If you’re going to try to convince collectors, who’ve already dropped hundreds of dollars on various model kits, to spend another $2,800 on just a single tiny model, this is the way to do it. At just five-inches tall, this RX-78-2 Gundam justifies its obscene price tag by swapping plastic for a fictional metal alloy that previous only existed in the Gundam anime.
Mountains of merchandise helped celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Mobile Suit Gundam anime series last year, but 2020 instead marks the 40th anniversary of Gunpla, or Gundam plastic models. Thousands of these sets have been produced over the years featuring an endless army of gigantic robot mechs, but none quite as unique as this 1/144-scale RX-78-2 Gundam. It’s one of the most recognisable and iconic Gundams of all time, and in the anime series, it helped win a decisive battle thanks in part to its special armour made from a Luna Titanium Alloy, later renamed Gundarium, that was refined and manufactured on the surface of the moon.
No such material exists in real life, nor does the lunar factory needed to produce it. So Bandai Spirits had to make do with what we have here on Earth. To realise Gundarium, it created an alloy from titanium, aluminium, and a rare-earth element known as yttrium which was previously used to create the red phosphors in old CRT TVs, but is now used in the production of LEDs and lasers. These metals were powdered, mixed, and then turned into solid material using a process called sintering where extreme heat is applied to fuse the particles together without actually melting and turning them into a liquid first.
It was a complicated process, made even harder by the extreme manufacturing precision needed to produce a model in individual parts that could actually be assembled into a full Gundam mech. By comparison, plastic is a very forgiving material for models that snap together, as it can bend, flex, and give.
All of the research and development needed to turn Gundarium from fiction to fact helps explain why a five-inch tall model kit costs 220,000 Yen, or a little over $2,800. What it doesn’t explain is why obsessive Gunpla fans almost immediately claimed all of the pre-orders for the kit once they became available a few days ago. That’s a lot of money to spend on a robot that won’t vacuum your floors.