2021 Gunpla Retrospective

For the first time ever, I think I built enough model kits last year to give me enough fodder for a best/worst list. Or maybe it would be better to call it a “Beat/Failed to live up to expectations” list. Whatever - you get the idea.

The rules are simple:

  • Any model kit or figurine built during 2021 is eligible. In the case of one particular entry, only half of it was built during the year, but I’m going to count it.
  • I’m going to pick three in the “best” category, three in the “worst” category, and one honorable mention.

Now, let’s begin:

Surpassed Expectations

Real Grade Nu Gundam

This was one of the most challenging models I’ve ever built, but despite leaving me exhausted by the end, it was a fun and intriguing build, and the end result is just perfection. What an absolute legend of a model. The size, the detail, the colors. It’s just a winner all around. I knew it would be good, but I didn’t think it could possibly be this good. It’s currently the only Gundam I have in my glass display case, and I can’t help but admire it every time I go up and down the stairs.

High Grade Gundam Alex

This was a tricky build. The Alex is an older kit, with a lot of small details that needed to be painted in two different colors. It was intimidating as anything, but somehow I managed to pull it off without making any egregious mistakes. The end result is a stunning rendition of one of my favorite mobile suits ever:

Sure, it’s not quite as cool as the Master Grade, lacking all of its gimmicks and whatnot, but from a purely visual perspective I think it checks all the major boxes. The colors, the silhouette, and the accessories all work together to make this a classic.

G Frame RX78-1

If this is truly a list of things that beat my expectations, then this has to be there. It’s not the absolute best looking thing I built all year, but it was my first G Frame figure, and it sold me completely on the concept.

Sure, not all G Frame’s look quite this good out of the box, but even still, it’s amazing just how close they (can) resemble a full fledged Gunpla with a little bit of work.

Failed to Meet Expectations

High Grade Leo

This one’s a gimmmie. I had hoped that building a model of a Leo might make me reconsider my dislike of this mobile suit. But it didn’t move the needle one way or another. The articulation is poor, the accessories are disappointing, and there’s no easy way to make it look good1.

SD Sgt. Verde Buster Gundam

This looked really nice in the end, but I was not expecting to have to do so much painting and detailing. Almost nothing on this kit is color accurate out of the box. It was enough to turn me off of this particular line of SD’s (though I still have one more to get around to eventually).

R2-D2 and BB-8

Hopefully this is the last time I complain about these two2.

I’ve ruined other model kits before by topcoating them, but it was usually due to the topcoat getting cloudy or foggy after drying. There were a handful of times in which I made things worse by topcoating joints, which accidentally introduced too much friction, rendering the joint either useless, or extremely stiff.

But none of those past experiences compare to just how poorly these two droids took to topcoating. Every. Single. Piece. Became impossibly stiff after applying even just a thin layer of paint. Multiple parts broke, and R2 is permanently crippled, as his middle leg simply refuses to pop out.

I know these model kits are precision engineered, but this is ridiculous. I genuinely wonder if they still would have been stiff had I done a scratch build.

The only silver lining here is that they came out looking well enough, but it’s hard not to look at them without feeling a twinge of pain.

Honorable Mention

Real Grade Wing Gundam

The RG Wing Gundam completely changed my mind about this mobile suit. I still don’t like the original design much, but I feel this reimagining manages to unlock the true potential behind Wing Gundam. It looks and feels fast (and birdlike), and it’s weapon set is simple but effective. And those colors! Why wasn’t the original using this color palette?

Unfortunately, the model also lacked many of the trademarks features that we’ve come to expect from a Real Grade. That’s why it couldn’t quite make it to the first list. Yet it was hardly a disappointment, which is why it wasn’t on the second. In, the fact that it undid a 20+ year grudge against the Wing Zero means it is absolutely worth an honorable mention.

Looking Forward to 2022

We’re slightly more than one month into 2022, and I already have two winning kits under my belt. But it’s hard to predict anything about the rest of they year. It’s all going to boil down to whether or not I buy many new kits, or try to clear out my backlog. The backlog is filled with kits that I bought just for the hell of it and/or to support Gunpla at Target, in addition to kits that are cool, but also really old. Any of them have the potential to be either surprisingly cool, or just plain duds.

On the other hand, if I buy new kits, they’ll probably be new as in “recent vintage” (in addition to being new to me). In that case, there’s a certain quality threshold they’ll all probably meet, which means there probably won’t be too many surprises.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

  1. The only way I’ve seen anyone make the Leo look halfway decent is by doing a full recolor and customization, which is hardly easy. [return]
  2. For what it’s worth, this is the kit that straddled the line between 2021 and 2022. [return]