Guns and poses in Gundam

Guns and poses in Gundam
A customised Gundam diorama by Chin Fu Song, which was one of the entries for the 2012 Gundam Builders World Cup.

With the official Gunpla Expo hitting Malaysian shores next week, we explore the world of Gundam and its incredibly popular model kits.

Make no mistake about it: Gundam is the mother of all Japanese mecha anime. Sure, there were plenty of other mecha anime that came before it, but Mobile Suit Gundam is recognised as the pioneer for a genre of Japanese mecha animation called Real Robot, in which the robots depicted adhere to real-life science and technology.

Released in 1979, Mobile Suit Gundam was also the first Japanese mecha anime to go beyond the usual "One robot versus one monster of the week" episodic format (which was adopted by early "Super Robot" anime such as Mazinger Z) and turn it into a long-running series that featured an ongoing plot instead.

Set in an alternate timeline called the Universal Century, Mobile Suit Gundam revolved around a bloody war between the Earth Federation and Zeon that decimated half of humanity. Utilising humanoid mecha suits called "mobile suits", Zeon has been slowly edging towards victor in the war until a young boy called Amuro Ray pilots the Federation's latest weapon, the RX-78 Gundam, into battle and turns the tide.

Today the Gundam brand is a billion-dollar franchise with numerous series, films, manga, video games, toys and other merchandise under its belt. There is even a life-sized 18m-tall statue of the RX-78-2 Gundam standing in Japan, built by Japanese toymaking, videogame and production company Bandai in conjunction with the brand's 30th anniversary in 2009. Hard to believe then, that the original TV series was hardly a runaway success at first. In fact, it was almost cancelled, until Bandai got the license to build Gundam plastic models and began producing what would be later known as Gunpla. According to Bandai South Asia hobby products manager Takayoshi Oyama, Gunpla is essentially a combination of "Gundam" and "plastic model", and refers to the hugely popular Gundam plastic model kits produced by Bandai. "Gunpla, like Gundam, has a long history, going back to 1980," he said in a recent interview when he was in Kuala Lumpur. "From the beginning until now, the model kits have always been made in Japan and nowhere else."

The Gunpla models will be taking centre stage at the Gunpla Expo Malaysia 2013 in the IPC Shopping Centre in Petaling Jaya next week; this is the first time ever that an official Bandai Gunpla event will be held in Malaysia. The expo originated in Japan (naturally), and has been held in China, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Hong Kong.

To be held at the concourse area of the mall, the event features an exhibition that will take you through the entire history of Gundam and Gunpla, and also give you a chance to see and purchase Bandai's latest Gunpla products (including an exclusive limited edition model kit available only at the event). There will also be workshops by expert Gunpla modellers where you can learn how to build a Gundam model kit.

Among the highlights of the exhibition will be statues of the iconic Gundam RX-78-2 and Gundam Unicorn, a 3D mapping booth that will travel here all the way from Japan, and even a spectacular life-sized replica of the RX-78-2 Gundam's robot hand.

Famous for their quality, remarkably detailed designs, and ease of assembly, over 460 million Gunpla models have been sold in the past 30 years. Today, the lines are blurred when it comes to figuring out whether the anime is supporting the toys or vice versa.

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