Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Giant Gundam Gathers Gawking Geeks in Tokyo

Giant Gundam Gathers Gawking Geeks in Tokyo
59-Foot Tall Model of Iconic Japanese Anime Character Unveiled 

1:1 scale model of Japanese Anime Icon – Gundam

A giant cultural icon has come to roost in Tokyo this summer. It’s not Godzilla nor UltraMan. It’s the mobile suit known as Gundam, the model RX-78 to be precise. To mark the 30th Anniversary of the popular anime series Gundam, a 1:1 scale model of the iconic mobile suit has been constructed and set up on the island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay. The model has 50 points of lights, mist emitting from several places, and a head which revolves left and right and upward. Periodically sound-effects and the theme song to the old animated series plays from the structure itself. The life-size model is composed of fiberglass-reinforced plastic on a steel frame. The Gundam mobile suit stands at 18 meters/59 feet tall.

Gundam is a giant piloted mobile suit; not a robot


The animated show debuted in 1979 and has spawned a number of spin-offs, action figures, comics, and video games. Gundam was influential in the robot-style anime. In other shows, robot characters had a quasi-mystical aspect and many were nigh indestructible. In Gundam, the robots were mobile suits piloted by humans. The humans were the focus of the show while their mobile suits were treated like a vehicle rather than a personified entity.

The Gundam series has had a big impact on Japanese pop-culture

Mist emits from the Gundam Model

The Gundam model is not a robot as any obsessive follower of the anime and similar anime can tell you. It’s a mecha which is a piloted vehicle not automated or remote controlled. Gundam is a mobile suit piloted by humans. It’s much like a tank or a plane and as such runs on a finite source of energy and can be damaged to the point of destruction unlike the robot/mecha of the semi-mystical type. 

Say “Cheese!”


As for myself, prior to coming to Japan there was a significant Gundam Gap in my Japanese anime experience. When I was really young, I used to watch syndicated shows of Speed Racer and Star Blazers which came out before Gundam and in my later youth I watch Voltron and Robotech which followed the Gundam series. I had no idea who or what a Gundam was.

Gundam – after hours

There are many mobile suit types in the Gundam series but the RX-78 is the most widely recognizable

My first encounter with Gundam was at the local video arcade in Tokyo. During my first year in Japan, I came across an arcade game where you could fight against two robot opponents alongside a partner. Other people could join in either to become your partner or most times your opponent.



Gundam It!
Virtual Humiliation


The following is an account of one of my first encounters with Gundam at a video arcade place in Tokyo:

The game begins, my robot (sorry! mecha) lifts gracefully off the ground with its temporary boosters as I look for my foe. Bam! Suddenly I’m falling like a brick. Where the hell did that come from? I wonder. My robot has barely picked himself off the ground before he’s knocked down again. I haven’t even seen the jerk – I mean, my opponent, yet.

When I pick myself up the third time, a hurtling hulk of metal comes out of nowhere and slams into me. My robotic opponent starts twirling some kind of lazer baton which deflects the only shot I manage to get off. Before I can fire again, he’s on top of me carving me up like a Thanksgiving Turkey. This is definitely not a Computer Opponent. There’s a hint of geeky malice and haughty distain for newbies behind the attacks.

Mercifully, my robot explodes before suffering any further degradation. Seconds later, my reincarnated form comes dropping out of the sky and I’m off to avenge my former life. I fire a few shots at my hated enemy which he again deflects with that damn twirly thing. He zaps me by jumping up into the air and firing on the way down so I can’t see the shot till it’s too late.

After peppering me with a few potshots, he moves in for the kill. I valiantly run away as fast as I can. I search for my computer partner who has been nowhere to be found during this virtual Waterloo. I find him napping and kick his robotic butt into the fray. While my human opponent slices and dices my luckless partner, I go in search of his computer partner for a little crap-rolls-down-hill vengeance. I waste the poor computer partner fairly quickly but before I can do a victory dance that damn twirling baton of bullshit lays into me.

I get knocked down three times in a row without getting a chance to lay a finger on the guy. I explode yet again this time both onscreen and off as I pound the buttons in rage. I hear a nervous high pitch maniacal giggle from the game console on the other side.

Oh, it was on now! It was a geek-off! I plunk another coin in the machine and get slaughtered before the coin reaches to the bottom of the coin box. $10 and 10 minutes later, I’ve had enough. I go over to the other side to congratulate my opponent on his skills then I smash his youthful pimply face into the video game screen repeatedly. Ok! I’m lying! I just stormed out of the arcade envisioning me smashing my unseen foe’s face into the screen. 

There are 50 different points of light on the Gundam model


Recently, they have come out with Arcade pods where you can play in your own enclosed pod and you have more than just a joystick and few buttons to control your mecha. The arcade pod game is based on a credit system in which you can purchase upgrades and weapons. I found it too expensive not to mention too confusing to play very much.

The Gundam model stands at 18 meters (59 feet) high

Gundam doing his “Great Balls of Fire” impression

My next encounter with Gundam was a giant Gundam float made of washi – harden Japanese paper – up in the Aomori Prefecture. In August, the town of Goshogawara puts on a festival called Tachi Neputa which has a number of tall floats, some as tall as 22 meters. The year I went they had a 14 meter float in the shape of the classic Gundam model RX-78.

A 14 meter Tall Gundam Float in Aomori


The Tokyo Gundam model’s major debut will be July 10th and it will remain standing throughout the summer.



A Gundam Sunset

June 26, 2009 - Posted by | 1970s, Anime, Gundam, japan, Japanese Anime, japanese culture, tokyo, travel, weird, WTF | , , , , , ,


  1. Another great post and pictures Dave. I just saw your last picture (A Gundam Sunset) featured in JapanToday and the latest issue of Metropolis – nicely done!

    I haven’t yet had a chance to head out to Odaiba to see this in person, hopefully soon (or at least before the summer is over).

    Comment by bartman905 | June 27, 2009 | Reply

  2. Dave,

    I remember playing Gundam tandam with you a few times, and I remember being as lame as your computer partner. Luckily (for you, that is)I didn’t get to partner with you again (hell, I ran out of money playing sword caliber some time ago:)).

    Comment by gaijinalways | June 27, 2009 | Reply

  3. i love anime,especially gundam figure, maybe i`ve to look by my self to tokyo

    Comment by riz | June 29, 2009 | Reply

  4. Hi Dave!

    I saw your photo in this week’s metropolis, so I came to look at your blog! (Coincidentally, I had an interview published in this issue… on the next page, actually, lol!)

    This is so random, but I loved the picture, and I was thinking that I would ask you if it’s possible to get your signature on the page, so that I can frame it and put it up on my home wall. If you’d be willing at all, I’d be happy to take you out for coffee or something sometime in return!

    Well, you might not get this (Actually, I’d rather not post it publically, but I couldn’t find an email address for you), but I hope you do and that you’re open to it. Feel free to send me an email!



    Comment by Jamie | July 1, 2009 | Reply

  5. wow, to see that this is actually real was quite surprising to me..i used to watch cartoonsof these giant things but i never thought it would become real …i guess i still live in the stone age.
    but a great blog!! haven’t had the chance to have a thorough look around..u got so many new stuff here that i think i would have aged by the time i read all ur posts.
    wish u all the luck

    Comment by mary | April 25, 2010 | Reply

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