WD-M01 Turn A GundamThe font-bothering Gundam (as even the logo proclaims, called Turn 'A' Gundam) was conceived for the 20th anniversary of the Gundam franchise. The itself is a mathematical universal quantifier, giving a reading of 'For All Gundams'. A fifty-episode series was commissioned, helmed by original creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, which made vague hints at all the Gundam series being linked together - but mainly featured the adventures of cross-dressing moon child Loran Cehack, caught up in the intrigues and war between the Earth and the Moon. It's the greatest Gundam series ever made.

The most interesting aspect at this stage, though, is the design of the lead mecha, the Gundam (referred to as the 'White Doll' in the series). This was designed by American Syd Mead, best known for his work on Blade Runner, and had a very different look to previous mobile suits. As far as action figures go, it's not had much of a look-in in the intervening decade, but thankfully in 1999 Bandai did produce a 1/100 scale diecast and plastic version, under the banner of New Material Model - the line seems to have morphed almost immediately into Metal Material Model, which has featured mecha from the Gundam SEED franchises.

New Material Model Turn A GundamAside from the scale, this is basically a Kado Senshi Gundam. It's a shame that it wasn't produced in 1/144 for that range, but that's the way things are, I suppose. Mead's design has a very steampunk ethic to it, with plenty of curves, panels and ridges, as opposed to the smooth square surfaces of previous Gundams. Plus it has a handlebar moustache. I'm not sure what drew me to the design, maybe that it is so different from most other Gundam figures (obviously ignoring the ugly, ugly mess that a lot of the aggressor machines are).

New Material Model Turn A GundamAnd yet it still looks like a Gundam. It might just be the colour scheme (intentionally based on the original Gundam), but the same ideas are in there, but if the thing had been created in Victorian times (the anime's plot does involve Earth in the far future regressing technologically). You half expect it to be made of pig iron and be powered by a boiler. It's excellent, in short. The larger size means the thing is crammed with detail - black definition lines on a figure don't always work, often breaking up the shape too much, but they fit nicely with the look of the Gundam, accentuating its' unusual aesthetic. The legs and upper torso are diecast, giving the robot a satisfying weight.

New Material Model Turn A GundamApparently the sections on the back of the legs actually use titanium, which is insane. These pop in and out, which I think is something related to the show. I'm not 100% sure how exactly these activate, but seeing as I don't even know what they're for, it doesn't bother me.

The Gundam's articulation is a little disappointing. In theory, it's not bad (if not on the same level as the smaller contemporary RX-78 figure), but there are a few clumsy things that cramp the movement. The shoulder pads are mounted on top of the arms with minimal connection to the torso section, instead tending to move with the arms themselves. There's a little mechanism to help with this that'd be engineering genius if it worked. Sadly, it does nothing of the sort, instead tending to leave the shoulders in something of a mess.

New Material Model Turn A GundamThe little flaps on the side (to allow the arms to be posed at 90° to the body) are pretty sloppy as well - solid shoulder-pads joined to the torso (much like the standard design on Gundam figures since High Complete Model, or even Clover) would have probably done a better job. The legs aren't marvellous either - though the cockpit section does have a moving 'skirt', it's too restrictive to allow the hip joints to be moved up to more than about 45°. All this means that for a large figure of this sort of age, the number of attainable poses for the Gundam is actually quite small - mainly variations in the arms.

New Material Model Turn A GundamHowever, there are some great features on the thing as well. Firstly, the cockpit at the waist has a moving canopy, with a tiny plastic chair set inside (though this is difficult to make out through the plastic. The whole cockpit section can be removed to form the Gundam take on the Corefighter. It's a neat little feature, but the connection to the waist isn't the most secure and thus it can fall off by itself.

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The best bit, though, is the Missile Silo in the chest. Two diecast segments (present in the box as separate pieces, but not easy to remove once in - not that they should be, there'd be little call for the robot having a huge, gaping hole in its' chest) slot into the torso, containing a total of six missile launchers. Hatches on the chest can be opened to show these off (sadly, no spring-loaded feature... I guess Japanese toy safety laws have finally descended to the level of the West), but the best bit is on the back - six tiny breach-loading hatches that meet up with the ersatz launchers. A great touch, that.

The figure comes with a full range of accessories. In terms of the basics, there are two pairs of hands - one with closed fists, one with open palms. These are the usual pop-off PVC type, but - and this might just be that my example is brand new - they seem to need a bit of force to put on, which can be a little unnerving, while the closed ones are the only way to grasp most weaponry, and need to be pried apart. The figure also comes with a pair of grey plastic weapon racks that clip onto the back of the torso, and can hold most of the accessories in varying configurations. These are easy to add and remove - as in most of Tomino's shows, the Gundam starts off with fists and not much else and accumulates various bits as it goes on.

New Material Model Turn A GundamThe largest part is the Gundam Shield, which has a lozenge shape to it, and thus fits in nicely with the Gundam's looks. The all-plastic part has a few mounting options - as well as being supported nicely by the plastic framework that attaches to the back of the torso, there are attachment points on the sides of either forearm (with two small dummy supports flipping down to give the impression its' clamped to the arms), or a conventional handle that can be grasped by either closed fist.

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The Beam Rifle is, once again, a departure from the futuristic assault rifle thing usually seen. It can be held in three main ways. There is a carrying handle on the top, which is functional. Then there's the fold-out trigger - this doesn't work so well, as the butt of the gun is bulky and it looks awkward held out, meaning you have to tuck the rear end under the figure's arm, meaning once again poses are restricted. The third option is to extend the butt, revealed a handle which can be placed in a closed hand, with the barrel resting in an open one - this is probably the most effective. That said, the stock has an annoying habit of just falling off when extended.

New Material Model Turn A GundamThe standard armament is rounded out by, of course, Beam Sabers. There are a pair here, as usual stored as shoulder-mounted hilts (though the provision of holsters for these is a great touch) with removable clear plastic beams. It's anime-accurate for them to be so thin (they're more needles in the show), but these do look a little... weedy.

New Material Model Turn A GundamFinally, there's the Gundam Hammer. This is probably the most unusual choice - despite being a carbon copy of the one from the original Gundam, the device was labelled a Super Robot throwback by joyless fans and accordingly edited out of the three compilation films. So fair play to it for making a comeback (even if the same joyless fans were still lukewarm about it). It works nicely with the steampunk vibe, even if the only real pose you can do is the "handle in one hand, chain in the other" thing, like all toy accessories that feature a chain. It's the only accessory that doesn't seem to have a proper storage point, though it can be draped over the other things when they're mounted on the Gundam's back if you're so inclined.

The New Material Model Gundam is, sadly, only a qualified success. First of all, there's the idiosyncratic design of the WD-M01 itself, which seems to be quite divisive. I personally feel it makes a nice contrast with more conventional designs, without losing impact or becoming too busy. The figure itself is beautifully made, with some good attention to detail, a few very neat features and a feel of real quality. However, the articulation is rather disappointing, and it's more of a statue than the better Chogokin Gundams. The deal breaker for me is that this is still just about the only proper figure of the Gundam design, but to suggest it's only worth getting by default is probably harsh. It's not good enough to convert you if you don't like the look already, and there's certainly room for improvement, but it's still a fine figure in the grand reckoning of things.