Tabletop Otaku: Gundamn Gundam

January 25, 2017 by dracs

Since coming to Japan, one of my greatest regrets has been that there isn’t much of a miniature gaming hobby scene here. However, that is not to say there is no model-making hobby.

Tabletop Otaku: Gundamn Gundam

Instead of armies of little figures, hobbyists in Japan collect and build kits from one of the most successful anime franchises of all time; Gundam!

Mecha Madness

For the three of you who might not be aware of Gundam, the franchise is based on a succession of Sci-Fi anime series in which far future war is waged through the use of highly advanced giant robot suits, also known as mecha.

Gundam first started in 1979 with the launch of the first series Mobile Suit Gundam.

Gundam

Since then, the franchise has exploded in popularity all over the world and was among the first wave of anime shows to make it over to the west.

The impact Gundam has had on Japanese culture cannot be understated. As well as pretty much setting the tropes which are now familiar as genre staples, Gundam has been turned into multiple video and card games (as well as both combined, in the case of the new arcade card game), been used as the theme for both a cafe and a hotel, and has had a 1:1 scale statue erected in Odaiba, Tokyo!

Gundam Statue

Gundam Statue And Sam

It's really a Gundam miniature, I'm just to scale.

Not least of these achievements is the range of plastic Gundam model kits that form the basis of the hobby known as Gunpla.

Gunpla Galore!

Gunpla (because Gundam Plastic Model is too much of a mouthful) is the main modelling hobby here in Japan. Bandai created their first selection of buildable Gundam kits shortly after the release of the very first series and the hobby has gone from strength to strength since.

Gunpla logo

All over Japan, it is easy to find shops dedicated to Gunpla. Kits can range in price from cheap, simple pieces sitting at around ¥400 (£2.78) to incredibly complex and detailed creations that can take a lot of time, money and dedication to finish.

Gunpla Store

Gundam Kits

All your Yen are belong to Bandai!

A selection of publications are available to support the hobby, ranging from magazines and catalogues to books filled with tips from professionals on how best to paint and personalise your own Gundam figures.

Gundam Publications

Sam Magazines

I can't read any of these!

There are even spin-off anime series based around Gunpla, with the characters battling their Gundam models in virtual fights.

Notice I used the plural there. Not one anime series, three. That means there are three anime based on the models that were themselves based on an anime. Yeah. That’s how big this is.

Gunpla Builders

Does this count as anime inbreeding?

It’s even beginning to spill over into the west, with our own BoW John having made a few Gunpla models of his own.

John And Gundam

I've never seen him so happy over something that doesn't have tank tracks

Now I’ll admit that I have never been that into Gundam. The only series I have watched was Gundam Wing when I was a kid and, while I enjoyed the giant robots, the best way I can describe it is… confusing.

Milliardo

So is this guy a good guy? A bad guy? His driven mad by his mech... what is going on?!

Nonetheless, after seeing a Gunpla display at the Manga Museum in Kyoto (where I was unfortunately not allowed to take photos) and in an attempt to scratch that hobby itch, I decided to pick up a couple of kits and give it a go.

Gunpla Starter

Gunpla starter kit.

I can sense this being the first step on a rather long and dark (but possibly interesting) road.

Getting Into Gunpla

Having seen the famous statue in Odaiba, I decided to pick up a kit of the RX-78-2 Gundam from the original series it is based on, arguably the most iconic mecha of the Gundam franchise.

RX-78-2

While I had previously built one of the cheapest and most simple Gundam models I could find as a practice run, this one promised to be a little bit more fiddly, while still not going to the extremes of the kits favoured by ardent hobbyists.

The kits themselves come on different coloured plastic sprues, meaning that you don’t have to do any painting to achieve a finished model.

Each part is individually numbered, making the instructions easy to follow and understand, even for someone whose Japanese is still abysmal. (Latest language gaffs include telling some friends that I had spent the weekend climbing Mount Textbook. Did I mention I did my first Japanese language test last month?)

Kit

Everything clips together easily, allowing you to make a fully articulated model without needing glue to hold it all together. Once you’ve attached a piece, though, it can be a real pain to take it apart again. This is particularly annoying for someone like me, who apparently has trouble following said easy-to-follow instructions.

I blame the anime I was watching for distracting me.

Nina

It's all your fault, Nina!

Now if you decide not to paint, most sets do come with their own stickers and decals to help you get the details right. However, these are the most fiddly and annoying things ever.

I got particularly annoyed when I had to use a set of stickers for part of the head. First, the eyes were a real pain to put on. Then there were two silver pieces that took forever to get right and when I finally did get them on and continued I found that they were completely hidden by the rest of the helmet and were therefore rendered entirely pointless and I hate them I hate them I HATE THEM!

Silver Stickers

Why

What was the point?!?

Yeah, probably just best to paint.

The other bane of my existence proved to be building the arms and legs. These weren’t particularly difficult (although this was the point where I screwed up the most often), but because they are fully articulated I found it fiddly and tedious going.

Arms

Having said all that, there was definite pleasure in finishing the model and finding myself with a pretty nice looking figure.

Gundam Finished

The set came with a selection of different weapon options with which to equip my Gundam, ranging from massive bazooka style things to laser swords and shields.

Weapons

I, of course, went with the not-a-lightsabre and shield.

Finished

Oh, that sword is in an unfortunate position.

In the end, I found Gunpla to be an engaging bit of model making. The frustrations are no worse than those you might encounter when building and painting tabletop miniatures. All the same, I personally prefer being able to use my models, rather than just having a nice display piece.

Still, it is interesting to think that I really have just scratched the service of a massive hobby, which in 2014 alone totalled around 18.4 billion yen in retail sales. If nothing else, this dip into the franchise has made me think about checking out some of the other Gundam anime.

Johns RX-78-2

For comparison, here's John's take on the RX-78-2.

Thanks to my friend Adam for taking some of the pictures I used in this article and to John for sending me some of his own collection.

Are you a fan of Gundam? Which Gundam mech is your favourite?

"Gundam is based around a Sci-Fi anime series in which far future war is waged through the use of highly advanced giant robot suits..."

"There are three anime based on the models that were themselves based on an anime..."