Gundam Build Divers – Mid Season Anime Review
Synopsis: Gunpla Battle Nexus Online (GBN) is a new network game that lets people enjoy a variety of missions using Gunpla in a virtual cyberspace dimension. Middle-school students Riku Mikami and Yukio Hidaka recruit their classmate Momoka Yashiro and dive together into this vast world. Becoming “Divers,” or inhabitants of GBN, they meet a mysterious girl named Sarah who has an amazing sensitivity to Gunpla. They begin playing alongside her, but… Through many encounters and experiences, Riku and his friends will build not only Gunpla, but their own adventures as well! (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Mid Season (6 Episodes) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Gundam Build Divers strongest asset is its fan-service like appeal for long time Gundam diehards. For any viewer who’s bemoaned the hard shift towards 3D models in order to craft awesome giant robot battles Gundam Build Divers rejects that trend in favor of classic 2D, highly detailed art for its massive wealth of old and new school Gundam designs. While the art does sometimes dip, it remains a step above Iron-Blooded Orphans, crafting plenty of visually eye-catching battles over these first six episodes.
The other big draw is the sheer wealth of Gundam designs featured, referencing everything from Gundam 00, to Wing, to G Gundam and even the original series. Die hard Gundam lovers will find plenty of obscure and classic mobile suits scattered throughout the show, with plenty of revised designs and entirely new entries into the pantheon of Gundam mecha. However, this is where Build Divers well of entertainment starts to run dry. For as much love as it can garner for long time fans of the franchise, Gundam Build Divers is a terrible starting point for anyone but children.
Focused more so on selling toys than telling an engaging story, I might argue that Build Divers sits as an oddity in the wealth of Gundam series. While the purpose of Gundam has always, at some level, been to sell model kits, Build Divers feels far more direct to that point, capitalizing on the trend provided by Build Fighters. This might still be okay if Gundam Build Divers had an interesting story to tell alongside its frequent teasing of model kits, the Gundam Base store itself, etc. But Build Divers is thin, exceedingly so.
One doesn’t have to look much farther than the main characters themselves. Mikami Riku is the poster boy for underdeveloped leads. While he’s a go getter, a fighter, and a kind soul, his character description never begs more than the vaguest of terms. He’s sucked into Build Divers Global Battle Nexus (essentialy a virtual reality Gundam based MMO) almost instantly, and his persona seems to almost entirely revolve around that sudden, unstoppable interest in the Global Battle Nexus gameplay. His friends Momo and Yukio are equally thin, acting as little more than warm bodies to fill out the roster, or help to tease out important exposition about the world or other characters.
Six episodes in and little work has been down to build the dynamic and relationship between our three heroes. Instead we’re treated to frequent supporting character introductions, filling out the cast with individuals who apparently excel at GBN as some of the top players, builders, etc. of the Gunpla world. Why they take an interest in Riku? Well that’s not really clear, or truly acknowledged in these six introductory episodes. It doesn’t feel like something the show seeks to address, same with mysteries teased in the very first episode, which have largely gone under utilized or even referenced just to keep them in the audiences’ mind. It all speaks to another active problem: Lack of depth.
It’s best not to think too hard about Build Divers, as certain aspects to the series crumble beneath too much scrutiny. In an early episode Riku and Co. are attacked by what amount to hackers, people who are exploiting GBN and cheating at combat. Typically in MMO type games, which GBN is really just that at its heart, if someone is hacking it’s insurmountable. The players are buffed to unbeatable proportions, but here Riku and Co. defeat them by the virtue of– being better players? It doesn’t make a lot of sense how Riku and Yukio, two newbies to the game, have any shot of defeating people capable of boosting their stats. Things are compounded further when you start to wonder where the game administrators are, and the lack of official presence. GBN is almost more so treated as this lawless world rather than a video game developed and managed by a gaming company. That would be fine if there was some hint, some acknowledgement that what’s here doesn’t entirely make sense (I’m reminded of an older series, Dragon Drive that did just this.) but right now it feels like none of these are questions Build Divers wants me asking, because it doesn’t have answers.
This isn’t all to just say that Build Divers is bad. There’s action every week, attempts at heartwarming tales of friendship and kindness, particularly episode six, perhaps the best episode thus far, and an opening credits sequence with a very hype inducing tune. But overall I can’t see Build Divers as more than a shallow attempt to sell the latest Gunpla designs to kids. The thin characters, the iffy plot details, and my own personal lack of interest in what amounts to an E-sport (That’s all GBN really is.) keep me from feeling like it’s a series with greater appeal than kids and die hards (Just to note, I identify with the later.)
Overall Gundam Build Divers is definitely not the worst thing you could be watching this season. There’s fun to be had, especially for kids and anyone who really enjoys seeing some of the older gundam designs animated one more time in 2D glory. But for less Gundam obsessed viewers I can’t find myself saying this is a must watch for the season.
Gundam Build Divers is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.