In 1980, following the cancellation of Mobile Suit Gundam, a line of Gundam plastic model kits, “Gunpla,” was introduced. Back in the day, the models lacked articulation, weren’t very detailed, and required glue and paint to finish, but their low price, coupled with the franchise’s popularity, caused a revolution.
A number of technological advancements (Polymer connectors for better articulation, snap-fit parts for easier assembly) have led to modern Gunpla, which remain some of the most popular models in the industry.
Gunpla are plastic model kits of various mecha from the Gundam franchise. Most Gundam anime, OVAs, and even some novels, games, and supplementary materials have corresponding lines of Gunpla. From the GM Sniper to the Dra-C, from the Gundam Barbatos to the Tieren Space Type, there’s a Gunpla out there for everyone.
Modern Gunpla are a far cry from the rigid, unpainted models of the ‘80s. Modern Gunpla are 100% snap-fit buildable out of the box, and advancements in molding technology have allowed them to look very close to their original design without the need for additional paint.
Modern Gunpla come in various styles, known as “grades,” and come in a few standard scales.
1:144 scale Gunpla have been around since the beginning. The most common 1:144 scale models are the High Grade (HG) kits. Generally speaking, each Gundam anime has its own HG line: HGUC for Universal Century series, HGAC for Gundam Wing, HGBF for Build Fighters, etc.
In addition to High Grade kits, Real Grade (RG) kits round out the 1:144 scale line. RG kits are the same scale as HG kits, but are much more detailed and articulated, at the cost of being a good deal more complex to build.
Introduced in 1993, 1:100 scale kits are the next step up. Most modern 1:100 scale models are in the Master Grade (MG) line. They take longer to build, but have a great deal more detail to them. 2015 saw the introduction of the Reborn One Hundred or RE/100 line, which features mobile suit designs too obscure for the regular MG line, such as the Nightingale from the Char’s Counterattack novel, or the Dijeh from Zeta.
The 1:60 scale Perfect Grade (PG) line are large, highly detailed models with a high degree of color separation and articulation. The largest kits, however, are the 1:48 scale Mega Size Model (MSM) line, in which only a precious few mobile suits have been depicted.
With modern Gunpla, it’s easy to build something nice-looking right out of the box. With the application of some paint and sandpaper, it’s easy to build something really nice-looking. In addition, there hasn’t been a better time to get into it. 2013’s Gundam Build Fighters sparked a resurgence of Gundam models, and Bandai has capitalized on the boom by coming out with not only kits of the custom Gunpla from the series, but a variety of custom parts to help people build their own customs.
Building Gundam models with friends is a good communal activity, as well.
Gunpla have become increasingly more available in the US over the past few years. They may be the anime product you’re most likely to find locally. Comic stores and hobby shops are a good place to start, but even some big-box stores like Barnes & Noble sell them. In addition, they’re easy enough to find on Amazon. For the biggest selection, however, Japanese retailers such as Hobbylink Japan or Hobby Search are the way to go.
Gunpla range widely in price, depending on the grade, scale, size, and complexity of the model. Generally speaking, HG kits are usually relatively inexpensive, which is good, seeing as they’re a good starting point into the hobby.