While Michael McFarlane would have no problem hanging out at the latest fete, the COVID-19 global pandemic has halted that aspect of his life. In light of this, he resorted to a hobby that provided entertainment during his solitude; that is model building, specifically the art of GUNPLA.
GUNPLA was created in 1980 by Japanese toy maker BANDAI for a line of plastic models based on the Gundam animated series. The futuristic cartoon featured striking mechanical designs for the robots, battleships, and genre defining Mobile Suits and Armor. In the near four decades of GUNPLA, over 434 million model kits have been sold.
“I was a fan of the Gundam Wing anime growing up. While I always maintained a faint interest, I never really followed it up until they stopped airing the cartoon,” said McFarlane.
He was able to reconnect with the anime due to a friend while attending University, but by this time he was more interested in his model car collection than some random Japanese animated series.
“When I got to University, a classmate of mine had a GUNPLA collection mostly consisting of kits from Gundam Wing.”
He started dabbling in GUNPLA June 2019 when he acquired his first kit as a birthday gift to himself. After inspiration from two Gundam series, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans and Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, he acquired a second GUNPLA kit.
“I never got my second model until December 2019 and I’ve been collecting them consistently since then.”
Since McFarlane’s exposure to GUNPLA, he has been intrigued by the intricacy of the replica and how well the model captured the features of the original anime. From the extreme levels of detail, articulation, meticulous yet satisfying building process, to the endless customization, it all kept him entertained throughout the nationwide lockdown in Jamaica.
“I now have ten kits: three Real Grade, five High Grade, a Gachapon, as well as a 30 Minute Mission kit.”
The BANDAI GUNPLA kits are categorized in three basic formats, Master, High, and Real, based on their level of detail. All are 1/144 scale. Gachapon are capsule-like models and the 30 Minute Mission kit is a generic model with customizable parts that can be assembled in thirty minutes. These allow the more imaginative model builders the freedom to explore the design.
Sourcing the kits from overseas was difficult during the pandemic. Ordering straight from Japan at first resulted in two lost kits, so McFarlane began to order from the United States instead for convenience.
Model building takes place after work for McFarlane. The time to assemble models differs based on the grade of the GUNPLA model.
“A High Grade kit usually takes me about two evenings to complete, while a Real Grade kit is closer to three to four evenings. Unicorn took me about six evenings.”
That’s because the Unicorn Mecha, from the Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn animated series, has a light transformation sequence. The real life model retains this detail using USB power for illumination. For McFarlane, the Unicorn Gundam is his most prized model. It was the most expensive purchase, the most detailed, took the longest time and was the most difficult to build.
“The small intricate parts were intimidating. In fact I managed to break part of the inner skeletal frame twice during assembly. Because of its details I have also stayed away from modifying it. The tolerances on it are so tight that it’s hard to make a modification without breaking it.”
He explained that he is still occupied with it as he is still learning.
“I’m currently trying to install LEDs on Unicorn Gundam, which has been a learning experience for me. I’ve had to relearn soldering and working with electrical circuits.”
Although, the country is slowly moving back to normalcy McFarlane doesn’t see his newfound form of leisure disappearing anytime soon.
“The Gouf Flight Type from 8th MS Team. It was a limited release kit that’s hard to get for a reasonable price.” Until then he plans to continue to grow his GUNPLA collection by acquiring the rarest forms.