It’s a well-accepted truism that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. It seems to be true, too; think about the last time YOU tried to do that. Well, the saying’s even true for modelling companies. How many times have we heard about a company releasing a kit that people have been wanting for years, only to have people be too picky and critical of it when it comes out. Of course, there’s the argument of “if you’re not going to do it right, don’t do it at all”, and I don’t want this to degenerate into a shouting match between model execs and rabid rivet counters. However, the fact of the matter is that most modelling companies have to walk a fine line between satisfying the majority of their customers (who might be a little bit more “casual” about their hobby) and satisfying that ultra-hardcore minority of their customers (who are somewhat more “intense” and have more particular and esoteric tastes).
Even Bandai, that Japanese giant of sci-fi modelling, has encountered this problem in the past. Since the first Gundam kits hit the shelves in 1983, Bandai has been evolving the breed to make it more impressive, more detailed, easier to build and more accessible by more non-modellers with each generation. It’s to the point now that the difference between many Gundam kits and a figure that needs assembling only is very blurry. Gone are the days where you needed glue and modelling skills to get your mech looking like the box.
The good point of this is clearly that the kits are designed and engineered with better colour and part separation than any other kit on the planet. The bad part is that this is an expensive process, so some of the more esoteric subjects have to be left behind. Bandai’s encountered this paradox before. In the middle 1990’s, when Wing and X Gundam were the newest thing, there were (for the time) excellent, advanced kits of the main mecha (i.e. Gundams) from the show in both 1/144 and 1/100. However, some of the generic suits, the “bad guy” or “cannon fodder” machines, didn’t see the same attention due to economic non-viability. To satisfy the few that wanted them, “LM” or “Limited Model” kits of them were released. These were simplified, not-very-poseable kits intended for hardcore modellers only.
As time passed, these LMs faded away. However, a few years later, there was a demand for kits of non-mobile suits. Hardcore modellers wanted support vehicles and so forth for diorama purposes, and there was a small number who wanted ship kits. It had been a long time since Bandai had made a space warship kit for a Gundam series, and the market was very small. Thus, rather than sink in a tonne of money for no return, or ignore a piece of their fan base, Bandai did what it always does: it created a new line of models, the “EX-Model” series!
EX-Models are, as mentioned, kits of esoteric vehicles and ships (not always in the Gundam universe) that not many people want. They are not, however, like the LMs of yore. They are fully-detailed, well-engineered replicas. They are not designed for the more numerous “Casual” Gundam builder. They don’t have full colour moulding, or stickers, or fancy instructions. They come moulded in one colour. They need work, like gluing and sanding, to look right. In short, they are ACTUAL MODEL KITS. They also cost a lot more for what they are than a Gundam of the same size would. Thus, they are only for those who are serious about the subject matter, and who are willing to work to get the desired results.
When it comes to anime spacecraft, there are several ships that I’d love to build. One I have always wanted a kit of is the Albion from Gundam 0083. Why? Well, 0083 is my very, very favourite Gundam series of all time. When I was learning about anime from old Protoculture Addicts and Mangazine fanzines of the 1990s (Yes, young’uns, that’s how we did it then, we READ things, on PAPER! Now get off my lawn!), Gundam 0083 was the first Gundam I ever got to see pictures and drawings of. It was also the first Gundam I ever got to see, when I saw a third generation rip of a rip of a fansub. I was hooked immediately!
Since then, I’ve wanted some kind of Albion replica. It’s easily, to me, the most stylish and aggressive warship that’s ever graced the Gundam universe’s sea of stars. They did make a toy in the early 2000’s, when Gundam came to North America, but my brother has that, and I wanted my OWN replica. Preferably one I could build. Then, I saw the EX-Model of it! I have acquired several EX-Models second hand, so I’ve never noticed the price bite on the kits. However, the one copy of the Albion I saw, years ago, was prohibitively expensive, so I passed on it. As it turns out, the second time was the charm, as Neo Tokyo, London’s local anime and Gundam Kit store got a copy when it was rereleased! It was much more acceptably priced (although still the price of a moderate Re/100 kit), and I couldn’t turn it down.
So, let’s see, then, what Bandai’s take on the Albion is like, and we’ll get a chance to see how Bandai now makes a kit for kit builders, as opposed to assemblers, as well!
Since the EX-Models aren’t a big budget investment on Bandai’s part, the boxes aren’t as eye-catching and sexy as normal Gundam boxes. There’s no “art” for one thing; you get a photo of a completed model on the box, and that’s it. The Albion’s box is typical, being a white lid with a dark blue band across the middle, upon which the front three-quarters shot of the Albion is found. There’s some technical data on the left side of the lid, giving things like hull number, size statistics and propulsion info, and a few small thumbnails showing detailed shots at the bottom of the box.
It’s not the most dramatic Gundam box I’ve seen, but it’s not the worst. Having a photo of the model on the front certainly lets you know how the kit can be built, and showcases the model very well. It doesn’t show the stand the model comes with, though, nor does it mention (in English, at least) the fact that the kit is a single colour. You’re supposed to know that. If you look at EX-Models, Bandai assumes you’re a real modeller and can handle having to paint things. You can also see the price tag. I pay about $35 for a good-sized HGUC from the same store; EX-Models are not for the faint of heart, skill or wallet, it seems!
On the one side of the box are three shots of the full ship, to give you some painting guide when building your own model. You can see that the ship is fairly colourful, using the standard “Gundam palette” of white, red, yellow and blue, along with dark grey and black. On the other side of the box are some close in detail shots, including a close-up on the engine cluster, the extended catapult both in place and “raw” in what appears to be white metal, as well as two tiny MS replicas. That’s right, just like in Episode 1, when the Albion comes to Earth transporting the GP-01 and GP-02, this Albion comes complete with those two suits! Now, take a careful look. They’re 1mm tall. Yes. One MILLIMETRE. Hmmm… nice paint work to whoever built those for the box. They are officially crazy, and I’m not even going to consider trying that on my kit!
Inside the box you get five sprues of white plastic, and one bag containing white metal parts for the catapults! If you’re used to newer Gundams, the monochromicity (is that a word?) of the parts may take you by surprise. There’s no red for the lower hulls, no yellow bits for the cannon domes or radars, and the dark grey/black sections are moulded right into the hull of the ship. Just like I said, the Albion is a real kit, and it’s all one colour like almost every other kind of kit (save some Academy kits, and of course old Matchboxes).
The moulding on the parts, though, is typical Bandai. That means it’s very well done, with straight, consistent lines and sharp corners. The moulds don’t seem to have suffered any degradation despite being 15 years old now, although the lower production runs of EX-Model kits has likely helped this. I am particularly impressed with the “embedded” detail behind the bridge, and on the components that go on the back of the cannon bulges. About the only detail that looks a bit weak is on the missile doors that adorn the cannon bulges.
The aerials and radar “ears” of the bridge look very nice, and the engine detail also looks like it will pop with a wash. The holes in the perforated plates that join the engine and gunnery sections are all drilled, although the barrels on the main “undernose” cannons are not. The tiny mobile suits are somewhat miraculous, actually, and while I don’t intend to use them, they are impressive pieces of moulding work! The part breakdown looks good, too.
One thing you can notice is that this is only going to need a bit of glue. Bandai, at least on this model, has gone with very large, almost comically and brutishly so, pegs for attaching subassemblies. The kit is largely a snap-fit one, too, with subassemblies being held together by (again, surprisingly) large post-in-hole arrangements. This is the Albion’s one concession to simplicity, but it works. The modularity of the ship is incredible, and it looks like all the major subsections can be finished on their own and then just “popped” together. The engine sections slide on in a method I’m not used to seeing Bandai use, and I’m impressed how well the mating mechanisms are hidden.
The most interesting part, to me, was the white metal catapult decks. These are surprisingly well detailed, but are also amazingly flexible. I was expecting them to be rather brittle, but they bend and flex extremely easily, making it almost impossible to NOT damage them. Since I’ve not worked with white metal, and I don’t like the ship with the catapults out, I won’t be using them. However, the use of white metal vs. resin (or, I dunno, PLASTIC??) on this kit is very “old school” and I feel kinda like I’m looking at a Gunze Sangyo kit when I see it. That’s not always good. Still, it’s an interesting touch…
Like all EX-Models, the Albion’s instructions are simple blue and white line art affairs. There’s no fancy, multi-fold, full-colour instructions here! The plans look like blueprints, with the colour choice, and I think that’s done on purpose. They are, as with all Bandai instructions, very clear and easy to follow. Being a bear of little brain, I forgot to snap a pic of the instructions, so I’ve “borrowed” one from Hobby Search (www. 1999.co.jp/eng/Gundam). I hope they don’t mind.
There are no decals for the kit, but then again, it doesn’t need them.
The Albion is a very cool ship, from a very cool anime. I’m delighted to finally have a copy I can build and “put my mark on”, so to speak. Because it’s an EX-Model, the Albion may intimidate some more casual Gundam builders, and it may be a bit too expensive for those same folk.
However, as a kit, the Albion looks really good. I don’t care about the colour thing; I prime and paint anyway! The detail looks good, the shape and fineness of the parts is typical Bandai, and it even comes with its own little stand! It is incredibly well engineered from an assembly standpoint, and I don’t think that it would give trouble to anyone, even a novice builder. Sure, it might not look as nice as the box if you’re not an experienced painter, but it would be a good kit to practice things like detail painting, washes and different highlighting techniques on.
I love the Albion, and I love this kit of it. If you feel the same way and want to tackle one, then grab it if you see it. You won’t be disappointed. Of course, it’s back out of production now, so you might have to wait a bit. Still, it’s worth it!