I, Robot

I, Robot
Pilgrimage to Mecha

John Funk | 27 Oct 2009 12:54
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While superhero robots like Voltron are an impossibility, advancements in military technology are commonplace. The franchise's creators and fans take its technology seriously, too: Supplementary material often features additional variant models not seen in the anime series, and high-end model kits include schemata of the inner mechanical workings for fans to pore over as military buffs might examine the details of modern jet fighters. Even the giant Gundam in Odaiba featured realistic warning labels near "dangerous" pieces of fictional machinery, advising mechanics to check a nonexistent maintenance manual for help.

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Gundam's hyperadvanced technology may border on magic, but it still remains within the bounds of plausibility. There is no reality-warping, faster-than-light travel, only space colonies in orbit around Earth. There are no aliens or interstellar empires, only humans fighting amongst themselves over the things that humans have always fought over: power, independence and greed. All of these in combination create a feeling that Gundam, more than any other mecha series, could someday become a reality.

Despite logic, physics and economics all pointing to the impracticality of giant humanoid fighting machines, that hasn't stopped the Japanese Defense Ministry from presenting an exhibit about the use of military robots called "Towards the Realization of Gundam." Sure, that might have been a publicity stunt, but it was a publicity stunt that worked, because it tapped into a part of Japan's cultural consciousness that wants Gundam to be real. In a culture that equates robots with technological might, what could be better than the most advanced (real) robot possible?

Sixty-Foot Sentinel

The statue of Amuro Ray's RX-78-2 Gundam in Shiokaze Park may not have been fully operational, but it was the next best thing. Though primarily built by Namco Bandai as a celebration of the franchise's 30th anniversary, it was also a part of the "Green Tokyo" campaign to promote the Japanese capital as a host site for the 2016 Olympics. (Clearly, the company must have reasoned, the city with the biggest giant robot would be the most deserving to host the Summer Games.)

Tokyo's Olympic bid ended in defeat, but that doesn't mean the statue itself was a failure, at least not according to Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino. During a press conference, Tomino said that while he had initially feared that the statue would be something "that looked really cheap and tawdry," he found himself moved by the final product:

I feel tremendous strength and power from this huge Odaiba robot. It really focuses on what I like to call toy-like colors. These toy-like colors don't have the color of real weapons and real tools of destruction. They're peaceful colors. Happy colors, the kinds of colors that little kids like. And they are the kinds of colors that encourage people to say, "don't give up hope. Have great expectations and have great hopes for the future of human kind."

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