There’s a lot of entertainment outlets out there, and one of them is Anime — Japanese cartoon. Anime had existed for quite some time and is filled with varieties of genres, one of which is Mecha—series featuring robots piloted by a person. A mecha series called Mobile Suits Gundam was created in 1979 by Studio Sunrise. It spread all around the world, the West, other parts of Asia, and even at one point aired in Indonesia in 1987. This series defined the whole genre of mecha as we know it today and had been garnering fans since that very day. But how exactly did we end up here? Has it always been like this? Is “Gundam” still a thing?
Mobile Suit Gundam was one of the first franchises that revolutionize its genre. Around the 1970s, the mecha genre had been relevant for quite some time thanks to series such as Mazinger Z, Getter Robo, and Steel Jeeg. At this point of time, it commonly only used a simple formula of good versus evil, monster versus robot for the base of the show, but Gundam did it differently. Gundam focuses more on humanity than just the robots. It uses war as the main topic of the shows and positions the robots as weapons in that war. Instead of just saying that the bad guy is the reason for the war, it tries to show the complexity of the human mind as to why war might have happened, and more often than not, it was from urgency. Every war has multiple sides and instead of only following the “good guy”—Earth Federation Force, it also shows the “bad guys”—The Principality of Zeon. This decision gives the viewer a dilemma to choose which side is the better one.
Although Gundam is known for its complex war drama story, it was not well received at the time and the TV show got canceled around the 1980s. The reason it survived through the cancelation is the creation of the toys.
Merchandise is one of the most important aspects of marketing, and the toys did it. Gunpla—Gundam plastic model-kit, became a huge phenomenon in Japan and gave the series another opportunity. This turn of event results in them being able to make numerous sequels, spin-offs, and movies based around the Gundam franchise.
The popularity of this franchise was at its peak during the 2000s. At this time, the franchise had become a well-known “thing” outside of Japan and so making its fanbase grew in huge numbers. A series like Gundam Seed and Gundam 00 became some of the most notable franchises both for the West and Asia and made it more relevant than ever. Toys were released everywhere, making it more and more profitable and gained its highest-grossing rate in 2011 with 63.12 billion yen in a span of one year. This proves that Gundam had become a cultural impact both for Japan and countries outside of it. But just like a beginning, there’s also an end to it.
The charm seems to have worn off, and so has its popularity. Gundam still exists in the market, but not as dominant as it used to be. The toys become more of a hobby for older people instead of their targeted kids’ demographics. The shows grow either too exclusive for the casual fans or too childish for the hardcore fans. The popularity of the genre itself is also dying, only worsening the condition of the series. However, the Gundam franchise had managed to gain masses of fans, and that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be able to do it again, all they need is the right show at the right time.
Gundam is a defining genre but at a cost. It was known for its complex war drama, but what saved the franchise was its merchandise. The toys were very popular among all ages, but that again is a seasonal thing. It still exists but is not as popular as before. What Gundam needs is another rise in popularity, yet it seems to be the hardest thing to achieve for now. An indifferent conclusion for a titan of its genre.
Blagdon, Jeff. “Rise Of The Giant Robots: How One Japanese Cartoon Spawned A Genre”. The Verge, 2012, https://www.theverge.com/2012/12/13/3759416/mazinger-z-go-nagai-rise-of-the-giant-robots. Accessed 28 Feb 2019.
Lewis, Leo. “Gundam Cartoon Academy To Turn Science Fiction Into Reality In Japan”. Thetimes.Co.Uk, 2008, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/gundam-cartoon-academy-to-turn-science-fiction-into-reality-in-japan-zffmrwsvwgj. Accessed 28 Feb 2018.
Whitbrook, James. “A History Of Gundam, The Anime That Defined The Giant Robot Revolution”. Io9.Gizmodo.Com, 2015, https://io9.gizmodo.com/a-history-of-gundam-the-anime-that-defined-the-giant-r-1690326227. Accessed 28 Feb 2019.