Frame Arms SA-16 Stylet - Review


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Awhile back Kotobukiya announced a new line of models called "Frame Arms" and along with it the SA-16 'Skylet.' I thought it was a cool looking design and put in a preorder. Fast forward to a few days ago and the kit I had long since forgotten about arrived safely at my door. Fast forward a little bit more to today and you'll find a man who sorely regrets his purchase.

The Frame Arms series sounds awesome on paper. A single inner frame with tons of customizable armor and weapons allow one you craft their own free style design with ease. Frames would be sold separately or along with themed armor designs. Not only would parts be swappable between mecha but along with most pieces from Kotobukiya's Modeling Support Goods series. Sound awesome? Wait till you check out the initial images, which I first saw on Ngee Khoing.

As HLJ puts it,

Frame Arms is Kotobukiya's model kit series that lets modelers build original mecha designed by famous mecha designer Takayuki Yanase. Each robot is highly poseable thanks to the ingenious body frame system that can be set in a wide range of dynamic action poses. Armor parts and body frames are interchangeable with other offerings in the lineup for creating your own original robot, plus you can also construct your own parts for use on the body frame to make a super-articulated robot figure of your dreams! Compatible with Kotobukiya's Modeling Support Goods series of kits. [HLJ]

Unfortunately things didn't turn out as well I had hoped.

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When I opened my package to reveal the Skylet I found that the internal frame was pre-constructed. Since I was expecting a normal model where everything was in runners I was intrigued by the idea of the internal frame being a highly pose-able toy (for lack of a better word). Turns out that the frame is just like any other model, it's just that someone took the time to remove all the bits from the runners and attach them for me. Unfortunately they didn't do a good job.

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When the pieces that make up the frame were removed from the runners it was done so in such away that it left behind all the horrible discoloration that modelers (especially those who don't paint) loath. All the cuts were smooth and didn't need sanding but the entire thing looked like rubbish.

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From a design, architecture standpoint the internal frame is phenomenal. There's a lot of flexibility and more than enough articulation points to fulfill any pose.

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The shoulders can swing all the way forward and backward.

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Then everything fell apart. Literally.

Most of the joints, if not all, are extremely weak. Few of them use polycap pieces, most are simple plastic on plastic rod and slot (if there's a better term I should be using, please let me know). There's no grip on most so they just fall out with the slightest tug. The lower leg is attached with this joint. With the armor on it's easy for the whole part to just fall off completely. I've only seen this before on a few poorly designed Bandai Gunpla (like the F91 and Crossbone kits) and my Noblesse Oblige. The fit on the AC kit's joints are much tighter and hold a pose considerably better.

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Above is one of the tongue and grove style joints used on the kit.

A lot of these joints are formed by two pieces of plastic sandwiched together with an opening for the rod. In many cases attempting to swing around the piece, or trying to pose the structure (like bending the leg), causes the two pieces to separate and the whole thing comes undone. Luckily attaching the armor pieces helps solve some of these issues.

Speaking of which...

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I just love the design of this guy. It has a Transformers/Marcoss feel to it and it's as though it could transform into a plane at any instant. Sadly, it won't. Since the plastic is very hard, all of my nips left marks so painting is definitely a necessity for this kit. Even if you were to avoid the marks better than I you'd need many touch ups in order to get this guy closer to the box art (far more than a HG kit from Bandai). It's only molded in four colors of plastic: blue, blueish gray, light gray for the weapons, and the frame is a standard dark gray.

Below images link to my flickr gallery...

JDW_6563 JDW_6562 JDW_6559 JDW_6558
JDW_6557 JDW_6556 JDW_6555

Then it all falls apart, again!

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With the armor pieces on the frame the model becomes a bit more cumbersome. Some of the weakness are also exaggerated. The above picture shows all the parts that fell off just trying to put the guy in a simple pose. I never have this issue with any of my gunpla.

Referencing the weakness of sandwich pieces from earlier, take a look at the following joint on the upper thigh...

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The pollycap piece you see connects to the hip, and as one would imagine, is fairly important for keeping the leg attached to the rest of the kit. If you try to spin the leg around the resistance on the pollycap is stronger than the two pieces sandwiched together. Thus, it falls apart. Since the connection to the rest of the leg is grooved at the top you need to remove the armor in order to put everything back together. I ended up gluing the pieces together in order to maintain some structural integrity.

For a kit that's supposed to be non-glue, there are a lot of places that need it. Besides the upper thigh I also glued the hands which like to crumble into 5 different pieces at their earliest convenience. The two waist protector flaps in the front really need it. Each piece goes in opposite ends of the same hole, meeting in the middle, but never getting enough grip to stay in properly. Unfortunately, they can't be glued without having them stuck in place and removing all hope of every swapping out the codpiece armor.

Another aspect that really annoys me are the weapons. When you attach them to the arms you have to wonder if anyone bothered to think them through at all...

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It's hard to tell in the above photos but the missiles fit perfectly with the armor while the chain gun doesn't. In fact, because of this it sits a few degrees off parallel with the arm. Normally this wouldn't be much of a problem but what about when the kit is marketed as part of a series built around interchangeable parts? Is it too hard to design attachment points that will fit everything, and fit well?

In all I was disappointed with the kit. I had high hopes especially since my first Kotobukiya experience went well. The premise, if properly implemented, could result in an amazing series of models. If things continue like this the series will fall apart faster than this pile of shit.

In summary...

The Pros
Lots of pose ability
Great Design

The Cons
Poorly engineered joints
More poorly engineered joints
Pre-built frame (if it wasn't done so poorly, or was more like a proper figure, this could have been a huge pro)

The kit is on sale now, retailing for around $32 from Japanese hobby shops.

It's still unseen how well the whole 'interchangeable armor' thing will work out in the future.

Please let me know if any of my awkward descriptions are too confusing! I'll try and get some better photographs up.