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REVIEW: GUNDAM SEED AILE STRIKE GUNDAM & SKYGRASPER
By Thomas Wheeler

After a long, long, loooooong dearth of any new Gundam products, which basically started once G-Gundam had run its course (although I still want to see Spike/Tequila/Cactus Gundam) with Battle-Scarred Gundams and the Smurf-like SD toys stinking up the shelves, the only real highlights in the meantime being the next-to-impossible to find Maguanacs from Gundam Wing, the newest Gundam concept, GUNDAM SEED, has finally started to roll out, and the first of the product line rolled into Tucson in mid-April.

This was a boxed item which I discovered at Target one afternoon. I got a bit of a break, too. Normally, these boxed items retail for around $10.99. But I think Target had reduced the price on boxed Gundams and forgot to tell their computers when they went back to a normal price. I got the toy for $7.89. I am not complaining.

This is the AILE STRIKE GUNDAM with SKYGRASPER vehicle. Now, a word of explanation. The Strike Gundam is to GUNDAM SEED what the Shining Gundam was to G-Gundam, or the Wing Gundam was to Gundam Wing. It's the most prominent of the Gundams. And we can expect to be seeing a lot of it in the Gundam SEED line, since the Strike Gundam apparently uses a considerable array of rather large weaponry from time to time, and Bandai has apparently seen fit to manufacture all of it as separate sets, either boxed or carded, and of course each one will come with its own Strike Gundam.

This concerns me a bit. I fear the "He-Man" factor, where too many versions of the same core character can hurt the line. And there's no shortage of fascinating Gundams to be found in the Gundam SEED series. I would hope (and tend to assume) that most of these will be made as toys. However, I have been informed that many of these do not appear until later in the series. One might assume that Bandai is holding off on their release until later on. Let us hope in the meantime that for the toy line, it won't be too many Strikes and it's out.

But now, let us review the toy. The STRIKE GUNDAM is a very cool Gundam design, if a little predictable. But then there are certain expectations with the "basic" Gundam in any Gundam line. You can assume that it's going to be predominantly white, and that its color details are going to be in the primary category of red, blue, and a bit of yellow. Such is indeed the case with the Strike Gundam.

That's not to say it's a disappointing design. Not in the least. The four antennae on the head set it apart from most of its two-antennaed ancestors. There's a greater use of dark grey which somehow gives the impression of a more mechanical and powerful Gundam. The yellow is limited to its eyes and two of its antennae. One sees this as a very no-nonsense Gundam, a Gundam to be taken seriously in a fight.

The overall design actually made the toy look smaller than previous Gundams, but when I stood it next to other Gundams from previous lines, it really isn't. It's the same height as any of the basic Gundams from Wing, G, or anyone else. I think what makes it look smaller is that its proportions are very slightly different. The torso is a bit smaller and looks more slender, and I think it's legs are a bit longer. It looks a lot like the more slender, or perhaps sleeker, Gundams seen in the Gundam Wing sequel movie, "Endless Waltz".

The figure itself is excellent from a design standpoint. Thank God we didn't get the so-called "Advanced" Mobile Suits that were marketed in Japan for Gundam SEED early on. From virtually everything I've read, these nightmares weren't as well detailed, their snap-on armor didn't stay put very well, and they couldn't hold a pose worth a darn. I was assured in a letter from a Bandai representative a month or so ago that the toys from Gundam SEED would definitely NOT be the "Advanced" versions (talk about an oxymoron), but would in fact be the standard-type action figures that we have come to know and enjoy in the States for the past several years, and indeed they are.

Which is not to say there haven't been a few alterations, but fortunately, they do not affect the basic structure or look of the figure. The elbows have a double-jointed articulation. This has been seen before. But the shoulders have a sort of swivel-joint in them that is different from the ball-and-socket construction of previous Gundams. This actually allows for a greater range of motion in the arms without at all affecting the appearance of the figure. All of the rest of the considerable articulation in this figure is fully intact.

Now, let's talk accessories. Most obvious in this boxed set is the Skygrasper vehicle. Not being entirely familiar with the Gundam SEED story at this point, I can't really tell you that much about it from that standpoint. It looks a lot like what one would expect a fighter plane to look like in the sometimes fanciful Gundam universe, and based on the package illustrations, portions of this aircraft are designed to fit onto the Strike Gundam itself, specifically the "Aile Striker Pack" on the back of the plane. Hence the final name of the toy, "Aile Strike Gundam".

Along with this, the toy comes with plenty of spare hands in different configurations for holding different weapons, as well as a shield, a rifle, two beam sabers, and most notable, two tiny little knives that actually fold up into their handles and can be inserted into "pockets" on either side of the Gundam figure! Some toy assemblers in China must've gotten eyestrain putting these little things together!

Overall, the AILE STRIKE GUNDAM & SKYGRASPER unit is a superb way to start the Gundam SEED line, and I am very delighted to see Gundam toys -- decent Gundam toys, not that Battle-Scarred or SD garbage -- back on the shelves! There's still a few toys from other Gundam concepts that I would like to see, and perhaps we may well get them eventually, but meanwhile, Gundam SEED is about to take center stage, and I think it's going to be a good year for Gundam after far too long a time of waiting, and I most certainly recommend the AILE STRIKE GUNDAM set and anything else that comes along!