Mamerto Adan is an engineer by profession, but a writer by night. He loves toys and knives. He also has a martial arts background.
Gunpla kits nowadays are evolved beyond recognition. They came a long way since we were introduced to bare plastic figures, with limited articulation and poor color separation. At present, what we have aren’t just plastic kits, but ingenious engineering marvels. Their clever structuring gave these kits amazing articulations and details, even with minimal painting. You don’t need to be a master modeler to build a fine Gunpla.
In Gunpla, everything is cool, except...
Obviously, no amount of engineering could make a Gunpla transformation more complex. But from the beginning, I thought that transforming Gundams are cheesy. Not just me, but some of my friends. Transforming suits aren’t exactly bad ideas. In fact, it’s what made Zeta Gundam and the rest iconic. And aesthetically, their vehicle modes never looked bad either. But when it comes to transformation Gundams are not Veritech fighters. Because some Gundam transformations seem to be products of lazy designs.
They are nothing more than Gundams on their heads.
There are other transformable Gundams out there, like the Unicorn and Seravee. But those are just units with alternate robot mode. This article will tackle the suits with vehicle forms
When It All Began
The original Gundam series actually preceded the Transformers, but it was in the 80s when we first saw a transforming Gundam. We need to thank another Real Robot series for popularizing the transformable mecha designs, namely the Macross, and its influences could be seen on how the Zeta Gundam transforms into a plane-like vehicle. Outside Gundam, Transformers owed its popularity to the said series. And take note that the Real Robot Genre was originally conceived by the Gundam series, and we could see here how different anime influenced each other, a trend we still see today.
The 80s was indeed the age of the transformable mecha, and from that time period, we started to see a myriad of transforming units. The MSZ-006 Zeta Gundam was one of the first of these transforming suits. And as the series progress, we are introduced to several variations, like the humongous Psycho Gundam that turns into a karaoke vehicle thingy, while non Gundam suits also boast their own awesome transformations, like the Hambrabi that turns into a stingray. Eventually, the mechanical designers upped the ante, by giving us what looks like combiners. I mean Gundam ZZ came from different vehicles.
The fact that we are still seeing transformable Gundams today is a testament on the success of the concept. And hats off to the Gunpla developers for giving us those fun transforming kits.
Early Transforming Suits
Veritech fighters in the Macross exist in three different forms. The fighter, Battloid and Guardian (GERWALK) modes. The thing here is, when a variable fighter shifts appearance, the alternate forms are clean. The fighter mode conceals the robot mode, and the Battloid and Guardian mode incorporates the fighter jet aesthetics well.
The Gundam series took on a different approach.
When the Gundam series started adopting the transformation gimmick, the developers never bothered with complex mode change. The Zeta Gundam had neat transforming gimmick, with the head and shoulders retracting and folding into the open chest. At Waverider mode, some of the robot parts are invisible. Some, because the legs still stick out, though the feet are extended in such a way that the robot remnants are less noticeable. Combiners, like the Gundam ZZ features more complex transformation. And the vehicles bear no traces of the robot mode. In fact, the MG VerKa of the Gundam ZZ boasts one of the best transformations there is.
Overall, most of the transformation gimmick of early Gundam series are not as good as the Variable Fighters of Macross. But as time went on, the transformation gimmick seems to degrade.
Enter the Contortionists
In the later Gundam series, we see less mecha-to-vehicle transformations. Some fans noted that after Delta Plus, the trend towards transformable suits faded. The last series to feature complex Gundam transformation was the ever-disturbed Victory Gundam.
After that, the transformation gimmicks became lazier, if not hilarious. And it started with Gundam Wing.
Gundam Wing was an important series, being able to popularize the franchise to the west despite of the flawed storyline. It had more love than Victory, and even featured a transforming gimmick.
A ridiculous transformation gimmick.
Make no mistake about it, the original Wing Gundam is a certified classic. It’s just that the transformation is nothing more than a Gundam on its head. Just twist the torso, spread the wings, twist the head and retract the hands. And that’s it. The shield will cover the rest. At a distance, the space plane thingy looks good, but up closed, the robot form is very noticeable. The later suit, Wing Zero never fared better.
And Gundam Epyon’s transformation gimmick is even more ridiculous.
Again, we have a case here of an awesome Gundam with a terrible vehicle mode. The Epyon’s double headed dragon form is nothing more than a Gundam bending over. Plus, you have to stick the buckler (shield) and heat rod on its butt.
But at least we got cool looking suit designs to make up for the poor transformation gimmick. But overall, most of the 90s transformations are merely Gundams doing Yoga poses.
The Later Designs
Not sure if Bandai is cutting development costs, but transformation gimmicks barely improved in the later years. The Gundams that followed were just variations of the overly simplified Wing Gundam/Wing Zero transformation gimmicks. All in all, they are half aircraft, half robot thingy. From the waste up, they are fighter jets. But the legs were left to stick out in odd angle. At least the earlier Waverider form made the legs less noticeable. And somehow, the 90s Gundam relied on great suit design to make the cartoonish transformation less obvious.
SEED did try to make amends by giving us better transforming suits. Aegis Gundam was okay, and that’s it. Impulse Gundam’s combiner gimmick isn’t any better.
But, does it matter?
To be honest, transformation flaws never mattered. What the fans want to see are awesome mecha designs, and everyone I knew never cared what it would look like when folded into vehicles. And frankly, I agree with them. You will display these beasts in robot modes, not in vehicle modes when they sit in your shelf. Probably, that’s the reason why Bandai paid little attention to the transformation gimmicks. Because in my opinion, people have little need for them.