The Mike Toole Show Gundam Infinity
by Michael Toole, Nov 7th 2010
Know what blows my mind? Mobile Suit Gundam almost didn't make it. The series that would become the standard-bearer for mecha and giant robots all over the world was a flop upon its initial airing; originally scheduled for 52 episodes on its debut in 1979, it was drastically cut to 39 before the producers managed to negotiate a one-month extension to wedge an actual ending in there, and we ended up with 43 episodes. You could really tell that ending was tacked on, though - series creator and director Yoshiyuki Tomino spelled out his concept of "Newtypes," people with evolutionary physiological changes brought on by living in space, right at the tail end of everything, and it was over before we knew it.
Fortunately, the fans in Japan weren't satisfied with just letting the franchise die. Though Gundam suffered from low ratings, it was received well among enthusiasts, winning Animage Magazine's first-ever Grand Prix in 1980. Another wrinkle that ultimately ended up saving the day is the fact that Bandai, the show's principal sponsor, had hoped to use it as a vehicle for selling a brand-new line of plastic model kits. These kits didn't hit shelves until just after the show went off the air, but they were immediately eye-catching - cheaper to buy and easier to assemble and paint, yet more durable and articulated and visually pleasing than most of the competition, they practically flew off shelves, kicking off a long boom of increasingly sophisticated model kits - the phenomenon would eventually be dubbed "gunpla" (short for Gundam plastic models) and is still popular today. Clearly, the demand for Gundam was there, and in February of 1981, Gundam came back. Sunrise rolled out the first of three compilation movies, which took the basics of the TV story and spruced it up with new animation; at the premiere in Shinjuku, Tomino would memorably address some 15,000 fans, boldly stating that Gundam's complex, ambiguous storyline was meant to challenge the preconception that anime was greasy kids' stuff. Thirty years later, Gundam keeps coming back, over and over again.
The long chain of resurgences and revivals started with a direct sequel to the original story, 1985's Zeta Gundam. I could talk for pages about the engrossing Zeta, its lighthearted and charmingly weird follow up ZZ Gundam, or the numerous other big hits that came afterwards, right up to the most recent Gundam 00 and Gundam Unicorn; after all, a sizeable majority of them are available in English. But that would be boring; you can find quality writing on these subjects all over the internet. What I want to talk about instead is the Gundam most fans haven't seen, and the Gundam that's just arrived and still yet to come. The interesting thing is, it starts way back at the show's genesis of 1979.
We already know that Gundam was clipped to 43 episodes during its production in Japan. But if you scrutinize the North American DVD release that Bandai Entertainment threw our way (ten volumes, English-only... great cover artwork, but needed to be bilingual and cheaper) you'll notice that there are only 42 episodes listed. That's because episode 15, "Kuklas Doan's Island," is missing. It wasn't even dubbed into English; it was omitted entirely from the set. When this all went down, I was informed by an anonymous source close to the production that the episode was left off the production slate entirely by order of one Yoshiyuki Tomino. Very interesting-- the creator and series director had mandated that an episode from the series be essentially struck from the record.
During a 2002 Q&A with Yoshiyuki Tomino at Anime Expo New York, I had the opportunity to ask him personally about this bizarre omission; upon being reminded of the title, his eyes drifted towards the ceiling in concentration. "Was that episode 12, or 15?" he mused. "It was episode 15," I replied. "Ah, yes," he said. "I asked for that one to be omitted." "Yes," I responded, "but why?" He smirked and shrugged slightly, but said nothing for a moment. Finally, he responded, "There is a reason why, but since the staff member involved is still alive, I can't talk about it yet." It is interesting that this omission is down to personal reasons - the episode in question isn't hard to find (it's included on the 2007 Japanese DVD release) and while it's poorly animated, it's no worse than several other episodes. I think Bandai Entertainment should take pains to include this episode in their forthcoming bilingual re-release, even if it must remain subtitled-only, but who knows? Maybe Tomino just doesn't want American fans to see it. It is indeed a mystery.
The next thing I want to bring up is a weird little Gundam offshoot called SD Gundam. The SD stands for "super deformed," which is the name of Matthew Sweet's record label. Er, also, it's the term used when a character or object is squished up to look all cute and stuff. SD Gundam got its start in '85, when a fan named Koji Yokoi mailed a funny, squat illustration of the famous RX-78 mobile suit to Bandai. This illustration was a hit, appearing in the company's Model News magazine and eventually finding its way all the way back to Sunrise. Yokoi was swiftly recruited to draw a 4-panel gag series featuring super-deformed Gundam robots and heroes, and just a few short years later SD Gundam Mark I made its debut. The OVA series, which continued for years afterwards with titles like SD Gundam's Counterattack and SD Gundam Side Story, hilariously and often viciously lampoons the show's characters and situations. Heroic Amuro Ray is repeatedly smacked around by the other characters, calling back to numerous scenes where characters had to beat some sense into him; the many characters that died throughout the show's narrative reappear as adorable little ghosts. The heroes spend one particular episode clumsily racing each other by running along the surface of an out of control space colony, a la log burling, while side characters appear on a game show, competing for money by predicting the colony's awful fate; and whenever Char appears, the other characters shout his name and feel compelled to take a bathroom break ("sha" is the sound effect commonly used for running liquid, geddit?). Most interestingly, the RX-78 and several other mobile suits appear as characters; they have cheerful little eyes, and can speak to each other and the human characters.
At the time of SD Gundam's release, the franchise had picked up some pretty serious momentum; there were 140 TV episodes, and OVA and movie projects like Gundam 0080 and Char's Counterattack were spinning up. But Gundam didn't have any presence in America, so what Sunrise did was, they completely ignored the core series and took the designs from SD Gundam. They then shoehorned these designs into a mind-numbingly awful TV cartoon setting, and the resulting pilot reel, an affair from 1989 entitled Doozy Bots, has become a major campfire horror story in Gundam fandom.
Doozy Bots essentially takes everything bad about American TV cartoons in the 80s and puts it all in one four-minute segment. Blond, football-playing hero with perfect teeth and hair? Check. Leading lady who wears screaming hot pink outfits all the time? Check. Wacky fat guy sidekick? Check. Radical surfer guy with a mullet? Check. Minority character and handicapped pal, to indicate "diversity?" Check, and they even put these characteristics in the same character! Talk about taking shortcuts. Along with that, there's a pair of dumb little comic relief kids, typically inept bad guys, and a wacky, "cool" mad scientist called Professor Doozy. The scientist transfers the minds of these wholesome kids into his awesome robots, which just happen to look exactly like SD Gundam designs; obviously, the hero gets to be the RX-78, the girl gets to be a pink mass-production GM, and the kid in a wheelchair is the Gun-tank. This seems particularly cruel to me, because putting his mind in a bipedal Gundam would've at least given him the chance to walk, but no, they put him into the one Gundam that has wheels instead of legs! Doozy Bots is easy to find on YouTube, and is definitely an interesting historical footnote. I spent a little time asking around, but haven't been able to find anybody connected with this pilot episode. Translator Neil Nadelman, who has adapted the likes of Gundam 0080 and Gundam: 08th MS Team, sensibly speculates: "I don't think anyone at Sunrise would remember it, anyway. It was created in 1989, pitched to premiere in the fall of 1991. Nobody would remember a failed pilot from 20 years ago!" Well, I remember it, and now so will you!
The next bit of Gundam lore to land stateside was actually my first exposure to the franchise, and it appeared in 1990. Did anyone else read these?
Look at that sweet off-model artwork! Del Rey commissioned the translation of all three of Yoshiyuki Tomino's Gundam novels, and they're an interesting read for any true Gundam fan. First of all, the stories themselves, which essentially cover the same ground as the original series, are terrible. They are seriously, seriously bad, folks-- just poorly paced, abrupt, weird, all of the things we've come to love Tomino for, only without the completely awesome animation and character artwork and settings to validate them. Another thing about these books is that they were translated by Fred Schodt. Fred is almost certainly the most accomplished translator of Japanese animation and comics in the English-speaking world - he was buds with Osamu Tezuka, he translated Riyoko Ikeda's Rose of Versailles, and he's been the go-to guy on a number of other important anime and manga works. He also happens to be a UN-level interpreter, one of those guys who can just hear someone talk and start translating OVER them, which is an amazing skill and anyway I'm getting off the subject. About these books, Fred himself comments: "I was approached to translate the Gundam novels for Del Rey at the beginning of 1988... I had done a lot of work interpreting for Lucasfilm, and I think that Del Rey was at the time hoping to duplicate some of the success they had had with the Star Wars and Robotech novels."
Fred made a few interesting stylistic choices in the way he translated certain names. He discusses these changes at length in his liner notes, but the fact remains that the character known everywhere as "Char" was called "Sha" (er, hang on a second, I gotta take a whiz), among other changes. The reason for this can be summed up pretty simply by Fred, who explains: "When I started translating the Gundam trilogy of novels for Del Rey there was no unified set of name transliterations yet in existence... The rebel state pronounced "jion" in Japanese, for example, was rendered variously as "Zion," "Jion," and "Xeon" in English. I decided to transliterate the Japanese names as faithfully as possible, but in the trilogy I chose to render "jion" as "Zeon." When the same trilogy of novels was later brought out as one large volume by Stone Bridge Press in Berkeley, in 2004, a unified English name list had been developed by Bandai and Sunrise, and I synchronized the spellings in the new edition with this list."
As Fred notes, these books were re-released as a single volume by Stone Bridge Press in 2004. This book is now out of print and stupidly expensive (weirdly, the older Del Rey books with the great covers remain cheap) so if you see it at cover price, buy it immediately. Unfortunately, neither iteration of the Gundam novels really took off stateside; Fred elaborates: "There was talk at one point of translating other novels, but the series never sold well enough to satisfy Del Rey's rather high expectations, unfortunately... if I had been commissioned to translate other, longer multi-volume series, I probably would have had to become a full-time Gundam translator."
Next on the Gundam Oddity Hit Parade is Gundam 0079: The War for Earth. This is perhaps the weirdest piece of the grand Gundam tapestry, because it's almost 100% American-made. An adventure game developed and released by Presto Studios in 1996, Gundam 0079 hit shelves for the Mac and PC in the US, but was initially developed for the Pippin (hooray for consoles that died before they were born!) and also released for PlayStation in Japan. Lead designer Eric Dallaire comments, "At the time, Presto had done the Journeyman Project game series and was well known for creating photorealistic CD-Rom games. We were asked by Bandai and Sunrise to make a photorealistic action Gundam game on the Pippin."
Gamers familiar with Presto's famous Journeyman Project series will find similar fare here - the game is made up largely of pre-rendered CG cutscenes – playing from the point of view of Amuro Ray, the player points and clicks their way through a series of scenes that recreate Amuro's discovery of the RX-78 mobile suit, his first encounter with Char, and major battles between White Base and Zeon forces. About the game's development, Dallaire adds, "Representatives from Sunrise and from Bandai worked with us for weeks on-site to create a new retelling of the original story. They wanted elements to be familiar, but they also wanted our perspective for new plot twists." The designer, who now heads his own company, Impish Studios, remembers Gundam 0079 fondly: "It was a blast... we knew the series was huge and we wanted to treat the series with respect. We had so many great ideas then that were just not feasible for the time an technology, but in the end we made a game that was beautiful and added some interesting twists to the story."
What really gives Gundam 0079 its flair are the live-action segments.
Oh, my. Just look at that goodness. Behold Char Aznable, the Red Comet, with his plastic helmet and ever-so-slight paunch! Check out Bright Noah (or, as he's known here, Noah Bright) sporting the shaggy look! And dig the coterie of supporting actors, who look for all the world like they're fresh-faced programmers and support staff recruited from around the Presto offices. Dallaire also remembers these bits well: "We did the shoot locally using much of the same staff that we used for other live action shoots like for Journeyman Project... Our designers made real costumes for the actors." He adds, "I remember we blocked many shots with actual toys during the planning shots. People would walk by the window of the office and see four grown men at a big table moving, flying, fighting with these toys and I often thought that believed we were crazy or overgrown children or both."
These live-action scenes are, almost without exception, brilliantly and ridiculously over-acted - they were only marginally neat in their heyday (Origin's Wing Commander games, starring Mark Hamill, were already doing superior live-action interludes when the game came out), and now they're an absolutely hilarious curiosity. The game itself is easy, but fairly accomplished fare for '96 - if you scour YouTube, you can find gameplay and Japanese-dubbed versions of the cutscenes. Shame, because it's really more fun in English.
At this point, we're closing in on the turn of the millennium, when Sunrise had this awesome 20th anniversary celebration planned, entitled BIG BANG PROJECT. A multifaceted media initiative, BIG BANG PROJECT was slated to include brand new video games (Gundam 0079: Rise from the Ashes for the Dreamcast), an all-new all-CG short film called "Mission to the Rise," a short animated movie (Gundam 08th MS Team: Miller's Report), a new Gundam TV series directed by creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, and most interestingly, a live-action film project. Fans had dreamed and speculated about a Gundam movie since the beginning; Tomino, who fancies himself as more of a filmmaker who happens to work in animation than an anime creator, has spoken extensively about his desire to bring Gundam to Hollywood. Well, Sunrise didn't quite break into Hollywood, but they did land in Los Angeles, partnering with a production house and computer graphics firm called Polestar to create a 90-minute telefilm, 2000's G-Saviour.
Frustratingly, G-Saviour never aired on first-run TV in North America. But to a certain extent, this is understandable - in 2000, Gundam was just beginning to establish itself on our shores (Cartoon Network's broadcast of Gundam Wing would spark the breakout), so the film might've been a hard sell. Still, it did eventually come out on DVD from Bandai Entertainment. The movie definitely shows its modest budget, with cheap sets, costumes recycled from Starship Troopers (it shares this category with cult favorite Firefly), and computer modeling that is highly detailed, but strangely free of aliasing (everything looks a little too sharp). The script is also a fairly generic affair about idealistic heroes struggling against a stifling authoritarian force, but there is one very interesting detail - G-Saviour takes place in Universal Century 233, making it a part of the UC timeline, and part of the show's history.
G-Saviour is maligned for these flaws, but I don't think it's all that bad; certainly, its mobile suits, while having a certain odd shininess, look great, and the film as a whole looks very much at home next to late 90s Sci-Fi cable TV affairs like Andromeda and Babylon 5. Yoshiyuki Tomino doesn't think highly of the film; in my 2002 encounter with him, he commented, "I don't know anything about G-Saviour... it's the product of salarymen, regular office workers, trying to play producer and make movies. I work as a freelancer, and so couldn't influence these salaryman producers, and I regret that."
Character actor Brennan Elliott, who played the lead role of Mark Curran, has good memories of this unusual project, but does recall production problems. "We didn't have a clue what Gundam was," he says. "None of the actors realized the scope of Gundam, and it made it very difficult to make choices on how we approached our roles - we only had a matter of days for preparation after we were cast." Tackling a story that involved flying space robots also had its share of challenges. "There was some green-screen work, and we had a little cockpit that we used for the flight scenes. It was a great experience in terms of acting. It was interesting. At the same time, I remember going into scenes some days with only a picture of the robot in my head and thinking 'Wow, what are we dealing with, here? What are we doing again?' We struggled hard to make it real."
The actor also recalls communication problems betwen Sunrise and Polestar hampering the production, but fondly remembers a sense of anticipation as well. "I was fresh out of acting school and had high hopes," he says. "We had this great cast of Los Angeles and Vancouver actors, and it was hard not to wonder if this was going to turn into a TV series, something that we'd spend the next five or six years of our lives working on. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out; it was very sad, I would've loved to have gone and done a live-action Gundam TV series." G-Saviour is still easy to find on DVD; as for Elliott, he'd spend the decade anchoring Lifetime's hit TV series Strong Medicine and doing guest spots on top TV shows like CSI, Monk, and Castle. He stars alongside Brad Dourif and Lance Henriksen in the forthcoming horror-comedy Blood Shot.
Let's get back to the rest of the BIG BANG PROJECT. I'm a fan of the Dreamcast game, Rise from the Ashes-- the gameplay itself is workmanlike but not really bad-- the player (named Pierce Rayer in the manual - P. RAYER, get it?) pilots a GM mass-production mobile suit, leading a platoon of two additional GMs and a support vehicle outside of Alice Springs, Australia - ground zero of the One-Year War. Not only do you get to engage in combat with Zeon mobile suits and vehicles, you issue orders to your buddies and support truck. What helps the game a great deal is its superb English adaptation - it's an Animaze joint, so your squadron consists of Steve Blum, Kirk Thornton, and Wendee Lee. The only problem is, it's all over in about four hours. Still it stands as one of the better Gundam video games, and one of the few pre-2001 video games to make it stateside. This game was supposed to be the first in a series, but thanks to the Dreamcast's abbreviated lifespan, that didn't come to pass. If you dig hard enough, you can even find a Japan-only extras disc that allows you to duel with Amuro Ray!
The last piece of the BIG BANG PROJECT we'll cover here is Turn A Gundam. I'm very excited for this one, because we're finally getting it released in English next year. This 50-episode romp was the first new Gundam animation directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino in nearly seven years. A follow-up to Tomino's sumptuous but confusing Brain Power’d, it's about an earthbound agrarian society that suddenly finds itself beset by invaders from the moon-- invaders in mobile suits! One Lunarian, Loran Cehack, is disenchanted with his people's desire for conquest, and ends up utilizing an amazing piece of lost technology, a white mobile suit, to aid the population on earth. Turn A is possibly the best of the alternate-timeline Gundam shows, which also include G-Gundam, Gundam X, Gundam Wing, Gundam Seed, and Gundam 00. The show's tone is disarmingly charming, it's run through with a sweet Yoko Kanno soundtrack, and Tomino makes some daring choices with the story; not only does he set it in the mysterious land of Ameria (America?), he throws in a few hooks to tie Turn A to the original Universal Century continuity. There's not much there, in the way of these clues, but the show has just enough going on to get people talking.
After this point, Gundam Wing hit Cartoon Network with this awesome promo clip (why oh why don't they make these anymore?!) and was an instant success. Naturally, toys, model kits, video games, and manga followed, and for several years, Gundam was plentiful and easy to find. The franchise got big enough to secure serious shelf space in TOYS R US, Walmart, and Target, everything from Gundam 0080 to G-Gundam and 08th MS Team was all over Cartoon Network, and the model kits sparked a minor resurgence in hobby shops as kids and adults alike flocked in to try out the suddenly affordable gunpla. This was fascinating and awesome to myself and a lot of other longtime Gundam fans; the franchise had long been regarded as a "holy grail" with any kind of release strategy unlikely, so to have it all fall in our laps over the course of a few years was gratifying. Of course, it didn't last. The public's waning fascination with anime, a changing of the guards at Cartoon Network to anime-unfriendly executives, and a few huge blunders on the parts of Sunrise and Bandai (which I can't quite confirm, so I can't be specific) saw a lot of these gains eroded. Still, Gundam is a mainstay; new works are produced regularly, and these works are always broadly popular affairs that come out quickly in the rest of the world. Then there's MS IGLOO.
MS IGLOO is an interesting take on Gundam's monolithic universal century mythology, an all-CG OVA affair directed by Gundam 0083 veteran Takashi Imanishi. Unlike most of the other Gundam stories, this one focuses on regular soldiers just as much as mobile suit pilots, and is quick to present viewpoints from both the Federation and Zeon sides of the conflict. The action segments are absolutely first-rate, but the character animation is weird-- like a few other CG anime productions I've seen, it involves characters who all seem to have the same face. Despite that, MS IGLOO is a worthy piece of the Gundam puzzle.
MS IGLOO came out on subtitled-only DVD in North America, but not really so you'd notice it. The series was part of the perplexing misadventure in anime video marketing that was Bandai Visual USA. Ostensibly formed to deliver premium new releases day-and-date (or close to day-and-date) with the Japanese versions, BVUSA slavishly copied its parent company's business model, including pricing, so fans accustomed to paying $20 for single-disc releases and $40-50 for 13-episode box sets were suddenly asked to pay more than double for DVDs that seemed to have less content and fewer features. Right from the outset, the company seemed wrong-footed and out of touch; CEO Tatsunori Konno gave an infamous convention presentation that climaxed with a slide reading "We know everything about ANIME FAN WANTS!!" and a battery of questions about pricing from irritated fans. MS IGLOO is no exception, with a retail price of $49.95, which is enough money to buy 25 episodes of Zeta Gundam. In fairness, that's a catalog release... but still, that fifty bucks could also buy nine episodes of a brand-new TV series like Gundam 00. The commercial DVD release was limited to the point that even Amazon and half.com don't have used copies listed anymore.
That brings us up to the present day, where new Gundam releases continue to assault fans all over the world with great animation and clever storytelling. Just a week ago, a few friends and I eagerly piled in front of the TV to take in the newly-released Gundam Unicorn episode 2. This OVA series is seeing a traditional release on blu-ray next week, but it's already been available to fans on the PLAYSTATION Network since last Saturday. That's the way of the future, and since the physical release is like the bad old Bandai Visual USA releases and priced to the moon ($60 SRP, though it's easy enough to find for $40, which is still way too expensive) I opted to pay the six bucks for the online rental. I wasn't all that disappointed.
Gundam Unicorn follows closely on the Universal Century story arcs that wrapped up with Char's Counterattack; with the original heroes and villains all deceased or scattered to the four winds, it seems like the world of the show, with its earthbound aristocracy and teeming, freedom-hungry masses on space colonies, is finally settling into an uneasy peace. But savvy Gundam fans will remember that there's one last, unlikely scion of the Zeon royalty, and it's not long before we see this character emerge. Central to Unicorn, however, is the good old "idealistic kid gets thrown an incredibly powerful mobile suit" plotline. Here, that kid is Banagher Links, and the mobile suit is the Unicorn Gundam, a powerful suit with a neat transformation sequence that might be the key to a much greater weapon. Along with that, there's a supporting character from the lighthearted ZZ Gundam, hardened by years of combat into a sour, skilled pilot, and an emerging ace with the chortle-inducing name of Full Frontal. This guy is spoken of in hushed tones as the second coming of Char Aznable, which had me rolling my eyes until he appeared for the first time in episode 2, his mouth opened, and the voice of Shuichi Ikeda, the original Char, boomed out. Clearly, the two characters are connected somehow.
That's both a strength and weakness of Gundam Unicorn. The series so far, particularly the second episode, is teeming with shout-outs to tales and characters from earlier Universal Century works. For the longtime Gundam fan, this is tons of fun, but a friend of mine was relatively new to the franchise and practically needed a road map to figure it all out. If you ask me, this is a small problem - we can look to the superb 08th MS Team and 0080 as OVAs that didn't need a lot of context to make sense and be enjoyable - but not an insurmountable one. The mecha animation, steered by Gundam veteran Hajime Katoki, is absolutely brilliant and puts similar stuff from the Gundam 00 movie to shame - Katoki and company don't shy away from CG and computer-assisted sequences, but there's a hand-drawn warmth to the combat bits that is getting harder to find in anime. The characters and story are also pretty good, though it's hard to tell if Banagher is going to turn into a really likeable hero or remain a horrified cipher (like a lot of Gundam protagonists, he doesn't like combat, and is mortified to learn he's accidentally killed someone in episode 2). The dubbed version is something I have yet to experience, as only the Japanese edition is available on PSN, so for now the English dialogue can be considered a valuable extra on the blu-ray release. It's produced by my friend Michael Sinterniklaas at NYAV Post; I tried to reach Mike for his thoughts on the series, but as it happens, I've been beaten to the punch by our own Todd Ciolek, who talked to Michael and his creative collaborator Stephanie Sheh about their UC adaptation at last month's New York Anime Festival. Their remarks at NYAF and previously at Otakon suggest a very high level of cooperation with Sunrise, which I'd like to see more of on dubbed versions of anime. As for Gundam Unicorn, the third episode hits in March, and I'm looking forward to it.
Some staples of the franchise are still waiting for the treatment that Unicorn is getting right now. American fans are still waiting for the TV shows ZZ Gundam, V-Gundam, and Gundam X. The former two are UC stories helmed by Tomino, while the latter is yet another alternate timeline affair. As for their eventual release, former Bandai Entertainment marketing manager Jerry Chu was always fond of reassuring fans that the publisher had a lock on all of Gundam and would eventually release it. Years later, has the situation changed? Jerry's successor, Robert Napton, comments: "I think previous Gundam series are always on the table as possibilities. We work with Sunrise and the Gundam committee in Japan about timing of the release of catalog series. It's not a specific formula, it happens when it happens, so I can't say for sure "when" but I think eventually we'll see ZZ, X, and V-Gundam. Hopefully fans support Turn-A and Original Gundam, because when these releases sell well, it frankly makes the argument stronger to do more."
Whew, I've covered a lot of ground! But guess what? There's still plenty of Gundam to be discovered. There are bits and bobs like Gundam Evolve, All That Gundam, and Gundam: The Ride. There's the kiddie-fied SD Gundam Force, which flopped on TV but still saw its unaired second season get a DVD release. Have you seen it? There's a whole bunch of video games, good and bad, for platforms dating back to the PlayStation and Gundam Battle Assault. If you brush up on your Japanese, you can go back even farther, to the acclaimed Gihren's Ambition strategy series. There are wonderful manga side stories, like Blue Destiny and Gundam: The Origin. There's the brand-spanking-new Gunpla Builders Beginning G, an absurd HOW TO BUY ACTION FIGURE MAN OVA that demonstrates the joy of building Gundam models, built around a fictional competition where heavily customized finished Gundam model kits are scanned in and recreated as 3D avatars to duel each other. (Dear Bandai: Make this happen!) Finally, while we're still waiting to see what direction the franchise takes with Unicorn, there can be no doubt that it won't be long before we see even more new Gundam.
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