Gunpla is very likely an unfamiliar word. But if I tell you it has something to do with Gundam and model building, you’ll probably figure out what the word means, but don’t worry, I’m planning to explain everything.
Gunpla is my latest hobby, and one that I’m pretty sure I’ll stick to for a long time, as I find it extremely fun. I also have some interesting ideas but can’t really put them in motion until I become more proficient with the out-of-the-box models.
So, what is it? Gunpla is a simple Japanese portmanteau of the words “Gundam Plastic Model,” and refers to modelling kits for building scaled versions of every vehicle and mecha of the many Mobile Suit Gundam franchises. I’ll be using this word to refer to all Gundam modelling for the rest of the article.
The first line of model kits, way before anyone ever came up with the name Gunpla, appeared on the market following the cancellation of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series in the 70s, and included every single type of mecha or vehicle seen on the show as well as variations. These models were rather simplistic by today’s standards and much like other model kits—such as airplanes—you needed to paint and glue them together yourself.
During the 80s, with the Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam line, the style changed and they started using both polycaps (soft plastic connectors) for better-articulated joints and snap-fit parts that didn’t need glue. These two improvements make up the current standard for Gundam models aka Gunpla.
Over the years, Bandai introduced the “Grades” which represent not only levels of quality and detail but also the scale—though the first Grade introduced, the High Grade, shares the scale with three other lines. Some of these Gunpla grades had limited runs, as they were part of Anniversary events, such as the First Grade, a re-release of the first series’ mechs under modern snap-fit standards yet keeping the original simplicity, and the Mega Size Model “Grade”, 1:48 scale, during the 30th anniversary event and discontinued only three years later.
When it comes to collecting and building Gundam, it’s all…
A Matter of Scale
The average-sized mecha in the Gundam universe is around 18 meters tall. Building a plastic model that size would be overkill. You wouldn’t really fit the thing in your room, even your garage. You’d have to build it on the Thames! But I suppose you would have to do the same with any model kit, I suppose.
As I mentioned before, every grade has an associated scale, ranging from 1:144 (that is 1/144 of the original 18m size) to the quite massive 1:35. Here’s a quick breakdown:
High Grade (1:144 & 1:100): Introduced in the 90s and still a very popular Gunpla grade. These models are very simple and easy to put together, a recommended starting grade for most builders. You can find almost all Mobile Suit in High Grade.
Real Grade (1:144): A model type with extensive details and using the design principles of the Master and Perfect grades but at a smaller size and cheaper price. Real Grade is the highest end line for this scale.
Master Grade (1:100): These kits introduced something amazing to Gunpla: inner skeletal frame, for better poses and articulation. Master Grades are the 2nd highest level of Gundam models in terms of details and overall difficulty. This is the grade I chose to start with, as I wanted a challenge for myself and the hundreds of tiny pieces were a lot of fun.
Perfect Grade (1:60): Perfect Grades are the top of the line in Gunpla, with massive level of detail and parts. It’s not unusual to find PGs with led parts. Just imagine having to wire lighting in addition to all the building. Perfect Grade Gunpla as you may imagine are also quite large, at around 30cm on average and very expensive. If a Master Grade costs around £40 a Perfect Grade will cost at least five times that amount. These require a lot of skill and time to build.
In addition to these mainstream lines, there are two others worth mentioning, even though they’re not really grades but separate product lines by Bandai Hobby:
Super Deformed: The Super Deformed Gunpla kits are easy to build but have limited articulation and need a coat of paint for finishing. These represent the many comically proportioned Gundams from the SD Gundam Franchise. I have at least one SD Gundam planned in the future, the Star Winning Gundam from the anime Gundam Build Fighters Try, the series that inspired me to build my first Gunpla.
B-Club: These are a special category, a secondary line made of resin and with no finishing whatsoever. Because of the industrial process required for resin, these kits often have extra bits attached that the builder needs to remove and that’s just the beginning. Only experts should attempt these builds, as they require copious amounts of customisation to even build an out-of-the-box model.
With that we conclude this overview of Gunpla, so let’s get onto the fun bit…
Every Gunpla kit comes with everything you need to build the model, the pieces held together in numbered sprue’s. Along with these comes an instruction manual that will remind you of IKEA, with clear instructions of which numbers to put together and where.
You might not need glue to build Gunpla anymore, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need the proper tools. This is still model building and any craft hobby has its toolset! Your primary tools are a cutter and a hobby knife.
The cutter, as its name implies is just to cut the Gunpla pieces clear of the sprues, while the hobby knife you’ll most likely use to take off the excess plastic on the part after cutting it free. You have to be very careful with hobby knifes, not only because it’s very easy to cut yourself with the sharp blade, but also it’s very easy to go beyond the simple nub of extra plastic and take out a chunk of the part—though if you’re doing a custom build and want the part to look “damaged,” you might want to do that on purpose.
The hobby knife is also very useful in peeling and attaching decals, which come standard with most models, particularly the “Ver. Ka.” Series, which are redesigned mechs by Hajime Katoki, one of the principal mecha designers for Sunrise and who’s worked on many Gundam series, with Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz being the most famous. He’s the man responsible for the redesigned and frankly badass looking Wing Zero Custom.
Aside from these important tools, it never hurts to have a cutting board, as these come with measurements and if you use the knife, you won’t ruin the desk you’re working on.
Lastly, you might need some sandpaper to smooth out the surfaces. Sometimes, even using the hobby knife isn’t enough or the piece is too delicate or small for the blade, so sandpaper can help you where the knife can’t in making your Gunpla pieces ready to go.
Bandai also sells a ton of markers to pain the parts, or you can go with your own—this bit is really up to you. Let me just say that unless you’re building something custom and want to add your own scheme, the kits come with painted parts, so you don’t need to worry about it.
As for the scales and grades to pick, it’s up to you, but the higher the scale and grade, the more it’ll take to finish a model. High Grade and SD Gunpla take a few minutes to complete. Real Grades take a bit longer and Master Grades a few hours. Perfect Grades and beyond can take up to a day of work depending on the complexity of the model. If you’re doing custom work, it’s impossible to know how long it’ll take.
My first Gunpla, a Master Grade Freedom Gundam from Mobile Suit Gundam SEED took 6-8 hours to complete, though it’s still missing the decals. It might seem like a long time, but when you’re doing it, putting the pieces together with the cookbook, time just flies by.
My next project is another Freedom Gundam but a 2016 version with even more articulation and better construction overall. I have a few Beargguy (not a typo) III builds in the works as well, with some custom builds, including one with the GeekOut South-West colours and logo, but those will take time to come together, as will the 3rd Freedom I’ll make, but a custom build with a Decepticon design.
When I eventually make it to PG Gunpla, I’m doing the original Gundam, the RX-78.-2.
If you’re interested in Gunpla and want some extra information, hit me up in the comments or on Twitter and I’ll point you in the right direction. I can even teach you which sites to avoid when purchasing Gunpla! I might be just a beginner on the subject, but in this short time, I’ve seen a good chunk of scam websites and I certainly don’t want you to go through the same stuff I did.