This time I have something rather different from my usual action figure reviews, a model, the Perfect Grade GAT-X105 Strike Gundam model kit to be exact. If you've never seen a Gundam model kit, they are a cross between a traditional plastic model kit and an action figure. Like a model, they come completely unassembled with all of the parts attached to plastic racks. In case you are having bad air plane glue flashbacks, no worries. Gundam kits don't require a drop of glue. They are almost completely snap together kits. (Some of the larger kits may have screws at some of the major joints. The Perfect Grade Strike Gundam kit has just one, optional screw which holds the battery cover closed.) But the final, fully assembled kit is much closer to an action figure than a model, albeit more fragile than a mass market action figure. To say that it is fully articulated would be an understatement to say the least. When Bandai decided to call these "Perfect Grade", they weren't kidding. The only way to top these kits would be to actually build the real thing.
Packaging - 5/10Like the previous Perfect Grade kits, The Strike Gundam comes in a large box, almost two feet wide. Unlike their other model kits, Bandai uses a much cleaner look for the Perfect Grade boxes. The front of the box has a large photo of the completed kit along with the name and a handful of the features on a plain white background. The side and top panels repeat the kit name while the bottom has a few smaller photos of the kit and features. The entire box is similar to a shirt box where the top slides up over the bottom half. The entire bottom is plain cardboard with no printing at all. The packaging inside is equally simple. The twenty-six racks of parts come separated into plastic bags and stacked in the box. A cardboard divided keeps the three stacks from shifting during shipping. The overall design is quite similar to that of Bandai's lower grade Gundam kits. But the minimalist design and solid color background are supposed to give the Perfect Grade kits a clean, elegant look. I liked the effect on most of the previous kits, but white background used for the Strike Gundam doesn't seem to work quite as well as the past ones. Perhaps it just reminds me too much of the generic brand packaging of the 80's.
Sculpting - 10/10The Perfect Grade kits are called perfect for a reason, and this is it. Bandai packs more detail into these kits than I could ever describe. Not only is the exterior recreated in extreme detail, but the interior structure is as well. The level of detail is particularly impressive since there is very little basis for the interior structure given in the anime.
Paint & decals - 4/10There are no paint applications on the Perfect Grade kits; all of the color comes from the color of plastic used. For the exterior panels, that is probably sufficient for most people. Those with more patience and better painting skills may want to take some time to add some weathering or paint the panel lines though. The interior structure is quite lacking in color though since almost all of the structural parts are cast in similar shades of black plastic. If you want to display the Strike Gundam with the panels open to see the interior details, you will probably want to spend some time painting. The two Kira Yamato figures included are also in significant need of paint since they are cast entirely in white. Unfortunately the Strike Gundam kit suffers from a significant problem which I have not experienced with past kits; there are two different shades of white used on different racks of parts. The difference isn't that noticeable at first, but once you start assembling the kit and see the two shades next to each other, the difference is quite noticeable. Given the price of the Perfect Grade kits and otherwise impeccable quality, such a basic error is quite disappointing.
There is a small sheet of decals included. They add all of the lettering for the mobile suit, beam rifle and shield. Personally, I haven't bothered with the decals on past kits. But after putting a few of them on the Strike, I must admit that they are a significant improvement. However, the decals are not cut to fit the figure very well. Many will have to be trimmed down to fit and carefully wrapped around the contours of the various panels.
Articulation - 10/10Fully articulated is a woeful understatement when it comes to the perfect grade kits like the Strike Gundam. Basically, everything that can move does. And all of the joints stay nice and tight. Some of the highlights include fully articulated fingers and multiple opening panels. But what is especially impressive about the articulation is how intricate the designs are. The hatch for the cockpit is a good example. The lower section just flips down. But the upper section pulls out to allow the top section to flip up while at the same time pulling the pilot's chair out and flipping up the control screen. Pushing the chair back in causes the screen to flip back down into place. While that is one example, almost the entire figure is designed as a moveable frame. What that means is that rather than simple hinge or cut joints, the entire frame moves together. The triceps and thighs extend as the elbows or knees are bent. Even something as simple as adjusting the ankles to one side or the other causes parts to move along both sides of the calf as if controlling the movement. The amount of thought and design that went into the kit is very impressive.
Accessories - 4/10The Perfect Grade Strike Gundam comes with quite a few accessories: a beam rifle, shield, two assault knives (Armored-Schneiders), the giant "grand slam" knife, and two figurines of Kira Yamato (one sitting and one standing). While that is an impressive number of accessories, they are not that impressive in and of themselves. The beam rifle clips into place in the right hand or can be stored on the back of the waist section. The Grand Slam is simply HUGE, over thirteen inches. The armored-schneiders are fairly basic. They fold up and store neatly in the skirt armor. But the blades really should have been cast in a different color than the handles; vac-metal silver would have been nice. The shield is the most elaborate of the accessories. It clips to the elbow and has a handle to be held in the figure's hand. The small window near the top has a panel that can be slide up to cover the window. The two figurines of Kira are quite well sculpted given their diminutive size. But once the kit is assembled, removing the seated one is nearly impossible. (I wouldn't even want to try to get it back into place.) And the standing one can stand on its own, but falls over at the slightest breeze. There is one other accessory, the 'Instruction Manual.' It is a rather odd choice of names since the only instructions it seems to have is the placement of the decals; the rest of it appears to be background information, history and technical information about the Strike Gundam. However, since I don't read Japanese and doubt many of those who will be reading this review will either, it doesn't add much to the set.
But by now you are probably wondering why I only gave the kit a score of 4/10 if it comes with all of that. While The Perfect Grade Strike Gundam kit does come with all the basic accessories appropriate for the suit, it is what is missing that really hurts. What make the Strike Gundam unique are the add-on packs: the Aile, Launcher and Sword. The fact that none of these were included is a shame. The Strike Gundam kit is about on par with the first Perfect Grade kit of the RX-78 Gundam or Zaku II, and it is priced accordingly. But compared to the more recent kits, especially the GP01 kit that had a complete hanger included, it seems pretty light. Bandai is of course well aware of this. And like they did with the RX-78 and Zaku II, they seem to be planning accessory packs to go with the Strike Gundam kit. The first one which includes the Aile and Skygrasper plane has just been released in Japan. (More info and pictures from Hobby Link Japan)Hopefully the Sword and Launcher parts will be released in the future. I'm alright with having to buy the Skygrasper separately, but it would have been nice to have at least one of the back pack sets included. Ideally, I would have liked to see the Aile set come with the Strike Gundam kit and then include the Sword and Launcher sets with the Skygrasper.
Special NotesAlright, I think I've talked enough about the final product. This is a model kit after all. So how do you take the twenty six racks containing over 550 parts and turn them into the final product? First, a few suggestions about what tools you should have handy: a sprue cutter, razor blade or exacto knife, a file or files (optional), screwdriver (optional), tweezers (optional) and a garbage bag or can. If you have never heard of sprue cutters, they are small diagonal cutters designed specifically for cutting model parts off of the molds. They are sharp enough to cut even the thickest sprues (the small bits of plastic which connect the parts to trees). But they provide a very clean cut with little risk of damaging the part. You should be able to pick of a sprue cutter at a local hobby shop for as little as $10. They are easily worth every penny on a model kit this large. Once the parts are cut free, there will still be a small bit of plastic that should be shaved off. This is where the razor or exacto knife comes in. Personally, I find that a small disposable wallpaper knife is perfect. The handle is comfortable, for me at least. The blade can be extended as much or as little as needed. And when the blade begins to dull, the end can simply be snapped off and a sharp section extended. Oh, and they are quite cheap too, often less than a dollar. Even after the sprues have been shaved down, you may want a fine file to smooth down the areas further. The screwdriver is pretty self explanatory. The Perfect Grade Strike Gundam kit has just one screw, a small Phillips one used to secure the battery cover. If, like me, you choose not to install a battery in order to avoid the risk of a battery acid leak the screwdriver is not needed. The tweezers are quite handy for applying the decals at the end. I used the pair from an inexpensive swiss army knife. They were small enough to be used with even the smallest decals and the rounded top worked well for rubbing the decals once applied to ensure good contact and remove any air bubbles. The garbage bag or can should be pretty self explanatory, though be careful to make sure there are no parts left on any rack before you throw it away. The final thing you will need is space, and lots of it.
Well, in case you hadn't guessed it when I said that Instruction Manual was entirely in Japanese, the bad news is that the construction manual is as well. However, the good news is that it is entirely possible to assemble it without actually being able to read the instructions thanks to Bandai's use of western style lettering and numbering to label everything. Each rack of parts is labeled with a letter A through T. (There are two of several of the racks to bring the total to twenty-six.) The individual parts on each rack are numbered. Each section of the construction manual shows which racks of parts will be used. For each step in the assembly process the parts used are labeled with the rack and part number. From there, the illustrations in the construction manual do a great job of showing how the pieces are assembled. There are warnings, symbolized by dark squares with an exclamation mark inside, for parts where you need to be careful about something, usually the way a part is oriented. And a few of the steps show the order that the parts should be assembled using numbered diamonds. Once you're able to recognize these few symbols, assembling a perfect grade kit isn't such an overwhelming task. It's seventy-some little ones. Still, I wouldn't suggest picking a Perfect Grade kit for your first attempt at a Gundam model kit.
Value - 7/10The Perfect Grade Strike Gundam runs around $130 to $140 depending on the store and the current exchange rate. That is quite a bit cheaper than the last Perfect Grade kit, the GP01. But it is also a much smaller kit. It would be roughly on par with some of the other Perfect Grade kits like the Gundam Mark II if not for the lack of any of the component backpack systems. Without at least one of them, the Strike Gundam seems incomplete. And since right now it appears as though it will cost you an additional $50 to get the Aile backpack and the Sword and Launcher accessories have yet to be announced and the value takes a big hit. None the less, it is still a very impressive kit once completed, just like the previous Perfect Grades. If you have the money and the patience to build one, it is not likely to disappoint.
Happy Hunting:The Perfect Grade kits are not distributed in the US. So importing one is your only option. Hobby Link Japan has it in stock right now for 14,000 yen (around $130) But shipping can be a killer from Japan, adding as much as $50 to that price. I have been buying most of my Perfect Grade kits from Big Bad Toy Store. Their prices are fair and at just $7, the shipping is a steal. The Strike Gundam is currently out of stock, but if you are trying to save money, it might be worth watching to see if they restock. You can also watch Ebay for a good deal, just watch out for the shipping costs.