Sunday, June 29, 2014

Anime Review: Gundam Build Fighters

Last time I talked about the anime metaseries Gundam. Today we’re looking at the most recent addition to that series, Gundam Build Fighters. Like pretty much all Gundam series in recent memory it was produced by Sunrise and made its debut in 2013, making it the timeliest anime I’ve ever reviewed. As of this writing it has yet to be selected for import but there is some legal streaming of it around the web.

In the last couple of years Gundam hadn’t been doing super great and had not lived up to the runaway success of 2002’s Mobile Suit Gundam SEED. The most recent TV show, Mobile Suit Gundam AGE, ended up being a huge flop. Perhaps that’s why the creators decided to go in a different direction for Build Fighters. Like with Mobile Fighter G Gundam this anime threw out all tropes associated with the franchise but unlike G Gundam that included the space opera narrative. This series takes the concept first introduced in the OVA series Model Suit Gunpla Builders Beginning G, an anime that is basically about fans of Gundam playing with the model kits associated with the show (which are nicknamed “Gunpla”), and takes it to its logical conclusion: have a whole TV show about young kids battling each other. To put it simply this show is basically a cross between Gundam and Yu-Gi-Oh! If reading that last sentence made you want to shake your head and close this window I don’t blame you as I had a similar reaction when I first discovered this show. Here’s the thing; it’s wrong to judge something before you check it out so let’s take a look at this crazy anime and then verbally rip it to shreds.

Full review after the jump.


You got to buy it! Chinpokomon Gundam Build Fighters!
In the near future collecting Gundam plastic models, or “Gunpla”, has evolved into Gunpla Battles where collectors can animate and battle their models in a virtual game made possible by the mysterious Plavsky particles that seem to only affect the plastic material of the model kits. Sei Iori is the thirteen year old son of the 1st runner up of the second Gunpla Battle World Championships ten years earlier. While he has inherited his father’s skill at building great models he unfortunately is a below average pilot and can’t win a battle for the life of him despite the high quality of his Gunpla. One day Sei bumps into another boy named Reiji, who seems to know absolutely nothing about everyday life or has any concept of what Gundam is. It turns out that Reiji is a natural pilot, easily defeating veterans despite never having played the game before. Enamored with his new friend Sei is determined to get Reiji to become his partner; to control the Gunpla he builds in competition.

So yeah, this is one weird ass cartoon. But goddamn it it’s a fun one! I was shocked by how quickly I got swept into this show since, let’s be frank, it doesn’t exactly have the strongest plot nor does it have the most original cast. I think a large part of the appeal is that it feels like a refreshing change of pace from the typical Gundam series. There’s no war, there’s no life or death struggle and there sure as hell is no trace of tragedy; it’s just a nice cartoon about nerds having fun. I’m a nerd and I enjoy having fun so it’s easier for me to relate to the various characters starring in this show than, say, Amuro Ray from the original Mobile Suit Gundam or Kamille Bidan from Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam or Heero Yui of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. The lack of dire straits puts more focus on just a having a good time. I tend to more easily forgive the short comings in plot and characters for this reason. It’s not supposed to be very deep so criticizing it for that seems kind of dumb.

Yeah, this is a cooler upgrade than the Wing Zero
...except for that whole "action figure size" thing
As the show is based around the concept of Gunpla Battles it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the fights between Gundam are the major drawing point of this anime. Where the previous Gundam TV shows focused on human drama under the stress of war (that just happened to be fought using giant robots) Build Fighters is all about robots fighting each other and not a lot else (and they’re not giant…or robots, really). There are a lot of awesome battles in this show and the animation usually really highlights things. Plus as models from most of the previous series are used we often get dream match scenarios where Gundam from different timelines are pit against each other. The models are usually very customized, as customizing Gunpla is apparently a big deal, and several of the mecha designs are awesome variations of old classics. Obviously the Strike Gundam from Gundam SEED is the one we focus on the most as it appears here as the Build Strike but there’s a huge list of interesting redesigns. My favorite is Wing Gundam Fenice which is a badass variant of the somewhat ordinary design of the Wing Gundam.

As I said the cast isn’t the best or the most original but they are sufficiently fun. The drawback is that every character is basically an anime archetype and there’s not really anyone we haven’t seen before in some other show, with perhaps a few quirks added. There are a lot of characters regularly featured and, while they are familiar, they gelled well together and played off each other pretty good. Plus it’s for me hard to complain about the ensemble cast when they had a black kid, Nils Nielsen, as a major character which is very rare for an anime. The friendship between Sei and Reiji makes up the backbone of the show as their chemistry and teamwork allowing them to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks appears to be the major theme of this story; “friendship conquers all”.

Of course they made Nils half Japanese because he couldn't be too foreign
The conflict of the series is pretty mundane as it turns into “I Wanna Be the Very Best” fairly quickly. Because it’s all about playing with toys the tension isn’t very high and even the “villain” (if you can even call him that) is only an antagonist for pretty dumb reasons that don’t really add a sense of urgency to the conflict. I mentioned that this show was kind of like crossing Gundam with Yu-Gi-Oh! but in reality the characters in this show, while getting pretty worked up with things at times, never take this situation nearly as seriously as the characters from the latter. And why should they? When someone hires an assassin against you and all they do is try to break your toy it’s pretty clear that no one is in any real danger. Whether this is a problem with likely depend on your personal preference.

A drawback though comes from Reiji. Most of the show is fairly straight forward as it takes place in a world so similar to our own that the suspending of disbelief is easy to achieve but very early in the series it’s made very clear that Reiji is a prince from another world…which is f**king nuts. It’s the pink elephant in the room in an otherwise easy to believe story. I can buy that some new technology could result in a game like Gunpla Fighters but one of the main characters being an alien pretty much makes this show science fiction. Which would have been fine if the show wasn’t so grounded outside of the battles. It’s just a weird addition that makes the overall tone of the show a bit more confusing. I feel that if Reiji was a prince from a small, isolationist country rather than from a far away planet the show wouldn’t have changed much. To make it more annoying this aspect of Reiji is a very major plot point in the second half of the series but we learn almost nothing about his world, people or even why he’s on Earth. Now I know that I said the nature of the show makes it easy to overlook characters and plot not being particularly deep but in this case I think it’s hard not to be a bit frustrated when it’s the only really fantastical aspect of this show’s mythology. Hell, even in the more serious Gundam series alien races have almost never, ever made appearances. Of course a second season of Gundam Build Fighters has been announced so it’s very possible they will get more into that when it returns to television (which is supposedly set to happen later this year) and they might have planned it this way all along but for the 24 episodes that were put in front of me I found it to be my biggest issue with the show.

Still, despite the rampant commercialism on display, you can’t argue that Gundam Build Fighters isn’t an enjoyable show. What it lacks for depth it makes up with fun. It’s a love letter to Gundam fans and chalked full of references and cameos from the show’s thirty-five year history. It’s the perfect anime to watch when you feel you’ve been seeing a few too many downers and need something to clear your palate. If you’re the type of person who prefers serious works of art you will likely not get very far into a viewing of the show but if you enjoy something lighthearted and easy to digest without being nonsensical garbage you may want to give this anime a chance.

Go Team Friendship!
I give Gundam Build Fighters 4 Adorable Pandas out of 5.


Pros 

-Great action and visuals 

-Cool variations on classic Gundam designs 

-A lighthearted break from the more serious Gundam series 

Cons 

-Reiji’s background sticks out in an otherwise fairly grounded show 

-The show is 100% a toy commercial, even more so than your typical Gundam series

2 comments:

  1. OP is gay. 5/5 So what this is toy commercial. It isn't really a toy commercial. Toy is something you can play with but this stuff isn't playable. They are model and they look awesome. I have about 5 of those model and going to build more.

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    1. I'm not sure what sexual orientation has to do with anything, but whatever.

      Even if we say the model kits aren't technically "toys" the show is clearly set up to sell a product, and that's a problem for me; both ethically and from a storytelling perspective. But I obviously liked the show; 4 out of 5 is a darn good score.

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