Gunpla Build - High Grade Byarlant Custom

Picture it - Holiday Season, 2022.

I’m taking my kids to shop for gifts while mom is out of town. We go to a store that just so happens to sell model kits. I’m hoping to score a Real Grade God Gundam, or maybe a High Grade X Divider. I come up short on both counts, but in the meantime I find something else. Something that I never expected to come across at a brick and mortar store.

Then I sat on it for a year, until one day I got tired of its giant box taunting me and finally decided to build it.

That day was December 16th 2023. And that kit was the High Grade Byarlant Custom, from the Gundam Unicorn OVA:

Of course, like so many other kits over the last six months, I got tired of it mid-build and put it back on the shelf, which is why I’m writing about it here in March, instead of December.

Whatever! Let’s get to it.

About the Mobile Suit

NOTE: In addition to the Gundam Wiki, most of the information in this post comes from one of Youtuber Kakarot197’s always-excellent mobile suit history videos

The Byarlant Custom is based on the original Byarlant, an experimental mobile suit built for the Titans in UC 0087 during the Gryps War.

The original Byarlant

The Byarlant’s main “gimmick” (if you want to call it that) is that it was capable of atmospheric flight without the use of a Base Jabber.

This was not a new idea at the time. During the One Year War, Zeon came up with the Gouf Flight Type, though it had limited flight range, as well as reliability issues. After the war, the Titans would further explore the idea with the Hazel Icarus Unit, however that prototype had a whole raft of problems that made it unviable for mass production. However, it proved that the concept had merit, which led to further research that ultimately resulted in the creation of the Byarlant.

As far as I can tell, the Byarlant was the first flight-capable mobile suit that pretty much just worked, without limitations or flaws or compromises. Sort of.

You see, the Byarlant has really funny looking hands. They’re unable to hold onto any weaponry beyond its custom made beam sabers. That means it’s only weapons are those sabers, as well as the pair of Mega Particle Cannons built into its arms. Some might say that this left the Byarlant undergunned compared to its contemporaries, but that’s not necessarily true.

For one, a lot of other Gryps War-era mobile suits went into battle with nothing more than a beam saber and a gun. Furthermore, as Kakarot197 points out in his video, those Mega Particle Cannons had extremely high output, making it arguably more deadly than most anything on the battlefield.

When you put it that way, perhaps the Byarlant really didn’t have much in the way of flaws.

Anyway, after the end Gryps Conflict and the defeat of the Titans, at least two Byarlant units remained intact. These were given to the (non Titan) Earth Federation military forces at Torrington Base. There the two units served as testbeds for new technologies and enhancements.

Byarlant Custom Unit 1 - the unit this model kit is based on - was nicknamed the Chimera, as it was the result of combining parts from multiple old Titans mobile suits:

Byarlant Custom Unit 1

What we have here is the body of the Byarlant combined with the feet of the Baund Doc:

And the claws from the Gabthley:

In addition, Unit 1 features better thrusters and bigger propellant tanks than the original Byarlant, allowing it to fly faster and farther than before. It’s Mega Particle Cannons are also upgraded. These new cannons are all-in-one weapons which can act as close range beam machine guns, long range beam cannons, or even emit a beam saber.

There was one final change to Unit 1 - EFF brass insisted that the Byarlant’s original mono-eye head be replaced with a new one that uses a traditional Earth Federation visor. I assume that this was merely for aesthetic purposes, and that leadership wanted to purge the Titans’ Zeonic stylistic sensibilities from the Federation.

What about Unit 2?

We never actually see Unit 2 on screen in any animated production, though it does show up in some side story manga: According to the Gundam Wiki, Unit 1 was a considered "modification validation unit", which I interpret as meaning that its purpose was to prove that an improved Byarlant was a viable project. Unit 2, then, was considered the true finalized, "complete" version of the concept.

While the body is largely the same, its armaments are not. It features normal style mobile suit hands, long range beam rifles, and a pair of beam cannons. It also ditches the propellant tanks, though I'm not sure if that imposes any limitations on its flight capabilities.

Appearances in Media

If you’ve watched enough Gundam, then you’ll know that Sunrise is fond of putting certain mobile suits on screen for mere seconds just to give Bandai an excuse to make them into model kits. Technically speaking, this is true of the Byarlant Custom, as it gets less than sixty seconds of screen time.

However, I can’t think of many mobile suits that make such good use of their limited time. Appearing in episode 4 of the Gundam Unicorn OVA, the Byarlant Custom literally flies through the roof of a hangar and then proceeds to run a clinic on Zeon remnant forces attacking Torrington Base. I’m not going to go through the whole scene - just watch and enjoy.

One of my favorite comments on any Youtube video ever. You’re right failed_k - everyone is gangsta until Byarlant Custom shows up outa nowhere.

If you watched the video, then you will know that the Byarlant Custom makes up for its “lack” of weaponry through its size and speed. It’s too fast (and flies too high) to hit from long range, and it is too big to overpower at melee range. This allows it to absolutely body everything that gets in its way.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. Unit 1 eventually takes a hit midflight: the last thing we see of it is it descending, while slicing through a Marasai. It is unclear whether or not it is destroyed or even disabled. For all we know it continued on the fight offscreen. But even if it just crashed, it sure as hell earned its keep.

About the Visual Design

The original Byarlant is plagued by many of the same problems as other mobile suits from Zeta Gundam. It looks a bit too rounded and organic, akin to a movie monster. And while the idea behind the color palette isn’t bad, the specific tones all clash.

The Byarlant Custom largely fixes these issues. The color palette is much more harmonious, using a darker, wine colored red and some nice matching blues.

And then there are the two biggest changes - the arms (which look much more intricate, much less organic, and much less goofy), and the head (which also looks much more robotic and less organic). Put it all together, and it finally looks like a proper mobile suit.

That being said, it still looks pretty fugly, but in a different, dareisay more interesting way. I think the design of the Byarlant Custom tells a story of sorts.

There’s no denying that it’s a bit of a mess. It’s extremely bulky, with an abundance of large thrusters and tanks, and arms that, on their own, are the size of a small mobile suit.

But this is a case where form follows function. If you want a mobile suit that can fly, and be fast_, and have a decent operational time, you have to start with those giant thrusters and fuel tanks. Then you work your way backwards from there, building a mobile suit large enough to accommodate them. Then you give it big, multipurpose arms because it’s probably too big to carry standard weapons.

Basically, it’s a big fugly design because it has to be. In this case, that’s enough to win me over to this design, even if it’s not a looker.

About the Model Kit

I’ve watched a bunch of video reviews of this kit, and everyone seems to agree on the basics. The Pros are:

  • Impressively large
  • Good amount of detail for a High Grade
  • Impressive articulation for its size

And the Cons are:

  • Over-reliance on color correcting decals in lieu of color separated plastic
  • Balance issues (whether standing or on an Action Base)
  • Due to the nature of its weapons and gimmicks, it’s not very poseable

I don’t find any of this surprising, so I don’t imagine this build being a disappointment. But I’ve learned to never say never.