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 

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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.

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Gundam is a giant piloted mobile suit; not a robot

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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.

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

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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. 

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Say “Cheese!”

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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.

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Gundam – after hours

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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.

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Gundam It!
Virtual Humiliation
 

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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. 
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There are 50 different points of light on the Gundam model

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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.

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

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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.

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A 14 meter Tall Gundam Float in Aomori

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

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A Gundam Sunset

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June 26, 2009 Posted by | 1970s, Anime, Gundam, japan, Japanese Anime, japanese culture, tokyo, travel, weird, WTF | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Where Have the Ninja Gone?

The Enigmatic Japanese Ninja

Cheap fuel-efficient cars, VCRs, and stereos weren’t the only Japanese exports that flooded into America during the 70s and 80s. The plucky indigenous ninja cleverly smuggled themselves over the sea to dazzle American audiences with their seemingly magical martial arts abilities. They were soon to find fertile ground in American pop-culture and almost immediately a Ninja Boom was born.

There was a time when ninja were as abundant as the stars in the skies. They were everywhere in America. They were in movies, on TV programs, in comic books, in newspaper personals, on street corners.

Masterpiece Ninja Theater: “Who’s Afraid of Hattori Hanzo?”

Just opening the pages of any comic book back then you could find throngs of ninja taking on small bands of heroes. On TV you could watch ninja fight each other, the A-team, greying old ex-pats, G.I. Joe, and so on. Less respectable movie theaters showed Ninja movies every other week. In bookstores, you had your pick of ninja books that detailed every aspect about these secret warriors from their skills, their weapons, to their breakfast cereals.

Master Ninja Lee Van Cleef with Big-Ass Funky Disco Medallion

Everybody wanted to be a ninja or at least own their weapons. Nun-chunks were once as plentiful as handguns in American households. No impressionable 13-year old boy could hold his head up high amongst his peers if he did not own at least half a dozen shurikens (“throwing stars”). That these JC Penny shurikens failed to stick in anything did not deter their popularity one bit.

For those who aspired to be ninja through mail-order training books, there was always the feeling that one day, they might be called upon to use their ninja skills and weaponry to take on bullies, bank robbers, Russian spies, space aliens, or chemistry teachers. And when that day arrived, the suburban ninja disguised as a mild-mannered pimply-faced gawky teenager would save the day and win the heart of the head cheerleader.

Look at me! I’m a Ninja Bird!

As for the real Ninja, they served as the perfect martial arts foil for any aspiring hero whether they were samurai, shaolin monks, police officers, superheroes, or redneck truck drivers. Ninja were readily available for heroes to test their mettle against. It didn’t take much to find a few ninja back then as they were just about everywhere. A hero could hardly go for a leak without bumping into a pack of them along the way.

Then the butt-kicking would begin.

Despite their years of intensive training and strict discipline, ninja never won a single fight they were in even if they outnumbered their opponents 100 to 1. They appeared to be particularly vulnerable to an old-fashion left hook. The only time ninja were successful in actually killing someone with their skills or their myriad of pointy weapons was when they could manage to kill off the hero’s buddy, girlfriend, or dog. This minor victory was often short-lived and generally backfired on them as the hero would become enraged to the point of slaughtering ninja by the bushel. This would go on until the hero finally tracked down the Head Ninja and in an epic fight-to-the-death match, killed him. The few surviving ninja of the hero’s rampage would find themselves suddenly unemployed while many of them would have to apply for handicap parking decals.

Ouch! That’s got to sting a bit.

The fact that ninja were repeatedly beaten, pummeled, crippled, maimed, set on fire, and killed in their relentless encounters never bothered people. It was thought ninja would last forever. But like the mighty buffalo, even ninja had to succumb to the ravages of time and attrition to their ranks. With their secret training camps being infiltrated and blown up all the time, it was becoming harder to recruit and train new ninja.

One of their main problems was that they were victims of their own defeat. Everybody wanted to fight them. You weren’t considered a hero in those days if you couldn’t single-handily beat a dozen ninja.

Gay Ninja always had to strive harder to win acceptance from their peers

One has to admire their pluck in the face of adversity, though. A hero could slaughter 99 ninja and the 100th ninja — instead of doing the sensible thing like running away as most of us would do if we were in his slippers or just shooting the guy from a safe distance — attacks all out with his ninja skills no doubt thinking optimistically the hero must be finally worn out from killing all of the ninja’s colleagues. Sure the ninja gets brutally killed like all the rest but at least he tried and therein lies the difference between him and the rest of us. Of course, this spirit hasn’t helped the declining ninja population in the slightest.

Shameless self-promotion also played a hand in their demise. In the back of comics and magazines, you could find book ads promising to teach you the “Deadly Ninja Touch” and “12 Steps to Killing: the Ninja Way.” With their secrets up for sale by mail order and their weapons on sale at any department store, it got to the point where even housewives or girl scouts could defeat a herd of ninja by themselves. As a general rule of thumb, if you belong to a secret society of martial artists, you should never make your secret death touches available to the general public via mail order catalogs. Ninja never seemed to grasp this simple concept.

Let’s See: One “Secret Ninja Death Touch Scroll” for a Mildred Parkins of Kansas City…

Now Ninja are a vanishing breed — rarely sighted or fought. Even suburban ninja have disappeared and their shurikens put up for sale at flea markets. Grungy street thugs fill the void left by the ninja in the comics and movies but they sorely lack the style and panache their predecessors had. Gone are the nun-chunks that never hit anyone, the novelty smoke bombs, the throwing stars, the nasty foot pricks, the trendy black robes.

Me and the Ninja: ready to kick butt

Is it too late to save the majestic Ninja? Should limits be established on the number of Ninja that can be beaten up in a year’s time? Surely, if the world can come together to stop the hunting of whales, we can stop the noble Ninja from being beaten into oblivion.

Save the Ninja!

July 23, 2006 Posted by | 1970s, 1980s, A-Team, american pop culture, Blogroll, chuck norris, GI Joe, japan, karate, Master Ninja, ninja, Ninja movies, pop culture, TV | 2 Comments