Skip to main content

Hobby First Impressions - “Gunpla” aka Gundam Plastic Models

A custom GM Sniper by Ray Studio

A custom GM Sniper by Ray Studio

I have been sharing my progress on social media with this new found hobby, and it often comes up when I am talking to people in person. But I have been in dilemma with writing about it - firstly because model making is a deep hobby where I know very little, but also it is a subculture – and my friends and families are probably not the right audience. After a few months of research and hands on experience, I think I can comment on at least this particular brand that I chose to begin with, and why. This is a “first impressions” style review, but if you are at all curious about different grades, or beginner tools and techniques that I personally found useful, I can of-course elaborate in the future.

Generally I think we should all have some hobby in our daily “me” time, that is fun, but also involved – because besides entertaining us, hobbies have another job – is to demand enough of our attention so that we must take a break from the other thoughts of the day. I typically resort to video games. And although it sounds counter-intuitive, I often found “difficult” or challenging games to be relaxing, because the focus they demanded was an excellent stress cleanser.

Speaking of video games, yeah sure I am an enthusiast, but they do add to my already heavy daily screen time. So I’ve been meaning to try something off-screen. I have always been attracted to the idea of having a workbench where I could make things, and coming from architecture I knew that I enjoyed making scale models. But for a long time I had merely lurked on YouTube, appreciating people’s crafts, but intimidated by the idea of making something myself. Some crafts need years of accumulated skills and knowledge, some need deep imagination and creativity, some need a wide variety of tools, and some need lengthy commitments. If you want to assemble something straight out of the box like Lego, they are not going to be easy on the wallet in the long run.

Then I stumbled upon a video by Adam Savage, where he builds a Gunpla: a Gundam plastic model, and I felt, wait, I can do this. You probably know Adam Savage from Mythbusters. He builds things in Hollywood for a living. His video is definitely a better intro than mine so feel free to look it up. Anyway, I knew nothing about Gunpla, but what surprised me is that despite his experience with similar hobbies, Adam Savage also did not know much, like, the fact that the pieces snap on like Legos so you need no gluing. And the plastics are the same color inside and out so you don’t need to paint them after cutting. And you build movable joints so the final product is dynamic like an action figure. Adam Savage was just as surprised as me, and that echoed among other people I spoke with who are deep into Warhammer, or other minis. It is interesting that a leading hobby in Japan since the 70s is sort of still a stranger in the Western mainstream.

So what is Gundam and its model kits? If you have been paying attention, it’s always the toy first and the on-screen content is the commercial. Gundam is no different. Gundam’s model kits, called the Gunpla, are poseable scale models brought to you by Bandai. It started in the late 70s accompanied by the promotional anime series. A kit comes in a box. Same colored pieces come molded together in large groups called runners. You cut the pieces out of the runners, optionally improve the cut areas, then you snap them together, then apply stickers or decals, and that’s pretty much the basics. During the build, any level of customization may happen, like sculpting, gluing, painting and such, but those are optional. The end result is similar to an action figure, but not designed to sustain rough play. They are more like decoration pieces meant to be displayed on a shelf. Gunpla has been around for over four decades, so there is a large variety in scale, build complexity, level of detail, quality of material, articulation, etc.

The anime has been around just as long. So there is a ginormous amount of tv series, movies, video games, mangas, you name it. I knew of Gundam from a video game, and I recently started the first anime. You don’t need to watch anything for model making, but the backstory definitely helps with bonding with a kit. Simply put, the robot looking things are massive “mobile suits” where people can go inside the belly and pilot them and engage in space wars. The general theme is somewhat dark, about the bitter reality of wars where there are no heroes or villains - only victims of the circumstances.

The best thing about the kits is what I mentioned in my intro: there is such a vast range of choices that you will always find something that suits your expectations. The kits are generally classified into “grades” and if you like a mobile suit design, it will likely come in multiple grades, and you can pick what size you like, how detailed or poseable you want it to be, what price tag you are comfortable with, etc.

Scroll to Continue

But also the worst part is that the options are so broad that there is no easy way to find what you are looking for. You need a good amount of research to even start to understand what different specs mean. I am a seasonal board gamer. And there is a site called the “Board Game Geek” which is basically Metacritic for board games, where you can look up user ratings etc. to filter down to your preferences. Gunpla has no such thing. The common opinion is that it’s just too subjective. And arguably there is no bad kit, because when the hobby IS the build, the more flawed a kit is, the more there is for you to do. It’s a weird general agreement but you get my point.

So then you need to rely heavily on reviews on forums or on YouTube, which is okay. You find something attractive, look it up, see what people are saying - it’s not too bad. I myself am slowly getting to a level to form my own opinions. If you are ever willing to pick one up and you are not sure where to start, my quick tip is just look up “30 Minute Missions”. It’s not Gundam, but it is a new line also by Bandai, that only has one grade that is designed to be simple, quick, interchangeable, and affordable, and they look badass regardless. Build experience is great. Articulation is great. You just cannot go wrong with a 30MM kit. If you’ve seen my kits, the female and the orange one are 30MMs. If I knew earlier, I would have started with those.

I think I will wrap it here. Throw any questions at me, and I will do my best to answer. As for my own journey - I finished four kits, that I learned a lot from. Each time I tried new things, like doing some painted details, or experimenting with stickers etc. Now I will take a break from building and watch the anime for a bit. And soon I will start a larger project involving electronics etc. And then the next chapter is probably spray painting. Let me know if any of this interests you, if you want to see any specific updates from me or not. If you are getting a kit for yourself, I’ll be delighted to be involved, or lead you to resources.

© 2022 Vashkor Zia

Related Articles