- JAPAN IN FOCUS
In-depth look at Gundam Factory Yokohama
11:00 JST, October 29, 2021
Have you visited the Gundam Factory Yokohama (GFY) yet? A full-scale Gundam from the landmark giant robot TV anime series “Kido Senshi Gundam” (Mobile Suit Gundam) can be seen at the temporary complex in Yokohama. I finally went down to the GFY the other day to see the robot, which is referred to as a “mobile suit” in the anime series that first aired in 1979. The question on my mind was, “Let’s see what the new Gundam can do.”
Striking a pose
As I stepped onto Yamashita pier in Yokohama, I could see the ship Hikawa Maru docked at Yamashita Park nearby. Walking closer to the GFY complex, the upper half of the Gundam came into view, standing next to the Gundam-Dock Tower. The Gundam, model number RX-78F00, stands 18 meters tall and weighs 25 tons. It was overwhelming to see up close.
The Gundam, scheduled to be on display through March 2022, performs two sequences: the start-up demonstration, in which the Gundam moves into a crouching position, and standby mode, when it returns to its position in the dock.
As music from an early Gundam series blared through the speakers, the demonstration began. The Gundam’s eyes flickered on and its arms, fingers and legs slowly started to move. Suddenly, there was an emergency alert! The Gundam dropped to one knee and crouched down. It reminded me of a scene in which the protagonist, Amuro Ray, boards and operates the Gundam for the first time and tries to reach out to Sayla Mass outside, telling her to get on the robot’s hand for safety.
According to Sunrise Inc., the animation production company that created the series, the crouching movement was inspired by that very scene.
“We wanted to show how the Gundam’s height changes as it moves,” said a staff member in charge. “We thought that the scene of Sayla getting on the Gundam’s hand would be the best way to show that off. The [crouching] move is then followed by the Gundam taking a few steps forward. The sequence became the basic concept for the start-up demonstration.”
Then, the Gundam slowly stood up, raised its right arm and pointed to the sky. Yes, it struck the signature “last shooting” pose!
Mechanics of movement
The GFY is part of The Gundam Global Challenge project launched in 2014 and is the product of the latest technologies provided by nine engineering, design and other firms. They were supervised by five engineering and visual media experts, including Yoshiyuki Tomino, the creator and director of the original 1979 Gundam anime series.
Three directors, specializing in mechanics, design and computer systems, planned and designed the complex. One of them, technical director Akinori Ishii, 47, studied humanoid robots in university because he was a huge fan of Gunpla, or Gundam plastic models, as a child. Ishii was previously involved in the automation of machinery used for construction at the company he works for. He joined the Gundam project in 2018 and has worked hard to make it a reality.
The life-sized moving Gundam at the GFY is the first of its kind in the world. Ishii said the mechanics of the Gundam’s waist and ankles were the most difficult to deal with.
Ishii said: “[The Gundam] has ankle guards, so when the ankles move, they hit the guards. I racked my brain and came up with the idea of having the axis of the ankles located about halfway up the shin. At the same time, I wanted to keep the shin’s stylish and slim design intact. [The Gundam’s] upper body and both legs move freely and separately from each other. The part around the waist is made to move in unison with the upper body so that the waist and hip won’t look connected to the metal frame of the dock even though they are.
Ishii was committed to positioning the cockpit in the abdominal area of the Gundam. The hatch cockpit is able to open and has enough space for a person to sit inside.
“While this Gundam does not carry a pilot inside the cockpit when it moves, the cockpit is a key feature of Gundam. Videos were used to show the cockpit of the Gundam statue in Daiba, Tokyo, so I definitely wanted to include it at the GFY,” Ishii said.
Gundam plastic models gave him clues as to how to build the cockpit.
“When I was thinking about what to do about [the Gundam’s] exterior and movement, I thought of my Gunpla at home,” he said. “For example, the covers for its thighs are separated into front and back pieces. This idea came from the RG (Real Grade) series of Gundam plastic models.”
Gundam plastic models were the prototypes for Gundam at the GFY. According to the manufacturer Bandai Spirits Co., the first model hit shelves in July 1980 and was a 1-to-144-scale Gundam. Since then, the company has produced about 4,500 types of Gunpla as of March this year and has shipped more than 700 million models. Gunpla are popular worldwide, with 50% of annual sales overseas.
Technologies have drastically advanced since the first Gunpla was launched, and now there are different types of products categorized by design and size. Currently, there are several Gunpla categories, including HG (High Grade) series, MG (Master Grade) series, RG (Real Grade) series and PG (Perfect Grade) series, which are all sorted by size and how realistic the finished product looks. Assembly is becoming more and more simple as well. Some can even be completed without having to color them or use adhesives.
The manufacturer is also trying to promote SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) with Gundam plastic models. The Gunpla Recycling Project was launched to collect “runners,” which are the plastic model frame surrounding the parts, and recycle them to make new products. For about one month starting Oct. 20, an event called Gundam R is being held at various venues nationwide where runners are being collected and model kits made of recycled plastic are being distributed.
The major structures of the GFY, which opened last December, are the Gundam Dock — the steel frame that holds the Gundam — and the Gundam Lab, which includes exhibition spaces and shops.
The Gundam Dock includes a tower with special viewing areas, which requires an additional fee. Watching the Gundam’s upper body move from 15 to 18 meters high is a breathtaking experience.
The Academy, an exhibition space in the Gundam Lab, uses panels, videos and 3D models to explain how the GFY’s Gundam was developed, from its designs to its structure. The facility also has a VR (virtual reality) Dome where visitors can see the area around the cockpit. A large display called AR Window shows the Gundam at the GFY in real time, along with detailed performance data, which makes it look really cool.
The Gundam Base Yokohama
The Gundam Base Yokohama Satellite is a shop that sells Gunpla and other Gundam-related products. There is also a cafe at the GFY.
The “Gundam Global Challenge official making book,” which is about the making of the GFY, is set to go on sale in November.
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The Gundam Factory Yokohama is scheduled to continue through March 31, 2022, at Yamashita pier in Yokohama. Admission is ¥1,650 for adults and students aged 13 or older, and ¥1,100 for children aged 7 to 12. The fee to go up the Gundam-Dock Tower is an additional ¥3,300. Tickets can be purchased in advance.
The start-up demonstration and standby mode sequences start at 11:20 a.m. on weekdays and 10:20 a.m. on weekends and national holidays. Visit https://gundam-factory.net/en/ for more information.
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