, but it's still pretty unusual in some respects. Here is its description:
One of several new ZAFT Gundam designs built after ZAFT's war with the Earth Alliance. The Abyss was built as transformable amphibious mobile suit, able to transform into a sleek mobile armor mode, giving it increased speed in an underwater environment. The suit is armed with a number of beam weapons, as well as a beam lance. It is also protected by phase shift armor. This suit would be stolen from ZAFT by Earth Alliance pilot Auel Nieder, who would use the Abyss against ZAFT.
You know, I think I'm seeing a pattern here. In Gundam SEED, it was ZAFT that stole a number of Gundams from the Earth Alliance at the start of the series, including the Blitz, Buster, Aegis, and the Duel Gundams. Looks like in Destiny, the Earth Alliance returns the favor by swiping the Gaia and the Abyss, at the very least.
Now, while the Abyss, for the most part, looks fairly Gundamish, and is done in a very cool color scheme of mostly dark blue with mostly white limbs and a bit of light blue detailing, it's the aspects of it that allow it to assume that amphibious mode that throws it off from being anything all that typical.
In "Mobile Suit" mode, the Abyss Gundam has what look to be two huge crescent-shaped shells attached to its shoulders, light blue in color. One can well imagine that these would provide some reasonable protection and shielding, even if they might interfere with side visibility. And the illustration on the back of the package shows that the interior of these shells are armed with several large laser guns, three on each side, and indeed, these are indicated on the toy.
But the transforming function comes into play in that these two half-shells can come together over to the top of the Abyss Gundam, essentially turning the front or top half of the Mobile Suit into an underwater craft, and the two long weapons attached to its backpack swing forward to deal with anything that might get in its way. The transformation is not as radical as the Gaia Gundam, and it's also pretty cool in its own right.
As one might expect, the toy is a little top-heavy, but it doesn't really have any trouble standing. The half-shells are made from a more rigid and lighter-weight plastic than the rest of the figure, so it's not that much of an issue, and it certainly makes for a cool and distinctive-looking Gundam.
The ABYSS GUNDAM is a very impressive addition to the Gundam collection, and certainly has my recommendation along with the others.
Allow me to make a few concluding comments. One painting detail that has been dropped from Gundam action figures that I approve of was the ridiculous habit of coloring in the detail lines on these figures. It was simply not necessary. While this practice was dropped from the American line at the outset, it's only been recently that it's finally been dropped from all Gundam action figures. No doubt in both instances this was a cost-saving move on Bandai's part more than anything to do with regard to the look of the figure, and there are some collectors that lament the loss of this feature since in their minds, it made the toy look more detailed as well as, somehow (and I never quite got this), more like it just stepped out of the cartoon (??!??!), but I, for one, am glad it's gone. The toys look more real and cleaner without it.
I don't see a return to the United States for Gundam anytime soon. Although the concept remains popular, this is a difficult time for action figures in general, and Gundam never really appealed to kids all that much. There are a few manga digests out there, and Bandai continues to release the various series on DVD, but that seems to be about it, for now.
But ultimately, it's not impossible to track down Gundam toys if you
really want them, and certainly the four that I have just reviewed are
all excellent additions to the collection, and have my highest recommendation
as very cool Gundams, and just in general, very cool toys!