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Friday October 4, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday October 4, 2013 MYT 7:45:27 AM
by michael cheang
A customised Gundam diorama by Chin Fu Song, which was one of the entries for the 2012 Gundam Builders World Cup.
With the official Gunpla Expo hitting Malaysian shores next week, we
explore the world of Gundam and its incredibly popular model kits.
MAKE no mistake about it: Gundam is the mother of all Japanese mecha anime. Sure, there were plenty of other mecha anime that came before it, but Mobile Suit Gundam is recognised as the pioneer for a genre of Japanese mecha animation called Real Robot, in which the robots depicted adhere to real-life science and technology.
Released in 1979, Mobile Suit Gundam was also the first Japanese mecha anime to go beyond the usual “One robot versus one monster of the week” episodic format (which was adopted by early “Super Robot” anime such as Mazinger Z) and turn it into a long-running series that featured an ongoing plot instead.
Set in an alternate timeline called the Universal Century, Mobile Suit Gundam revolved around a bloody war between the Earth Federation and Zeon that decimated half of humanity. Utilising humanoid mecha suits called “mobile suits”, Zeon has been slowly edging towards victor in the war until a young boy called Amuro Ray pilots the Federation’s latest weapon, the RX-78 Gundam, into battle and turns the tide.
According to Bandai South Asia hobby products manager Takayoshi Oyama, Gunpla is essentially a combination of “Gundam” and “plastic model”, and refers to the hugely popular Gundam plastic model kits produced by Bandai. “Gunpla, like Gundam, has a long history, going back to 1980,” he said in a recent interview when he was in Kuala Lumpur. “From the beginning until now, the model kits have always been made in Japan and nowhere else.”
The Gunpla models will be taking centre stage at the Gunpla Expo Malaysia 2013 in the IPC Shopping Centre in Petaling Jaya next week; this is the first time ever that an official Bandai Gunpla event will be held in Malaysia. The expo originated in Japan (naturally), and has been held in China, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Hong Kong.
To be held at the concourse area of the mall, the event features an exhibition that will take you through the entire history of Gundam and Gunpla, and also give you a chance to see and purchase Bandai’s latest Gunpla products (including an exclusive limited edition model kit available only at the event). There will also be workshops by expert Gunpla modellers where you can learn how to build a Gundam model kit.
Among the highlights of the exhibition will be statues of the iconic Gundam RX-78-2 and Gundam Unicorn, a 3D mapping booth that will travel here all the way from Japan, and even a spectacular life-sized replica of the RX-78-2 Gundam’s robot hand.
Famous for their quality, remarkably detailed designs, and ease of assembly, over 460 million Gunpla models have been sold in the past 30 years. Today, the lines are blurred when it comes to figuring out whether the anime is supporting the toys or vice versa
“Of course, in the beginning it was the anime first. Then later there were some where the products came first and then we decided to come up with an animation to support it,” says Oyama, adding that Bandai is still producing the original RX-78 model kit that was first released in 1980.
All the same, with so many different Gundam model kits, anime series and robots, where does one start? How does one get a foothold in the Gundam universe?
“You can start by watching the anime, or visiting the Gunpla Expo!” says Oyama with a laugh.
“There are many different grades of Gundam models, including the High Grade starter set, which is a simple kit for beginners. After you have improve your skills (with that), you can move on to the Master Grade kits, then Perfect Grade, and so on.”
According to him, the kits started out as simple snap-on items with limited articulation and details, but as the years went by and the technology got better, the Gunpla got more and more elaborate, with better articulation (the Perfect Grade units even have articulated fingers!) and greater attention to detail.
The Gunpla Expo next week will also feature the entries for the Malaysian leg of the Gunpla Builders World Cup (GBWC), Bandai’s official Gunpla global tournament. The GBWC consists of regional meets in 13 locations worldwide, all of which lead up to the final world championship meet in December.
In the competition, builders pit their building skills, painting techniques, and ideas against one another in two age groups, the open course (for contestants aged 15 and above), and the junior course (ages 14 and below).
According to Goh Chai Hong, general manager of official Gundam model distributors in Malaysia Litt Tak Sdn Bhd, Malaysian modellers are considered among some of the best in Asia. “We have Malaysian fans who regularly send their creations to competitions in Hong Kong or Japan and have been winning prizes. The quality of customisation in Malaysia is actually very good,” she says.
Malaysia is also the second largest Gundam model kit market in South-East Asia (after Singapore), which is why Bandai decided to bring the Gunpla Expo here. It is also a prelude to greater things to come from the toy company and its prized franchise.
“There will be a new anime series called Gundam Build Fighters to be released this year, and 2014 will be the 35th anniversary of Gundam,” says Oyama. “After that, the following year (2015) will be the 35th year anniversary of Gunpla, so we have very big plans in store for Gundam fans in the coming two years!”
The Gunpla Expo Malaysia 2013 will be held at the IPC Shopping Centre, Mutiara Damansara, Petaling Jaya, from Oct 8 to 13. For more information, go to en.gundam.info.
Tags / Keywords:
Lifestyle, Gundam, mecha, Gundam Expo, anime
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