Graham's Blog

My Gunpla Adventure

Jan 28th, 2023

Back in my teenage years I used to build model kits. Mostly Star Trek, some Star Wars, and 1 or 2 model planes. It was sort of a continuation of my Lego obsession from my pre-teen days, but at some point I just kind of fell of. Fast-forward Summer 2022, I was going through a rough patch and wanted to focus on some hobbies that would get me away from the screen, and I decided to pick up model building again. Because the YouTube algorithm is a thing, as I watched more and more reviews and tutorials, I naturally ended up in a strange corner of the model kit scene called Gunpla.

So, what the heck is Gunpla? Best I can understand is that it’s a portmanteau of Gundam and plastic. So simply put, it’s about building robots (sorry, mecha) out of plastic.

I’ve never been a Gundam fan, the genre just never really appealed to me. But I became enamored with watching Gunpla videos on YouTube, which is a whole genre of ASMR-like videos like this one. The level of engineering behind these kits was just so fascinating to me, but I’m not super big on buying merch for franchises I don’t really enjoy. Happily, that ended up not being a problem.

So, there was a little anime I watched back in high school called Full Metal Panic which, like Gundam, features people piloting giant mecha. As luck would have it, Bandai, the makers of Gunpla kits, have/had the license to make kits for the series. Not-so-luckily, the kit I wanted based on the main character’s mech is impossible to find at a reasonable price at the moment, so I settled for my second pick:

a box sitting on a table with an image of a mech and text that reads 'M9 Gernsback ver IV (Agressor Squadron)'

So, with the kit in hand, I opened the box and was greeted by a handful of plastic pouches containing what seemed like a thousand parts connected on plastic sprues in a variety of blues and grays. I took out the contents and perused through the included instructions, which read very much like it was designed by Ikea, if Ikea sold miniature giant robots. The writing was all in Japanese, but the illustrations were enough to guide one through the process no matter what language they can read.

neatly piled plastic sprues sorted by color, an instruction booklet, and a model of R2-D2 lurking in the corner

Separating the individual pieces from each sprue was pretty painless. They came off very cleanly and I barely had to use my handy hobby knife to clean up bits of excess plastic, and when I did it cut through like butter. Not a drop of glue was needed, everything snapped together perfectly. I struggled a bit with the smaller parts (of which there were plenty), and there were a couple seemingly microscopic stickers I had to apply, so my iFixIt tweezers came in handy quite a few times.

After a couple hours, I had a pretty sweet looking miniature mecha.

the finished model, standing tall, and holding a scary looking gun

Putting it together, I was just so amazed by the level of engineering that went into this kit. Putting it all together, I could tell someone put a lot of care and attention into designing this thing, rivaling some of the Lego kits I’ve built, from the near-seamless fit of all the pieces, to the various types of joints enabling a quite frankly insane level of pose-ability for something this size.

I had a lot of fun doing this, and it was cool to see what this little subculture of model building is like. Would I build another one? For sure, but I don’t think it will be a regular thing for me because of how expensive it could get. This kit cost me around $50, and I tend to go hard on stuff like this (see my obscene collection of 2016-2017-era Magic The Gathering cards), so I could see myself spending way too much money on this if I’m not careful.

I’m sure I’ll get another kit eventually, but in the meantime there’s a seemingly infinite number of those ASMR-style assembly videos, so I can marvel at the the engineering behind these kits second-hand for now.

Making Stuff