The more I age and move on with my life, the more I find myself consistently embarrassed by my younger elitist self. Especially around 2012 and 2013 when I hit the elitist phase and I just wanted to push away from blatantly fun things because they weren’t adult enough. Especially when I was trying to be more adult by liking more edgy things and such. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, which is a great film and I should just write about it at some point, and today’s topic, Gundam Build Fighters, were victims of this elitist mindset. I can’t help but look at my past self and just say “it’s ok to just have fun. You can have the time of your life.” I made it half way through this anime years ago and just stopped which is a massive shame. Gundam Build Fighters show is fantastic.
Build Fighters is an anime series that is heavily like Angelic Layer and Pokemon in terms of tone and how the anime is structured and the characterization of it’s characters. The series is centered on as you would guess it, people building Gunpla and using advanced particle (Plavsky particles) technology to animate them to fight in a sports anime like setting. That’s honestly the coolest thing about this show. I put down the Gunpla is freedom caption in the title for a reason. Builders can customize mecha as much as they want in whatever way they want and then fight with them against others who did the same thing. The creativity vs the villain like “I just want to push out gunpla kits and get rich” or just capitalism is the heart and soul of Gundam Build Fighters in every department. Sunrise trying to make themselves look like the good guys when selling this product.
Ok, enough waffling. Gundam Build Fighters starts at the Iori Gunpla Shop. The home shop of Tatsuya Iori who won runner up to the national Gunpla Championship seven years prior to this anime and is now promoting Gunpla abroad. This is where we meet Sei Iori, a young gunpla builder in junior high who builds at a master level but can’t pilot gunpla at all. One day when Sei was challenged by a rival Suzumu Sazaki who is after Sei’s building skills, a red-haired boy named Reiji appears literally out of nowhere to pilot the gunpla for Sei. With that introductions starts one of the best friendships in all of anime. Reiji the fighter, Sei the builder and maintainer. All they need are some rivals and they are set. Oh, there are plenty of those by the way.
When I say that Gundam Build Fighters is a tournament series with our protagonists as the underdog. So in general, you the reader probably know where this anime is going and who will win in the end. There are no surprises on that path, but Build Fighters is about the journey and journey is outstanding. Considering the amount of great characters that you meet along the way and their distinct gunpla, is very well crafted with good character drama. Just like the characters and the gunpla, how each episode is constructed is consistently different. It’s not just “here’s your challenger for the day, have a flash back” and then the fight happens. You can spend more time with the next opponent in episode and then only see Reiji and Sei when the fight starts. The narrative has the free will to do what it wants to do and its great.
Surprisingly, a lot of time is spent developing a solid cast and then dragging them along for the journey. Mao, for instance, is a great rival that reveals himself to Sei (not in that way, it’s a kid’s show) earlier on and pilots a version of the Gundam X. Alia is there with her model of a quebely and mysterious atmosphere, but I don’t want to give away a lot about her at all. Just know that she’s pretty cool. Nis Nelson is an American who is a great fighter who is more interested in the technology behind gunpla for his own reasons. His version of one of the Astray Gundams is great. Felini, the Italian Champion, has a motorcycle Wing Gundam, and was Reiji’s mentor in elevating his skill level earlier on because he’s the Italian Gunpla. Of course, Reiji forced Fellini to fight him continually until his abilities improved. Sometimes that ruined a lot of Fellini’s attempts to woo women. This is just a start for all the characters because they go on their own small journies.
That being said, I do have two characters that are directly tied to the narrative that I want to talk about specifically though. Tatsuya Yuuki is the true rival of Reiji and Sei throughout the series. I say rival because there are no villainous feelings between the two, just a “I want to fight and win against you” playful mentality. He is the Char of the series to our two protagonist’s Amuro. I just can’t help but love Yuuki’s presence because he is a good motivating factor and even has his own spanish guitar theme. His dropping out of the original gundam competition really hurt Reiji’s motivation, but his reappearance as the master of building gunpla, Meijin Kawaguchi the third (based around the name of a famous gunpla builder). His arc of proving himself as a Meijin goes alongside the main plot and it’s just as powerful as Rei and Seiji’s arc. I am really glad that he exists.
Then there is the secondary plot that motivates the story is Reiji’s origin. He is a prince from a mystical land in another dimensional called Aria. Of course, no one believes him until it’s too late. This isn’t a spoiler by the way, this was revealed earlier on. What is a spoiler, which you probably don’t care about too much, is that the Chairman Mashita doesn’t know a single thing about Gunpla and is a poor man from Aria. He stole the huge Arian stone from Aria and magically appeared on Earth to use the particle’s ability to get gunpla to move and sometimes completely control people. That’s it, he’s only in it for getting rich and not to take over the world. He sees Reiji as a major threat to his money, so he makes the challenges increasingly difficult for Sei and Reiji through nationals in a large variety of ways. If he never did anything, he would have probably gotten away with everything. Oh well, haha.
From a visual perspective, aside from stuff that I am setting aside Gunpla stuff for the next paragraph, Build Fighters looks great. The character designs are very pokemon in nature with these characters having similar faces, but their body shapes and clothing they were tell you a large amount of their personality and who they are. You can call them simplistic character designs, but they really work with the tone of the series and what it’s going for. Same for how these characters move in ways that no other characters do and their facial expressions. For instance, how Sei moves is very distinct from how everyone else moves. The background art for the stadium, cities, towns, and the fighting battle grounds are great too. I love that gunpla can fight anywhere like in space or famous land battle scenarios. It’s just a well-constructed series.
The gunpla battles themselves play heavily into fanservice from gundam series while also increasing it’s cool factor. If you pay attention to how each gunpla moves, they move in the iconic poses their base models do while also making the same sounds. There is a lot of detail work and love put into Build Fighters to make it work. Not everything is for fanservice though, some models like Fellini’s motorcycle wing gundam are just as cool as they can be. On the other hand, there is thematic relevance to their models too. Sei’s father piloted a version of the original gundam, so everything Sei creates is based on the Strike Gundam from SEED because of their thematic relevance to each other. Same with Tatsuya’s mechs being very zeon in nature until the end. He is the Char of this anime after all. The visual effects and movement animations behind each build are insanely cool to watch. I love how they got the sound effects write for each unit. Also, an energy cape that appears on a gunpla later. It’s honestly stunning a stunning series in every department. .
So if you can tell right now, I have nearly zero criticisms towards Gundam Build Fighters at all. If I did, it’s based on pacing and everything because Build Fighters throws a lot at you, but Gundam Build Fighters is what I could call a perfect series. Even with the still unexplained things it leaves behind. The show set out to do something and does it really well. Even the wiafus are perfect. I feel like I need a new label specifically for Build Fighters because of everything I have to say about it, but I’m not going too. It’s solid. There is so much passion, creativity, energy, love, and drive just for a simple series where people use their gunpla to fight against gunpla the other guy created. It shouldn’t be this fun and perfect and yet it is. I don’t think Sunrise knew what they had when they made this. I can honestly say that if you want another entry point into the Gundam series as a whole, Build Fighters could be it. It’s a very Gundam story put into a light and fun, kid’s show package. Couldn’t recommend enough for everyone.