Stream•Base: Riding the Gunpla Boom in the Early Days of Gundam Model Mania

In early 1980, Mobile Suit Gundam was an underground sensation. Despite being cut short of its initial run, it struck a chord with the same kind of enthusiastic young adult fanbase as the earlier Space Battleship Yamato. That dedicated Gundam fanbase saw the series rebroadcast almost immediately after its conclusion and an agreement with Bandai to create Gundam plastic model kits, unusually, after the series’ original broadcast had ended.

The first Plamo boom

The generation that would become Mobile Suit Gundam’s earliest and most dedicated fanbase were the so-called shinjinrui–the “new breed,” born in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and often considered to be the first generation sheltered from the grim conditions of post-war Japan. Growing up alongside the development of Japan’s animation industry, it’s retrospectively unsurprising that this generation was the first to generate a large, dedicated anime fandom–first entering public awareness with the underground success of Space Battleship Yamato, and coming of age alongside Gundam. The latter show’s use of the phrase ‘Newtype’ would intentionally call on the generation’s nickname, as one of the first anime series to intentionally solicit the teenage and young adult demographic.

The shinjinrui generation was also associated with a number of fads that swept Japan’s developing consumer economy: the slot-car boom, ten-pin bowling, superheroes and supercars, and plastic model kits–retrospectively known as the first plamo boom.

The Japanese economy of the 1960s had recovered well beyond its greatest pre-war heights in the so-called “economic miracle,” but household income was still low. Plastic models offered a more affordable alternative to pre-assembled toys, giving rise to licensed “character” model kits based on popular media. These models didn’t aim to perfectly replicate the media in question, but rather to be an affordable substitute to a toy by incorporating wind-up motors, spring-loaded missiles, or other play features.

One of the hottest properties of the plamo boom was Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds, a series that had been a runaway success in Japan and kickstarted the early mecha genre. Imai Kogaku’s Thunderbirds model kits were perhaps the apex of 1960s character models, a far more affordable alternative to Dinky’s diecast Thunderbirds toys, and a successful export as well as at home.

Hoping to maintain Thunderbirds‘ success, Imai invested heavily in model kits based on Gerry Anderson’s follow-up series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, as well as Tsuburaya Productions’ take on the genre, Mighty Jack. Both series became high-profile investments for many Japanese toy manufacturers and soon shorthand for the risks of toy licensing when both series flopped.

With warehouses full of unsold stock, Imai declared bankruptcy. As a part of this bankruptcy, they sold part of their Shizuoka factory and many of their licenses to Bandai, a new entrant to the plastic model industry. Many other model manufacturers would also collapse during the 1960s, including most famously Marusan Shoten, the oldest of Japan’s plastic model makers, as it was unable to keep up with debt taken on during the slot car boom.

With household income rising, plastic model kit sales fell due to competition with the regular toy market. Captain Scarlet and Mighty Jack would haunt the Japanese toy industry for years, with licensed toys being seen as massively risky, relegated to subsidiaries, and candy toys.

The birth of Stream•Base

But of course, there were those who continued to build model kits. Military and other real-world models remained popular. Licensed model kits would persist, just without being the juggernaut they once had been.

After a few false starts, Bandai found one of its first plastic model successes with Space Battleship Yamato. That show’s popularity with teenagers had made Bandai’s licensed model kits–each with a pull-back motor and spring-loaded missiles–a surprising success with older modelers. These modelers in turn surprised Bandai by requesting more accurate, gimmick-free models, as well as models of villainous and minor spacecraft.

With Space Battleship Yamato’s successful 1977 compilation film and word of sequels, Bandai released the “Yamato Mechanical Collection,” highly accurate models of the series’ spacecraft which would challenge many of the industry’s preconceptions about licensing and prove to be an immediate sales success. Work began on a follow-up collection, the “Best Mechanical Collection,” to cover other franchises. One of those franchises would be Sunrise’s Mobile Suit Gundam.

Throughout the 1970s many dedicated plastic modelers began to emulate the ‘circles’ typical of the growing doujinshi manga scene. These modeling circles would share workspaces, collaborate on group builds and shop displays, publish their own modeling doujin, or submit articles to hobby magazines like Hobby Japan.

And so, in early 1980, word of Bandai’s upcoming Gundam model kits would reach a model circle formed by regulars at Hobby Shop Endō located in Sasazuka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. That circle had come together due to their shared interest in character models, taking the name “Stream•Base” from Satoru Ozawa’s classic manga Blue Submarine No. 6.

20-year-old Masahiro Oda, the group’s founder and informal leader, had already built a reputation in Japan’s booming magazine industry, contributing plastic modeling articles to Starlog Japan and soon Hobby Japan. He was joined by, among others, Masaya Takahashi, Kunihiro Katsuro, and Katsumi Kawaguchi. All were classmates at the local high school and all were fans of Gundam.

Akito Iwase’s scratch-built 1/100 scale Zaku II.

In March 1980, Hobby Japan published what would be the first of many Gundam scratch builds. Akito Iwase, of the modeling circle “Build Schnitzer,” created a 1/100 Zaku which would immediately inspire modelers across Japan to try the same. Iwase’s family ran an industrial prototyping business and he used those skills to create his Zaku mostly using polyester putty. Not the nice stuff from Tamiya (which wasn’t sold yet) but rather off-the-shelf automotive body filler. Stream•Base quickly got to work learning his techniques.

With hype building for Bandai’s official Gundam kits, along with the success of The Empire Strikes Back, planning began at Hobby Japan for a more substantial science-fiction “character” model special for their August 1980 issue. Since both Masahiro Oda and Katsumi Kawaguchi had contributed to the magazine, Stream•Base were invited to make their publishing debut as a group alongside another work by Akito Iwase. This time Iwase built a 1/100 Gundam, with Stream•Base producing three of Char’s custom units: Kawaguchi’s take on the Zaku, Oda’s on the Gelgoog, and Kunihiro Katsuro’s on the Z’Gok.

The very first Bandai Gundam plastic model kits began hitting the market in July of 1980, specifically the RX-78 Gundam in 1/144 and 1/100 scales, which by pure coincidence were the favored scales of scratch builders. And so Hobby Japan’s special was perfectly timed for a new segment of Gundam’s slowly growing fanbase, not the doujinshi-writing shinjinrui crowd that had supported the show originally, but the children and young teens enticed purely by the ‘Wow, cool robot’ factor, word of mouth from older siblings and classmates, and the hype of the upcoming Gundam film compilations. Stream•Base members quickly became regular contributors to Hobby Japan, as Bandai’s Gundam releases accelerated to meet demand. Already, some suspected the series of being a new Thunderbirds.

By early 1981, Mobile Suit Gundam was a phenomenon on the edge of the mainstream, perhaps best exemplified by the Anime Shinseiki Sengen, or New Century Declaration. The Gundam compilation films would bring the series properly into the mainstream, and many of the children who had missed the series’ original run would become fully entranced by mechanical designer Kunio Okawara’s designs. While the series’ major toy sponsor, Clover, would sell them a Gundam, Guncannon, or Guntank, Bandai’s model kits would prove the more popular and more affordable option–especially if one gave in to the desire to collect them all.

Stream•Base found themselves with no shortage of work, as seemingly every anime and science fiction publication was keen on a Gundam modeling feature. The April 1981 issue of Animage would be a landmark, however.

Freelance editor Hisashi Yasui had assembled a massive plastic modeling special feature, including an “SF Plamo Round Table” featuring Masahiro Oda, Masaya Takahashi, and Koichi Ozawa1 in conversation with Bandai’s Satoru Matsumoto and Yoshimasa Uchida, and Gundam mechanical designer Kunio Okawara. This meeting established several important relationships and cemented Stream•Base’s position in the spotlight.

Among the topics discussed were Imai’s Thunderbirds kits, their influence on the young plastic modelers, and the irony that Bandai’s hobby department had been borne from Imai’s bankruptcy. Ozawa would even take the opportunity to jokingly ask that Bandai’s UFO2 model kits be reprinted (during the impending gunpla boom they actually would be). The subject of international distribution was also raised, with Gundam being broadcast across South East Asia and Italy.

All three modelers came to a point of agreement with the Bandai representatives; the generation who had grown up with the first plamo boom hadn’t lost their appetite for character models, they’d simply outgrown the gimmick-laden products of years past. With Bandai’s “Yamato Mechanical Collection,” they’d won over many with accurate and highly detailed spacecraft. Now with Gundam and the “Best Mecha Collection,” they were bringing in people who hadn’t built a model since Thunderbirds or Ultraman and even dedicated anime fans who had never previously built plastic models.

Kunio Okawara quickly bonded with the three young modelers as he admitted to building Science Ninja Team Gatchaman models after making his design debut on the series. Masahiro Oda would present him with a pair of completed models painted in a style emulating art that Okawara had created for the Gundam compilation films–described as “Real Type”–adding warning stripes and labels reminiscent of military equipment, especially aircraft. This style would end up becoming both men’s signature styles in the years to follow.

Kunio Okawara and examples of the “Real Type” style.

Hisashi Yasui was also leading a project directly promoting the Gundam films, a special issue of Kodansha’s TV Magazine, the Mobile Suit Gundam Anime Graph Book. Features were planned which would further explore the Gundam setting and backstory and Okawara was asked to contribute with art for four new types, or ‘Variations’, on the Zaku: a Zaku camouflaged for wetlands, an artillery Zaku, an underwater Zaku, and a desert-use Zaku. These would become the basis for Mobile Suit Variations.

How To Build Gundam

Hobby Japan took a very simple approach to capitalize on the Gundam hype. May 1981’s How to Build Gundam featured Stream•Base leading a massive line-up in a special issue completely dedicated to gunpla and Gundam scratch-builds. Akito Iwase and Koichi Ozawa were both pulled in as contributors, along with many others. Max Watanabe3 even appears in the reader submissions, with a scratch-built 1/60th scale Gouf.

A constant theme throughout the magazine was the aforementioned “Real Type” style, most notable in Masahiro Oda’s work and Stream•base’s collaborative Black Tri-Stars jet stream attack diorama.

Another trend popularised by the magazine was the “cut model,” a model with pieces cut away to reveal mechanical workings underneath in the style of cross-section artworks. In November of 1981, Bandai would release official models of the Gundam and Zaku II in this style, based on its popularity in How to Build Gundam.

Examples of the “cut model” style in How to Build Gundam.

How to Build Gundam would also bring Okawara’s Zaku Variations to life as Hisashi Yasui made sure that the group was able to see the artwork early. The group created their own variations–sorry, bariations–of other Mobile Suits.

How to Build Gundam was, unsurprisingly, a massive hit. So much so that many sources will describe its release as the “true start” of the gunpla boom. Not long afterward, Mobile Suit Gundam II: Soldiers of Sorrow premiered, coinciding with the summer school holidays. Gundam was suddenly a very hot property, becoming a phenomenon on a scale that wouldn’t be seen again until Pokemon in the late 1990s.

The Gunpla Boom

By late 1981, anticipation was building for the final Gundam movie and Bandai was unable to keep up with demand. The factory was operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a rotating staff to ensure every gunpla mold was producing as many kits as physically possible. In December of that year alone they produced four million Gundam plastic model kits but demand was still many times that.

The demand for gunpla stimulated further interest, as the phenomenon was covered in magazines and newspapers across Japan. Queues started to form outside hobby stores hours before opening, especially when rumors circulated that certain stores had received Bandai deliveries. Children and teenagers began to follow Bandai’s delivery trucks through Tokyo and other major cities, on bicycles or motorcycles, hoping to snag a model kit that hadn’t already been reserved months in advance. Hobby shops began to improve the security of their display cabinets after stories circulated of smash-and-grab robberies and of over-excited children falling through glass. Stores that did have stock began to take advantage of the fervor and started bundling kits. You want the new Big Zam model? Then you’ve also got to buy this other kit we can’t get rid of.

Bandai’s Shizuoka factory even had to hire security after several attempted robberies and after several agitated parents and gunpla fans had attempted to buy model kits directly off the factory floor.

On the 24th of January, 1982, the single most infamous–though often exaggerated–incident of the gunpla boom occurred. At Daiei Shinmatsudo shopping mall in Matsudo, a suburb of Tokyo, about 250 people, mostly children, had queued outside before opening. The mall’s hobby shop was rumored to have received a gunpla delivery. When the mall opened its doors, a sea of kids rushed to the hobby shop but faced a bottleneck: the escalator up to the correct floor. Someone at the top of the escalator fell backward into the line of kids behind them with nowhere to go. More than a dozen people were injured and four children were taken to the hospital with severe head injuries.

The Second Plamo Boom

The so-called “gunpla boom” is also frequently described as the “second plamo boom.” Director Yoshiyuki Tomino’s follow-up project to Mobile Suit Gundam, Space Runaway Ideon, had been a similar ratings disappointment but achieved success with hardcore anime fans. Like Gundam became a sudden success for Bandai, Ideon did the same for model manufacturer Aoshima.

Almost every other Japanese model manufacturer saw an increased demand for science-fiction and anime kits, particularly giant robots. Some responded by quickly rebranding and reissuing older molds, my favorite being Tokyo Marui’s Mobile Force Gangal.

Mobile Force Gangal featuring the “Mass Production Type Zuku” and “Old Gerg.”

Takara, then subcontracting model kit production to Nitto, had already been developing a new line of robot toys complementary to their Microman lineup, Diaclone, featuring a few designs by Studio Nue. Diaclone would receive several model kits, manufactured by Nitto, well before the series’ famous contributions to Hasbro’s Transformers.

Takara also sponsored Sunrise’s Fang of the Sun Dougram, which began airing in October 1981. The first series able to respond to Gundam’s success, Dougram helped codify the robot genre with mechanical designs by Kunio Okawara. Demand for Dougram models would outpace Takara and Nitto’s manufacturing capacity forcing Doyusha to be brought in as a second model manufacturer.

Manufacturers unable to secure a license to a robot anime series otherwise settled on original lineups. Arii created The Animage, a series that had nothing to do with the anime magazine, with a few interesting, if derivative, designs. Imai, having largely recovered from their late 1960s bankruptcy, did the same with Galaxy Eagle Megaro Zamac, though they commissioned ARTMIC’s Toshimichi Suzuki and character designer Yoshitaka Amano to ensure the series would at least look the part. Imai and Arii together would still pursue a potential anime license: Artland and Studio Nue’s Super Dimension Fortress Macross.

The ‘Craft Team’ and Plamo-Kyoshiro

Hisashi Yasui was quick to bring Stream•Base onto another project. Kodansha was launching a new children’s monthly manga magazine, Comic BomBom, and of course it needed a plastic modeling section. Kunihiro Katsuro decided to part ways with the group and focus on his university studies, but Oda, Takahashi, and Kawaguchi were all in.

Stream•Base quickly became the Craft Team, supporting cast members in Koichi Yamato’s manga Plamo-Kyoshiro. If you’re familiar with the more recent Gundam Build Fighters, the concept was essentially the same: a young boy enters his gunpla in virtual battles. Though in this case, those battles featured popular models from other Sunrise mecha shows like Combat Mecha Xabungle or Aura Battler Dunbine, alongside military vehicles including a Tiger tank and even a Honda City Turbo with missiles strapped to the roof. The Craft Team, along with other guest modelers, showed up to mentor the manga’s protagonist Shiro Kyoda–and the reader, of course–with gunpla building techniques and painting advice.

The Plamo-Kyoshiro team. Back row, left to right: Masahiro Oda, Masaya Takahashi, Hisashi Yasui, Katsumi Kawaguchi, Comic BomBom editor Ikeda; front row: Comic BomBom editor-in-chief Toshio Tanaka, Katsuzo Ozawa, Koichi Yamato.

Comic BomBom also featured the return of an idea that had started with the Gundam Anime Graph Book. Each month, a new mobile suit variation would be featured, often appearing in Plamo-Kyoshiro as well. Initially, these were by Kunio Okawara, but he’d quickly become the most in-demand mechanical designer in Japan, so a number of guest designers ended up tapped for new designs. A highlight was the Perfect Gundam, Shiro’s first major upgrade in Plamo-Kyoshiro, which was designed by Gundam, Ideon, and soon-to-be Macross animator Ichiro Itano.

With the launch of Plamo-Kyoshiro, Comic BomBom quickly became the biggest monthly manga publication with its target demographic of elementary school-aged boys,  outpacing its established competitor, Shogakukan’s Monthly CoroCoro Comic. Gunpla features by Stream•Base appeared regularly in Comic BomBom and its sister publication, TV Magazine. Very quickly, for a generation of kids too young to get much from Mobile Suit Gundam as a film or TV show, it was Masahiro Oda, Masaya Takahashi, and Katsumi Kawaguchi who became the faces of the franchise.

The popularity of Gundam would inspire many more publishing projects. Perhaps the most influential today was Gundam Century, published in September 1981. Born from legendary doujin Gunsight, which among its contributors were future Macross creators Shoji Kawamori, Haruhiko Mikimoto, and Hiroshi Onogi, Gundam Century aimed to flesh out the Universal Century as a cohesive setting, featuring contributions from many of the show’s writers along with Studio Nue4, Gundam art director Mitsuki Nakamura, and of course mechanical designer Kunio Okawara.

Kawaguchi, Oda, and Takahashi make their Plamo-Kyoshiro debut.

Gundam Century isn’t conceptually remarkable today in a world where you can buy a Star Wars Encyclopedia or check a fan wiki for any extraneous detail, but in 1981, the idea of such a reference book was virtually unheard of. The project was commissioned by Tetsuo Daitoku, editor of Minori Shobu’s Monthly OUT, who had been central to nurturing Gundam’s fandom and one of the few people who realized that a commercial adaptation of a project like Gunsight had the potential to be massively successful.

Gundam Century would formalize many ideas and details now central to Mobile Suit Gundam’s Universal Century; the location of Zeon’s colony drop being Sydney, the fine points of many technologies, and most importantly to us, concrete descriptions of Mobile Suit development, incorporating the idea of the Zaku variations. Some of those designs conceptualized by Gundam Century would be quickly picked up for Comic BomBom illustrations, and as subjects for Steam•Base to work their magic, perhaps most famously, the MS-06R Zaku High Mobility Type.

Shoji Kawamori’s illustration from Gundam Century alongside Masahide Fujikawa’s scratch-built custom based on the illustration.

How to Build Gundam 2

How To Build Gundam 2 was released as a Hobby Japan special in May 1982. It was a good month for Hobby Japan, as Kow Yokoyama’s SF3D Original, which would eventually become Maschinen Krieger, debuted in the regular magazine that same month.

While the first volume of How To Build Gundam was a fun modeling guide, How To Build Gundam 2 remains genuinely impressive to this day. Helped by more time and an actual budget and its photographic equipment and studio space were provided by Hisashi Yasui and Kodansha. Many of the new Mobile Suit variations popularised by Gundam Century and Comic BomBom were able to be brought to life; the Zaku High Mobility Type, the GM Cannon, and even a 1/60 Zaku Minelayer built by Max Watanabe.

Perhaps most famously, Masahide Fujikawa modeled Shoji Kawamori’s RX-78 Gundam with maintenance hatches open from Gundam Century, aesthetically laying the foundation for the modern Perfect Grade line.

Located at the end of the book, an interview with Oda, Kawaguchi and Akito Iwase reflected on the chaos of the gunpla boom and proved to be a valuable resource for this article. This wasn’t the end, though. Stream•Base wasn’t about to slow down.

Builds from How To Build Gundam 2 were picked up almost immediately by Bandai in promotion–encouraging modelers to build “variations” could help sell them the same kit multiple times.

Mobile Suit Variations

In early 1982 Bandai had become aware of a potential problem with the runaway success of gunpla, as they were running out of Mobile Suits, out of Gundam. And while they were aware of the popularity of the many “variations” designs, commercializing them was almost unimaginable. Why would kids want to buy something that wasn’t in the TV show or the movies?

A bit of experimentation followed. First, older 1/100 models were reissued as “Real Type” kits that added waterslide decals emulating the style of Kunio Okawara’s Real Type artwork, popularised in How To Build Gundam. This rebranding successfully boosted sales for what were otherwise underperforming kits.

Even with a new, successful series like Xabungle, Gundam models took center stage in Bandai advertising.

Further testing the market, Bandai then produced kits of four designs that had not appeared in Mobile Suit Gundam, being abandoned when the series’ run was cut from 52 planned episodes. The Agg, Juaggu, Agguguy, and Zogok were at this point fairly obscure –mentioned only in a few production histories of the series–so new background materials and promotional writing were produced by, of course, Hisashi Yasui.

With these kits also proving successful, Bandai’s path forward became obvious. The company formally hired Yasui as the producer for a new Gundam model kit line: Mobile Suit Variations. Yasui then simply did what he knew would work; he hired Masahiro Oda, Masaya Takahashi, and Katsumi Kawaguchi.

Oda would be credited with series composition, and as a mechanical designer, producing the written background material that tied each new Mobile Suit into the Gundam universe. Much of this would fill the pages of Bandai’s Model Information promotional newsletter, a sort-of precursor to B-Club; as well as Kodansha’s TV Magazine and Comic BomBom, with editor Yasui repeating a strategy used to market the unseen Mobile Suits.

Takahashi and Kawaguchi would be credited for series composition cooperation, along with Katsuzo Ozawa, a modeling and prop-building legend in his own right, and a regular contributor to Plamo-Kyoshiro. They’d also take on more of the group’s ongoing commitments, especially with Kyoshiro’s ongoing success.

With Kodansha still providing an impressive modeling and photography studio, Stream•Base found itself at the center of the rapidly developing plastic modeling scene in Tokyo. The studio would be frequented by the group’s collaborators and friends, including Kaiyodo’s Shuichi ‘Senmu’ Miyawaki, and others involved in the developing garage kit scene, providing a space filled with the tools and photographic equipment which would otherwise be out of reach.

Mobile Suit Variations continued and incorporated the work that had begun with Studio Nue’s Gundam Century, with Oda contributing written material for books, magazine articles, and detailed write-ups of each design included in the kits themselves. Several of the designs were co-produced by Oda and illustrator Takayuki Masuo, passing them over to Okawara only for his approval and clean-up work. Many would go on to be fan favorites; including Shin Matsunaga and Johnny Ridden’s High Mobility Type Zakus, the Full Armor Gundam, and even oddballs like the Psycommu Zaku.

The series launched in three waves. The first, beginning in April 1983, was perhaps the truest in spirit to the original stated goal of the line to encourage modelers to experiment with modifications and alternative builds, even providing suggested alternative color schemes. But Bandai was still playing it safe, as this wave would exclusively feature established Variations designs, in 1/144 scale.

Stream•base were able to provide feedback on the engineering of the kits, as well as the box art and overall presentation as the series took on a style more reminiscent of military models by brands like Tamiya. Front and center were striking illustrations by Kenichi Ishibashi and Makoto Ueda.

Later MSV waves would add Mechanical Files emulating the file cards used in Nitto’s SF3D model kits.

The series’ second wave, starting in July of 1983, moved on to new designs, as well as expanding into a few 1/100 and 1/60th model kits. A notable success was the Full Armor Gundam, which Masahiro Oda and Kunio Okawara had reworked from the Perfect Gundam of Plamo-Kyoshiro to fit with the Universal Century, which along with many of the series’ other designs, would quickly be adapted into the pages of Plamo-Kyoshiro.

The series received a third and final wave in early 1984 and by this point, it had evolved substantially. Designs that were more unique or character-driven took priority, perhaps most famously with not-Char Johnny Ridden’s Zaku II and the intricate and bizarre Psycommu Zaku. Plamo-Kyoshiro’s Perfect Gundam and Perfect Zeong would be transformed into model kits themselves, coming full circle from their origins as fictional and real-life scratch-builds.


Many of the designs produced throughout the series had become enduring parts of Gundam but with Sunrise’s commitments to other series, it seemed at this point that they were the only continuation to be had. Bandai began to plan a broader multimedia series to succeed MSV, known simply as MS-X. Yasui and Steam•Base would continue in their roles behind the scenes.

While promotional artwork and some details of the series were revealed in magazine previews, it was scuppered when Sunrise announced that Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam was finally entering production, eventually premiering in March of 1985.

By this point, the gunpla boom had largely subsided. The MSV lineup, along with Nitto’s SF3D model kits, the Macross collaboration of Imai, Arii, and Doyusha, and Takara’s massively detailed Dougram and Votoms lineups would all stand as relics of a brief period where kids couldn’t get enough of giant robots and plastic modeling. The bankruptcies of Clover and Takatoku Toys removed two major toy sponsors from the anime industry, both struggling to sell super-alloy robot action figures in a market where model kits had become cool again and competition was fierce.

Clover had been a major sponsor of Sunrise since 1977’s Zambot 3, had been Gundam’s major sponsor, and had collapsed during Aura Battler Dunbine’s broadcast. The company was stung by the failure of Kokusai Eigasha’s Akū Daisakusen Srungle, and the subsequent disappointing sales of their Dunbine toys, leaving Sunrise to rely on Bandai as Heavy Metal L-Gaim and subsequently Zeta Gundam’s primary toy sponsor.

Takatoku Toys are best known overseas for creating the Macross VF-1 Valkyrie toy that was later repackaged as the original Transformers’ Jetfire. They would sponsor the follow-up Super Dimension Orguss and Ashi Production’s Armored Battalion Dorvack, but struggled to keep the doors open. They finally declared bankruptcy while sponsoring Chō Kōsoku Galvion, another Kokusai Eigasha endeavor (leading to the series’ cancellation), and leaving Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross to be sponsored by three different plastic model manufacturers.

Model manufacturers Nitto and Imai were soon to face their own crises. Imai, in very similar circumstances to their 1969 bankruptcy, over-invested in Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross. They sold the bulk of their assets to Bandai again, this time managing to stave off an actual declaration of bankruptcy. Nitto, despite no longer providing model manufacturing services to Takara, had success producing model kits based on Kow Yokoyama’s SF3D Original. The company was struggling with poor management and investment decisions, however, and after a fire destroyed much of their factory in 1985 they were unable to recover. SF3D getting unceremoniously canceled by Hobby Japan probably didn’t help, either.

While mecha series remained successful with the explosive growth of the anime industry, the youngest consumers were being torn away by a new phenomenon: most notably the must-have Nintendo Famicom. Older anime fans interested in modeling were increasingly taking the DIY approach as garage kits gained popularity and the advent of easy resin casting meant no mecha design was too obscure to sell in limited quantities. While garage kits had primarily been the domain of monsters and figures during the gunpla boom, post-boom mecha subjects became more and more commonplace.

Bandai continued to have success with Zeta Gundam’s model lineup, though with much more restraint than the runaway product development of the early 1980s. In 1985 they aimed to diversify, eventually seeing the launch of the B-Club brand and the establishment of Bandai Visual. But, Yasui and Stream•base were no longer needed.

A scratch built Epsy Gundam by Masahiro Oda from Gundam Wars Project Z.

Parting ways

While Yasui was able to continue his editorial career basically uninterrupted, Steam•base was at a crossroads.

Much like Kunihiro Katsuro, Katsumi Kawaguchi decided to head to University. He wished to continue working with Bandai, so he applied for a regular position after graduation and soon joined the gunpla team. He quickly developed a reputation as an expert modeler and educator, and a stalwart of Bandai’s product development efforts, becoming widely known as “Master” or “Meijin” Kawaguchi. A character was even named after him in 2014’s Gundam Build Fighters, itself a spiritual successor to Plamo-Kyoshiro.

Masaya Takahashi would continue to work with Yasui and with Kodansha, going on to write a new manga for Comic BomBom. This was Mobile Suit Gundam MS Senki, one of the very first Gundam side-story manga, with Kazuhisa Kondo providing art in his very first Gundam manga outing.

While Takahashi would largely enter editorial roles in the future, he would return to writing Gundam material in a project for Model Graphix magazine, on a project worthy of its own write-up because of its legacy: Gundam Sentinel.

Masahiro Oda would also end up with Model Graphix, after being recruited by editor Hiroshi Ichimura. Much like with How To Build Gundam, he lead the production of the special Gundam Wars Project Z, featuring customized and scratch-built Mobile Suits, many of which would be adapted by Sunrise into Gundam proper. Project Z would also, much like the How To Build Gundam series, pull together a number of influential modelers under Oda’s leadership, including mechanical designers Makoto Kobayashi and Mamoru Nagano, legendary aviation modeler Shuhei Matsumoto, and Masahiko Asano, who would take over Oda’s role on future Gundam Wars projects including Gundam Sentinel.

Oda would later write modeling articles for Newtype and be heavily involved in the garage kit scene, though he eventually withdrew from the industry to instead take over a family business. He does still write occasionally, including the phenomenal memoirs Gundam Days, which has been a source for much of this article, and Garage Kit Birth Story.


  • Gundam Days. Masahiro Oda, Toys Press 2018
  • Common Sense of Gunpla: The First Gunpla Boom (ガンプラの常識 第1次ガンプラブーム編). Futashaba 2012
  • Hobby Japan. March 1980 and August 1980
  • “SF Plamo Round Table”, Animage. April 1981
  • How To Build Gundam. Hobby Japan Special, May 1981
  • Gundam Century. MonthlyOUT Special, September 1981
  • How To Build Gundam 2. Hobby Japan Special, May 1982
  • Koichi Yamato’s personal blog,
  • Dalong’s Gunpla Review ( for a quick gunpla reference

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  1. A member of Akito Iwase’s “Build Schnitzer” circle.
  2. Another Gerry Anderson show.
  3. Well known today amongst modelers, Watanabe made a name for himself creating VOTOMS kits with Wave and was a regular contributor to hobby magazines like Hobby Japan and Model Graphix. He also founded garage kit manufacturer Max Factory.
  4. Kenichi Matsuzaki, described as “Studio Nue’s #2 guy,” had helped develop the setting for the original Gundam and was likely the person responsible for coming up with the idea of the Minovsky particles, an idea created to Studio Nue.