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Final Impressions: Gundam Build Fighters Try

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A Good Try

In my mind, in the story I've built for myself for lack of genuine information, Gundam Build Fighters is The Little Gundam That Could, a show and concept that someone in the bowels of Bandai or Sunrise had to fight for, the staff cobbling keyframes out of Q-tips and elbow grease, sneaking new episodes away under the noses of The Suits for delivery to eager broadcasters and Youtube, and into the faces of true believers everywhere.

Of course, the reality of that couldn't be further from the truth.

Really, Build Fighters may have the scrappy, underdog attitude, but the loud, proud commercials for the HGBF line of new plastic models, carefully timed to come after every opening theme and every credit roll, speak to the depth of support the show actually has.

Hell, the first season was the Gundam show of its season, with no other "name" to share the slot. It wasn't a one-off, never-to-be-repeated side journey. This was Bandai doing what Bandai does with Gundam, and growing a new limb in the series' ever-branching fictional universes. The Build Fighters universe stands as an equal peer along the siblings that birthed 00, SEED, and the rest. Heck, in a meta sense, it might even last longer, since some of the modularity and universality introduced with the Build Fighters models is sure to trickle into future lines, long after the series have come and gone.

But back to the thing I said about scrappy attitudes and such. Regardless of how much of a sure thing Sunrise and Bandai did or didn't believe it would end up, Build Fighters went in like a show with something to prove. It never let up and reaffirmed that the most important thing about Gundam in this day and age isn't sudsy ruminations about war and peace, or about pretty boys getting angry with each other, or even the sci-fi applications of large robots and the mysterious particles that power them.

Don't get me wrong, that's all pretty important, but most important thing is having a love of plastic models (especially Bandai's many Gundam-branded plastic models) and the buying, assembling, and customizing thereof. As in the case of Reiji, a love of the Gundam fiction isn't even required, just a love of Gunpla and Gunpla Battle, which represents the prime good and ultimate virtue of joyful competition. 

In a sense, then, it's all the more fitting that Build Fighters Try ends at the Meijin Cup, a thinly veiled reference to the yearly Gunpla-customization contest that Bandai holds, though of course, the Build Fighters-verse's Meijin Cup is a contest held with all the pageantry of the Oscars or Golden Globes, all to celebrate some hot-ass customs of all your favorite plastic robots. 

The Meijin Cup is right where everyone loves Gunpla for what it is in both this and other worlds: a lovely little modelling hobby. It's where models are judged not on their battle prowess but build quality, where a young Sazaki brother can build a budding bromance with the sickly little kid that never used the stickers, and where you can put together designs as conventional as a Zeta reinterpretation of the Lightning Gundam to...a horrifically embarrassing tribute to everyone's favorite Try Fighter, Fumina.

Side note: The designer for Super Fumina is none other than than Fumikane Shimada, known to girls-with-robot-bits-on-'em connoisseurs as the guy behind Strike Witches and more than a few Kantai Collection Fleet Girls. And he did a pretty good job, too, referencing Fumina's first Gunpla, her Powered GM Cardigan, in the design.

Anyway, the episode's basically a long victory lap, waxing eloquent about how transformative Gunpla fandom can be, or more philosophically, being a fan, and engaging (positively, of course!) with the subculture that fandom provides. It makes a best-case scenario for when subcultures conquer the world (though to be fair, Gunpla is mainstream "over there" in ways it will never ever be in our universe), and treasures the joy that can only come from experiencing the deeper aspects of fandom for the first time.

That said, for as much thematic weight as this last episode carries, structurally it falls prey to the same weaknesses that doom Build Fighters Try to live in the shadow of its predecessor. With the drama all over last week, this week's episode feels weightless, as inconsequential as it is in truth. It's quite similar to the "Gunpla Fair" episode in season one, as it features lots of downtime, low-stakes dustups, and friendly, "let's all be Gunpla Battle fans together" character dynamics. And like season one's version, it would've been much better before the final fight.

It's all well and good that Build Fighters Try is striking out for itself, and building its own mythology and stable of original designs. Frankly, I'm not that big a gunpla fan, so I don't even care that most of the biggest stars of the show couldn't possibly be reconstructed using stock parts, the same way that the Star Build Strike, Zaku Amazing, or Wing Fenice were "based" on something "real" to the Gundam fiction. It doesn't really matter that Sekai had to have had access to a 3D printer or nanomachines to have made his Kamiki Burning Gundam a reality, because this is a show where magic fairy dust makes the dolls move like they do in the cartoons.

Ultimately, the problems with Build Fighters Try were more in the narrative than in its world-building. Chief among these is that unlike the previous season, the kinds of rivalries and friendships that got built up over the whole series didn't get the room they needed to breath, grow, and establish themselves. In part this was due to the team structure. Many of the most compelling rivalries were between people who would never end up fighting each other. I'd have loved to see how Fumina could match her Star Winning against Sekai or Yuuma's Gunpla, and the series itself acknowledges as much when it refers to Wilfrid and Adou's never-to-be dream duel.

But that's small change compared to the way earlier competitors were muscled out of the way once the Nationals started. I can guess that the creators were intent on giving the Try Fighters good opponents from the get-go, to avoid the stint of mook-victories Sei and Reiji went on on their road to the World Championship, but that only makes the pain of seeing Gyanko and Simon Izuna sit on the sidelines for episode after episode more acute. Sure, the Gunpla Academy, Sekai's senpai, and even the SD-R triplets were more compelling adversaries, but it's impossible not to imagine how much better those matches would've been had we, the audience, been nursing a desire to see them fight for realz on the promised day.

We cared about the fight between Fellini and Reiji because Fellini had spent most of the series mentoring Reiji - it was a classic master-student showdown. We cared about the fight between Sei and Mao because Mao had been so friendly and helpful every other time, and this was finally were the gloves had to come off. And so on. Build Fighters Try needed to let those relationships grow to bear that sweet emotional fruit, but sadly the show planted the seeds halfway through, instead of at the start.

That aside, Build Fighters Try's only crime is in being less impressive than its forebear, and being slightly less awesome than something that's pretty awesome is a decent enough failure to live with. I for one, can't wait for the planned OVA to surface later this year. 


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Josh Tolentino
Josh TolentinoManaging Editor   gamer profile

Josh is Japanator's Managing Editor, and contributes to Destructoid as well, as the network's premier apologist for both Harem Anime and Star Trek: Voyager For high school reasons, he's called "u... more + disclosures


 



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