Thursday, January 12, 2017

The 3rd Party Revolution

Greetings and salutations plamo nerds! Unless you live under a rock like Patrick Star, you're probably aware of the new 3rd party (aka bootleg, knock-off) kits that have recently hit the mecha market. I'm talking about Daban and Dragon Momoko's Strike Freedom, both based off of Bandai's Metal Build version, and the Providence Gundam by a new company called DevilArts. All three kits do not currently exist in Bandai's lineup, further blurring the line between what is original and what is a knockoff. It's been going on for some time now, but I think a major phenomenon is happening in the mecha modeling world. It's similar to how nearly every consumer product out there, from cars to computers to clothes, right down to the very underpants you're wearing (or not wearing) at this very moment, came to exist today.

Click on the read more link for the rest of this post...

Toyota AA 
I worked for nearly 6 years in the automotive industry, so let's use cars as an example so I can pretend to know what I'm talking about. The earliest versions of the automobile came into existence between the late 1700's to early 1800's. Of course those were still powered by steam, and were really just trains that you could steer and were not bound to a railroad track. Over the years the internal combustion engine was developed, and by the 1900's we had petrol or diesel fueled cars. Ford was at the helm with it's mass produced Model T. But the evolution of the automobile did not happen inside a single workshop of a single manufacturer, nor were the advances in technology and design developed by the same group of people. It happened everywhere, almost simultaneously. Today there are at least 50 well known brands from all over the world, all selling the same thing - Cars.

Now that I've shared my brief (and spotty) version of the history of cars, let's go back to the topic at hand - mecha models. Bandai is (probably) the largest manufacturer of mecha models, the most popular line being Gundam kits. In the past decade or so we've seen other "brands" come out with copies of Bandai's models. The earliest versions, like those under the Bendi (I know) brand were terrible. I assembled a couple of those with my kid brother a long time ago, about the same time the Gundam Wing series aired in the Philippines. That was way before I got into the hobby, but even then I thought the quality was really poor. They were dirt cheap, but we got frustrated assembling them as hardly any of the parts would fit together properly  and a lot of the details looked washed out.

Years went by and more bootleg brands came out, with TT Hongli (GaoGao) and Daban leading the pack, releasing not just High Grades, but full on Master Grades and Perfect Grades. I got my hands on a TT Hongli Sinanju, and upon assembling it, it was clear these manufacturers were working on improving quality. This was a Master Grade Ver. Ka model equipped with the latest UC frame - and while there were still a few fitment issues, it was leaps and bounds better that the first bootlegs I got to build. It was then that the plamo bug bit me hard and injected it's addictive venom into my bloodstream.

Not long after, Dragon Momoko would emerge, and they did something that took the mecha modeling community by surprise: one-up Bandai by releasing a kit that was not in their repertoire - the (in)famous DM Tallgeese III. While many Bandai loyalists tried to downplay it's existence,  the kit caused an uproar in the community, sparking more than a few heated "original vs. knockoff" debates.

The arguments from both sides were always entertaining to read..
"Is it still a bootleg if Bandai doesn't make it?"
"It's still based off of the MG Tallgeese, just a new weapon set, so yes"
"Don't forget the head...and the shoulders..."
"Bandai will surely come out with their own TGIII, just wait."
"Yes, but it will be P-Bandai derp"  
And sure enough, Bandai went on to release their own TGIII under the P-Bandai line, much to the dismay of many in the community. I imagine the clever fellow who came up with the idea in Dragon Momoko had an evil grin on his face when that news came out. But the fun did not stop there. More brands would appear, bringing highly sought after designs to market - Elyn would release a 1/100 Kshatriya, filling a void that Bandai never thought to address. The brand would eventually change their name to Mechanicore, following up their initial release with even more monsters like the Xi Gundam and the utterly massive Tief Stürmer - a souped-up version of the deep striker. There were known problems with each release, but the demand seems to outweigh most if not all of these issues.

Not to be outdone, Daban and Dragon Momoko continued to bombard the mecha community, releasing prominent MGs like the Strike Sword/Launcher, Sinanju Stein, Nu and Sazabi ver. Ka, and even Perfect Grades of the Red Frame Astray, Unicorn, Phenex and Banshee. Dragon Momoko does a number on the steadfast Bandai loyalists again by adding much needed detail to the PG Unicorn design, which originally just looks like a blown-up version of the Master Grade.

Daban and Dragon Momoko put the pedal to the metal (pun intended), simultaneously releasing plastic kit renditions of the Metal Build Strike Freedom. DM continues to make alterations to the original's design in their now signature style, and even doubled down by releasing a Heine version of their Destiny. The groups that were once plagued by Bandai vs Bootleg threads have been replaced by Daban vs DM ones - and I think it's awesome.

 Toyota started out by copying Ford's Model T, and kept on trying to improve on it until they came out with their own model. Today Toyota is one of the largest car manufacturers, with a dominant share of the market. What we're seeing now is no different. These 3rd party manufacturers have arrived at a game-changing realization: Continue to copy Bandai's designs and forever be labeled as cheap copycats, or innovate and build their brand with their own unique designs.

Mobile giants Apple and Samsung know all too well - the battle is not won with lawsuits and patent wars. It's not about who made it first. The battle is about who can give the people what they want. A new brand called DevilArts just released a really well-detailed Providence. Daban is teasing a Master Grade Double X, and it looks like a complete revamp of the original kit.

The so-called bootleggers have stepped up to the plate. Your move, Bandai.

Until next time, keep building plamo!

Image Sources:

*Kits mentioned in this post (except for Bendi and Elyn) are available at Gundam Model Center!


  1. Before anyone else comments here, just want to say that there is nothing moral about defending a state sponsored intellectual monopoly like what happens with copyrights, patents, trademarks, etc. Neither is it the consumers' job to defend a company's so called intellectual assets. Ideas have no intrinsic value, it's only what you do with them that is valuable, and there is no justifiable reason to apply a scarcity model to them. I applaud these 3rd party manufacturers for providing competition, which makes us, the consumers, win in the long run.

  2. 3rd party manufacturers provides competition only because they are mainly cheaper, everything is all about money, yes some knockoffs have great detail but people buy because its dirty cheap and thats all, a few will go to quality and design but mostly is the price.

  3. Just read your article because I was wondering what in God's name is Dragon Momoko. I do concur with you and not just the car industry, but many industries started from copying or perhaps 'modeling' after successful companies. I'm sure Daban, Dragon Momoko, or any other company joining this increasingly congested Mecha Model market knows that beside copying Bandai - they have to eventually branch out, create their own IP, match the quality and standards of Bandai. In time, when they are able to hit those quality standards, their products will no longer be that cheap. Chinese phone manufacturers are good examples. Their flagship phones aren't that cheap today as compared to the past - but they are hitting the quality of the big boys - and even challenging them. Great article.

  4. Just wondering... If the 3rd party companies are so good in making plamo, why don't they design their own "mechas" (I won't say gundam, because it's copyrighted and someone else's idea/work) ?

    1. Because it makes more sense to improve the wheel rather than reinvent it. Good ideas will be plagiarized and copied, that's a given - especially this day and age where information can go from one end of the globe to the other in a second - and it will happen over and over until the idea reaches it's ultimate form, regardless of who thought of it in the first place or who had a hand in improving it. If we all kept our ideas to ourselves to preserve our so called precious "intellectual rights", then only one person would have coffee in the morning, only one person would have a functioning toilet, only one person would have a lightbulb glowing in his workshop.