Denfami Nico Gamer has published an interview with Gundam Breaker series producer Usui Koutarou and the producer of several recent Gundam anime series Ogawa Masakazu, covering the similarities between the video games and anime series which portray worlds in which people use customised Gundam model kits (Gunpla) to participate in virtual battles.
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The interview starts with the interviewer noting how the “Gunpla Battles” shown in the Build anime series (Build Fighters, Build Fighters Try, Build Divers) are akin to e-sports, and asking if this was something done on purpose. Ogawa acknowledges this, saying that they aim to make the world shown in in the Build series world a reality: While the Gunpla model kits themselves have improved greatly over the last 40 years, the “entertainment factor” of building kits and enjoying them after their completion has remained, for better or for worse, unchanged. Because children these days have far more options for entertainment, they wish to give Gunpla something else that continues on after being built. Ogawa heard of the Gundam Breaker series at the point when they first started working on the Build series, and it gave him the idea that they would ultimately want to combine anime, Gunpla, and video game to provide a new form of entertainment.
Usui says that while it would be the best if there would be a way to actually use the Gunpla kits in battles, technology is not yet at that point, and so they are instead trying to portray what things will be like in the future, so as to increase the possibility of realizing Gundam as an e-sports. Ogawa adds that they would like to see the world tournament portrayed in Build Fighters as reality, where the possibility of Gunpla is expanded further, children love Gunpla, and there are professionals all over the world, which Usui calls an ideal e-sport in how people who love the game eventually become stars who earn money from playing it and have fans who go to watch them play, no different from baseball or football.
Ogawa is asked about how the Build Fighters series was planned, and says that the proposal first surfaced after the Gundam 00 movie was completed, but then they then received a proposal for Gundam AGE from Hino Akihiro of Level Five. Bandai’s hobby division later contacted them saying that they would like an anime series about Gunpla similar to the one made for Gunpla’s 30th anniversary (Gunpla Builders).
The conversation sidetracks into discussing AGE, of which Ogawa says that when he received the proposal he thought it was amazing in how it incorporated game elements and was being made alongside a game. Ogawa was also producer of AGE, and says that there were elements that made sense in a game but not in an anime, and alongside how Gundam UC was being shown in theatres at the same time, it made him feel how difficult it was to make a Gundam series.
Ogawa says that it was the experience of making AGE that made Build Fighters possible: Namely the attempts at having children watch Gundam, and at creating a media mix with game contents at its core. Build Fighters targeting children and having game-like ideas both originated from AGE, and he says that he felt that in Build Fighters he wanted to do what he could not in AGE. The interviewer mentions AGE’s Gage-ing Battle Base, an arcade game that had players participate by scanning IC chips embedded in kits and toys, allowing them to use robots they had in real life in the game, and Ogawa says that it might have been because they saw this system that they were able to come up with the system used in Build Fighters.
Bandai contacted them again after AGE ended, but they initially did not have high expectations, which Ogawa says is why they were given a larger amount of freedom to make the show. Bandai Hobby did however request that they use the Strike Gundam from Gundam SEED as the protagonist robot, as they wanted younger Gundam fans to watch the show. Because most of the staff members had experienced SEED themselves, this was beneficial to them as well.
When asked about whether it was difficult having that many Gundam series in one show, Ogawa says that they had to be careful about balancing them because each series has its own group of passionate fans, and that portraying things wrongly might result in unnecessary conflict. Ultimately, they aimed to portray the game as one which could be enjoyed by anyone who likes the series or robots. This was a success, and Build Fighters resulted in more people who did not usually buy Gunpla doing so, both children, and their fathers who had built the kits when they were younger but drifted away.
Ogawa says that the biggest response, however, was overseas; While many fans in Japan like the “Universal Century” Gundam series, its long history made it hard for it to spread overseas, but Build Fighters can be enjoyed without the viewer knowing about the history of Gundam, and by having Gunpla, and not Gundams as the focus, Gunpla sold better overseas as well. He mentions how many people brought their own model kits when they held a Build Fighters event in America, and that he was happy with how Build Fighters became a gateway to Gundam and Gunpla for people overseas. Usui adds that many fans overseas say that Build Fighters is their favourite series, and says that he thinks that without the Build series not many people would have made customisations like combining GMs with Zakus, and that it making this more common is amazing. Ogawa says that this is because doing that in other series would require them adding reasoning behind it, which would have been criticized by fans, and that having it as a hobby like in the Build series allows them to bypass this, which is a huge merit.
How kits selling unexpectedly, like the Gyan with Build Fighters, is brought up by Usui, and Ogawa says that because this was a first time for them as well, none of profits from the Gyan sales made it back to the studio. This was changed so that some money from kit sales came back to the studio in Build Fighters Try. With most of the staff being Gunpla fans, though, the biggest reward for them was having Gunpla they made up being turned into actual kits and bought by children.
Ogawa brings up how making the Build series shows is actually harder than other Gundam series, due to how there are more cuts with robots, and due to them having to prepare designs earlier due to product tie-ins. Build Fighters was initially requested to be 50 episodes long, but in the current animation industry, few companies can handle robot anime on that scale, and they also did not know how the audience would react to the show, so it was cut to 25. Build Fighters Try is the remaining 25 episodes, launched because of the reaction to Build Fighters.
The interview moves on to the Gundam Breaker series, which Usui says was also released at an abnormal pace. Gundam Breaker was not yet released when Build Fighters aired in autumn 2013, but had been planned at the same time as the anime and hobby elements, which meant Ogawa and Usui met frequently. They did discuss how it would have been better for the Build and Breaker series to share the same setting, but this would have resulted in additional work for the anime staff who were already busy with the show, and for the game staff as well, and with how anime and game production methods and schedules are completely different to begin with, they decided that they would simply share the same concept. This allowed them to improve on their strong points independently. The game side also managed to get designs made by the players used in the anime, and Usui says that this was something unprecedented, and that anime with user-generated contents are extremely rare.
Part 2 of the interview is available here