Like Gunpla? Click the image below to visit my new blog, Gunpla 101.
My Gundam hobby has been getting out of hand. I spent Hurricane Irene putting together my salmon pink Zaku II (above right) between blackouts. Not two weeks later, I’ve picked up another version of Gundam Unicorn (that’s Destroy Mode on the left), this time the plainer Unicorn Mode. Along with my SD Gundam, my collection is starting to crowd the shelf.
I rekindled my interest in Gundam modeling this year at Anime Boston, where I fell in love with a Gundam Unicorn model. This was back in April, when shipments of the Zaku II, which I was already hunting for, were mostly delayed for radiation testing.
While asking yet another vendor, this shiny kit caught my eye. This Gundam looked brighter than the others, somehow. As I discovered, that’s because of its “titanium finish,” which, while not consisting of actual titanium, still looks very cool.
“Sixty bucks,” the vendor told me. For a plastic toy? I told him I was going to look around for a better deal. When I turned, he saw the Anime Boston Staff logo on the back on my shirt. “Fifty-five for staff,” he called after me. Not much of a discount, but it was enough for me to justify buying it anyway.
It took me four hours to put my Gundam together. Now, she sits on the bookshelf in all her gleaming titanium and florescent pink glory. My Gundams mean more to me than a figure ever will. It’s so satisfying to look at them and know how much time I spent putting them together.
Gundam modeling has become my unlikely but enjoyable new hobby. The only problem is how tough it was to break into it. The instructions in the box are in Japanese, and I couldn’t find a single “just the basics” tutorial for beginners! I guess becoming a professor has given me confidence, because I’ve done my best to do a primer myself. Remember though: this is just the basics, because I’m a beginner, too.
So if you, too, would like to take up Gundam modeling, here’s my guide to get you started:
Choosing a Gundam kit for your skill level
Before you begin building, you need to learn a few things about the types of Gundam models out there. Gundams are classified in two ways: by grade and by scale.
Grade refers not only to the level of mastery you will need in order to complete your Gundam, but the accuracy of the individual parts. A Gundam of a very detailed grade will be most true to life, er, true to the way it looks on the show. However, it’ll also be the trickiest to assemble. Here’s a list of the most common grades and scales you will encounter:
- Super Deformed: my first Gundam model was one of these. Made to look like tiny, cutified robots, these models have the worst plastic quality and least parts of all.
- High Grade: The next step up. Bandai started releasing these in 1990 as their most complex and intricate models. When they found out there was a demand for accuracy, they began releasing more and more complex grades of models. Today, these are not considered to be too complex and make great beginner Gundams.
- Real Grade: A brand new grade, started in 2010. It takes elements from the High Grade, such as being relatively simple to put together, but also elements from Master Grade, like having an internal skeleton underneath plate-like top parts. The insides make it more posable, but not harder. For me, these are on the same skill level as a High Grade.
- Master Grade: Released in 1995, these models are intricate without being excessively expensive. As the name implies, though, it’s best to have completed a few other models before undertaking one of these.
- Perfect Grade: You can’t get any more accurate than this. Or any more expensive! These are the largest, most detailed models of all. If you don’t think building one of these is a challenge, you should sign up for the Gundam World Cup right now.
Gundams generally come in several scales, based on how many of the model would fit inside an actual Gundam. There are several models that defy this scale, but they’re fewer and farther between.
- 1/144: The smallest scale available. I was surprised when I made my first Gundam in this size and its face was only the size of my thumbnail. It looked a lot bigger on the box. Keep in mind that just because a 1/144 is the smallest size doesn’t mean it is always the least detailed. Real Grade and High Grade models are available in this scale.
- 1/100: The next size up. I’ve got my eye on a few models that come in this size. Master Grade models come in this scale.
- 1/60: Now we’re getting somewhere. These are about as tall as a housecat. You can get less detailed with High Grade or go all the way with Perfect Grade, but nobody’s going to miss something this size sitting on your shelf.
- 1/1: All right, you can’t actually make one of these, but you can go see it in Japan!
Here’s me with a Gundam Unicorn scaled for the Bandai store at Otakon.
Tools to get before you begin
Technically, you don’t need any tools to build a Gundam. The parts snap right off of the plastic runner and into place, no glue required. However, you still might want to visit the craft store before you get started on your Gundam model.
I’ve found two tools that make Gundam assembly a lot more fun: Wire Side Cutters and an X-Acto knife. The cutters, usually used for putting jewelry together, are helpful for removing your parts from their plastic runners with more accuracy than just your fingers. If you still do get excess plastic on the part, you can use an X-Acto knife to scrape it off.
Other tools that can be useful are model paint and brushes (or official Gundam paint pens, if you’d prefer) for customization, and sandpaper if you’re really particular about smoothing off each part.
While looking up links on Amazon, I just found out that there’s also a comprehensive Gundam tool kit, too. But I’ve gotten by without anything fancy.
Building your model
Now that you have a model you’re comfortable with and all the right tools, you’re ready to start. The next step is to begin reading the instructions but, unless you know Japanese, I understand how that can be a bit daunting. After building three models, here are some of my tips:
- Every detail counts. Since you’re probably not reading along, you have to rely on the images. Look for visual cues that can keep you from slipping up. For example, when it’s critical that a tiny piece needs to be facing right side up, there will be an exclamation point icon next to it in the instructions. If you need to put a sticker on the piece, there will be an icon of a square. It’s great that Bandai standardizes Gundam model instructions so these will start to look familiar.
- Go one step at a time. It was pretty overwhelming for me to start building a Gundam and notice that step one was divided into seven parts — steps 1.1 through 1.7! In cases like that, just focus on step 1.1. Don’t cut out pieces in advance — they will all start to look the same and that can lead to mistakes. And for me, when you divide up the process into lots of small, simple steps instead of a few complicated big ones, I feel much more confident about making it to the end.
- There’s no mistake that can’t be fixed. While building the Zaku II, I noticed halfway through the second leg that I’d missed a piece early on in the first leg! I simply read the instructions backward until I was able to put the piece in place. Another time, I was able to reset a piece I’d accidentally put upside down without retracing my steps. Even if you break a plastic piece in half, that’s nothing superglue won’t fix. It’s worked for me.
And with that, we’ve come to the end of my knowledge. Do you build Gundams? Thinking about it? I’d love to hear your stories.
Update: Wow, since this post went up, a lot of people have visited! Since then, I’ve learned more about Gundam modeling, so don’t miss these posts:
Like Gunpla? Click the image below to visit my new blog, Gunpla 101.