Bandai Master Grade 1/100 XXXG-01S Shenlong Gundam

All redesigned, cleaned up and ready to rock, the MG Shenlong is a nice retconned piece of MS goodness. Yes, that is the original Shenlong's glaive he's holding.

All redesigned, cleaned up and ready to rock, the MG Shenlong is a nice retconned piece of MS goodness. Yes, that is the original Shenlong’s glaive he’s holding.

We’ve all heard that “everything old is new again”. This cyclical nature affects nearly every aspect of human endeavour, from art and writing to fashion and even, to a degree, technology. Witness the resurgence of bell-bottomed pants and the recent rise in the use of turntables to see what I’m talking about. So, then, it comes as no surprise that this same phenomenon would be equally applicable to anime. In particular, I’m talking about the second non-Universal Century (UC) Gundam series known as Gundam Wing.

In 1995, Shin Kido Senki Gundam Wing began airing in Japan. This was only the second time that Gundam was taking place in a non-UC universe, and like the previous non-UC story (G Gundam) there were multiple Gundam suits on screen at once. The story was really nothing new; it was a civil war between space colonies and Earth. Wing did introduce a new twist, though, in making the Gundams weapons of the colonies, vs. the Earth government. The five Gundams were sent to earth to wreak havoc and weaken the government, hopefully gaining independence in space. They were sent on guerrilla missions, and actually operated more like terrorists than the heroes they were supposed to be.

The show was quite successful in Japan, and in some ways even more so in the US where it was the anime that introduced a great many North Americans to the world of Gundam. Of course, a successful anime meant that Bandai had the injection moulders humming to crank out kits of the main suits. The early kits came in no-grade 1/144 and high grade (HG) 1/100. The same was true of the mecha from the OVA sequel, Endless Waltz (EW). At this time, there was no such thing as “master grade (MG)”, and the HGs were the high water mark for their day.

Nowadays, though, MGs are the defacto standard for 1/100 kits, and due to the popularity of the show, Bandai began to make MGs of the Wing suits. However, they went about it based on the Endless Waltz versions of the mecha. These were redesigned by current fan-favourite Hajime Katoki, whose talent in tweaking old MSs to make them look fresh is apparently boundless. Thus, the original designs were retconned into a “devolved” EW form. Generally, this works really, really well. I don’t like the EW Wing Zero, I’ll admit, and even the “de-feathered” Katoki redesign is a bit clumsy and clownish in colour. However, the other four suits look fabulous in their new “original form” guises.

It was an easy decision for me to pick up the bulk of these, since I never had a 1/100 Deathscythe, and there wasn’t a 1/100 Sandrock or Heavy Arms. However, the Shenlong presented a different situation. I have built the original Shenlong, and I have a spare unbuilt one. Could I really justify getting a third? (Oh yeah, I have also built the Altron and have the Nataku in the box…) Thankfully, I didn’t have to think too hard. After not buying it for a couple of years, I found one for a good price at the local Hobby Toy Central store. I could no longer resist, and bought it.

Interestingly, the Shenlong was the one I was most eager to build! Maybe it’s because the original HG was the first 1/100 Gundam I ever built, way back in the day when it was almost new. It could also be because it’s one of the least traditionally-designed of the Wing suits, with its bulging, ventless chest and round shield. The fact that the new Shenlong used the awesomely restyled head of the Nataku from EW was just icing on the cake. With great excitement I decided to make the Shenlong the first in my ‘redsigned’ Wing Gundam collection. My hope one day is to have all 5 redesigns standing together in one display; for now, though, the Shenlong is a good first step.

The Kit:

The kit is a typical new-era MG. There’s really precious little to say, really. The kit is moulded in full colour, including a nice transparent green energy blade for the trident. Interestingly enough, the trident is a good example of retconning: the original Shenlong uses a beam glaive, and the Altron first uses the trident! The kit has a full internal frame of considerable detail and adequate, but not ridiculous, complexity. There’s a spherical cockpit, too, with an opening hatch. There are some stickers and transfers, but I prefer not to use them since I like to build my Gundams as though they marched off the TV screen. That means just colours and lines. I know it’s not everyone’s favourite style, but it’s my personal trademark, and I have never felt a need to change it.

The fit of the parts is, of course, excellent. There’s no flash anywhere, and there is a mix of ABS and polycaps for the joints. Like all MGs, though, there are a lot of parts to cut off the rack, and this can make chopping and sanding the gate attachment points a laborious and honestly quite irksome process. If you choose not to paint, you’ll get a passable replica for sure. If you do paint, the sky’s the limit on what you can achieve.

The instructions are excellent and can be followed with no knowledge of Japanese. There is a site somewhere that had a translated Gundam instruction archive, but I’ve never needed to know what’s being said; it’s all pretty self-evident. Anyone who can follow numbers and letters can take a run at this kit, and likely find it something akin to a cross between a model and a Lego set. The pieces are all snap-together, as is Bandai’s custom, so you don’t even need glue. I do, though, glue things together because that’s how I was raised to model!

The box art is excellent, showing the Shenlong deploying its signature gimmick, the Dragon Fang. This is a dragon head-shaped flamethrower extension that flips over the hand on the right arm. On the original, the right arm was also multi-jointed and extensible, to act as a long-range melee weapon. On the new design, though, this isn’t the case.

The box are is clean and dynamic, and it gives you a face full of a Dragon Fang that is just a wee bit too large!

The box are is clean and dynamic, and it gives you a face full of a Dragon Fang that is just a wee bit too large!

Building the Shenlong:

Building this Gundam is no different from any other MG, really. Once you get through the chopping and sanding of the many parts, it really becomes a painting and assembly project. I must say that I DO so very much like that. I have to build cars and planes. I like that I can spend most of my time painting when it comes to Gundams.

The building is easy and there is excellent part and colour separation. There’s very little to build around, and I only had to use ‘cheater’ seams (seams etched to look like panel lines, thereby getting outlined and thus ‘hidden’ in plain sight) in a very few places. One of the key things to remember is not to do too much test fitting. The parts may snap together, but they DO NOT like to come apart. Believe me, you can take it on faith that they’ll fit. Do be aware, though, that they won’t fit well if there’s too much paint on them, so either airbrush the parts (especially the frame bits) or go easy. I hand brush my Gundams, so ‘easy does it’ is what I live by.

Just like on the original kit, there aren’t many options. As far as weapons go, you get the Dragon Fang, the shield and the trident. This is where things started to go sideways, conceptually, for me. I don’t like the Dragon Fang. I didn’t like the asymmetry it introduced on the original design, and it is really out of place on this Katoki version, too. The new Dragon Fang is SOOOO BIG. Yes, that’s what she said. (You were thinking it. Don’t lie!) It’s too big. It overpowers not only the lower arm of the Shenlong, but in fact the entire right arm and shoulder armour too!

The original Dragon Fang was a pretty small, subdued affair, especially when retracted. This new thing is a ridiculously bulky and prominent feature. It’s finny, too, and honestly doesn’t fit the almost athletic look of the Shenlong at all. Thus, I decided that I wasn’t even going to bother. If they can retcon the designs, then I can retcon the retcon, I figured. Thus, the Shenlong is now just a pure melee suit with no dumb flamethrower/gripper/dragon-head-thingy.

I also thought that the trident was not appropriate. I like the idea of the upgrade going from a glaive to a trident, but starting there seemed weird. Thus, I dug the glaive out of my spare old HG 1/100 Shenlong and decided to have the new one wield that instead. With these modifications in hand, I set about to painting the Shenlong as I saw fit.

Painting and Finishing:

The Shenlong is a traditional Gundam in colour terms; white with red blue and yellow. The thing is that the yellow is a bit much. There are no breather vents on the chest, so the entire ‘breastplate’ is outlined in yellow. Also, the entire shield centre is in yellow. That’s a lot of yellow, and it makes the mech look cartoonish. In the old HG kits, because they were so deluxe for their day, the yellow bits were instead given as a gold, semigloss-finished chrome piece. This gold-for-yellow swap was a hallmark of the Wing and X HG kits. Thus, when I see a 1/100 Wing or X mech, I immediately think of gold parts instead of yellow ones.

The colours are pretty traditional, but the shape of the Shenlong, especially through the chest, is not. The gold accents nicely highlight the breastplate.

The colours are pretty traditional, but the shape of the Shenlong, especially through the chest, is not. The gold accents nicely highlight the breastplate.

Thus, I decided to keep the tradition alive on this Shenlong. I chose to paint all yellow bits as gold. I did this first by primering the parts with Paint-It (Walmart house brand) grey primer, and then hitting all the parts with a Krylon Gold Leaf paint. This is the same stuff I used on Predaking’s sword, and it’s great for doing mass areas of gold. I then used my Testors Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Gundam Gold (a mixed colour) to do a few coats for final colour. Gundam Gold is actually MMA Brass with Jacquard yellow pigment and some yellow paint thrown it.

This view of the shield shows the gold nicely. It is much less bright and cartoony than the yellow, and adds an air of class to the finished Shenlong.

This view of the shield shows the gold nicely. It is much less bright and cartoony than the yellow, and adds an air of class to the finished Shenlong. Note, too, the steel vents on the rear skirts!

Most gold paints are too “brown gold”. However, the gold on Gundam kits is traditionally very yellow gold. Thus, Brass gives it a metallic base and coverage, while the yellow additions tint the paint properly. I must say that I wish that someone would just MAKE this bloody colour without me having to mix it, but I am pleased with the results! Once the gold was done, it was Futured to seal it, and then outlined with Sakura calligraphy pen. It was then flat coated with Delta Ceramcoat Indoor/Outdoor Matte Urethane Varnish to seal the marker and paint and prepare for final assembly.

The rest of the painting was straight forward, although I did my usual thing of painting vents in MMA Steel and giving them a Citadel Nuln Oil wash. This applied to the vents in the shoulder armours, as well as those on the rear skirts and feet. I used Jet Exhaust and orange for the skirt and backpack thrusters. I chose to just paint the small yellow trapezoids on the cuffs blue, and have them blend in. There’s no yellow there originally, and it looked out of place.

One thing I did like, though, was the blue all around the top of the skirts, but that it didn’t go all the way down. There was a bit too much blue on the original Shenlong, including the entire lower arm. By recolouring these areas as white, Katoki really cleans up the design and makes the mech a lot lighter and cleaner looking. One thing I didn’t like, though, was how thin the blue stripe on the shoulder was. I liked the original’s wider swath of colour more. Missing on the shoulders were the green ‘jewels”, but I didn’t really mind that since it did, once again, clean the design up.

The separate back skirts are a nice improvement, and the half-and-half blue/white scheme lightens the visual weight of the mech. Note the simple backpack, and the fact that there are only two thrusters on the entire Gundam!

The separate back skirts are a nice improvement, and the half-and-half blue/white scheme lightens the visual weight of the mech.

I used Tamiya Flat White (with MMA Flat White, some Tamiya Purple and MMA GM Engine Block Blue to tint it) for the bulk of the mech, and MMA Guard’s red and the aforementioned blue to get the rest of the colours. The frame was left unpainted but given a quick going over with a homemade black wash made of Delta Ceramcoat Indoor/Outdoor Matte Urethane Varnish, MMA Aircraft Interior Black and some water. Once this was dry it was given a semi-gloss coat and then it could be assembled.

You can see the homemade black wash on the shield's

You can see the homemade black wash on the shield’s “mecanical” parts, as well as on the hands in this shot. You can also JUST make out the crotch booster. Yeah, I just said “crotch booster”…

One other potentially contentious decision with paint occurred at the head. Many Gundams have a strip of red under their eyes. To me, that looks great. Not all have this, but I really do love those that do. One of the things that made the Wing mecha stand out, though, was that none of them had this. This strip just stayed white. I wasn’t having any of that, and have decided that, where possible, all my “new-retro” Wing Gundam models will have the red strip. I painted it onto the mouth plate easily before assembling the head. I have to say, “mission accomplished”: it looks 100% better with the red than without.

Seeing Red!! I love the red under a Gundam's eyes, and I want all my Wing Retcons to have it too! I think it looks fabulous, and makes the Shenlong fit in with its Gundam forebears much better.

Seeing Red!! I love the red under a Gundam’s eyes, and I want all my Wing Retcons to have it too! I think it looks fabulous, and makes the Shenlong fit in with its Gundam forebears much better.

To allow me to handle the White parts for outlining, they were given a coat of matte varnish. This tough varnish gives the marker something to bite on, as well as keeping the parts clean. Any dirt that comes from my hands is easily wiped off; if it got onto the raw paint, it would sink in and discolour the paint. I only do this for white parts; the others were first sprayed with Future to bring up the colour intensity and then matte coated at the end.

Final assembly was fairly easy, but it’s necessary to scrape away paint on any part that is going to go THROUGH any other. So, for joints, especially, there was some scraping to do. The tolerances on the MGs are so tight that a bit of paint on mating parts can actually cause them not to fit! Be careful with your painting, then! To minimize the impact of extra coats of paint, I assembled the matte coated subassemblies, and then gave them a semigloss finish as a last step. This worked well, as it minimized the quantity of coat required, as well as preventing a buildup of paint on mating surfaces.

I lightly oversprayed the glaive blade with Mr. White Surfacer to make it more translucent than transparent. This allows the light to be caught inside the blade, making it glow when lit, without it looking like a piece of cheap, clear green plastic. I of course put a lot more white at the base, and up the main projection on the blade. I also did some whiting on the small ‘bursts’ throughout the blade. I over coated it all with a custom metallic green made with various Jacquard pigments. This re-tints the blade and blends the “white”. Sad thing is that it blended it too much. I had to re-white the main beam, and give a very light pigment-green overcoating to get the effect I was looking for.

Hot and pointy! This is the buisness end of the Shenlong's sole weapon, the beam glaive. It has been 'double whited', to give a slight highlight to the body of the blade while the actual center spike is almost white hot.

Hot and pointy! This is the buisness end of the Shenlong’s sole weapon, the beam glaive. It has been ‘double whited’, to give a slight highlight to the body of the blade while the actual center spike is almost white hot.

False-colour images prove it's true! this colour adjusted image shows the hottest part of the blade at the core, but you can make out the lighter 'heat burps' throught the blade, centered on the black detail lines.

False-colour images prove it’s true! This colour adjusted image shows the hottest part of the blade at the core, but you can make out the lighter ‘heat burps’ throught the blade, centered on the black detail lines.

Old Vs. New:

Okay, so now that the Shenlong is done, the question is how does it measure up to the original, right?

Well, the first thing you’ll notice is that the design is far cleaner and more streamlined. The backpack is smaller and the rear skirts are separate pieces, not just one big skirt. This makes it look a lot lighter and faster. The head is also much nicer, in my view, and less busy. I do like that the arms are symmetrical. Without the extending Dragon Fang arm gimmick of the original, the new Shenlong has both shoulders the same, like pretty much every other Gundam. In this case, familiarity does NOT breed contempt!

The difference between the two designs is very apparent when they're right beside one another. Note that the paint on the original HG is 20 years old, and has yellowed. Look how big the HG's shoulder flares are, and how broad the chestplate is, too.

The difference between the two designs is very apparent when they’re right beside one another. Note that the paint on the original HG is 20 years old, and has yellowed. Look how big the HG’s shoulder flares are, and how broad the chestplate is, too.

One other major difference is that the old HGs were very, very busy in terms of surface detail lines. This works on them, but it looks out of place on a new kit. The new Shenlong goes for a much cleaner canvas and this also makes the mech look lighter. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see this in my photos; the Shenlong was built about 20 years ago, long before I used any kind of outlining pen. Still, if it was outlined, you’d see how busy it was.

There’s only one thing that bugs me  about the redesign. It’s readily apparent when you have the two kits beside one another, but you can notice it if you look at the completed model for any length of time. The upper half is TOO SMALL for the lower half! If you look at the mech, the arms and chest aren’t beefy enough to match the legs. This actually makes the top half look like it’s a different scale from the bottom half! It’s like a 1/110 body on 1/100 legs! The arms are shorter and less massive, the chest less broad and the shoulders are far smaller. Also, the head is a bit smaller (a current vogue in MS design). Taken together, these slight downsizes result in a very great disharmony of design.

Seen from behind, the upper body mass reduction on the MG is startlingly apparent. It's like someone let the upper body go through the drier and it shrank! I think at the very least, the MG needs bigger shoulder flares.

Seen from behind, the upper body mass reduction on the MG is startlingly apparent. It’s like someone let the upper body go through the drier and it shrank! I think at the very least, the MG needs bigger shoulder flares.

Add to this the fact that the old Shenlong’s legs were actually a shade SHORTER than the new ones, and you end up with the new Shenlong having legs that are too long for it’s too-small upper body! It’s actually almost comical, except it’s more disappointing. I don’t know why I didn’t notice it on the side-of-box photos, but it’s very pronounced. It’s the kind of thing that, once you see it, you can’t un-see it.

The same, and yet so different. Look particularly at the legs; the MG's are actually longer than the HG! Now, look at the HG's head; it's taller than the MG! This leg-mass to upper-body-mass ratio being so skewed is a downfall of the redesign.

The same, and yet so different. Look particularly at the legs; the MG’s are actually longer than the HG! Now, look at the HG’s head; it’s taller than the MG! This leg-mass to upper-body-mass ratio being so skewed is a downfall of the redesign.

Conclusions:

I generally like Katoki’s work, and the Shenlong looks great in the box art and the pictures on the side of the box. It’s a very lithe and nimble looking Gundam (what my brother and I refer to as a “fight” Gundam, for reasons we can’t explain), especially when the obnoxiously large Dragon Fang is omitted. The fit of the model is excellent and there wasn’t really anything untoward that happened during the build.

This is a great kit for anyone who likes Wing Gundam, for sure. It’s a great kit for almost any skill level, although a beginner might be put off by the number of parts. There are a lot of small ones, so this is not a great first kit for a new modeller, but it should be doable by anyone with even a bit of experience. The kit is well thought out and executed, and is a perfect example of Bandai’s “Scalable” approach. This is a kit that can be as complex or as simple as you want it.

I am glad I chose the gold instead of the yellow, and I am pleased with the red under the eyes. I think the classic beam glaive goes better with the kit as a weapon than the trident, but whatever you decide will likely work fine. Overall, I really think Katoki’s redesign makes the Shenlong a much better looking mech. However, this goes only so far, and I am sad to say that the almost sub-scale upper body is a really fatal flaw. I realize that times have changed and that the new designs reflect today’s mecha-design sensibilities, but I don’t think it works. I still think the top half of the Shenlong looks like it should be bigger, beefier, and somehow more massive. It’s not a deal breaker until you notice it. If I’d noticed that before, though, I am not sure that I’d have bought this kit: it’s that annoying.

This styling cue, though, is the only bad think I can say about the kit. It’s a typical newer MG kit. It fits well, poses well and has a good level of challenge to it. If you like Wing or not doesn’t matter. I don’t, but I do like this kit, overall! If you see one and you think “Hey, that’s not half bad looking!” (and you don’t mind a bit of shrunken upper body syndrome – SUBS) then just do yourself a favour and pick it up. Just remember, don’t send it out to be your champion in the World Gundam Arm Wrestling Competition; you’ll lose for sure!

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