Wednesday 2 April 2014

Anime REVIEW: Gundam Build Fighters

Gundam Build Fighters

As I previously mentioned in my G Gundam review, I'm a bit of a slacker when it comes to the Gundam franchise. However I've now resolved to eventually work my way through it from start to finish, all thanks to a 25-episode series that recently finished airing named Gundam Build Fighters. Kicking off the franchise's 35th anniversary which will continue throughout 2014, this new alternate universe series is notable for taking a look at the real thing that's helped keep the franchise afloat for so many years - model kits! This isn't the first time Sunrise and Bandai have animated this massive hobby - that would be 2010's three episode OVA Model Suit Gunpla Builders Beginning G. However being part of an anniversary the scope was much bigger here, and with Bandai streaming the series for free on Youtube it was something you can tell they really wanted people to enjoy.

Reiji and Sei
Reiji and Sei - ultimate gunpla team

Build Fighters takes place in a world not too dissimilar to our own, where Mobile Suit Gundam is a long-running popular franchise and the world is going through a second 'Gunpla boom'. The big difference is that thanks to a mysterious power known as 'plavsky particles', builders can bring their gunpla to life for hi-tech simulated battles. Special tournaments called Gunpla Battles are established throughout the world, culminating in an annual global tournament to see which customised gunpla and its builder are the best.

The Star Build Strike Gundam
The Build Strike Gundam. What a surprise, it's blue and white.

The story focuses around Sei Iori, the 13-year old son of 2nd Gunpla World Championship runner-up Takeshi Iori. While Sei displays incredible skills at building and customising gunpla, his piloting skills are the opposite. Completely by chance he meets a mysterious boy named Reiji, who proves to have the skill Sei has been lacking. He gives Sei a jewel, telling him that he will return one day if he wishes hard enough before mysteriously disappearing into thin air. Sei wishes that the two of them will enter the Gunpla World Tournament, and together the two team up to face off against the best builders from around the world - including their rival Tatsuya Yuuki. However the secret behind Reiji's mysterious origins may also be the answer to just what plavsky particles really are.

The Wing Gundam Fenice

True to the message its trying to convey, Gundam Build Fighters doesn't feature any brand new Mobile Suit designs. Instead every prominent (and most background) suits that appear are ones scattered from across the franchise, albeit heavily customised by the builder. While some of these may only be a different coat of paint or an elaborate backpack, some of them are a lot more drastic than that. Take the Sengoku Astray Gundam for example, which re-imagines the prototype suit from the Gundam SEED Astray manga as a four armed samurai complete with Oni Shield. Meanwhile the heterochromatic Wing Gundam Fenice takes away the symmetry of the original Gundam Wing suit and rebuilds it as a asymmetrical veteran gunpla that's gone through constant rebuilding and modification over the years. Even though they're based on pre-existing designs, they all somehow manage to feel fresh and unique. The only thing really to its detriment is the same irony that The LEGO Movie suffers from - both things are promoting creativity in their narrative while at the same time promoting those "creative" designs as pre-packaged sets. Not so much a flaw, but something that really stands out if you think about it too hard.

The Sengoku Astray Gundam
Proof that mecha with guns are overrated. Swords is where it's at.

So while the show features plenty of great looking Gundams to spend all of your money on, the characters also play a big part in making the show such a resounding success. Budding gunpla builders will be able to place themselves very easily in Sei's shoes, even if they do lack his building talent. Reiji is the perfect partner for him, complimenting Sei's more reserved nature with a louder demeanour. Both have their flaws, and as the series progresses it really shows that they're rubbing off on each other. They are propped up by a fantastic supporting cast, who all have their own backstories and motivations even if they're only there to eventually lose in the grand scheme of things. Ricardo, Aila, Maoh, Yuuki, China...all are memorable in their own ways and in most cases emotions really run high during their battles. Even Sengoku Astray pilot Nils Nielsen, who spends a fair portion of the show being a douchebag, grows into a likeable characters who's memorable for more than just having a badass Gundam. And I haven't even started on Mr Ral, a gunpla veteran/mentor who shares a rather striking similarity to original Mobile Suit Gundam character Ramba Ral. If I could have any anime character as an uncle or something, I think it would have to be him.

Mr Ral being a boss
All the ladies love Mr Ral
And Mr Ral isn't the only pre-existing Gundam character cropping up in the show, with characters from all over the franchise's various different universes and timelines cropping up in the background for blink and you'll miss it cameos. Episode 24 particularly is one that you need keep your eyes peeled. They may only be background appearances for the most part, but a lot of them will also be doing something relevant to their characters and those that DO get a larger role get to say/do something memorable. Gundam Build Fighters may only be the start of the franchise's 35th anniversary celebrations, but with the amount of love and craft that's gone into it you wouldn't be a fool for believing it's the main event.

This is heart-wrenching cameo material right here

It takes a lot to call an anime "inspirational", but that is honestly the best word I can use to describe how I felt about Gundam Build Fighters. Like I said repeatedly in this review I'm no huge Gundam fan nor have I really dabbled with gunpla outside of a few Wing kits a several years ago. However this show changed all of that - suddenly I was really interested in the franchise, ended up steaming through G Gundam, bought a bunch of kits for that and ended up with a bunch of kits from this show (with currently another two on the way). Not only was it a really enjoyable show with tons of loving references, homages and throwbacks to Gundam, but it also made me want to pick up the hobby it was promoting. And by that I don't just mean buy all the kits, I mean legitimately get better at modelling and painting. I haven't just sunk money into kits, I've also bought new tools, paints and brushes all in the name of getting better at the hobby. For a show that could have been completely half-assed just to flog a bunch of easy remould kits, that's a pretty inspiring achievement.

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