FEATURE: Gundam Build Fighters
|GUNDAM BUILD FIGHTERS
As part of the 30th anniversary of the Gundam franchise, and Gundam plastic models (or Gunpla) in particular, Bandai/Sunrise produced the 2010 OVA Model Suit Gunpla Builders Beginning G that takes away the nitty gritty details of war that has been a constant in previous productions and just focuses on the pleasures of building and competing with Gunpla. Clocking in at only 45 minutes, the OVA was clearly meant to be a test as to whether such a production with a very simple premise would be accepted by the Gundam enthusiasts. Truth be told, it was accepted with the only gripe being its short run. Three years later, after Mobile Suit Gundam AGE failed to become the critical success Bandai/Sunrise hoped for, the same concept would be revisited — this time as a full-length series. As a precursor to the Gundam 35th Anniversary, would Gundam Build Fighters inject the rejuvenation that the franchise needed?
PLOT & PREMISE
Gundam Build Fighters does not have the usual elements common in previous Gundam productions. No space colonies, no unified Earth government and no space wars — there’s still a masked man but more on that later. Char clones aside, the series is set in the near future of "our" world where Gundam is just an animated series and Gunpla is sold because of its success. In Gunpla Builders, modelers place their Gunpla in machines that recreates them as virtual mobile suits that can be ‘piloted’ to compete with one another. Gundam Build Fighters used the same concept and took everything one step higher by removing the virtual element and let the Gunpla themselves do the battle. To achieve this, they introduced the "Plavsky Particle", an obvious homage to the Minovsky Particle that interacts with the Gunpla plastic and allows modelers to control them like actual mobile suit pilots. Aside from movement, these particles also replicate the weaponry used by these Gunpla like beam rifles and sabers. This introduces higher stakes as damage dealt to the Gunpla in battle would mean actual damage that doesn’t disappear after the battle has ended.
As previously mentioned, the overall premise of Gundam Build Fighters is simple and can be compared among the likes of Pokemon and more similarly, Danball Senki. With Gundam enthusiasts being one of the most volatile franchise followers out there, many have easily dismissed the series for its childish nature. However, most often forget the fun factor that productions like these have. Fortunately, the production staff were well aware of this challenge and took great lengths to ensure that the adult demographic wouldn’t be alienated and at the same time, younger audiences can see this as a great gateway Gundam series. More on the execution in the succeeding sections.
Much like any other production in the genre, impressions on a series would often befall on the mechanical designs. For example, Mobile Suit Gundam 00 had unique, yet still orthodox mobile suits that gave the series a fresh look. On the other hand, Gundam AGE stuck to the homage too much that the protagonist mobile suit designs just looked like derivatives (and that doesn’t even explain the enemy units). Gundam Build Fighters has the advantage of not necessarily needing new designs as the series was based on Gunpla of existing mobile suits that were either just repainted or totally modified. As for the lead mobile suit, the Build Strike Gundam/Star Build Strike Gundam works both for its gimmicks and its use of the Strike Gundam as the base design, a good call on the designers’ part. Despite being a decade old, the Strike Gundam design has become such a classic that it’s easily recognized to this day with positive responses. And with no military application as restriction, the mechanical designers have the freedom to customize these mobile suits like builders/modelers themselves — as with the case with the Gundam X Maoh and the Wing Gundam Fenice.
That said, there’s another (obvious) front to the mechanics in Gundam Build Fighters — the merchandise. When the series was first teased, it was revealed under the tagline "1/144 Gundam Mobile". Gundam Build Fighters heavily pushes on the concept of customizing model kits. Though professional modelers have done this time and time again, the same can’t be said with casual modelers — like this author and most collectors of 1/144 scale Gunpla. For starters, Bandai introduced the HGBC (High Grade Build Custom) line of upgrade kits/accessories that can be used with HGBF (High Grade Build Fighters) kits and other 1/144 scale models for customization. Then there’s the HG All Gundam Project which revolutionizes the High Grade 1/144 scale Gunpla by using a common joint system that allows exchange of parts from one compatible kit to another. To kick off this project, Bandai released kits of titular mobile suits that never had releases in the modern High Grade standard. Mobile suits like the Wing Gundam, Gundam Double X and Victory Gundam got High Grades when most thought that Bandai will take quite a while to release them. It also made the expansion of the "Alternate Universe" kits in the existing HGUC (High Grade Universal Century) faster.
So could it be said that Gundam Build Fighters is just Bandai’s elaborate mechanism to sell model kits? Yes, but series doesn’t hide that fact and goes with it head on — that makes it awesome.
Execution is where Gundam AGE failed with its grandiose premise but very limited time frame. On the opposite end, Gundam Build Fighters has a very grounded story with lots of room for development. Starting off with the characters, Sei Iori is a very effective protagonist, both for his love of Gunpla and the Gundam franchise. Almost everyone can relate to him whenever he geeks out because of a specific mobile suit or model kit. He’s also one of the only protagonists that doesn’t angst — but then again, no one is expecting such emotions in this lighthearted series. Completing their dynamic duo is Reiji, the over-the-top character who gives Sei much needed "hotbloodedness" and fighting spirit in every battle. The relationship these two have is easily comparable to that of Simon & Kamina from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann so that’s another plus. Then every other character around them represents a certain anime stereotype. You have the martial arts student Yasaka Mao, the flirty romantic Ricardo Fellini, the respected veteran Mr. Ral, the timid love interest China Kousaka, and the eternal rival Tatsuya Yuuki — who also represents the masked man trope when he donned the Meijin Kawaguchi moniker. Again, everyone has seen these types of characters and the kind interactions they have, but setting them in the context of Gunpla puts another layer of ridiculousness to the mix.
Quirky character interactions, interesting plot elements and very engaging mobile suit battles — many consider these elements to be the norm for a good Gundam series. But the production team has decided to add something that would make watching the series week-after-week a treat: fanservice. And NO, this is not the kind seen in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Given that Gundam Build Fighters is a pseudo-anniversary series of sorts, the production team decided to throw in characters, mobile suits and homages that certainly raised I-saw-what-they-did-there kind of reactions from the audience. For example, the beginning of episode 8 marks the animation debut of the G-SAVIOUR. Yes, despite all the hate G-SAVIOUR got as an attempt for a live-action Gundam production, the mobile suit itself actually looks great in animation, albeit getting blown just seconds after its debut. Not only mobile suits — characters, tropes and other fun references have definitely made it to Gundam Build Fighters. Heck, many are watching the show just to look for these Easter eggs, further adding fun to the already fun-filled show.
That said, the show also contains mysteries that provide overarching plot elements throughout the entire course of the series. These mainly include Reiji’s existence and the Plavsky Particles. From his eccentric clothing to this behavior, it is very obvious that there’s something to him more than his hot-bloodedness. If those ain’t clues enough, he can also disappear out of thin air as seen in the end of the first episodes. Then there’s the ‘magical’ Plavsky Particles, essentially the driving force behind the ‘Second Gunpla Boom’ as the show calls it. These particles were given enough highlights throughout the series that there has got to be something about them apart from just making plastic kits move. Combining these plot elements, the craziness of the characters and 35 years worth of nostalgia in one series is definitely a working formula for a Gundam series like this and fortunately, the show runners know this as well.
As previously mentioned, many had doubts in Gundam Build Fighters when it was first announced. It looked formulaic, cheesy and has elements seen in a lot of similar series. This may have driven some away, but those who stuck through its 25-episode run definitely got a treat. It may indeed be formulaic, cheesy and has elements seen in a lot of similar series, but was very enjoyable to watch! With 35 years behind it, the Gundam franchise has such a diverse following that Bandai/Sunrise knows what will satisfy each demographic. As such, Gundam Build Fighters is aimed at seasoned audiences with nostalgia while at the same time is also acting as an effective gateway series for those who are overwhelmed with the multitude of shows and continuity to follow. If that wasn’t proof enough, it was announced at the 53rd Shizuoka Hobby Show that a new season/series is currently in production due to its popularity. So those who wanted a Gundam series that’s simple and fun — something that’s rare in itself — then look no further than Gundam Build Fighters!
Contributors: Elise Cruz