It’s absolutely terrifying to realize in the awful dystopian future year of 2020 that it’s been about sixteen years since the end of Bandai’s big push to get Gundam toys into American toy aisles, an effort that ended with a last-gasp cough of 4″ Gundam SEED figures in the style of the Wing, Universal Century, and G Gundam figures that had previously littered Walmarts, Targets, and Toys ‘R’ Us stores nationwide. What a time that was — when you could walk into Walmart and come out with a sturdy plastic Zeon Gallop and a handful of Zakus and Doms! (Seriously, Bandai really wanted the original Gundam to be a thing in the early ’00s — it was nuts, but the good kind of nuts. The kind that got us a deluxe Zaku set that came with a Magella Attack Tank so you bash them together into a Zaku Tank. I miss those days …)
Well, our dear friends at Bandai decided last year to give this whole “Gundams you can buy at Walmart” thing another go with a shiny new series of figures called Gundam Universe aimed largely at the U.S. market depicting Mobile Suits both classic and current, all clocking in at Hasbro & Bandai’s current preferred 6″ height. Two waves are out so far:
- Wave 1: the original RX-78-2 Gundam from ’79, the original Wing TV series version of the Wing Gundam, and the Unicorn Gundam from the 2010-2014 OVA series of the same name.
- Wave 2: the Banshee (the Unicorn‘s arch-enemy Mobile Suit), the original Wing TV version of the Deathscythe, and the Gundam Barbatos from 2015’s Iron Blooded Orphans.
Yeah, that does seem a bit 2010s-loaded, but the upcoming Wave 3 is headed back into the late ’90s & early ’00s with the angel-winged Wing Zero Custom, 08th M.S. Team‘s Ez-8, and SEED‘s Strike Gundam (sans equipment packs).
I’ve seen both currently available waves at Walgreens stores in the Southeast Kansas/Southwest Missouri area, but the one Walmart I’ve seen them at has only gotten the first wave so far; as always, distribution varies nationwide. In the hot seat today is the first wave’s RX-78-2 Gundam, the original titular Mobile Suit from the 1979 TV series famously piloted by the original angry, depressed anime robot-piloting teen, Amuro Ray.
Standing at 6 1/4″ inches to the top of its head, this is a sharp representation of the original Gundam. Details all feel right, even if there might be a modern flourish to some of the shapes, and the colors pop, especially the vivid mustard yellow accents. The figure comes with two beam sabers with removable beam blades, a beam rifle, the classic red & white shield with the yellow cross on it, a handle for the shield, two swappable hands, and an adapter to use a Tamashii stand with the figure. (I don’t own any Tamashii stands because, what, aren’t those twenty bucks a pop? I’d rather spend that on another figure, thanks.)
There are some frustrating limitations to the figure. Despite double-jointed elbows, the elbows only bend to just about 90 degrees, which makes a two-handed stance with the beam rifle nigh to impossible; this is compounded by the fact that while the rifle scope poses, the forward handle doesn’t swing to the side like it does on the show. The shield also has pretty much one pose that works due to a lack of clearance on the part of the piece that attaches it to the arm. I’m also positive that on older Gundam toys I was able to get the Gundam to carry the rifle by the bar across the top of the rifle, and here the gap was too small to get the Gundam’s fingers through.
The two beam saber blades are awfully long — they measure 4 1/2 inches each and are a delightful candy pink color. I do have to say, though, that I miss the translucent blades from the old 4″ line. The Gundam holds his saber well in his left open hand, but the right is sculpted for holding his rifle and therefore his grip on his saber with that hand is a bit loose.
Speaking of hands and looseness, the figure comes with its two closed fists loaded in, and those feel nice and tight. They’re attached with simple ball joints, and they’re easy to pop off. However, once I pop in the open hand on the left side, his wrist winds up all floppy — and since it’s the open hand that’s going to carry the weight of a weapon, that’s a slightly frustrating disappointment. Might have to give that ball a coat of floor polish. Similarly loose is the tab that attaches the shield to his back; that fell off several times while I was taking these pics.
My last real gripe is with what this set doesn’t include. Now, I buy enough twenty-to-twenty-five dollar collector figures to know this is a pretty reasonable load of accessories for a figure at this price point. That said, in my mind an RX-78-2 should also include the Gundam Hammer (the Gundam’s morning star weapon, which recurred in 1999’s Turn-A Gundam) and the Beam Javelin. Some further additional hands would have been nice, too — but I’ve been noticing that we’re starting to get lucky to get more than two extra hands in Bandai U.S.’s current run of Dragon Ball figures, and those are martial arts characters who really do need the extra hand poses!
None of this is to minimize the fact that I’m stoked to have a new line of mass market Gundam figures on sale in the U.S. at the start of the third decade of the 21st century — and if this is a good example of how these are all coming off, I’ll be quite happy to spend another $25 on that Wing Gundam that came out alongside it in Wave 1. Indeed, to be perfectly fair, most of my complaints are nitpicks, things I can fix myself, or the usual QC issues you’ll get with a mass retail figure in 2020; the one thing I am hoping is that they make an effort to do something about that elbow range going forward, but I’m betting there was a calculation there regarding accuracy of sculpt versus joint range and, sadly, joint range lost. But in the final analysis, it’s a great looking Gundam at a good size with mostly tight joints and all of the Mobile Suit’s essential weapons/accessories, and you can actually find it in chain stores that are in most cities and towns across the States. Seriously, given Bandai’s full Gundam retreat at the flip of the last decade, it feels like some kind of miracle. Here’s hoping these do well enough that I can get some Zakus for it to fight! (The New York Toy Fair is in a few weeks, so we’ll probably see about that then …)