A few months ago I decided to watch one of the series that first introduced me to anime, the massively successful and popular Gundam. In doing so I reviewed a few Gundam series. I have a habit of reading about stuff online while I’m reading or watching it. Naturally, I read a lot about Gundam while watching some of the series and I discovered Gunpla which is equally popular as the TV series. For the uninitiated, Gunpla is a portmanteau for Gundam plastic model which is an accurate description of the hobby itself. As a hobby, Gunpla is about assembling plastic models of mobile suits from all the multiple Gundam series. The models are all, as far as I know, articulated in order to allow builders to pose their models and showcase them in unique ways. While all the models are made from plastic pieces, they come in varying degrees of difficulty, size and, of course, mobile suit models.
It didn’t take long for me to get the urge to order my very own Gunpla kit and to give it a go. The problem is that Gunpla building can be very complex, especially for people who (like me) are new to it. I was able to find quite a few helpful links online that offered good introductions to the hobby. My favourite website is Gunpla 101 by Lauren Orsini. Lauren not only did an excellent job introducing the hobby, she also provides additional tips about how to take care of your models once they’re built, things such as cleaning and repairing broken parts. She also talks about customization, which can be a hot topic for Gunpla builders. What I enjoyed the most about Gunpla 101 is that Lauren and her husband are very inclusive with their hobby. There is no sense of elitism or condescension in their passion for what they love. They’re very encouraging to new or aspiring builders. Lauren and her blog have played a big role in getting me started on my journey to discover Gunpla first hand. If you have any interest at all in building, I highly recommend you check out Gunpla 101 as you’ll find a much better introduction to the hobby than I could ever had written.
Since I was a complete novice I wanted to start with a lower difficulty model and so HG, or High Grade, seemed like a good place to start. I also wanted my first model to be a Gundam from one of my favourite series so I chose the HG RX-79 Gundam VS MS-06J Zaku II kit. The RX-79 is a simple Gundam compared to many models from later series and it came in a dual kit with a Zaku II which also happens to be a classic mobile suit design. I ordered them along with a Tamiya Basic Tool Set which had most of the tools I would need, along with some I would need to use less often. The kit was a good bargain as its price is equal to that of just the most essential tools (side cutters and a hobby knife).
I worked carefully and meticulously by closely following the tips I had read online. I really didn’t want to screw anything up! The first thing I did was unpack the box and made sure that all the runners that came with the kit where included. Runners are the sheets of pressure moulded plastic which hold all of the parts. They come in different colours based on the kind of model you have. Once I had everything accounted for I started to “read” the instruction manual which is all in Japanese. Thankfully the instructions are accompanied by detailed and accurate illustrations of the parts and how they’re meant to connect together.
It’s helpful that the illustrations are so detailed but it’s still a little bit tricky because a lot of the pieces look similar. Since the models are, for the most part, symmetrical in design you’ll also have nearly identical left and right side pieces. If you’re following the instructions in order and only cutting off the pieces you need for each step you’ll likely not get your pieces mixed up. They’re numbered, a letter identifier indicates which runner the pieces can be found on and the number will indicated which piece on a particular runner. As such, part B-12 is easy to find but cut too many pieces and you’ll soon be closely examining each piece to try and identify it with the illustrations in the manual.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience. I used my fiancée’s cutting mat, which she uses for scrapbooking and making Christmas cards, as my working surface in order not to damage my desk. The tool kit I purchased had everything I needed and more. My only complaint is that the file that came in the kit is too rough to smooth out the excess plastic on the pieces once you’ve cut them off the runner. I will have to try sandpaper with a small grain as I think that would do a better job. For these models I used the hobby knife to slice away the excess. The problem with using the hobby knife is that it sometimes left white marks on the plastic. The red pieces were particularly bad for this as the slicing action caused the plastic to stretch and it created white markings. The light grey colour used for most of the RX-79 didn’t leave much white markings at all. At this point, I think the only thing I would use the file for is to create battle damage if I ever decided to do custom damage on one of my models.
For this model kit all I did was a straight build or sometimes called a simple build which means I put the pieces of the kit together and I did no extra work. One of the wonderful things about Gunpla models, and I imagine plastic models in general, is that creative builders can endlessly customize their Gunplas. You can do this in many ways. There is the aforementioned battle damage which can be used to make really cool dioramas with multiple models by adding more detail and increasing the realism of the scene. Some people also paint their models in different colour schemes or add colours to an existing colour scheme. One of the simplest ways to customize a Gunpla is to trace in the lines on the pieces with a very fine point marker. The marker is often black but other colours are used based on the colour of a specific model. The goal in doing so is to make the details of the model pop and give a model a more realistic, three dimensional look.
I had a great time putting together my first Gunpla models and I’ll certainly be doing more in the future, but I’ll be taking my time. It’s precision stuff and sometimes there are tricky parts to the build but overall it’s very satisfying. It’s also fun to pose them but I have a feeling HG models aren’t the best at this because of their relatively limited articulation. I’d like to experiment with some minor customizations in the future but I think I’m still a ways away from that. I’ll definitively be tracing lines soon, if not on my next model than the one after that. Here are some pictures of the build along with some commentary. I apologize in advance for the quality of the pictures. I did my best but it’s clear I need some practice when it comes to photographing my models.
My first leg! It looks pretty sweet.
Some of these pieces are tiny. The parts of the face that are coloured are stickers.
The completed head. The red portion of the crest was a huge pain to do correctly. The crest is a single piece and it pushes into the helmet part of the head but it’s a tiny fit and pushing into the helmet scrapped the red sticker off the crest. I damaged the sticker so much that the colour was being scratched off and I had to add more red with a marker.
The Zaku’s foot looks so much sturdier than the Gundam’s foot. That’s true of the overall design of both mobile suits. The Zaku looks sturdier while the Gundam is sleeker.
Completed Zaku legs in all their sturdy glory.
Another head only shot to give you an idea of the scale size of the models. They’re not very big.
Both Gunplas fully assembled! The different shades of green don’t look as bad now that the Zaku is completed. It could also be the poor lighting, though. I’m glad I went with the pointy head crest on the Zaku. It looks pretty fierce compared to the RX-79 but that could be because the RX-79 just looks so clean. It’s pretty unrealistic considering the way the Gundams were used in The 08th MS Team. I might need to put some mud on there.
Strike a pose! “Shoot the enemy down” is a pretty common Gunpla pose. Look at the legs, that’s basically the maximum amount of movement they’ll allow. Also notice the left arm with the shield is raise in order to keep the whole thing balanced. The backpack kind of messes up the balance but it looks nice so I keep it on.
If you didn’t like how little RX-79’s legs bend, look at the poor Zaku. He barely has any leg movement. Sturdy, yes, but also stiff.
Final pose for the camera. Bro-bots!
One of the things I enjoyed about building Gunpla is that it forced me to pay attention to the design of the mobile suits. On the surface that might appear to be a silly statement because anybody who’s ever seen an episode with an RX-79 and a Zaku II can name several ways in which they defer in design. However, building them has given me deeper and more detailed insight into their differences and similarities. In other works, I’m not just looking at heads, the colours and the most distinctive design features of mobile suits. I’m looking at the entire thing. I spotlighted the legs above but most parts of these two mobiles suits are different from each other. I like both these models for two different reasons. The Zaku II is just a classic design and it has many unique features. The shoulder shield on one side and the spiked shoulder armour on the other are some of the better examples. It’s also looks very functional and militaristic with exception to the tubes which I think are impractical and obviously weak points of the otherwise sturdy armoured look of the Zaku.
I also really like the RX-79. It’s an updated version of the original RX-78 Gundam but it has sharper edges and more defined detailing. It looks sleek but it also looks functional. The classic blue and white (or light grey) colours with red and yellow accents are put to good use. In my opinion this is just a nicer version of the original Gundam design but I’ll be quick to point out that might because I’m comparing the RX-79 model to the mental image I have of the RX-78 which is what I looked like in the 1979 anime. By that I mean the RX-78 looks much softer, with rounded edges and less details which make it look like a weaker mobile suit. I could go on writing about Gunpla and this particular kit because it was just so much fun to build and it also provided some interesting thoughts on the realistic elements of mobile suit design. For anyone else who might be interested in trying out Gunpla building, I’d recommend this kit as I think it served very well as a beginner kit. HG models are challenging without being too difficult and they offer a suitably detailed model once it’s completely assembled. I’d also recommend trying to find two-in-one kits as this was affordable compared to other kits. Gunpla building is a great way to be more hands on with your Gundam fandom and I recommend giving it a try.