In what may arguably be the best timeline, the invention of Plavsky particles has changed the world. How? These particles allow Gundam model kits (Gunpla) to essentially come to life and duke it out on mini-battlefields. They recreate lasers and explosions and everything! The world is currently in its second Gunpla Boom, and Sei Iori–one of Gundam’s most avid fans–is aiming to win the eighth Gunpla World Tournament. The kid’s got a lot going for him: His father placed second in a previous tournament, he’s acknowledged as one of the best Gunpla builders in town, and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise. Only problem is Sei can’t control Gunpla to save his life. He’s regularly beaten by local Gunpla players, and one is even demanding Sei’s newest creation so he can use it in the World Tournament. Things turn around, though, when a brash individual named Reiji intervenes and demonstrates his unbelievable fighting ability while controlling Sei’s Build Strike Gundam. Sei realizes with his masterful building and Reiji’s excellent controlling, they might just have a shot at winning the Gunpla World Tournament.
Y’all, this anime is fun. Sure, I’m probably a little (a lot) bias since I love Gundam, but this was a blast to watch. It’s not just that it’s a Gundam show that got me interested. Gundam Build Fighters is very much in that same vein as Yu-Gi-Oh!, Beyblade, Duel Masters, etc. Some innocuous toy/game for children has found not only a new life, but a sort of dominance in another world where its popularity is all-encompassing. I love these anime where societies seemingly run off toys. Like, the biggest thing in this world is a tournament where people bring their custom Gundam model kits and fight each other like they’re real Gundams. It really is almost like Sunrise going, “You see how much cooler the world could’ve been if you people had just loved Gundam more?!” Fascinating.
That being said, a lot of the problems with Build Fighters stems from the fact that it is one of those shows. You just know how a lot of it is going to play out. Granted, there was a baseball match in the World Tournament that caught me off guard, but you really knew every story beat. You knew which rivals were going to be fought in which order, you knew exactly when so-and-so would find out whatever secret, you knew this particular thing would happen to that particular character, and so on and so forth. That’s not to say this was a big detraction for me. I wholeheartedly believe you can use every trope in the book if you pull them off well, and–for the most part–Build Fighters did.
The aforementioned rivals were varying degrees of good to great. Mao Yasaka probably got the shaft in that respect since he turns into a bit of a joke, but his Gunpla building is on par with Sei’s, and I love the Crossbone Gundam Maoh. Nils Nielsen had one of my favorite Gunpla in the series with Sengoku Astray. His only real competition in my book comes from “The Italian Dandy” Ricardo Fellini and his Wing Gundam Fenice. To me, those two have the most personality out of every other Gunpla in the series. Their fights against Sei and Reiji are also some of the best, as well. The two most powerful rivals, Aila Jyrkiainen and Tatsuya Yuuki (the Char), were pretty great as fighters, but they’re Gunpla didn’t reach the level of cool for me that Wing Fenice and Sengoku Astray did. Bonus points to Yuuki for having “Amazing” in all of his Gunpla’s names, though.
The other characters were a lot of fun, too. The fine woman in gif form above is Sei’s mom Rinko Iori, and she is a delightful character. They could’ve had her just be there, but she is a genuine goofball and is ridiculously proud of her both her husband and her son. She also shamelessly ships Sei with his class representative China Kousaka. I wish there would have been more with China’s love of art, but I did appreciate it was never forgotten and her artist background is definitely present in her Gunpla. The ever-present Ral was a big surprise. My theory is he’s the Watcher of this universe since he’s present for damn near every plot-relevant event. Man’s there to build him some Gunpla, watch some Gunpla fight, command the respect of everyone he meets, and let everyone know what’s going on. Along with the truly comedic somewhat main antagonists, that rounds out the main cast. They really are an enjoyable bunch.
Another thing that made me all fuzzy inside is just how many Gundam characters show up as background characters. Sei’s dad sorta getting scolded by Char Aznable, the Kasshu family happily reunited and building Gunpla, Ramba freakin’ Ral himself as a main character, and many, many more. I like the theory that this series is a sort of Valhalla for the Gundam characters. In their series’, Gundams and mobile suits meant nothing but death and despair for their war-torn worlds. Here, they can enjoy Gunpla and just live their lives. They’ve earned it.
I think the cameos, the custom Gunpla, and other general references make this a pretty easy pick for any Gundam fan out there. Add to that some fun characters, a Yu-Gi-Oh! style mentality toward children’s toys, and a gosh darn tournament…and you’ve got yourself some good watching. All that said–and despite some genuinely hype moments in the big fights–it can get a smidgen too predictable. But hey, it’s the enjoyable kind. Giving it an 8.5!
And before I go, did you think I could end this article without posting a certain picture? Of course not.