Saturday 4 April 2015

Anime REVIEW: Gundam Build Fighters Try

Gundam Build Fighters Try

I don't think anyone quite expected Gundam Build Fighters to be the success that it was. What could have easily been a shameless cash grab to sell a bunch of remoulded model kits turned out to be a wonderful tribute to the ever-growing hobby of gunpla and model kit building in general, filled with exhilarating fight sequences and a cast of memorable characters. And as an anniversary-esque series to the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise as a whole, it couldn't really be topped. So after such a resounding success, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that it's back for round two - this time going by the monicker of Gundam Build Fighters Try. And once again, Bandai have been kind enough to stream the whole series for free on their Youtube channel, giving fans across the world a chance to enjoy it legally and end up buying a kit or two (which is probably their plan all along...).

Team Try Fighters
Team Try (to not really do anything while Sekai beats the other) Fighters

It's been seven years since Sei Iori won the 7th Gunpla Battle Championship World Tournament. Since then, the hobby of gunpla battle has gone from strength to strength - with Yajima Trading taking over the running of the Championship tournaments. New rules and modes of play have also been introduced, with teams of three able to battle against each other in regional tournaments. However one school hasn't been taken in gunpla battle's growing popularity - Seiho Academy, the school once attended by Sei Iori himself. The gunpla club's sole member, Fumina Hoshino, can't get very far without two teammates and her childhood friend Yuuma Kousaka (younger brother of the original series' China) has given up his dreams of winning the regional tournaments to focus on the art of building gunpla.

However things change with the arrival of a new transfer student at Seiho Academy - martial artist Kamiki Sekai. Not only is Sekai quickly roped into trying out gunpla battle by Fumina, but the model kit he chooses to use in his first go turn outs to be a long-hidden Sei Iori creation - the Build Burning Gundam! Seeing Sekai's martial arts prowess sync up with the Build Burning reignites a spark in Yuuma, who returns to gunpla battle to make up the team's third member. Together, Team Try Fighters work their way through to regional qualifiers to face new challengers at the All-Japan Gunpla Battle Championship.

Best things about Try #1: Best waifu

When we last left the world of Gundam Build Fighters things had ended on a rather fantastical note (well, fantastical for a show that was already about pilotable battling model kits). Reiji was apparently from another world, returning home and taking Aila with him. Similarly, the secret of the plavsky particle was a giant crystal - also originating from Reiji's homeworld. With things having been shaken up so much, many were hoping that a sequel would shed light on some of the unanswered questions the original left. However Gundam Build Fighters Try isn't so much a sequel in that regard - sure it's set seven years later, but it focuses on a brand new cast of characters and references to the previous show are minimal enough that newcomers would be able to understand them. There's nothing especially wrong with this approach, as some of the older faces do show up now and again. Yuuki (still comfortably in his role as the third Meijin) is quite prominent, and we also get to see/hear what Nils, Caroline and China have been getting up to. Sei not so much (and Reiji not at all), but knowing that he's still around is a good feeling in itself.

But despite starting afresh with a brand new cast, the early episodes of Try definitely show the same potenial the original had. The new team dynamic sounds like a brilliant shakeup, especially a promising and varied cast. You have Sekai the hand-to-hand combatant and gunpla newbie, prize-winning builder Yuuma handling long-range fighting and then Fumina backing them both up with a support unit. It's also refreshing to see Fumina being the glue that holds the team together, making her an active, likeable and very much appreciated female lead. The early fights are great and it looks like Try is going to be another winner.

The Tryon 3
Best things about Try #2: Best Gunpla

But this positivity quickly fades as it becomes clearer with each passing episode that Try's writers don't have a clue how their own team system even works. Teams become simply an excuse to have three separate one-on-one battles taking place (aka a chance to plug six different toys at once), and Try Fighters' road to victory becomes more and more predictable. The brilliantly balanced dynamic of the team is almost completely forgotten, with fights almost completely being won on by Sekai. He and the Build Burning just pulling one new powers whenever it's convenience, with Fumina and Yuuma riding off of their success. Despite Yuuma's status as a renowned builder the series' lead Gundam is still just a product of Sei, so no matter how much tinkering he does with it the suit's power is still due to someone else (and even when he heavily mods it, Sei STILL ends up sending spare parts). Meanwhile Fumina just begins to slink further into the background, with her own gunpla's big moment being a 10 second affair that's simply an end note to another Build Burning grandstanding. Try took gunpla battle and made it a team event, but ironically the series that focused on the one-on-one tournament had far better teamwork between its protagonists.

Likewise the rivals suffer from being mostly forgettable and/or undeveloped, with one group of opponents quickly being phased out so the next one can be brought in - and so on and so forth. Some of the lucky ones do hang around as recurring characters (Kaoruko "Gyanko" Sazaki deservedly becoming a fan favourite), but even then they mostly sit around in the sidelines cheering the Try Fighers (or more specifically, Sekai) on. Only two sets of rivals have any real relevance in the grand scale of things - Yuuma's gunpla building rival Minato Sekai, and the Gunpla Academy (each having a foil of sorts with the Try Fighters). Returning character Lucas Kankaansyrjä (now going by the surname of Nemesis because that's how much of badass he wants to be) and Sekai's old friend/rival Junya Inoyse come close, but they're so poorly conceived and cliche that neither have any real impact on the story as a whole. The tournament running on a instant knockout system simply doesn't work, because it makes the fights predictable episodes before they even go down. Sure the original Build Fighters series didn't exactly pull out any upsets either, but the fights were crafted in such a way that while they were going on you genuinely didn't know who might win. Sei and Reiji's battle against Felini and the Wing Gundam Fenice was proof of that. 

The Snibal-Drago-Gira
Looks awesome yeah? The kit? Not so much.

One thing that can always be counted on though is the gunpla themselves, which show off the same quality and creativity as the original series did. SD Gundams make a big impression in Try, proving once and for all that there can be so much more to them than cute little novelty kits. Fumina's upgraded Star Winning Gundam is hiding a particularly cool secret, even if it's horrendously underused in the show itself. Try also feels like it has a bigger focus on gimmickery, with combining robots a plenty. The best of these is of course Team Build Busters' Tryon 3, a glorious homage to classic super robot anime which is exactly what this show (and Gundam in general) needed. Even with all of the show's shortcomings, it was worth it just to get a toy of that beautiful thing. And even when it's hogging the spotlight the Build Burning is still a pleasure to watch, harking back to Mobile Fighter G Gundam in all the best ways.

Likewise the tributes to other Gundam series are alive and well, with Ramba Ral even taking up a more permanent position as the Try Fighters' coach. The celebration of the franchise as a whole hasn't at all faltered, making Build Fighters as a franchise more of a fitting anniversary celebration than some of the main Gundam series that have been produced as part of it. Whether it's Sekai and Fumina enthusiastically singing Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ opening theme "Anime Ja Nai" or the satisfying reveal of who Sekai's master is in the credits of the final episode, there's something here for every kind of fan.

The whole series hinges on this guy simply turning around

After the original series turned out to be one of my all-time favourites I went into Gundam Build Fighters Try with extremely high hopes, and the first few episodes certainly gave the impression that this was going to be more of the same stuff. But as things slowly progressed, it became clearer and clearer that this show was so many of the things the original tried so hard not to be. While occasionally showing glimpses of that same high quality, Build Fighters Try suffers from unevenly developed protagonists, uninteresting rivals and a complete lack of understanding of its own self-imposed team dynamics. The fight quality and kit designs are still top notch, which sadly works to its disadvantage in making the whole thing seem even more preoccupied about selling models. With so many possibilities and unanswered questions I'd still like to see a third season happen, but if it's going to be anything like this the title "Try Harder" might be more appropriate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Still it has some good dynamics of team battling which is of course an improvement from Build Fighters and I agree that rivals are surely less explained here, whereas in BF it has a cast of rivals/friends. Overall its good to watch.