Two years have passed since the legendary force Build Divers battled the second Coalition of Volunteers to save the EL-Diver. Gunpla Battle Nexus Online (GBN), where these events took place, has been upgraded to provide sensory feedback for more realistic play. But as GBN becomes even more exciting, there are Divers who play with their own motivations in mind. Hiroto is a Diver who wanders alone through the Dimension, playing as a mercenary. Kazami is a frivolous, independent Diver who joins one party after another, pursuing the one he admires. May is a solo Diver surrounded by an aura of mystery, who plays Gunpla Battle night and day. And Parviz is a lonely novice Diver who is interested in team play, but out of shyness, he has never managed to seize the opportunity. Each of them is alone, but the course of events will end up uniting them into a new team of Build Divers. What awaits Hiroto and the others is a boundless super-experience that far transcends GBN.
"It's just fiction, after all. Some people say it's just for fun. But it can make someone happy, or even end up helping someone." -Osamu Kuuga The Gundam Build series has been on a decline ever since the first installment came out in Fall 2013. Gundam Build Fighters was a fun shounen-like battle series with tons of fanservice towards the franchise as a whole. The strength of its fights as well as some of the characters were at least partially a result of Kenji Nagasaki, who would direct one of anime’s latest juggernaut series, My Hero Academia. This was followed-up not even 1 year later with Build Fighters Try, directed by Shinya Watada. It lacked a lot of the fun the original had thanks to rather annoying characters and significantly decreased production values. After a bunch of smaller-scale projects, the series finally came back with Gundam Build DIvers, which is easily the most maligned entry to date. As such, many people were skeptical when the sequel, Gundam Build DIvers Re:Rise came in. It completely abandoned the tween cast in favor of older teens,followed up the most disliked Build entry, and didn’t even have Studio Sunrise as one of the animation studios behind it as Asatsu DK and Sunrise Beyond aka an assimilated Xebec. The early episodes didn’t do it many favors either, especially when it was only listed to be 1-cour compared to the other 3 entries that had a full 25-episode runtime. However, this isn’t the story of how the Build series died, or even the story of another middling entry in a decaying timeline in the Gundam franchise. Towards the end of the first season, viewers were hit with a proverbial colony crash as they found themselves witnessing a dramatic increase in narrative stakes, and actual character development paying off as flawed people came into their own. What seemed to be another lackadaisical or frustrating entry in the VRMMO half of the Build canon found itself announcing its second half which would be filled to the brim with payoffs after the last 2 episodes of season 1 turned the entire show on its head, throwing the audience and characters alike for a world-shattering loop. It seemed as if Shinya Watada and his staff took a lot of the criticism of Divers to heart, taking strides to improve as a director and hiring Masayuki Mutou, the man behind Gundam Unicorn --and Bible Black-- to write. Not only is it the best entry Mutou wrote for Gundam, but this series is arguably the strongest entry in the Build timeline since Fighters. Still, it’s not like the show starts off on its strongest foot. For one, Re:Rise is inherently shackled by Divers as a sequel, meaning that some of the hokey concepts such as some of the ruminating dead AI love interest characters do, are here. It also requires knowledge of Divers and the later conflicts in order to understand certain elements present. The first season also has some baffling flashback usage, as they’re often thrown in redundantly in the same episode as to what they’re flashing back to or are just thrown in during inopportune times. Some of the characters come off as frustratingly stupid and incompetent, particularly the prideful wannabe leader Kazami and the newbie of the group, Parvis. The other main leads, Hiroto and May, come off as boringly stoic early on as well with only hints of interesting characteristics being planted like seeds such as Hiroto still recoiling from the death of someone from his vague past that made him damn near quit altogether before becoming a solo player. It’s hard to root for this band of bumbling misfits at first. However, 6 episodes in, the flaws of some of these characters get put through a microscope as Kazami is broken down completely by his own arrogance and tryhard nature while Parviz’s inexperience and fear of flights and danger jeopardize the group’s ability to even remain a team when they’re on a “secret mission” to save the secret planet of Eldora from an evil army. Not only are they forced to begin improving when fully confronted with their flaws, but the static arcs of May and Hiroto actually flesh them out as Hiroto learns to work together with his team, accepting them as friends and comrades while May finds a genuine purpose for herself beyond vague missions. Then they fail so spectacularly that we’re practically reset to square one before we learn about everyone’s real-life selves and why most of them were reduced to such flawed people in the first place. One of the few elements anyone seemed to find interesting about the original Divers is when the characters get to meet in real life after their online personas formed a bond over the course of 25 episodes. Re:Rise initially has the main lead, Hiroto, be surrounded by his childhood friend, Hinata, and his endearing parents. While they come off as token nice characters at first, some of their scenes are genuinely impactful, such as when his dad, Osamu, tells him the struggles and value of coming up with a story that can mean either a fun time or the world to people. He even relates to his son’s struggles, comparing rebooting a disastrous flop to Hiroto coming back to GBN after someone he cared about died and later he and his team fucked up so tremendously hard that they almost considered pretending like the war they’ve found themselves in wasn’t their problem anymore. Kazami almost went back to simple sea life as someone who is a far cry from the utter chad he built his persona to be. Parviz nearly went back to being shackled to the ground, giving up on a hobby that let him escape and slowly begin to return to the skies he once soared. Hiroto nearly went back to just being a stoic recluse shutting himself off from his hobbies and anything that brought him joy again. Sure, May could always continue her mission by herself, but she wouldn’t grow as a person either or get very far in her quest. It is exceptionally difficult to spoil the mid-series twist or any of the arcs and subplots that make the show really come into its own as the characters develop while forming genuinely engaging dynamics. However, amidst the inevitable return of the Divers cast for some more character-building and unexpected charm. Inevitably, Hiroto’s regular life gets fleshed out as his friend, Hinata, gets tied into a subplot regarding her club leader’s comatose brother before learning just what Hiroto’s going through now that GBN slowly starts letting some darker characteristics seep through with real-world consequences. Even the NPCs of Eldora have their own engaging character dynamics and subplots, such as the slow-burn of a friendship Kazami shares with Maiya, the older sister of Frieddie aka the one who brought everyone to this quest. Deaths in the family over the course of the conflict between the village --and the world for that matter-- and the one-eyed mechs who hunt them out for reasons they neither know in the beginning or understand once they find out cause characters such as the hotheaded action-seeker Stola to realize the value of holding down the fort. Said antagonistic motivations come from Alius, an ancient being from the past who wants to “protect the world” despite tragically and blatantly losing sight of said purpose as he attacks the woodland inhabitants who look nothing like him or those who left him with his task a long time ago. Then, when the narrative finally wraps up in a series of great battles and a surprisingly solid rendition of the typical “war is bred from each side failing to understand each other so effort must be put to expand everyone’s narrow-mind viewpoints” unfolds, the results are so much more satisfying than the beginning of the show could have ever prepared anyone for. Even in terms of visuals, Re:Rise is an improvement. Overall, it’s not much to write home about as some of the background textures can feel awkward to the point of feeling like CGI environments despite the show apparently having no 3D CGI to speak of according to the show’s “Behind the Creation” video. The Build art style was never the most appealing either despite the character designs being a bit more interesting than previous installments. Some of the action scenes can feel stilted as well. However, whenever a fight scene is good, the attention to detail and sheer spectacle pulled off really sell it. This is most apparent in season 2 episode 5 when the teamwork the main leads develop culminates in one of the most tactical battles in the entire franchise. Some of the animation flourishes in later battles also feel interesting and stylized compared to the fight scenes in Try and Divers, such as when a corrupted Gundam goes full Tetsuo from Akira. If that wasn’t enough, the final battles in the series make for some of the biggest animation spectacles of 2020. Some of this is probably a result of Masami Oobari’s action direction. It also helps that even in a cast of characters who make alterations to their Gunpla over time, the main lead, Hiroto, constantly shakes things up with his core change mechanic allowing his gunpla’s design and combat to adapt to any given situation. It all really helps both seasons not only look decent, but better as they progress with some of the best fights in the Build timeline. The music is also rather solid. While the season 1 OP and ED are fine enough, it’s the season 2 songs that really stand out. “HATENA” by PENGUIN RESEARCH is a bombastic track with more hype than most shounen OPs, while “Twinkle” by Spira Spica is a surprisingly heartwarming track to end off with every week with as the credits seep into the final scene of each episode barring episode 20. Hideakira Kimura’s OST is also fairly decent as well, with special props going out to the ominous guitar piece at the end of episode 15 and the triumphant piece that plays at the end of episode 14 among other occasions. It’s not especially remarkable outside of a few tracks, but along with what got brought over from Divers and its OST, the music in this show is still solid overall. When uploading episodes of Divers and both seasons of Re:Rise to the GundamInfo Youtube channel, Shinya Watada and his team got to see the reception to each episode unfold in real-time, internalizing the feedback and speculation during production. This likely served everyone well when reflecting on where to go and what to improve on following Divers, as well as how they were going to pay everything off in the second season of this split-cour production. Perhaps this was one of the main factors that led to this show being as good as it was, provided that you get past the plodding and frustrating first 5 episodes. While it is intrinsically tied to Divers and all of its faults, the show manages to incorporate some of its predecessor’s strengths as the casts of both series came together. Not only did they come together, so did fans and critics of Divers alike. Every week, the score of Re:Rise season 2 would rise significantly as fans began to take notice that the show was far more interesting than its 2018 predecessor. Many would ask if they had to watch Divers or anything else just so they could get to Re:Rise following the staggering uphill reception the show started getting around the time the first season started coming to a close. Some still say that the Build series peaked at Fighters, but that doesn’t mean that Re:Rise was a total wash for several who found themselves disappointed with everything in between the 2013/14 and 2019/20 offerings. While the timeline would continue to be commercially successful as Gunpla kits related to it flew off the shelves, it’s safe to say this is the most excited fans have been in years. This is the story of how Shinya Watada and his team turned everything around after all these years. This is the story of how Gundam Build Divers Re:Rise brought new life to the Build canon as the best installment yet.
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