The Zaku II (commonly known as just the Zaku - the MS-05 Zaku is mainly only known to hardcore fans and barely featured in the original anime) was the primary mobile suit of the Zeon Empire during the first phase of the original Gundam series, and has since remained much more popular that its' in-universe successors.
The Zaku has been the subject of innumerable figures, model kits and statuettes and was an obvious counterpart to be released alongside the Kado Senshi RX-78. The initial Zaku was produced in the same colours as Char Aznable's custom unit wasn't - bright red.
To make the Kado/Kahen Senshi moulds more profitable Bandai released recolours where possible. Some of these were nicely done - the Zaku was made in standard green Zeon colours (a scheme fittingly getting a TV workout at the time in the form of Gundam's Borjanon units), while the Z-Gundam was released in Amuro Ray's custom scheme from the Evolve/Green Divers CGI shorts. Some, however, were a bit mad - the Z-Gundam was also produced in Titans colours despite it being the Mk. II Gundam that used this scheme while the Gundam was made in ultra-boring 'Roll Out' colours.
The third Zaku recolour sits somewhere between those, using the Black Tri-Stars colours seen in the anime. However, they weren't seen in the cartoon as the Tri-Stars used Doms in their onscreen appearances. Instead, the seminal Mobile Suit Variations book established that the team had used Zakus in an earlier triumph.
The shape of the Zaku is very close to the anime. The legs are thick and rounded, with a relatively thin pair of arms on either side of a thin torso. It won't be to all tastes, lacking the clear, crisp lines and inherent dynamism of Gundam, but it's still interesting to look at.
There isn't much diecast on the thing - mainly the inner skeleton (which does include the crotch) and the feet. The rest is good quality ABS, with a nice matt finish for most of the panelling - gloss finish is used for much of the piping, creating a nice contrast.
The Black Tri-Stars scheme would have been my third choice but for the price I got this one at. However, this is more a compliment to the Char custom scheme and the standard Zeon one as this paint job is still very sharp. The purple stands out from the black nicely without being too gaudy by comparison.
Articulation is superb. While the skirt restricts the hips a little compared to the Gundam and the waist design doesn't allow for such a complex system, there's still plenty to do. The Zaku's proliferation of pads and the like arguably makes for a more natural-looking range of poses from the limbs, while there are a couple of incredibly neat touches. Firstly, the extending neck is a great example of designers going the extra mile - they could have just banged the head on a ball joint but instead a realistic looking extending tube is used. The other nice bit is the neat way the piping slides in and out of the thighs when the knees are bent.
The heavy diecast feet give the figure very good balance, and there aren't many realistic poses the thing can't pull and hold. The shoulders can look a little like they're detaching from the body in some of the more extended poses, but the Zaku remains very solid. The only real weak spot is the left side shoulder pad, which tends to pop off easily.
The figure comes with four sets of hands - balled fists, open palms, a Machine Gun/Bazooka pair and a Heat hawk pair. These have a couple of minor problems. Firstly, they're gloss PVC, which doesn't quite gel with the matt finish of the arms. Secondly, the 'Gun' pair tend to come apart at the fingers - I've had the same problem with the GM hands as well, and it seems to be a case of not enough glue being used on the two parts. It's best to fit either weapon into the hand before attaching the hand to the figure, which is a bit of a pain.
As per usual for the range, the Zaku comes with a range of accessories.
Most obvious of these is the shield. I'm not sure if it's really an actual accessory or a part as I can't recall seeing a Zaku without one in the cartoon. This attaches to the hardpoint on the right shoulder by two joints - a simple rotating one at the tip of the shoulder and also a ball joint at the back of the shield. This makes it very mobile and it can be left on for most if not all possible poses. The only downside is the large stickers are a bugger to get on the matt plastic without air getting underneath.
Secondly, there's the standard Machine Gun. The Zeon machine gun looks neat but it can be difficult to pose the figure with it, between tucking the stock away and getting the moving second handle under the barrel into the other hand. There's also a sight which can be lined up to the optic sensor though the Zakus rarely bothered in the cartoon (this is possibly why they never won).
The largest accessory is the Bazooka - or as I like to think it's called the Zakuzooka. No? Oh, alright. The Bazooka suffers from the same posing problems as the machine gun in that ideally you have to marry up both handles, the sight and the back of the thing with the figure, meaning there aren't many different ways it can hold the weapon.
Finally there's the Heat Hawk energy axe. This is unignited and thus doesn't look particularly menacing in the Zaku's hands. However, it is nicely detailed and can be attached to the Zaku's left hip when not in use. It gets big points for working well with the figure's articulation as well.
Also included is a sheet of stickers so you can chose which Black Tri-Star your figure represents - 02, 03 and 06 (I can't remember which pilot had which) or if you're spectacularly wealthy, recreate the whole unit. As with the shield decoration, the big transparent edges on these tend to show up quite harshly on the matt plastic.
The Zaku isn't my favourite design though it's more palatable that the later Zeon suits. This is a lovely interpretation of it and a smooth, dynamic figure to boot. It works best as an opponent for the Gundam or GM (continuity be damned!) figures however, lacking the clear aesthetics to stand on its' own. The Black Tri-Stars variant does look rather sharp too. However, one decent Zaku's enough for me and I probably won't be actively chasing the other versions of the mould.