A giant cultural icon has come to roost in Tokyo this summer. It's not Godzilla nor UltraMan. It's the mobile suit known as Gundam, the model RX-78 to be precise.
▲ 1:1 scale model of Japanese Anime Icon - Gundam
To mark the 30th anniversary of the popular anime series Gundam, a 1:1 scale model of the iconic mobile suit has been constructed and set up on the island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay. The model has 50 points of lights, mist emitting from several places, and a head which revolves left and right and upward.
Periodically sound-effects and the theme song to the old animated series plays from the structure itself. The life-size model is composed of fiberglass-reinforced plastic on a steel frame. The Gundam mobile suit stands at 18 meters (59 feet) tall.
▲ Gundam is a giant piloted mobile suit, not a robot.
The animated show debuted in 1979 and has spawned a number of spin-offs, action figures, comics, and video games. Gundam was influential in the robot-style anime. In other shows, robot characters had a quasi-mystical aspect and many were nigh indestructible.
In Gundam, the robots were mobile suits piloted by humans. The humans were the focus of the show while their mobile suits were treated like a vehicle rather than a personified entity.
▲ The Gundam influence on Japanese pop-culture is significant.
The Gundam model is not a robot as any obsessive follower of the anime and similar anime can tell you. It's a mecha which is a piloted vehicle; neither automated nor remote-controlled. Gundam is a mobile suit piloted by humans. It's much like a tank or a plane and as such, it runs on a finite source of energy and can be damaged to the point of destruction unlike the robot or mecha of the semi-mystical type.
▲ The Gundam model can revolve its head upward and side to side
As for myself, prior to coming to Japan there was a significant Gundam Gap in my Japanese anime experience. When I was really young, I used to watch syndicated shows of Speed Racer and Star Blazers which came out before Gundam. In my later youth, I watched Voltron and Robotech which followed the Gundam series. I had no idea who or what a Gundam was.
▲ Gundam - after hours
▲ There are many mobile suit types in the Gundam series but the RX-78 is the most widely recognizable
My first encounter with Gundam was at the local video arcade in Tokyo. During my first year in Japan, I came across an arcade game where you could fight against two robot opponents alongside a partner. Other people could join either to as your partner or as your opponent.
▲ There are 50 different points of light on the Gundam model
Recently, they have come out with arcade pods where you can play in your own enclosed pod and you have more than just a joystick and few buttons to control your mecha. The arcade pod game is based on a credit system in which you can purchase upgrades and weapons. I found it too expensive and not to mention too confusing to play.
▲ The Gundam model stands at 18 meters (59 feet) high
My next encounter with Gundam was a giant Gundam float made of washi --Japanese paper -- up in the Aomori Prefecture. In August, the town of Goshogawara puts on a festival called Tachi Neputa which has a number of tall floats, some as tall as 22 meters. The year I went they had a 14 meter float in the shape of the classic Gundam model RX-78.
▲ A 14 meter Tall Gundam Float in Aomori
The Tokyo Gundam model's major debut will be July 10th and it will remain standing throughout the summer.
▲ A Gundam Sunset
Video Game Humiliation
ⓒDavid M Weber
The following is an account of one of my first encounters with Gundam at a video arcade in Tokyo.
The game begins, my robot (sorry! mecha) lifts gracefully off the ground with its temporary boosters as I look for my foe.
Suddenly I'm falling like a brick. Where the hell did that come from? I wonder. My robot has barely picked himself off the ground before he's knocked down again. I haven't even seen the jerk -- I mean, my opponent, yet.
When I pick myself up the third time, a hurtling hulk of metal comes out of nowhere and slams into me. My robotic opponent starts twirling some kind of laser baton which deflects the only shot I manage to get off. Before I can fire again, he's on top of me carving me up like a Thanksgiving Turkey.
This is definitely not a "Computer Opponent". There's a hint of geeky malice and haughty disdain for newbies behind the attacks.
Mercifully, my robot explodes before suffering any further degradation. Seconds later, my reincarnated form drops out of the sky and I'm off to avenge my former incarnation. I fire a few shots at my hated enemy which he again deflects with that damn twirly thing. He zaps me by jumping up into the air and firing on the way down so I can't see the shot till it's too late.
After peppering me with a few potshots, he moves in for the kill. I valiantly run away as fast as I can. I search for my computer partner who has been nowhere to be found during this virtual Waterloo. I find him napping and kick his robotic butt into the fray. While my human opponent slices and dices my luckless partner, I go in search of his computer partner for a little crap-rolls-down-hill vengeance. I waste the poor computer partner fairly quickly but before I can do a victory dance that damn twirling baton of bullcrap lays into me.
I get knocked down three times in a row without getting a chance to lay a finger on the guy. I explode yet again this time both onscreen and off as I pound the buttons in rage. I hear a nervous high pitch maniacal giggle from the game console on the other side.
Oh, it was on now! It was a geek-off!
I plunk another coin in the machine and get slaughtered before the coin reaches to the bottom of the coin box. 10 dollars and 10 minutes later, I've had enough. I go over to the other side to congratulate my opponent on his skills then I smash his youthful pimply face into the video game screen repeatedly.
Ok! I'm lying! I just stormed out of the arcade imagining a smash of my unseen foe's face into the screen. / David M Weber
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.