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October-December 2001

Mobile Suit Gundam

One of the most popular games in Japan right now is Gundam Federation VS Zeon (site is Japanese only). There are countless varieties of Gundam games, ranging from those played on consoles and cellular phones to Internet versions, and Gundam Federation VS Zeon is the newest of these. It is a PlayStation 2 game (a Dreamcast version will also come out in April 2002) and can be played over a network. In just three days following its release in December 2001, 650,000 units of the game were shipped, immediately making it the number-one bestseller.

It has been over 20 years since Mobile Suit Gundam first appeared on television in 1979. The animated series is set in a future age, when billions of humans are living in space colonies that orbit the Earth. A group of these colonies, called the Principality of Zeon, starts a rebellion against Earth Federation rule. In the midst of this war between Zeon and Earth is a young protagonist named Amuro Ray, who is the pilot of the Gundam--one of several gigantic human-shaped weapons known as Mobile Suits. The story focuses on Amuro's battle exploits as well as his development as a human being. The program was such a hit with children and youth that reruns of the series have been broadcast many times, and sequels and movies have also been produced. In addition, plastic model kits of the Mobile Suits became hugely popular.

Even today, at events and exhibitions featuring animation and model kits, kids can always be found flocking to the Gundam booths. And not just kids: Fathers accompanying their children also look at the items on display with equal interest, for they too have been Gundam fans since they were kids.

The Gundam phenomenon extends beyond games and models. In March 2001 Gundam Officials, the official Gundam encyclopedia covering the animation's entire history, was published. In June of the same year, a magazine titled Gundam Ace, dedicated exclusively to articles on Gundam, made its debut and promptly sold 300,000 copies of its first issue. And in February 2002, a movie, Turn A Gundam the Movie, was released.

Gundam has also been introduced in the United States. Since March 2000, movies and TV series from the Gundam saga have been broadcast on the Cartoon Network, a cable television station, and have gained an impressive viewing audience. And plastic model kits and action figures from Bandai America have been racking up big sales.

Even into the twenty-first century the popularity of Gundam, far from waning, has been gaining new momentum. At a character goods sales exhibition held at Tokyo Big Sight in August 2001, all 120 units of a model kit of the Mobile Suit known as Zaku, with a height of 1.5 meters (4 feet 11 inches) and priced at a whopping 200,000 yen (1,540 U.S. dollars at 130 yen to the dollar), completely sold out.

Not only kids but also lots of adults purchased the game Gundam Federation VS Zeon. In many Japanese homes, father and son must be enjoying the world of Gundam together.

Photo: The cover art for the Gundam Federation VS Zeon game, depicting characters and Mobile Suits from the first TV series. (© SOTSU AGENCY, SUNRISE)