Hey guys! Today I’d like to talk about Gunpla in general. An introduction, if you will. Hopefully it’ll prove an interesting read.
The birth of Gunpla.
“Gunpla” is short for Gundam Plastic Model (Plamo). I’m pretty sure you already knew this much.
Before we talk about it though, we should take a look at its source material first – Mobile Suit Gundam anime. Sure, models / figures based on movies, cartoons or anime are nothing new. This particular connection though goes way beyond that and is much more interesting.
Nowadays Gundam is a cultural phenomenon. There are dozens of TV series, OVAs, movies, mangas and countless toy lines.
It has become synonymous with mecha all over the world and is used to promote interest in engineering and robotics.
In 2002 Gundam RX-78-2 was classified as culturally significant by Japanese government. They even issued post stamps depicting the original Gundam and its pilot, Amuro Ray.
In 2007 Japanese Self-Defense Force unveiled its plans for mechanized power suit. Its codename: Gundam. As recently as 2015, Japanese Ministry of Defense allocated $7.5 million for research and development of mobile suit technology.
Why do I mention it? Because none of it would have happened without Gunpla.
A rough start.
It’s been almost 40 years since the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime aired in Japan. While it’s a beloved classic today, 1979 was a very different world. Mecha anime as we know it didn’t exist back then. There were no “realistic” military mecha fighting wars on TV. What did exist was a Super Robot genre – fancy robots fighting evil aliens, nasty sorcerers and space monsters. Like the Power Rangers my generation grew up with.
So when the 1979 audience sat down to watch a robot show, that’s exactly what they wanted to see. Needless to say, Mobile Suit Gundam was nowhere close to that. Its approach to giant robots shocked the audience. I like to think it came before its time, but that doesn’t change the fact – it was a flop. The show was on the brink of being cancelled after 39 episodes. Eventually it was renegotiated and finished airing with a total of 43 episodes.
Gunpla saves the day.
With the series finished, Gundam was well on its way to fade into obscurity. But then Bandai, in what has to be one of the smartest business moves in Japanese history, bought the rights to produce toys based on the show.
First Gundam toys debuted in July 1980. Plastic model kits, requiring glue and painting were unlike any other anime-based toys on the market. Priced at only 300 yen – roughly $3 – they exploded in popularity. Thanks to them, Mobile Suit Gundam saw a resurgence of interest, with TV re-runs bringing in huge audience and compilation movies hitting the theaters.
Over the last 37 years Bandai constantly improved their products. First major upgrade was the System Injection, a process allowing a single sprue to be molded in multiple colors. Next one came in 1985, in the form of polycaps – soft plastic joints allowing much better articulation. Starting with Char’s Counterattack kits of 1988, Bandai moved to a full snap fit assembly, shedding the need for glue. Between 1990 and 2010 they introduced the various grades – each one pushing the boundaries of model kit design. I will talk about those in a separate article.
Nowadays the Gunpla are some of the finest model kits on the planet. The numbers speak for themselves – as of 2015 over 434 million kits were sold. They are molded fully in color, including variety of chrome-plated and semi-transparent parts. Unlike traditional military model kits, they also boast articulation rivaling action figures, allowing some truly amazing poses.
Many of them go as far as to include full inner frame, opening cockpit hatch, various gimmicks like transformation and armor panels sliding around. Some will even incorporate LEDs. Check the video below, if you’re interested in how they’re made.
While they are very impressive out of the box, to many advanced modelers they’re just a blank canvas. They will create custom color schemes, add extra details, bash kits together and even build new parts from scratch.
The best of the best face off in Gunpla Builders World Cup – a yearly competition ran by Bandai since 2011.
I think the biggest part of Gunpla’s charm is that it has something for everyone. With hundreds of kits available and new ones releasing every month it’s really easy to find something you’ll love. Whether you want a quick relaxing build, or a huge engineering masterpiece you can marvel at. Whether you want to just build out of the box or spend months customizing, making a kit truly your own. You can build a cute bear or a menacing engine of destruction.
As I look for an elegant line to finish this article, I keep coming back to the motto from Gundam Build Fighters series. A perfect introduction to Gunpla. A perfect summary.
“Gunpla is freedom!”