What They Say:
The time is the near future. Years have passed since the 1980s, when “Gunpla” — plastic models based on the “Mobile Suit Gundam” animation — created a huge boom.
Now, a new wave is sweeping the world, in what could be called a second Gunpla boom. Its popularity is driven by “Gunpla Battle,” in which assembled Gunpla can be controlled and made to fight. With the introduction of this revolutionary Battle System, its popularity has expanded to the point that a Gunpla Battle World Tournament is held each year.
The main character of the story, Sei Iori, is a young Gunpla builder who loves Gunpla and dreams of entering the Gunpla Battle World Tournament. As the only heir to a hobby shop, he has high Gunpla building abilities, but he doesn’t know how to control them in battle and is continually defeated in the opening rounds of tournaments. When he meets Reiji, a mysterious boy with superb Gunpla control skills, they team up to take on the World Tournament.
Sei, the Gunpla builder.
Reiji, the Gunpla fighter.
Sei builds, and Reiji battles.
They’re the Build Fighters everyone is talking about! Their goal is to enter the Gunpla Battle World Tournament — and win!
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track as well as the previously created English language dub from the Animax broadcast. Both tracks are in stereo and are done up with the uncompressed PCM format. The series is one that works some really good action across the forward soundstage that works really well here as we get mobile suits going at it across the screen in a range of terrains. The action has some solid impact to it and the bass level is pretty nice in a number of scenes as well with what it wants to accomplish. The mix captures a lot of great sound design overall to make the tournament sequences engaging and it handles the dialogue side just as well, both in the regular real world instances and the heightened in-tournament sequences where they’re playing the game. This is a very solid mix that’s clean and clear throughout with no problems during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2013, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twenty-five episodes of this series are spread across three discs in a nine/eight/eight format. Animated by Sunrise as one would expect, the show is probably surprising to a lot of people after they get into it as it has some basic and simple real world designs to it with the shop, the main characters lives, and so forth. Once it enters the tournament side, it’s like it’s on another level with the detail and vibrancy of it all as well as the fluidity of the animation. The colors pop like crazy and the flow of it all is just fantastic as we get a range of locations and styles for the mobile suits to fight across. The transfer captures it all beautifully with some great color definition and detail that holds up with no problems, especially since it hits the top end of the bit rate regularly even during some of the quieter scenes. This is a great looking transfer that showcases some fantastic animation.
The packaging for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that has a thin hinge inside to hold two of the three discs. The front cover works with the familiar key visual that came out ahead of the series release with the main cast of characters along the right while the mobile suits flit about along the left, all of which is over the real world city. With some nice rainbow material mixed in and a very upbeat sense about it, a rarity for a Gundam title, the cover looks great with its bright tone and overall flow. The back cover goes for one of the space based backgrounds with the Build Strike along the right while we get a few floating shots from the show along the lower left. The premise is well covered, probably a little too detailed, and we get a good breakdown of the discs extras and content as it breaks out all twenty-five episodes by number and title. The technical grid is kept simple but easy to read with what it details. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is pretty nice as the structure is simple but effective with a decent sized deep blue shaded strip along the right that has the basic navigation points to it and the logo along the bottom while the rest of it features some good artwork that uses different character and mecha combinations set against a white background. It has some nice pop to it and it stands out well with its cover and deceptively simple character animation. The pop-up menu changes things up a bit as it’s the same type of blue stripe from the right but done with a little more design as it’s set along the bottom. It’s easy to navigate and changing language options on the fly is always welcome, especially when you just want to check out some scenes from the English dub to see how they’re handled.
The extras for this release are simple but welcome as we get the familiar clean opening and closing sequences that are used throughout as well as a selection of trailers and commercials that promoted the series. Add in some highlighted battle selection pieces and it’s a solid mix of what you’d expect.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Having watched a fair bit of Gundam prior to this series when it came out in 2013, I always found myself leaning more toward the Universal Century material more than anything else. I liked some of the other shows I saw but they all felt like they were following the UC formula too much with just some new trappings and better animation. One series that won me over significantly was G-Gundam as it attempted to go its own way. So when this series was streamed by the official Gundam site on YouTube as it aired in Japan, I was all in to check it out because it’s one that didn’t play like most every other series in the franchise. When shows strike out on their own I tend to be more interested with properties like these.
With the original Mobile Suit Gundam trilogy movies being the top of the list for me, Gundam Build Fighters is the series that comes in a close second for what I like the most. I’d probably slide a few OVAs ahead of it but in the TV realm it’s really just G-Gundam that’s giving it a run for its money. And what’s most amusing about that for me is that what we get here is essentially a tournament show. And having seen a lot of anime over the years and a lot of tournament series that go on for dozens of episodes, you could easily say I was predisposed to hate this show. Even more so when you figure that it’s really just a big advertisement for the Gunpla push that the parent company was making to find new ways to draw kids and adults into the world of modeling. But then again, most of Gundam from early on has been about the models and merchandise. It was just one of those shows that excelled at bringing real story and character to the merchandise so that you’d be invested enough in acquiring a whole lot more.
The premise is painfully simple as we get to know Sei Iori, a thirteen year old Gundam fanatic whose family runs a model store that sells them. His father has gone missing for some time so he runs it with his mother thanks to his own immense knowledge and love of all the Gundam anime he’s seen over the years. He’s a master builder and that’s important as the kits that are built can be used in Gunpla competitions where when placed on the table, the players essentially go into virtual reality mode to compete against each other. Sei’s life takes quite the turn when a mysterious boy named Reiji arrives that spurs him into further action as a partner for the upcoming World Competition. Reiji’s definitely not the norm as he’s outgoing and confident while being an ace pilot within the Gunpla itself but he doesn’t have much in the way of skill when it comes to building. The two make a solid pair that serves to improve the other that become a force to reckon with as a team. Considering their ages and the targeting of the series, you can see their path pretty clearly. And it does follow it rather well.
Sei naturally has a childhood friend named China Kousaka that knows next to nothing about the Gunpla side of things and she’s so totally into him, which is why she’s never tried to learn anything about his passions. She’s a solid bit of support and he’s naturally oblivious to her interest, though we get some cuteness with Sei’s mother helping to nudge things at times. Thankfully, Kousaka never really has any competition to deal with so the show doesn’t devolve into that. She does start to learn the game more and finds her own (cute) path, but it left me a little frustrated that they went with the cute bear mobile suit and pursued things like the Superior Defender Gundam model style for her rather than let her be “serious” about it like the other women in the series. Kousaka’s not a bad character by any stretch but she largely serves the purpose of encouraging Sei and being helpful to him and the others on his side than her own person.
Like a good tournament show, we get a range of characters that come into play since this is a World Competition. There are a few nationalities here that provide for some minor representation as they get mostly one-off episodes with some background appearances here and there to help again support the leads, and it makes for a bigger finale when they all show up to join the larger cause. But it works well enough because they’re not intended to be constant opponents for Sei. In fact, the show works because it’s not constantly about Sei or a single opponent for him. Some episodes work on matches between other players, who he’ll face at different times to be sure, and that changing up of things keeps it pretty fresh as every player has their own style and design that works. The variety is what definitely helps keep things lively here and while you may not get totally invested in any of the characters they’re done well enough that you can enjoy their arcs as they do unfold.
So all of this works yet it may not be exceptional. But what it does is to support the piece of the show that’s just fantastic and delighted me during the simulcast and once again here. Now, as long as I’ve been watching Gundam going back to the early 90’s, I’ve never been a hardcore type that will rattle of mobile suit numbers and details. I can’t even name a handful of them when I’m not watching them. I tend to watch the other series more for the stories than the mecha action, though I appreciate it. Having watched a lot of big series recently from the original to Zeta, ZZ, and Turn A among others, there’s a certain predictability to those shows with the way the arcs work. Space battles, land battles, sometimes a little something in the sea. The OVAs tend to shake things up a bit more and we get a smattering of city or Side battles. But those all run in large blocks of time until the locales shift to suit the needs of the story.
With Gundam Build Fighters, every match changes up the locale with some new virtual setting. And since the players use a range of mobile suits from across nearly every Gundam property at the time it came out that means we get the blending of all the alternate timelines in a way that you normally would never see. It’s an ideal way to bring them together without it being forced in a way. Sunrise goes all out with the animation in these scenes as the budget is spent beautifully here as we get some incredibly fluid action sequences and a ton of great locations with rich colors and details to make each of them exciting. The variety is a huge plus with all of this as is seeing all the different types plus all the custom work that can be done to bring them to life by the players. Battles and tournaments just aren’t my thing but Gundam Build Fighters excels at it in all the right ways to make it exciting and engaging with every single one.
Gundam Build Fighters does play to a larger story that it seeds far too slowly throughout and digs into not nearly enough toward the end, but the bulk of it really is tournament material and the lives of the kids and adults that play it. It’s not detailed or rich when it comes to the characters but they’re well served for what they’re doing here and it all leads into some beautifully fantastic action sequences in every episode that delivers what a lot of Gundam fans dream of when working their own model kits and dioramas. This series knocked my socks off back when it was simulcast, especially since it was derided by ‘serious” fans who never even gave it a shot, and it’s been one of the few Gundam shows that I’m eager to recommend on a regular basis to anyone and everyone.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Openings, Clean Endings, Battle Selection, Japanese Trailers, and Commercials
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sunrise
Release Date: August 2nd, 2016
Running Time: 625 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.