I hadn't planned on this build, but the kit came as a surprise gift from a longtime reader, and presents a welcome opportunity to test the waters of the Real Grade lineup. At present, I haven't yet retrieved my tools and supplies from storage on the west coast, but rather than wait for those to arrive, I'll build this as a sort of minimalist Gunpla project: straight out of the box, using only regular tools and materials I happen to have on hand. Although in general my approach is to put in some paint and extra work to take kits beyond the out-of-box level, in this case I want to test what I can do without any paints or special markers. I also want the build to reflect the baseline of how a straight-built RG model looks, so readers interested in these 1/144 cousins of the Master Grade can see what they're in for.

Makeshift tools

Makeshift tools of the trade:

The nail-clippers work fairly well in place of proper clippers. The only real trouble with them is their shape, poorly adapted for reaching in the tight spots between parts on the sprue. A small pair of sharp scissors might do better, at least for clipping out the parts.

My little pocketknife does decent duty as a modeling knife. Without any files or sandpapers, the most I can do to clean up clip marks is scrape them down with the knife edge. It seems many of the Zeta's clip points are well hidden, but inevitably I'll leave behind some unsightly scratched spots.

Turns out a fine-pointed calligraphy nib works quite well for sumiire, but loading and cleaning the pen repeatedly proved too much hassle. I was pleasantly surprised to find a regular ballpoint pen did alright, but before long the ball got pushed into the pen tip, ruining it. I finally settled on a drawing pen with a soft nib not unlike a fine-point Gundam Marker. As with the Unicorn Gundam, I'm also using a mechanical pencil for panel detail on the white parts.

Advanced MS joint foot mechanism

Like the legs of ver. 1.5 Gundam, the RG Zeta's internal frame is built around bits of pre-molded articulated mechanism, which Bandai has dubbed advanced MS joint parts. This bit, comprised of at least four or five interlocking elements, is the foot mechanism.

Zeta feet

Zeta feet. The one on the left is flexed as far as each jointed part permits. Note in particular the ankle ball joint.

Advanced MS joint leg mechanism

This wiggly gizmo is the advanced MS joint component for the right leg. I bent or twisted every articulate point to try to illustrate how many moving parts are integrated in this single component.

Zeta leg internal mechanism

After adding a few more pieces to the pre-molded mechanism, the lower leg internals begin to take shape. Note how much these pieces move when the knee joint flexes.

Zeta leg

The completed right leg, at what I thought was full flex. Turns out the knee bends even further, so much so that the back edges of the upper and lower leg will touch.

As usual, the range of the ankle joint is limited by the leg armor, but the foot retains a good range of motion generally.

The difference between the white and light grey armor panels doesn't show clearly here, and indeed it's a pretty subtle distinction even in person. In this photo, it shows best in the two large panels on the side of the lower leg.

Panel details are quite dense on some parts. At 1/144 scale, those details are tinier than on an MG model, and a pen tip or pencil point doesn't readily fit into the lines.

Waist unit mechanism

A flurry of small parts come together to form this unusual, multiple-hinged hip joint. This (and the connection of the legs, below) illustrates the greater mechanical complexity of the kit to permit its transformation.

Head unit internals

Inside the dome-piece. I usually prefer to save the head unit for last, but figured I should follow the instructions in order in this case, since, as you'll see below, the kit is built in a peculiar way (again, on account of the transformation).

My drawing pen didn't suffice to blacken the eye piece, so I used one of the decals. The sheet includes the usual foil eyes with black background, but they're printed in green instead of Zeta's usual blue. Fortunately, this alternative option is just a black mask with clear, eye-shaped areas. While I maintain eyes look better hand-colored, I have to applaud this decal's effectiveness, especially at this tiny scale.

Note the separate internal piece for the vulcan barrels. I would've liked to use silver on them, but fortunately even without doing so they stand out alright, because their off-white contrasts with the rest of the head.

Zeta head complete

Completed head unit. The V-fin parts are hinged so they can fold together when the head retracts in waverider mode. They feel as delicate as watch hands.

I returned to the fountain pen to get crisp, dark lines on the faceplate. That turned out fairly well, but controlling the ink on such a small part is tough. If it were painted and the ink didn't wipe away easily, that trick wouldn't work so well.

Note the head is mounted on its own bit of advanced MS joint. The long piece below the neck allows the head to ratchet up and down in the body of the suit. The head itself connects with a simple ball joint with a good range of motion.

Zeta hip joints

The legs connected to the hips, rear view. Unlike any other hip joints I've built before, a short, rear-facing peg on the advanced MS joint assembly at the top of the leg plugs into the hip assembly, and is locked in place with a tiny, C-shaped piece, almost like a nut. Above, the locking piece is highlighted, and the arrow indicates the joint to which it'll be applied. The other joint shows the locking piece in place. While I wonder how well this joint will hold up (especially through the transformation process), at first blush it seems quite firm.

Bizarro-Zeta

The next step in the instructions has the head unit inserted into the partially completed body, which leaves us with this strange mobile suit troll.

Undergate

Some pieces in the kit use so-called undergates, these injection points designed such that the flash is connected to what will be an unseen edge of the piece, rather than the visible surface. With a little care, you can clip away the flash cleanly and leave no visible clip mark.

This molding technique has been in use at least since the MG Hyaku Shiki, and I hear it's a common feature of the relatively new Real Grade line. I join the chorus of builders who wonder why Bandai doesn't use undergating on every kit. I can only assume it must be more expensive.

Zeta cockpit

At first I thought there was no cockpit interior in this kit because of its small size and great complexity, but as I assembled the chest component, I realized the tiny piece visible here, which I'd taken to be a connector, is in fact the cockpit's contol monitor.

Zeta arm advanced MS joint

The Zeta's arms use the most elaborate advanced MS joint components yet. This arm mechanism is jointed in at least seven places. The upper parts rotate and fold together to form the shoulder joint. The protruding bit on the elbow folds and connects to the rail visible on the upper arm to form a sliding piston-like element.

Zeta elbow bend

The advanced MS joint elbow in action. Of course, the joint bends much farther than shown here, but I wanted the sliding piece to be more visible than when the joint's fully flexed.

Foil sticker applied

Since the foil detail stickers are touted as an outstanding Real Grade feature, I wanted to give at least some of them a try. These (on each side of each elbow joint) look pretty good, but are definitely not worth the trouble. Removing such tiny stickers from the sheet was a delicate operation, but actually aligning and applying them was the real pain. I lost one in the process, but fortunately a couple extras of this particular sticker are included. Look closely and you'll notice how the sticker got scratched in the process of pressing it down into place. (Admittedly the tip of a pencil isn't the best tool for that purpose. A Q-tip or sufficiently small nub of eraser would've been better.)

The kicker is these round ones aren't the smallest foil details on the sheet, and are probably the simplest in terms of shape. I imagine many of the others are much more difficult to apply. In this case, a better result would be achieved with a metallic Gundam Marker or a fine brush.

Zeta arm internals

Quite unlike the usual connection of arms to the torso, the arm internals instead connect to a sort of shoulder array that mounts on the back of the already assembled body.

Zeta head stuck in collar

The chest component containing the cockpit then hooks into the shoulders and folds over the top. It locks in place in front, but first you have to pull it over the head while at the same time pulling the head upward along its spinal rail. It's sort of like pulling your head through a sweater. I had a lot of trouble with this step, and for a while Zeta was stuck like this.

Zeta takes shape

At length I managed to pull the head into place and lock down the chest. I can only hope the transformation of the completed suit doesn't have such hiccups, but I fear this step doesn't bode well.

When it comes to the hands, the kit includes the usual set of fixed options (open, gun grip, beam saber grip, and closed fist), but also an articulated hand รก la advanced MS joint. Naturally, I elected to go with that.

The pre-molded, articulated hand folds into a pretty good approximation of the standard Master Grade hand, with jointed fingers and wrist. However, the three lower fingers share a single tiny ball joint connecting them to the palm, so you can't cut apart the three fingers like you can with an MG hand.

Naturally, the completed arm features Zeta's forearm-mounted grenade launcher, with moving bay door.

Disaster strikes

Just as I neared completion of the suit, disaster struck. I discovered I'd missed the instruction to add this panel of back armor, and had to backtrack to try to attach it. In the course of the attempt, the piece put up unusual resistance, and the resulting damage made continuing unlikely. Though I'm loth to abandon a project once begun, I'm calling it quits here with this one.

Thoughts

First, let me acknowledge it may be unfair to judge this kit harshly in light of my failure to complete it, particularly because that failure is largely, if not entirely my fault for trying to force a reluctant piece into place. That said, my impression of this model is primarily that it's excessively complicated, delicate, and finicky. To some extent, that criticsm reflects my dislike of transforming mobile suits, and the lengths to which a model must go to accomplish the transformation. However, regardless of one's opinion of transforming Gunpla, it can't be denied that this model is much more complicated than the typical kit, and that its high complexity and small scale make it more delicate and difficult to work with.

The flipside of this critique is that the engineering of the kit is very impressive, and that the transformation works at all at this scale (which I'll grant despite having not made it that far with the model myself) is remarkable. The level of detail is also at least comparable to a Master Grade, despite this line's smaller size. Despite my difficulties, I'm prepared to give the Real Grade a nod of recognition.