2023 Gunpla Retrospective

I can’t believe it’s that time of the year again. Feels like it was only yesterday that I was recapping the Gunpla highlights of 2022.

The Bad of 2023

I’m not going to go into detail, but suffice to say that this was not a good year for me when it comes to my personal life. And to a certain extent I think this was reflected in my builds:

  • There were a few low effort builds, including one that I didn’t even bother to top coat.
  • Throughout the year I had varying amounts of unfinished builds sitting beneath my workbench (as of this writing, there are at least four of them). This isn’t the first year where I’ve done this, but it never occurred quite this frequently until 2023. The only explanation is that I wasn’t having fun with these builds.
  • Even when looking at the good builds - the ones that I put a lot of effort into - I often had to force myself to put in that effort. In retrospect I’m glad I did, but at the time it wasn’t very fun.
  • At various times throughout the year I also had to force myself to sit down and do photoshoots.

Putting this all together, one might get the idea that I’m just not enjoying the hobby as much as I used to, and that I should take a break. Perhaps there is some truth to that. More specifically, maybe I’m getting tired of building High Grades where I have to spend so much time removing seam lines and doing color correction. Maybe my future in this hobby involves switching to Master Grades, and building fewer kits as a result.

But I don’t think that explains it entirely. For example, I had a lot of fun building the High Grade GM, even though I had to spend a lot of time removing seamlines and applying waterslides. Maybe the problem is not so much with High Grades in general, but with the kits I’m building. That is, maybe I’m buying kits that I don’t like nearly as much as I think I do. If that’s the case, I just need to get more choosy.

Ultimately, I think the biggest factor has nothing to do with Gunpla at all. There’s no denying that this was a bad year that was very taxing on my mental health. I have no doubt that this had the biggest impact on my (lack of) motivation.

Here’s hoping to a better 2024.

The Good of 2023

There were some good things to come out of this year:

Waterslides

2023 is when I finally got comfortable using waterslide decals. I have a few kits in the backlog for which I have full sheets of waterslides, and I look forward to getting to them in 2024.

(Good) Laziness

I developed what I consider a “good” kind of laziness. There were a number of builds this year where I kept things simple, specifically in regards to weapons. Where in the past I might have added in all sorts of extra little details using metallic paints, this year I often opted for nothing more than some panel lines and a bit of weathering compound.

This was largely borne from the realization that even in most Gundam shows, the weapons are largely monochrome without much in the way of color separation. If that’s good enough for their official onscreen representation, then it should be good enough for me.

I also realized that, in some cases, too much color separation and too many metallic paints can make a weapon look a bit too busy. Sometimes simpler is better.

Backlog

I actually made a dent in the backlog this year. It feels pretty nice to see the pile slowly whittle away.

Tallying the Numbers

Here are the numbers for 2023:

  • 16 finished High Grades
  • 3 finished SD Gundams
  • 1 finished Disney kit
  • 2 Gundam Universe Figures that I touched up
  • 4-5 unfinished builds, and 1 unfinished accessory pack

Not counting the figurines, that adds up to 20 kits, one more than last year, and the same number as in 2021. Looks like I really have gotten into a steady groove.

Now let’s move on to the highlights. I’m going to have a couple of different categories, some of which are new. Also, not every category is going to have 3 entries. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s silly to box myself in like that.

Kits that Failed to Meet Expectations

Zaku I (Origin version)

This is the model that I couldn’t even bother to topcoat. It’s just not as interesting as the HGUC version of the Zaku I, and not different enough from the Origin version of the Zaku II.

If they tweaked the colors or the weapon set, I might think better of this one. But in its current state, it feels like an also-ran.

Wing Gundam Fenice

I feel bad putting this one on the list. I still really like the Fenice as a mobile suit, and there’s nothing particularly wrong with this kit. I just feel like it’s missing something. There’s a certain cool factor - dareisay a sense of majesty - to its portrayal in Gundam Build Fighters, and for reasons I can’t quite explain I don’t think this model captures it.

Put it this way - as soon as I was done with this kit, I pretty much forgot about it. That doesn’t happen with most builds, and the fact that it happened here is a telling sign.

Barbatos Lupus and Lupus Rex

These models are so bad that I’m not entirely sure if I hate the various incarnations of Barbatos, or if I simply hate them in Gunpla form.

These two required way too much color correction, and just aren’t fun to build. They lack in both weapons and accessories, and they suffer from design flaws, in large part thanks to the Gundam Frame being so poorly structured.

I’m glad I got them off the backlog, but they were an absolute slog. By far the worst part of this hobby in 2023.

“Interesting” Kits

Barzam

I don’t particularly love the look of the Barzam, but the look of it - as well as the build process - are so unique. This was such a change of pace that I felt compelled to give it a mention.

GM

I think the High Grade GM is interesting in the same way as the Gogg build from 2022. This is a very old kit, but it is still capable of looking excellent if you put some effort into it. Sure the articulation may not be up to snuff, but there’s a suprising amount of detail to bring out, and with some decals it looks even better. It’s a simple, classic, iconic look.

Favorites of 2023

Cima’s Gelgoog

Every time I walk past my Gunpla shelves, this one catches my eye as much as anything else.

True, part of that may be it’s prominent position at the front of the shelf, but I also think it just came out looking great. I’m really happy with my decision to spray all of the ochre colored parts with grey spraypaint. The ochre looked too much like vomit for my liking, and the grey ended up pairing brilliantly with the purple.

I also think this is just a really great Gelgoog design. It feels like a nice reinterpretation of the original Gelgoog, one that brings that suit into the modern age while not quite ditching the original silhouette.

Gundam X

This one feels a bit like cheating. Barring some sort of disaster, or the model kit being garbage, this was guaranteed to go in the top 3 simply because of how much I love the Gundam X. But it turns out that this is a pretty great kit in its own right, one that somehow manages to include all of the Gundam X’s gimmicks. And with enough TLC it ends up looking pretty great too.

Darilbalde

C’mon, was there any doubt this would make the top three? I’ll admit that initially I thought the model looked a little “off” compared to how it appears on TV, but since then it’s rapidly grown on me. Every time I look at it I think it looks cooler than the last.

Gundam Ilfrith

I still think the Ilfrith is the most interesting looking Gundam to come out of Witch From Mercury, and I’m tired of pretending that it’s not. And this kit does a great job of bringing it to life.

My only complaint is that it requires a lot more color correction than I’d like to see from a modern High Grade, but at least in this case it ends up being worth it.

Schwalbe Graze

This kit capitalizes on all the promise of the High Grade Iron Blooded Orphans line. The inner frame looks good without being flimsy, the color correction isn’t too onerous, and it has a nice set of accessories out of the box, without asking you to go out and buy multiple accessory packs. It’s one of the best grunt suits I’ve built in years.

Gunpla Ladies

This year I ended up building four model kits that are very clearly coded female. I’ve talked about this at length throughout the year, and I’m still not sure how I feel about them.

On one hand, it feels a bit sexist to add hourglass figures, childbearing hips, and breasts to mobile suits that just so happen to all be piloted by women. But on the other hand, it feels empowering to see these suits depicted not as sexbots, but as fierce warrior women.

Looking to 2024

If I had to make a prediction about 2024, I see myself continuing to focus on my backlog more than on buying new kits.

There was a time where I could walk into pretty much any hobby store - or browse any online hobby shop - and find at least one kit I liked and wanted. But that’s becoming less and less common.

It’s to be expected really. I’ve been at this hobby for over ten years now. In that time I’ve built models of most of my favorite mobile suits. And when I look at the kits that have come out of the last few years of mainline Gundam shows, the pickings are increasingly slim.

That doesn’t leave me with many options. Occasionally I’ll come across something interesting at the hobby store, but more and more I find myself gravitating to the weird, rare, and unorthodox kits being sold on Premium Bandai.

On one hand, it’s great that there’s still so much variety out there for me to potentially explore. On the other hand, P-Bandai isn’t cheap, and it takes a while to ship. I couldn’t imagine relying on P-Bandai for an entire year’s worth of builds, so I’m going to have to rely largely on the backlog to keep me going.

And if the backlog runs dry? Well, in that case there’s always Master Grades.

Final Observations

  • 2023 was extremely light on releases of new Real Grades and Master Grades. Something is definitely up. I’ve heard online rumors that it has something to do with a plastic shortage, or something to do with costs or sales. Whatever’s the case, the Gunpla landscape has certainly been changing over the last few years, and there are no signs of it changing any time soon.
  • On a related note, it seemed to me that this year saw the even more “normal” kits and accessory packs go P-Bandai only. Whether you’re an international builder that P-Bandai doesn’t ship to, or you’re simply someone who can’t nab a preorder in time, too many P-Bandai releases is never a good thing.
  • I saw a few hobby shops put Witch From Mercury kits on clearance at the end of the year. It’s hard to tell if this really means anything. Is it because the show was less popular than expected? Or did Bandai simply make too many grunt suits that no one wanted to buy?