Mobile Suit Gundam, the first Gundam series ever, aired in 1979.
Less than a year later, the first Gunpla kit appeared. And for the past 30 years, people of all ages have continued to enjoy this unusual hobby.
Here are some interesting milestones in Gunpla’s decades-long history:
- The word “Gunpla” was coined at the same time as the first kit. Like “cosplay,” it’s a Japanese amalgamation of two English words—“Gundam” and “plastic,” as in “plastic model. English speakers will interchange this with “Gundam models,” but we usually say Gunpla because it’s shorter.
- The first Gunpla, released in July 1980, cost just 300 yen, or about $3. Obviously, it was a kit for making the very first Mobile Suit Gundam model.
- The earliest Gunpla kits, released between 1980 and 1989, are nothing like the Gunpla we build today. Instead of snapping together, you had to glue them together with cement. Even trickier, they were all one color, and you’d need to paint them first! You’d get a rigid, hardly poseable model for your reward. Today these are called FG (First Grade) kits.
- The first High Grade was released in 1990 and cost 1000 yen, or about $10. As would become a tradition, the first model of any grade was the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Today High Grade is synonymous with “cheap and easy,” but in 1990 it was considered a more detailed, poseable grade of Gunpla.
- The first Master Grade was released in 1995 and cost 2500 yen, or about $25. It is the first time the original Mobile Suit Gundam was named correctly, as the RX-78-2. The grade was originally designed to be used for a select number of models to commemorate Gundam’s 15th anniversary, but the popularity of these more accurate models is why they’re still being manufactured to this day.
- The first Perfect Grade Gunpla appeared in 1998 and cost 12,000 yen or about $120. Today’s Perfect Grades make this look cheap, often topping $200 or more. Perfect grades come in 1/60 scale and include so much detail that they can take weeks to build. They may even come with wiring for LEDs or other electronic features.
- In July 2009, Bandai built a 1/1 scale RX-78-2 to commemorate Gundam’s 30th anniversary . This true-to-scale Gunpla now stands tall in Odaiba, Tokyo.
- The first Real Grade showed up just recently, in 2010. It was designed to be a step up from High Grade in terms of realism, without being as complicated as a Master Grade. In terms of difficulty, we consider them to be somewhere in between the two.
Today it’s easier than ever to pick a Gunpla grade that fits your skill level and budget. Check out our 101 on Gunpla grade and scale to learn more.
Photo of life-size RX-78-2 by John Bryant