Tuesday 15 September 2020

Anime REVIEW: Gundam Build Divers Re:Rise

Gundam Build Divers Re:Rise
Gundam Build Divers Re:Rise is available in streaming form on Crunchyroll and YouTube

While the model kits have always been a huge part of Gundam culture, the arrival of Gundam Build Fighters in 2013 truly went and made them a significant Gundam multimedia. Sure there had been anime specials based on gunpla before, but this loving tribute to the hobby won the hearts of fans worldwide and ensured a whole string of gunpla-based sequels. Next came Gundam Build Fighters Try in 2016, followed by Gundam Build Divers in 2018. Finally we return to the virtual reality MMO of Gunpla Battle Nexus Online in Gundam Build Divers Re:Rise - a direct sequel to the previous show starring an all-new cast. Despite beginning in October 2019, the 26-episode series ended in August 2020 - owing not only to a one-cour break between its two halves but also a two month delay because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The new BUILD DiVERSThe Core Gundam

Two years have passed since the EL-Diver incident of the original series, and since then the GBN has only gotten bigger and better. Hiroto Kuga is a mercenary diver for hire - refusing to be affiliated with any force whilst yearning for a mysterious girl from his past. However an encounter with fellow players Kazami, Parviz and May lead the four to be transported to the strange world of “Eldora”.

Believing Eldora to just be another part of the game, the four first try to carry on as normal to reap any rewards the stage may hold. But as time passes, the group learn the true nature of Eldora - and a mission that goes far beyond that of a simple game. From there, the “BUILD DiVERS” - adopting the name of the force that caused such a storm those two years ago, are formed. 


While the original Gundam Build Divers certainly had it’s heart in the right place when it came to changing things up a bit, the series certainly isn’t without its problems as its status as perhaps the most divisive Gundam Build entry certainly isn’t unwarranted. The prominence of the VR-MMO set-up already put it into an overstuffed genre, but things were further complicated by the initial lack of stakes and then the ridiculous development of the storyline. Gundam may be a world of weird and wonderful possibilities, but it’s hard to get engaged when a VR game is creating artificial life and the characters’ biggest worry is that they won’t be able to play it any more. Thankfully although Re:Rise does require some cursory knowledge of the original series, the set-up has been completely reworked and done in a way that does allow for some actual stakes. Here GBN simply acts as the framework that allows the Mobile Suits to work the way that they do, rather than dominate the story itself. Granted what’s essentially an isekai storyline isn’t the most original idea the show could have had either, but it certainly makes for a far more engaging narrative - particularly due to the characters’ gradual realisation that they’re no longer “just playing a game” rather than announcing it from the outset.

The other big change this sequel really benefits from is the character shakeup. The original Build Divers series features a relatively young cast, while Re:Rise skews more toward a teenage cast. It isn’t perfect straight away though, since when we’re introduced to them they could all be considered fairly bland and one note. Hiroto is the loner protagonist who’d rather do things on his own, and May isn’t that far behind him in terms of stoic-ness either. Parviz is the younger, more insecure player who doubts his own abilities, and finally Kazami is brash, obnoxious and simply in it to be a better player than everyone else. They’re all entirely defined by their flaws, but said flaws are so intrinsic to them that the evolution they undergo is excellent. Through their teamwork the cast are able to break down the walls around them, not just improving as a team but also becoming far more likeable and well-rounded people in the process. We also get to see them fail along the way, making them far more relatable too and straying them away from the “chosen one” or “naturally gifted” narrative shows like this often have. 

Hiroto and EveHiroto and Freddie

Re:Rise isn’t completely detached from the original in terms of characters, with a few of the extended cast popping up now and again to provide more connection between the two. When the original’s main cast do show up however, it’s amazing how much difference a two-year time skip can make. Their appearance is brief but extremely well-timed, putting them in a support/mentor-like role where they don’t overshadow the new cast at any point. Additionally the series also tries to weave in Hiroto’s life outside the GBN into the narrative. It’s a huge shame they don’t do this as well with the other characters, but Hinata is a nice extension of the cast and helps humanise Hiroto more in those earlier episodes where he’s far more aloof. Finally on top of that you have the inhabitants of Eldora, who are continuing the furry revolution we’re seeing in many recent shows. A world of anthropomorphic dogs, it’s hard not to immediately fall in love with these characters. Freddie especially is a good boy who’s smile needs protecting at all costs.

The first half of the series takes a fairly approach to story progression, seeing the team fight their way through various “missions” still under the pretence that everything they’re doing is part of the game. However the twists of the mid-season finale propel the show into a far more exhilarating second half, where the stakes are raised and questions finally begin to be answered. With the team united, developing and sharing a common goal they immediately become far more likeable as protagonists, and the ethical quandary of Alus - an ancient being who seeks to protect the world by destroying it, is a noble attempt at giving the series that same gravitas the mainline Gundam shows have. 

HinataRiku and Sarah Return

Being a Gunpla-orientated show there’s still of course plenty of customised model kits on show that Bandai want collectors to buy, but surprisingly it feels like Re:Rise is being a lot less blatant about it than previous shows have. The Gundams themselves still play a prominent part in the show and their various gimmicks (such as Hiroto’s Core Gundam and its arsenal of modular armour) are just as enticing as ever, but the art of model-building is pushed to the background in favour of this “other world” story. Make no mistake Gundam Build Divers Re:Rise still very much embraces the freedom and creativity these shows have cultivated, but goes about it in a much less cynical way. Following on from the previous series there’s also much less of a focus on Gundam trivia and background knowledge, with most references and cameos being background noise at best. The Build shows have always been fairly newcomer friendly but in this respect Re:Rise is perhaps the most welcoming of them all, since it doesn’t feel like you’ve had to build up a knowledge of the franchise in order to get everything out of it.

Re:Rise also delivers some great action sequences and visuals, which is particularly notable as this is the first entry handled by subsidiary Sunrise Beyond (formerly Xebec) rather than the main Sunrise studio. While it might not offering anything particularly groundbreaking, the fact that these shows remain a place where mecha fans can come and watch 2D robots and battles without any 3D CGI in sight is a strong selling point. The different Gundam aesthetics and gimmicks within the new Build Divers team allow for a variety of different fights so things don’t become too repetitive, as does the switching between land and space-based battles. 

Gundam Aegis KnightThe Valkylander, aka Morgiana

Whereas the previous Gundam Build shows could be categorised as “shows about gunpla”, Gundam Build Divers Re:Rise is the first one to truly break the mould and simply be one that happens to feature them. Although all of the love and devotion to the hobby, as well as the mantra of “gunpla is freedom” is still very much there, this is a show that tells its own story and doesn’t rely on constant homages and references to be a hook. With better characters and higher stakes, this is a series that outdoes its predecessor and forges a new path for this section of the Gundam universe.


M said...

Alex, what's your favorite Gundam Anime? My favorite is G Gundam!

Alex said...

Mine too! I love the original as well but there's nothing quite like G Gundam.

The Toy Report said...

Have you guys seen Gundam Seed and Gundam Seed:Destiny? Definitely one of my top animes of all time. Haven't given other gundam series a watch though.