Gunpla,  High Grade

HGUC Gundam AN-01 Tristan


I mentioned during Anime Expo this past year that I was eyeing up the newly released Tristan Gundam when I saw it on display at the show. Upon its initial release, it was immediately panned – every review pointed out how it was a 2004 model in a 2017 box – which I won’t refute here, it’s true. I knew this going in, but still went for it since I actually really like the Tristan’s classic design.

This new lead Gundam hails from Sunrise’s recent ONA adaptation of Mobile Suit Gundam: Twilight Axis, a side story that takes place immediately after the events of Unicorn and deals with the asteroid Axis after it was abandoned in the wake of Char’s Counterattack.

The ONA hasn’t gotten the most positive reception, and the series’ main Gundam getting poor treatment from Bandai probably isn’t helping. This means this High Grade will likely be all we ever get of the Tristan; a Master Grade of this suit is downright delusional thinking.

Poor articulation, dated build style, no details, whatever. I knew all of this, but it doesn’t distract me from the point that this model still looks good. I never particularly liked the Alex’s design, so to me this is just a more attractive and modernized version of that suit.

Five runners, discounting polycaps and beam sabers, and what looks to be a fair amount of color separation.

Starting off with the first piece of the waist and I’m already confused. Normally it’s standard procedure to split these front skirts so they can move independently because they’re attached by ball joints, but in this case it’s just a solid peg connecting the two skirts together.

With the way it’s held in, this means splitting the skirts isn’t really an option, unless I enlarge the part that holds it in and attempt to scratch build some ball joints into the pegs, which doesn’t sound like fun.

And to add insult to injury, this is the maximum range of movement for the skirts once they’ve been assembled. I suppose all the negativity surrounding this kit is completely justified; it certainly isn’t making a positive first impression here.

The reason for the lack of movement just comes down to poor design; the front skirts themselves are very thick up top, and they hit the armor that makes up the front of the waist, preventing them from moving up any further on their hinge.

At first I thought it was a mistake in how I assembled the skirt unit, but after checking out the manual images it seems it really only has that much movement, as one of the most “dynamic” poses shown has the sample model struggling to bring its right leg out any further.

Thankfully, unlike the skirt separation problem, this was a fairly simple issue to fix. Cutting down the thickness of the front skirts should allow for more clearance.

Cut and sanded smooth. There’s now a sizeable gap between the front skirts and waist armor, but I’d take this over lack of skirt movement any day.

And now they can finally fold all the way up, albeit still not independently.

The construction can’t get much more basic than this. It’s classic early 2000’s stuff – polycaps sandwiched between two armor pieces, with a single gray piece as a joint.

This type of assembly then means that there will be plenty of seams to fill; you’d be left with a nasty visible one running down the center of the thighs if you didn’t cement and sand them.

This rifle in particular was put on blast (HA HA) for being monochromatic. It’s actually the Nu Gundam’s original rifle, but in that HGUC kit they actually included proper color separation for it – meaning instead of reusing the HGUC Nu’s rifle mold, they went out of their way to make this version less accurate. Come on Bandai, it’s like you deliberately wanted this kit to suck.

Most of the noticeable parts cemented, ready to be sanded to erase seams.

And because this suit shares much of its underpinnings with the NT-01 Alex, there are of course spare parts from that suit that are supposed to be left unused on this kit.

The very strange thing comes with the leg thrusters – as far as I can tell, Alex and Tristan share the exact same piece fitment, but Bandai still gives you a “new” set for Tristan. They fit the same and their overall dimensions are the same, but there’s one key difference: Alex’s thrusters vents are actually detailed, with louver grooves, versus the pieces you’re supposed to use for Tristan which are blank like the rest of its verniers. I can understand Bandai’s reasoning here – the blank and less detailed thrusters match better with Tristan’s existing parts, but it can’t be lost on them that it’s hugely ironic to “detail down” your modern 2017 kit compared to your 2004 kit.

At least the abdominal bloc has some detail – what looks to be a cockpit sphere, Zeta-era style.

So, Bandai could afford to include Alex’s machine gun on the runners as a throwaway weapon that the Tristan’s not even meant to have, but couldn’t go out of their way to include a color-accurate mold of the main beam rifle taken from Nu’s runner set? Someone get me their product development department on the line.

The Tristan’s apparently supposed to have quite a bit of subtle color in its thruster and vent openings – thankfully I’ve done this plenty already with most of my SEED kits.

Cockpit bloc painted German Gray.

Bandai cutting corners again. These are the ankle joints – the peg goes into a polycap in the lower leg, while the ball joint slots into the feet. The little tubing detail is meant to show through on the back of the ankle – but notice how the reverse side is hollow. When I first cut these pieces out I thought there would be another detailed piece that would slot into the hollow areas to create a complete ankle section, but nope.

Backpack thrusters primed in white before they’ll be painted yellow inside.

In perhaps a way to compensate for this kit’s lack of detail, I decided to go the furthest with what we actually got. That cockpit sphere is going to be covered up by the torso armor on the final kit – it won’t be visible at all – but I decided to paint it red Zeta-style just for the sake of adding a little something because the rest of the kit has a whole lotta nothing.

Why you make me mask this when you have a two-tone mold of this gun, Bandai.

The shield has a little blue visor-looking design – that I of course masked and painted in, but upon checking out the sticker sheet I was surprised to see that the sticker Bandai includes that’s meant to go in that shield slit doesn’t even cover the molded indent all the way. It’s significantly shorter on the sides.

Little vent-like dimples on the chest are also meant to be yellow-ringed, but it’s hard to get crisp edges when painting these in because the molding is so shallow.

Check out those shoulder pegs. I haven’t seen joints like those since 2000.

So Tristan clearly uses a bit of an outdated shoulder joint style – but we can work with it to get some more movement out of it. The basic system is a polycap sandwiched between two pieces that allows it to rotate up and down, but the range of movement is restricted by the sandwiching pieces.

So to allow the polycap to rotate further while attached to the body pegs, we just very primitively cut the shoulder joints until there’s a larger opening. The original above is on the left, while the modified and hacked movement extended piece is on the right.

I was also very disappointed to see that Bandai couldn’t even bother to include a hole in the crotch so the Tristan can use the peg-adapters that most modern kits use. The manual shows Tristan up in the air with the classic holder claws, but these are disadvantageous in that it doesn’t allow the kit as much movement on the adapter and also get in the way of how far out the legs can spread.

Thankfully it’s a simple solution: if there isn’t a hole, drill one.

Voila. Modified for use with common peg adapter bases.

I noticed another articulation limiting factor would likely be the design of the thighs where they connect to the ball joints in the hips. The thick bezels that surround the polycaps in the thighs would limit how far out the legs can stretch, so I cut them down a bit.

Testing – stock on the left, modified on the right. It’s not a huge improvement, but it definitely makes a difference I think.

Rifle cleaned up. All the little dips and ridges didn’t make this fun to mask.

Also painted the inside of the shield gray for manual accuracy.

And of course, because lady luck has some sort of long-seated vendetta against me, right at the home stretch the gloss coat on the shield has to crinkle up. I still don’t understand why this happens sometimes – the cheap clear coat I’m using for strength just likes to do this every now and again. Sand, repaint, try again.

A lot of reviewers have been pointing out that the head is the only redeeming quality about this kit, given its modern and slick-looking design, but I think it flows well enough with the rest of the suit not to look out of place.

First impressions upon moving it around after final assembly: it’s a blocky kit.

This suit doesn’t have that dynamic action range or feel that suits like the Try Burning have – and of course it shouldn’t, due to its different backstory and design. It feels dated, but not unbearably so.

My articulation mods for the shoulders and legs feel marginal at best; maybe because I don’t actually really know how restricted they would be otherwise, but right now it moves the way I’d expect it to.

Admittedly, for all my griping and moaning about the (lack of) front skirt articulation earlier, the extended range of motion really doesn’t come into play often. I don’t think I would have enjoyed this kit any less had I left it unmodified.

The elbows don’t bend more than 90, the knees barely do any more than that, and the waist is designed in a way that you can only rotate it if you wiggle it out of its socket a bit.

All that may sound horrible by today’s HG standards, but like the Mk. II, this sort of classic UC design doesn’t actually feel like it needs any more than what it does. Like most older UC Gundam-type designs, I think I’m okay with it just standing around looking good – being able to do high-kicks and super dynamic poses are a bonus, but I associate that sort of look much more with SEED-era designs and beyond.

Speaking of the Mk. II – the most closely related suit I have at the moment to the Tristan. I actually thought the Tristan’s backpack and shoulders were taken directly from the Mk. II, but after actually seeing them side by side, that doesn’t appear to be the case – though of course they’re within spitting range of each other.

I had a really tough time trying to recreate this iconic pose from the ONA. Turns out I’m pretty sure it only looks the way it does because of animation magic – but I’ve never been good at recreating poses anyway.

Maybe it was because I had already tempered my expectations for this kit before I built it, but I’m actually really satisfied with it. It’s undetailed, but when painted by the box, it looks clean. It has a ridiculously dated build and no noteworthy gimmicks, features, or weapons to speak of, but if you just like how the suit looks the way I do, this gets the job done.

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