RX-178 Gundam Mk. IIThe Gundam Mk. II is taken from the second Gundam series produced, 1985's Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. This precise example is from Bandai's High Complete Model series of figures.

After the bizarre decision to launch the Gundam figures in the range with designs from the book Mobile Suit Variations, Bandai made the more sensible choice of basing the next batch on the then-current anime, Zeta Gundam. The only previous actual Gundam in the line had been the first released, the Full Armor Gundam (a figure based on Amuro's Gundam from the original series was cancelled, presumably being a bit old hat by the time High Complete Model actually made it to the shelves).

In the anime, the Gundam Mark II was an early design stolen by teenage protagonist Kamile Bidan and the AEUG forces from the Titans organisation. As the mechas in the series became more outlandish, it began to get outclassed and was fobbed off on Emma Sheen instead, and she used it until she died in a stupid fashion like most of the central cast.

The HCM uses the AEUG colour scheme, and got the nod from me due to featuring the Mark II in 1/144 scale ready-made, hard plastic form, seeing as the Chogokin releases seem to have ignored it.

The look of the Mk. II is largely a bulkier, more stylised take on the original Gundam. As such, it can't go too far wrong. The beefed-up limbs look good, especially the big legs and enlarged shoulders. I'm not sure it's actually an improvement on the original - I dearly love the smooth, uncomplicated design of the RX-78 - but it's certainly a valid variation.

The colour scheme I'm not so sure on - the mixture of ocean grey and dark blue lacks impact, and thus the yellow and red parts don't really blend very well. Aside from the eyes, the Mk. II is rendered entirely in coloured plastic. The moulding is very sharp, and captures most of the detail of the animation model. The 1/144 scale gives a figure around 5 1/2" tall, which is a nice size for a Gundam.

The Mk. II didn't transform or separate or anything like that, which freed the toy designers to concentrate on articulation. This is primitive compared to modern PVC figures or the Chogokin Gundam range, but very impressive for the time. There's good articulation in the arms, right down to ball-jointed hands and moving trigger fingers. The legs aren't quite as impressive - the skirts on the waist block much of the movement here, but the jointed ankles mean the figure can at least stand naturally rather than bolt upright, and it can crouch to replicate the crouching catapult launch pose seen in the anime.

Winningly, the arms can also hold the beam rifle with both hands, which again adds to the thing's display value. There's even limited movement at the waist. Also, the chest can open up, replicating the cockpit entrance from the series. Being made out of hard plastic (aside from an internal diecast frame to strengthen most of the joints), the Mk. II is relatively brittle, but has no obvious weak points.

Like most of the HCM figures, the RX-178 comes with a full range of accessories. The largest is the flight pack that affixes to the back of the robot - I believe this was permanently attached in the cartoon, and I'm guessing it's just easier to make and package as a separate part. This has a pair of removable Beam Saber hilts so you can find that extra bit of accuracy when the robot is wielding the Sabers themselves. The protruding holsters also hinge down - I'm not sure what the point of this feature is, though I'm not far into the anime - while the rocket bells are mounted on ball-joints, allowing a little movement.

The Beam Rifle is fairly straightforward, but nicely designed so there are several ways the RX-178 can hold it, and the removable magazine is a nice little touch. The Mk. II replaced the original's built-in Vulcan Cannon with a removable 'headphone' gunpack, and this is included as an accessory with the HCM - I must say it's a neat little accessory, and also provides a bit of variance on the shelf compared with the RX-78.

The shield is a little more disappointing - while it looks good, it can only be mounted on a hardpoint on either forearm rather than held in the hands, and also has a connection that allows only a small amount of movement. Bit of a shame, that. Also failing are the Beam Sabers themselves - they just don't look at all convincing in plain black plastic, and the RX-178 tends to look like it's wielding a big hatpin as a result.

For all the features, there's something nondescript about the Mk. II. Die-hard Real Robot enthusiasts might appreciate the low-key colour scheme, but for me it lacks punch. While the HCM is very advanced for its' age, it doesn't do much that isn't superseded by later figures (the only real reason it appealed to me is because of my dislike of the PVC used on the Fix Figuration range, and the lack of other 'finished goods' alternatives... PVC just doesn't feel like a real toy). It's well-made and generally enjoyable, but will probably fall short for general robot fans (who are advised to check out the beautiful Chogokin version of the original Gundam instead) or Gundam fans (who will prefer the more modern features of Fix Figuration figure).