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SD Gundam Zaku

We have a new guest reviewer tonight, Mark Patraw, who is looking at the SD Gundam Zaku - take it away, Mark!

I don't know much about Gundam, so I'm not going to embarass myself, or infuriate those in the know, by pretending that I do. I'll just provide a safe generalization: It's a Japanese phenomena featuring robot warriors. There's a computer-generated, cel-shaded, kids' cartoon, featuring super-deformed (SD) versions of the Gundam characters, that's been airing for a while now, called SD Gundam. I've only caught bits and pieces of it (I think it's on Cartoon Network, but I'm not sure). Anyway, I was at Big Lots not too long ago, doing some Christmas shopping, when I noticed a bunch of these SD Gundam figure kits, made by Bandai, sitting on a shelf. I was sorely tempted to buy some at the time, especially at the rock bottom price of $1.99-$2.99 a pop, but I already had other things to get, so I resisted temptation. Fast forward a couple of weeks: I'm in Big Lots again with some money to burn and I decide to give one of these little bots a try. So, what did I think? Read on and find out.











Packaging - ***
Zapper Zaku comes unassembled inside a small, cardboard box with a flap on the top. The graphic design is colorful and attractive. While you can't actually see the contents yourself (no transparent plastic or bubbles of any kind), the box does a good job of showing you what you're getting and what's going to be required of you to assemble your bot. Some of the text on the box, and in the instructions, is multi-lingual. While the package would be relatively easy to dent or crush, it should store well for MOCers. All six of the plastic trees and the decal sheet are kept secure inside two, clear plastic bags. The only thing loose inside the box is the instructions/comic.

Sculpting - ***
The first thing one should remember when looking at this figure is that it is supposed to be super- deformed (SD). It is not intended to have realistic proportions. What we have is a short, squat, evil robot that is almost child-like in appearance. Scale-wise, Zaku is about three and a half inches tall when fully assembled (however, about three-quarters of an inch of that is his horn/spikes, so he's really more like two and three-quarters inches tall--don't be fooled by the size of the box, the actual figure is smaller than you might expect). From what I remember of the cartoon, this is a pretty accurate representation of the character. While none of it is too elaborate, there is a fair amount of detail in Zakuís robotic body and weapons. I find it kind of amusing that Zaku has a two-slot visor, but only one eye--it must get mighty annoying, even for a robot, to have a bar in the middle of your field of vision. The only problem I have with the execution of the sculpt is the noticeable empty Ďspacesí in the molds of some of the pieces (for example, if you look at the rear view photo, you can see cavities in the back of the lower arms and yellow shoulder spikes where Ďunnecessaryí plastic was excised to cut down on plastic/money). This is a cost saving measure that Iíve always hated to see in toys. Itís somewhat justifiable in this case because there is a lot of excess plastic on the trees, when youíre done taking all the parts off them, that does go to waste. You could probably make another complete Zaku with that quantity of plastic . . .

Paint - None
This category will not factor into the overall score. All the pieces are molded in one of three different colored plastics: Red, grey, and yellow. If you feel so inclined, you can apply your own customized paint job. The package shows several photos of a painted version-ĖZaku certainly looks nicer with some additional paint to bring out the details in his armor, but itís not necessary to enjoy the figure. If you are going to do some painting, hereís a standard tip: Paint everything BEFORE you remove it from the plastic tree. It makes life much, much easier.

Articulation - **
He actually has quite a bit. Unfortunately, due to his stocky proportions and build, most of it isnít terribly useful. Zaku has ball-joints in his ankles, knees, waist, neck, and 2 sets in his shoulders (one set for the arms, another for the huge shoulder pads). Thereís not a lot of range of motion in most of these joints, but you can get some decent poses out of him and he stands very well on his own. His Gatling gun has 2 joints: A swivel joint that allows it to revolve forward from his back to his side and a ball joint at the base of the gun that lets you swing it around to face front and fine tune the positioning. Sadly, itís tough to actually move the Gatling gun forward, the right shoulder pad/arm and gun tend to get in each otherís way. Lastly, his visor raises and lowers for a grand total of 13 points of articulation. Even though itís not very functional, Iím impressed with the amount of moving parts, especially since itís a kit you have to assemble. One last thing, there was one extra ball joint left over when I finished my Zapper Zaku. I think itís intended to be a spareĖtheyíre quite small and it would be easy to lose one. Iím 99.9% sure I didnít forget to attach a joint somewhere.

Accessories - **
Zapper Zaku has two: a laser gun and an axe. Iím not counting the large Gatling gun or visor, even though you can remove them, because theyíre more or less intended to remain attached to his body. The back of the axe hooks onto a handy slot in his spiky left shoulder pad, in case you want to display him with the Gatling gun in one hand and the pistol in the other. Unfortunately, the axe looks like it would be very easy to snap in two if youíre not careful with it. 

The figure also comes with full color instructions/comic book. The comic is only two pages long and has a so-so English translation. The instructions are easy to follow and loaded with pictures.

Fun Factor - ***
First and foremost, if you donít like building/assembling things, youíre probably not going to like these figures. Iíve always liked making stuff, so I would have enjoyed this type of toy when I was a kid, and I still enjoy it now. There's always that special satisfaction from being able to say 'I built this'. Even if you donít know much about Gundam, like me, the figures have enough visual appeal to stand on their own--robots are always cool. 

For adults purchasing for children: The package recommends this figure for ages 8+. There are a lot of small pieces, so make sure things donít get lost or eaten by younger children/pets. I think this would be an excellent, inexpensive way for a child to try out model building to see if they like it. The fact that there's no glue involved is definitely a plus for kids.

Quality/Durability - **
Zaku's a model, in addition to being an action figure, which, almost by definition, is going to make him more fragile than a standard toy. I canít say Iíd recommend playing too rough with this guy. Heís sturdy enough to handle and pose, but I donít think Zaku would survive a shelf dive or a bout with the Incredible Hulk. All of the joints are good and tight now, but they may loosen over time. As I mentioned earlier, his axe looks like itíd be easy to break, and I think the horn on his helmet would snap off with relative ease as well. A couple of his stickers started to peel off a few hours after attachment (and continue to peel, no matter how many times I re-stick them), but the majority of them are sticking well.

Value -  ****
I bought this from out local Big Lots store for $1.99 plus tax. They had a number of other SD Gundam models besides this one (various difficulty levels too). The best part? The most expensive one there was $2.99. For $10.60 (six cents sales tax here in Michigan) you can get five of these brilliant little buggers. If that isnít a steal, I donít know what is. Definitely worth the money and then some.

Things to Watch Out For - 
Make sure the box is taped securely shut--thievery is a possibility with the way these are packaged. Take your time when assembling the figure and follow the instructions closely. Be careful when you remove individual pieces from the plastic trees (I recommend nail clippers--so does Bandai's instructions). Don't use too much force when putting the pieces together--you've got to apply pressure, but don't go overboard or you might break something.

Overall - ***
I'm very satisfied with my purchase and considering buying some more, especially at this price point. I haven't put together a model in years (I think the last two I did were a Star Trek Next Generation Enterprise and a Klingon Bird of Prey almost a decade ago), so I got a good deal of enjoyment out of doing it again. I don't really play with my toys (I just display them), so the relative fragility and limited articulation of the figure don't bother me as much as it might affect someone who expects this guy to see some action with their other toys.

SCORE RECAP:
Packaging - ***
Sculpt - ***
Paint - None
Articulation - **
Accessories - **
Quality/Durability - **
Fun Factor - ***
Value - ****
Overall - ***

Where to buy
Big Lots, as I mentioned previously. I imagine you can find them at some other brick and mortar/online stores, but I highly doubt anyone else will be able to meet, or beat, Big Lots price. And, as usual, thereís always eBay. 

About the Reviewer:
While I've been a fan of toys all my life, I've only recently started collecting them; I've been at it for about a year now. I mostly purchase MOC Toy Biz Marvel Legends and McFarlane Toys lines (primarily Spawn). I also like to make a lot of video game related models/sculptures from scratch; these can be found at my website, Mark's Art Page.


Figure from the collection of Mark Patraw.

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