Little more than three years ago, I did not know there was such a thing. Now, I have more than sixty of the darned things.
A local garage I visited for a vehicle inspection had opened a small hobby shop in a back room that held a small race track, a tall shelf of modern sci fi/fantasy board games and accessories, stacks of model cars and military vehicles, and kits from a Japanese company named Ban Dai.
I grew up building plastic models - military planes, a T-34 tank and the battleship Pennsylvania. There was Washington crossing the Delaware, and Willie Mays making his great catch at the wall in the1954 World Series. Babe Ruth (with catcher and umpire) is posed in the follow through of his 60th home run in 1927. Poor Napoleon Blown Apart straddles a destroyed bridge at Waterloo.
My favorites were Weird-O's - monsters going about their daily business - playing basketball or taking the baby for a walk in the stroller.
I still have a race car driver and beatnik, complete with vehicles, and a Rat Fink my older brother gave me for Christmas in 1964.
As much fun as they were however, there was a problem - they did not always fit together very well, and as children, we were not allowed to use sharp knives to trim excess plastic from the pieces or to use heat treatment to straighten warped parts, so a high end model of the Mayflower, the cruise ship Savannah, and the Beatles Yellow Submarine, went unfinished because the hulls would not fit together.
We move on to other things, and it was the mid-1980's before I happened upon a local store that carried a few models by the Japanese company Tamiya. They were molded so well they almost did not need glue. In rapid succession, I had a Huey Hog and Apache Attack helicopters, a modern British Chieftan and German Panther battle tanks, and an American 113 troop carrier.
All are now destroyed or heavily damaged after one-sided encounters with my cats.
When I was a kid, model kits could be found in almost any drugstore or five-and-dime. Not any more. Like many things, building plastic models seems to have given way to video games.
So now, 30 years on, I was surprised to find a hobby shop, and that my enthusiasm had not faded.
But, what to pursue?
When young, I had a number of car models but, was never really a fan. They did not go together well, most of your work was hidden under the hood, and I was never really excited by car design and appearance.
Military equipment is much more dramatic, and there was a nice selection of both modern and WWII equipment, including Tamiya but, the $10 model I bought in 1985 was now $35. I also had the feeling that military modeling might be yesterday's hobby.
There is a new generation - Ban Dai.
Big in Asia, the Ban Dai Gundam line of plastic model kits began when they bought the rights from the company Clover, an original sponsor of the1979 Japanese anime series Mobile Suit Gundam.
Apparently, the series was "wildly unpopular" and was canceled after just 43 episodes.
Over time, however, the models, and reruns, gained such popularity the series was revived in 1985 as Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, and continues today.
The Gundam models represent the mechanical mobile combat suits piloted by the anime characters. These suits are huge. The five-inch 1/144 scale, and eight-inch 1/100 models, represent machines that are up to 60 feet tall and weigh up to 60 ton or more.
Many of the figures have backpacks of additional weapons and rocketry that are nearly as big as the figure.
A surprising number of them were developed and are piloted by young girls in short skirts - Lindsey Anegaozy's Transient Glacier, Amida's Hyakuren, Carta's Graze Ritter, the Reginlaze Julia ...
Mobile combat suits (MS) were developed in answer to mobile armors (MA) - unmanned, autonomous killing machines developed to fight man's wars for him. Instead, the MA's went rogue and slaughtered a quarter of the human population before the MS was developed to defeat them.
Three hundred years later, the Martian Autonomous Republic of Zeon declared it's independence from Earth and many of the old MS machines were reactivated as Iron Blooded Orphans.
Apparently, after the MA's had been defeated, the MS's were abandoned wherever they happened to be when victory was declared. The Flauros was found at an abandoned mining site. The Vual was discovered among the wreckage of a destroyed colony. The frame of Astravoth Rinacimento was purchased at a back alley yard sale and rearmed and armored with whatever parts and pieces happened to be at hand.
For three hundred years, the original Barbatos served as the power source for the Martian Chryse Guard Security Company.
Each model comes with it's own back story, and there are a myriad of story lines. Unfortunately, most of the history's, included on the box and in the instruction manual, have not been translated into English.
The Origins and Universal Century lines of models generally represent the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation Security Force.
When the Side 4 sector of space was overrun by Zeon forces, the survivors rallied to develop the Thunderbolt suits to resist them.
Other lines of suits - Build Fighters, Build Divers, Gundam Seed, Gundam OO etc, were designed to compete for individual bragging rights in a yearly Gunpla Battle World Tournament. Another tournament, held every four years, determines the leadership of a competing group of Earth space colonies.
I believe Ban Dai need to be painted.
Most come with colored armor but, the frames, weapons and other accessories are usually in a less than lovely primer gray.
Of course, as I discovered with the MS-08TX/S Efreet Schneid, once the gray parts have been painted, it leaves a visual difference between the painted and unpainted plastic, so the colored pieces need to be painted as well.
I find it easiest to paint the pieces while still on the spew. They require a touch up after being cut off but, that is a pretty minor inconvenience.
The company recommends water colors, so I use Testors and Wal-Marts' inexpensive brands - Apple Barrel matte acrylic, and Folk Art Metallic and Brushed Metal.
I have experimented with a number of colors on the frames - white, red, blue, gray, gold - but, Brushed Black seems to work the best. It goes with everything and gives the appearance of oiled machinery.
I am not very good at choosing my own color scheme so, for the armor, I generally follow the original paint scheme, though the shade might vary.
Weapons need to be painted in the same colors as the figure, even if its purple, or yellow, or orange ...
The Overflag came in basic black and gray. I thought some silver, copper and rose gold Metallics would liven him up. Not so much.
Instead of a Brushed Black frame and white armor for the RGM-79 Thunderbolt, I choose a white frame and Brushed Dark Gray for the armor. Oops.
On the other hand, the S-07B3 Gouf Custom came in blue. While blue is my favorite color, it did not excite and that little voice in my head said, of all things, brown. I followed the original shading plan and it came out beautifully.
I used Metallic Inca Gold and Pearl White for the Build Fighters Powered GM Cardigan. Very shiny. Looks just like the illustration on the box.
Ban Dai are snap together, no glue. I was skeptical at first but, after assembling over 60 of these things, I have yet to find a single piece warped out of shape or covered with excess plastic that leaked out of the mold
I have found only one piece I could not get to fit: the inner breast armor of the 1/100 Master Grade Duel Gundam Assault Shroud. It did not seem wide enough and when I attempted to force it, broke it right in half. I had to glue it on so the outer armor now lists slightly to the left.
Instructions are in the form of Japanese language pictograms. They are easily deciphered but must be followed closely as to what parts are being used, how they are oriented, and in what order they are fixed.
Once parts have been assembled, they are very hard to pry apart if you have forgotten something. When assembling the two body halves of the RTX-65 Guntank, I forgot to include the rubber ball joint that holds the turret in place and allows it to rotate. Try as I might, the body would not pry apart and I had to glue down the turret.
Oddly, despite how tightly these models go together, when complete, they must be handled gently. Parts and pieces tend to fall off as not all parts snap on so firmly. Outer leg armor halves, for example, sometimes leave a open seam.
The usual order of assembly is chest, head and arms, then the waist, legs and weapons. After the arms have been assembled, the instructions would have you attach the head and arms to the chest. I hold off and leave all the assembled parts separate to make it easier to touch up the paint before final assembly.
Rubber ball joints in the neck, shoulders, elbows and wrists, waist, knees and ankles, allow the finished figure to be posed in almost any position. Support stands are available, and sometimes included, for an additional range of poses that would not allow the figure to balance upright by itself.
A number of the models transform.
Parts of the Atlas Thunderbolt open into a parachute, or collapse into a submarine, or as I have it configured, with the Atlas, brandishing a long Railgun, standing astride a sled skimming the ocean surface.
The SUMS-010 Overflag converts into a combat aircraft. The Flauros drops down to form a four-legged mobile artillery piece.
Because of the many small parts, these models are recommended for those 15 years of age and up.
While each High Grade (HG) 1/144 model averages 150 parts, there are graduated ability levels somewhat determined by price. For instance, the inexpensive MSM-07S 'Z' Gok has only three spews of parts while the RX-01 Full Armor Unicorn costs three times as much and has 13 spews of parts.
Along with HG, there a number of other series including 8-inch 1/100 Master Grade (MG) with an average of 260 parts, and the 12-inch 1/60 Perfect Grade (PG) with 510 parts.
The 11/100 Master Grade models are massive figures but, I find they go together hard and the legs are wobbly at the hip. The plain 1/100 series figures are not as bulky, go together much easier, and look great.
Other than paint and brushes, the needed equipment is pretty simple: a pair of clippers to take the parts off the spew, a craft knife to clean the pieces, and a pair of long nosed adjustable pliers. As parts go together tightly, they sometimes need a little extra persuasion.
I had just quit smoking when I discovered Ban Dai and the hour or two a night over the two or three weeks it takes to paint and assemble one of these Gundam figures really helped.