(I had planned to review this for Mecha Month this past November, but a brand new Wii U kind of kept me from checking it out in time. Still, I really wanted to watch this & review it, so here it is.)
When it comes to mech anime Gundam is the phenomenon. There are anime productions dating back to 1979, tons of video games, and entire magazines dedicated to Gundam manga, to say the least, but one of the biggest parts of Gundam are the model kits that have been around since 1980. Gundam models are so big that they even have their own term in Japan: "Gunpla", which is a portmanteau of "Gundam plastic model". Personally I have a few Gundam models and it is a fun little hobby to do and while I am pretty barebones when it comes to making them when you see the hard work of someone who went through the trouble of painting the proper parts, lining out all of the indents, and even adding their own little touches it really looks amazing. And nothing really showcases Japan's (nay, the world's) love for gunpla than this hobby's very own anime: Mokei Senshi/Model Suit Gunpla Builders Beginning G. In 2010 gunpla hit its 30th anniversary, and to celebrate Sunrise created three little shorts that combine together into a single 40-minute short story that takes gunpla and, arguably, makes it all the more awesome. It also celebrates the hobby in a way that makes one proud to have built a model kit sometime in his/her life.
Haru Irei is visiting the life-size Gundam in Odaiba with his father, Hinode, and his friend, Kenta. After becoming in awe of the Gundam Haru decides to buy a gunpla, which Kenta already plays with and Hinode did back when he was a kid. After seeing the last 1/144 scale High Grade/HG RX-78 Gundam model taken Haru comes across a different HG model on the ground: the 1/144 Beginning Gundam. After building it Kenta takes him to the local hobby shop, AXIS, where he's shown Gunpla Battle, where gunpla builders can "pilot" their very models in game where the object is to defeat your opponents' units/models. Haru's spark of piloting ability catches the eye of Boris Schauer, a "Gunpla Meister", who wishes to see what Haru is made of.
Gunpla Builders is simply a celebration of not just the hobby of gunpla, but also Gundam in general. For those familiar with building these models there's all sorts of details talked about, like how to remove those little bits of plastic on body parts after coming off of the frames, going through the extra work of painting for the sake of making a model your very own, and you get a great sense that each model is truly the creation of the person who put it together. But fans of Gundam who don't necessarily build model kits, or have stopped doing so (like me), can also find great fun in this OVA simply by identifying all of the mobile suits that appear. The best thing to see, though, are all of the cool custom colored variants in this title, like Kenta's Byaku-Shiki (a white Hyaku-Shiki) & white Sazabi, a black The O, or a grey & gold Hi-Nu Gundam (this is also Hi-Nu's debut appearance in anime); these custom models all look awesome. The one that takes the cake, though, is definitely Bearguy, a custom Acguy by Haru's friend Rina which looks like a bear and uses a beam-shooting flute. All hail Bearguy!
Some of the characters themselves are meant to be references to Gundam, too. Haru Irei, for example, sound similar to Amuro Ray if you sound it out, and Boris Schauer is the "Char clone", right down to him wearing shades and doing, essentially, whatever the hell he wants... Like riding a horse to go anywhere in the city. Why does Boris ride a horse instead of driving a car? Who cares, it's awesome in the fact that it's utterly out of place! There's also Tatsu Shimano, another gunpla builder who is normally calm and friendly, but once he's in battle he turns into an outright psycho, which is a common Gundam character trait. Even if you don't care about the models, there's still plenty in this OVA to like.
The other fun part of this title is the Gunpla Battle itself. Essentially, this is a mix of gunpla & the Gundam Vs. series of arcade games, and seeing this game in action really makes you wish that such a thing was actually out there in the world. Hell, it even takes model scale into consideration, because in one scene near the end Kenta & Rina are being attacked by a Big Zam, only for them to realize that it's a small 1/550 scale model. But, naturally, this game had to be included because, otherwise, this wouldn't be a Gundam anime, but they're definitely the best parts. For being only 40 minutes long Gunpla Builders definitely tosses in a lot of visual content that's certain to please fans of the franchise.
In terms of staff, the combination of director Kou Matsuo (Kure-nai, Red Garden, Rozen Maiden) & scriptwriter Yousuke Kuroda (Gundam 00, Ring ni Kakero 1) really is what keeps this title flowing at a great pace and always entertaining. The character designs are done by Kaichiro Terada, who normally does key animation, and are both kiddier than your usual Gundam (though it isn't Gundam AGE-style in design) as well as very fitting for the Gunpla Battles, as each pilot looks very fitting in their spacesuits; once again, Boris does whatever he wants and wears no spacesuit. The mech designs are done by a group of people, made up of Atsushi Shigeta (Turn-A Gundam), Junichi Akutsu (Gundam SEED), Kanetake Ebikawa (Gundam 00), and, naturally, Kunio Okawara himself, and this is what allows the multitude of mobile suit models to look as accurate as possible to their original looks, and also make the custom variants look awesome. The ending theme is my "Proud, my Play!" by KAmiYU, and much like the character designs it's a very upbeat song that both is different from most Gundam themes but also very fitting for this OVA.
The cast also pulls out a great job, even if most of them aren't known for Gundam. Haru is voiced by Tsubasa Yonaga (Tsutomu from Chihayafuru, Ren from Big Windup!), and he lends a real honesty to Haru's growing love for gunpla and what the hobby has ended up standing for. Kenta is voiced by Nobuhiko Okamoto (Accelerator in A Certain Magical Index, Rin in Blue Exorcist), and much like Yonaga also gives off a feeling of honesty & knowledge when it comes to gunpla. Rina is voiced by Mariya Ise (Wendy Hertz in Gundam AGE, Killua in Hunter X Hunter ), and she does a good job as the energetic but novice gunpla builder. Boris is voiced by Daisuke Namikawa (Prince Baka in Level E, Al in Gundam 0080 [when he was 13!]), and he does an excellent job, sounding nothing like his usual style and giving off a great Char feel. Finally, Hinode Irei is voiced by Ken Narita, who has (essentially) become the replacement voice for the late Hirotaka Suzuoki, so Narita's inclusion is a sort-of Gundam reference.
Model Suit Gunpla Builders Beginning G is not only a great celebration of the gunpla hobby, but also an excellent visual treat for fans of Gundam, mainly through all of the units that appear and the wish that something like Gunpla Battle was actually available somewhere in the world. At only 40 minutes it isn't a big investment, like most Gundams are, and it's a ton of fun to boot. If Bandai was still around I would imagine that we'd have gotten this eventually, but as it is right now this little OVA might just stay in Japan, but there are fansubs out there if you're willing to look. Sure, it's a good bit silly at times, especially that scene of Boris riding a horse onto a street, but that's simply because Sunrise took a portion of the phenomenon of Gundam and just had a field day with it. In fact, it almost makes me want to buy another Gundam model kit... Almost.