A Pretentious Anime Review: "Gundam Build Fighters"
Naturally, people don't tend to start something new without building a few first impressions. We might do this by reading a synopsis, looking at cover art, or checking out reviews. Isn't it strange that how we determine whether or not to watch, read, or play something comes from things that don't actually matter? Some of us will start an anime just because we think the opening is cool, or disregard the anime because it isn’t. Some of us will start something because there are half-nude girls on the cover, and others keep scrolling at the sight of it. Some of us will start something simply because it claims to adhere to our favorite genres, regardless of what it's about.
We all make a few pointless assumptions about the quality of a series, but in reality, there's no telling how good or bad something might be until you actually watch it, regardless of its reputation, score, and reviews. We all have minds of our own, and it seems kind of ridiculous that we have these premature opinions on things we've never consumed.
However, is there really any other way? How else are you going to determine a first impression without watching, reading, and playing everything you come across? Clearly no one is going to do this, as it would be absolutely maddening. So, due to the lack of any solid alternatives, we have to make due with what we can. I mean, haven't you ever watched something that looked bad, but when you finished it, you were impressed by how good it was? On the other hand, have you ever thought something looked good, and once it was over, you were ultimately disappointed?
Well… prior to Build Fighters, I had never seen a Gundam series before, and since I have a friend who is a huge Gundam nerd, he desperately wanted to watch anything related to the franchise with me. As a joke, I decided to pick up the stupidest looking Gundam anime possible. From reading the synopsis, I didn't expect much. I wasn't particularly impressed by the idea of some ridiculous god-like particle allowing plastic models to fight to the death. It genuinely sounded stupid, and I was excited to gauge my friends reaction on the series that was so clearly not the "real Gundam" that he wanted me to experience.
Instead, however, I got a very nostalgic, homely, and charming anime with a genuinely impressive understanding of how to make a kids series a lot of fun. It lacks depth but it isn’t pretentious, it doesn’t pretend to be sophisticated or more than what it actually is. It’s just plain and simple fun.
The Simplicity of Childhood
The initial plot for Build Fighters is actually pretty simple. Our two protagonists, Sei and Reiji, are trying their best to win a tournament because of their obsession with Gunpla. For the most part, there’s not much going on besides from this. They have to fight and fight to get to the top, making a bunch of friends and rivals throughout. However, once you get passed the initial ideas, there are a few extra plot points they introduce in order to change up the formula. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won't talk about what exactly happens, but what the writers do is a rather effective way of keeping the series interesting. I'm not going to pretend it was foreseeable, but it was definitely intriguing.
Additionally, it's pretty cool how it tries to make every little bit of this world as fun as possible. In this universe, Gunpla battles are as popular, in fact, even more popular than any other sport on Earth would be. It seems like everywhere you go, people will be talking about or fighting with Gunpla (I’m sure this is Sunrise’s ideal marketing environment). It’s so exciting to see a world where everyone is equally as passionate about something, even if the subject matter is as silly as Gundam.
An Incredibly Fun Cast
Build Fighter's characters aren’t deep or complex, but they're all quirky enough for a lot of fun to happen on screen.
Sei Iori, the protagonist, is a huge fan of Gundam, and since his father is a world renown Gunpla champion, he feels obligated to live up to his name and get good at the game. Seeing him go crazy over every little thing is pretty entertaining, especially when he goes into hyper-nerd mode, quoting line to line from a Gundam series. He’s great at building Gunpla, but he’s an awful fighter, and that’s where Reiji comes in. Reiji is very close friends with Sei, and although he’s pretty edgy in battle, he has a great understanding of fun. His cluelessness and warped perception of the world makes way for solid entertainment, too. In terms of skills, he's the complete opposite of Sei. He’s not good at building the Gunpla, but he has a great sense of how to fight. Additionally, there’s a huge secret surrounding Reiji. It’s hinted at since episode one, but it’s never actually revealed until much later on. This “secret” really adds some spice to the series, making it feel like more than just a systematic tournament about trying your best to win.
These two meet a bunch of other quirky characters along the way, too. The most notable addition being Aila Jyrkiäinen, a fellow Gunpla fighter who has a chance encounter with the cast around halfway through the series. The chemistry between Reiji and Aila is incredibly adorable, as they compliment each others personalities pretty well. They’re similar in many ways, which is essential to Reiji being the one who is able to get closest to her. They definitely deserve each other in every sense of the phrase.
Additionally, there’s Kousaka China, Sei’s romantic interest throughout the series. These two do have pretty okay chemistry, but she’s not particularly impressive as a character. It feels like Kousaka exists for nothing more than cheering Sei on. She doesn’t really do anything throughout the series besides from show up in scenes meant for the sole purpose of comedy, or in the crowd to go “You can do it, Sei!!!”
Another important character would be Ral, the man who sorta coaches the two. He helps them learn tricks and secrets to assist them in battle, and although he does have important moments, he’s very similar to China in terms of how much you should be expected to care. He feels irrelevant, even when the series tries to make him relevant.
There is an antagonist, but they’re not revealed until quite a bit into the series. So, in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I won’t mention their name. As villains go, they’re not particularly impressive. Very standard motivations with the kind of actions you would expect. Not the series strongest point, but still easy to hate. You want them gone, because the things they do will probably make you furious.
Build Fighters is surprisingly inspirational. Although it seems like nothing more than a kids series advertising Gundam, it’s so obsessed with the idea of chasing your dreams, never giving up, and doing what you want because it’s fun. From the cool soundtrack to the exciting openings, they really understand how to set the mood. Fight scenes are just so damn awesome in this series, with the soundtrack making fast paced fights feel exciting and powerful, yet dramatic scenes feel heavy and emotional. Additionally, there are quite a few genuinely memorable battles that take place throughout the series due to how gorgeous they are. It wants to show you that competitive spirit should never die, even when the stakes are as high as they are in Build Fighters.
You might be thinking that there are no stakes since they’re fighting with plastic models, but there definitely are. It may not be as crazy as risking your life, but in the midst of a tournament where millions of people are watching, if you lose, your Gunpla will probably be destroyed. It takes a lot of time and effort for these people to build their Gunpla, so seeing that happen to their hard work is devastating.
The Power of Accessibility
So many titles these days are obsessed with being something deep, complex, or substantial. It’s very rarely that I see a series that isn’t under the “slice of life” tag and has been made for the sole purpose of being fun. Even if you take some of the most brainless series’ out there, they usually have moments where they try to convince you that something greater is going on.
Build Fighters is so focused on being cool, fun, and entertaining that it doesn’t have time to be convoluted. It has plot twists, and surprising betrayals, but even these can be taken at face-value without any deeper thinking.
This makes the series so easily accessible. It’s not edgy, it’s not full of convoluted dialogue, and it’s not annoying as hell. Just straight up fun. This is likely because it was made for kids to begin with.
Gundam Build Fighters is still a kid shows, and unsurprisingly, the comedy style is pretty childish. Unfortunately, most of the jokes it makes aren't very successful. It’s one of those situations where you're probably going to laugh because it's cute, not because it's actually funny.
However, this isn’t a big deal. Very rarely do I not have a smile on my face while watching Build Fighters, and even if it doesn’t do a great job at being successful with its comedy, (although it does have a few funny moments) it’s genuinely adorable. The character interactions are silly, and they yell, laugh, and overreact to the stupidest things, but it’s all done in such a lighthearted way that it’s hard to stop smiling.
There's something soothing about this homage to nostalgia and childlike innocence, which takes me back to my perceptions of the world when I was a kid. Sure, it does have moments where it isn’t innocent, but these scenes are rather minor.
One Big Advertisement?
Throughout the series there are pretty frequent ads encouraging you to purchase Gunpla, and this is because Build Fighters was made to be an advertisement to begin with. It’s trying to get kids excited for Gundam models so they can convince their parents to go out and buy them. It feels kind of dirty when you think about it for a little, since the way they portray Gunpla in the anime is so legendary. It's painfully obvious that they want you to buy their products. They make it seem like so much fun to build and work on your Gunpla, when that’s probably not the reality.
If you can look past this, it’s not that big of deal. Sunrise just desperately wants to make money, but that doesn’t really make the show any worse.
Build Fighters is an incredibly rewarding experience. It does have its fair share of flaws, mostly having to do with the side characters, a lackluster villain, and a mediocre understanding of comedy, but for the most part it’s an absolute blast to watch. Its lack of sophistication might bother some old-school Gundam fans, but a show trying to be fun for the sake of fun is genuinely refreshing. From the chemistry between Sei, Reiji, and Aila to the exciting soundtrack and great fight scenes, Build Fighters has a lot going for it. Even if these things are extremely basic, it’s still a good time all in its own respect.
I give Gundam Build Fighters a 6 out of 10
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