Saturday, February 10, 2007

[Review] Littlest Red, Part II

Proving once again that style can trump substance, Bandai/Fusion Works' Gundam Ultimate Operation line soldiers on in its 14th and 15th iterations, producing a Sazabi and two Jagd Dogas.

So what is FW's Gundam Ultimate Operation ("FWUO", for short). FWUO has been one of Bandai's more obscure product offerings, and definitely remains one of the more unusual. I can't quite remember when FWUO began appearing on shelves- my memory tells me that I saw the second line on a 2000 trip to Japan; it can't have been much earlier than that, as the first lineup included the Strike Gundam in its roster, meaning that Gundam SEED must have been airing at the time. FWUO ran with the "candy toy" concept, which has always been popular in Japan: include a toy of a popular character with some candy and sell it to whiny kids in supermarkets. I'm sure every collector has, at some point, eaten said candy. They're not bad, really- kind of ramune flavored- and much better than the 1981 Topps baseball card gum that I totally did not eat in 1991.

Over time, the candy has become incidental and in FWUO, is almost an inside throwback joke, because the line is clearly marketed to adult collectors. Now, after that unnecessary build-up, I will finally get to what FWUO is. FWUO is built around the concept of highly-detailed static display figures. Static is something of a personal judgment, because some do have 'moving' parts. In its early days, FWUO was an incredible concept, arriving well before the onslaught of trading figures. Although there were few moving parts on these figures, they had a full paint job and weathering to boot. Anything in those days that was less than a full-size action figure was typically woefully lacking in detail and paint; gashapon figures had only recently emerged from their days of being colorless rubbery figures.

But the original sets of FWUO were not only beautiful, they also featured excellent lineups of MS, with 9 unique paint/sculpt combinations in each of the first two lineups. In subsequent lines, the FWUO magic would touch the 08th MS Team, Gundam 0080, Char's Counterattack, and Z/ZZ Gundam. Over time, sadly, production quality and assortment have slowly declined, with the most recent line being composed of only 3 unique figures in a box of 6. It is predicted by some, and I tend to agree, that the FWUO line is all but defunct. I would be highly surprised if we see any new figures after this last set, which depicts the final battle of Z Gundam.

The figures we have tonight, the Sazabi, Gyunei's Jagd Doga, and Quess' Jagd Doga, are from the "Plus 4" and "Plus 5" lines of FWUO. Sequentially, they are its 14th and 15th lines.

Being that the figures are from different lines, it was somewhat expensive to obtain these. For anyone familiar with buying Japanese candy toys and gashapon, you will know that they are (1) not widely imported by U.S. sellers and often disappear shortly after release and (2) only sold by the case. I bought an entire case of Plus 5 for the Jagd Dogas (which were cruelly only sold with 1 set per case), netting me 3 duplicate figures. Sad face. The Sazabi was bought off eBay from another guy in Hawaii for well over the retail price. We exchanged money and toy outside of the Ala Moana Blvd. CompUSA in what probably looked like a drug deal.

To get rid of the bad taste of paying above retail, we will review the Sazabi first. Well, it has a fairly good paint job- almost comparable to the EMSiA Sazabi, amazingly enough. It also includes a sizeable assortment of accessories, some of which serve to create its intricate back-booster system. Unfortunately, the thing that makes this figure stink is its pose. What the hell is it doing? The damn thing looks like it's high-stepping like a show pony, while simultaneously attempting to hunch over, bury its head in its chest, and throw up signs with its free hand. FWUOs were always known for their outlandish poses, which typically made up for their severe lack of poseability, but some of the more recent ones, I just don't know. The pose not only looks bad, but makes the figure a pain to stand upright, because it is balancing on one foot and a toe. To make matters worse, every time it falls over, the little booster-pods on its back fall off.

I am a bit disappointed in this Sazabi.

Fortunately, the two Jagd Dogas are MUCH better. I'll probably delve into this more with my final review of Sazabi week, but the Jagd Dogas essentially served as Char's elite troops in Char's Counterattack. Quess' Jagd Doga (aka, the red one) is packaged with her mega beam-gatling gun, which is sufficiently large to look imposing. Gyunei's Jagd Doga instead includes his beam sword with bayonet combo weapon. Strangely, the sword is held in a reversed-wrist position, which makes for some neat poses, but is overall a bit confusing. Is he drawing the sword? Is he doing the cool stab-behind-the-back move? You just never know.

More so than most of the other figures, these two are really stylized renditions of the design. Look at those shoulder armors, yeesh. Someone should have told the sculptor that you don't need wings to fly in space. Overall, I appreciate the attempt to use different head sculpts and accessories to differentiate the two, and the pose and sculpt is pulled off nicely, as well.

End of the story is that these FWUO figures, unlike earlier sets, remain relatively available on eBay and from other importers. Per figure price will range from about $5-10. Stay away from the Sazabi, unless you must have a Sazabi figure. The two Jagd Dogas, however, are highly recommended for fans of the CCA movie and the MS design.


toybot studios said...

FWUO!!! One of my fav toy lines as you know! I have to agree with you that this much anticipated Sazabi is not all that. I like everything about the figure except the quirky Ballet pose. The Dogas do rock the house and the red one is my fav of the set.

As for FW going under, dunno. I think they will manifest themselves in another form somehow or another. Die-cast FW anyone? Hell yeah...i'd buy that.

RobotXMonster said...

Well, if nothing else, Bandai is slowly reissuing the older FWUOs. Which is good, because like nobody is selling the original sets anymore.

Maybe Gundam Adapt will step up- the first set was amazing.