To kick off the STARGAZER line, Bandai released a model of the Strike Noir, an upgrade of the original Strike design. Unlike its brethren in Phantom Pain, this particular model isn't a remold in any way; it's a completely new design, and a fantastic one at that.
This is standard construction of six pieces. The V-fin itself is molded entirely in yellow with a separate piece for the red center, but I personally think it looks a bit better this way; it helps break up the kit's overall monotonous color scheme. The head's kind of slim while the V-fin is a bit large, resulting in a pretty mean appearance. Articulation is pretty decent, although the chin bumps into the collar unless the head is raised, and the long extension of the back piece kind of impedes upward movement.
The torso's construction is pretty standard, too, with a central lower torso that the upper torso snaps onto. Fortunately enough, the gray frame pieces are separate parts, unlike the sticker-covered nightmares of the original Strike mold. There are no shoulder pegs this time around; instead, like on the Akatsuki, there's an ABS cavity where each peg would be, with a little dumb-bell shaped piece popping in to provide arm attachment. The lower torso is red with a gray sticker (bleagh) and there are some yellow vents in the chest, so things aren't too boring color-wise.
The hips are pretty nice, with two ball-jointed front skirt pieces and a swiveling joint for more dynamic leg poses. When this is coupled with the fairly limitless waist range, you can pull off some pretty fantastic poses. The side skirts have indentations for mounting the Shorty beam rifles and the bottom of the hips has a hole for base-mounting.
The arms are probably the best part of this kit. The ball-jointed shoulders allow for over-the-chest poses, so that two-handed anti-ship sword pose can be pulled off effortlessly. Moving the arms up from the sides takes some getting used to because they don't simply pivot, but also change elevation; the shoulder armor needs to be repositioned sometimes to avoid looking strange, but it ultimately results in some dynamic posing. Those shoulder thrusters are removable, allowing for complete Striker Pack compatibility.
You'll love the wrists on this thing. Gone are those circular polycaps, replaced by rectangular ABS blocks that swivel up and down. As the hands have some extended pegs, you can either push them flush against these blocks (sacrificing articulation), or you can pull them out and increase the hands' ranges.
There are three pairs of hands: one pair is open, one is closed, and one has the index fingers extended. The open hands look fantastic--the fingers are molded just so that they can be used for grabbing poses or throwing poses. Unfortunately, there are only four covers for the hands, meaning the trigger hands and the closed hands have to share. It's not a big deal, but pray you don't lose one of those covers.
The legs get the job done, really; they're pretty much basic construction with some adequate flexibility. They've certainly got the most detail on them, with some vents and panel lines in the lower legs and some thruster detail in the soles of the feet. While they look kind of short and squat in the lineart, that isn't the case here; like the rest of the kit, they're long and slim, and they look fantastic (especially the feet, which, compared to the Strike's, make the older model look like it's wearing clogs).
M8F-SB1 "Shorty" beam rifles- These beam pistols are two-piece blue gray affairs that look pretty decent, with plenty of detail that's washed out by the plastic color. Go nuts paneling these things. They're kind of loose in the trigger hands, though, and be careful mounting them on the hips because a wrong look will send 'em to the ground.
EQS1358 rocket anchor- Now this is neat. While you only get one length of wire and one anchor tip, you've got seven different places to mount it (two in the hands, two per feet, and one on the Noir Striker). It looks really fantastic in the hands, so you can reproduce the smashing of the BuCUE Hounds from the second episode.
AQM/E-X09S Noir Striker- This mounts the railguns and holds the beam swords when they're not in use. While the main piece is a pretty simple little block of plastic and polycaps, the wings are a bit more complex and attach by way of two ABS arms. The entire wings can swivel outwards on these arms, or you can just move the weapon-bearing parts of the wings on an internal ABS joint. Thanks to all of the joints and moving parts, though, the wings can be a bit difficult to get posed right, and they sometimes like to pull off of the ABS arms.
MR-Q10 beam swords- These are nice and long, with V-shaped beam blades that snap onto two little projections. Unlike the Sword Impulse, you won't have the blades fighting to get off or bending ever so slightly, and the result is pretty good. The cylindrical handles mean you might be fighting to pose with them at times, but at least they don't sag backwards on the handle swivel.
MAU-M3E4 railguns- By way of ABS arms these thing attach to the Noir's wings, and they've got decent flexibility. You can pretty much point them anywhere, and some little tabs make certain they "lock" in place when folded away.
Striker Pack compatibility- Of course, being a Strike design, this kit can interact with any of the Striker Packs out there. However, due to some design differences, you're going to encounter some problems here and there. The Aile and IWSP packs inhibit shoulder motion some, while the Sword shoulder piece needs to be modified to match the regular shoulder due to the Noir's slimmer shoulder pieces; however, the Launcher and Shiranui packs work just fine.
The standard SEED stand is included, allowing for a huge amount of posing options.
This is the first STARGAZER kit and the first of the line's original molds. It looks utterly fantastic with its long, thin design and sharp lines, especially when put next to the original Strike (which looks rather chunky by comparison). A little innovation in joints has gone a long way, and combined with some greats hands, results in plenty of posing potential. The color scheme is kind of monotonous, though, being made up mostly grays and black, but that's what paint was made for. Of all the 1/144 HG SEED line, this definitely ranks at the top, with a great look and some great flexibility.