Saturday, 12 October 2019

First Impressions: Gundam Build Divers Re:RISE

Gundam Build Divers Re:RISE
Gundam Build Divers Re:RISE is available in streaming form via Crunchyroll and Youtube

Bandai and Sunrise caught lightning in a bottle when they made Gundam Build Fighters. If their success at turning a completely merchandise-driven show into a charming and heartwarming tribute to the Gundam franchise wasn't enough to prove that, their less successful attempts to replicate that since are. That isn't to say said shows aren't highly marketable though, as we return to Gunpla Battle Nexus Online in Gundam Build Divers Re:RISE. Following on from the original Gundam Build Divers some time later with a brand new cast, the series celebrates 40 years of the Gundam franchise and is available not only via Crunchyroll but also Sunrise/Bandai themselves on their own GundamInfo Youtube channel.

HirotoKazami

Two years after the EL Divers incident, Gundam fanatics continue to enjoy bringing their gunpla to life on the new and improved Gunpla Battle Nexus Online. High schooler Hiroto Kuga wanders the game in his Core Gundam as a lone player, searching for a mysterious girl he met on the game years ago. However after being roped into a secret mission by the pompous Kazami, he finds himself in a brand new force alongside fellow players May and Paviz. Taking the name "BUILD DiVERS", the four aim to complete the various stages of the mission – with Hiroto believing their success could eventually lead him to the girl he's been searching for.

PavizMay

The isekai/living in another world (or in this case video game) genre has been a dominant force in Japanese otaku media for some time now, and Gundam's previous attempt at this certainly yielded mixed results. While Gunpla Battle Nexus Online offered a much larger world with greater possibilities than the old "literally bring the toys to life" system of Build Fighters, it also resulted in much lower stakes and characters that treated a harmless video game like a life and death situation. This latter point ended up severely harming Build Divers in its final stretch of episodes, so Re:RISE isn't about to make the same mistake twice. Right from the beginning we're presented with a cast fully aware they're part of a video game, repeatedly commenting on and treating it as such. Not only does it allow the show to have a little more fun with their characters and motivations, but makes it much easier for the audience to swallow the setting. When the cast are more concerned with rankings, riches and actually playing the game it makes it seem a lot more inviting.

Right now there are two main parts to the story – one is a fairly interesting story hook, the other much less so. The good part is the idea that the new "BUILD DiVERS" have stumbled into a secret story mode built into the game, with its own progressing chapters. Not only does it immediately build mystery on where this mode came from and how it's connected to the original Build Divers, but again expands on the idea of Gunpla Battle Nexus Online being an actual game. It also allows the show to have a lot more fun with an NPC cast as well (and this one has a very good boy). Sadly the same can't be said about Hiroto's search for the mysterious girl, which doesn't just continue to feed into the Build series "mysterious girl" trope but comes across as pretty cliché motivation in general. Obviously the girl in question is immediately meant to evoke Sarah, but the link is still unclear. Whatever it is, hopefully it'll be handled much better than her story was in the second half of Build Divers.

The Core GundamThe Mysterious Girl

Cliché motivation usually results in a cliché character, but somehow Hiroto manages to stray away from the “lone wolf" archetype just enough to be an interesting character. While he doesn’t seem especially interested in being part of the team, he isn’t outright abandoning them either and seems happy to work alongside them while the situation is mutually beneficial. He’s fairly cookie cutter as a protagonist, but not frustratingly so. Far more fun however is Kazami - a self-proclaimed “knight of justice”, though really that’s just equal parts big mouth and big head. While his self-inflated attitude is fun in itself, it’s just nice to have a character who wants to play the game for the glory. Rounding off the team is timid newcomer Paviz and the largely silent May, neither of whom have really had much involvement in the story so far. It’s a good mix of temperaments and skill levels that should hopefully make for some good character development in the coming weeks.

It's also interesting to note that despite being an anniversary series of sorts, so far Build Divers Re:RISE has completely strayed away from heavy referencing usually associated with the Build line of shows. There's still plenty of background cameos for fans to catch and of course the custom gunpla are all derived from main-series Mobile Suits, but there hasn't been any direct referencing to any aspect of the other shows. It's certainly helping Re:RISE establish itself as something able to stand on its own two feet, but feels quite odd when you consider the kind of Gundam otaku that were leading the previous series. And while these first two episodes had their fair share of fight sequences, the Gundams themselves feel rather downplayed right now as well. This will undoubtedly change in the coming episodes, but right now all the focus has been on Hiroto's Core Gundam – a medium size Mobile Suit with transforming armour attachments to take it up to full size. The idea behind it is interesting and makes the Core Gundam stand out from the crowd, but like the 00 Diver the suit lacks that element of showmanship that makes the Build series suits so special. Thankfully that imagination is present in Kazami’s brilliantly named Gundam Justice Knight and Paviz’s Valkylander - the latter of which will get to shine much more in future episodes if the opening titles are any indication. Rounding off the quartet is May’s WoDom Pod, adding that healthy dose of non-Gundam Mobile Suit action to round off a fairly decent roster.

FreddieCore Gundam powered up

With the way the original Build Divers' story quickly nosedived it's hard to get too excited about Gundam Build Divers Re:RISE, but at the very least these two episodes suggested a huge step in the right direction. This sequel seems to go out of its way to fix the problems of its predecessor, presenting viewers with a much more engaging cast and story hook. Ultimately the real measure of success though is whether it can convince me to buy any of the model kits. Can it succeed where Build Divers failed?

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