The Gundam franchise is no stranger to spin-off series. However, the Build sub-series is a completely different beast. Rather than feature real mecha with pilots putting their lives on the line, the Build series focus on the real world and the gunpla plastic models that are made based on the shows. In this version of reality, you can pit your model against another persons model using devices specially made to bring the models to life, complete with replicated sounds and effects. This of course causes real damage to the gunpla, requiring the builder to repair it before further use.
The third and latest entry in the Build series takes a somewhat different approach. In Build Divers, Gunpla Battles have been replaced by the Gunpla Battle Network, an online game that scans your gunpla into the virtual world and you go along with it as an avatar. In the latter half of the first cour of the series, the plot tightens like a noose around the concept of battling in a fake world with no consequences, and battling in the real world and all that comes with it. The antagonist of the arc challenges the protagonist to a Gunpla Duel, this series’ version of the Gunpla Battles seen in prior entries. The difference between Gunpla Duels and GBN is immediately apparent in more ways than one.
Unlike GBN where no harm will come to your gunpla, a world that gave birth to the protagonists Gundam 00 Diver Ace, Gunpla Duels will literally wreck your gunpla, and gave birth to the antagonists Astray No-Name. While the 00 Diver Ace is clean and flawless, the Astray No-Name looks like it has history. Replacement parts are obvious and even some areas that are lacking in armor, but it gives the suit character, something the antagonist believes to be a plus and something you just can’t get from a virtual world.
But that’s not the only thing Gunpla Duels have going for them. This battle felt much weightier, more impactful than any of the previous battles in Build Divers. Everything was heavy and it just gave off this more authentic vibe to the battle. And because the gunpla can really get damaged, it adds more weight to the battle in that sense as well. There’s just this feeling conveyed by this battle that stands in stark contrast to everything that came before it and I’m curious to see if that translates at all to what comes next. At least one thing that did carry over as of episode 14 is the scar on the 00 Diver’s chest, which was left as a reminder. It’s a small piece of the past brought into the virtual world.
Still, it does little to make my desire for a third season of Build Fighters less significant. I want that intensity and consequence in every battle. Going back and watching Build Fighters: GM’s Counterattack reminds me even more of what the first Build series was like. And yet, I can also see what they may be trying to hint at with these series.
Mobile Suit Gundam is one of the biggest anime franchises in Japan, and it’s the same with the off-shoot Gunpla models that are so widely popular that they got their own shopping center with a life size statue out front. The easiest way for Bandai to capitalize on this would be to allow fans to take their gunpla creations and use them in some way aside from model competitions. The Gunpla Battle System from Build Fighters and the Gunpla Duel System from Build Divers may never be possible. After all, what could possibly bring plastic models to life in such a fashion? But the concept of GBN, a virtual world where you can take your gunpla with you and live out those fantasies to their fullest, is a much more realistic goal to shoot for, and showing fans what that could be like, how fun it could be, is a potential stepping stone to a real GBN. We already have VR headsets for that immersive first person experience, and custom joysticks could complete the mobile suit piloting experience. All that’s left to solve is how to scan and replicate a customized gunpla within the world of the game, gimmicks and all.