Gundam Front: The Ultimate Tour

by Ken Iikura-Gross,

In 1979 the All-Nippon News Network affiliate in Aichi Prefecture, Japan, Nagoya Broadcasting Network, aired an anime series that changed the face of the anime industry. That series was Mobile Suit Gundam. When the series first aired, like so many other new properties, it wasn't a blockbuster, but it successfully captured the imagination of an entire generation. Since then, Mobile Suit Gundam has grown into a franchise that has produced nineteen different TV series, nineteen OVA (original video anime) series, over eight feature films, excluding the compilations films, has been featured in multiple videogames and card games, and created the entire genre of garage kit models know as Gunpla, among other endeavors. It's truly a juggernaut in the anime industry and rivaled by very few properties. The cultural impact was significant enough that in 2009 to celebrate the franchises 30th anniversary a life-size replica of the RX-78-2 Gundam from Mobile Suit Gundam was commissioned and built. The replica stood in Odaiba's Shiokaze Park, Tokyo, between July 11, 2009 and August 31, 2009 and drew fans from across Japan and the world.

The RX-78-2 Gundam has since been relocated to the Diver City Tokyo Plaza shopping center. It's an amazing monolith and a testament to the popularity of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise and still draws fans from around the world. Unfortunately, a chain barrier surrounds the Gundam and visitors can't get close to it or touch it, let alone get high enough to see the finer details of the head, torso, and arms. It's been suggested with the power of modern computing and engineering a person could build a functional Gundam. Yet, considering the hypothesized costs to build one—nearly ¥80 billion or $700 million—and it's been hypothesized that a person couldn't withstand the force generated from one footstep of the Gundam, the investment would be for not.

Diver City Tokyo Plaza isn't just home to the life-size replica of the RX-78-2 Gundam. One of the three Gundam Café locations in Tokyo is no more than 100 meters from it. While not as large as the Akihabra location, it features a gift shop and small lounge for customers to enjoy menu items delightfully named after characters and other things from the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. There are also memorabilia items on display and on sale, but they commend a hefty price in the hundreds of U.S. Dollar range.

Both the RX-78-2 Gundam and the Gundam Café are a nice tourist stop for fans of the franchise, but one would be hard pressed to pass up the opportunity to visit Gundam Front Tokyo as well. Located on the seventh floor of Diver City Tokyo Plaza, it houses two museums, the main gallery and the Gunpla Tokyo museum, an official gift shop, and the Strict-G clothing store.

The main exhibition hall of Gundam Front Tokyo only has nine gallery items, excluding the beautiful murals, but they are all wonderful in their own right. The largest gallery piece is the planetarium-like Dome-G Theater. The theater features a rotation of short films every hour and the current the lineup is Competition of New Gundam Red or White, Kidō Senshi Gundam UC Neo Zeong, Odaiba ni Arawaru, and Gundam Dive One of Seventy Two. However, these films are also rotated out every few months making each visit to the Dome-G Theater a unique experience. Mind you, though, you can get a sense of vertigo or strain your neck looking up at the screen, so exercising caution before entering the theater is advised.

The second largest gallery piece is the life-sized bust of the ZGMF-X20A Strike Freedom Gundam from Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny. At present a cutout of Kira Yamato, the protagonist of Mobile Suit Gundam Seed and Gundam Seed Destiny, can be seen in the cockpit. When Gundam Front Tokyo first opened on April 19, 2012 patrons could have their picture taken inside the cockpit. Sadly, that service is no longer available. It's quite a shame, too, because it was one of the few opportunities to step into a Gundam's cockpit. Perhaps Gundam Front Tokyo will reinstate that service, but until then Kira will remain standing there.

To the left of the Strike Freedom Gundam is a life-sized model of the FF-X7 Core Fighter from Mobile Suit Gundam. Surprisingly, the Core Fighter is rather small at only 8.6 meters in length and a wingspan of 6.8 meters. Audio of Katz, Letz, and Kikka directing Amuro Rey to their escape pod from the final episode of the series plays in the background and is quite fitting. Looking at the Core Fighter, though, begs the question: could an aircraft that small actually fly inside Earth's atmosphere? Extraordinarily, the answer is yes. In fact, the smallest piloted biplane to achieve flight was the Starr Bumble Bee II on May 8, 1988. It's amazing a biplane only 2.7 meters in length with a wingspan of 1.68 meters achieved this, but it has been documented. Yet, the Core Fighter is a jet aircraft and not a biplane. Thus, we must ask if a jet aircraft that small can achieve piloted flight. Again, yes. The McDonnell XF-85 Goblin was the smallest piloted fighter jet to achieve this on August 23, 1948. What's astonishing about the XF-85 Goblin was how it was smaller than the Core fighter at only 4.5 meters in length with a wingspan of 6.4 meters. Pretty cool!

For those who enjoy scale models though, Gundam Front Tokyo features a 1/7500 model of the space fortress A Baoa Qu. It stands 4.5 meters high with a maximum diameter of 3 meters and is magnificently crafted. Those proportions make the actual fortress nearly 33.75 kilometers in length with a diameter of 22.5 kilometers. While this may seem astronomically large, A Baoa Qu would actually be one of the smaller asteroids in our solar system. By comparison, the largest asteroid, though it's also classified as a dwarf planet, in our solar system, Ceres, is 42 times larger in diameter than A Baoa Qu. Still, the model is a sight to behold and demonstrates how large A Baoa Qu was compared to the SCV-70/LMSD-71 White Base assault carrier or any Mobile Suit featured in the final two episodes of Mobile Suit Gundam.

Next to the model of A Baoa Qu is a small cubby, the Battle System, which simulates being inside the cockpit of a Mobile Suit. While there is no seat, it's large enough to fit at most two or three people, though it's ideal for one person, and certainly has the cramped feel of a cockpit. A monitor is situated in the front and plays video from different Mobile Suit Gundam series. It's a wonderful gallery piece to have your picture taken in.

However, the best locations in Gundam Front Tokyo to have your picture taken are the Character Photo Spots and the Real Photo Spot. The Real Photo Spot is no more than a mockup of a Gundam's cockpit, but the mural in the back gives the impression you are in the thick of a sortie.

In turn, the three Character Photo Spot booths have a selection of over 100 characters from the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise you can take your picture with. These include main characters such as Amuro Rey and Char Aznable from Mobile Suit Gundam, Camille Vidan from Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, and Kira Yamato or minor characters like Graham Aker's alias, Mr. Bushido, from Mobile Suit Gundam 00. With such a large selection of characters one could make a game of taking a picture with every character of the franchise voiced by Shūichi Ikedaor Takehito Koyasu.

The final major gallery piece of the main museum is the Gunpla Factory. It's a small gallery in and of itself and displays the development, molding, and casting process for Gunpla (Gundam plastic model) kits before they are brought to market. Some of the notable features in the gallery are the evolution of the RX-78-2 Gundam models, the molds used to create the casts, a piece of machinery that melts the plastic into the casts, and a video guide of the Shizuoka Prefecture Bandai Hobby Center. A handy guide of the staff ranks at the center is also on display and it's rather humorous how the markings resemble military insignia. It's perfect for those who love the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise and enjoy bringing its merchandise to fans.

For a small ¥500 fee you can also create your own Gunpla package in the Gunpla Labo attached to the Gunpla Factory. Granted, the only available package is for the GFT Gunpla Factory RX-78-2 Gundam, but you are allowed to color it any way you like. The price also includes a simple RX-78-2 Gundam model for patrons to assemble.

If you are a Gunpla fan, though, the Gunpla Tokyo museum is a dream come true. The museum houses every Gunpla commercially produced by the toy manufacturer Bandai, including the limited productions. It's incredible seeing the evolution of the products with every gallery piece and the detail of the newer models is phenomenal, especially on the 1/60 Perfect Grade models. Perhaps not highly sought after today, though, the 1/100 Master Grade Hyper Mode Master Gundam and 1/100 Master Grade Hyper Mode G-Gundam are two examples of limited edition Gunpla on display. While the basic frame and parts of the Hyper Mode models are exactly the same as their counterparts, fans of Mobile Fighter G Gundam will certainly enjoy seeing them. There are, of course, Gunpla displays scattered throughout Gundam Front Tokyo as well, including, but not limited to, the 1/144 High Grade RX-78GP03 Dendrobium, the Cosmos Fleet, and the 1/144 High Grade KUMA-03 Beargguy III.

The Gundam Front Tokyo Official Shop sells a number of unique items, but the sheer quantity of Gunpla, especially limited edition models, is astonishing. Two of the newest additions include the 1/144 Real Grade MSZ-006-3 Zeta Gundam Unit 3 ver. GFT Limited Color and the 1/144 Real Grade MSN 001-2 Delta Gundam II ver. GFT Limited Color. While most of the items available at the Official Shop make wonderful gifts, the clothes sold at the Strict-G clothing store are nothing to scoff at. Many of the items are T-shirts, but you can find an assortment of neckties, pins, and jackets, among other accessories for sale. Be forewarned though, like other licensed merchandise many of these items are rather expensive.

Gundam Front Tokyo is a fun little destination for fans of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. It may be small by comparison to one of the Japanese National museums located in Ueno Park, Tokyo, or even the Train Museum located in Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture, but it's certainly hours of fun. If you are using a cellphone or smartphone to take pictures, though, you may have to take multiples as the lighting is rather poor and flash photography is not allowed. While more gallery pieces would be appreciated, such as dioramas or life-sized replicas of the bridges from different assault ships and cruisers, what is available is enjoyable. The Gunpla Tokyo museum is also a nice stop for those who love Mobile Suit Gundam models. The fact every commercially sold Gunpla is displayed is amazing and one could spend hours examining the make, design, and detail of each one.

Gundam Front Tokyo is five minutes from the New Transit Yurikamome line's Daiba station and 3 minutes from the TWR Rinkai line's Tokyo Teleport station. Both the main gallery and Gunpla Tokyo are open between 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM seven days a week, but admission to the main gallery ends at 6:00 PM. Tickets can be purchased in advance on-line right here. Tickets are also available on location. Advance ticket prices are: adults and high school students: ¥1000, middle school students, elementary school students, and children: ¥800. Ticket prices at the entrance are: adults and high school students: ¥1200, middle school students, elementary school students, and children: ¥1000. Additional information is available at gundamfront-tokyo.com.


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