Saturday, September 26, 2020

A Beginner’s Guide To Gundam Models

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Michael Rizzardi
From the ashes of a Barney obsession rose a lifelong Godzilla fanatic in Cleveland, OH...on top of whatever superhero comics, mecha anime, and tokusatsu shows Michael can get his hands on. If he's not out to dinner with his lovely girlfriend or at his piano grinding out synth tunes, you can bet he's got his eyes glued to a high octane piece of multimedia, ready to pick it apart for your entertainment.

So, you’re a Gundam fan. You’ve seen the shows, you’ve watched the movies, you’ve read the manga. Now, you’re ready to move on to the next level. You want to build a Gundam for yourself.

Gunpla (short for Gundam plastic models) has been one of Bandai’s most profitable and popular merchandise lines since its inception in 1980. No glue is required and each build results in a poseable robot toy perfect for any shelf display. But where do you start on this Gunpla adventure? There are several types of Gunpla, each one with a different scale and a varying degree of difficulty. Whether you’re shopping on Amazon or at your local hobby shop, it can be daunting for newcomers. Here’s a quick guide that will help you decide which grade of Gunpla is best for you!

High Grade 1/144

Gundam Barbatos Lupus Rex, Wing Gundam, and Ez-8 Gundam

If you’re just starting out, you’ll most likely end up with a High Grade kit. The High Grade line is the most prominent and accessible type of Gunpla. They come at the lowest price-point (anywhere between $10 and $20) and have the simplest engineering. It might take you just a few hours to build the whole thing.

Gundam Barbatos 6th Form, standing about 5 inches tall

Just about every mobile suit from a season is released in High Grade form, with several being rereleased with better engineering as time goes on. This leads to a great variety in the types of robots you can pick from, letting you choose some obscure and weird looking ones.

Gundam G-Lucifer, Hugo, and Ghirarga

Unfortunately, due to their simplicity, High Grades take the most TLC to make them shelf-ready. These kits are usually only cast in a few different colors of plastic. For certain details, you’ll either need to bust out your paint markers or apply the provided foil stickers. I’m not the biggest fan of stickers, and some of these kits can get very sticker heavy. It’s especially annoying trying to put stickers on non-flat sections since they bunch up or peel off easily. But if you don’t mind putting in a little extra work, High Grades are a perfect entry point.

Real Grade 1/144

Gundam Exia, Wing Zero Custom, and RX-78-2 Gundam

If you only have the shelf space for a High Grade but want more of a challenge, you can go for a Real Grade kit. Real Grades are made in the same scale as High Grades, but with much more intricate engineering and a higher price-point. Each one is designed with a poseable inner-frame that the other parts fit around, giving them very natural articulation. The parts are also cast in various shades of each color, providing them with dynamic, realistic colors without the need for paint or stickers.

You may get a high quality finished product straight out of the box, but not without some difficulties. There are tons of tiny parts and the instructions can be very unclear on what to do with them. These aren’t designed as sturdily as the High Grades, either. Thin parts like the v-fins on the forehead can snap at the slightest touch. The inner-frame can break, too, if you don’t loosen the pre-built joints in those pieces first.

As a line, the Real Grade series also lacks variety. There are only about thirty Real Grade kits TOTAL, and most of them are basic red and blue Gundams. If you can get through the build without breaking them, you’ll have a shelf full of great-looking but extremely similar mobile suits.

Master Grade 1/100

Gundam Double X and Gundam X

Do you want the visual quality of a Real Grade without the fiddling with such tiny parts? Upsize your order and go for a Master Grade. Costing about $45, Master Grade kits stand a few inches taller than the 1/144 scale kits. Like the Real Grades, most of the colors and details come molded as separate parts, negating stickers and paint beyond the eyes and panel lines. However, with the larger size, these parts aren’t as scary to work with.

Only a handful of Master Grades are released each year, but they’ve been at it for over two decades. There are plenty of different mobile suits to choose from. That said, the higher price is a major hindrance to collecting. If you’re going to line your shelves with Master Grades, you may end up breaking the bank.

Gundam F91, alongside a 5 inch tall can

To me, they also seem small for how much they cost. Considering they’re three times more expensive than a High Grade, I always expect them to be way bigger. But size isn’t a problem for the last type of Gunpla…

Perfect Grade 1/60

Unicorn Gundam Destroy Mode: The prize of my collection

This is the big one, folks. Perfect Grade kits are the top tier of Gunpla. Each one is just over a foot tall and comes in a briefcase-style box. But these guys aren’t just upscaled Master Grades. The Perfect Grade line takes full advantage of its scale and makes for an absurdly intricate build. How absurd? The Unicorn Gundam pictured above took three weeks to finish. I spent five hours building one foot. Five hours and fifty pieces. All for one foot. There are entire High Grades that don’t have fifty pieces.

He doesn’t even fit into frame with the can

Perfect Grades are the ultimate display piece. They are absolutely terrifying, though. They can cost anywhere from $100 to $250. Despite the elite standard, the kits are still just plastic and plastic can still break if you’re not careful. Let me tell you from experience, it hurts your heart a lot more to break a piece on a kit like this than on a High Grade. The things are also massive, so it can be tough to find room to display it properly.

Since they are only released once a year, there are only seventeen Perfect Grades to pick from. If you’re picking up a Perfect Grade, it’s either because you love the mobile suit that much or you just want to say you’ve built one. Definitely more of a “bucket list” kind of item than a “collect them all” type. But if you feel up to the challenge, you’ll have an excellent addition to your collection after a few weeks.

Which Gunpla grade interests you the most? What mobile suits do you want to build? Let us know in the comments!

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