During a Gunpla World Championship, young Hoshino observed a magnificent player and decided then and there to aspire to the same greatness. Hoshino is now 14-years-old, building Gunpla, and the head of the Gunpla Battle school club with a goal of putting together a team to take all the way to their own championship.
Hoshino is a young woman and her inspiration is also a woman. And Hoshino is the protagonist of Gundam Build Fighters Try.
As someone who has listened to Gundamn for several years I have noticed a few recurring questions that pop up in their mailbag from time to time. (Apparently podcasts can regularly receive questions. Shocking but true. I have no experience with that phenomenon so this is all apocryphal.) One such question usually involves some variation of, “When do you think a Gundam series will have a female protagonist and what will she be like?” The general answer is that the closest they have come so far is Haruhiko Mikimoto’s Gundam École du Ciel manga and that is currently on indefinite hiatus and Tiel’s Impulse which I did not even know existed until I checked just to make sure there were not any other notable female Gundam heroines.
It would be foolish to discount École du Ciel and Tiel’s Impulse as unimportant steps towards a female protagonist in Gundam but I think the real victory for the fans who want a little more gender equality in Gundam would be a woman in the driver’s seat of a Gundam TV series. While Gundam is not totally married to the idea of a persistent canon the parts of the franchise that have the strongest claim to canon tend to be the TV series. That means that a Gundam TV series with a woman at the helm would set a powerful precedent.
As surprising as it is Fumina Hoshino might actually be the leading lady Gundam fans have been waiting for. Gundam Build Fighters Try might not be the expected route for the first female Gundam heroine but a slightly obscure path might be exactly what was needed for it to happen.
In Try, Hoshino is an avid Gunpla enthusiast who has had a drive for the sport for a long time. She is a born leader who is driven by her dreams and promises from childhood. She is club president and team leader. She is able to find and harness each of their strengths for Gunpla battle and hold them together as a team.
Hoshino spends much of the first few episodes fighting off the machinations of the Plastic Model Club to absorb the Gunpla Battle Club of which she is now the sole member. She recruits a new student, awakens him to the joys of Gunpla Battle, and in turn renews her other friend’s desire to battle as well.
As if that wasn’t enough, in episode 5 we learn her story is that of the classic sports hero. Hoshino experiences that inspirational moment as a child, in this case seeing “Lady” play at the championship-level, which pushes her towards greatness.
Having a woman in the lead role, as well as having an older woman be the role model for a generation of Gunpla Battle playing young women in Gundam Build Fighters Try, normalizes women’s participation in the sport. No one makes note of how special/odd/etc. Hoshino is for being a dedicated player because she isn’t standing alone. There are women elsewhere in the series leading their own teams and aspiring to the same levels of play.
Hoshino is essential though. Having her leading us in the story makes the presence of so many women in the series feel like more than just a token throwaway.
It is easy to assume that Sekai Kamiki is the star of Gundam Build Fighters Try. He really feels like Aria von Reiji Asuna mixed with a healthy dose of Domon Kasshu. (I am also guessing that Domon Kasshu is going to turn out to be Sekai’s master.) But when you actually step back and think about it we see that it is Hoshino is the protagonist. Sekai works really well as the audience point of view character. As he is new to Gunpla Battle the rules, major players, and intricacies of the sport have to all be explained to him and by extension to the audience. Also he is the physical powerhouse of the team who specializes in melee combat. In any other show he would be central character. Now Sekai is distinctly a central character but he is more like Reiji taking the role of the secondary protagonist. If you remember it was Sei Iori who was the main character of the original series.
Without Hoshino there is no Gundam Build Fighters Try. Sekai would be trying to start a martial arts club at school and Yuuma Kousaka would just be in the less exiting world of artistic Gunpla contests. It is Hoshino’s drive to compete and love of Gunpla that pushes the story forward. She recruits Sekai and convinces Yuuma to come back to the world of Gunpla battle. She is the team leader who finds stratagems to win battles, she finds a way to make the otherwise incompatible Sekai and Yuuma work on a team, and generally she is the brain of the operation as well as the heart.
But she is more than just the Ma-Ti of the team. She does not have the raw martial arts skill of Sekai or the sniping skills of Yuuma but instead she is a strong generalist. While she has not shown an overwhelming expertise like her teammates she also does not have a major weakness like them as well. She is useful in any situation as opposed to her more specialized teammates.
Also she was able to build her own SD-237 Winning Gundam from her own design. While Yuuma’s claim to fame is technical and aesthetic perfection his designs mostly seem to be conventional. Hoshino’s designs in contrast seem to be focused on imaginative new ideas that not only throw their opponents but her own teammates for a loop. She has already started with the skill to think outside of Gundam canon, a skills that took Sei nine episodes to learn. It would be all too easy to make Yuuma the only one who builds the Gunpla on the team but it is clear that Hoshino has her own distinct and powerful skill as an artist that their opponents (and probably some of the audience) can easily overlook.
Obviously, there is a lot left of the season, so how well all of this stays together, and whether Hoshino continues to be central, remains to be seen. I’d certainly be disappointed to see her pushed to the side. And yet, Try has already shown women throughout in varying levels of play which leads to proving playing or being a fan of Gunpla (Battle) is no longer relegated to the boys.
Now if the staff could just resist the urge to put Hoshino in skin-tight outfits, it’d be golden.
I’m really curious how much Hoshino will influence the direction of the Gundam franchise in general. I doubt we will see an end to male protagonists any time soon. They will probably be the bread and butter of any animated Gundam for years to come. What I think this series has the potential to do is make it that a female protagonist might not be a concept that is off the table from the start. By showing that a female pilot can be a viable driving force for the series.
In the end all of that depends on three things. The first is that this series has to be good. If it all falls part it takes a good deal of Hoshino’s power away from her. The second is that the fandom has to take to the series. If the fandom rejects Hoshino or Gundam Build Fighters Try then the shows revolutionary elements are doomed to be more of a footnote than anything else. The third thing is Sunrise and Bandai have to take the lessons of Gundam Build Fighters Try to heart. If they ignore Hoshino’s importance then the first two parts are for naught.
So far I think none of those barriers are really a problem. As long as Gundam Build Fighters Try continues to be as solid as it has been for the first six episodes than Hoshino will be remembered as a Gundam pioneer.