One of my greatest regrets in the toy world is that GUNDAM didn't catch on in the United States better than it did. From 2000 - 2004, we were treated to some truly amazing toys representing Gundam concepts including Gundam Wing, Mobile Suit Gundam and its various sequels and spinoffs, Mobile Fighter G-Gundam, and Gundam Seed.
And even these shows and their related products were barely scratching the surface of the Gundam universe. Often called the "Japanese Star Wars", Gundam has managed to stand heads above most giant-robot anime, of which there is certainly no shortage, due in large part to its dramatic storytelling, but also due to a fair degree to its practice, much like those other Japanese monoliths "Power Rangers" and "Transformers", of reinventing itself every so often with a new storyline, new human characters, new Gundams and other Mobile Suits, while still keeping the core concept of super-powerful piloted giant humanoid robots called Mobile Suits, the elite of which are called Gundams.
One can speculate endlessly as to why it just didn't make the grade for all that long in the United States. Bandai wanted to push the figural model kits here more, but the basic action figures sold better. The line was diluted by a "Super-Deformed" concept that didn't fare well, and the action figures were diluted by an ugly "Battle Scarred" series that only gathered dust. And some of the names of the Mobile Suits from some of the concepts were lengthy and difficult to pronounce. It's one thing to see a toy called Wing Gundam or Gundam Sandrock. It's another thing to see a toy called MSN-03 Jagd Doga.
In Japan, the action figures are known by the group name "Mobile Suit in Action!", which serves to differentiate them from the model kits. At the moment, Bandai seems to be placing a dual emphasis on Mobile Suits from Zeta Gundam, a popular Gundam series from some years back, and on Gundam Seed Destiny, the most recent Gundam concept.
One of my recent acquisitions is called the RX-121 GUNDAM TR-1, nicknamed "HAZEL" for some reason. I long ago stopped trying to figure any real logic in regards to the naming of these Mobile Suits. Some names make more sense than others. The Hazel is from a side-story related to Zeta Gundam, a prequel of sorts called "Advance of Zeta".
Advance of Zeta is set as a prequel and side-story to Zeta Gundam. The story follows Wes Murphy, the commander of the Titan Test Team (TTT), a unit that tests prototype mobile suits, many of which become the main suits during the course of the Zeta Gundam TV series. While testing various new suits, the TTT must contend with various reminant Zeon groups turning thier test missions in combat missions. The story of the TTT is told in photonovel form, with pictures of customized models along with a text story.
Zeta Gundam is part of the "Universal Century" aspect of Gundam, which is the largest of the Gundam universes, and has the most series and storylines attached to it. It was, of course, the setting for the very first Gundam series, Mobile Suit Gundam. Other Gundam series, such as Gundam Wing, Gundam Seed, G-Gundam, and others, are set in alternate universes and have no continuity connection with the Universal Century storyline/universe.
Regarding the Hazel itself: The RX-121 Gundam TR-1 Hazel was developed by the Earth Federation government in UC 0084, but soon was assigned to the Titan Test Team for its testing. Greatly based on the GM Quel, the Hazel was given a Gundam head, since it was felt that if the test team would encounter any Zeon holdouts, that it would have a negative psychological effect on the enemy. The first Hazel prototype was piloted by Lt. Wes Murphy, and would use the suit in a number of tests using various upgrades of weapons and equipment.
The toy is extremely impressive. Indeed it dows have a Gundam head. These tend to be distinct from most other Mobile Suits by the presence of two angled antennae emerging from the forehead, and a semi human-like face which features two eyes, and an overall head design that seems to be wearing a helmet and protective faceplate.
However, the Hazel doesn't have typical Gundam colors. The primary Gundam in any Gundam series is likely to have rather primary colors. Generally speaking, they have a lot of white, with a generous amount of red and blue trim, and some yellow. If you look at the main Gundam from almost any Gundam series, whatever design elements it has, it will have this color scheme.
Not so the Hazel. It is predominantly a sort of steel blue, with a certain amount of off-white and yellow trim. Personally, I like the Gundams that manage to diverge from the main color scheme. In this case, the color scheme is also notable for following a color scheme very similar to some other Gundams that appeared in Zeta Gundam, that also bore the "Titans" name. These Mobile Suits were also a dark steel blue in color.
The Hazel has quite a few insignia markings on it. While this is not unusual in and of itself, the sheer number and complexity of the markings on the Hazel is unusual. There are several of one marking specifically designating the Hazel as part of the Titans Test Team, a letter "T" sitting atop a double "T". These can be found on the front and back of the right shoulder, and on the back of the "skirt". There is a small shield-like insignia on the front of the left shoulder, and a larger, different, shield-like insignia on the back of the "skirt" opposite the TTT logo.
Gundam action figures are easily some of the most complex action figures, both in design and assembly, and painted details, on the market today. The Hazel has no less than 26 points of articulation on it, and that's just a rough estimate. This for a humanoid robot barely 4-1/2" in height. Then we have the painted detailing. Talk about intricate! Tiny little slivers of color no more than 1/16" in diamater have been properly painted on this figure. And there's a LOT of this sort of really fine painted detail all over the Gundam. Bandai does a really outstanding job with this.
About the only complaints I can register on the structure of the figure are a minor mold crease on the back of the torso near the waist, which is pretty well concealed by some hardware that was attached during assembly, and a little paint glitch on the front that is easily remedied with a tiny little drop of red. I have certainly seen far worse than this in both categories from other toy lines.
The Hazel is especially notable for some of its accessories. It comes with some impressive additional armor, that is designed to be snapped onto the chest and the front of the "skirt". I chose to leave it off for the picture for this review because (a) snapping the chestplate into place would've meant removing the arms, and I didn't really feel like doing that, and (b) placing any of the armor in place would've obscured some of the painted detail on the basic figure. Still, it's an interesting feature, and one very seldom seen in Gundam action figures.
The Hazel also comes with three massive, identical shields, which also include (based on the illustrations) rocket engines that allow the Hazel to fly; two pistol-like firearms (although if you consider the fact that the average Gundam, if it existed in real life, would be about the height of a five story building, I feel a little silly calling them "pistols"), six spare hands, a large beam sword (think of it as the Gundam version of a lightsaber), and other items.
Getting back to the painted detail for a moment, for whatever reason, the fingertips of the Hazel's otherwise dark grey hands are painted red. But, if you want attention to detail, how about the fact that ALL EIGHT INTERCHANGEABLE HANDS that this toy comes with -- the two it's wearing and the six spares -- ALL have been painted with red fingertips! And very neatly, too, I might add.
An advisory word if you're fortunate enough to find this toy for yourself. Don't throw the box away. There's a nice "Collection Data Sheet" on the back of the backdrop inside the box. Sure, most of it is in Japanese, but it's got a very cool illustration.
As I said at the start of this review, it's a shame that Gundam just didn't quite make it in the United States. But there is no question as to its ongoing popularity in Japan. As of this writing, a whole new Gundam series, entitled GUNDAM 00 (that's "Double-Zero") is in the works, with Mobile Suit in Action editions of the Gundams from this new series definitely coming out in the near future. Hopefully, I will have a chance to review them.
Meanwhile, if you can find a way to add the RX-121 GUNDAM TR-1 "HAZEL" to your collection, I encourage you to do so. Gundam continues to be one of the most impressive action figure lines of all time, and certainly the HAZEL has my definite and enthusiastic recommendation!