Need a change of pace… I know! HG Zakus!

With SCGMC 2022 behind me, I have a whole new year of model projects to look forward to. SCGMC2023 is coming up and this time really for sure the Zaku Kai is gonna be done. I have other projects in mind for the show as well… Plus Anime Boston is coming up and I need to be ready for my usual panel there… But right now I want to take a bit of time and work on some simpler projects. I only just barely managed to get a single model ready for SCGMC 2022, the good bit there is I did it, I had something to show, and it got me motivated to really work on my workspace and my airbrush setup. But I want to make painting more of a regular occurrence. I want to make finishing models more of a regular occurrence. So I decided to do some more Zakus, the 2021 version of the HG Zaku, and the First Grade Zaku from 1999.

The 2021 HG Zaku, commonly known as the “Revive” HG Zaku, is largely based on the design of the MG Zaku v2.0 which came out in 2007. That kit became the basis for various other Zaku kits that have come out since, like the HG Hi-Mobility Zaku and the Real Grade Zaku. To me this influence is kind of a mixed bag. The v2.0 is a “retro” kit, meaning it attempts to look more like the simple animation designs from the original Gundam TV show. This would appeal to me, but I feel like they played things too “safe”, design-wise. When a mecha design is very very simple, I think it benefits from being a little bit weird. If it’s too clean, it just looks boring. That’s my theory anyway. All that said the MG Zaku v2.0 design does have its merits, and the HG “Revive” Zaku plays on those strengths, while also making a few minor changes for the better. When Bandai releases a new kit of the Zaku it’s a very safe bet that I’ll buy one, whether I like it or not. I got the Revive Zaku as soon as a green version was available.
One complaint I have about the kit is that it has some extra joint parts that increase the mobility of its arms, but these joints just look like garbage. There is an “inner shoulder” joint that lets the sides of the chest slide around relative to the middle bit – with the end result being that if you’re not careful, the joints will flop into an awkward position and make it look like the chest parts are misaligned or something… The other problem joint is a “second wrist” in the middle of the forearm. The last segment of the forearm can extend a bit and then flop around on a ball joint. It looks absolutely terrible, makes it look like the end of the arm is dangling on the end of a stick. So I decided to disable both of these joints by fusing them with model cement.

The arms are a bit needlessly complicated: Bandai tends to try to make things easier for casual builders and in the process makes it harder to make their models look good. So building the forearms became a bit of an iterative process: assemble a couple parts of the forearm, align them properly and clean up the seam, then proceed with the next set of parts, assembled around the previous set, and so on. The alignment step was important in this case, too, as the forearm parts on this kit don’t align correctly on their own. The upshot is that when these issues are dealt with, the merits of the kit’s design show through more clearly.

Next I turned my attention to the leg parts. As with the arms, the lower legs are a bit overcomplicated due to Bandai’s dedication to “hiding” seams in panel lines. As far as I’m concerned it’s way easier to deal with a seam straight down the middle of a smooth, mostly-featureless area rather than one that’s stuck into a recessed nook between the parts, and which needs to be rescribed afterward to re-establish the panel line.

The legs on this kit are built around a simple inner frame. This is a good way to make compact moving joints and anchor them to the exterior parts of the model, but unfortunately it also makes it difficult to deal with the kit parts individually while painting. I find it easier when painting these kinds of structures to be able to separate areas like the knee joint from the outer armor parts, so I can more easily access the different areas of the joint and paint them. However, if the outer armor is cemented together around the inner frame, you can’t do that. After some investigation I determined the upper leg could be separated from the frame just by cutting off the connecting pegs and adjusting the part a little, so the frame can just slide right in. The lower leg was harder: Ultimately I decided to cut the lower leg frame in half. After painting, the top half of the lower leg frame (with the knee joint and upper leg frame) can slide back into the lower leg and be permanently attached with epoxy or something.

While all this was going on, I started to think it would be good for me to practice hand-painting a model. I looked through my model collection trying to figure out what would be suitable for a project like this: Something cheap and relatively common so I wouldn’t feel bad about maybe messing it up.. Something that I liked well enough as it is that I wouldn’t feel a need to make a lot of changes to it… Pretty quickly I decided that the First Grade Zaku would be a good choice. Bandai made this kit in 1999 for Gundam’s 20th anniversary. The gimmick is that it’s a modern kit with a modern look, but the box art, the size of the box, and even the price of the model are all based on the original 1981 Zaku kit. The result is a kit that’s dirt cheap, looks great, and it’s relatively free of nonsense. Aiming to avoid getting mired in modifications I committed to a straight build, and got the whole thing assembled and ready for paint over a few evening sessions.

One area where I allowed the project to start to get a little more complicated was the shoulder pauldron. On the stock kit, the round, spiked shoulder pauldron is simply molded as part of the shoulder itself, which sits underneath. As a result there is no undercut to the shoulder pauldron, in the spaces where the interior of the shoulder pauldron should be open, there are flat panels instead. Ultimately I decided I wasn’t OK with that, so I first tried making very shallow undercuts, just to give it a little bit of sense of depth, and then I’d make the undercuts look deeper with paint. Also I didn’t decide to alter the parts until after they were already cemented together… It would have been way easier if I’d made the decision earlier in the process. Anyway, I tried making a shallow undercut but I cut all the way through in a few places, and I got concerned that this would weaken the part… So I decided to cut all the way through and then build out the shoulder structure under the pauldron a little with epoxy putty. It’s an improvement over the stock kit, but it’s not great in some respects. I think it’ll look okay at least.

There’s still a fair bit left to do on these two builds, I don’t want these to take too long as I do have other plans for this year that I need to get to… It’s coming along, though.

10 Comment(s)

  1. Ah, back to the basics! I agree with you that none of recent Zakus have successfully scratched that retro itch. Out of curiosity, have you ever tried making a “perfect” 0079 Zaku II like what you did with the Zaku Kai?

    When I was working on such a project, the issue came down to how inconsistent the Zaku II was on-screen, with even the model reference sheets being inconsistent. It then became a matter of which Zaku II depiction I like the most from the anime and period printed material. Then, there was the task of engineering the 80s-accurate hidden joints. Unfortunately, that project is still in hiatus due a lack of free time.

    Of all of the retro Zakus, I like the Robot Spirits Zaku II the most, but even that has the modern exposed gray joints.

    (For more retro 80s Japanese modelling material, I highly reconmend checking out if you haven’t already.)

    Jon | 2023-02-06 | Reply

  2. Back in 2010 or so I had a “144 Zaku Project” where I was basically just building all the different 1:144 Zaku kits. I only finished a few builds in that project but one of the unfinished ones was a build of the original 1:144 Zaku kit (with some editorial changes) – that project isn’t really aiming for a “perfect” 0079 Zaku (as you say, it’s hard to nail down that design to a specific set of design choices), more like trying to take the things I like about that kit and building on them. Mostly in that project I just use kit-stock joints, though I gave it ankle mobility and cylindrical resin-encased-polycap joints for the knees. One of the great things about that kit is, it actually has a really unique look, even among the early 1980s Zaku kits. The smaller feet, and the more slender legs… In stock form it’s a pretty good representation of how the Zaku looked sometimes, but it’s also a nice contrast to all the later Zaku designs where the legs got very bulky.
    I am interested in trying a project like that in the future, building a “proper” 1979 Zaku either as a scratch build or 3D print, but it’s far enough on the “backburner” that I don’t know when I’d get to it. Same story with the 1:144 old kit as well, really. My schedule for 2023 is basically already full, I have a few things I want to do in these first few months, and then it’s back to Zaku Kai and other projects for SCGMC. But one of my goals is to achieve more with 3D printing to more quickly make things I want to make, and rely less on kits which always feel like a bit of a compromise.
    There’s also a resin kit of a 1979-style Zaku that I think is quite good, I have considered getting that as a way to get a real “original Zaku” in my collection.
    At the risk of getting monotonous with what I build, I generally do want to make a lot of different Zakus. All the different show and OVA and kit versions, just a big ol’ gang of different Zakus. Even kits like these two, even if I’m not entirely happy with their design overall, there’s often something in their design I’ll find interesting or enjoyable.

    tetsujin | 2023-02-09 | Reply

  3. “Bandai tends to try to make things easier for casual builders and in the process makes it harder to make their models look good.” – Thing is, they do look good. While I do understand that you have fun while supposedly “fixing” a model’s perceived shortcomings, please don’t be fooled into thinking it looks objectively better. Most people will never even touch model cement and the work Bandai puts into hiding seam lines is a godsent, and if anything they should do it more.

    Kestrel | 2023-02-10 | Reply

  4. I agree only in the sense that “objectively better” is nonsense, there is no objective or universal standard for what is “better” or even “good”. When someone claims otherwise, they are just trying to put more weight behind their own opinion than it truly deserves. But I made no such claim. I speak for myself.

    Otherwise, I don’t agree with you at all. Bandai has sold you a lampshade, a cheap excuse to overlook seam lines rather than fix them, and in the process, for me, turned what should be a simple seam cleanup into reconstruction of a badly-molded panel line. As far as I’m concerned, the fact that you’re OK with how panel-seams look just means you’re not paying attention to how it looks, or not considering how it could look better. Irregular, misaligned seams are not a “feature”, they are a “bug”.

    I get that most Gundam fans will never use model cement. I understand that this is *why* Bandai does what they do (I even said as much), but as far as I’m concerned that’s not a desirable outcome. I’m not going to act as though it *is* a desirable outcome just because a lot of other people think it is. I’d rather try to communicate why I think that’s not a great outcome, maybe change some minds… I think viewing these kits with a critical eye, taking the time to think about how they can be improved, is a critical first step to making a good-looking model from them.

    I’m not hostile toward snap-builders these days (used to be, call it a character flaw or whatever, it was something I had to actively work against), and you’re welcome to take what you like from what I have to say here, and push back, as you did, if you think I’m wrong. Generally speaking you’re not going to find me particularly sympathetic toward the snap-builder mindset, though. It’s just not where I’m at, or where I’ve ever been, in relation to this hobby. Since this is my site, generally it’s going to reflect my ideas, my priorities, and my values.

    tetsujin | 2023-02-10 | Reply

  5. For what reason would you ever have been hostile to snap-builders, or be unsympathetic towards their “mindset”?

    Kestrel | 2023-02-12 | Reply

  6. tetsujin, are you talking about one of the old B-Club resin kits?

    Kestral, a lot of it has to do with making the kit more screen-accurate. Lately, Bandai has a habit of making their kits leaner and skinnier than what is shown on screen. (There are still people who still prefer the older bulky 80s mecha proportions.) As for the distain for snap-builders, it’s probably a mental holdover from old forums, most of which are now dead.

    Jon | 2023-02-13 | Reply

  7. John, it seems like there’s a misunderstanding regarding where I stand in the hobby and what my point was.

    I do understand being frustrated with a model’s proportions. I’m also not saying trying to achieve screen accuracy with any number of modelling techniques is something negative.

    My comment was specifically aimed at the frustration with Bandai attempting to make seam lines less obvious and easier to “overlook”, instead of conspicuously running right down the middle of limbs and heads and whatnot. Tetsujin seems to believe the latter is more desirable, because it makes fixing seams, which is presented as basically mandatory, easier. My point is that I strongly disagree. That’s an outdated notion that comes from growing up with color inaccurate, very simply designed kits that required a world of measures to even vaguely resemble their screen counterparts, and never moving on from it. A stiff perception of what modelling is and what it should aim for, more at home with military and old sci-fi models than Gunpla currently.

    Do the newer kits look perfect out of box? Of course not. Do they absolutely look, feel and handle better than their older counterparts? Without a doubt. Being cranky at the manufacturer for presenting a better product because it makes a procedure barely anyone will perform marginally harder, and implying the older standard was better because that conversely made it easier, is just silly.

    I’m honestly not looking to change any minds. People are products of their time, and as someone nearing 50 Tetsujin probably has very ossified convictions about what is “right” or “wrong” in modelling (a silly notion in and of itself, but I digress). I am, however, infinitely glad that the industry currently eschews to a different design philosophy, that allows people to produce a convincing looking robot that they can display and feel good about. They are better kits.

    I’m not going to intrude on your comments section any further. You should try a Witch From Mercury kit sometime. I particularly like the Lfrith, though the Darilbalde and Pharact are also lovely. Godspeed.

    Kestrel | 2023-02-13 | Reply

  8. Being a bit inflexible has always been part of my character. The hostility was basically a kind of gatekeeping. As you suggest, there was and is no good reason for it. It was petty and destructive and that’s why I made (and continue to make) the effort to stop.

    As for being unsympathetic… Well, why would I be sympathetic to a viewpoint I fundamentally don’t agree with? If someone tells me how terrible it is to have to sand a seam, or how great it is when everything is color-molded (producing loads of additional seams in the process)… I’m just not going to see it that way. Why would I? Everything they seem to value in a kit seems to make it worse from my perspective. I understand where they’re coming from but I don’t agree. I actually would love to change people’s minds about this issue.

    In the end the results of my approach will speak for themselves, for better or worse. Personally I think the results I get are worth it, but you are free to decide for yourself.

    tetsujin | 2023-02-13 | Reply

  9. Kestral, I agree with your points. Apologizes for misunderstanding.

    tetsujin, I think these problems that you speak of really only show up in suits with round and curved surfaces. Most of the modern designs are angular, so in general, most of the seams are hidden very well and are easy to clean up. The color seperation is welcomed on many designs (especially the RX-78’s v-crotch which was always a pain to mask and paint). Unfortunately, a lot of this don’t necessarliy translate well to Zeon machines, and you primarily like building Zakus. (There is a reason why I invested in a nice set of steel files and chisels.)

    Jon | 2023-02-15 | Reply

  10. I think the problems would be much the same with flat surfaces. For instance the Gundam’s crotch, when those parts are color separated they tend to have gaps or softened detail. (A lot of the more recent HG Gundams don’t color-separate that detail, it seems. HG Beyond Global has very rounded corners on that detail. G40, G30, Revive, and Origin gundams don’t color separate it.) On HG I’d rather have the parts well-formed and deal with masking and painting. On larger scales, the precision issue is less of a problem so it doesn’t matter as much.
    On flat surfaces it’s the same basic problem. (Honestly I don’t see what curved surfaces have to do with it…) As a matter of necessity a kit will have seams. If they’re on relatively featureless surfaces, the seam will stand out if untreated but it’s much easier to treat. You don’t have to be super-precise with it because the area is relatively featureless. But if the seam coincides with a panel line, when you’re done there has to be a panel line there. So for starters you have problems like, if you cement the seam together, and material squishes out, you need to clear it out again to re-establish the panel line.
    I think it’s worse than that, though. First off, for two parts to come together at a mating surface is already a bit of a complex problem. It’s usually not exact, there will be some minor variation in a seam. Cementing the parts and allowing excess material to squish out is a pretty good solution to that problem, but that causes problems if the seam has to be redressed as a panel line again afterward. It gets worse when you consider that a panel line straight down the whole length of a part is pretty boring, so the need for panel lines to be interesting-looking now also leads to more complex seam lines… Curves, angles, and so on. If the shape of a seam line is more complex, it will be harder to produce parts that meet precisely, and as a result we get “panel line” seams with inconsistent spacing and gaps. Out of the box, there are parts of the seam on the lower leg of the revive Zaku that just don’t close right. Things don’t sit flush and there are gaps where the parts don’t quite come together.
    Beyond that… I can’t be sure of course but I think this whole seam-panel deal is part of the reason why other panel lines on Bandai kits tend to be a bit oversize. They can’t get panel-seams precise enough to make them consistent so they’re made wider so the error is small by comparison, then they make all the other panel lines larger to match.
    I think the Bandai 1:72 X-Wing is a pretty good example of all this on a design that’s more flat surfaces rather than curved ones. As you say, though, as we get to modern, MG or better, boxier designs… All three of those qualifiers are a bit outside my usual build habits.
    If you want to talk modern designs… I don’t know, you might need to be more specific about which designs you mean. (Looking to Witch from Mercury, for instance, I think Demi Trainer is the only really “angular” one) The main trend I’m seeing in recent Gundam designs that impacts this is the trend toward designs where one side of the frame is just bare, no armor, so the armor can often be molded seamlessly and slide on. (We saw that a lot in IBO and a fair bit in Witch from Mercury…) As a design concept it’s not bad. I think the execution sometimes leaves something to be desired (we wind up seeing the interior surfaces of plastic parts, which usually isn’t a good look) but that’s just the nature of inexpensive kits.

    tetsujin | 2023-02-15 | Reply

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