Friday, May 2, 2014

Gundam Build Fighters (2013): Winner of the Marketing Plan of the Year Award

It is probably fair to say that the Gundam fandom was split into two factions (again) with the announcement of the 13th television series, Gundam Build Fighter (GBF). Coming right after the show known as a masterpiece, or amusing experiment, or travesty against history known as Gundam Age- the positive side of me can't help but feel that animation house Sunrise used GBF as a platform to give the finger to all their noisy fans believers. The more cynical part of me feels that they are using GBF as a giant marketing ploy... For once, both of us are probably right (judgment courtesy of the third impartial me). Without further ado- on with the obligatory summary.

Despite the plastic kit series having run for around 30 plus years, GBF is the first TV series to explicitly focus on it. Previous series all featured some sort of armed conflict, with the mecha as key military weaponry, but in GBF, the mecha are just assembled bits of plastic, given the ability to move and be controlled by a mysterious substance known as Plavsky particles. The starring roles go to builder Iori Sei and pilot Reiji, and covers their rivalry with high-school (?) ace Yuuki Tatsuya, their campaign to win the Gunpla Tournament, and the various challenges that come their way. It's decidedly relaxing compared to having to avert mass extinction caused by having a space colony rammed into Earth.

I had some doubts when I picked up this series- its direct predecessor, Gundam AGE, was said to target kids, to raise a new generation of Gundam fandom. I was patient and watched it from start to finish, though it paled in comparison to previous series that I've watched (Double-O and Seed, especially- I've not watched the original series, mind you). I eventually found AGE to be somewhat alright- mildly entertaining at best, even if the plot, character and mecha designs kept me in a state of perpetual irritation throughout. When I first heard that GBF would be about the model kits, I wondered if it would be an animated version of an actual modeling tournament- imagine gunpla judges reacting in exaggerated delight at exquisite designs- like in (insert your favorite cooking anime here).

Unlike AGE, GBF turned out to be a delight to watch. The plot itself is fairly simple and can be summarized as such: "I stink at this, and he stinks at that. However together we are the best, and we're aiming for your scalp". With that out of  the way, GBF was simply silly fun, with pilot's lives and fates of entire populations out of the picture. The series is filled with cameo appearances and little references to previous series, all the way from the original Gundam up to Double-O. Funnily enough it seems that there weren't any references to AGE (either that or those who noticed couldn't be bothered to note them down). Many of the fights were interesting to watch, especially those featuring Yuuki- being a top fighter who isn't protected by plot-fu by virtue of not being the main lead, he actually gets to show some skill. My main complaint is that the whenever the lead Sei-Reiji pair come up, the fights usually degenerate into a 'my beam is stronger than your beam' battle bereft of tactics, skill, or strategy.

Now to go back to the title of this post- GBF is an excellent marketing tool. The references and cameos alone would be enough to trigger some form of nostalgia in older fans, which would probably increase sales of the revamped versions of older kits (and help to clear out ancient unsold stock, perhaps). Kids would probably have liked the lighter tone of the series, and the character designs wouldn't put off older fans. They upped their marketing game even further by having a contest where winners' custom built gunplas were featured in the show itself. Other shows should take note- shows like Oreca Battle, for one. This is how you how product marketing should be done. To be fair though, most other studios/shows wouldn't be able to mine through their product shelf as well as Sunrise can, given their long history- and I suspect that most don't have the funds to compete.

If you don't have either of those two advantages- well I suppose you can always utilize GBF's final line of defense- look no further than anime mom of the year, Iori Rinko. If you fail to reel in the kids, the girls, or the geeks- go for the teens with raging hormones demographic.

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