21 October 2013 | 2 comments
In 1980, the first ever Gunpla, or Gundam model kit, came on the market in Japan. It would be another decade until the hobby was popularized in the west. But now today, 34 years after Gundam first aired, Gunpla is bigger than ever.
In Japan, Gunpla models make up 90 percent of the entire plastic model market’s income. In the English speaking world, a Gunpla kit is in the top 15 best sellers in the “Models & Model Kits” section as of this writing. And of course, Gundam Build Fighters, a show about kids who build models, is streaming right now in both the east and west.
Gundam Build Fighters is unusual in the franchise because it is a meta show, where the characters are Gundam-watching fans and Gunpla builders rather than soldiers or pilots. Filled with references to other Gundam series and obscure in-jokes, it’s a show about Gundam otaku for Gundam otaku.
Protagonist Sei Iori works in his family’s Gunpla store and dreams of entering the Gunpla Battle World Championship, where builders fight with Gunpla virtually, Angelic Layer style. Sei is a champ at building Gunpla, but not much of a fighter. Fortunately he meets a mysterious boy named Reiji (possibly from space) who’s a battling pro. The two team up against rivals like the student council president and an idol singer. (In this universe, basically everyone’s into Gunpla.)
And here’s the thing—even though the Gunpla characters build are clearly homages to famous Gundams from other series in the franchise, they’re not exact replicas. As you might have guessed, it’s part of Bandai’s plan to sell even more Gundam models.
In tandem with the show, they’ve released a new grade of Gunpla similar to High Grade: HGBC, or High Grade Build Custom. Basically, these are new HG models of the most popular Gundams from every series, now with interchangeable parts. You can mix and match pieces from any Gundam in the franchise’s history, allowing for easy customization.
If it’s not cool enough that you might be able to get your hands on models that were last produced in the ‘90s, it’s amazing that you can be creative as you like with them. Just like characters in Gundam Build Fighters, you can mix and match all your favorite parts to get something like the show’s Zaku Amazing, a custom version of Char’s Zaku. (Or you can buy that model outright, yet another new grade called High Grade Build Fighters.)
Before now, the rigidity of Gunpla modeling instructions may have been a big barrier to entry for some people. But now, there’s no way you can mess your Gunpla up. Just call it “custom” and enjoy it!
I’m sure whatever I end up building with be a horrifying Gunpla homunculus. But damned if I’m not going to have fun with it.