March 6, 2020 was the 20th anniversary of the day Gundam Wing premiered on Toonami, and also served to me as a reminder that I have been building gunpla for about 20 years now. My introduction to the plastic crack we call gunpla today was through my brother who took me to a small stationery store. I remember choosing the HG 1/144 W-Gundam Zero Custom because I liked the wings. That was soon followed up by the HG 1/144 D-Hell Custom and then almost all the other HG 1/100 Gundam Wing and Endless Waltz kits. Here are some lessons that I’ve learned through 20 years in the hobby.
1. Don’t go into credit card debt over plastic models, video games, or any other material object
Only purchase what you can consume (or pay off the balance to 0 monthly) or really want to build. And don’t make the excuse and label yourself a collector unless you are planning to buy limited edition kits, buy multiple copies of them, and keep at least one unbuilt. If you think you are never going to get through your backlog, you should really consider buying less. When I moved to Los Angeles for college, I actually ended up throwing away most of the kits I owned at the time and only keeping a select few including a Perfect Grade Wing Zero Custom and some Endless Waltz kits that had plated and clear parts.
2. You actually have the ability to buy your grail kits if you purchase less
While in college, I steadily increased my diet of anime by downloading episodes that were available through torrent sites. When Gundam Seed was released, I started buying gundam models (this was before it was called gunpla) again via Hobby Link Japan. As I was a poor college student at the time, I didn’t purchase kits in large volume anymore, but became much more selective in what I purchased. Rather than purchase every kit that I liked, I instead used the money I saved from buying a plethora of smaller/cheaper kits to make bigger purchases by buying special edition kits such as my MG Zeta Gundam 20th Anniversary Coating Version or my Freedom Gundam Extra Coating Version. You could even use this philosophy towards that Perfect Grade you’ve been pining after, or a Premium Bandai or Gundam Base kit that was priced outside your comfort zone.
3. It’s okay to take a break from the hobby
I naively thought when I got married that in order to grow up I should forget about pursuing hobbies like video games and model building, but I now understand that hobbies are a good thing and important for relieving stress too.
I seriously thought I could quit the hobby cold turkey after building one final grail kit, the MG Unicorn OVA Version with MS Cage, but I was wrong. I lost motivation before even finishing all the weapons and didn’t come back to gunpla for almost 8 years when I started watching YouTube videos about building gunpla and wanted to do more than just panel line my kits with a Gundam Marker.
4. You don’t need a local build group
I’m sure many of you may disagree with me, but you have to understand that in my 20 years in the hobby the only other person I ever built kits together with was my brother when I was first introduced to gunpla and a friend from church who I inadvertently introduced to gunpla when he let me give him a wish list of things I wanted from Japan. My wife had no interest since we started dating and my girls (8 & 10) have only started building Petit’gguys in the past year.
I stumbled upon the amazing gunpla community on Instagram when I started using Social Media again in November 2018 because there was a widget that would automatically update content on the blog that I was trying to start. I intended to just post about what I was trying with my builds, but soon found a burgeoning community of gunpla building enthusiasts (including my fellow Mecha Warehouse teammates) which I started to follow and would now consider my friends. I can chat with people regularly on Instagram or via the Mecha Warehouse Discord to get tips and feedback to further improve my own builds. I have also been able to attend a couple of local competitions and met local builders whom I also interacted with previously through Instagram.
5. Being a builder is important for my work life balance and my mental health, “Gunpla is freedom”
When work is stressful and when I can't easily see the immediate fruits of my labor, gunpla gives me the freedom to set goals and reach them at my own pace, to my own standards, and for my own fulfillment. Building gunpla provides me with more opportunities to achieve “perfection” and builds my self-esteem.
These lessons of course aren’t a comprehensive list of things I’ve learned from building gunpla for 20 years, but they are some of the most important. I’m still learning and improving my technique/process with each build and I hope to share more tips with the gunpla community in the future.
Kevin Lee is a sponsored builder of Mecha Warehouse. Besides building gunpla and other model kits he also likes to rock climb and is known for making mini diorama boxes of gunpla kits. You can find Kevin in the Mecha Warehouse Discord or on Instagram @bigdaddygundam.