Bandai 1/144 Gusion Rebake (OOB)

By now, we all know that Gundam is immortal. Bandai and Sunrise have proven this time and again. With constant reinvention as well as the retconning of new UC storylines, the Gundam franchise has managed to not only survive, but thrive. Right along with it, of course, thrives the industry of plastic models that Bandai has been associated with since the first Gundam kits came out in 1983.  In fact, the history of Gundam is a very interesting and telling tale not only of the anime world, but also of the state of plastic mech modelling itself.

Not all of Gundam’s incarnations are totally successful. Heck, the original Gundam was cancelled early, as was Gundam X. Other Gundam series seem to last too long (cough… Zeta… cough) or just refuse to die. My personal view is that Gundam makes great OVAs but only so-so TV series.  The OVAs are tighter and better written, with little filler. Again, there are exceptions, but the second-most recent Gundam TV series, Reconguista in G, certainly fits that bill. I disliked the series so much that I only have three kits from it. (I have 30 from Unicorn, and about the same from Build Fighters.)

Thus, when the new series, “Iron Blooded Orphans” (IBO) was announced, I didn’t get too excited. I waited to see what the mecha would look like, and I didn’t read up on the series at all. Once I got a look at the first few mecha, and the Gundam Barbatos (the main mech) in particular, my hopes sank. I was not a fan of the majority of the designs, but decided to see if they grew on me.  Gradually, they did, and some machines in the series were interesting enough for me to pick up as kits.

Now, having seen the first season of IBO, I have to admit to being shocked. It is, to my mind, the best Gundam TV series yet. It is unflinchingly brutal and touching at the same time, and while the mecha looked a bit weird at first, they are easy enough to get used to. Of course, liking the show is one thing, but when it comes to the models, a good show doesn’t necessarily mean good kits. Equally troubling to me was that prices for HGUC kits have been on the rise since the start of Unicorn; only Build Fighters kits bucked the trend. What kind of kits, and at what cost, were we to expect from IBO.

A journey to NeoTokyo, London’s anime store, soon gave me the opportunity to find out when I picked up a couple of IBO kits, including the oddly-named Gusion Rebake.

The Box:

The IBO boxes are quite a bit different from the boxes that we’re used to seeing, graphically speaking. They’re the same size as always, but they have a white background more reminiscent of Gundam Age kits than the recent Build Fighters, HGUC and Reconguista in G kits. It gives the box a far less cluttered and busy feeling.

The art on the box is still excellent as always, though. The Gusion (that’s how they refer to it in the show, almost never using the term “rebake”) is prominent in its box art, of course, and there’s clearly some action going on in the background, but unlike UC boxes, the mech is clearly the focus, standing out from the background rather than blending into it.  This, combined with the Gusion’s odd design combining both the lanky and the bulbous, make for a very striking piece of box art.

Very classy with less of a busy feel: Nice box art indeed, Bandai!

Very classy with less of a busy feel: Nice box art indeed, Bandai!

There’s surprisingly little English on the box, especially compared to HGUC kits, and this adds to the “exotic” flavour, at least for those of us who don’t speak or read Japanese!  It also tends to make the writing less intrusive into the box art, because the font is much smaller, finer and less blocky. In that way, it actually suits many of the mecha from IBO quite well!  There’s also a picture of the pilot’s head. Now, if you know the show, this could be important. However, if you don’t, like I didn’t when I purchased the Gusion, it’s really kind of unnecessary. It doesn’t add anything, and it is space that could be better taken up elsewise, perhaps, is the impression I got.

On the sides there are full colour views of the Gusion kit “in action”, giving you an idea of the weapons, gimmicks and poseability of the model. Weapon wise, the kit looks rather underwhelming, with only a long rifle and a funny shield that can also store on the Gusion’s butt. There are some cool gimmicks, though, in the form of two extra arms (!) in the shoulder binders, and a two-mode head; one that’s “Gundam-like” and one that’s more “sniper-like”. This reminds me of the Dynames from 00, actually.

Two static poses (front and rear) and a story that I can't read on this side...

Two static poses (front and rear) and a story that I can’t read on this side…

What’s most interesting about the box isn’t what’s on it, it’s what’s missing. It used to be the case that many Gundam boxes would show at least one view of the kit finished without any additional work, right “from the box”. This was done to show how complete the kit was, and was a way for Bandai to somewhat justify their increasing price tags. It also gave a good idea as to how part and colour separation was on the kit.

However, for the Gusion, there’s no such picture. Seems odd that Bandai doesn’t want to toot its own horn, doesn’t it? That, coupled with the lower price point, started to make me a bit nervous about finding out what’s inside. I was starting to wonder if this was some kind of HG/No-grade hybrid. Was there something about this kit that Bandai was trying to hide?

Some cool poses on this side. However, the axe is from another kit, and there's something missing from these shots... what could Bandai have "missed"??

Some cool poses on this side. However, the axe is from another kit, and there’s something missing from these shots… what could Bandai have “missed”??

The Kit:

When I opened the kit and took a look what was inside, I will admit I was surprised. There are six sprues of plastic: two blackish, two beige, one white and one orange, as well as a sheet of stickers and a rack of polycaps. That’s not a bad number of colours for an HG, it seems like things are okay, right? Well, yes and no.

First, let’s look at what we get: The parts are very crisply moulded, as expected for a first pressing of a new mould. There’s no flash, no injection mould steps, no ejector pin marks or anything else anywhere. Typical Bandai quality throughout. The surface detail is adequate for a kit this size, and adds visual interest without going all “Real Grade” and forcing your eyes into an involuntary squint. There are no clear pieces for beam weapons, but that’s because in the world of IBO (at least Season 1) there are NO beam weapons of any kind, so that’s not an issue.

Here's what you get. It looks good, but get ready, because you are going to have to paint it if you want it looking at all like it is on the box...

Here’s what you get. It looks good, but get ready, because you are going to have to paint it if you want it looking at all like it is on the box…

The way in which IBO kits, even the 1/144 HG ones, are built is more like a cross between an HG and an RG. There is an internal frame (in the case of the Gusion, it’s a “Gundam Frame”, different from that of the Grazes and most other mecha in the series) around which the armour is fitted. The frame isn’t hyper detailed, but it does have some nice hose detail and a few other mouldings that will show up well with some painting and washing. This approach also pretty much guarantees that the armour parts can be fitted on afterwards, without much worry of build-around. This is a godsend!

Here are some of the frame and internal parts. Simple, but with some nice detail.

Here are some of the frame and internal parts. Simple, but with some nice detail.

Now, let’s look at what seemed a bit odd: There are a lot fewer pieces in this kit than I was expecting. One full rack is frame; the others are armour and weapons. However, there aren’t that many pieces to make up the rest of the kit, at least at first glance. The box gives me the impression of being a bit empty compared to an equivalent Build Fighters Try kit. Of course, it’s a bit cheaper, and given the recently climbing price of Gundam Kits, that’s always an okay trade off.

However, colour separation has suffered badly. This is where Bandai has chosen to cut its corners. While there are four colours of plastic in the kit, the distribution of the colours is not what you’d expect. Unlike other HG kits, which until now could almost make a perfectly colour-separated replica of the real mech, the Gusion only has a few differently coloured components. A perfect example is the shield/butt warmer/Clark-Griswold-crazy-saucer-toboggan- thing. This piece is mostly tan, with dark grey engines and large areas of white on the edges. I can’t help but think that in an HGUC kit, the white, tan and engine nozzles would all be separate pieces. On the Gusion, it’s all moulded as one piece.

Huh.

The white parts are handled by stickers. The engine nozzles; well, they aren’t handled at all. That means, that if you don’t paint, you get a tan shield with some (likely iffy-looking) white sticker bits, and totally indistinct engine nozzles. It won’t look anywhere near as good as the model on the box. I can’t help but think that this is going to be a big letdown for people used to the pampering of RG and HGUC colour separation.  On the other hand, though, the moulding of the shield is excellent, and the separation lines of the different coloured areas are very clear and crisp.  Another area that suffers is the Gusion’s head, where all of the face is a sticker, and it has to go over considerable amount of moulded-on detail.

So now the secret is revealed. The IBO kits have been simplified in terms of piece count and complex injection procedures in order to make them more affordable.  Is this a big deal? It depends on who you ask and what you, as a modeller expect. If you’re a casual modeller, or even assembler of Gundam kits, then yeah, it’s a bit deal. You’re not going to be able to get as good or as accurate a replica of your mech of choice. You’re going to have to choose between putting up with what will look like an inferior product and trying your hand at some painting and detailing work. If you want to cut parts off the rack and be done the kit in an hour or two, you’re going to pay for it in terms of final display quality.

The butt shield tells the tale! Cost control through simplfication is the theme on IBO 1/144 HG kits. The thruster and vent detail is excellent, but it's all moudled as a single piece. Bust out the paint brushes, because you're going to have to work to make this one look less like a simple toy!

The butt shield tells the tale! Cost control through simplfication is the theme on IBO 1/144 HG kits. The thruster and vent detail is excellent, but it’s all moudled as a single piece. Bust out the paint brushes, because you’re going to have to work to make this one look less like a simple toy!

If, though, you’re a modeller who paints and details your Gundam kits regardless of how the parts are separated, then it’s not such a big deal. It’s a bit of a step backwards in terms of overall easiness, sure. However, it’s not going to be too much of a hardship. You might have some extra masking or touching up to do, but that’s all you’ll notice. For me, the prospect of saving some money outweighs Bandai’s (perhaps questionable) decision on part and colour separation. However, the mileage of that sentiment will vary wildly, I’m sure.

Instructions and Decals:

The instructions on the Gusion are nice and clear. They remind me more of the AGE kits than HGUC ones, since they use what appear as shaded 3D cad models to convey most of the information. There are a couple pages of colour, of course, a trademark of Gundam kits that most other types of models really need to emulate. There are Japanese callouts and notes, of course, and I can’t read a one, but it’s no biggie. If you can read English numbers and letters, then you can find the parts and put everything together just fine.

The use of the 3D CAD works just as well for Gundams as it does for Airfix's planes. Everthing's as clear as it can be.

The use of the 3D CAD works just as well for Gundams as it does for Airfix’s planes. Everthing’s as clear as it can be.

The decals aren’t really decals, though. Like almost every other HG Gundam, the Gusion comes with foil stickers. I hate them, in general. They have the odd use, but its’ few and far between. They can be difficult to position and they are one-shot only. Get it right or forever lament not doing so. Unlike traditional water decals, a Gundam’s stickers are extremely sticky, and once down they stay down. The Gusion is quite curvaceous, and Gundam stickers don’t do badly on surfaces like that. However, there’s going to be a problem with the face, at the very least, I think.

Lame. I have little to no use for stickers, and if you're relying on them to make up for the part separation issues, you're going to be one sad little boy come Christmas Morning...

Lame. I have little to no use for stickers, and if you’re relying on them to make up for the part separation issues, you’re going to be one sad little boy come Christmas Morning…

Conclusions:

It seems that Iron Blooded Orphans is a franchise full of surprises. The anime surprised me with its amazing story and savage brutality, while the kits surprised me with their neo-minimalist approach to cost effectiveness.  I am also surprised that I haven’t come across more complaining about Bandai “Cheapening Out” as far as the HGIBO kits go.

Overall, the Gusion is a cool-looking mech with some interesting gimmicks. Not too many mecha have a spare set of arms, and the butt shield looks pretty good as a shield, but a bit much as a whoopee cushion. The design and implementation of the kit looks both straight forward and easy to handle. There’s really no reason that anyone, even a complete novice, can’t have some fun with the Gusion and get a passable-looking replica at the very least.  I think it’s safe to say that any level of modeller will be able to handle this kit.

However, the reduction in colour and part separation will leave some people cold. I will admit that it’s a bit cheeky that Bandai doesn’t really “admit” to watering down the complexity of the kits anywhere on the box (at least in a way visible to non-Japanese speakers), and I’m sure they’re banking on their reputation for excellent kits to sway buyers into either not looking too closely at the kit, or forgiving the kit its considerable simplification.

That having been said, for a modeller who knows how to throw some paint, the IBO kits in general, and the Gusion in particular, are going to be awesome. There’s good detail and interesting design elements (thrusters, vents, hoses) aplenty. The kit is, part and colour separation-wise, more like a kit from 15 years ago, but with the better moulding, engineering and plastic quality we’ve come to expect in the last couple of years.

I personally like the looks of the kit, and as a modeller, I like it that it will reward true modelling efforts while encouraging non-modellers to try out some new skills. There are a lot of IBO kits out there, so you have lots to choose from. The Gusion looks like a good example, though, so if you’re looking to dip your toe into the bloody waters of IBO, this is a great place to start!

The colour on the instruction booklet always looks nice, and gives good views for painting.

The colour on the instruction booklet always looks nice, and gives good views for painting.

Love It or Hate It?

I’m really interested to see what those of you out there, who’ve now had a chance to see Bandai’s method of keeping costs under control, think of their approach. Whether you like the Gusion or not, all the 1/144 IBO kits are similar in their approach to affordability, meaning fewer colours and part separation, and more stickers.

They all require more work to be made to look like the box, and that’s what I’m curious about. Does that bother you as a modeller, Gundam Fan or builder in general? Fill out the poll and leave comments about it here. You’ve seen my opinion: what’s yours?

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