Technology presents endless opportunities to mankind. Robots, manufactured to ease and speed manual labour, are one of them. Couple the years of technological advancement with human imagination, along with the complexities of Japan’s culture and we get something like the Mobile Suit Gundam.
A Real-Life Gundam
A life-size Gundam, standing at 18 metres and weighing 43.4 metric tonnes, was unveiled at Odaiba Island in July 2009, attracting 4.15 million visitors.
Currently a statue, it is limited to head movements, blinking lights and smoke funnelling through its vents. For it to be able to walk, a Japanese science and technology agency estimates parts and materials amounting to $725 million, excluding labour costs. Also, it won’t be made of Gundanium alloy, but instead, be covered in aluminium alloy plating with details such as its toy-like colours and stainless steel laser cutting shapes.
Giant Robots at War
On 7 April 1979, the franchise launched the anime television series Mobile Suit Gundam by animator Yoshiyuki Tomino. It was revolutionary in a way that it introduced the real robot genre of gigantic robots meant for military use. Gundam grew in popularity and various merchandise soon followed. The toy industry, in particular, spawned a hobby that still exists up to this day; the collection, designing and modelling of small-scale Gundam figures.
From a cultural standpoint, it has penetrated national consciousness and the academe — there is such a thing as the International Gundam Society, an academic institution dedicated to the franchise.
On the Cultural Impact of Gundam
Gundam is not exclusive to Japan. As early as 1980, it has debuted in other countries like Italy and Hong Kong, throughout Asia in succeeding years, and more western countries in the 90s. Recognised as a pop culture icon in Japan, it has made countless appearances and references in the media, stamps, the Japanese self-defence forces, the Fire Department, transportation and businesses.
Despite Gundam being a figment of the imagination, the sciences revere its reputation in the field. In 2007, Dava Newman, an astronautics professor at MIT and now deputy administrator at NASA, displayed a bio-suit — with media outlets using ‘Mobile Suit Gundam’s Normal Suit is now real’ as their headline. A year later, NASA proposed a nuclear thermal rocket research, with Technobahn, a scientific journal, referring to its use in the franchise’s mobile suits.
Fans across the world can no longer wait for 2019, the franchise’s 40th anniversary and the declared date for the life-size Gundam statue to walk its first steps.