Getting into the Gunpla hobby

From runners to ready for display, we've got a whirlwind tour of the Gunpla hobby

Acquiring goodies and collectibles from Japan is really quite easy nowadays, but it hasn’t always been so straightforward. As geek and nerd culture aligns itself more and more with the mainstream media and pop culture, access to Eastern properties and merchandise is as simple as walking in to your local HMV or Game. In the past, you’d have to send money abroad, and wait anywhere up to a couple of months for your goods to arrive, hopefully in-tact and not completely ruined by customs and occasionally poor courier services.

Gundam still isn’t quite as major an IP in the west as the likes of Attack On Titan or My Hero Academia, but getting your hands on the model kits is still as easy as ordering something from Amazon. Plenty of small start-up businesses have made it their duty to import Japanese anime merchandise to the UK, so that you can shop safe in the knowledge that anything you buy will arrive relatively quickly, and without any unexpected customs charges. Thankfully, there are even some who actually specialise in Gundam, and try to carry all of the latest releases.

Just in case you didn’t know, Gundam is a Japanese mecha franchise – mecha being giant robot exo-suits, often piloted by soldiers. They’re similar to the Megazords in Power Rangers, but instead used by corrupt governments to wage war and occasionally oppress the population – so a little far-removed, perhaps. Not that tanks aren’t interesting, but seeing two giant robots beating each other with lightsabers for the fate of humanity is an exciting alternative.

Humans have loved making models and putting kits together, even looking back to the classic ship in a bottle, and as with Airfix planes and cars, Japan manged to cash in on the craze by selling fully customisable models of Gundam, that you put together yourself – Gunpla. You could argue that the advantages that Gunpla has over competitors are the user-friendly instruction manuals, the posability of the models, and the lack of any glue required to put the actual model together. Every single piece has been designed to push fit together, and hold in place with friction.

Gunpla are some of the easiest models to build if you’re new to the modelling hobby, but that’s not to say that there’s no challenge available for far more experienced builders. Gunpla work on a grade system – High Grade kits are 1/144 scale, Master Grade are 1/100 and Perfect Grade are 1/60. The general rule is that the the lower the scale, the easier the kit, but in recent years Real Grade kits have released, packing the detail and complexity you’d find in higher grades in to a 1/144 scale body. Of course, there’s also much larger High Grade kits which, as you might imagine, have far more parts. Take a look at the Dendrobium or Neo Zeong – both absolutely stunning, complex kits, but both still within the High Grade 1/144 scale category.

Unfortunately, as streamlined as Gunpla kits are to put together, it’s not quite as simple as taking the parts out of the box and being ready to go. When you open a box, you’ll see that all of the indivual parts are still connected to a big frame, called sprues or runners. You’ll need a handy pair of flat edged model clippers to safely remove the parts from the frame, and then you’ll probably want to take a mouldline remover to the parts to gently take off any excess plastic you’re left with.

Some people will completely prime and paint every single piece before assembly, but there’s no need to go to that length should you not want to as Gunpla kits come moulded in the correct colours already. I would however highly recommend investing in a set of three Gundam Marker panel liner pens. They’re very fine tipped pens available in black, grey and brown that allow you to fill in all the little nooks and crannys on the model to make them pop and stand out. Blacks are used for darker colours like greys and dark blues, greys for lighter colours like whites and yellows, and browns for reddish colours. Don’t worry about going outside the lines though, gently rubbing a half-decent piece of dry kitchen roll over the top of the panel lines will quickly remove the ink from anywhere it’s not supposed to be.

It’s all well and good having a few models built up and looking pretty, but collections are always far more impressive when displayed properly. Pairing a couple of Gundam from the same series together will look great, especially if you pose them doing battle with one another! It can be really hard to get your head around posing figures if you’re new to the hobby. There’s a lot of points of articulation and manipulating them all to the correct point can be a hassle and a half.

I’d suggest not over-thinking it, and looking at some pictures of real people fighting. Try and copy the poses of some soldiers, or perhaps have a look at a historical film and see how the actors hold their weapons. It’s really not as complicated as it may initially look! Whilst years of experience and practice may lead to a much higher standard of model, the only real rule with Gunpla is that you’re having fun, and enjoying your collection. Happy building!

Ellie Zoe

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