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By Thomas Wheeler

As with the annual conceptual overhaul of POWER RANGERS, Bandai is once again bringing a new GUNDAM concept over to the United States, although there are still a number of items from the current Mobile Suit Gundam line yet to be released throughout the year.

However, the new emphasis will be on G-GUNDAM, and the toys are finally starting to arrive. G-GUNDAM, like 2000's GUNDAM WING, is one of several Gundam concepts taking place in what is regarded by die-hard Gundam fans to be one of several "alternate" universes apart from the main Gundam universe, sometimes called the "UC" or "Universal Century" Gundam world, from which Mobile Suit Gundam and a large number of sequels emanates.

Unlike the more militaristic concept of Mobile Suit Gundam and its
spin-offs, G-GUNDAM focuses on a tournament fighting storyline, where Gundams representing the future versions of different nations fight to determine which countries will have the most power and authority -- at least until the next tournament.

One can understand why Bandai would choose to bring this particular Gundam concept over at this time. Following the attacks of September 11, the war-like Mobile Suit Gundam vanished from Cartoon Network's schedule, and its sequels Gundam 0080 and Gundam 0083 have appeared only in the late-night timeslot. Although it could also be argued that since the original Mobile
Suit Gundam was produced in 1979, its animation style has not withstood the test of time quite as effectively.

Additionally, one of the most popular anime-style shows on Cartoon
Network's schedule is DRAGONBALL Z, another "fighting-style" show. So, why not bring fighting Gundams over to the States and see how they do? I have no particular opinion about DragonBall Z myself one way or the other. I've never seen it. But if the basic theme helps make Gundam even more popular and accessible than it already is, then I'm all in favor of it.

There are two points to G-Gundam that I think will also help with the
toys. For one thing -- the Gundams have NAMES -- not just letter-number designations as was the case with much of Mobile Suit Gundam. For every Sazabi and Kampfer, there was an RGM-79 GM, GP-01, RX-79(G), Ez8 -- it was difficult to keep track. And we'd already had a year's worth of Gundam wing, with more easy-to-recall names such as Deathscythe, Epyon, Tallgeese, etc.

I'm NOT putting down Mobile Suit Gundam. The toys impress me more than anything I've seen since the 3 3/4" G.I.Joes first came on the scene in 1982. But one has to admit that it can get a little complicated if one is not firmly entrenched in the concept, and I know full well that I'm still on a learning curve, and I'm a pretty dedicated toy collector and growing Gundam fan. So what does that say for the poor parent who has to try to make sense of the alphabet soup of the Mobile Suit Gundam world if her kids want the toys?

The other point is that the Gundams in G-Gundam are a good bit more -- for lack of a better term -- flamboyent and ornate than most of the ones from Mobile Suit Gundam. Granted, a search on the Web on a Site called Mecha and Anime Headquarters ( under G-Gundam will show that there's some pretty strange stuff in this particular Gundam world, but there's also some very COOL stuff, and a lot of it is going to be on the toy shelves this year, and I have a feeling that it will only serve to increase Gundam's popularity across a far broader scale than the existing fan base.

The basic 4 1/2" scale action figrues finally started turning up in late
March, mostly at Wal-Marts. The packaging is largely blue, as opposed to Mobile Suit Gundam's red, and is very impressive looking. The profile of the head of Shining Gundam, one of the lead Gundams in the concept, dominates the top of the packaging, along with the logo in English, while Japanese symbols run down one side of the card. The figure's name in on an insert inside of the plastic bubble.

Six Gundams comprise the first assortment -- Shining Gundam, Dragon Gundam, Bolt Gundam, Gundam Maxter, Gundam Rose, and Neros Gundam. Individual reviews as follows:

SHINING GUNDAM - representing Neo-Japan. I am assuming, at least based on the package design, that this is the central Gundam of the series. It's an excellent design, using a lot of primary colors as well as white, which is normal for prominent Gundam characters. The toy actually comes with a second head (!) and plenty of accessories, including a translucent green hand which I assume is meant to be some sort of power effect.

GUNDAM MAXTER - representing Neo-America. We'll have to get used to a little bit of stereotyping in this Gundam series, based on presumed prominent cultural aspects, and frankly, the Neo-America-based Gundam Maxter looks a whole lot like a robotic football player. Roundish helmet like head complete with a front protective bar, and immense rounded "shoulder pads." Again I am
assuming that this is a fairly prominent character in the show, and once again makes use of a primary color scheme.

GUNDAM ROSE - representing Neo-France. Some of the stereotyping can be fairly funny if you'll let yourself have a sense of humor about it, and Gundam Rose certainly qualifies. The head is distinctly Napoleonic, and the overall design borders on artistically elegant, including what I assume to be a sort of multi-sectioned shielding across the left arm that looks for all the world like a carefully draped cape. The end result is a very distinctive Gundam.

BOLT GUNDAM - representing Neo-Russia. A good bit taller and far bulkier than the other Gundams in this assortment, Bolt Gundam has the look of coming from a society that is more blatantly "industrial" and perhaps somewhat less technologically advanced than some. The head vaguely reminds one of the typical Russian furry hat that is often seen as part of winter gear among their military (I own an authentic Soviet military winter hat, by the way, and those fold-down furry flaps are great ear protection in the winter). It's difficult to say that a robot of Japanese design looks particularly Russian, but somehow, the Bolt Gundam manages it. Its color scheme is off-white
and dark grey with red trim. I guess one could say it looks like what a
Russian designer would come up with if he wanted to draw a Japanese-style robot. Anyway, it's a cool addition to the collection.

DRAGON GUNDAM - representing Neo-China. There's something about this Gundam that looks just plain mean. Lots of sharp, right angles, especially on the shoulder pads. Color scheme is mostly green and red. The arms are interesting, in that they're sectioned with dragon heads at the wrist. You also get as part of the accessories four additional snap-on arm sections to extend this Gundam's reach. In its own way, the Dragon Gundam is as
distinctive as Gundam Rose, and frankly looks even more ready to pick a fight than any of them.

NEROS GUNDAM - representing Neo-Italy. Likely the most unusual-looking Gundam in this first assortment, this figure has a pale greenish-grey color dominating its appearance, and except for a slight Roman Centurion look to the top of its helmet, there's nothing that especially makes it look Italian. It does look ready to fight, though, with spiked wrist attachments and shoulder pads. Overall it's a very cool figure, that through its unusual color scheme makes it stand out from the other five. Interestingly, the other five are pictured in a concept illustration on the back of the card. I suspect the Neros Gundam was chosen to fill out the assortment at six.

I should also mention that each figure comes with a small "Core Booster". This is a small craft with movable engines and a rotating cockpit that plugs into the back of its Gundam. Without it, you've got a Gundam with a gaping hole in its back. This is obviously how each Gundam pilot accesses his Gunam, and they actually do give a good sense of the scale of these machines, which if they existed in real life would be the size of a five story building or so.

There's going to be plenty more toys throughout the year, including some moderately strange and at least a couple of really oddball items. How well they'll be received is anyone's guess. But the vast majority of the line should be very cool and I am looking forward to it. There's a few Gundams in the concept that I doubt Bandai will dare release as action figures, because of our politically-correct society. I don't think Neo-Mexico's "Tequila Gundam" would be very well-received in certain areas, likewise Neo-Kenya's "Zebra Gundam".

One matter I should address is that a few names have been changed from earlier English translations. Some of this is entirely understandable. I doubt that Gundams with names like "God Gundam" and "Devil Gundam" would be widely welcomed, nor should they be. Some name changes are a little more
debatable. I don't really think it was necessary to change Neo-Egypt's "Pharaoh Gundam" to "Mummy Gundam".

There's a few hard-line "nay-sayers" who don't care for G-Gundam, but many of these are long established fans of the "UC" storyline and are not interested in any other concept. Some don't even care for Gundam Wing, which introduced Gundam to the American market. For myself, I think G-Gundam has a lot of potential to expand the popularity of Gundam in America, and that's got to be a good thing.