Gundam Build Fighters (2013) isn’t just one of the top-rated recent Gundam shows, but one of the top-rated shows of the past decade, period. A veritable love-letter to Gunpla, Build Fighters is a show for, by, and about Gundam fans. It offers humor and heart through references so arcane, it’s clear the creators dredged the depths of the Gundam canon.
Welcome back to Deep Dive, Tom Aznable’s reader-favorite column all about catching the more esoteric aspects of the Gundam multiverse that make it into the show. Nothing passes Tom’s eagle eye for spotting this stuff (we suspect Newtype abilities), but this column focuses specifically on rare sightings and deep cuts. Read on to see what you may have missed:
Welcome back! With new episodes of Gundam Build Divers Re:RISE postponed until we hear otherwise, let’s return to that seminal series that ultimately launched a new sub-franchise within Gundam: the 2013 TV series Gundam Build Fighters! This is where it all started! Right?
Well, not quite. Time for a quick history lesson to set the stage! The battling Gunpla concept is almost as old as Gunpla itself, and since we’re already jumping back in time some, let’s go back even further – to 1982, and the original kids-battling-Gunpla manga, Plamo-Kyoshiro.
Taking advantage of the Gunpla Boom of the early ‘80s, Plamo-Kyoshiro debuted in the kids’ manga magazine Comic Bombom and ran for four years. In the world of Kyoshiro, our hero Shiro Kyoda and his friends build and customize model kits and duel in “Plamo Simulation,” a VR system that allows someone to control their model kit as if they were really inside them. Notice that I didn’t say “Gunpla” specifically, though: while Gundam models represented a focus of the comic, basically any model hobbyist product was on the table, even Star Wars and military kits!
Plamo-Kyoshiro was a hit, and spawned several spin-offs and sequels, and more than its fair share of imitators. Designs that debuted in the comic have stuck around as well: the Musha Gundam owes its existence to Kyoshiro, and Kyoda’s Perfect Gundam and Red Warrior Gunpla have gotten the model kit, videogame, and anime treatment since. Spiritual successors to Kyoshiro with a Gunpla-exclusive focus would continue to appear through the late 2000’s, which brings us up to the Gundam Build franchise’s direct ancestor: Model Suit Gunpla Builders: Beginning G.
Created for the 30th anniversary of Gunpla in 2010, the Gunpla Builders ONA represented the first true Gunpla battling anime. While people may write off the Gundam franchise as an elaborate model kit commercial, Gunpla Builders wore this on its sleeve. Over the 3-part, 45-minute ONA, our hero Haru goes from absolute Gunpla novice to skilled champion, encountering plenty of collecting/battling tropes along the way.
After 2011’s kid-targeted Gundam TV series Gundam AGE unfortunately failed to capture children’s imaginations, returning to the kid-friendly concept of Gunpla battling seemed like a natural move. And that brings us to Gundam Build Fighters, a new, 25 episode TV series treatment of that time-tested concept of Gunpla battle. Looking back on it now, after a direct sequel series, multiple specials and shorts, a spiritual successor, and the currently airing direct sequel to that successor, I think it’s fair to say Build Fighters did its job well. Gundam Build Fighters is a special series: a fun shonen tournament sports show accessible to total newcomers, but with an ecstatic reverence for Gundam and Gunpla as a whole that endeared it to even skeptical veteran fans. While I wish it could’ve been under better circumstances, I’m thrilled to be revisiting it with you.
Oh, and did I mention that its director went on to direct the My Hero Academia anime? Now you can say you liked Kenji Nagasaki before it was cool.
Episode 01: Sei and Reiji
The very first mobile suit we see on screen (since this is a dream, is this even Gunpla?) is the wrecked husk of the Powered GM testbed mobile suit, previously seen exclusively in the first two episodes of Gundam 0083. Interesting to note, and perhaps the main reason I’m pointing it out here at all: the first Gunpla to appear on screen in the sequel series Gundam Build Fighters Try is the Powered GM Cardigan, based on this very same MS.
Birmingham class, Mobile Suit Gundam 0083 (anime)
Salamis Kai class (0083 Refit), Mobile Suit Gundam 0083 (anime)
Sei’s dream is decidedly 0083-flavored, and that includes several ships that appear exclusively in that OVA. On the bottom left is a 0083 refit or perhaps early version of the Salamis Kai. This version has greater speed and firepower than the typical Salamis class.
In the upper right is the Birmingham class, a kind of halfway step between the One Year War-era Magellan class battleship and the Titans’ Dogosse Giar class flagship seen during Zeta Gundam. In this way, the ship is kind of emblematic of Gundam 0083’s overall stated purpose: to bridge Mobile Suit Gundam with Zeta.
Strike Gundam Cockpit, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED (anime)
We don’t ordinarily see cockpits and pilot suits in Build Fighters, but since this is a dream, we can see that Sei envisions his Build Strike Gundam’s cockpit and normal suit as identical to Kira Yamato’s original Strike Gundam.
Strike Gundam Pose, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED (anime)
Sei strikes his own version of the Strike Gundam’s iconic pose, as seen prominently in SEED’s original OP, in the show itself (often via reused footage), and basically any product photo of a Strike you’ve ever seen.
The “08th Supermarket” marks the first mention of a business with some kind of Gundam reference in its name or theming, in this case of course referring to the ground-pounding 08th MS Team.
XM-X1 Crossbone Gundam X-1, Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam (manga)
Not only does this arguably mark the first appearance of the Crossbone Gundam X-1 in a Gundam anime (though a version colored like the X-3 had previously made a cameo in G Gundam), this Crossbone Gundam’s appearance in the hobby shop’s display of Sei’s finished Gunpla actually predates the existence of an official 1/144 plastic model! We’ll see a custom Crossbone Gunpla later in the series, which ironically would serve as the parts base for the original Crossbone’s HGUC kit in real life.
MSA-0011 S Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam Sentinel (novel)
Much like the Crossbone Gundam, here the S Gundam (that’s “Superior,” not “Sentinel”) gets its none-so-glamorous debut in anime as a static model kit. Also like the Crossbone, this fan favorite Gundam will receive the actual animation treatment later in this series, appropriately enough piloted by the same person that will go on to build that Crossbone! An HGUC S Gundam model kit had existed for over a decade by this appearance, and it really shows its age these days.
Triple Reward Points
The green flier outside of Iori Hobby advertises “triple points!” It’s probably safe to assume this is a subtle reference to Char, who’s red Zaku II was rumored to be able to go three times the speed of a normal Zaku. This “three times as x” gag has been a running joke for ages, and there was even a real Char Aznable credit card released back in 2006 that similarly gained triple the rewards points.
One of the opponents Sei’s Dad faces in flashback is using a Re-GZ done up in Titans colors. This color scheme, of course, originated with the appearance of the Gundam Mk-II in Zeta Gundam before the AEUG gave it more typical, heroic Gundam coloring. Despite the fact that very few Titans mobile suits in Zeta Gundam actually used this black and blue color scheme, it’s generally gone on to be known as Titans colors, and remains a popular custom paint job for Gunpla. The Re-GZ has kind of a spiritual link to the Gundam Mk-II in a way as well – where the Mk-II was a limited production line of mobile suits meant to directly succeed the RX-78 Gundam, the aim of the Re-GZ was to produce a mass-producible successor to the Zeta Gundam before it.
MSK-008 Dijeh, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (anime)
- Color scheme: RX-78-2 Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam (anime)
The Dijeh was the mobile suit the original Gundam pilot Amuro Ray piloted as part of the Karaba resistance organization in Zeta Gundam. While the Dijeh originally sported a teal coloring, the one that appears in this promo has those parts painted white, resulting in a more distinctly Gundam-like color scheme – perhaps a more fitting look for Amuro in the end.
GF13-037NCA Lumber Gundam, Mobile Fighter G Gundam (anime)
Here Neo-Canada’s representative Lumber Gundam (or Grizzly Gundam if you prefer the English dub) squares off with Corin Nander’s dino-like Eagail mobile suit from Turn A Gundam. At the time of writing, neither of these have actually received the 1/144 plastic model treatment yet!
Zeta Gundam OP
After blowing the Lumber Gundam and Eagail away, a Wing Gundam emerges from the smoke, momentarily evoking the Gundam Mk-II at the beginning of Zeta Gundam’s second opening.
Come to think of it, this is a surprisingly Wing Gundam-heavy episode! At the time of its original airing, the HGAC Wing Gundam model had actually been released only a few weeks earlier, and I’m sure that’s no coincidence.
“Will you be able to survive?” Mobile Suit Gundam (anime)
This iconic line was how every next episode preview of the original Gundam anime ended, and it’s referenced twice in this episode! First directly quoted at the end of the Gunpla Battle World Championships promo, and second paraphrased at the end of Build Fighters own next episode preview! It’s a recurring bit for Build Fighters to sign off with some kind of paraphrased quote or reference, so this won’t be the last time we’ll see that.
The rack of hobby magazines in the back of the Iori Hobby shop all seem to be roughly based on real life hobby magazine Hobby Japan, including one on the middle left that looks like it is literally a traced cover of the actual February 2011 issue of the magazine. “Hobby Hobby” magazine continued to appear as recently as Build Divers, oddly enough with the same artwork pulled from the Limited MG Amuro’s Zeta Gundam that appears on that bottom shelf.
“You have good eyes.” Mobile Suit Gundam (anime)
Mr. Ral needs no introduction – though it’s odd that in a world where everyone is at least aware of Gundam, nobody remarks on his uncanny similarity to the Gouf-piloting Zeon ace Ramba Ral! His exchange with Sazaki here is partially paraphrased from Ral’s in-person confrontation of Amuro Ray after realizing he was a Federation soldier.