Gundam Build Fighters: How to Build A Gundam Show For the Present

[This is a guest post by my friend and mentor, ghostlightning.]

The primary problem that befell the latter Gundam shows is the failure to reconcile the war aspect of the show with the youthful audience.

It cannot help but glorify violence, since the amazing Mobile Suits are war machines designed to destroy other war machines.

These are not police forces, like the Labors of Patlabor. These are suits of armor for futuristic fighters. Death is very likely, especially if the fighting is done in the vacuum of space.

But how does one make an action show featuring war machines without killing soldiers? How does one make a dominant fighter hero without having him kill enemy pilots in large numbers.

It is easier to spare the life, narrative wise, of an important antagonist character, than it is to spare multitudes of other combatants. Unless you’re willing to forego all sense of verisimilitude, as the G.I. Joe cartoon of the 1980s portray pitched battles with lots of gunfire, missiles, and explosions with nary a human casualty.

I remember how Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt sent up The Transformers cartoon in the same context.

Gundam has done something similar for the past 2 decades, only with forced narrative moralizing, usually leveled by the saint-like child hero: Kira Yamato, Setsuna F. Seiei, then Kio Asuno (and perhaps Banagher Links).

This method made for terrible shows; hypocritical and poorly executed (jury is out on Gundam Unicorn as of this writing). Gundam AGE is the most recent, and perhaps the worst.

To me at least, it has become impossible to make an acceptable Gundam show. But this was until Gundam Build Fighters.

After seven episodes, and especially after the most recent pair, this show has delivered the most exciting Gundam battles in made for television Gundam. It feels so full of possibility having been liberated from the context of war entirely.

The show is about the Gundam hobby and the lifestyle, fantasized as a tournament culture similar to video games like Street Fighter and Tekken. People build Gundam model kits, which in turn become “video game” avatars in a battle context. The power of the model kit is respective of the skill of the builder and the parts used.

This, allows for incredible violent fighting, with no human life at stake. In this sense it is less violent than Pokémon since no one ever gets hurt. At most, the model kit is destroyed.

The story, is not remarkable. But it is remarkable how insignificant this is relative to the capacity of the show to provide enjoyment for people who like Gundams.

4 thoughts on “Gundam Build Fighters: How to Build A Gundam Show For the Present

  1. It’s about time Gundam embraces the literal “kids’ toy fighting tournament” formula that pushed its robotic ilk out of the youth market decades ago. War stories in a nation now half-a-century removed from real conflict simply don’t immediately appeal to kids like structured game competitions that the waves of pokemon and yu-gi-oh clones promoted. From what I’ve heard of it, there’s plenty of franchise fanservice with cameos and stuff in Gundam BF, so it isn’t unfriendly to oldguy fans either.

    I remember when I saw CLAMP mimicking the industry trend at the turn of the century with Angelic Layer, a story about customizable dolls for kids used in fighting tournaments, and I’ve always wondered, “Why hasn’t Gundam ever done this?” Was Sunrise and Bandai too caught up in chasing fujoushi money all this time?

    • As a “mature” Gundam fan it still is difficult to deal with — not having a story in a Gundam setting as opposed to having a mundane setting with Gundam toys.

      It is almost impossible, until one sees the quality of the action.

      Then, something truly amazing happens that only old-timey fans can fully appreciate:

      The show goes full-meta.

      1. Beloved characters become expys in the mundane setting. So far, Char (good) and Ramba Real (show-stealing) are the significant ones.

      2. Old and at times obscure mobile suits get featured!

      2.1 See aforementioned good action sequences
      2.2 Old beloveds get to destroy old hateds (!); the Dijeh destroying the Freedom, the Gyan fucking up Wing, Zaku blasting away Aegis…
      2.3 Big guests: the Apsalas from ep 07… Never in my wildest dreams.

      The Gundam fan of old must accept that he’s in the franchise ultimately for the suits. There can only be so much of Char and Zeon.

  2. Show had me at Ramba Ral. But I think there’s an additional sort of fanservice to be gained from Gundam Build Fighters – the prospect of kitbashing your “own” Gundam. It’s not just the Strike Gundam, it’s Sei’s “personal” Build Strike. Likewise the endless kitbashes and mobile suit variations that are designed in such a way that an eagle-eyed hobbyist might be able to dissect where each individual part came from.

    On another note it’s been far too long, ghost; great to see you still kicking around.

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