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By Thomas Wheeler

One of these days I'm going to have to figure out why it is the Japanese get so much cooler toys than Americans tend to. I suppose it's a matter of taste, but they had Transformers before we did (and a lot more of them), they've got Microman, and they've got Gundam, which tried, but just didn't catch on here all that well. Fortunately, it's not impossible to obtain the newer action figures from various Gundam concepts, thanks to online stores, which carry a certain supply of the so-called "Mobile Suit in Action" figures created by Bandai

One of my all-time favorite Gundams is the Hyaku-Shiki. This amazing Mobile Suit from Z-Gundam is easily one of the most distinctive Gundams of all time -- and when you consider some of the wild designs that have cropped up over the years, that's saying something. What makes the Hyaku-Shiki so distinctive is that it is a very nice metallic gold pretty much from head to toe. It has some black trim, including a bluish-black chest, and its articulation points are black, or at least a very dark grey, and it has a bit of metallic red trim on it here and there, but for the most part, this is one very gold Gundam. And, up until recently, it was the only really gold Gundam, not counting the "Hyper Mode" editions of some of the suits from G-Gundam, and although there were figures of those, that still sort of amounted to "special effects" as far as in-show continuity is concerned. The Hyaku-Shiki was gold and was meant to be gold.

And now, the Hyaku-Shiki has company, thanks to a Mobile Suit from the most recent Gundam series -- Gundam Seed Destiny. This new Gundam Mobile Suit is called the AKATSUKI!

Gundam Seed Destiny, which I don't think I've ever actually explained to any significant degree despite reviewing a fair number of Mobile Suits from it, is the sequel series to Gundam SEED, which was the last Gundam series aired in the United States on Cartoon Network. Gundam SEED tended to be seen by many longtime Gundam fans as a reworking, albeit an effective one, of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series that kicked off the whole universe of Gundam. Maybe that should be universes. Although many Gundam series have taken place in what's often called the "Universal Century" timeline, a number of spinoff series -- including G-Gundam, Gundam Wing, Gundam X, and a few others, have taken place in what could be called "alternate" universes with no direct correlation to the original continuity-wise.

Most of these series have been able to hold their own against the original, and remain suitably popular as part of the overall Gundam universe. Gundam SEED and its direct animated sequel, Gundam Seed Destiny, represent one of these alternate universes. Both were animated series of around 50 episodes, produced in the past few years. The core of the conflict in these series was between Naturals, or naturally-born humans, and Coordinators, those who possessed certain enhanced abilities, which also tended to make them superior mobile suit pilots.

Bandai has produced quite a number of Mobile Suit in Action toys for Gundam Seed Destiny, and I've been fortunate enough to bring a fair number of them into my growing Gundam collection.

As for the ORB-01 AKATSUKI, we have the following information, and some additional information I obtained from the Web:

Before his death in C.E. 71, Orb Union leader Uzumi Nara Athha commissions the construction of the ORB-01 Akatsuki to serve as the final defense of Orb, should the need arise. Developed in secret, the Akatsuki is hidden underneath the Orb mainland until C.E. 74. The Akatsuki's design is similar to the GAT-X105 Strike Gundam that Orb assisted the Earth Alliance in developing. Aside from visual similarities, the Akatsuki is capable of using several packs similar to the Strike Gundam's "Striker packs." Perhaps the most unique feature of the Akatsuki is its "Yata-no-Kagami" anti-beam defensive reflection system, which is coated on the armor. This armor coating allows the Akatsuki to reflect any beam energy fired at it. The armaments of the Akatsuki's main body include a pair of vulcan guns, a twin beam saber, a beam rifle and shield. When equipped with the "Owashi" sky pack, the Akatsuki can also use a pair of high-energy beam cannons. In addition, the "Owashi" pack can separate and function as a separate fighter. In space, the Akatsuki can equip the "Shiranui" pack, which is armed with a guided mobile beam turret system similar to ZAFT's DRAGOON (Disconnected Rapid Armament Group Overlook Operation Network) system. In addition to functioning as beam cannons, the units can be used to create a defensive shield.

The Akatsuki is first used in C.E. 74 by Cagalli Yula Athha to defend Orb from a ZAFT attack. During the battle, the Akatsuki engages Shinn Asuka's ZGMF-X42S Destiny Gundam and receives minor damage. Soon after, the battleship Archangel heads to space, and Cagalli gives the Akatsuki to ace pilot Neo Roanoke (aka Mu La Flaga). In a battle between ZAFT and the Orb space fleet, Neo and Athrun Zala destroy the Requiem cannon that ZAFT captures from the Alliance. Soon after, the death of PLANT Supreme Council Chairman Gilbert Durandal and the destruction of the mobile space fortress Messiah mark the end of the war.

Cagalli, it's worth noting, was a fairly major character in the original Gundam SEED series, as were many of the others mentioned. As for specifications, the Akatsuki stood 18.74 meters in height, and has an
approximate weight of nearly 70 metric tons in basic form, which went to 90 "fully loaded". And you thought your pickup truck was heavy.

What I find especially interesting in the specifications is that one of its weapons is called a "Type 72D5 'Hyakurai' beam rifle". With that "Hyaku" in there, that's a nice little acknowledgment of the other main gold Gundam, even though they're from different concepts.

As regards the toy, It's extremely impressive. The Akatsuki stands about 4-1/2" in height, and is either a slightly brighter gold than the Hyaku-Shiki, or my Hyaku has dimmed a bit over the years -- I certainly hope that's not the case.

The Akatsuki manages to look more "Gundamish" than the Hyaku because of the design of the head. While there are many different types of Mobile Suits in any given Gundam series, those that carry the name "Gundam" itself tend to be a little more distinctive, and one of the more distinctive features is the wide, V-shaped antenna emerging from the forehead. The Hyaku-Shiki doesn't have this. The Akatsuki does. That's not to put down the Hyaku. Simply a comparative observation.

The Akatsuki is a fairly slender, and very angular-looking Gundam. There's no real curved areas on this Mobile Suit. It has extremely wide shoulder panels, a fairly narrow body and limbs, and an extremely sleek-looking winged backpack (that also appears to have the capability of acting as an independent fighter craft) that has a wingspan of about 6-1/2"!

The Akatsuki comes with several spare hands, a shield, a large rifle, and a couple of beam swords that are attached to each other, resulting in a huge, double-bladed beam sword that, if you consider what the "real world" dimensions of the Akatsuki would be if it actually existed, would be abundantly enough to send Darth Maul himself running for cover as far away as he could get. Put together, the thing is longer than the wingspan of the winged backpack.

Detail is superb on the toy, as is the paintwork. There's always a risk, I believe, with metallic colors, of messing up the paint job more than usual. But the Akatsuki looks superb. The gold coloration is extremely gold. I've seen some watered down or rather dull gold colors on toys before that just don't look very good. This is a very bright, brilliant gold. It's not a chrome plate -- which I honestly don't think would look right. It's a really excellent metallic gold.

And of course there is the articulation of the toy. If there are better articulated action figures out there than Gundams, I've never found them. These things give Microman and Marvel Legends a run for their money. Of course, some of the Gundams do have the added advantage of little jets and such in their structure, that tend to be articulated, so maybe that's "cheating" compared to a more human type of character, but how many toy companies would bother to articulate the jets anyway? It's really a shame that Gundam only lasted a few years in the United States, because these are easily some of the best action figures around. As it stands, the Akatsuki has 22 points of articulation, and that's probably only because he doesn't really have any of those extra little jets. The winged backpack throws in another half-dozen points of articulation.

I know that Gundam had trouble catching on in the United States. I also know that it does have its fans here. Anime and manga are very popular right now, and Gundam has entries in both of those categories. The Gundam Seed Destiny animated series is being released on DVD, so there's no reason you can't enjoy it and see the Akatsuki in action.

And if you've enjoyed the Gundam "Mobile Suit in Action" figures in the past, then you'll certainly want to add the ORB-01 AKATSUKI to your collection today! It definitely has my highest recommendation!