Title: Gundam Build Fighters (Gandamu Birudo Faitazu)
Format: TV anime
Genre: mecha, sci-fi, comedy, shonen, tournament/competition
Series Director: Nagasaki Kenji
Series length: 25 episodes
Original Airing dates: October 7, 2013 – March 31, 2014
Reviewed format: TV download with fan subs
“Back in the 1980s, the success of the series Mobile Suit Gundam, resulted in an economic boom due to sales of the Gundam model kits, or “Gunpla”, dubbed the Gunpla Boom. Years later in the future, with the success of the second Gunpla Boom, special tournaments called Gunpla Battles are established throughout the world to see which customized Gunpla and its builder are the best. These incredibly popular Gunpla Battles culminate in an annual global tournament.
The story revolves around Sei Iori, a young Gunpla Builder and student who has a dream of becoming the best Gunpla Fighter in the tournament and someday become as good as his father. As the only child, his family owns a small Gunpla shop and his talent is well-honed, however his weak piloting abilities have led him to a series of first-round losses. But one day, he meets a strange boy named Reiji, who helps him out. Reiji gives him a jewel, promising that he will come to Sei’s aid if wished enough. Together, both of them will tackle the world of Gunpla Battle and compete in the tournament using Sei’s customized Gunpla, the GAT-X105B Build Strike Gundam.”
I’m a huge fan of gunpla building, having a fair few kits of varying grades under my belt, but I am often weary of Gundam anime because it can be so hit & miss -more so when they exist solely for the promotion of new kits & getting people involved in building (see that abomination Mobile Suit Gundam AGE). So, when I heard that Sunrise was making a new Gundam series based upon children battling with gunpla, I -like many other fans- were preparing for the worse. But –low-&-behold!– I was completely blown away by the series, with its clever use of references & meta-in-jokes. Re-inventing new characters with new roles, such as Ramba Ral from Mobile Suit Gundam & allowing a lot of freedom in how they integrate existing Mobile Suits with the ‘kit-bashing’ nature of the gunpla building community.
Like 2010’s OVA Model Suit Gunpla Builders Beginning G, Gundam Build Fighters is extensively an add for High Grade (or HG) gunpla kits but unlike that other series, GBF actually has a proper plot, lots of humour & just use of references. All set around the classic cliched trope of battling toys (which is common for merchandising series such as Beyblades). And unlike the aforemention mentioned Mobile Suit Gundam AGE, it isn’t a series dumb down for the kiddies, it ensures that there is something for everybody -especially the long term hardcore fans (mainly of the Universal Century storylines though).
The plot revolves around Iori Sei, son of a former Gunpla Battle World Championships fighter & gunpla store owner, who is a passionate Gundam otaku & a master-class builder but terrible at the combat side of things. This stems from his fear of damaging or destroying the kits that he’s spent so much time & energy building. His fortunes change when he encounters the mysterious -& possibly alien- boy, Reiji, after he accidentally steals some food (ah, those wacky aliens & their lack of social graces). Reiji has no interest in Gunpla Battle but has an incredible talent for the system, using it for the 1st time like it was 2nd nature to him. After defeating Sei’s Sazaki on Sei’s behalf, Reiji finds that Gunpla Battle is a fun distraction from being a wacky royal alien & Sei manages to convince him to help him achieve his dream of entering the World Gunpla Battle Championship tournament.
Here is where the typical shonen tournament tropes kick in, with Sei & Reiji meeting stronger opponents who drive them to become stronger, fated rivals & enemies who become friends. But unlike many other series that rely on this cliche, GBF actually makes the most of it & adds some interesting little twists, mainly in th form of comedic asides & references to the meta-Gundam anime & toy universe. The side characters also play important roles outside of the shonen standards, each getting their own screen time & little arcs that set them up for their battles, both inside & outside of the tournament.
Also, don’t be fooled: this isn’t a childrens cartoon. There are some pretty adult jokes in it & has the most Fan-Service designs of any Gundam series (even more so then the jiggling of Murrue Ramius in Gundam Seed). This is especially pointed out in Sei’s mother, Rinko, who is depicted as, how one put it?: a MEGA-MILF! She seriously has the biggest boobs of any Gundam character ever! I think she exists as a way to hook older male viewers in (especially the bikini she wears in one episode) but she actually has function to the plot outside of immense boob size as well as some clever lines.
In fact, many of the characters have funny, random lines that enhance the series over all. Especially Ral’s -acting in the role of wise old mentor (despite only being 35)- suddenly appearing out of no where to explain what’s going on in a battle to China (Sei’s love interest & inspiration). Yuuki Tatsuya -Reiji’s rival & Sei’s inspiration- also has some very silly lines, especially when he takes on the role of “The Gunpla Master” Meijin Kawaguchi the 3rd, where he functions like a softer version of Char Aznable from the original Mobile Suit Gundam but moves beyond the role of primary rival to be a more rounded character with his own dreams & aspirations.
In fact, China too moves outside of being a basic love interest character to becoming an amateur Gunpla Fighter with her uber cute kit Beargguy-San (Beargguy III, since it’s the 3rd Beargguy kit to have been released). Through battling, China learns what Sei puts himself whenever he supports Reiji in their matches & this actually progresses her as a character. Unfortunately she doesn’t move much beyond small battles & being Sei’s emotional support.
The other primary, Aila Jyrkiainen from Finland, also has good & bad progression within the story. She’s portrayed as an unstoppable battling machine, who’s kit basically goes untouched during the majority of the tournament, but she actively despises fighting -only doing it so she won’t go back to a life of poverty. She has Newtype-like powers, including the ability to see the particles that control the gunpla during battles. This gives her a nihilistic attitude because she believes that there is no joy or challenge in Gunpla Battles (& using the system to enhance her abilities causes her lots of pain) but upon meeting Reiji (not knowing that he is actually her fated rival) after arguing over food she begins to see the world of gunpla differently. Unfortunately, for all the talk of her being the Ultimate Gunpla Battle Badarse, you barely get to see her do anything in the matches & her role once defeated pretty much falls into love interest for Reiji. But she has her moments to shine & develop, so she’s not entirely wasted.
It’s good that they give all the minor characters within the story their own chances to shine & show their backgrounds. Such as Mao -with his funny Kansai accent- wanting to be seen as the best builder in the world (making him automatically Sei’s fated rival), Fellini’s constant need to prove himself or Nils wanting to discover the secrets of Plasky Particles that allow the gunpla to move. But, in the end, most of the interactions of these characters does fall to the annoyance of over-masculisation in terms of mascho bravado in the matches. It’s the Shonen genre trope of constantly trying to prove oneself through battle & becoming stronger, saying that’s the only worth of a man: if you can’t fight &/or protect others you’re not really a man.
The other main message of the series also bothers me somewhat.
Because they battle with plastic toys which are usually broken or destroyed, one of the main themes of the series is “unless you’re willing to sacrifice something & put everything on the line, you’ll never truly be able to win”. Unfortunately, because the series, in the end, is one GIANT piece of advertising for the Bandai High Grade gunpla series, the ultimate message ends up being “hey! Don’t worry if you break it! You can always buy more! Hell! Buy more anyway! Look how fun this shit is! FUCKING BUY OUR STUFF, PLEBS!!!” (might be a touch of hyperbole there).
This is a series that I enjoyed immense, mainly because I am a gunpla builder myself but also because I know so many of the references within the series. Even if I wasn’t so invested -both personally & financially- in the Gundam franchise, I still would’ve enjoyed it because of its willingness to poke fun at series & the kits. GBF is the perfect entry point if you want to get someone into the sprawling Gundam franchise but don’t know where to start. It’s great for teenagers & adults the like (see MEGA-MILF above) as well as non-fans who just like a good Shonen Tournament story. It’s honestly really refreshing to see a well established franchise take such a Post-Modern risk with itself in order to get more people involved. Which is something that more series & franchises should really do (looking at you Pokemon!).
Gundam Build Fighters is just one gigantic piece of advertisement for Bandai, Sunrise & the entire Gundam franchise but it is a silly, funny & ultimately enjoyable one. Doesn’t mean that you can’t see past the ultimate agenda of trying to sell you stuff but it does mean that you won’t care as much.
Now, to save up enough money to buy some of those gunpla kits!