I don’t recall why we were in Savannah, Georgia, USA, that weekend. We were staying at a very, very nice hotel… the kind of place that my family could never afford. Looking back, I assume it was something my dad’s work paid for. The only time we stayed in a real bonafide fancy hotel was when his employer gave out awards for sales. So when I look back on the half dozen or so instances like that growing up, I know the basic underlying reason.
The place was like a palace to me… deep carpet on the floors, shiny chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. All of the people working there wore suits that matched – black pants, white shirt, and a burgundy jacket and bowtie if memory serves correct. And everyone called us “sir” or ma’am”.
When we arrived, I was awed by the place, a bit like Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies. Head tilted back, I recall walking in, mesmerized by all the shiny things hanging from the ceiling. I wasn’t too far removed from likely pointing out the “cement pond”, visible from the lobby, that people were swimming in. Out of my environment I was.
Look At Me!
It did go to my head a bit. As my dad stood at the marble counter checking in – an edifice that would make any ancient Greek envious – a young man came over to us as we were checking in. I could tell he was probably in high school, as he didn’t seem that much senior to me. He dutifully began placing our bags on a hand trolley.
I was still holding mine… a very fancy blue duffel bag. He reached for it, but I immediately withdrew it. How did I know his intentions? I had several of my Super Friends action figures in there, and even a GI Joe with Kung Fu Grip®. (Though truth be told he only had about 3 fingers still attached…)
He started at me briefly, his disdain for the forced social pecking order obvious. “Sir, may I take your bag? I’ll be bringing it to your room for you.”
Still not sure, I eyeballed him briefly. Mom nudged me. “It’s OK. He’s here to help us.” Reluctantly, I handed over my bag. We eyed each other briefly, caught in mid-exchange as we each held a strap in hand. My eyes narrowed down a bit.
“I’m watching you.” Smug in the belief that my suspicion of his intents had been passed, I let go of the bag. His eyes rolled so thoroughly the Blue Angels would have taken note.
We’d made it up to the room safely, and after a brief check of my bag to make sure all was accounted for (it was), I was ready for dinner. Dad had suggested we’d go get a “fancy meal”. That sounded good to me – I loved Shoney’s! 😉
As we headed down the elevator, he and mom were discussing the meal plans. It turned out “fancy meal” was actually a real steak house. And by “real” I don’t mean Western Sizzlin’. They began to lecture me on my manners, and mom started explaining salad forks and knife placement the actual use of napkins. And under no circumstances was I to burp the alphabet. I’d only heard of such finery in hushed discussions my parents had of the “BK” days… before kids.
As we got off of the elevator, I noticed a crowd gathering near the front door. There seemed to be quite a fuss about something outside. Flash cubes popped now and again as gawkers took photos. Even the kid who carried our luggage seemed to lose his sense of decorum, and was quite excited about the focus of everyone’s attention.
As we drew near, I gasped.
In The Flesh
In my youth, there were several levels of fame. There was of course the rare air of actor, athlete, or politician. I saw them on the TV, so of course that qualified as fame.
But even beyond that were the special ones, those called to a higher level of fame. Those who not only had done some feat of public note, but had actually been enshrined in a Saturday morning cartoon. People whose fame was so great that their flesh could not contain it. It took a Saturday morning cartoon to catch the overflow.
And here they were.
Stepping off of a large bus were The Harlem Globetrotters. In the flesh.
Just Call Me Gawkward
The Globetrotters were a traveling basketball team that specialized in showcasing amazing and funny feats with the ball and hoop. I’d seen them on TV many times, both on court and – even better – on Saturday mornings with Scooby Doo. You could not be much more famous in the 70s that to be associated with Scooby Doo.
Quite often, when people see famous folk, they get a little excited. Perhaps they may point, or talk excitedly. Standing and staring is common. However, I elevated the process to new heights. Literally jumping up and down, arms flapping like a chicken in a windstorm, I ran through the crowd.
Everyone knew I was excited. Everyone.
Stopping just short of the famous players, I finally fell silent. They seemed as giants. Though a quick check today on Wikipedia shows none were much taller than my dad, my memory is they seemed to tower over all. And I knew them all by name. Wide-eyed, I looked at them. “You’re Meadowlark Lemon….” He laughed at grinned at me. One by one, I went through the roster, finally stopping on my all-time favorite. Curly Neal. Almost stammering, I said “You’re Curly Neal!”
By this time he was laughing. “Yes I am!” And then he smiled upon me. “What is your name?”
Astonished that he would even ask, my throat seized up. I could barely choke out my name. “I’m Jon Bius.”
“Well Jon Bius, how about you and your family come over here and let’s get a picture!”
Growing Old, But Still Silly
When I began building Gunpla, I felt like a kid in a newly discovered candy shop. The sheer number of mobile suit designs was almost overwhelming. Most I liked, a few didn’t really resonate with me, and a small handful really caught my eye. “I’ve got to build one of those” was a thought I had more than once.
Among the dozen or so kits that really caught my eye, one was a fairly simple design, the Powered GM. It wasn’t striking or dramatic. No wings spread out, no large weapons displayed, no fancy color scheme. It simply had a beefy, powerful look of purpose. Quickly deciding I needed to build one soon, I looked it up.
It was then I discovered P-Bandai.
What The Heck Is P-Bandai?
It turned out “P-Bandai” is short for “Premium Bandai”. These are kits Bandai makes that model less-often seen mobile suits, generally using existing kits as the basis for the model. The P-Bandai boxings often have options and colorings unlike their major release counterparts.
However, they are of a limited release nature. And aside from a few importers outside of Asia, difficult to come by. And once they’re sold out, that’s pretty much it. Gone.
So I was quite bummed out to find that I’d missed the boat on getting one. Everything I found online was priced well above what I was able or willing to pay for a kit. Most were going for around $100 – or more.
So I did what I could… I found a regular release of the GM mobile suit, and built that instead. I quite enjoyed it, of course. But it wasn’t big, or beefy. And it wasn’t orange.
A Curly Neal Moment
I don’t recall when I’d mentioned it, but somewhere on social media I opined how it was a bit of a “bucket list” kit for me. Each day, I’d get an automated email from Ebay, letting me know of everything that fit the “P-Bandai Powered GM” search criteria. Each day, the same result… too expensive.
Somewhere along the way, though, one of those wonderful things about the modeling community happened.
We often see people being snarky, mean, and downright rude in scale model social media. Not a majority, certainly, but those types stand out. Everyone is happily crowded together in a virtual room, quietly discussing things among themselves. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, someone runs in the room and wizzes all over the crowd. The whole place erupts, and it takes a while to settle back down.
Of course, the counter to that are folks who step in, and suddenly shine. It may be to an individual, or to the whole group. But in some way they brighten the day up, and remind everyone what the place can be.
That’s what happened to me. A very kind person contacted me with a simple question. “Would you like to build a P-Bandai MG Powered GM?” No strings attached. No gotchas. Build it and have fun.
I don’t think my excitement could have been much greater than standing in front of Curly Neal. I accepted, of course, stunned by such generosity.
The kit is essentially the same MG GM suit I’d previously built. The inner frame from that era of Bandai Gunpla was not like the ones we see today. A full inner frame of the legs was provided, and a large “plug” to represent the inner torso. However, the rest of the suit was engineered much like a High Grade kit, with only visible inner frame being modeled. I say that certainly not as a criticism, but rather as a simple statement of fact. It’s a very good kit, really.
The Powered GM boxing adds additional parts that make it distinctive. New chest and back sections give it the beefed up linebacker appearance. Additional leg armor makes it clear this mobile suit never skipped leg day. Though the overall design changes are confined to a few areas, they make quite a difference.
Inner Frame Assembly
I proceeded as I normally do for most Gunpla, assembling all the inner frame parts as far as I could so I could paint them separately. For the arms, only the elbow joints needed to be accounted for. The legs were fully modeled, and very detailed for the time. The inner torso section also had very nice detail.
After cleanup and assembly, all were painted in AK Interactive Real Color Neutral Gray, and given a dry brush of Vallejo Sky Gray. I went with a gray inner frame so there would be some contrast with the lighter and brighter outer colors, but not so stark as the traditional dark gray.
Various tube, piston, and other detail were picked out in metallic red, silver, and and bronze. A wash of Citadel’s Nuln Oil helped deepen the shadows. As there weren’t a load of parts to paint, this process went quickly.
Admittedly, much of the painting of any inner frame parts for Gunpla is purely for the fun of it. Once the armor is put in place, most won’t be seen. Such was the case with this kit. I’ve heard many people say I do it because I know it’s there.” Which is fine, of course… but for me, I simply do it because it’s fun. I’ll likely forget it’s there eventually anyway. 😉
Orange You Glad I Painted The Armor?
The outer armor on the kit is dominated by white and orange. Though the kit is shown in a single orange color, I decided to take a cue from more modern designs and try a two-tone approach.
The white parts were painted with AK Interactive Real Color (AKRC) White Gray, a wonderful color for Gunpla. It’s one of those “white” paints that by itself looks white, yet when held up next to pure white reveals its true nature. The benefit of this “cool” white is that pure white highlights can be added, which actually make it seem to “pop” more than if it were all pure white. The eye is not so super-saturated with reflected light that no highlights show. And because Real Colors are lacquer paints, they went on so smooth that to the touch it still feels as almost bare plastic.
For the orange parts, I used AKRC Orange as the base color. I also made a lighter, slightly brighter variation by mixing some 3 parts AKRC Orange with 1 part Mr. Color Yellow. This resulted in a bright, somewhat “orange sherbert” color.
The trick, when doing this type of approach, is to pick where the colors go. I decided that on any section with multiple orange parts, the part that was either on top, or further forward, would receive the pure orange. If neither of these criteria worked, I simply looked for logical places for tonal variation.
This resulted n what I think is a pleasing arrangement. The forward shin armor, and bulk of the chest, are the pure orange. The calf armor, lower lower torso, pilot’s area, and neck areas are the brighter orange. In the same way the backpack is split – pure orange on top, brighter orange below. Only the feet were done in one color, as they are a single unit. Two small blocks on the rear of the calves were done in the pure orange at the last minute, just for contrast.
The chest vents were painted in Mr. Color Yellow, and the few red parts in AKRC Red.
Bringing It All Together
Assembly, of course was straight forward. While the kit has a few seam lines, I’d simply “converted” these to panel lines with my Tamiya Scribing Tool. Only the seam that ran from “ear to ear” on the head was sanded away.
If you’ve never assembled a Bandai Gunpla kit, it’s a real treat. It all just snaps together, as perfect as you can get in an injection molded kit. Tolerances are super tight. By using the method of turning seam lines into panel lines, virtually ever part can be painted (and even weathered if desired) ahead of time. The last step can be assembly.
Nothing in the kit presented a problem. Snap it all together, and in literally just a few minutes, you’re looking at your mobile suit.
A Polaroid Moment
When I dig back in my childhood memories, there are many that stand out. A few rise above the others. But only a rare handful were captured in a photo.
Though either long lost, or buried deep in a closet, I vividly recall the Polaroid photo from that moment. There were a few of the Globetrotters, smiling at the camera. Mom and dad stood on the end, smiling proudly. In the center, kneeling down with his arm around me, was Curly Neal. I had my arms folded, a huge grin on my face. At that moment, it felt as though I were on top of the world.
When this Powered GM kit arrived on my doorstep, it seemed as though it were a moment cut off of the same bolt of cloth as my Globetrotter memory. Though not a huge deal in the bigger scheme of life, it was a standout moment because it was so rare, so fun, and so enjoyable. There are many events that have a pleasant taste, but scarce are those that are to be savored for a while.
Just as my brief visit with the Globetrotters drew to a close – the whole thing could not have lasted 3 minutes – so to does finishing the basic assembly and base paint. It’s been a wonderfully fun process, one I have savored and enjoyed. Yet, it’s also one I am a bit sad to see end.
However, there is a bright side. While an encounter with Curly, Meadowlark, and the rest of the Globetrotters from my childhood is never again to happen, there will be more Gunpla that can be built. And I’m quite sure 10-year-old Jon would be more than happy to carry them in his bag, right next to Three-Fingered Joe.
In the meantime, I can always watch The Globetrotters and Scooby Doo. 😉
And get on to weathering the Powered GM!