MSZ-006 Z-GundamThe Z-Gundam was unusual for a 'lead' mecha in the 1980s Gundam series, actually appearing midway through the Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam anime as a replacement for the Gundam Mk. II. Its' big draw was the it was a mobile armour, not a mobile suit - i.e. that it could turn into a second configuration for re-entry and flying around.

The Z-Gundam has remained popular since, and retrospective merchandise (such as DVD sets) portray it as the 'star' of the series. As with most well-known Gundam robots, myriad model kits and action figures of the Z-Gundam have been made. Bandai's series of Kado Senshi figures featured one such example.

The line, released as a sub-series of the periodically reactivated Chogokin brand and renamed Kahen Senshi to reflect the figure's transformation, has only managed sporadic releases since its' 1999 inception to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Gundam. One of the reasons the Z-Gundam was chosen to be added in 2002 (coded GD-44) was accompanied byversions also released in Titans (because it looks just like the Mark II, right?) and Green Divers colour schemes.

The standard AEUG version was then reissued in 2008 with a matt finish and a much bigger, more artsy box. I wanted the original to avoid the former and to keep it in line with my Gundam and GM figures from the series, but I could only find that sold as a set with the ugly recolours. Typically after finally giving up and plumping for the reissue, ebay now seems to be flooded with cheap original releases. Bah.

One of the most beloved of my small collection of Gundam figures is the 1985 Bandai Deluxe Z-Gundam, a 10" all-plastic version of this figure. I got this one mainly so I could have a Z-Gundam to stand alongside my other 1/144 figures - it's a good scale for most Gundams, the designs working nicely at this sort of size - some would look a little over-stretched at much more than 5-6" (not so much the Zeta or the Gundam, but stuff like the GM or Mark II).

In this respect, the figure does look good. There is a lot of detail on it while the matt finish is really rather good, and doesn't stick out like a sore thumb alongside my other figures. All of the key details of the Z-Gundam are lovingly picked out right down to the panel lines being rendered in black, but Bandai knew where to stop and the robot isn't left cluttered by quasi-realistic garbage.

The Z-Gundam does have a good-looking robot mode. The layout manages to remain clear and crisp despite the transformation with very little overt kibble - even the wing sections on the back are no different to the large backpacks featured on non-variable models.

I've always liked the blue/white colour scheme as well. Aside from their loveable, whimsical toys, we should always be grateful to Clover for giving Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino a damn good slapping when he tried to make the original Gundam flat grey. While they'd gone down the pan by 1985, it seems the miserable bugger decided to keep Gundams colourful. Lots of red and yellow accents keep the figure visually interesting.

However, when you go beyond simply looking at the figure, problems begin to emerge. Compared to the other Chogokin Gundams, the articulation is awful. Sure, there are a few different poses in the pictures, but when reviewing the Gundam and GM figures I took pictures in around forty different poses for each and had serious trouble picking which to use. With the Z-Gundam, I was struggling for enough different poses to stop the article from being a wall of text.

Now, that might seem unfair. Unlike those two, the Z-Gundam has a complicated build-in feature, the transformation. So due to the mechanics, obviously things like a waist joint or those marvellous moving calves would be omitted. It's some of the other stuff that's more annoying. Hinging the knees means the 'kneecap' panels stay in place relative to the thighs. The head turns, but on a very restrictive ball-joint that makes the figure always look downwards. The arms - which don't need to do much for the Waverider mode other than sit still and stay out the way - are strangely awkward, especially at the shoulder.

In short, the Z-Gundam is very pretty to look at, but it's a shame that the engineering doesn't even approach the care and skill out into the detailing work, resulting in an undynamic figure.

This would all be a lot more palatable if the Waverider wasn't what toy collector jargon defines as a 'complete fucking mess'. First of all, the transformation sequence is incredibly fiddly. Parts don't move smoothly - things have to be nudged a half inch at a time, then another thing has to be moved, and then back to the first piece, and so on. There's no fluidity and it doesn't help that the thing feels so fragile.

And when you get there, the thing doesn't even look good. The Waverider wasn't exactly a Hawker Fury in the first place, but this is a horrible rendering, with gaps and compromises all over it. The boosters/legs are impossible to get in a satisfactory position and there are just too many robot components showing. The Beam Rifle can be mounted in top of the Waverider, while the Hyper Mega Launcher (no, seriously) can be slung underneath. The Waverider can balance on either of these - I'd have preferred some undercarriage, or - presuming Bandai just made this up for the '85 toy - a plastic stand for the thing. Actually, that'd be wasteful - no-one, but no-one is going to want to display this thing in Waverider mode.

As is standard with the range, the Z-Gundam comes with a few accessories. There are only two pairs of fists - closed or slightly open. The latter can hold all the accessories, and I suppose to be fair more expressive options would just expose the failings in the robot's articulation, so this was probably a good choice.

Chogokin GD-44 MSZ-006 Z-GundamThe Z-Gundam's primary weapon is the Beam Rifle. This is fairly accurate, and has a good amount of detail. There's a retractable handle that can be grasped by the robot, or a small post to attach it to the Waverider - this again can be folded away. The barrel can also extend in length - I'm not really sure why. The biggest problem with this one is that the stock's so big there are only a few poses in which the Z-Gundam can hold it.

Chogokin GD-44 MSZ-006 Z-GundamThen there's the Beam Saber. I've no idea where this thing was stored in the cartoon, but the polite answer seems to be 'out of sight', so Bandai have moulded this as a single piece. It means there's nowhere to store it, but it does look alright.

Chogokin GD-44 MSZ-006 Z-GundamThe third and final weapon is the Hyper Mega Launcher. Yes, that's it's name, Zeta Gundam moved into dark territory and far away from cheesy Super Robot cartoons through exactly things like this, y'know. This is a gun that's about two inches taller than the Z-Gundam that it can't actually aim without tipping forward, and can't hold properly because the arm articulation isn't up to allowing the figure to grasp both handles without bashing itselfChogokin GD-44 MSZ-006 Z-Gundam in the face with the back of the Hyper Mega Launcher. I can't even type the name with a straight face.

The set also includes a pair of grey cufflinks or something. Hyper Stupendo Wrist Bands? No idea. They seem to serve no purpose whatsoever, though. Plus side - no little metal statue of that whinging bitch Kamille Bidan.

You could argue that the transformation is so complex that making it at 1/144 (or around 6" tall) is bound to result in a flawed, fiddly figure, but then the obvious answer is surely not to do it. The figure isn't without value - as mentioned, the robot mode looks very sharp. It's just that someone at Bandai should have made the hard decision to nix the Waverider mode and produce a robot mode only version with more articulation. If you want a good, solid transforming Z-Gundam, the 1985 Deluxe figure is the one to go for. The Kahen Senshi version provides a nice robot to go on a shelf, especially alongside other 1/144 Gundams, but little else. It does piss all over the HCM version though.