Friday, October 18, 2019

REVIEW: Gundam Build Fighters Try

After I watched and reviewed Gundam Build Fighters last month, Katrina told me it was her favorite anime of all time. This was surprising. It is rare that watching an anime isn't the worst experience of her life, so hearing her actually pick a favorite blew my mind. I surprised her with the sequel on Crunchyroll one night, but we couldn't really get it to load. Luckily, RightStuf swooped in with the save.

Seven years have passed since Sei Iori won the 7th Gunpla Battle Championship World Tournament. The Gunpla Battle Championship is now run by Yajima Trading. With new rules and battle modes, the game's popularity has become even more widespread.

However, the Seiho Academy that Sei once attended has failed to catch onto the trend. The only member of the school's Gunpla Battle Club is Fumina Hoshino. Currently there is no way the club can participate in the upcoming Gunpla Battle Japanese Under19 Championship, where players fight in teams of three.

Then Fumina meets a new transfer student. He is Sekai Kamiki, a young martial artist who has been traveling with his master. Together with a young Gunpla builder named Yuuma Kousaka, they finally have three members for their team.

Like any good sequel of this genre, Try keeps the core elements established in the first series while adding new concepts and ideas to the mix. It's still a show about middle schoolers entering a tournament where plastic models come to life and battle, but a few new features make it far more than just a rehash of the original.

In my last review, I mentioned how I haven't seen most Gundam series - except for G Gundam. Luckily, Try Fighters channels G Gundam at every chance it gets. The main character, Sekai, is a teenaged version of G Gundam's Domon Kasshu - a brash martial artist who uses unarmed, hand to hand combat in with a fiery spirit. The two main Gunpla he pilots are also based on Kasshu's Burning Gundam. As a G Gundam fan, it was nice to see the Burning's flaming fist once again. Sekai even does the "have you seen the person in this photo" thing in the first episode. Chef kiss.

Rounding out the main trio is Yuuma and Hoshino. Yuuma is the younger brother of China from the previous series who quit Gunpla Battle to focus on building before Hoshino dragged him back into it. Hoshino is their team leader which is a nice change of pace in a world where boys get to do everything, although she ends up being the least interesting and least developed of the three.

The biggest change to Gunpla Battles in this series is that the official tournaments are all between teams of three. Usually, that means three combatants using three different Gunpla, adding a new level of strategy to the matches. However, the rules also allow for teams to control large Gunpla together and even combine their Gunpla Megazord style. Gunpla can also transform in the middle of battle. This change keeps the on-screen Gunpla battles interesting and ensures that no two battles are the same.

Unfortunately, Try pales in comparison to its predecessor in almost every single way. None of the main three characters have much in the way of story to the point where it feels like they don't even have a reason to be the main characters. Sekai likes fighting and the school doesn't have a martial arts club, so Gunpla battles are the next best thing (this is the same plot as Bring it On). Yuuma had quick Gunpla battles and only came back because of... reasons? Hoshino just likes Gunpla battles - that's it.
There is also a shocking lack of appearances by or references to the main cast of the previous season. In my last review, I gushed about the large and wonderful cast of characters. Here, a couple characters are younger siblings of previous characters, a few characters are referenced here and there, one shows up for a single scene, and two are around for most of the season but pretty much do nothing. Obviously, this isn't their show anymore and you have to let the new cast shine. But the problem is that the new cast isn't very interesting.

Because of the three-person-team gimmick, you'd think there would be more interesting characters with their own inter-team dynamics and stories. But instead, we get a lot of characters that are only 1/3 developed or teams where one character is front and center in the spotlight and the other two barely have names let alone their own personalities. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Sei or Reiji to make an appearance.

There is also a complete lack of fantasy elements. The first series saw Reiji show up and teleport to another world and added the mystery of where the technology that allows Gunpla battles to exist even came from. Here, all of that is gone. Our red-haired protagonist is compared to Reiji once but it's just in relation to how he really gets into Gunpla battles. There are no magical mysteries of any kind. This is 100% just a tournament show. At least the 3vs3 fights kept things interesting because there are also no fun gimmick matches outside of a single race episode.

Shockingly, there also wasn't a whole lot of "serious business" here either. Last season had Gunpla idols and Gunpla temples and even a Gunpla mafia. In Try? There's a Gunpla academy and a training camp. That's pretty much it. I think the presence of a Gunpla-themed shopping mall and Sekai's older sister becoming a Gunpla model and spokesperson was supposed to be over the top and bombastic, but they felt too normal. The whole series felt too real like it could've been an e-sports anime set in our world.

I'm not saying this show is bad. It never felt stupid and only occasionally got boring. But a show like this is impossible to not compare to its predecessor and when the first series was so spectacular, a season like this is disappointing no matter what.

One thing that this show does surprisingly well is its comedy. I mentioned last time that every single character had their own love interests with over a dozen cannon ships. Here, there are fewer pairings in favor of practically every female character being interested in Sekai - who is totally oblivious to even the difference between boys and girls. Pretty much anytime two or more girls are in a scene with him is a guaranteed recipe for hilarity to ensue.

Shout out to Gyanko. My favorite character from the first season was demoted to the background after episode 2 but this time around his little sister is in practically every episode and always a delight. At first, I thought she would be overused - her brother becoming a background character worked - but she does grow into her own supporting role even if she spends most of it cheering from the crowd.

Try is a disappointing series, but fans of the original shouldn't completely skip it. The three-on-three matches shake up Gunpla battles into a completely brand new experience, the references to the previous season are delightful though few and far between, and the non-stop Gyanko make Try overall a funnier series. Is it as good as the last one? No. Is it still great? Yeah!

Gundam Build Fighters Try is available on DVD and Blu-ray from RightStuf Anime. The collection contains all twenty-five episodes dubbed in English and Japanese with English subtitles. Special features include Clean Openings, Clean Closings, Japanese Trailers and Commercials, and two featurettes: Gunpla of Guild Fighters Try and The World of Build Fighters Try.