Gundam’s Current Renaissance Is the Franchise’s Biggest Push In Years
This weeks Your Nerd Side Podcast:
The Mobile Suit Gundam franchise has been going strong since the '70s, with the property being one of the biggest names in anime. Its popularity has remained fairly consistent throughout the years, although there have been numerous peaks and valleys. Nevertheless, it would seem that 2023 is destined to be the year in which Gundam gets the biggest boost it's had in decades.
Numerous projects are coming out for the series, with many of them revisiting some of the most popular entries from years ago. That's along with the massively popular new series Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury, which helped to bring in new fans. When combined with how big Gunpla has gotten since 2020, it's created a path for Gundam to become more popular than ever with global audiences.
Gundam Hasn't been Popular Across the World In Decades
As mentioned, the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise has historically been a big deal in its native country of Japan. Even as anime as a whole has gained prominence in the West, however, Gundam has somewhat stagnated behind more mainstream shonen anime franchises. The most popular show in the West was Mobile Report Gundam Wing, which also enjoyed a respectable following in Japan. The series' stark, serious tone and focus on what was essentially terroristic warfare served as a sharp contrast to animated fare in the West. Even next to anime such as Dragon Ball Z, the show was vastly different in terms of its content. Sadly, the other shows in the franchise couldn't quite reach the same heights.
The goofy G Gundam was somewhat popular in its own right, but the show's ridiculous tone reminiscent of a Super Robot anime made it an outlier in the franchise. Attempts to bring an earlier entry in the series to audiences on Cartoon Network's Toonami programming block was a failure, due both to the dated nature of the show in question and some of the era's censorship. Gundam SEED and its sequel faltered in terms of target audience, taking them far from the peaks of popularity that shonen such as One Piece and even Naruto would later achieve. The same went for Mobile Suit Gundam 00, which is ironically seen by many as a sort of update to Gundam Wing. Later entries would gain their fans, but none of them had seemed to be able to tap into the zeitgeist of global anime domination. That has now changed, and it could do wonders for the franchise as a whole.
The Witch from Mercury Made Gundam More Mainstream Than Ever
Both among Japanese audiences and especially among international anime fans, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury has been a big hit. It's namely attracted a crowd that otherwise might not be interested in the series, and this increased spotlight has paid off tremendously. Finally, it would seem that Gundam is being spoken of in the same breath as many of the day's popular shonen franchises, and this will likely extend to further projects in the property. That's a good thing, as there are several Gundam manga, anime and movies that are either concluding or in the works.
This also takes advantage of Gundam's biggest strength, which would be the various continuities of the franchise. The two biggest timelines are Universal Century and Cosmic Era, but there are many other timelines that offer a plethora of diverse story potential. By having several manga and anime running at once, Gundam can appeal to different segments of the fanbase while also creating new ones. This way, newcomers have something fresh to latch onto, while those more familiar with the franchise don't feel left out. It's a recipe for success that's led to several Gundam productions going at once, which of course results in more of the property's biggest selling point: toys.
Gunpla Can Take Gundam Higher Than Any Other Anime Franchise
Easily the most marketable part of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise is Gunpla, which are plastic model kits representing the various mechs seen in each manga and anime series. Gunpla has been a staple of Gundam almost since the beginning, and strong sales of early collectibles is what helped to save the franchise when the original anime wasn't quite a hit. Coming in various grades, sizes and price ranges, Gunpla attracts builders and collectors of all ages and skill levels. Even in the West, when the anime or manga for Gundam wasn't particularly easy to come by, the latest Gunpla could still be found in various hobby shops. Now that anime as a whole has become mainstream, even ubiquitous retailers such as Walmart and Target carry Gundam figures and kits.
This actually gives the franchise a leg up compared to other properties, regardless of their respective levels of popularity. Gunpla is integral to the popularity of Gundam in a way that toys and action figures aren't for franchises such as Dragon Ball, My Hero Academia and Demon Slayer. In the case of those brands, the merchandise is more supplemental, whereas Gunpla is arguably equal to the mecha anime released over the years. Additionlly, The Witch from Mercury has made the models more recognizable, and Gunpla collecting could easily become an anime fan craze across the globe.
A big reason for this is the fact that the toys require building and even offer customization options. This is quite different from toys for other anime franchises, which don't have the same level of interaction or engagement. Add in the various price points and skill levels required, and it's easy for fans young and old to challenge themselves with what's essentially a puzzle. Now, both Gunpla and the actual Gundam media can feed into each other's popularity across the world as audiences become flooded with more mobile suits than ever.