Mobile Gundam robot towers over the port of Yokohama

YOKOHAMA, Japan – An 18-meter kinetic image of Gundam, a famous anime robot, was unveiled to the public at the Gundam Yokohama Factory base in southwest Tokyo on Saturday.

Hundreds of people lined up outside the center to see the giant robot before it opened at 10am. Some fans had decorated face masks with pictures of Gundam, others dressed up as their favorite characters from the anime series, such as Char Aznable.

“I’ve been a fan for a long time and I’ve been excited to see the Gundam move,” said a 53-year-old man waiting for the line. The man, who works in construction, said: “It’s amazing to see how they build an image of this size.”

An American man living in Tokyo came with his wife and son. “Not many know Gundam in the US, but my son loves them.”

Japanese toymaker Bandai Namco Holdings is behind the construction of the giant mobile image and is hosting shows at the newly opened draw. Visitors can see the robot from an observation deck 15 meters to 18 meters off the ground for a close-up view of the head and body of the fictional automaton.

In addition to the exhibition, the building has a Gundam-Lab, where visitors can learn how the cinematic image works. There is also a draw that allows people to get a “live” operator’s eye view of Gundam using 5G technology. The souvenir shop sells unique merchandise and has a Gundam-themed café.

Admission is 1,650 yen ($ 16) for people 13 and older. Tickets to the viewing deck cost an additional 3,300 yen.

“[The full-scale] Gundam taught me that human body shape is more amazing than ever, “said Yoshiyuki Tomino, director of the anime series” Mobile Suit Gundam, “considered” the father of Gundam, “at a reception will open Friday afternoon. “This is because this amount of humanoids and the color of toys reveals great things. “

The animated TV series, “Mobile Suit Gundam,” also known as “First Gundam,” first aired in Japan in 1979. It tells the story of Amuro Ray, who pilots the machine- a robot from which the series gets its name, as it struggles and grows through life-or-death bats.

“Mobile Suit Gundam” is set in a future where people will fight in giant robots called “mobile switches.”

Bandai had hoped to attract new fans from all over the world to their anime robot, but the coronavirus epidemic has reversed its plans. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

As well as Japan, the exhibition is a major showcase in China and Southeast Asia, where many people are drawn to popular Japanese culture. The program was broadcast in several foreign languages, including English and Chinese. A Gundam event was recently held in Shanghai in collaboration with Chinese e-commerce director Alibaba. A similar incident occurred in Thailand in September.

For the series ’30th anniversary in 2009, Bandai Namco set up an image at Gundam Base Tokyo, a tourist destination for Japan’s capital region. That image was as big as the one in Yokohama, but the Yokohama version is the first full-size, portable Gundam.

The new image is part of the “Gundam global challenge,” Bandai Namco’s campaign to build the brand overseas in honor of 40 years of the series.

“Initially, we hoped to not only attract domestic fans but also people from all over the world,” a company representative told Nikkei Asia. But the pandemic coronavirus delayed the company’s plans and delayed the opening of the show, which was scheduled for October.

The show was supposed to coincide with the Tokyo Olympic Paralympic Games, which was postponed until 2021. In an interview with Nikkei last year, Masaru Kawaguchi, president of Bandai Namco, looked forward to positively impact Tokyo 2020 games, saying the company would be able to promote Gundam characters with visitors from abroad by taking advantage of the world’s biggest sporting event.

The image will last until March 2022. The 9,000-sq.-meter site is located at Yokohama Pier, which is a candidate to host a unified casino center. The city has invited foreign casino operators to build a resort town in the region after Japan legalized gambling casino in 2018.

Bandai Namco hopes to sell more Gundam plastic models, especially overseas, as its fans in Japan grow older. (Photo by Kei Higuchi)

With people spending more time at home because of COVID-19, Bandai Namco is coming out with more Gundam plastic models, called “Gunpla” by enthusiasts, especially overseas. Overseas expansion is part of the company’s growth strategy as its fan base in Japan grows older.

In the US, Bandai Namco has decided to sell Gundam toys at major retailers such as Walmart and Target. Next year the toymaker will set up a full-size Gundam in Shanghai, which the company considers a priority market.

Bandai Namco plastic models are becoming increasingly popular in foreign markets, with about half of the company’s sales coming from overseas. Its total shipping has quadrupled since fiscal 2006, to 31.26 million units in fiscal 2019.

In response to the growing demand, especially in Asia, the company opened a new factory in Shizuoka, southwest of Tokyo, aiming to increase its production capacity by 40%.

The new Gundam statue in Yokohama is part of the “global Gundam challenge,” Bandai Namco’s campaign to build the brand overseas in honor of 40 years of the series. (Photo by Taro Fujii)