In the latest installment of a new Bit here, we’re reviewing Bandai’s gunpla, a model kit of a robot from the Gundam universe. It’s a little outside our usual coverage, and there might be some light spoilers for the anime. This week: Bandai’s Entry Grade Gundam from, uh, Gundam.
In the show
We were always going to end up here. This isn’t a gundam, it is the Gundam. The original article in both real life and lore, that kicked off the entire line. It’s backed by 40 years of real history and, by various accountings, maybe several thousand virtual years, but at least 20 or 30. We’re going all the way back to 1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam.
Built in UC0079 but presumably designed in 0078, based on the name, the RX-78-2 Gundam one of three Earth Federation prototypes, as part of a project to stop the EFSF armies from getting trucked into the dirt by Zeon’s mobile suits during the One Year War. There was also the Guncannon, which is sort of a Thicc Gundam with cannons on the shoulders, and the Guntank, an adorable little mech-tank hybrid with treads for feet, guns for hands, and even larger guns on the shoulders. Gundam was, to no small degree, the most successful of them. While cool, the naming convention sort of falls apart at the end there – the tank version is the Guntank, the one with cannons is the Guncannon, and the high-speed close combat version is the Gun…dam? I’m not sure Gunfighter or Gunsword would have been better, but this is what we got.
The first time these mobile suits get into action, the mobile suit designer behind them, one Tem Ray, is instantly blown out of an airlock, gets brain damage, and is left for dead. It falls on his petulant teenage son Amuro to read the manual and go out murderin’ in his dad’s cool robot. Everyone is traumatized by this.
The original Gundam, the RX-78-2 seen here, is often referred as the First Gundam, or just Granddaddy (I assume “daddy” would be too raw and real for the audience) to differentiate from the following models that jacked the name, and there are a lot. Immediately after we get the RX-78-GP line in UC0083, the creatively-named RX-178 Gundam Mark 2, the Zeta and Double Zeta Gundams, the Delta Gundam, the Nu Gundam, the Unicorn Gundam, the Xi Gundam, the Gundams MK3, 4, and 5, the Crossbone and Victory Gundams, and the amusingly named F91 Gundam F91 (you have to say the whole thing). This is just in the Universal Century timeline, but you get the gist, I hope.
The Gundam would not end up surviving the One Year War – and in the original novelization, neither does Amuro, but the shows ignore that – being melted to slag in the final battle of the war, which of course takes place on New Year’s Eve, because this is TV, and that’s how plotlines work in fiction, though they’re rarely so clean in real life. It did its job though, not just taking out a bunch of scabs in Zakus and whatnot, but being single-handedly responsible for taking out a half-dozen Zeon Newtype mobile armors. There’s a chunk in the middle of Mobile Suit Gundam where the characters run into some gigantic space robot, it kills a whole bunch of dudes, and then Amuro effortlessly brains the thing in the Gundam. Eventually everyone is terrified of this kid because he’s so good at murder, even his own bosses: after the One Year War he’s basically placed under house arrest.
It’s genuinely difficult to overstate how important the Gundam is in this space. The name, the color scheme, the general Vibe of the thing, all of it just worked, astonishingly well, and it cast a long shadow. As a result, Bandai have made dozens of different kits, across all the different grades. There are multiple HGs and MGs, two different Perfect Grades, a RG, and now this, the Entry Grade.
The RX-78-2 didn’t invent giant robots, any more than it invented PTSD and laser swords, but nothing has been created since then – with the possible exception of Evangelion Unit 01 – that’s left the same sort of mark on the genre.
This is an entirely out-of-box build. The kit included no stickers or water slides, and I didn’t panel line it (there aren’t a lot of panel lines to begin with) or varnish it. The thing was $11, I was not going to baby it.
You can get these in Japan for, like, 4 dollars, where they come in a plastic bag. I paid 11 and got mine in a box, but I also supported my local-ish hobby store, so who’s really the sucker here? This is a constant problem when buying GunPla: you either buy them online and pay trans-Pacific shipping and maybe wait a month, or go to your local shop (it’s usually more common in comic stores, but your FLGS might have a smattering of kits – worth checking in either event) and overpay. Add on Bandai’s production and shipping delays from the last couple of years, and well, that’s the pandemmy for you.
Here’s what you get. There are four runners. No stickers. No poly caps. No beam saber blades. It’s as minimal as GunPla can get:
There are some fun parts to it though, where they’ve been quite clever about reducing parts count (and, crucially, keeping the parts large enough to comfortably handle) while maintaining color accuracy. The yellow around the neck and inside the chest vents is actually one big part that clips into the blue of the torso armor and pokes out. On the crotch, the yellow V pokes out through a slot in the red part, which pokes out through the white. The red piece also sticks out the back, and forms the basis of the hip joint, with the rest of the internal structure being provided by the yellow of the rear skirting armor. The eyes, even, are a yellow part set into a red part, and classic gundam eye-liner separating the two is actually not a black part, it’s just a gap between them, so the shadow and lighting give the impression, buried deep into the head, that there’s a black line where there isn’t. All of this is clever, and shockingly effective: what would normally be a dozen frame and armor parts, some of them quite fiddly, is instead four pieces, all of them chunky, and the only loss of color accuracy is on the inner frame, which is practically invisible from any angle.
Surface detailing is, to be kind, sparse. I will say, in this thing’s favor, that the only color inaccuracies I could identify were the scope on the rifle, the rear-facing head camera (they got the front one right!) and arguably the head vulcans. Given that a lot of higher-end RX-78s don’t get those details right either – it’s usually a sticker, or left as an exercise to the builder – I’m not complaining.
It’s not the most visually impressive kit – here it is next to the real grade, for comparison. The RG almost certainly has better looks, and unequivocally has more to look at, but I don’t love it as much. This one is impressive in its own way, and the upshot of the structural simplicity is that it’s much less fiddly to mess with.
There are some rough spots, as you’d expect. No extra hands are provided, just the holding kind that look weird with nothing in them, but they hold the gun and saber handles well enough. The wrists are a little weak for the rifle, and the torso ball joint or shoulder armor can pop off if you get too excited, but the articulation is otherwise great. The ankle joints have a lot going on, with good up-and-down and side-to-side range of motion. The knees are good, double-jointed, where the arms are merely “fine”: these are single-jointed but can get well past a 90 degree angle, enough to reach up and around to grab the beam saber handle out of the backpack. The torso articulation is genuinely great even compared to most HGs and RGs, with multiple ball joints to give it an ab crunch, tilting, and rotation.
The shield mounting is extremely secure, with both a 3mm peg into the forearm, and a second handle that fits into the hand if you want to get a real solid grip at the expense of being able to rotate it. The shield can also be mounted on the backpack.
As far as the missing beam blades, I reached into my big bag of Accessories and tried some out. Unfortunately this is literally just a plastic bag with a bunch of guns and swords in it, so I don’t know to a certainty where they came from, but I can report that some 1/144 beams work, and some don’t. I badly mauled the base of a HG Hyaku Shiki beam trying to get it in there, and I think it was the RG Zeta one that didn’t fit, and one from what I think is the RG Unicorn that did. Regrettably, the gun barrel is not drilled, so there’s nothing doing there.
The build took me about an hour, half concentrating on the task and half Posting Through It. I should note here that they say you don’t need tools, and that is a lie. It’s true enough that the parts can be yanked off the runner without clippers, but I would still recommend a knife to clean the nub marks. The end result can pull off a great variety of poses, and will hold them even if you pick it up and shake it.
Should you buy it?
I think so?
Yeah, you know what, just go for it. Given the ease of the build and how much fun it is to play with, it’s entirely worth throwing ten bucks at this thing if you have even a passing interest in GunPla. Not getting beam saber blades is a cheap move from Bandai, though that’s not much of a problem: unless this is literally your first 1/144 GunPla you should have an embarrassment of beams, and you can just use the gun and shield in that case.
I already have at least one RX-78 model, but this one might be my favorite. It’s super sturdy provided you avoid wrenching the torso joints too aggressively, and it’s just fun. I like to slam out a quick High Grade as a palette-cleanser from painting Warhammer models or over-detailing a Master Grade, and somehow this thing is a palette-cleanser from even that. It’s a great quick little build, and one of the only Gundams I regularly play around with. Usually these go in my display case, and I never touch them again, but not this guy. He’s my new desk friend and I mess with him almost every day. He rocks.
For the price, honestly, this one is hard to argue with. There’s no shortage of Gundams out there – if you want a fancier one the MG VerKa, 3.0, or Gundam The Origin variants are the way to go, and the RG isn’t bad either, nor is the HG Beyond Global (I did say there were a lot) – but it’s difficult bordering on impossible to beat this little guy for sheer joy.