What is Gundam? (not to be confused with Transformers)

The life-size Unicorn Gundam in Odaiba has been one of the attractions for the Tokyo Olympics, for reasons you may or may not think. Even before the Olympics, the Unicorn Gundam transforms numerous times on a daily basis from its base form to the more recognisable “Destroyer” form, with red lights beaming amid thunderous background music from the series it originated from. This was one of the tourist spots and highlights as people can record and take pictures of and with the towering machine for an authentic Japanese geek-out experience.

Photo from Live Japan

Recently, the Unicorn Gundam inevitably gained more attention from being a scenic backdrop to several events in the ongoing Olympics. The Gundam proved to be a challenge for an unfortunate commentator some days ago during a cyclic event, who spectacularly fumbled the pronunciation of “Gundam” to “Gandum” in an attempt to flex his knowledge of the famous Japanese franchise. Needless to say, his blunder went viral and provided much entertainment globally. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end.

Photo: @BBCSport via Twitter

The Unicorn Gundam claimed its second prey today when BBC’s tongue-in-cheek joke exposed their lack of knowledge of Gundams as they confused it with the western-based Transformers franchise. BBC quickly noticed their blunder and promptly owned the failure as they played along with many on social media that took pleasure in “schooling” BBC’s outdated, or rather misinformed ways. Funnily enough, this wasn’t the first time western media has confused Gundam with Transformers. Almost a year ago, media outside Japan dubbed the walking Gundam in Yokohama as a Transformer in their respective national news, bringing both ire, embarrassment, and even entertainment for many viewers.

Photo: @180223 via Twitter

At this point, there is little doubt that the Unicorn Gundam will stop indirectly causing western media from embarrassing itself throughout the course of the Tokyo Olympics. But maybe some additional effort can be put into learning to distinguish Gundams from other franchises with robots to save face, and, well, put some respect to its creators. So, what exactly is Gundam?

Photo: Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)

While it is a massive franchise spanning over decades today, it is important to note where it all began. The iconic red-white-blue-yellow Gundam (RX-78) debuted in Sunrise’s Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) on Japan TV, created by Yoshiyuki Tomino. The name Gundam was inspired by “Gun” and “Freedom”. Tomino created the first installation of Gundam with the intent to tell a gritty story involving politics and war which is upended by the arrival of machines, or in Gundam-verse, mobile suits. This theme would later become synonymous with almost all Gundam entries. As Gundam was the first of its kind to tell such a story, it was subjected to mixed reviews when it aired. This eventually led to the series run being cut and the story forced to end rather abruptly. However, the decision was met with fan outcry as the series had slowly begun to pick up steam shortly after its untimely end. Tomino later produced several movies to serve as a cleaner and more complete rendition of the story, which was met with so much praise that he was offered the chance to create more Gundam Anime. Tomino would continue to expand on the original Gundam with sequels such as Zeta Gundam, ZZ Gundam, Char’s Counterattack, and even new standalone entries such as Turn A Gundam. As a matter of fact, Unicorn Gundam is from an Anime that was adapted from one of Tomino’s novels as an anniversary project.

Photo: RX-78 Gunpla

Then came the Gundam plastic models or more popularly known as Gunpla. Since its introduction, Gunpla has been the main source of revenue for the franchise. Gunpla is bought and built for leisure, collection, and even competitions. To this day, people of all ages still buy and value Gunpla highly. I myself have several Gunpla in cool poses on display. With so many years invested in perfecting the art of Gunpla, it was only an inevitability that a life-sized Gundam would come into existence. There was no telling then when the Gundam franchise would reach its end, the only thing certain was that it was not any time soon. Long after Tomino breathed life into the franchise, Gundam continues to flourish to this day, with over 40 unique entries to its name. With all this said and done, I only hope BBC’s blunder alerted to some that the Unicorn Gundam is not “a Transformer in disguise” when it appears again in the background for another Olympics event.

Hartwick is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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Author: Hartwick

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