Market Mania Marks Gunpla Hobby Today

©SOTSU・SUNRISE, Photos courtesy of Bandai Spirits Co.
Gundam plastic models

I’ve acquired a new skill to help pass the time spent at home amid the coronavirus crisis — Gunpla, or the assembly of Gundam plastic models. When anyone in my generation, those of us in our late 40s, thinks of plastic models, Gunpla immediately comes to mind. I’m specifically referring to models of the robots that were featured in the “Mobile Suit Gundam” anime.

Gundam first aired back in 1979, but it’s well known that the originally planned number of episodes was cut because of poor ratings. The plastic models of the machines that were sold after the show had gone off the air, however, struck a chord with young boys at the time. This in part led to a revival of the anime series. It can be said that the subsequent Gundam boom would not have occurred without Gunpla.

Back when I was a kid, I hardly ever did any Gunpla. I was given a kit to build, but I grew impatient with how long it took and gave up halfway. My father, a model enthusiast, wound up finishing it instead.

Time has moved on since then, and we now live in an information society. It is now an age in which people spend their free time on YouTube or on social media. It was there that I encountered adults diligently putting together Gundam models of their own. Some were even trying to assemble models inside of a bottle. Everyone really looked like they were enjoying themselves. It wasn’t long before I found myself in the Gunpla section of an electronics store.

Once I got started, I found assembling the model to be pretty interesting. It was just so realistic, despite being a robot from an animated TV show. It may be strange to say this, but I’m convinced that if Gundam actually existed, this is what they’d look like. You can even enjoy putting together the robot’s inner mechanisms. Unlike my younger self, I now have better understanding of the feeling of enjoying something that can’t be easily completed.

Before I knew it, my desk at home had been transformed into a Gunpla workshop. At that time, I would find myself daydreaming at work about all the ways I would use the high-end tools I bought one after another. Soon after that, I discovered the existence of resellers.

I got into Gunpla as an adult and I realized I was hooked while I was putting together my 11th model. One day while I was looking for my next project, I visited my favorite plastic model shop. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the kit I had my eye on, so I looked for it online and found that it was two or three times more expensive than the retail price.

Throughout history, the price of products for sale has been based on the relationship between supply and demand. Commerce focuses on the fluctuations within this balance. A high supply with a low demand yields a low price, while a low supply with a high demand yields a high one. As we’ve seen over the past year amid the coronavirus crisis, resellers of masks and antiseptic solutions drew a great deal of ire selling such items in short supply at extravagant prices.

In this case, it was Gunpla kits that were originally sold long ago. The prices are understandable, however, when the hard work of maintaining the condition of items that have been out of circulation for so long is taken into account.

However, these resellers have begun going even further.

A new kit scheduled for release in January was announced back in October, but because I’d been so busy with work, I knew that I couldn’t start putting it together right away. After spending a few days pondering what I should do, I decided to preorder one for the time being. By the time I went to the website, preorders were no longer available.

I had underestimated Gunpla’s popularity. Even so, when a kit is so popular that you can’t even preorder it, it only makes you want it more. As I desperately searched the web, I came across a site where I could reserve a kit. It was a reseller. They lurk on Gunpla store sites and preorder in mass quantities, then turn around and sell them for a higher price. The new price was only a few thousand yen higher, and I was more than willing to pay to satisfy my sudden surge of desire for it.

Up until then, I was under the impression that to resell something, the reseller must physically own the item. It turns out that it’s more like futures trading. I wondered what would happen if an accident occurred and the preordered item never arrived.

When I spoke with a manufacturer, I was told that preventing resale is very difficult. Directly managed retailers can try to prevent resale by limiting the number of units sold to each customer, but they can not interfere with the sales methods of other retailers.

For more popular kits, it would be desirable to increase production, thereby increasing the supply.

The resale of Gunpla is subject to a lot of criticism online, with posts such as: “If you buy resold items, it’ll only drive the price up. Never buy resale products.” The question is whether going to the effort of spending a long time online vying to be the fastest to click is a price worth paying. It is a question that remains unanswered to this day.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A customer peruses items at a plastic model store in Paris, despite the coronavirus crisis, on Dec. 18.