Monday, June 23, 2014

Anime Review: Gundam Build Fighters

If some shows I've reviewed lately are a bit surprising but not wholly so since I've mentioned them before this has to be the oddest of the bunch. Considering that last fall people had next to no hopes for this show, that I remember seeing, there's no reason I would see the latest sort-of installment in a franchise I don't have any experience with (other than that one time my anime club watched a few episodes of Gundam Wing and I was deeply bored) and it seemed like a pretty blatant grab to get kids to buy toys, nope I have better things to spend my time on! But after the new year I was seeing more and more chatter about the show online and it seemed like people were really enjoying it and I actually had a number of friends who were also becoming interested in the show for the same reasons. Considering that Sunrise had done the rather unprecedented move of putting the show legally on youtube subbed in at least a half a dozen different languages I didn't have any reason to not try the show out when I found myself with some free time during my lunch and I was pretty quickly able to see why so many people were enjoying it.

Gundam Build Fighters

Iori Sei has always loved building gunpla (plastic gundam models) and even though he admires his dad who was great at building them and controlling them in virtual reality matches he has no talent for controlling and seems to have given up on his dream to someday be a world champion himself. As a classmate of his tries to strong arm him into building a gunpla for him for the world series a mysterious boy named Reiji shows up who knows nothing about gunpla, or the world at large really, but has an innate talent for controlling Sei's models and suddenly Sei's interest in taking the world by storm is rekindled.

Before I forget, each episode here as a "stinger" so make sure to watch past the credits each week for some silly and often plot important details, I didn't think the ending songs were very if any spoilerly so there are no worries there. And it's with that first stinger that the show's humor really starts to show through, sure it was plenty evident in the first episode proper where it makes clear that this is going to be a fun, silly kids show and that the characters are rather eccentric for taking fighting robots this seriously, but it's after the credits when Sei finds Reiji happily eating at his house after searching far and wide for him where it becomes clear the the show is more than aware of plenty of conventional tropes and is going to play with at least some of them. Overall the show really nails this fun tone perfectly, while things do get a bit serious later on and the events threaten to affect the real world it never feels "too dark" for kids and even though the stakes are important they're never so world-changing that the scope felt unrealistic (yes I'd argue that even about that big even towards the end, I got the impression that people would have been able to deal with it sooner or later but that our heroes just sped up the process). I was also really surprised by just how fun the villain in the series was, I'm so used to seeing villains like Team Rocket in kid's shows that having someone who was over the top but so serious about it, and both succeeded and failed with their plans, that it was a nice surprise and I just had fun seeing how Sei and Reiji had to roll with the punches.

But the real question a lot of people reading this review probably have isn't how enjoyable it is, since let's face it, a lot of anime is for kids and plenty of not!kids enjoy it, but rather, can you enjoy this if you're not already a Gundam fan? For me the answer was an overwhelming yes, you don't need any familiarity with any of the series for the plot and, while I'm told there are quite a few background cameos that were fun for fans of the franchise, there were never any moments when I was pulled out of the story because I didn't understand something. So it's a fun series that's family and newcomer friendly, does it have any flaws? I can't think of any big ones myself, like many kid shows you have to suspend your disbelief for some cheese and a good bit of over-the-topness but the show is fully aware of that and manages it as best as it can. It even provides it's own reason for why everyone is getting so hyped over these plastic models that you can battle with, because it's a hobby. The characters argue that because it's not a war* everyone can choose to be as serious or not as they like about it and therefore put their all into it without having to worry about getting hurt and I can see their reasoning there, it's a far better explanation than I expected from the series in any case. Besides, cheese and narm can be fun and since the show made no attempt to hide that it was supposed to be fun and silly to start with I just giggled instead of rolling my eyes when a character said something particularly dramatic and knew that the show was going to poke fun at it a few episodes down the line anyway.

So in short, this show was fun, more fun than half the shows I watched from start to finish in the winter season for sure, and after watching an episode during lunch I'd find myself thinking about it during work and grinning like an idiot over it. The show felt polished, the battles looked good, all of the characters got a nice, balanced amount of screen time, the first opening song was ridiculously catchy ("You're not alone/it's all going to be alright"? No wonder the show has the nickname Gundam Boy Friends), and it knew exactly how to have the right dramatic payoffs especially in the final fights. So head on over to youtube and see if the show is available in your language/territory, I have no idea what it's chances of getting put out on DVD/BR in the West are (I suspect low) and I'm also cautiously optimistic about the second season this fall (I'm hoping it's not a sequel since this season ended so strongly but I reserve all judgement until I see the actual first episode).

*I should mention that the original series at least, probably all the other gundam series, do exist in this world as tv series so the characters make this comparison themselves (it also makes the very idea of having cameos hilarious, they even go so far as to have Sei quote the original series and no one can make him stop until he does the entire show, this is exactly the kind of dorky humor that made me spend half the show giggling with it)

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