Photo essay: How UAE Gunpla fans are building a strong community

The Japanese toy model kits, which first gained popularity in the 1980s, still have a huge global fanbase

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Once or twice a month, fans of Gunpla, the hugely popular Japanese model kits, gather to meet and build in Dubai.

The meetings at Otaku Middle East, a shop dedicated to plastic model hobbyists in Times Square, are meant for fans to share their love of the toy kits.

But collectors have been known to scour these events, with one recently paying as much as Dh2,500 for a finished model.

Jonnie Teodora, an aeronautical engineer whose model was recently bought by a collector, is a member of a strong and growing community of Gunpla fans in the UAE.

Based on vehicles and characters of the Gundam multiverse, a fictional military franchise that made its debut in Japan as a TV series in 1979, Gunpla rose in popularity in the 1980s after Japanese toy maker Bandai bought it from a company called Clover.

Gundam's popularity has also spawned dozens of films, manga and video games. The name Gunpla is a portmanteau of the words "Gundam" and "plastic".

The Alcazar family are regulars at these Gunpla meet-ups.

Hotelier Paulie Alcazar, 42, wife Mhy Mhy, 42, and children Rinoah, 15, and Cloud, five, are obsessive collectors.

They even have a dedicated a room at their home, with one side of the wall stacked floor to ceiling with unbuilt kits.

"You can enjoy building Gunpla regardless of your skill level, age or gender," Paulie tells The National, explaining how his interest in the kits began.

Mhy Mhy says hers began when Paulie brought two kits home, one of which was a "bribe".

"He thought I would get upset because of the cost and said the second kit was for me," she laughs.

Gunpla kits start at Dh85 for a starter kit, and can go up to Dh800 for a pro kit, and Dh1,000 for larger scales.

Marlon Navarro, 35, an engineer, has been a fan of Gunpla since he was a boy.

"I have continued this hobby because they bring back so many memories," he says.

James Quinsaat, an architect, has won awards for his models. He says he likes Gunpla because it gives him free rein on his creativity.

"It gives me freedom in concept and ideas, which I can translate into something tangible and three-dimensional," he says.

Updated: March 10, 2023, 6:01 PM