“You like something because you like something. You don’t need to justify it.” —Master Chinan to Mao
I am quite surprised that no major anime blog has even bothered to talk about the surprise of the Fall 2013 season: the last time a post bore a “Full Reflection and Recommendation” title, it was August, and I had just finished watching Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Now, I enjoyed the TV series and all of the movies, having written the internet’s first (and only) review of Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion with screenshots, but today, the focus of this talk is Gundam Build Fighters, a show that I had initially followed with a moderate interest. Build Fighters is a solid series about Gunpla Battle, and Sei Iori’s quest to participate in tournaments with his Gunpla. The series takes things from Beginning Gundam one step further, introducing the idea of Plavsky particles to animate plastic models and allow them to do battle with one another: a model kit’s performance is dictated by how well built the model was, and the game occurs in a holographic battlefield that adds impressive background and visual elements. The series begins off slowly, introducing Sei to Reiji, a boy with a mysterious background and an impressive innate talent for piloting Gunpla. Together, Sei and Reiji make their way through the tournament: Sei’s impressive building skills and Gundam knowledge complement Reiji’s natural skills, allowing them to progress, and in the process, the two befriend a colourful array of individuals, including Ricardo Fellini (an Italian champion), Mao Yasaka (a Kyoto native tutored by Master Chinan), Nils Nielsen (a prodigy who aims to learn the secrets of the Plavsky particles) and Aila Jyrkiainen (a Finnish gunpla fighter), while striving for the title of the world’s strongest.
- Sei Iori is the co-lead of Gundam Build Fighters with Reiji, having an incredible talent for building Gunpla kits. However, his piloting skills are very weak due to a subconscious desire to avoid damaging his Gunpla. Sei’s knowledge of Gundam matches that of one of my friends, who is also a Gundam aficionado. I daresay that my friend’s knowledge of Gundam is roughly equivalent to my knowledge of software development and biology: consider that I’ve been studying in both fields for the past five years.
- There is no shortage of callbacks to Gundam lore in Gundam Build Fighters: Mr. Ral is a carbon copy of Mobile Suit Gundam‘s Ramba Ral, right down to his insane piloting skills and love for the Gouf, which has more power and more armour than a Zaku (it’s completely different!). Here, he tells Sei that there is no best mecha collection, and he is voiced by Masashi Hirose, who supplied Ramba Ral’s voice in Mobile Suit Gundam.
- I build Gunpla in my spare time: I am particularly proud of my Master Grade 00 Gundam Seven Sword/G, which I procured nearly two years ago and built following my MCAT. The building process is an incredible experience, transforming 2D runners into a 3D model. It was the desire to try this out for myself that led me to get into Gunpla: my first model was the HG 00 Raiser with the GN Sword III, and since building this in December 2009, my Gunpla collection stands at a modest six completed models and two that I haven’t even touched yet.
- China Kousaka is Sei’s classmate, being skilled painter and a member of the school’s art club. She has won the grand prize at several art shows for her paintings; the most recent of which is based on her customized Beargguy III. China develops an interest in Gunpla Battle thanks to Sei’s interest, and she is shown to have a crush on Sei, which everyone, including Sei himself, seems to be aware of to some extent, and she shows some joy when some believe them to be a couple, even though they have not made it official themselves.
- Mao Yasaka is a Gunpla Fighter from Kyoto and the reigning Japan 5th Block champion. He learned his skills from the Gunpla Shingyo School, which he hopes to inherit from Master Chinan. As his master has long feared the talents of Takeshi Iori, Mao is sent to Tokyo to challenge Takeshi’s son Sei and discover the extent of the Gunpla world. Initially intent on becoming Sei’s rival, the two quickly become friends, and they have high respect for each other and their skills at Gunpla building.
- The first real surprise in Build Fighters was the presence of a 1/48 unmanned Zaku that appeared on the battlefield during a Battle Royale type match, forcing Fellini, Mao and Sei/Reiji to work together to take it down. Gundam Build Fighters excels at being able to balance competitive spirit with fun, and some of the episodes involve competitions that don’t involve regular death match, such as racing, baseball and even a variation of Halo 2‘s “Siesta” game, where players are given randomised weapons.
- Ricardo Fellini is the reigning Italian Gunpla Battle champion. He rides a cream-colored Vespa scooter with sidecar, and is seen flirting with Mihoshi at a party. Better known by her stage name Kirara, the latter initially has no interest in Gundam or Gunpla, but her agency sees Gunpla Battle as a stepping stone to her career as an idol. Because of this, she cheats her way into Gunpla Battle by paying fans to build her Gunpla and getting to know her opponents up close and personal before sabotaging their Gunpla, although she eventually cares for Fellini, Sei and Reiji as the season wears on.
- The battle between Fellini and Sei/Reiji was the magic moment in Gundam Build Fighters for me: the emotionally charged battle, plus callbacks to some of Amuro’s tricks used in Char’s Counterattack, thoroughly convinced me that Build Fighters was worth watching. From this episode onwards, I followed things with great enthusiasm.
- The reason why a disproportionate number of my images are from the later episodes is because I have much more to say about the events that happen later on: the earlier episodes do an excellent job of setting the table, but after episode fifteen, it seems that every subsequent episode is determined to out-do the previous one in terms of excitement. The best part of this is that they are rather successful at doing so.
- The beauty about Build Fighters is that everyone significant encountered in Gunpla battle winds up becoming friends with Sei and Reiji; in fact, Sei and Reiji’s friendship developed directly because of Gunpla battle. The notion that sportsmanship and competition lead to friendships being built is a common theme in anime, and Build Fighters joins the ranks of Saki and Girls und Panzer in capturing these ideas in a thrilling, captivating show. Each anime does it differently, and the end results are unique, impressive.
- There are so many customised Gunpla models in Build Fighters that even my friend’s encyclopedic knowledge of Gundam was overwhelmed in the first few episodes, where he tried to identify all of the models seen. My own knowledge of Gundam is probably about a hundredth of his, although I’m still able to identify some of the suits now. The battle with Mao is equally as thrilling as the previous one with Fellini, and I was wondering if Build Fighters would be able to maintain this pacing for the remainder of the series.
- I’ll try not to discuss anything related to the various pairings in Build Fighters (namely Sei/China, Reiji/Aila, Mao/Misaki, Nils/Caroline and Fellini/Kihoshi) because that particular topic just became a rather painful one to discuss. Time will probably heal those wounds, but for the present, I will forcibly change the topic by getting the stomach cramps every time relationships of a non-mathematical nature are mentioned.
- The dynamics between Tatsuya Yuuki and Allan Adams reminds me very much of the interactions between Gundam 00‘s Graham Aker and Billy Katagiri; Tatsuya takes on the title of Meijin with the hopes of bringing back the fun to Gunpla battle, contrasting his predecessor’s single-minded pursuit of victory. This marks the third anime where pursuit of victory is thrown under the spotlight (Girls und Panzer and Stella Women’s Academy are the two previous shows where victory and fun were thematic elements), and the message winds up being the same: that having fun is of much greater importance and much more meaningful than winning.
- Secretary baker and Nils Nielsen share a conversation; the latter partakes in Gunpla battle to understand the mystery behind the Plavsky particles and holds three doctorates in physics at the age of 13. Despite clashing ideals with Sei about Gunpla battle, Nils eventually shows that he too enjoys Gunpla battle beyond the physics and scientific applications of Plavsky particles.
- Thanks to Nils’ Sengoku Astray’s capacity to manipulate Plavsky particles, and Nils is adeptness at using Chinese martial arts techniques, as well as his unit’s swords in combat, the Segoku Astray is a formidable unit that has a perfect record. In a brutal match, the Sengoku Astray is bested by the Star Build Strike. This episode answered my questions: Build Fighters consistently pulls off the impossible, maintaining the incredible tension in the atmosphere that surrounds every Gunpla battle, but simultaneously adding in humour to remind viewers that the participants are aware that this anime is about fun.
Gundam Build Fighters is conceptually no different than Beginning Gundam, and initially, the series’ slower pacing meant that I watched episodes with a moderate interest. One of my friends (with Gundam knowledge similar to that of Sei’s) greatly enjoyed these early episodes and took great joy in identifying custom models from the different universes. Sei and Reiji initially participate in Gunpla Battle together to continue evening out debts to the other. At this point in Build Fighters, the pacing is still very casual, like a slice-of-life, but as Sei and Reiji become closer as friends and put more heart into each battle they participate in, Build Fighters truly becomes captivating. The turning point for me was episode fifteen: I was no longer just watching episodes as time permitted; I was following them with great anticipation. The thrilling battle between Sei/Reiji and Fellini captured my interests entirely, and, perhaps bearing testament to my own growing experience with Gundam, I saw callbacks to elements from Char’s Counterattack in this duel, which ended in a draw. Every subsequent episode somehow managed to raise the bar further, whether it be Sei and Reji’s battle with Mao, Nils Nielsen or Aila: every episode was simply so well composed, masterfully balancing character dynamics with action scenes. The comedic moments allow for the characters to interact naturally with one another and reinforce the idea that Gunpla Battle is a competitive sport, not war, so lives aren’t at stake, but at the same time, the battles are as emotionally charged as battles from other universes, where lives are indeed on the line. However, after battles, the characters demonstrate exemplary sportsmanship, serve to remind viewers that this is a game, and that in spite of a match’s outcome, friendships can be formed, and new things can be learnt.
- The battle between Fellini and Aila was a haunting one: after Fellini gains the upper hand, Aila is subjected to the Embody system, overtaking her mind and forcing her to go berserk. Fellini then decides to end the show with a bang, but Kirara shuts him down with an angry speech about how self-destruction is cowardice. Aila was once a homeless orphan until she was recruited by Nine Barthes of the Flana Institute due to her ability to accurately predict the outcome of a Gunpla Battle by observing the movement of the Plavsky particles. Several years after her training, Aila joins “Team Nemesis”, a Gunpla Battle team that is bent on conquering the 7th Gunpla Battle World Championships.
- Aila’s interactions begin with Reiji after they fight over the last meat bun at the nearby mall, but she does not reveal her identity to him or Sei out of fear that they’d reject her. Her feelings for Reiji eventually cause a decline in her performance, and their relationship is strained when Reiji discovers her identity under the helmet.
- I had to shift through some 130 images to pick thirty that would be used for this post. Most of the images picked were from the second half of the season, after the magic moment that convinced me Build Fighters was in a league of its own and very much worth watching. Here, Sei questions what he should do after Reiji vows to fight for revenge.
- Despite Reiji’s overwhelming skill and Sei’s superior craftsmanship, the Star Build Strike is slowly overwhelmed by Aila’s Qubeley Papillon. Before anything serious happens, the Arista crystals Reiji and Aila carry begin to resonate. One of the more subtle but entertaining elements in Build Fighters was the electronic voice that announced the battle status and map in perfect English. I was joking about this mechanic with one of my friends, going “Field 3: Desert”, and we spent a few moments laughing after he corrected me by saying “Field 3: forest“. One of my projects for the summer will be to isolate the sound files the best I can.
- The battle between Aila and Sei/Reiji takes on a hilarious turn after Reiji and Aila finally understand one another in the particle fields that have done the same for characters in Gundam 00 and Gundam Unicorn. No longer constrained by the Flana Institute, Aila discards her helmet and resolves to duel Reiji with her own skills. The two’s couple-like bickering incurs the bewilderment of everyone in the stadium; this moment is quite possibly one of the best mood-changes I’ve seen in any anime.
- I will take a moment to praise the Gundam Build Fighters soundtrack, which features a diverse range of music for all of the combat themes, mood pieces and character motifs. The genres covered are diverse, including orchestra, rock and even pieces with international elements. It is quite possibly one of the best Gundam soundtracks of all time, which is saying something, considering the quality of the Gundam Unicorn and Gundam SEED soundtracks. Among my favourite tracks include “Gundam Build Fighter” (the main theme), “Mortal Combat”, “Rival”, “Aila’s Theme” and “Allied Force”.
- The fight between Tatsuya and Julian Ayers Mackenzie was a particularly personal one: the latter was Tatsuya’s mentor at the Gunpla Academy but eventually left after finding himself in disagreement with the second Meijin’s ideology of conquering others for victory. During his battle with Julian, Tatsuya fields the incomplete Amazing Exia against Julian’s F91 Imagine in an intense, emotional duel.
- I got the chills while watching two titans do battle with one another, and smiled upon recognising some of the Exia’s trademark moves from Gundam 00. This battle demonstrates Tatsuya’s commitment to fun, something that Julian did not realise about the former’s decision to take on the mantle of Meijin (名人), which literally translates to “expert” or “master”. However, after the dust settles, Julian and Tatsuya come to terms with one another.
- Despite her initial efforts to sabotage Sei and Reiji’s Star Build Strike, Kirara does not have much of an antagonistic air to her. Like Saki, care is taken to give all of the characters a solid, credible reason for participating in Gunpla battle to humanise them. One of the exceptions is the Renato Brothers, who participate for their own reasons, but otherwise, opponents and rivals become friends as the series progresses. This point bears mentioning because (to me, anyways) it is perhaps the most significant part of Build Fighters: that through competition, the outcome is secondary to what one takes away from it, and that one can never be truly defeated if they approach defeat with good sportsmanship and continue putting in their fullest efforts.
- As the series draws to a close, Fellini and Kirara’s relationship become more interesting. During a free-for-all battle at a festival, Fellini encounters Kirara, who asks him to go easy on her and subsequently puts his rebuilt Gundam Fenice Rinascita into a hold that he wouldn’t have minded happen to him in reality.
- Despite being the Meijin, Tatsuya deviates from his predecessor’s beliefs and strives to work towards promoting fun in the sport, rather than victory. However, meddling from Chairman Mashita precludes the possibility of seeing a fair fight. Mashita is the CEO of PPSE and was originally a petty thief in Arian, he stumbled upon Earth and made his fortune by partnering with Baker and using a giant Arista he stole from the Arian royal treasure room to produce Plavsky particles. Despite his success in founding PPSE, he is extremely distraught by Reiji’s appearance in the 7th Gunpla Battle World Championships. Chairman Mashita also has a childish personality, often relying on Baker to calm him down. Following the destruction of the giant Arista, Chairman Mashita finds himself teleported back to Arian, where he and Baker set up a new business selling Gunpla there, having been humbled by his experiences on Earth.
- China and Aila partake in building a new Gunpla: after the Qubeley Papillon was destroyed in the last battle, Aila sets about building a Gunpla suited for herself, resulting in the Miss Sazabi.I absolutely love all of the little details put into the construction process, including painting and panel-lining. Gunpla is quite big in reality, too, and as of late, I’ve been watching AnimeSuki’s Wild Goose and his adventures in building Jegans. I’m more of a lead machine person, but I do see the joy in mass production multirole mobile suits, too.
- The Dark Matter Exia looks downright evil: Chairman Mashita is desperate to make sure Reiji loses in the championship by any means necessary to prevent his crimes from coming to light and forces Tatsuya to wield an upgraded version of the Embody system. In the final match of the tournament, under the Embody System’s influence, Tatsuya does not fight with his typical style, employing a more brutal style to physically shred his opponent.
- Despite being completely outmatched and losing most of the Star Build Strike’s weapons, Sei and Reiji manage to destroy the Dark Matter Exia using the RG System’s signature Build Knuckle. This move is reminiscent to the G Gundam’s Shining Finger and is typically used in conjunction with the RG system to deliver a devastating punch that shatters the opponents’ Gunpla.
- After Tatsuya comes to his senses, Sei and Reiji resolve to do battle with him properly. I’ve omitted some images from the finale for brevity’s sake, and will summarise my experience with Gundam Build Fighters as an overwhelmingly positive one in all departments, from the story, to art, animation, character growth and music.
Messages of sportsmanship, friendship and determination form the core of Gundam Build Fighters, marking a departure from traditional Gundam series, where themes from warfare and human nature are brought to the table. Indeed, Build Fighters is very light-hearted in that sense, forgoing the more serious elements for elements individuals may encounter in their day-to-day lives. In this sense, Build Fighters is Gundam for all viewers, old or young, experienced or not. I realise that Gundam AGE was controversial for a handful of reasons, and I admit that I did not watch it because the more serious story stood in stark contrast with the character design, taking away from the show. Artwork does make or break a series; the character designs in Gundam AGE were inappropriate given some of the themes AGE was exploring, but in Build Fighters, the designs fit the setting properly, enhancing the series’ mood and flow. If there was a Gundam for younger viewers, Gundam Build Fighters would be it, although the show is also well-suited for older viewers who may have seen Gundam previously. Apart from appropriate character design and solid animation sequences, Gundam Build Fighters also has a phenomenal soundtrack. The musical accompaniment is very diverse, ranging from J-rock and J-pop to more atmospheric, orchestral pieces and songs that have a distinct geographic origin. There is something on this soundtrack for everyone, and listening to it is an audio treat for the ears: I enjoy the emotional pieces the most. When everything is said and done, Gundam Build Fighters excels because it is able to bring in elements for both old and new Gundam fans, and incorporate all of these elements into a series that never tries to be excessively serious or dramatic. The end result is a product that is engaging and incredibly fun to watch.