What is mecha modeling?
A mecha model is an oversized science fiction robot, or 'mobile suit' scale model, mostly 'snap-fit' (not requiring glue) and commonly designed to have a human pilot. Kits are typically plastic, more advanced kits may have metallic parts and specialist kits or garage kits (sometimes abbreviated as GKs) are made from resin. Notably popularised in Japan in the early 1980's through technological advancements in plastic injection moulding, mecha models come in all shapes and sizes, most commonly manufactured today by Bandai in the form of Gunpla, from the very long running and iconic anime series Mobile Suit Gundam. Other manufacturers are wide and varied in size and output.
Scales typically range from 1/144 to 1/60, with a few variations here and there. Bandai categorises quality and complexity, through acronyms. These are:
- High Grade (HG). Normally 1/144 scale, around 15-20cm tall. Easy to build and cheap, typically from £10-£15
- Master Grade (MG). Normally 1/100 scale, around 20-25cm tall, complex to build and intricate. Ranging from £25-£100
- Real Grade (RG), Normally 1/144 scale, around 15-20cm tall. Much more detailed and complex than a HG and a relatively new line of grade. A little more expensive than a HG at £15-£20
- Perfect Grade (PG). Normally 1/60 in scale, standing 25-35cm tall. The holy grails of Mecha Models, massively detailed and often with metallic parts. Very complex builds and frightening expensive. Typically ranging from £150-£200
Other model types of Gunpla are considered to be Non-Grade or NG. Other manufacturers of Mecha and Sci-Fi kits such as Kotobukiya and Hasegawa typically produce 1/100 scale kits from other anime franchises. Some non-bandai kits are truly beautiful, so never pass them up :)
There are of course, with anything, cheap imitations from unlicensed third-party or 'knock-off' manufacturers. Buying from these manufacturers is entirely your choice - do not however expect the same level of quality or engineering you would get from a fully-licensed (legally allowed to reproduce designs from an anime) manufacturer. This is a subject that polarises in the community, and one of which I remain indifferent and logical about.
Despite this, there are one or two manufactures of very expensive and beautifully re-imagined mecha models, such as g-system. Be prepared to part with at least £400 if you want to buy one of these kits. They are exceptionally beautiful but they also require a very high level of skill to build - so don't walk the walk if you can't talk the talk.
Mecha Modeling is a pretty niche art form. To most people, the association to mecha models bears a great resemblance to action toys (more specifically, Transformers, you'll get this comment a lot when you get into the hobby from people so get used to it, and don't get mad at them for saying it!). You can't blame them of course, it'll always be the case - but none the less, the amount of time, creativity and effort required to make a kit, most certainly makes it a work of art.
What makes a mecha model a work of art is a hotly debated line, shifting in detail, but the most consistent view is that at the very least, a painted model makes it a work of art.
Just as military scale modelling was popularised here in the west, anime-inspired modelling became and is as popular in Japan. Spreading throughout Asia and America, the popularity of the hobby has steadily grown over the years and the technology, complexity and engineering involved in ever-expanding ranges of model kits has become staggering. The addition of the annual GBWC (Gunpla Builders World Cup) run by toy giants Bandai in Japan in recent years has turned a traditional Japanese past time into a burgeoning global hobby, with regional competitions across many countries. Tens of thousands of mecha modellers also regularly interact in a flourishing online community across social media, YouTube, forums and websites.
Sadly, in Europe this hobby gets little to no attention. Although the popularity of Japanese culture and anime is increasing, this hobby still has too many connotations to military scale modelling - struggling with the stigma of 'old man pretending to be a kid in the shed on Sundays' that popular culture has deemed too old fashioned to take notice of. All however is not lost! Italy currently trail blazes in Europe is its Mecha Modelling capital - gaining a regional slot in the GBWC. Although popularizing Mecha modelling here in the UK is tough, there are some sole retailers starting to appear - giving us hope yet that the UK will one day be able to cast it's talent into the GBWC, and one day win it.
Rest assured, I have and always will be campaigning to make this happen :)
Would you like to see some really fine examples of Mecha Models? Check out my pinterest board by clicking here. I regularly update this with some amazing works I come across.
Are you interested in taking up the hobby? Good! Click here to get started!