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By Thomas Wheeler

So right about the time I'm putting the finishing touches on the last Gundam review I did, a whole bunch of new Gundams from G-GUNDAM turn up. It figures. I also suspect that except for a few remaining repackagings and gold-tone Hyper Modes, these may be among the last of the G-GUNDAM series.

These four newest entries are a pretty strange lot, as well, but they're also rather cool. And in this Gundam concept, strange is a relative term.

Let's start with HURRICANE GUNDAM. This Gundam represents Neo-Holland, and is considered by many to be one of the most bizarre Gundam designs ever. It's designed to camouflage itself as a windmill. But don't be fooled. For all its silly, stocky appearance, the Hurricane Gundam should not be underestimated. Its huge windmill blades can be used as either a method of propellor-like propulsion, when it retracts its legs and uses the windmill underneath, or as a devastating wind-weapon, hence its English-translation name, in combat.

The toy is a little different in some respects from most Gundam action figures. For one thing, many of its parts are molded from hard plastic, not the more flexible variety common to Gundam figures. For another, there's an internal mechanism with a knob on the back. Fortunately, this knob has been designed to sort of resemble a jet exhaust, so it doesn't detract from the appearance of the figure. This knob allows the windmill blades to turn, and turn they do, and can be turned at a surprisingly high rate of speed. This function works in either the "windmill" or "propellor" position.

For the truly strange, though, in my mind there's no doubt. It has to go to Neo-Portugal's JESTER GUNDAM. Within the show, the pilot of this Gundam was as strange as his machine. He dressed as a clown to psyche out his opponents, and it worked pretty well on Neo-America's Chibbodey Crockett, who had a bad experience with clowns once as a child.

The first time I saw a picture of the Jester Gundam, before I even knew that Bandai was planning on turning this Gundam concept into a toy line, I thought, "There's no way in the world they can make a toy out of that one." The moral of that being -- never underestimate Japanese toy designers. Somehow they managed. Especially impressive on Jester Gundam are the arms -- no less than nine points of articulation apiece. Superbly well done, overall. In the show, the Jester Gundam has the capability to transform into a giant spinning top, and parts are included to allow the toy to be similarly transformed.

Next up is my personal favorite from this newest batch, Neo-Norway's VIKING GUNDAM. Somewhat more traditional in appearance than most of the others in this particular assortment, Viking Gundam manages to be just quirky enough to be cool. There's a distinct viking helmet on its head, and its shoulder pads look like the fronts of two longboats. Viking Gundam comes packed with two large oars which could well be formidable weapons.

The one complaint a few people have had about this Gundam is that he didn't come with the actual longboat that he is seen with in the show. This is something of a disappointment, but Bandai may have discovered that boxed sets with vehicles do not fare quite as well as individual carded figures.

Finally, we have one of two Gundams that I never thought would be made. Neo-Kenya's GUNDAM ZEBRA. There's no mistaking the somewhat stereotypical African appearance of this Gundam. In fact, when I showed it to someone at the church office I volunteer at, who has done a fair amount of missionary travel, she immediately recognized it as being clearly intended as African. But then that's the unspoken truth about supposedly offensive stereotypes, isn't it? If there weren't some measure of truth to them, they wouldn't likely get started.

Gundam Zebra appears to be wearing a fairly traditional "robe" with a zebra pattern, and its shoulder pads look like zebra heads. The primary color of the figure underneath the "robe" is dark brown. And just to put a point to it, the weapons the figure comes with include a spear and a shield. I'm really surprised Jesse Jackson or the NAACP or somebody hasn't pitched a fit over this one. Not that that's a suggestion for them to do so.

Fortunately, the Japanese appear to be a lot less politically-correct than Americans, so designs like Gundam Zebra don't bother them. The one remaining prominent Gundam that I'd still like to see as a toy, which one Bandai source reported would be made but which I haven't seen on any assortment listings, is Neo-Mexico's SPIKE GUNDAM, known in an earlier translation as TEQUILA GUNDAM. This Gundam, unlike the Gundam Zebra, had an entire episode devoted to it, so it's more than prominent enough. But it's pretty stereotypical, too. It's mostly tan, with what looks like a sombrero on its head, cactus pads on its arms, and it seems to have a mustache. I was told by one guy in New Mexico that a toy like that would be a huge hit in the Mexican community in his area, and I suspect it would be many places. That's the funny thing about racial activists and PC advocates. They're generally pretty out of touch with the groups they supposedly represent, who probably would just as soon be left alone and see little harm in much of what these activists find "offensive". But because these numbskulls think the people they represent should be offended and probably would be if they paid more attention, chaos ensues.

As for Tequila/Spike Gundam as an action figure, I am hopeful, but not terribly optimistic at this point. Still, stranger things have happened in this line.

Late summer will commence the next Gundam series being brought to the United States -- ZETA GUNDAM. Of course there will be a wide range of toys, which I hope do well. I only have two concerns. Reports are that the Zeta Gundam animated series is one of the more grim and violent chapters in Gundam history. This likely means that the series will either be edited to a point of incomprehensibility, or relegated to a late-night time slot on Cartoon Network -- or both. None of this will be especiallt conducive to TOY sales.

And Zeta Gundam also suffers from the same problem that 2001's Mobile Suit Gundam line did, which did not affect either Gundam Wing or G-Gundam as badly -- lengthy alphanumeric or tongue-tangling names that in the latter case one must assume are just really bad translations. It's a whole lot easier to remember names such as "Wing Gundam", "Gundam Heavyarms," "Shining Gundam", or "Gundam Zebra" than it is to keep stuff like "RGM-79(G) GM" or "PMX-002 Bolinoak Samaan" in mind.

Still, I continue to be highly impressed with the vast majority of the Gundam action figure lines (Battle-Scarreds notwithstanding), and greatly look forward to what the future of Gundam will offer.

I'm just hoping it includes a SPIKE GUNDAM at some point...