And we learned a lot about Gunpla in the process!

Our traveling Japanese-language reporter Ikuna Kamezawa has moved on from trying all the best ramen restaurants in Spain to touring Paris, where she recently discovered a branch of the Japanese used book-store Book-Off.

After exploring the city a bit more, she stumbled on the Paris Bandai Store. With its blocky “Bandai Hobby Store” sign and storefront, complete with a Gundam statue in the window, it looked somewhat out of place among the traditional buildings of Paris. But once you know that Paris is actually a haven for fans of Japanese culture, it isn’t so surprising to see it there.

In fact, there are several areas of Paris that are dedicated to Japanese culture. The particular area where Ikuna found the Bandai Store is full of niche hobby shops. This Bandai Store is actually a genuine shop directly operated by Bandai, so it’s the real deal for anime fans. It was so full of products that you would almost think you were in Japan!

Though Ikuna is familiar with the Gundam, which is one of the core franchises owned by Bandai Namco, and has watched many of the different Gundam anime series, she doesn’t really remember much of what she’s watched. However, there is one series she’s a die-hard otaku for, so much so that when it comes out in conversation she gets moon-eyed and starts to talk bizarrely fast. That series is Gundam Wing.

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing aired between 1995 and 1996 in Japan and followed the story of five young men who pilot their own Gundams. The story doesn’t revolve around anything so simple as whether or not they want to pilot the Gundams; instead, the boys are thrust into conflict and end up injured and missing, and the depiction of human characters is truly superb (so says super-fan Ikuna.)

▼ In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the English-language trailer.

But Ikuna, who only really knows Gundam Wing, was curious to know if the most popular Gundam of Gundam Wing, the Wing Gundam, would be a best-selling Gunpla model kit at the Paris Bandai Store? She asked Mattise, a smiling and super kind shop attendant, for the top five most popular models, and he was able to easily supply a top three, but the fourth and fifth spots were apparently harder to determine.

Still, Matisse was kind enough to think up a list and write it down for her, since Ikuna’s ability to speak and understand French–and Gundam–was limited.

…Unfortunately, she did not understand a thing on the list. 

For starters, Ikuna admitted she can’t read cursive very well. Plus, she may know a lot about Gundam Wing, but that’s about the limit of her Gundam knowledge. Instead of being a fan of the mobile suits themselves, she likes the stories of the anime, so even given the names of specific suits, she had no idea what they were.

So not only was she unable to read the cursive, but even if she could read it, she wouldn’t know what anything on the list meant. Luckily, Mattis took his kindness to a whole new level and typed the names into her smartphone so she could at least read them.

Now armed with the knowledge of the best-selling Gunpla (even if she didn’t quite know how to interpret that knowledge), Ikuna set out to search for them in the Bandai Store. It’s a surprisingly large store. Though it looks pretty small from the outside, the shop extends really far back, and its shelves are packed with merchandise.

Not all of it is Gundam, either!

But there’s a lot of Gunpla stuff. They have all kinds of paints, art supplies, and adhesives all neatly lined up on the walls.

The first floor is a mecca for Gunpla builders.

And when she went down the stairs

It was like entering the world of Gundam!

The interior was thoroughly decorated to look like a space ship, and every nook and cranny was packed with Gunpla kits of all shapes and sizes.

Ikuna had only expected otaku to come to a place like this, but she also saw several families checking out the wares.

There’s even a room for building Gunpla! Ikuna was thoroughly impressed.

Anyway, here, finally, we get to the core of Ikuna’s report: the top five best-selling models at the Paris Bandai Store! Somehow, bumbling through the huge selection, Ikuna managed to find them all (she hopes). You may have already been able to decipher the list Mattis provided her, but if not, here they are:

5. MG Barbatos

This 1/100 scale Gundam model is from the series, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans. It sells for 54.99 Euros (US$63.75 or 7,939 yen), which is a lot pricier than the 4,950 yen it sells for inside Japan.

It was here that Ikuna learned that the letters on Mattise’s list indicated the type of model. The “G” refers to the grade of the model, making HG “High Grade”, RG “Real Grade”, MG “Master Grade”, and PG “Perfect Grade”. Each grade has a general size range and different numbers of pieces, so many builders shop based on the grade.

The Paris Bandai Store had its Gunpla models arranged by grade, which would make it pretty easy to find what you’re looking for…if you knew what you were looking for. Ikuna didn’t, really, so she had a bit of a struggle.

4. RG Sazabi

The Sazabi is a mobile suit used exclusively by Char Aznable, the main antagonist in the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime. It was a very recognizable mobile suit to Ikuna, so at least this one she could find easily. This particular suit comes in many different varieties, including HG and MG grades, but it seems the RG is the most popular at the Paris shop.

Ikuna had no idea how deep the Gunpla world was.

▼ They seemed to be flying off the shelves as Ikuna browsed.

3. The Evangelion Kids

Obviously, these are not Gundam, nor are they buildable models but instead standing plastic models. Still, Mattise included them in his list of top-selling models because they are definitely hot sellers. It seems like the characters sell much better than the actual Eva mobile suit, though those are also available.

Naturally, when Ikuna asked Mattise which character was the most popular, the answer was Asuka. “Though Shinji is also really popular,” he made sure to add.

2. HG Transient Gundam Glacier 

This one really baffled Ikuna. When she looked it up, she learned that this is not actually a Gundam that appeared in an anime, but a Gundam that was designed specifically for Gunpla. Since Ikuna had no idea what she was looking at, she decided it was best not to say too much about it, lest she anger some diehard fans in her ignorance.

1. HG Unicorn Gundam 02 Banshee 

There are, it turns out, so many versions of the Unicorn Gundam that finding the right one in the Bandai Store was a labor of love that Ikuna was not prepared for (she greatly apologizes if she photographed the wrong one). This Gundam is from the Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn series, which aired in Japan about five years ago, and is a successor/variant of the same Gundam that stands outside of Diver City in Odaiba, Tokyo. It seems that, based on this list, most of the popular Gundams are newer ones. Sadly Ikuna’s favorite Wing Gundam did not make the list.

▼ Yet another kind of Unicorn Gundam

Still, just like the time she checked out a Spanish manga shop, Ikuna had a fun time looking at the different Gunpla in the Paris Bandai Store and learned a bit about Gunpla culture and Parisian fandom in the process. The music playing inside the store was also a medley of theme songs and insert songs from the many Gundam series. In fact, while Ikuna was browsing, they even played Gundam Wing’s theme songs, “Just Communication” and “Rhythm Emotion,” and the OVA ending theme “White Reflection”, all in a row. That felt like the perfect anthem for her adventure.

Since that got her sufficiently in the mood for Gundam, Ikuna decided to take the plunge and buy her first-ever Gunpla model kit: an SD Wing Gundam for 7.99 Euros (“SD” models are smaller than other grades and have simplified body proportions). She panicked slightly when she opened it and realized it had a lot more parts than she expected…But she’s going to try her best at building it. After all, how cool would it be to say she built a Gunpla in Paris?

Shop information
Bandai Hobby Store
5 Bd Voltaire, 75011 Paris
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday thru Saturday; 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays

Images © SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]