The Un-Gunpla: U.C. Hard Graph

Since the first gunpla kits (a portmanteau of “Gundam” and “play model” [correction: actually it’s “plastic model“]) were released in the 1980s, Bandai’s half-action figure, half-model kit toys have succeeded by distancing themselves from the trappings of traditional model kits. By not requiring the precision, tools or patience of regular kits, gunpla kits allow non-modelers the chance to build.

In terms of subject and construction, U.C. Hard Graph is an odd step-child to Bandai’s gunpla empire, but the irregularity of the line highlights just how homogeneous typical gunpla kits are. Organized with an easy to understand grading system, Bandai’s kits are grouped by complexity (an informal “non-grade,” High Grade [HG], Master Grade [MG], Perfect Grade [PG]) that instantly explains the complexity and rough size of the kit, even if the purchaser couldn’t explain the different between 1/100 and 1/144 scale.

Zeon Mobile Scout Set
Zeon Mobile Scout Set

Where traditional model kits required paint, Bandai pioneered the idea of “injection molding,” allowing designers to create a single piece out of multiple colors of plastic in the pursuit detail that wouldn’t require paint. Similarly, most gunpla kits are snap-fit, requiring no glue to assemble, and come packaged with traditional stickers instead of finicky (but better looking) waterslide decals.

First released in 2006, U.C. Hard Graph was a range of kits that focused on everything modern gunpla didn’t (and still doesn’t) bother with. In other words, just about anything that isn’t a giant robot. Eschewing bright, TV-accurate colors, U.C. Hard Graph kits came in drab military color schemes. The kits were largely monochromatic, requiring builders to use paint to achieve a pleasing result, and a lack of snap-fit parts meant you’d have to break out the glue to build them.

Bandai also released kits based on Patlabor, Cowboy Bebop and Space Battleship Yamato under the EX Model line.

It was a similar, though more cohesive, formula to Bandai’s earlier bare-bones EX Model line, a hodgepodge series of kits based on support units like the Magella Attack or Dopp Fighter that would only appeal to hardcore fans. While the kits released under the EX Model name were often based on interesting vehicles not seen in kit form, the kits themselves were simple and lacked the details and features of MG or HG kits. While the EX Model line largely stuck to the traditional Gundam scales of 1/100, 1/144 or 1/1700 for large ships to stay compatible, U.C Hard Graph went in a new direction. At 1/35 scale, U.C. Hard Graph, with only one exception, focused entirely on ground troops in the Universal Century, with sets comprised of small dioramas or secondary vehicles like the PVN.4/3 Wappa hovercraft and M353A4 Bloodhound hover car.

Ramba Ral Commando Set
Ramba Ral Commando Set

To explain this choice, 1/35 is a popular scale for tank models, as Bandai was clearly aiming for more traditional military modelers and older Gundam fans. For mobile suits, 1/35 is an absurdly large scale (though garage kits do exist in that scale, and Bandai’s Jumbo Grade figures are 1/35 scale), so there was a deliberate focus right from the get-go on smaller support vehicles that rarely, if ever, made it into kit form.

It’s worth noting that while a handful of pre-existing HG and MG kits were rereleased as part of the Hard Graph line, they were regular kits with added parts—the HG kit included small tanks and ground vehicles, for instance—and aren’t particularly representative of the rest of the series.

Many of the U.C Hard Graph kits feature characters or vehicles seen in the under appreciated three-part OVA, MS IGLOO 2: Gravity Front, although the line draws on nearly all animated versions of the One Year War. The Wappa first appeared in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, while the M353A4 Bloodhound will be familiar to fans of the The 08th MS Team as the Type 74 Hover Truck (the U.C. Hard Graph set features characters from that OVA). Ramba Ral’s entourage appears in kit form, oddly enough, accompanied with the head of a Zaku II instead of the head of what you’d expect. The fan-favorite Cyclops Team from Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket also gets its own kit, which, like Ramba Ral’s, mimics the look of old-school 1/35 military soldier sets from companies like Tamiya.

M61A5 Main Battle Tank “Semovente” Phantom Element
M61A5 Main Battle Tank “Semovente” Phantom Element

If you’re the kind of Gundam fan that appreciates Kazuhisa Kondo or MS IGLOO (or hell, even The 08th MS Team), you can probably see the appeal. U.C. Hard Graph kits represent the little details seen in the background of Gundam. That attention to detail permeates the sets themselves, as they’re filled with all sorts of tiny details and extras making them perfect for building dioramas. For example, the “E.F.G.F. MS[G] Platoon Briefing Set” includes the M353A4 Bloodhound in addition to a number of character models and a full camp setup, complete with a table, chairs, ammo boxes and gas cans. The “E.F.G.F Anti-MS Squad Set” includes ground troops with anti-MS weaponry (as seen in the first episode of MS IGLOO 2), plus the severed forearm of a Zaku II.

U.C. Hard Graph: Iron Mustang, Vol. 1
U.C. Hard Graph: Iron Mustang, Vol. 1

There’s also a two two-volume manga by Masato Natsumoto that appeared in the pages of Gundam Ace. U.C. Hard Graph: Iron Mustang focuses on a reconnaissance officer named Cuaran who pilots a Wappa and originally made an appearance in episode 14 of Mobile Suit Gundam (“Time, Be Still”), as well as the first U.C. Hard Graph kit set. Doubling down on the details, and all that. True to the U.C. Hard Graph style, the manga focuses largely on secondary vehicles and has a dirtier, ground-pounder feel reminiscent of Kondo’s work.

Other forms of print media were released to tie into U.C. Hard Graph as well, including two novels, which the official website describes as “Gundam novels for adults.” The first novel, written by Masaya Takahachi, is titled Mobile Suit Gundam U.C. Hard Graph: Earth Federation Forces. The second, titled Mobile Suit Gundam U.C. Hard Graph: Principality of Zeon Forces, was written by Kaito Kisshouji. There’s also a photo book detailing the construction of two life-sized Gundam vehicles: the Lakota and Sauropelta, which while not as impressive as the 1/1 scale Gundam in Odaiba, actually seem to function. The book also came packaged with a 1/35 scale kit of the Lakota.

1/1 Scale Lakota and Sauropelta
1/1 Scale Lakota and Sauropelta

As mentioned before, these aren’t really kits that you can put together in an evening and detail with a Gundam marker and expect them to look good. U.C. Hard Graph kits cry out for actual paint time spent on detailing and weathering. They look best when they’ve been weathered to look well-worn, covered in dirt and grime and beat to hell. Typical Gundam models, these are not.

If you’re curious about picking up a U.C. Hard Graph kit (and they’re not a bad way to jump into “real” model kits), you’ll have to do a bit of looking but they’re not hard to find. Most of the main online retailers are long sold out, but sites like Hobby Link Japan and Plamoya will occasionally have them available. EBay is an option as well, but they’re often listed at absurd pricers so you’ll have to either have a bit of patience or just be willing to open up your wallet.

For me, U.C. Hard Graph kits represent one of the most appealing parts of the Gundam mythos: a glimpse into a much larger, more detailed world than we see in the stories about self-absorbed Newtype politics and space opera melodrama. It’s grit, mud and cool weapons framed with real-world military aesthetics. It’s a Gundam that you see in Kondo’s manga, or MS IGLOO, or hinted at in Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory or War in the Pocket, but is rarely focused on. Why? Because it probably won’t sell model kits.


U.C. Hard Graph Sets

Zeon Mobile Scout Set
Set No. 1
Released September, 2006
Price: 1,500yen

Ramba Ral Commando Set
Set No. 2
Released October, 2006
Price: 3,000yen

E.F.G.F. MS[G] Platoon Briefing Set
Set No. 3
Released January, 2007
Price: 5,500yen

E.F.G.F. Anti-MS Squad
Set No. 4
Released June, 2007
Price: 2,500yen

Code Name “Cyclops” Set
Set No. 5
Released November, 2007
Price: 2,800yen

M61A5 Main Battle Tank “Semovente”
Set No. 6
Released January, 2009
Price: 9,000yen

E.F.S.F. Multipurpose Light Fighter FF-X7 Core Fighter
Set No. 7
Released February, 2011
Price: 4,500yen

Zaku The Ground War Set
Released February, 2009
Price: 2,200yen

MS-06J Zaku Ver. 2.0: White Ogre
MG Kit
Released June, 2009
Price: 3,500yen

RX-79[G] Gundam The Ground War Set
Released September, 2009
Price: 2,200yen

Premium Bandai Igloo Image Color Set
MG Kit
Released June, 2009
Price: 11,025yen


Further Reading