Cary model community continues to grow at IPMS Richmond scale model competition

Matthew Roehm, Graphics Editor

In the world of scale modeling there are many different niches. The most well known ones are scale planes, tanks, cars, and boats. However, there has been a fairly new up and coming community in the scale modeling world. Gunpla, short for Gundam Plastic Models are a line of scale figure models produced by the Japanese company Bandai. They are models of the robots featured in the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. Gunpla has enjoyed massive popularity in Japan since the late 1970s, however it has been all but absent from the west until the late 90s when the series’ Gundam Wing and G Gundam aired in America. This brought a wave of Gundam Model Kits to American toy shops.

They were a hit among young modelers and fans of the show alike. What sets Gunpla aside from other models is that they are molded in several colors and the parts snap together, so paint and glue are unnecessary. This makes Gunpla far more accessible to younger people and ones who have never built a model.

“Like a lot of people my age, we got our first exposure to Gundam via [The after school/late night animation block] Toonami after school and at night,” Said Joel St one otherwise known as TrueGunpla, “I didn’t watch it a whole lot actually. It was not until I watched Gundam Build Fighters that I really got back into Gundam.”

The Gunpla community has started started gaining popularity within the past couple of years due to more general exposure to the Mobile Suit Gundam series in the west. This has lead to the growth of several Gunpla communities such as the one in Cary lead by one by Joel Stone.

“I remember after watching Build Fighters going into a deep research hole into hobby stores around my area,” He said. “I found a Hobby Town USA that used to be in Apex and is no longer around. I bought my first kit and all my supplies there. After a couple of kits built, new social media accounts made, I started to get the itch of getting a group build or something going. Sadly there wasn’t any in NC. So I remember one of the stores that showed up when I was searching for hobby shops. It was Hangar 18 in Cary, NC. I stopped by the shop and was kinda thrown back that they only had a couple of kits. The owner told me that there was a scale modeling group that would be meeting that weekend and some of the members actually built Gunpla. So I showed up that weekend and to my surprise there was. I talked with a couple of builders there and said, Hey, Let’s start our own build meet that is just for Gunpla modelers. A week or two of planning and making a facebook group we had our first meet. The turnout was great and we all had a great time. It was after that first meet we kept pushing the community and the hobby harder in the US. In addition, Hangar 18 started to carry more and more kits to the point where there is just a massive wall of kits and we are starting to run out of room for the meetups.”

Every year model conventions are held by the International Plastic Modelers Society otherwise known as IPMS. On the east coast one of the major ones is IPMS Richmond. Prior to this year there was virtually no Gunpla representation at IPMS. However in an effort lead by Stone himself, over 90 kits appeared at IPMS this year.
“IPMS Richmond was a major milestone between IPMS and Gunpla,” Stone said. “It really was. We had over 700 people show up for this event. IPMS is primarily a military scale modeling event. There has also been Sci-Fi, Cars and other smaller categories. At the end of the day, most of the models you will see are just a military scale models. You also won’t see a lot of people younger than 45. The fact that we could fill a table full of 90 Gundam models kit is a major achievement and I really feel has shown the scale modeling community that building small robots is just as fun as military model kits.”

The local hobby store Hangar 18 holds meetings for Gunpla fans every Sunday. Stone first started these meetings back in 2016.

“One of my favorite aspects [About the Gunpla community] is that we all have a common interest.” Stone said. “People from all walks of life can enjoy the same hobby and have the same common interests. It’s amazing seeing everyone come together on a Sunday afternoon to build small robots. One other aspect that I love is seeing people getting outside of their comfort zones. I don’t mean this in a negative way but people really expressing their creativity that they normally wouldn’t share with others. The integration of social media with this hobby really has allowed everyone to express their art and even interact with people they wouldn’t normally with. I suffer from social anxiety(you wouldn’t think it though.) and hearing from others that our local meetups allow them to help with some of their personal issues really makes me happy. Having a welcoming community for all to enjoy is one of my favorite aspects of this community.”

Recently within the past couple of years both Gundam and it’s models have gained a new boost in popularity in the states due to more exposure than ever due to the advent of the internet.

“[The popularity boost] has been great. The fact that we are getting more support from the big guys themselves at Bandai really shows that progress we have made as a community.” Stone goes on to say “We just recently had one of the first Gundam Movie showings in the states. That was a huge step for the whole franchise. I really think that, along with how comic superheroes and anime, is really being taken in a positive light in the states. I remember ten or so years ago that if you were into scale modeling or even anime it was an odd thing. Especially being a younger person. Now you can walk into a GameStop and buy everything you need to build a model kit. It’s amazing. At this rate, we will start to see Gundam and Gunpla products in major retail stores like Walmart.

However, the Cary community has room to grow, as it’s currently only about three years old.  “I have a lot of plans.” Stone says “I always say I spend more time doing community work than actually building. My goal with everything that I got going on is to extend what we did with our local community at Hangar 18 to hobby stores all over the US and then internationally. Hobby stores are the lifeblood of this hobby. Both online and local shops. Having the ability to host events of a product you sell is an amazing resource and tool. My immediate goals for the community is to spread the overall knowledge of the hobby with more hobby stores, education systems and art programs. This is something that came to a very serious and almost dreadful realization at IPMS Richmond is that if the hobby doesn’t continue to thrive we could see it almost be nonexistent. So, the more people involved in the hobby the better.”