Gundam, and subsequently gundam model-making has been one of my niche little hobbies I’ve treasured since childhood. Unfortunately, a large majority of people don’t share this hobby of mine, nor do most even know much about the model-making world. That’s why I’ve written this introductory guide of Gunpla for beginners in hopes that you, as the reader, can learn more about this niche, yet exciting leisure activity.
I have to admit, in terms of my own experience, I can’t claim to be any sort of expert gunpla builder myself. I am but a wee amateur compared to actual, world-class model-making builders. In fact, just to give you readers a bit of a comparison on how low I am in the tier list: there is actually an annual event that Bandai, the creators of gundam models, hold: the “GUNPLA BUILDERS WORLD CUP”, or GBWC for short. Below is an image of 2016’s GBWC champion’s model diorama, showing just how incredibly skillful top model makers can be.
1st Place Open Course Champion, by Yusuke Yokota
Below is an additional video of the 2016 GBWC award ceremony that clearly demonstrates how legitimate model-making is becoming.
So with those being shown, it’s clear enough to say that model-making is an art, and takes skill, and is becoming ever more popular each year. Are you scared?
Don’t be scared of how hard it looks. I may not be a Gunpla master myself, but I genuinely believe you don’t need to be one to get the most possible enjoyment out of Gunpla building!
I feel like most people don’t get into gunpla because of multiple reasons, other than the “being scared” part. People might not understand too much of it – you might think it’s hard, you might not understand all of the model-making lingo, or you might simply just not understand why people are so drawn to this hobby. If you’re one of these kinds of people, please fear not, as I will give you a gentle, easy introduction.
What is “Gunpla”?
I tried to not use this term in the previous section, as people might not be familiar with it. Or perhaps you might have heard this term before, and know it has something to do with model-making. Guess what? You’re right! “Gunpla” is a portmanteau of the words “Gundam” and “plastic model”. In Japanese, it is spelt as ガンプラ, and all ガンプラ is manufactured by the aforementioned company, Bandai.
”Bandai Sells 400 Million Tiny Plastic Gundam Models”
Back in 2010, Escapist Magazine purported that Bandai sold over 400 million gunpla since 1980, the year the first gunpla came out. It’s already 2016, and sales have been immensely booming since this article was written, due to all the new Gundam series we’ve gotten between then and now – from Gundam Age, Gundam: Reconguista in G, Gundam: Build Fighters, Gundam: Build Fighters Try, Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, and additional OVA series as well.
The image below shows just how convenient gunpla is compared to other model-making kits in the past, and what sort of tools you would use! (Note: despite the advertisement saying you don’t need pliers, I still recommend you buying one, especially for older model kits. They’re not too expensive!)
What Draws People Into Gunpla?
I understand – you still might be wondering why anyone would want to get into this sort of thing. Why make gunpla? To be honest, this question took me quite some time to be able to articulate a good answer. For me, gunpla is an innate, pleasurable thing to do. Perhaps it’s because of the fact that the actual gundam the gunpla is based off of was shown in the most “badass” way in a certain Gundam series I watched. Perhaps it’s because of the enjoyment I get from constructing something with my own two hands and calling it my own.
In the end, I ended up researching and finding an article that beautifully explains to non-model-making people why people make gunpla. From Scalemodelguide.com, some of the top reasons are:
- You can master a wide variety of skills (cutting, sculpting, scraping, painting, dexterity, etc.)
- Pride from completing a gunpla within a (relatively) short amount of time
- Satisfying your inner artist
- Satisfying your collecting instinct (non-mecha “otakus” share this similar feeling!)
If any of the above points cater to you, I highly suggest reading onwards to learn more about how to actually start choosing a gunpla, and finally building one.
How to Buy a Gunpla
Try searching for online gunpla stores and browse their gunpla page – you’ll probably get immediately confused. What does HG, MG, and PG mean? What do those fractions, 1/144/ 1/100, and 1/64 mean?
Well, all gunpla are categorized by these two concepts: by grade and by scale.
The grade of the Gundam, as the term would suggest, determines the quality of the individual parts of the model. A gundam with a very detailed grade will stay most true to how it is designed within the Gundam series it appeared in. However, it might be harder to assemble than other grades.
The scale of the gunpla is a fractional number representing how much smaller the gunpla is compared to its actual size (if the real-life sized version were to actually exist).
A basic list of the different types of grades are written below.
Super Deformed (SD)
Super deformed gundams are the cute and tiny “chibi” gundams you might have seen. These have the lowest quality parts, but also the easiest to assemble, as they don’t have many parts. This grade is perfect for little kids.
There is actually some neat historical facts about SD Gundams and their major role in popularizing the “chibi” concept. The “chibi” style became adored by the masses mainly by SD Gundam, and a few other series (such as Dragon ball), in the 1980s. The origins of SD Gundam are from a submitted drawing of a chibi Gundam from a junior student from Nagoya. His name was Koji Yokoi, and he sent the drawing to the “Model News” magazine that Bandai was releasing back in the 1980s.
The drawing of the Gundam was proportioned such that the head of the Gundam literally took up half of the overall height of the Gundam. This picture interested the chief editor so much, that it led to Koji Yokoi serializing SD Gundam in 4 frame comics in “Model News”.
The official Gundam.info site asserts that the popularity of SD Gundam in the late ’80s and early ’90s was so big, that SD Gundam sales far exceeded those of regular Gundams!
Picture of My Chibi Gundam, Sonshoukou Gerbera
High Grade (HG)
Back in 1990, high grade models were pretty much the most complex models around. However, as demand increased for better models, they began to release more grades. So despite its grade being named as “high”, there are better grades than this one. Usually, HG grades are 1/144 the scale of the actual gundam. I recommend this grade for teenagers, or people who are new to gunpla making (and who don’t want a chibi gundam).
Real Grade (RG)
The Real Grade started being manufactured in 2010. The best way to describe it is a grade in-between HG and MG. It is relatively simple to put together, but has elements of it being MG quality, such as making it more “pose-able” for those sexy shots.
Master Grade (MG)
Master grade was released in 1995. (Fun fact, Gundam Wing was as well!)
These models are more intricate than the ones that were mentioned previously, and can possibly take hours to complete. Usually the scale of these kits are 1/100.
Perfect Grade (PG)
It’s pretty evident by its name: you generally can’t get more accurate, or “perfect” than perfect grade. These are expensive, and huge as well: 1/64 scale. Though, if you’re the type of person who really cares about attention to detail, this grade is for you.
The mega size version is perfect for those times when your friends come to your house, and you really want to impress them with a huge otaku centerpiece. However, they’re usually lacking in terms of detail compared to other grades.
Non Grade (NG)
I honestly don’t recommend these if you like detail. Non grades are either: extremely old kits that were manufactured before the grading system existed (to the point where the plastic moulding wasn’t done well enough where you are literally struggling to fit two parts together), or newer kits with not as much detail as even a master grade.
In a sense, no grades are basically HGs in different scales. Most newer HGs are 1/144 scale, so when Bandai wants to release a model of a different scale with detail and articulation similar to HG, they usually are given no grade.
Please note that there are some grades I did not list, since this is a beginner guide. Generally, most of the kits you see out in the market belong to one of the 6 grades I listed.
Summary Infographic of Grades and Scale
Do you still have additional questions? Perhaps you’re on a tight budget, and wondering where to get a good deal for gunpla. Maybe you want to learn more about how to properly make a high quality gunpla. You might be wondering what “panel-lining” and “weathering” means. Or maybe you want to learn how to paint gunpla beautifully.
This blog is already quite long, so instead, I will direct you to one great resource for you to further explore, if you are interested in gunpla! (Note that I am evidently not sponsored or affiliated with them.)
http://www.gunpla101.com/ is what I would most recommend for beginners. It is a nicely laid out website, with beginner tutorials on any and every question you have. The people who run the website are a lovely wife and husband duo as well! If you’re a girl, Lauren (the wife) has an excellent short article about how gunpla can also be fun for girls.
Of course, there are multitudes of other resources. Youtube has great reviews on every kit released. People like Mecha Gaikotsu, Type V3, and older ones like rrobbert184, have very professionally done gunpla reviews for almost every gunpla model available. If you ever have trouble deciding on whether or not a gunpla model is worth it to buy or not, make sure to check out their channels. Note, however, that rrobbert184 has been on hiatus for a couple of years now. The other two are highly active though.
There are also other websites as well where you can ask questions, and people with more experience can give you valuable knowledge.
Check out the subreddit, /r/Gunpla. They have weekly discussions and beginner-friendly Q&As, where you can post a question, and within the next few hours you should be able to get some solid advice.
Finally, once you finish your gunpla, be proud, and be sure to post it on Gunpla Montreal’s official Facebook group!
And there you have it! I hope this blog post peaked some interest in gunpla for you, dear reader! Gunpla is an amazing hobby, that stimulates your creativity, imagination and motor skills. It is becoming ever more popular, to the point where there is an INTERNATIONAL competition for it. Without a doubt, once you finish your first gunpla, you’ll be amazed and proud of the model you created!