The last 20 years have seen a boom for anime entering the Western mainstream, with titles old and new gaining success in regions such as America and Europe. The United Kingdom has been part of this but one franchise that has never quite landed here is Mobile Suit Gundam. Starting in 1979, Gundam is an allegorical sci-fi war drama that focuses on humanity’s expansion into space and the wars fought in this era via giant piloted robots termed mobile suits. The franchise has been going strong in Japan and wider Asia for over four decades and enjoyed prominence in America for almost half of that. This past MCM London Comic Con Bandai UK were looking to replicate that here.
Running alongside the various animated series and spinoffs for only slightly less time have been Gunpla. A portmanteau of ‘Gundam’ and ‘plastic model’, these are snap fit assembly kits which allow viewers to personally build depictions of the mecha and characters seen in the stories and it was these model kits (or ‘plamo’ as Japanese fans tend to refer to them) that were the focus of Bandai’s booth.
Now I myself have been enjoying Gundam and building Gunpla for over twenty years. Like many UK fans I was introduced by the broadcast of Gundam Wing and whilst we never saw the continued push America got I’ve remained a fan and long hoped it’s time here would come. Indeed I can appreciate that introducing Gundam to new fans isn’t necessarily easy and thus focusing on the fun of the kits is a sensible first step with this attempt. If you’ve never watched a single episode of the anime it’s still possible to enjoy Gunpla as a standalone.
The booth was designed around a small shop and classroom, with the outer walls detailing Gundam’s history, highlighting the different complexity grades of the kits and even a display for kits from the most recent series The Witch From Mercury (currently streaming on Crunchyroll). The grade system allows builders to be eased into the hobby, starting with the likes of SD (Super Deformed) and HG (High Grade 1/144 before moving to more complex and larger kits such as MG (Master Grade) and PG (Perfect Grade). There is no stigma around any of these and indeed it’s common to see long-term Gunpla hobbyists move back and forth between grades as suits their enjoyment. Further, many fans will customise their kits be it with paint colours or more involved building new parts from scratch. Indeed for the last decade Bandai have intentionally designed HG 1/144 kits (the most common and generally covering the most designs) to easily allow parts swapping so even new fans can create customs.
The centrepiece of the booth were hourly classes where groups of 12 were given a free 1/144 kit of the original Gundam and tasked to build it. This is a special kit created specifically for events like these, boasting a simpler build and easy to remove parts. Traditionally one would use nipper tools to remove the parts cleanly from the runners but one of Bandai’s innovations are runners designed to remove the parts cleanly without needing such tools. The result is a build that can be completed in roughly 15 minutes but there was no judgement of time at the classes, with the focus on a gentle, fun welcome to the hobby. Once completed attendees had a decently articulated Gundam in hand.
Humble as it might appear, I think this was a great introduction for Gunpla to a UK audience. The cultural landscape for anime in the UK is far different than it was when I got into the hobby and so it’s an ideal time to make an official push. Heck, the fact Bandai UK actually got early samples of yet to be released kits shows they’re serious about this effort (would have been easy to just display existing kits built from sale stock). I was told they’ll be back for the May 2023 MCM London Comic Con, so hopefully whatever they have planned for that will be even more impressive. Ikimasu~!