In the latest installment of a new Bit here, we’re reviewing Bandai’s gunpla, a model kit of a robot from the Gundam universe. It’s a little outside our usual coverage, and there might be some light spoilers for the anime. This week: Bandai’s High Grade Barbatos Lupus
In the show
There’s a lot of Barbatoses. In Iron Blooded Orphans’ Post-Disaster timeline, there were less than a hundred Gundam frames built, and sometimes it feels like Barbatos was ten of them, despite being technically only one. I should rewind a bit.
IBO is another alternate universe Gundam timeline, distinct from the Universal Century timeline but bearing some similarities. There are still masked weirdos, and mobile suits are still mobile suits, but their definition of Gundam and Mobile Armor are very different things. The UC Mobile Armor is used to denote some kind of freakishly large battle mech based on the same technology as a mobile suit, but abandoning the humanoid form in favor of extra gun arms or a big weird rocket butt. The PD version is somewhat similar, but differs crucially in that a PD Mobile Armor is driven by a berzerk genocidal AI. Instead of an earth-vs-colony One Year War, in this timeline the defining conflict was humans-vs-mobile-armors. The weapon that gave humanity the edge, albeit after 25% of them were chopped or lasered into bits, was the Gundam. In a Gundam 00 type advancement, engineers decided to take the normal power plant – here known as the Ahab Reactor, but it’s essentially the same as a Minovsky generator in the Universal Century, down to its ability to disrupt communications and power transmission – and whack two of them into the same robot. That’s what they called a Gundam Frame, and Barbatos (they’re all named after Daemons, hilariously using the same source list that the Dark Angels pull from in 40k) was one of the first, number 8 of the series. Slight drawback that I should mention here: in order to drive a Gundam, you have to have wires inserted directly into your spine. It’s fine, really, works great.
That war ended 300 years before the show begins, but the Gundams stuck around. Barbatos in particular starts the series disarmed and plugged into the wall as a generator. It’s only when our protagonist, ice-cold sociopath and child soldier Mikazuku Augus, needs to crump some guys to defend his child soldier pals, that Barbatos is allowed to do what it does best: crush mobile suits into scrap and rip parts off. Another slight drawback here: in the intervening years, the technology to do the brain-robot surgery got worse. There’s now a 50-50 shot that getting the implants will kill you, and also it can only be done on children, and also if you drive the Gundam too hard after getting it you can have a stroke. As a result, every power bloc maintains a mercenary force of disposable child slaves that are subjected to the surgery against their will, and forced to battle. The term they use is “human debris”, and the main thrust of the show is a ragtag team of said debris fighting to break out of the cycle once and for all. It’s one of the darker timelines.
Mikazuki has had the surgery three times, and so when he gets to drive Barbatos, he does so exceptionally well. Starting from it’s “first form” dilapidated state, Barbatos is upgraded throughout the first season of Iron Blooded Orphans, first by equipping stolen armor and weapons, and eventually being restored to it’s original specifications (the “fourth form”) and then being upgraded further with a samurai sword and extra armor. After six forms, alas, Barbatos bites off more than it can chew, and ends the season victorious, but also all fucked up. By the start of season 2, it’s been re-built and rechristened Barbatos Lupus, the one we’re looking at today. Lupus will only end up surviving half the season, before again winning a Pyrrhic victory (this time against the very thing it was designed to fight, an ancient unearthed Mobile Armor) and requiring a complete restoration and renaming, before closing out the show as the Lupus Rex. It’s not a dissimilar arc to what EVA Unit 02 goes through in the Evangelion rebuilds.
Lupus has always been my favorite, though. In Rex trim the design gets a little too bestial for my taste, with elongated arms and exaggerated claws, and the proper Barbatos versions just don’t go as hard as old Lupus here does. For a robot that only shows up in 15 episodes out of 50, it makes a strong impression. What I like about it is that it isn’t a particularly strong Gundam in its own right. IBO Gundams don’t tend to be as wild as their UC counterparts: they rarely transform into jets, rarely have built-in weaponry, and don’t use any super-powered beam weapons. Beam weapons actually do exist in the PD timeline, but part of why PD Mobile Suits are so dangerous is that they’re covered in armor that’s simply not vulnerable to beam attacks. The reasons that Barbatos is so frightening on the battlefield are because it’s simply one of the few Gundam frames still operable, and because Mika is brutally insane, utterly without mercy, and hard-wired into it. The only way to take down a mobile suit is by hitting it with a large enough projectile weapon or, in most cases, the old-fashioned way: ripping and tearing. Even by those standards, there’s nothing exceptional about Barbatos – it’s “just” a Gundam, one of a series of limited-production units – but with his surgically-enhanced reaction times and natural prowess for murder, Mika proves to be very good at ripping and/or tearing.
I highly recommend watching IBO. It’s grim, even by Gundam standards, but the animation is gorgeous and the plot is interesting enough that I’ve tried my level best not to spoil most of it, which I don’t usually bother with.
This is an out-of-box build, with panel lining and some extra RG stickers I had laying around stuck all over it.
For starters, the color accuracy leaves something to be desired. It’s great in some respects – the face and the yellow venting sections on the legs are properly done – but the red on the back of the foot, the black on the knee thrusters, or the blue on the hips are all done with stickers. There are some nice metallic stickers for the knee symbols, which look something like the power button on an old PC, but that’s pretty much it. Basically all of the Barbatos parts are properly color-separated, and the Lupus parts, not so much. The exception is the shoulders – the red part is hollowed out, with the white Tekkadan logo showing through the gaps. It’s a nice touch, but maddening that the rest isn’t at the same level.
The other problems are more intrinsic to the IBO HG line. These kits don’t tend to come with a lot of accessories, because they sell the wider array of weaponry and upgrades in separate packs. Barbatos Lupus here has slots in the forearms for mounting a couple of big honking cannons, but the guns aren’t in the box, they’re in an options set. By default it just comes equipped with the big blunt “sword” and an extra pair of hands, and that’s it.
If you want the other stuff, you’re buying another box. I don’t love this, but the hands are fairly standard HG fare, so you can jam whatever else you want in there, if you don’t mind breaking canon. Of further annoyance, the hands like to fall apart from the weight of the huge sword – the back and the fingers, the only two parts, aren’t joined together very strongly, and you can’t even glue them, because the pommel doesn’t come off the sword. If you want to be able to remove it, you have to disassemble the hands, but they also like to spontaneously disassemble themselves.
And then there’s the frame. Somewhat unique among HG lines, and owing to the skeletal nature of the designs all the HG IBO kits have basically a full inner frame, which you normally only see on MGs and RGs. Lest you get too excited, it’s not actually a very good inner frame. It looks phenomenal, no doubt, and the articulation is good when it works. It’s just not very solid, particularly in the waist, and has been known to loosen over time. It’s less of a technical advancement in the state of GunPla art, and more a factor of necessity: it’s simply not possible to make IBO kits that don’t have a full frame, and so we get one, but the quality simply isn’t at the level of the lines where you usually see that.
These are legitimate problems, but I do still love this little thing. When the parts aren’t falling off, the articulation is impressive, and if you can get past the stickers it does look great. I complained about the frame, but it does still have a frame, and seeing the mechanics poke through the armor and show at the joints adds a ton of visual interest. Having a set of hands with hyper-extended wrists opens up the option of swinging the sword like a baseball bat (which is basically how the thing is designed in the first place), and it can slot into both hands, which you’ll need because otherwise you have a holding hand with nothing to hold, since you just get the one weapon and no clenched fists or open hands. This is a fun kit to pose, and can pull off more moves than you might expect at this price point, but it’s dragged down by just not being sturdy enough to play with.
Should you buy it?
It’s a fine kit, and cheap, but I think I’d pass. Partly due to the issues with the Gundam Frame and the color accuracy, but mostly because now that we have a MG Barbatos (4th form), it’s only a matter of time before there’s a Master Grade Barbatos Lupus. I haven’t reviewed that Barbatos yet, but I have kit and, spoiler alert: it owns. I think, and I hope Bandai follows through on this, that we’ll see a Lupus sooner rather than later, and that when that kit comes out, it’ll be the one to get. In the meantime, the existing MG is so good – on every level, it surpasses this one, truly one of the best Master Grades – that even if it’s not my favorite Barbatos variant, I’d just get that instead.