“So what is Gunpla?” This was a question from my partner that I’d been dreading for some time. For those who don’t know, “Gunpla” is the portmanteau for “Gundam” and “plastic,” simply meaning the official model kits based on the mecha from the eponymous anime franchise. They are also something I have damn-near obsessively dived back into after being free of them for over a decade.
Some backstory: I first watched Mobile Suit Gundam on LaserDisc, my uncle’s own copy, in Hong Kong when I was incredibly young. I couldn’t understand a word of what was being said, nor did the anti-war sentiment of the show really connect with me at that point, but as a child, I latched onto the robot designs in visceral way. This only intensified when Mobile Suit Gundam Wing was officially dubbed and brought over to Toonami in Australia, and I once more threw myself into the aesthetics of the show, as well as the tone and message it tried to convey. I ate up the show, I bought and assembled all the model kits, I started reading fanfiction, because I didn’t want the series to end. It played a formative role in my childhood; however, since then, I have drifted away from the franchise as a whole.
Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, a formative part of my childhood.
A lot of factors played into me drifting away from something I genuinely loved. The biggest one was the cost, because as a kid I didn’t really understand what a model actually was. Sure the Gunpla kits are quite poseable once assembled, and they’re meant to be sturdy despite requiring no super glue, yet I still considered them toys, so I had a tendency of breaking quite a few when putting them through the rigorous combat scenarios my pre-teen brain had conjured up. So, after one last scolding, both my mum and I decided that I wouldn’t be allowed any more kits until I was older. That time came earlier this year, with me now being twenty-five years old.
In the past six months or so, I’ve seen a resurgence in Gunpla as a hobby from my friends on social media. So many conflicting feelings rumbled within me; part of me felt like a crotchety lady yelling about “those darn hipsters” who only just got into a hobby that was a huge part of my childhood; another part of me was envious of them getting to experience it all for the first time, and I admittedly was curious about the kits that I had never seen up until now. I had considered myself celibate, sober if you will, of the hobby. I had avoided every Gunpla section of any hobby store I walked into; I ignored the shows recommended to me. I just didn’t want my constitution to waver. With this, seeing all my friends get excited about it, I thought I could do the same; however, I didn’t count on one unexpected culprit: my partner.
She so innocently asked me what gunpla was, where it came from, what was the appeal, and so on. I caved. She knew about my past with it, yet I had put up such a firm campaign slogan of “Never Again” that she knew to not pry too much. Her own curiosity was eating away at her, though, seeing all of our mutual friends showing off their freshly-built colourful robots, and quite frankly, I couldn’t blame her.
My partner assembling her first ever kit with glee.
The biggest thing that caught her attention at first were the different “Grades.” The way kits are displayed with all the different sized boxes and such can be very intimidating for folks, and understanding what the little “HG,” “MG,” and so on means on all of them is a solid foundation to Gunpla. Simply put, it’s about size and “difficulty.”
- High Grade kits are roughly 13cm/5-6 inches tall, technically 1:144 in terms of scale to their anime counterparts, and are very simple snap-fit kits that don’t tend to require any paint or glue outside of customisations.
- Master Grade kits meanwhile are 1:100 with regards to scale; they tend to be 17-19cm/7-8 inches tall, with more complexity as they contain an “inner frame” skeleton that allows for more poseability and detail, and they can sometimes include other parts like metal springs, but they still don’t demand glue and paint.
- Perfect Grades are 1:60 in scale and can be almost a comparatively daunting 30cm/one foot tall, as well as that they tend to include electronic parts with wiring along with metal springs and screws and are usually meant for the most diehard of builders.
- Super Deformed (SD) kits are a whole thing of their own as well; they’re a fraction smaller than HG kits and are cute “chibi” versions of the war machine mecha found in the anime, essentially designed for very young kids and beginners.
Armed with this beginner knowledge, my partner dragged me as her guide to the biggest hobby store in the city, and from that point I knew I was doomed. I did my best to resist, I focused on things like the tools she’d need, equipping her with the right nippers, file, and tweezers. It was futile, though, and in the end an HG Crossbone X1—a pirate-themed Gundam with beam sabre and flintlock pistol—wooed me over with its style and price. As we had our purchases processed, me with my one kit and my partner with her two SD kits, the full brunt of this decision hit me. I’m, arguably, an adult with a disposable income and compared to other shopping habits this was a relatively affordable hobby on occasion. Oh, no.
Crossbone X-1, my first Gunpla kit in a looong time.
I don’t know why I had continued to fight this feeling of joy and excitement at jumping back into building. It took me sitting down with my partner, dissecting our kits, explaining to her the proper cutting technique, and how best to place a sticker, that it really hit me just how much I was enjoying myself. It clicked, and I finally realised what I had been missing out on. I finally had someone I could share this indulgence with, someone who would understand it all, and beyond that a community of others I could reliably chat and connect with. As the amount of kits I collected grew and as I delved more into how I could polish my technique, I also realised how therapeutic this all is.
My building set-up.
My partner and I have been through some rough patches in the past few months. We’ve had a lot of personal hurdles to overcome, and we had increasingly found our usual outlets devoid of any stress relief. Diving into Gunpla together, though, really helped. Sure, we’ve both had small tiffs over lost pieces and misread instructions, but for the vast majority of it, the hobby has become a self care method. There’s an incredibly satisfying element to building something from scattered parts and being able to proudly display it however you’d like. Kits can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days, so they helped take our minds off things and even gave us the time to just sit down with each other and talk. It also scratched an itch we both had and that we could both share in. While I’m artistic with my drawing and I’ve also got my writing, my partner has her singing, knitting, and occasional poetry, so being able to do something creative together helped nurture our near-six-year-long relationship even more so through this difficult time of the year.
Bearguy III may be adorable, but it’s just one example of what the designers have in mind when they market specifically towards girls.
Really the only major criticism I have is the occasional lack of variation in the designs. There are kits in every colour, of so many shapes and sizes, with a ludicrous amount of accessories attached, but sometimes it can be so hard to find exactly what you want. My partner especially had this issue, as she has a proclivity for designs that skew more towards being sleek and smooth rather than the sturdier, box-like, and angular frames most Gunpla adopt. A big part of this can be attributed to the fact that, sadly like most things, the franchise is rigidly aimed at young boys and men. The franchise does have plenty of female characters, but not all of them get heroic mecha to pilot and show off in the spotlight, and no series to date has had a woman as the lead protagonist. Meanwhile, the few that do get their own robots tend to follow a pattern of using a handful of specific designs that are then rehashed with a few modifications or a paint job. That’s not to say those few are bad designs, and there are definitely exceptions to this case, but it’s a lot more limited in comparison to the rest of the kits available. However, like anything else, sometimes you just have to make do, and luckily that’s not a hard feat with this hobby.
I’m really thankful I got back into this. It may hurt my budget ever so often, and I’m currently running out of shelf space. The number of kits that catch my eye is also dwindling, but I would’ve been much worse off without this to help me cope with my depression, and I can safely say that for my partner as well. There’s still so much for both of us to explore in this hobby, we both want to get into proper customisation with painting and such, and we’re immensely enjoying friends of ours slowly being infected one by one as they cave in and buy a kit out of curiosity. If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at model making, if you’ve wanted something more cartoonish than planes, trains, and automobiles, or if you just want a fun and tactile hobby to sink your teeth into, try Gunpla. Your wallet may eventually regret it, but sometimes you just want some colourful anime robots in your life and that’s okay.
The first five of many, many kits that I now own.