Sunday 21 August 2016

Special REVIEW: Gundam Build Fighters Try: Island Wars

Gundam Build Fighters Try Island Wars

The Mobile Suit Gundam franchise may well be a multi-million yen space-faring epic about the horrors of war, but everyone knows that's only one side of it. The other half is all about how many model kits Bandai can sell at the same time, and the Gundam Build Fighters spin-off isn't one to shy away from fully embracing it. Though not the first gunpla-themed spin-off from Sunrise, Gundam Build Fighters captured audiences in a way its predecessors had failed to - not only showing the hobby off in a brilliant way but also proving itself to be worthy celebration of Gundam's long heritage. It was quickly followed by sequel series Gundam Build Fighters Try, and now its cast have returned for a one-off special episode entitled Gundam Build Fighters Try: Island Wars. Like both series this episode has been made available for free on Youtube via GundamInfo, welcoming audiences across the globe back to the world of Gunpla battle.

The cast of Island Wars
Together again

One year after their victory at the Gunpla Battle National Championships, Team Try Fighters are invited to a remote island resort by Yajima Trading to test their new combat system. When Sekai and Fumina arrive on the island, they're greeted by Gyanko, Shia and Minato as well as an embarassed Yuuma, who had initially passed up the offer to assist Mirai on a photoshoot. Whilst training on the beach, Sekai also meets a mysterious girl who takes an interest in his gunpla.

Meanwhile at the Nielsen labs an anomaly with their new particle causes the crystal to expand and mutate, taking over the lab whilst simultaneously bringing the gunpla in the vicinity to life. Just as Sei Iori did eight years ago, Team Try Fighters and their friends must battle their way through the lab to stop the crystal from getting any further out of control.

The mysterious new girl
The start of a whole new series of questions

The name "Island Wars" suggests this special takes place on an island, and since islands have beaches it's not really much of a surprise that this special is basically Build Fighters' equivalent of a stereotypical anime beach episode. Sadly this means for many that Island Wars already has certain a stigma attached it going in, but truthfully it isn't something that should instantly be taken as bad. Sure fan service may have skewed opinions on the beach episode over time, but the reason that its stood the test of time is because generally they are just fun episodes. And fun is exactly what the first half of Island Wars is, temporarily discarding the gunpla element of the show to have some fun with its cast. The beach is the obvious place to play up the shipping aspects of the show, and when it does Island Wars provides plenty of laughs with most of the younger cast present. There are a few faces sadly missing here and there, with the absence of Mr Ral undoubtedly the biggest loss.

Those who came here for gunpla battle need not despair though, as the second half is where things pick up. After a rather underwhelming introductory fight at the beginning of the special (clearly attempting to build suspense for a later reveal, but ends up more feeling like a cop out), the gunpla battle grows in scale as it harkens back to the big climactic battle from the end of the original Build Fighters. The visuals are sharp, with each Gundam manages to get in at least one spectacle attack in each. That said, those critical of Sekai's grandstanding in the series may not approach the big finale with an open mind, as the other gunpla visually serve as batteries to the Kamiki Burning to power up and (albeit impressively) summon a giant Superior Kaizer Gundam. The shots of the whole cast screaming that final attack may help push the teamwork aspect of Try, but its inability to adequately implement it in the series was one of its biggest failings and that hasn't really improved all that much here either.

The Gyancelot
The gunpla we need but don't deserve

There's no denying that part of the reason Island Wars was even made is because Bandai have a bunch of new variant gunpla to promote, but surprisingly the special doesn't do a very good job of selling them. The new models appearing include the Lightning Gundam Strider, Gynacelot, 00 Shia Qan-T, ZZ II and Beargguy Pretty - joining returning suits Kamiki Burning and Star Winning Gundams. However the truth is that the majority of these suits either feel barely different from their main Gundam universe counterparts, or variants of suits Build Fighters has flogged to death already (looking at you Beargguy). The really imaginative and/or out there suits always turn out the most memorable, so its no surprise to see the Gynacelot completely steal the show in this special. Gyanko quickly made a name for herself as a fan favourite in the Try series, but battling alongside the main cast here is where she really makes her mark. On the more comedic side of things, its great the see the Super Fumina make a welcome return in a brand new form - even if it's just part of a two second joke and never brought up again.

However for many fans the best that Island Wars has to offer is truly saved for last. As the credits finish rolling the identity of the mysterious purple-haired girl is revealed, and along with it comes some answers and a cameo that's long overdue. Even if the future of Build Fighters remains in the Try cast and not that of the original, with the two being so intrinsically linked checking up on the old gang is important. Clues here and there will no doubt give viewers their suspicions about the identity of this character, but to see it outright confirmed will leave a grin like no other.

Star Winning Gundam & Beargguy Pretty
Pretty explosive

Gundam Build Fighters Try: Island Wars was never going to be perfect. At just over half an hour long it doesn't have the running time to introduce and sustain something groundbreaking, and the fact that it's a beach episode alone should alert fans to the kind of subject matter it was going to be covering. All it really needed to be was enjoyable, and for the most part that was definitely achieved. While it may fail to shift as many new model kits as it would perhaps like to, this is a fun, if a little unremarkable, special that knows how to use its cast and show love to both Build Fighters series.

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