Posted By Yomanman
Gunpla Part 1: Introduction
Welcome to the World of Gundam Plastic Models
Posted by: Yomanman
Date: June 04, 2008

I. Gunpla

Today, let's learn a new word: "Gunpla". It is a portmanteau of the words "Gundam" and "Plamo". Which, in turn, are portmanteaus of other words because the Japanese can't say English words very well and are aware they sound silly trying. It describes the building of articulate and detailed plastic models of humanoid robots that look similar to some type of space armor from a science fiction show. The connection between the two is quite real, in fact. The Mobile Suit: Gundam franchise dates back to 1979 and has its roots in popular science fiction novels.

The anime Mobile Suit: Gundam debuted in a time when Super Robot shows were at their height of popularity with Japanese children. A Super Robot is a strong, seemingly impervious robot that is powered by some unexplained or mystical force. What made Gundam different was its setting in a reality with believable science. While a 40 foot tall robot may not make much sense in today's battlefield, the story made up excuses to make it feasible.

While the series did poorly in its first run, even to the point of being pulled before it had finished airing all of its episodes, it had reasonably well sales in model kits. In 1981 the series was re-cut for a movie trilogy which became very popular with children and adults alike, and took the series to newfound heights.

While Gundam itself didn't invent the plastic model kit, it did redefine it for the real robot genre. Because the "Mobile Suits" were treated as real machines that broke down and required repairs, kits could be made or modified to reflect realistic weathering and damage, allowing the builder to create unique models.

The models themselves are scaled down reproductions of the popular Mobile Suits and other various machines from the anime and manga. They range from 4-5 inches upwards to 12 inches and beyond for the more exotic models. They are generally complex but all feature easy to construct snap-fit designs, allowing anyone to assemble a kit with a minimum of tools; a knife is all you would need to safely remove the parts from their plastic "trees" or "sprues".

Bandai, the owner and manufacturer of the Gundam license and most mecha from Japan, has scaled their lines to accommodate a variety of buyers, from small children to adults with way too much money to spend. In the next chapter we'll break down the product lines to find what best fits your tastes.

II. Accessibility

Unless you live in an Asian country, it is likely you have little access, or even knowledge to such kits. In English speaking areas, the majority of people's first encounter with Gundam was probably the 2000 airing of Gundam Wing on the Cartoon Network cable station, followed by French, German, Arabic, Spanish, and Portuguese localizations. This kicked off the already 20 year old and highly revered series for much of the world. In America, however, its popularity was stinted and suffered a decline after G Gundam aired in 2002.

During this time it was possible to walk into a national chain such as K-Mart or Toys "R" Us and purchase a Gundam model kit, albeit with confusing Skill Levels written on the box. Bandai attempted to push mostly the No Grade or High Grade kits to the younger audience, but did repackage a few of the more expensive Master Grades for the older viewers. As of 2008 I have not encountered a Gundam model kit in a major store for almost four years. Today, your best bet is most likely a niche hobby store that carries a variety of imported kits. If you are not near one of these, then your next option is the internet.

There are many excellent vendors online from which you can safely do business. My favorite is Hobby-Link Japan, run by an American in Japan and is generally geared towards importing. Rainbow Ten is another vendor, and one of the most respected International sellers in Japan.

The downside to buying directly from Japan is the wait time on delivery. SAL ships in about two weeks to the east coast of the United States, whereas the more expensive EMS shipping method may take only two days. I order most of my kits using SAL and I have not had a single damaged piece. Freight, however, I do not recommend unless you are buying books or something that could not be crushed.

If you'd prefer to have your items arrive sooner or are afraid of purchasing items overseas there are shops located in America such as PlaJapan, Hobby Wave, and smaller sellers on eBay. I would be weary of buying from Chinese resellers, however, since poor quality bootlegs are known to exist.

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