I once saw this post in one of the Philippine Gunpla community groups in Facebook: “Bandai should just close down if they can’t compete with the prices of [enter bootleg company here].” —or something within that context. It seems that he is a bootleg collector as there was a smiley at the end of his statement.
So let’s think about that for a while. What if the bootleg companies actually bring down Bandai and the company just decided to shut its doors for good? What could go wrong? First, let’s view this promotional video from Bandai to get an idea on how Gunpla are produced.
What’s the next release?
Okay, so point number one, Bandai has engineers who create the Gundam designs. But why engineers? Why not artists? Because more than the aesthetic form of the mecha they also have to plot each part of the robot to make the framework mechanically movable. Or else, you end up making a static statue rather than a dynamically posable action figure.
So if we lose Bandai, it takes its entire design team with it. Since bootleggers primarily just copy the design molds Bandai engineers created, the possibility of new releases goes down the drain. We’ll be stuck with what is generally left existing in the Gundam world.
Where’s that mobile suit from?
Let’s say one of these bootleg companies shell out the money (I’m pretty sure that investment will reflect on the price of their kits) to hire their own design team, that would be awesome, right? But wait, Bandai also owns Sunrise, which is basically the soul of Gunpla. Without the Gundam series, animes, manga, OVAs, etc., these mobile suits are just shells that do not have personality because they do not have a profound backstory.
When you build an RX-78-2, you don’t just visualize the Gundam, you also remember Amuro. You see Char in the cockpit of that Sazabi. These pilots, characters, personalities are the ones that bring life to Gundam and, subconsciously, you feel that when building Gunpla. Honestly, would you continue supporting a Gunpla that does not have any essence whatsoever?
New studio, new anime?
Again, hypothetically, that bootleg company creates its own anime studio and revives the Gundam series. That will again, of course, cost money. They will now gamble on the premise that the new series will be a hit with the fans, so as to increase sales of new Gunpla releases. That’s if they legally get the rights. If not, they will be left with the choice of introducing a new mecha series. Which is an even bigger gamble on their part.
What has happened here?
So what do we end up with all these hypothetical scenarios? Well, practically, the bootleg company has replaced Bandai as the legitimate brand. And with all those new investments, you should expect that their model kits will also increase to cope with the extra overhead. Which, opens up the opportunity for another bootleg company to release imitations at a lower price. And the cycle starts again.
But all of these scenarios are accompanied by big IFs. IF a bootleg company would actually invest. IF they decide to continue with their demographic of just bootleg another brand. IF they actually visualize themselves as the primary brand for Gunpla. Because otherwise, Gunpla will no longer move forward and will inevitably end. Sucks for us.