Gunpla review: RG Sazabi

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 Real Grade Sazabi

In the show

We’ve talked about Amuro Ray, and we’ve talked about Kamille Bidan, and now we have to talk about the connective tissue that binds them together. Other than uhh, the direct connection they have, from working together and knowing each other. Look, I didn’t think this bit all the way through, but roll with me. Rival to Amuro, mentor to Kamille, it’s everyone’s favorite ice cold psychopath from outer space: the Red Comet himself, Char Aznable. 

Bandai’s Real Grade Sazabi. Credit: Greg Chiasson

First introduced as the on-again-off-again antagonist of Mobile Suit Gundam, Char is known for always having his own ulterior motives, and constantly, just constantly betraying his allies. He’s fun to watch, and throws down some good dunks, but is, alas, a total shithead. First earning fame as apparently the only ace pilot who managed not to get killed by Amuro during the One Year War, he followed that up with an encore performance of head-shotting the final remaining Zabi scion with a bazooka. Then Char disappears for a while. His job is done: the Zabis are dead, his father Zeon Deikun is avenged, and he can live his best life. 

It doesn’t last, because dude has brain problems, and he returns in Zeta Gundam, wearing the world’s worst disguise and using the name Quattro Begeena (why?). He walks around in an absolutely ridiculous fit of aviator shades and a sleeveless vest, capped off by piloting a solid gold mobile suit. We’ll be looking at the Quattro era in more detail when we look at the HG Hyaku Shiki, but suffice to say, my man had incredible drip, and absolutely no clue at all how to lay low and avoid notice. Everyone who meets “Quattro” clocks him instantly.

That flair for the dramatic manifests in the red livery that has been applied to a wide range of Char’s mobile suits, including virtually every Zeonic design and a “What if” version of the RX-78 itself. Bandai have used the colors and iconography on a variety of real-world swag, from watches and phone charms up to an actual fucking car. I mean, it’s a Toyota Auris – you may know it better as the Yaris – which is barely a car in any functional sense of the word, but still technically counts.

Bandai’s Real Grade Sazabi. Credit: Greg Chiasson

A few years after Zeta, Char reappears in the aptly and unsubtly titled Char’s Counterattack, operating under his own name again – really it’s just his best-known alias, since his actual name of Casval Deikun isn’t used by anyone except his estranged sister – with an even cooler plan. What do you do after you’ve avenged your family, protected the independence of the colonies, and firmly established yourself as the second-best Newtype pilot in the Earth sphere? Well, you find another protege to groom (I use that word deliberately: one of Char’s repeated character beats is an unseemly tendency to recruit doe-eyed teen girls and weaponize them to fight his battles. It’s…not great) and hatch a plan to obliterate all life on earth.

Char’s personal mobile suit for all of this is the MSN-04 Sazabi (the “MS” is fairly obvious, but the “N” is either “Neo-Zeon” or “Newtype”, dealer’s choice), an absolute beast of a mobile suit. Following the trend from 0079 to 0105 or so, it’s just a little bit larger than the previous model, and a little more heavily-armed. Since Char is a Newtype, and he never intended anyone else to use it, it’s also mounting a couple of newtype-only features. There’s a set of funnels on the back – remote weapons controlled by brainwaves – derived from the testbed Jagd Doga and, to make the most of Char’s Newtype abilities, a psychoframe cockpit.

Funnels! Bandai’s Real Grade Sazabi. Credit: Greg Chiasson

One of the least-grounded technologies in Gundam, the psychoframe is a kind of psychically-reactive metal. It’s never explained how any of this works, but the upshot is that if you think hard enough about murder while sitting inside a Faraday cage, you become a wizard. Neo-Zeon developed it for the Sazabi exclusively, but here Char’s evil masterminding runs directly aground on his self-defeating dipshit tendencies. Classic. What happens is that after thrashing Amuro in an early battle, he decides that it would be cool to have a “fair fight”, and just gives him the plans for the psychoframe. This has two major consequences, one that anyone could have seen coming, and another less predictable. 

First, obviously, this leads to Amuro beating the everloving shit out of Char. In mobile suits on an equal footing, Amuro goes absolutely beast mode and stomps him into the dirt. When he tries to eject (the Sazabi has a basketball-shaped escape pod in the head), Amuro just grabs the thing and dribbles it around for a while. There is basically no stupider move in the entire Universal Century than trying to step to Amuro Goddamn Ray, a lesson that Char should have remembered from their showdowns over the years, but evidently needs to be re-taught regularly.

Still, this would be fine. Axis, the asteroid he’s been trying to drop on Earth, is getting there, and Amuro taking the time to whip his ass did at least stall him long enough to ensure Axis would be past the point of no return. Except, and this is why you maybe don’t use untested psychic metal in your robot, something about the psychoframe resonates with the brainwaves of billions of people wishing very hard to not die, and actually pushes Axis back out of the gravity well. Day saved, Amuro and Char both dead, the end. 

Completely avoidable self-own here, but that’s perhaps to be expected from the man who oriented his entire life around revenge, and then still got distracted dogfighting a teenager for a while. At any rate, the Sazabi did its level best, and against any other opponent in any other mobile suit, it would have been enough – it did, after all, solo most of the EFSF navy until Amuro showed up. Visually, clad in heavy samurai-looking armor and painted the customary red, it did not, under any circumstances, need to go this hard, but thank god that it did.

Bandai’s Real Grade Sazabi. Credit: Greg Chiasson

The Sazabi appears in two Gundam entries, and boy are they a thing to compare. It gets most of its screen time in Char’s Counterattack, where it absolutely clowns the EFSF fleet and puts up a decent fight against the RX-93 Nu Gundam. CCA is a classic, utterly necessary viewing, and caps off the first arc of Universal Century storytelling that started with Mobile Suit Gundam and continued through Z and ZZ, and it would kick off plot threads that would echo through Unicorn and Hathaway. You could make a solid case that Char’s Counterattack is the best Gundam has ever been. The other place we see the Sazabi is an execrable web mini-series called Twilight Axis, where a couple of rejects in trash mobile suits are bucking at each other while competing to haul away a load of busted-up Sazabi parts. Do not watch this. I did, and I don’t really know what it was about or what happened. Eminently skippable.

The model

This is an out-of-box build, with stickers applied and nothing else. I’ve never seen much point to panel-lining clear kits, so I didn’t.

This is the Gundam Base Exclusive clear version, but it is structurally identical to the normal RG Sazabi. I happen to have brain worms about how cool clear kits are, but if you’re new to this and want one, it’s worth noting that the clear plastic Bandai uses tends to be much harder and more brittle than their usual materials, to the point where it will dull knives and has been known to shatter nippers. Put away the God Hands for this and use a beefier set of cutters. Still, it’s helpful for this review because it lets me show off the internal mechanical details without having to wrestle the armor off. And there is a lot of mechanical detail.

Bandai’s Real Grade Sazabi. Credit: Greg Chiasson

There’s just a lot of everything, to be honest, because the Sazabi is a lot of mobile suit. It contains almost twice as much Gundam per Gundam as any other Gundam. The robot, she is quite large.

Bandai’s Real Grade Sazabi compared to a 1/144 Zaku and a 1/100 Zaku. Credit: Greg Chiasson

To put that in more concrete terms, the Sazabi at 1/144 absolutely towers over almost all other suits in the same scale. It’s nearly the same size as an average 1/100. I don’t have one handy to compare, but the MG Sazabi Ver.Ka is almost as big as a smaller 1/60 PG.

As far as the structure, this is a later-era RG kit, from the point at which Bandai had largely abandoned the fancy one-piece joints and moved to something more akin to a scaled-down master grade. Most of the joints are plastic on plastic: there are only a few Advanced Joint parts, in the backpack funnel racks, and no polycaps anywhere. The result is a very solid model that can – despite its bulk and unlike the similar but smaller Sinanju – hold up well against having its soul weighed down by gravity.

Bandai’s Real Grade Sazabi. Credit: Greg Chiasson

The accessories here are good, with the caveat that the beam rifle from the Master Grade is absent (that gun never appeared in the movie, which is likely why). What we do get is the beam shotgun, two beam sabers, the classic humungus shield, and a beam tomahawk (those last two can be attached to each other). The gun and shield are god – color-accurate and with loads of detail – but the highpoint to me is the fluorescent, almost neon, beam effect parts. They went above and beyond with these, and the bright plastic goes well with the molded detail. They also include long and short parts, depending on how rude of an axe you want. For hands, we get seven: a trigger-finger hand for the right, and pairs of wide open hands, fists, and beam-saber holding hands. All of them are huge. I’d like to have a left-handed trigger finger, but that is just not something you get, ever, so it is what it is. The shield can attach to the back of either forearm, and holds on shockingly well for how heavy it is.

Unfortunately some of the color-accuracy is lost in the translation to clear parts – there should be a couple of shades of red here, and with the clear plastic there still is, but it’s impossible to see the different shades with the naked eye. Styling is reminiscent of the Ver.Ka design, but different in spots. A few of the flourishes and opening panels made it, but not all of them. It’s a nice design, and still similar enough that often the only way to tell the difference between the MG and the RG in photographs is what gun it’s holding: if you see the rifle, that’s the MG, but if you see the shotgun and have nothing else to provide a sense of scale, it could go either way.

Bandai’s Real Grade Sazabi. Credit: Greg Chiasson

Articulation is good, with the main issue being those huge bell-bottom legs really limiting the bend at the knee and ankle. The arms are great, the neck and waist are great. Even the backpack has a lot going on, with fuel tanks on ball joints and funnel racks that open and close, with each funnel being removable and featuring a sliding gimmick where the gun barrel extends and locks the maneuvering fins in place. The feet have multiple bends to them, which makes for great aerial poses, but it balances perfectly well on the ground as well. The thing is just incredibly sturdy – I can’t think of a single other Gundam that’s this solid, especially not one that has to hold so much in place.

There isn’t anything bad to say here. The RG Sazabi looks great, poses better, comes with good accessories, and is big as hell. It’s an amazing piece of GunPla, managing to be an easy (if somewhat lengthy) build, despite the sheer volume of parts. It’s just a great kit, and was probably the best Real Grade until the Nu Gundam came out and immediately overthrew it. Some things never change.

Bandai’s Real Grade Sazabi. Credit: Greg Chiasson

Should you buy it?

Yes. It owns, very hard. The only reason I would consider not buying the RG Sazabi is if you’d rather have the MG Ver.Ka. Either is worth the purchase, and at least one of them absolutely belongs in your collection.