Monday, May 18, 2020

Building a Bandai RG MS-06F Zaku II

"Victory is the greatest tribute we can pay those who sacrifice their lives for us! Rise, our people, Rise! Take your sorrow, and turn it into anger!" - Gihren Zabi

Last month, I rediscovered the world of Gunpla when I built a MS-07B Gouf model created by Bandai. It was a fun learning process, one that resulted in a nice looking model with relatively little time investment. The Gouf was one of Bandai’s cheaper models, a High Grade (HG, 1:144 scale) kit with relatively few parts. Taking what I learned, I wanted to try to build one of their more complex kits, seeing what sort of articulation and color differeationation the kits could have. This led me to their Real Grade (RG) line of models. RG models maintain the 1:144 scale of their HG counterparts, but have an increased part count and many have an internal skeleton underneath the armor plates, reminiscent of the larger Master Grade kits (1:100). I found one of the original RG models (circa 2010), a Zaku II, and wanted to let you know what I think of it.

The box of the Real Grade MS-06F Zaku II.

Upon opening the box, I was immediately surprised by the sheer number of runners/sprues inside. Incredibly, there were 4 distinct green sprues, allowing for the creation of varied looking armor plates, without the need for painting. The HG Gouf, by contrast, only has 2 color runners for its armor, a light and dark blue. Due to the layering process of the build, many of these panels are also accented by grey details, such as V/STOL thrusters or exposed joints. One of the most interesting aspects of the model was the inclusion of an internal skeleton/frame, that the rest of the model is built around. On initial inspection, the runner containing them looks like all of the others, just cast in grey plastic. Upon a closer look, you will notice the pieces actually have two different plastic types, molded together. Bandai refers to this as Advanced MS Joints, where they use a dual-molding technique with both ABS and PP plastics. This allows you to clip a “pre-assembled’ leg off of the runner and you can immediately bend and flex it. The kit even includes two pre-assembled hands that have multiple flex points in each finger. This internal frame gives the completed model an impressive level of articulation.

The Zaku II has a underlying skeleton that comes on a runner, but is actually pre-assembled parts, allowing it to bend.

Pictures of the Zaku’s leg, with a diagram of how the skeleton flexes underneath the armor.

The leg cables on the Zaku are built on top of a spring, allowing it to be very flexible.

The model has a lot of other small details that really bring the model to life. All of the armored cables on the model are built by stringing little sheath pieces on top of an underlying cable. The leg cables are actually built on top of a spring, making them particularly flexible. The Zaku’s eye is behind a clear piece of plastic, and sits on a mechanism that moves the eye to face the direction of the head. There is also a little panel in the chest that slides up, revealing the cockpit.

The assembled and weathered Zaku II.

The completed model has an impressive amount of articulation in its limbs and torso, allowing you to spend a long time experimenting with different poses.

The included machine gun and bazooka for the Zaku II.

Like with the Gouf, I was still trying to get a sense of how to build Bandai kits, and didn’t want to paint the entire model. I learned the hard way that enamel thinners can cause some of Bandai’s plastic to crack when panel lining the Gouf. This caused me to abandon my idea of doing some weathering on the Gouf with oils. For the Zaku II, I wanted to try a different method of weathering, one I learned from a hobby live-stream done by none other than Mig Jimenez, the founder of the AMMO brand of paints and weathering products. As it turns out, you can paint acrylics directly to unprimed plastic, and then use 96-100% ethanol (I suspect a lower percentage would work too) to blend the paint in a process very similar to using odorless thinner on oils and enamels. I just added a small amount of dark brown acrylic paint to select areas of the armor, and then used a separate brush, lightly wet with ethanol, and started to feather and blend the paint across the model. I also diluted some of the paint in ethanol to create a wash that I could use to panel line. The entire process was quick and easy, without necessitating too much careful thought or planning. After this, I sprayed the model with a matte varnish, to reduce some of the shine from the plastic. This protective coating also allowed me to go back and do additional weathering with some enamel products by AMMO.

The Zaku II holding its machine gun.

An MS-07B Gouf next to the MS-06F Zaku II.

A Primaris Space Marine next to the MS-06F Zaku II.

The RG MS-06F Zaku II was a real pleasure to build. It was exciting to discover all of the clever molding techniques Bandai used to create the model, minimizing moldlines, and creating a convincing final model, even without paint. I was extremely impressed with the internal skeleton, and how much color varion was present within the various armor panels. Although I didn’t fully paint the model, I am quite happy with how well the acrylic/ethanol method worked. It is something that would come natural to anyone who has worked with oils on scale models before, but still easy even if you have not. Although I have not built too many Gundam models, I really like the RG line so far, due to its detail and fidelity to the source material, but also their small size. With that said, I should try to build one of their Master Grade kits, at some point! Let me know what you think about the model, or any tips you have discovered when building Gunpla!

- Eric Wier


  1. Always nice to see more people getting into Gunpla!

    Honestly speaking, at this point, RGs are probably the best Gunpla scale/range that Bandai's putting out. With every single release, they've been innovating, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that every new RG has been an improvement from previous releases (not counting one unfortunate exception).

    The newer RGs practically blow the Zaku out of the water by comparison, having better articulation and build design. In fact, the newest barely even need assembled runners anymore.

    And spraying/varnishing is a must-do if you're painting or doing waterslides, it's known as "top coating" in the community.

    1. thanks for the reply! I have been pretty impressed with the models so far. I have head the RG line has become pretty incredible with the newest releases. I just got the 29th RG, Char's Sazabi, and cannot wait to start building it!