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Gundam model facts for kids

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Gunpla
ガンプラ
Gunpla Logo.svg
Type Scaled model kits
Inventor(s) Yoshiyuki Tomino
Company Bandai
Country Japan
Availability 1980–present
Materials Plastic
MG MSA-0011-Ext- Ex-S Gundam complete
Ex-S Gundam kit (fully assembled)

Gundam models (or Gunpla (ガンプラ Ganpura)) are model kits depicting the vehicles and characters of the fictional Gundam multiverse by Bandai.

These kits became popular among mecha anime fans and model enthusiasts in Japan and nearby Asian countries beginning in the 1980s. Gundam modeling spread in the 1990s with North America and Europe being exposed to Gundam through television, video and manga.

The name Gunpla derives from the phrase "Gundam plastic model," most kits being made of plastic.

As of 2015, Bandai had sold an estimated 450 million units worldwide across nearly 2,000 different Gundam models.

Assembly

MG MSA-0011-Ext- Ex-S Gundam
MG Ex-S Gundam kit.

Gundam model kits come in many varieties, but the majority made from the late 80s on - standard "plastic" kits - are manufactured and assembled similarly. Kits come as a collection of plastic parts, decals, and sometimes other decorative accessories which the purchaser assembles by hand into the finished model.

Gunpla plastic parts
Gunpla model parts as shipped

The plastic parts are delivered in the exact form they exit the injection molding machine, on a "sprue tree" - a grid of interconnecting plastic rods, called runners, created by the channels in the mold that carried the molten plastic into the cavities that create each part. Each part is connected to the runners by a small plastic nub called a "gate" where the runner connected to the cavity.

The kit builder must cut away this excess plastic - usually with a pair of side cutting pliers - to free each part, then (optionally, but usually) clip, carve or sand away the remaining plastic tip where the gates attached to leave a clean surface.

Once the parts have been freed, the builder must then snap them together to assemble the model. Early kits required glue, but from the late 80s onward all kits assemble without special tools or materials.

Some kits use an internal frame - a complete "skeleton," fully articulated and able to stand on its own - to which panels are then attached to finish the appearance of the mecha.

When it comes time to assemble the panels making up the external appearance of the model, the builder may choose to customize the model in a wide variety of ways. The most basic is simply to paint the model, which allows for a large amount of personal creativity. Applying decals is also a common technique - decals are included with most models, but are also available as separate products for customization.

Every conceivable modification is possible, with some more common options including:

  • Panel lining: Many models have grooves where "panels" meet. Applying paint or ink with a fine tipped brush or pen can make these lines "pop"
  • Panel line scribing: If the panel lines on a model are not as deep as the builder would like, they can use a knife to deepen them, or create new ones, using a ruler or custom stencil.
  • Weathering: A variety of paint and plastic etching and carving techniques can make the model appear worn or battle-damaged, exposing simulated metal beneath the surface of an actual mobile suit's paint.
  • Kitbashing: Kitbashes combine parts from multiple kits to create a unique new model. This technique has been used by employees at Hasbro to create prototypes of planned releases.
  • Conversion kits: Conversion kits are (often) third-party products, usually made of thermoset resin, which can be attached (usually glued) to an official Bandai model to convert it into another model using the original as a base. Bandai used to release official conversion kits under the brand name B-Club.
  • Custom parts: At the extreme end, a skilled builder can create additional parts completely from scratch to add detail to the model. these can be purely aesthetic, enhance the articulation of a model, or introduce new gimmicks to a kit.

All of these are optional, and the model can be assembled and displayed using nothing more than a side-cutter.

Most models, once assembled, are poseable to some degree. Many are "fully poseable," with a wide latitude of motion. To help hold models in "dynamic" poses, gunpla can be mounted on a stand, with some recent models having a dedicated attachment point for this purpose.

Design

Gunpla foot assembly
Gunpla foot assembly

Over the decades, Gundam plastic models have been available in many forms, with many levels of intricacy and functionality, from immobile display units that are static once assembled, to fully poseable, highly articulated models with interchangeable parts (weapons, shields, etc.) and complex mechanical engineering.

All parts fit together with a variety of glueless, toolless joints, such as ball-and-socket pivots, or posts on one component that fit tightly into holes on another. While models are designed to be posed for display, these joints are not intended to hold up to action figure-style play; even during gentle pose adjustments, it is possible for parts to come loose and need to be pushed back together.

Components are made of plastic materials selected to fit the needs of each part. A given unit, like a foot or leg, may use parts made of multiple different materials. Bandai casts colored pigment into each part to provide a basic color scheme for the finished model, so the builder does not need to paint it if undesired.

The picture above illustrates the detail level of a higher end (Real Grade, 2011) model. This is one part of the model's "foot", less than an inch across, which not only has many details in a very small component, but is built around a very small doubly-articulated hinge. The fully assembled leg unit uses many more parts which allow it to bend at two major joints, and also has trim panels which slide apart as the leg is bent to allow the motion.

Materials

Gundam model kits can be made of several materials.

Plastic

The typical mass-market kit is made from thermoplastics, such as ABS, polypropylene or polystyrene. These are referred to in the community simply as "plastic" models, and use the snap-fit assembly method described in this article.

Plastic Gundam model kits are manufactured in Japan or China by Bandai, which has an exclusive license in manufacturing and marketing them around the world.

Resin

A less common type, known as a garage kit or resin kit, is made from a thermoset resin, typically polyurethane, often simply referred to as "resin." These are not assembled with the snap-fit approach, and the builder must assemble them with glue. Many other assertions of this article will also not apply to resin kits, since they make up a very small minority of the product line.

Garage kits were originally made by amateur or small-scale manufacturers (hence the name,) a cottage industry that predates gunpla, but Bandai has released some first-party Gundam resin kits under a separate marque, B-Club. These models are made of unpainted resin with no decals provided and often require touch-up work by the builder due to the inherent limitations of the manufacturing process.

While comparably more expensive (some surpassing $400) and more complex to assemble compared to plastic kits, they offer higher detail for the dedicated and experienced model builder.

Non-plastic

A few select kits have also been manufactured from metal. These kits are offered by several different manufacturers and most commonly will result in a finished model of about MG level. These types of models usually take days to build.

Scale

As with hobby models based on real-world military equipment, Gundam models are intended to be "scaled down" replicas of realistic designs, based on the dimensions given in the fiction. These scales are given in terms of the ratio of actual model size to the size the machine would have if it were actually built. 1:60, for instance, means that every inch of the models height is equivalent to 60 inches of the machines height if it was real.

Generally, kits range from 4~5 inches for small-scale models, 6~8 inches for mid-scale models, and 12 inches for large-scale models. Common scales, and the grades (discussed in the next section) typically associated with them, include:

Scales & Grades
Scale Grade Height (RX-78)
1:550 N/A (used in various grades) N/A
1:220 N/A (used in B-Club) 8.2 cm (3.2 in)
1:144 High Grade, Real Grade, Entry Grade 12.5 cm (5 in)
1:100 Master Grade, High Grade 18 cm (7 in)
1:60 Perfect Grade 30 cm (11.8 in)
1:48 Mega Size Model 37.5 cm (14.75 in)
1:35 UC HardGraph N/A

Grades

Bandai uses a convention called grade to describe generally how detailed a given model is. Many models are available in multiple grades, depicting the same fictional machine with the same general appearance, but with different levels of part detail. A High Grade (or HG) model for instance will have noticeably less detail than a Master Grade (or MG.) The models are also different sizes, with the HG being about two inches shorter than the MG.

Most models within a grade are the same scale, to the point that grade is often used as shorthand for both, though this is not consistent. For instance, "Perfect Grade" models are typically 1:60 scale, and "High Grade" typically 1:144, but there are "High Grade" models that are 1:60, yet have inferior detail to a 1:60 "Perfect Grade," and vice versa.

Grades have no specific definition, but generally improve in quality over time, so as models are re-released over the years, a High Grade model from one year may be inferior to a re-release from several years later, so grade alone does not entirely define the quality of a model.

For instance, the RX-78 has been released several times as an HG model, with each one having more intricate detail than the last, yet each release is considered HG. Likewise, a PG model from several years ago may look better than an HG model from today.

The following sections will cover in detail each of the common grades, roughly in order of "quality," defined as the general detail level and intricacy compared to other models in the same grade at the same time.

Original / First Grade / FG (1:100)

The original 1980 line of Gundam models does not have an associated grade, since this terminology was not introduced until 1990. These kits are limited in articulation, some require glue to assemble, and they must be painted for a correct appearance.

After the adoption of the grade nomenclature, Bandai began to re-release these designs with minimal updates as First Grade (FG) starting in 1999.

High Grade / HG (1:144)

HG models were introduced in 1990. The original kits featured full snap-fit assembly, an articulated internal frame (for the first two kits, which provides better range of motion and is more poseable), and utilized the molding technique known as System Injection, wherein multiple colors would be cast on the same part.

Master Grade / MG (1:100)

MG models were first introduced in the summer of 1995, designed and made to higher standards than most other models. These kits take much longer to construct and are often much more expensive than their lower-grade counterparts. More recent Master Grade plastic models typically feature a movable inner frame system which enables extensive movement and bending of joints, as well as including standing and seating miniature figures of the pilots of each gundam model.

The popularity of this line was so great that a lot of old and new mobile suits from non-graded series were remade as Master Grade models. In 2020, a special Luna Sea version Zaku II model was released with the band's single "The Beyond". It commemorates the 30th anniversary of the band and the 40th anniversary of Gundam, and was the first in the Master Grade series to use recycled eco-friendly plastic.

Though the name "Master Grade" is widely known because of Gundam, it is not Gundam exclusive as a few Master Grade offerings have come from mechas in Patlabor and Dunbine. Bandai also released a line featuring a series of character figures from Dragon Ball Z, Kamen Rider, and Tiger & Bunny under the name of MG Figurerise.

Real Grade / RG (1:144)

In 2010, Real Grade (RG) surpassed High Grade as the top-end series of the 1:144 Gunpla line.

Real Grade kits are differentiated from HG kits by a number of features previously found only in larger scale kits. These include near perfect color accuracy without the use of color-correcting stickers, a full inner frame, high part counts, advanced articulation, and extensive decals. These kits have also been redesigned to appear more "realistic" by adding additional surface detail, color separation and mechanical detail.

Perfect Grade / PG (1:60)

PG is the highest grade line of Bandai kits. The first PG Gunpla kit was a RX 78-2 Gundam model released in 1998. Only 18 kits have been released as 1/60 Perfect Grade since then.

As the name suggests, Perfect Grade gunpla kits attempt to represent the Gundam as perfectly as possible within real world limitations. These limitations result in the Perfect Grade line sometimes taking several years between releases to wait for advances in model making technology.

Features like metal joints, increased detail in plastic molding and plastic quality, as well as LED lighting kits are signatures of the PG line.

Other lines

Super Deformed / SD

Not based on any particular scale, the super-deformed style features comically proportioned models, the most noticeable features of which are their very large heads. Super Deformed Gundam kits are often very easy to construct but offer very limited articulation and require paint and detailing.

The most famous line is the BB Senshi (or "SD GUNDAM BB Warriors" in English). There are also separate product lines: for instance, Superior Defender Gundam Force and Ganso SD Gundam (discontinued in the 1990s). Most kits of this line are from the Musha Gundam series and the Knight Gundam series.

Entry Grade (EG)

In 2011, Bandai released the Entry Grade (EG) line in Southeast Asia. Originally manufactured in China, the EG line contained fewer parts than the FG kits, thus having very limited articulation. Only four Gundams were released in the line. Bandai later rebooted the Entry Grade line in 2020 to be released worldwide with the RX-78-2 Gundam as the starting Gundam model, with the kit having articulations and proportions similar to the High Grade kits and advanced color separated parts.

Mega Size Model / MSM (1:48)

Bandai released the 1:48 Mega Size Model (MSM) line in 2009 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Mobile Suit Gundam. Available in six models:

  • RX-78-2 Gundam
  • MS-06C Zaku II
  • MS-06S Char's Zaku II
  • Gundam AGE-1 Normal
  • Unicorn Gundam Destroy Mode
  • Gundam AGE-2

These kits are essentially larger versions of their 1:144 High Grade UC counterparts, but priced much lower than the 1:60 Perfect Grade line. Once assembled, these models stand 37.5 cm tall (about 15 inches).

Bandai developed these kits with ease of build in mind as they require no tools to build. The individual pieces are attached to the runner by a very thin piece of plastic so that they can be broken off by hand. The assembly process can be sped up even more as the runners have been developed in a way so that you can attach two together and break off the individual pieces that way. Bandai also include a 'Double Separator' tool to help with the new method of building.

UC HardGraph

The Universal Century HardGraph line does not primarily center around the Mobile Suits of the Gundam universe. Rather, it centers on military things on a more conventional scale such as land vehicles, tanks and troops. However, some kits do include detailed to-scale mecha parts which are particularly useful for the creation of dioramas. For instance, the Anti-MS Squad kit includes an articulated lower Gundam/GM arm.

Other/Mixed Scales

There are some other Bandai Gundam models, without grades, but worthy of mention.

Speed Grade uses a scale of 1:200.

A 1:400 scale model line is designed for large mobile armours and battle ships in the Gundam Collection line, which the line's ordinary mobile suits as figures, not models. Only extremely large units like Mobile Armours and Warships need assembly. These are pre-coloured models, and the warships need minimal assembly.

An earlier line of model, the High Grade Mechanics, with a scale of 1:550 held a similar function in introducing large mobile units, but the line only consist of 3 mobile units from 0083.

Another high-detail line is the EX model, in scales of 1:144 and 1:100 (non-humanoid units like aircraft) and 1:1600/1:1700 (spaceships), ranging from the Universal Century to Cosmic Era productions. This series is not Gundam-exclusive, having models from other series like some of the jet aircraft from Sentō Yōsei Yukikaze and at least one aircraft from Ace Combat 5.

Hobby

Gundam model building as a hobby is a worldwide phenomenon. Participation ranges from simply assembling kits as sold, to mild personalization with paint and decals, to creating nearly original works with parts from multiple kits, additional custom-made components and in-depth, highly detailed multi-layer paint jobs.

Like any hobby, gunpla building can be extremely involved and expensive, but with model kits starting at less than $20 USD and requiring no special tools or materials, barrier to entry is low.

Some hobbyists build dioramas around finished models using techniques shared with other miniature model-based hobbies such as model railroading and wargaming. A diorama could depict a mecha in combat, undergoing maintenance or even destroyed on the battlefield.

Bandai holds an annual international contest, Gunpla Builders World Cup, in at least 16 countries. Winners are awarded trophies and model kits.

Model series

Gundam models are divided into series according to the media they're derived from.

Since 1999, the High Grade series uses various names to separate them from line to line.

  • High Grade Universal Century (HGUC) refers to units that appear from Mobile Suit Gundam to Mobile Suit Victory Gundam and the series that are released in between.
    • In 2010, this was expanded to include other series, under the lines:
    • High Grade After Colony (HGAC)
    • High Grade After War (HGAW)
    • High Grade Future Century (HGFC)
    • High Grade Correct Century (HGCC)
    • High Grade Cosmic Era (HGCE)
  • Models from Mobile Suit Gundam SEED/Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Mobile Suit Gundam AGE, Gundam Reconguista in G, and Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin were released separately under the sub-lines:
    • High Grade Gundam SEED (HG Gundam SEED)
    • High Grade Gundam 00 (HG Gundam 00)
    • High Grade Gundam AGE (HG Gundam AGE)
    • High Grade Reconguista in G (HG Reconguista in G)
    • High Grade The Origin (HG The Origin)
  • In late 2013, two new lines were introduced to celebrate the release of Gundam Build Fighters.:
    • High Grade Build Fighters (HGBF)
    • High Grade Build Custom (HGBC)
    • The HGBC series is one of the first Gunpla-related material that allowed modelers to customize their Gunpla with various gear.
  • In 2015, a new line called High Grade Iron Blooded Orphans (HGIBO) was announced to coincide with the release of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans.
  • In 2018, a new line called High Grade Build Divers (HGBD) was announced to coincide with the release of Gundam Build Divers.

Gundam FIX Figuration

The Gundam FIX Figuration (aka G.F.F.) series of collectible figures was started based on the Gundam mechanical designs of Hajime Katoki and his 'Gundam FIX' illustration artbook and are released by Tamashii Nations, a Bandai's characters based toys line. These figures share similar features as those found in the MSiA series, but are considerably more detailed and often include more accessories.

Changeable parts and variant models are often utilized throughout the line, offering the collector a wide variety of display abilities. The collectible figures use PVC (with some ABS plastic) for construction materials, and a recently introduced expansion to the line use metal in the skeleton of the figure. Gundam FIX figures are designed to be true to Hajime Katoki's vision, and as such often adopt design elements and styling found throughout his artwork. The Fix series caters to Gundam fans who enjoy the scale, possibility and durability of the MSiA line, but seek the extensive details and variations that can often only be found in the Master Grade Gundam model-kits.

The G.F.F. line does carry a higher price than the MSIA and MSIA Extended lines, which can represent a concern for some collectors. However, overall the G.F.F. represent a more "high-end" line of collectibles, which often contain better detail, more accessories, and the option to build multiple variations in the same box.

As the series has progressed, G.F.F. collectibles have been improved. Changes include sharper-more precise part casting resulting in better detail, improved articulation, and improved durability.

G.F.F.N.

The G.F.F.N. line up is a significantly better than the old G.F.F. series, though usually sporting a considerably higher price due to materials, production and shipping. The quality has improved thanks to a new durable plastic that is distinctively reminiscent to the Gundam Model plastic (HG, HGUC, MG, PG) thus replacing the resin that shrank while curing. There is also little, or no casting lines, professionally cast heads, and considerably less of the brittle gray-ish plastic that plagued the G.F.F. series. Rubber is now being used sparsely, often to be used for the hands to allow ease of swapping weapons or spare hands without breaking or warping the joint socket.

There are very few toys in the line-up, with some costing between $70–$150 or more (the price of a Perfect Grade, or large Master Grade.)

Bandai also created similar toy lines:

  • G.F.F. Metal Composite - a spin-off of the G.F.F series utilizing injection-molded ABS plastic and die-cast metal.
  • Zeonography - a spin-off of the G.F.F series that showcases mobile suits from the Zeon forces.
  • Cosmic Region - high-quality line of mobile suits, similar to G.F.F., that appear in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny.
  • 00 (Double O) Region - high-quality line of mobile suits, similar to G.F.F., that appear in Mobile Suit Gundam 00.
  • G.F.F.N - Gundam Fix Figuration Next, '004X' Series utilizing metallic parts, slightly larger scale, better quality paint job and markings. The first figure is a re-release of the #0030 MSZ-008 Zeta II, released March 2009.
  • K.F.F (Keroro Fix Figuration) - a spinoff lines features characters in Sgt. Frog (which the series itself plays much parody towards Gundam series) with original mechas designed by Hajime Katoki. As being a parody, the boxart sticks as much what as the original G.F.F. is.

Special editions

Over the years, Bandai releases special limited editions of various kits, usually as competition (such as the yearly Bandai Action Kits Asia (now Universal) Cup held in Hong Kong) prizes, or as an event-limited (such as Japanese toy expos, movie launch premieres) item, although sometimes these kits are sold as limited web-shop items or discreetly sold by Bandai.

These kits usually come in clear plastic, metal-plated (certain kits are in so-called 24-k gold finish), "gloss-finish", "pearl-finish", "titanium-finish", or any combination of these. Their prices are usually much higher than their regular-release counterparts.

Display-only models

For trade shows and toy fairs, Bandai displays some extremely large models in 1:6 or 1:12 scale. True to the scaling, some of these models are well over 5 feet (1.50 m) tall.

Although most of these are one off promotional models used for display purposes, Bandai has produced a few of these for commercial purposes under their HY2M line. Notably, these are MS-06S "Zaku II Commander Type" (Char Aznable custom), which is now out of production, and the RX-78-2 "Gundam". These generally retail for approximately $2,000 and are intended to be sold primarily to store owners as display fronts.

As part of the 30th Anniversary of the Gundam series, the company officially announced a project on March 11, 2009 called Real-G planning to build a 1:1 real size scale Gundam in Japan, it was completed on June 9, 2009 and displayed in a Tokyo park. The 18-meter tall statue was later moved and reconstructed in Shizuoka City, where it stayed from July 2010 to March 2011 when in August it was dismantled only to reopen in Odaiba, Tokyo on April 19, 2012. It stood in front of a gift shop, "Gundam Front Tokyo", until 2017 when it was replaced by the titular mobile suit of Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn.

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