THREE NEW GUNDAMS FROM GUNDAM SEED
G.I.Joes weren't the only toys I turned up during my time in Walt Disney World for the G.I.Joe Convention. I also brought home three new Gundams.
I found them all at the Mitsukoshi Store in the Japan section of Epcot's World Showcase. This is actually a very cool store that, for the most part, carries authentic Japanese merchandise, and is a legitimate extension of the actual Japanese store. They carry a wide range of merchandise. I've been tempted to try some of the bagged candy they always seem to carry in there, but I want a better definition of some of those strange-sounding flavors first.
Up until this most recent visit, this store's toy department has tended to be both very minimal and a bit pathetic. Mostly Hello Kitty and Pokemon toys. However, with the substantial growth in popularity of Japanese anime and manga in the United States -- with related toy products -- Mitsukoshi has obviously decided to expand this area. The only oddball thing is that the books and toys they're carrying are the American versions. If you're hoping to get some hard-to-find, otherwise-unreleased-in-the-USA "Mobile Suit in Action" Gundam figure in its original packaging -- forget it. The display is little different from what you'd expect to find at Target or Toys "R" Us. Except, apparently, they're a couple of shipments ahead of those stores, as there's been no word whatsoever that this stuff has been turning up anywhere else in the United States (and it's getting a little overdue).
And clearly, the store gets shipments fairly often. I checked out Mitsukoshi during my first stop to Epcot. They had the Strike Gundam Active Mode, but I already have a Strike Gundam from a boxed set. They also had the 7.5" Strike Gundam, which looks very cool, really, but I don't collect Gundam in this size. Still, for anyone who does, when this one hits the regular stores, you won't be disappointed.
On my second walk-through World Showcase, some days later, I decided to have a look. And there were the Duel Gundam and Gundam Astray Blue in fair quantity. I did not see the Gundam Astray Red. And although the prices were a few dollars higher than one might normally expect to pay, I decided to get them. Given what I've seen of the toy world in general since returning to Tucson, I'm glad I did. I honestly haven't heard of anyone finding any of these figures anywhere. Apparently a few online stores have offered them, but both Target and Wal-Mart have been busy clearancing their Gundam supplies, presumably (I hope!) in preparation for Christmas shipments. It's been a pretty miserable year for action figures across the board, though (thank you, Wal-Mart, for your pricing stunt last Chrismas...).
I made one last stop on my last day at Walt Disney World. I couldn't believe that they hadn't gotten the Astray Red in. I made a very thorough search -- and came up with ONE. I grabbed him, got back to the hotel, and stuffed him in the suitcase, card and all. I can well see myself having otherwise stared at the Blue Astray and being annoyed for quite some time until I would've gotten the Red if I hadn't found him at the last minute there. That's exactly the sort of thing that can really bug me. And given the aforementioned scarcity of new Gundams in retail stores lately...
These are all Gundams from the current GUNDAM SEED series, although the two Astrays are actually from a side-story manga book and are not part of the animated series. They're still very cool, though. One possible reason for the Red Astray's popularity -- for those that are into accessories -- is that unlike its blue counterpart, it comes with a huge and very detailed samurai-type sword complete with scabbard. If this existed in real life, it would unquestionably be the biggest samurai sword in existence, and I'd pity the poor swordmaster that had to forge the thing.
The DUEL GUNDAM is in the series, though, and is one of the four Gundams hijacked by ZAFT forces away from the Earth Alliance. Here are some write-ups on all three of these Gundams, courtesy of Dave Goellnitz.
GAT-X102 Duel Gundam: One of the five Gundams built by the Earth Alliance, the Duel was built to be a close combat mobile suit. To fight hand to hand, the suit was armed with two beam sabers, and for more ranged fighting, it has a pair of vulcans mounted in the head. To top off its armament, it has a beam rifle with a 175mm grenade launcher. For protection, the suit is equipped with Phase Shift armor, giving it protection against most conventional weapons. After a Zaft attack on Heliopolis, the Duel Gundam is captured and piloted by Zaft pilot Yzak Joule.
MBF-P02 Astray Gundam "Red Frame" As the five Gundams were being developed by the Earth Alliance, one of the development groups aiding the construction was Orb. As development went on, Orb began using the research and data used to create the five Alliance Gundams, to create Gundams of their own, three Gundam units known as the Astrays. Since they were built using data from the Alliance Gundams, they all share similar features, such as beam weapons and Phase Shift armor. After the Zaft attack on Heliopolis, Orb decided to destroy the suits, but before that could happen, they were stolen. The Red Frame would eventually wind up in the hands of Junk Guild pilot Lowe Guele. The suit has the most advanced operating system of all the Gundams, built to allow a "Natural" pilot to operate it. It armed with a standard beam rifle and saber, along with the unique katana weapon.
MBF-P03 Astray Gundam "Blue Frame" After the Astray Gundams were stolen, the Blue Frame ended up with a pilot named Gai Murakumo, a Serpent Tail mercenary. The Blue Frame was given a number of weapons and specialized equipment, including a beam rifle, beam saber, high mobility unit, a specialized sensor unit, and could use any number of other custom armaments including missile launchers and bazookas.
Both suits appear in the Gundam SEED Astray Manga. The third Astray is the "Gold Frame." Wonder if we'll see a toy of that? Visually, the Astray Blue and Astray Red are virtually identical, except for their colors, and so's the Gold.
As one would expect, all three of these figures bear the high level of detail and superb articulation that we have come to expect from virtually all Gundam action figure products. Hopefully, the long dearth of toys in the department stores will soon be over, and we can all look forward to adding these three excellent Gundams to our collections. For myself, I'm glad I got them when I did, even if they cost me a little bit more, and they certainly have my highest recommendation.
One bit of troubling news, though. Recently both Wal-Mart and Target restructured their toy departments for the fall season. Although one can expect more adjustments as Christmas draws closer, it was disturbing to note that both store chains clearanced what Gundam merchandise they had -- which consisted predominently of Battle-Scarred figures and the SD line -- and have allowed no present space in their action figure sections for Gundam. And neither store ever got in the assortment that included the Duel and Astrays, or the 7.5" Strike Gundam which I also saw at the Mitsukoshi store.
Speculation is running rampant in the Gundam collector community as to whether the Gundam toy line will even continue in the United States. It's also worth noting that while the GUNDAM SEED line has barely gotten started, toys for the sequel series, soon to air in Japan, called GUNDAM SEED DESTINY, are already in the works for sale in Japan.
As of this writing (early August), I have no concrete information regarding the future of Gundam action figures in the United States. I have sent a letter to Bandai, which hopefully they will answer. As soon as I have further information, I will report it here on MasterCollector.Com. Meanwhile, let us hope for the best for this superb action figure line.