I mentioned before that I run a local community club centered on building plastic models. When most ordinary people think of “model building,” they envision ships in bottles, or WWII enthusiasts making elaborate dioramas, but plastic models have been a part of otaku culture for decades.
I feel like model building might be one of the more generally accepted of otaku pursuits, especially when getting into aspects like detailing, painting, and scratch-building, and that’s because it’s a creation-based pursuit. Everyone can appreciate a well-built thing, even when it’s just an out-of-the-box model kit. Taking a jumble of individual parts on a number of plastic frames and putting them together into an action figure takes skill, and people, in general, appreciate creating things.
The adage “Gunpla is freedom” isn’t just a joke the club members and I say when someone puts a part in backward. It represents a philosophy surrounding plastic models, especially when it comes to otaku. The instructions that come with the kit only tell you how to build it the most basic version of it, but these kits are highly customizable. Through detailing, painting, combining parts from other kits, and building new parts from scratch, making a model unique is highly accessible.
It’s rewarding, too. The process of seeing a kit come together, through hours of building, painting, decal placement, panel lining, and everything in-between, brings a sense of accomplishment. A built model kit isn’t just an action figure. It has a soul, a personality. I rarely mull over what pose to put a newly-built model in. It comes to me as the natural pose that model would be in.
It’s not just about building the model, it’s about experimentation. It’s about figuring out if something will work here or there, or making something work where it otherwise isn’t built to. It’s about taking the extra hands, armor, weapons, decals, and polycaps from every model you build and saving them to customize future models with. It’s about spending five hours doing waterslide decals.
The philosophy is catching on, too, especially with the advent of Gundam Build Fighters and Gundam Build Fighters Try. More and more people are getting into not just building models, but customizing them. There’s even a subreddit that’s devised a battle system for Gundam models based off of Gundam Build Fighters.
Model building is the kind of constructive, rewarding hobby I’d recommend everyone try at least once. It’s perfect both for solitary pursuit or social gatherings. I believe that most people, in general, have at least a small drive to create. People want something that they can point to and say “I made this, and I’m proud of it.” Models are exactly that.