Meet Gundam in Yokohama

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A full-scale mobile Gundam unit awaits you at Gundam Factory Yokohama, an attraction that opened on Dec. 19 at Yamashita Pier in Yokohama.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, one of the attraction’s media partners, conducted interviews with the three directors who led the development of the robot, also known as a mobile suit, that is on display.

“Koitsu ugokuzo” (This thing moves!), says Amuro Ray, the main character of “Kido Senshi Gundam” (Mobile Suit Gundam), in the first episode of the TV anime series in 1979. The very same words naturally came out of my mouth as I looked at the 18-meter-tall Gundam, made to be the same height as is depicted in the anime. As it moved its legs and made all of the sounds that fans have come to love, I felt as though I had become fully immersed in the world of the anime itself.

After that, I sat down with the directors — technical director Akinori Ishii, creative director Masaki Kawahara and system director Wataru Yoshizaki — who were eager to hear my thoughts on their creation. The three share a love of Gundam and of building plastic models of Gundam figures, known to fans as “Gun-pla.” However, their passion for the hobby only grew from there and has resulted in the trio achieving their childhood dream of building a real-life moving Gundam.

Bringing Gundam to life

According to the team, a blend of existing advanced technology for robot engineering was used to create the robot, officially dubbed the RX-78F00 Gundam.

“After bringing together technologies and knowledge fostered by companies and universities in Japan, the Gundam is finally mobile. It is the culmination of the best technology has to offer,” Ishii said emphatically.

Ishii studied humanoid robots at university and became involved in the robotization of construction machinery at a company that he worked for. When he developed a heavy machine for civil engineering and construction for the company, he equipped it with two arms instead of a single arm that has been the norm within the industry.

“Gundam had a pretty heavy influence on me,” he said.

Back to the drawing board

Kawahara was in charge of the Yokohama Gundam’s design. He also designed the statue that was on exhibit in Shiokaze Park in Odaiba, Tokyo, in 2009 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the anime’s broadcast.

“No other place in the world has a huge robot that can move like this,” Kawahara said proudly. “I doubt such a thing would be built anywhere else but in Japan. This project became possible through Japanese people’s strong attachment to humanoids, such as in the ningyo joruri traditional puppet theater.”

When it came to getting the Gundam up and running, the aspect that Kawahara worked the most diligently on was making the design compatible with weight reduction.

“Because I don’t come from a technical background, I collaborated with creators who were also engineers. Through trial and error, we worked through a number of designs before landing on [our current] stylish one,” he said.

A dream in motion

Software-operated controls are necessary to get the robot to move. This is Yoshizaki’s area of expertise.

“Even though I hadn’t even been born when the original Gundam series aired, I was a fan of building plastic Gundam models before I had entered elementary school,” he said.

Not long after entering elementary school, Yoshizaki began studying computer programming to be able to one day operate robots. He also wrote operating software for many robots that he entered in robotics competitions during his days as a technical college student.

“Humanoid robots around the world stand about four meters tall at the tallest. Because ours stands at a surprising 18 meters tall, it’s outrageous in the best possible sense,” he said, laughing.

While the RX-78F00 is huge, its finger joints are so well articulated that the robot is capable of a variety of expressions.

“I went to great lengths to be able to control something so large with smooth and fluid movements. A Gundam that stands completely still is cool, but one that can move should look even cooler. Please be sure to check out the Gundam doing its signature poses live and in-person [at Gundam Factory Yokohama],” Yoshizaki said.

Favorite characters

The three directors revealed who their favorite characters are and explained why.

Tem Ray

Ishii chose Tem Ray, a Gundam developer for the Earth Federation Forces and the father of main character Amuro Ray. “After becoming an engineer tasked with making a mobile Gundam reproduction, I felt as though I had become Tem Ray in many ways, one of them being that my son is around the same age as Amuro,” he said.

Ramba Ral

Kawahara chose Ramba Ral, the pilot of a Gouf-type unit, a machine belonging to the Principality of Zeon’s Forces. “As I experienced various things in my career, Ramba Ral’s sad fate as a middle-level manager began to hit home for me more and more,” he said.

Kamille Bidan

Yoshizaki’s favorite character is Kamille Bidan, the protagonist of the “Mobile Suit Z Gundam” anime series. “Because he does things like design new mobile suits, he’s kind of like a technical college student in a way. I see a lot of myself in him because of the way I devoted myself, from dawn to dusk every day, to robotics competitions,” he said.

Scheduled to run through March 31, 2022

Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Last entry at 8 p.m.) Hours are subject to change for maintenance and other reasons.

Location: Yamashita Pier in Yokohama

Access: Seven-minute walk from Motomachi-Chukagai Station on the Minatomirai Line

Admission: ¥1,650 for adults and children 13 and older; ¥1,100 for children ages 7 to 12; Entry to Gundam-Dock Tower, from which the robot can be seen from above, is ¥3,300 for adults and children 7 and older. Tickets are available for sale online via the official website.