Gunpla - bans65429_1

How Failure Created The World Of Gunpla

It is impossible to have the world of Gunpla without the huge, sprawling mecha franchise that is Gundam, as the elaborate model-building kits that are nigh-ubiquitous in Japan are forever tied to a franchise that invented an entire genre of more grounded mecha anime.

What is perhaps less well-known is that without the initial failure of the first Mobile Suit Gundam series, Gunpla would not exist, and without Gunpla the Gundam franchise perhaps would not have survived, let alone thrived.

That’s right, the very first Gundam series had low ratings, and low initial toy sales and ended its run nine episodes early, and that includes a month-long reprieve to let them actually finish the series.

The reason why Mobile Suit Gundam (or Gundam 0079) failed was exactly why it was always critically acclaimed and why it endures in popularity now. Series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino wanted to create a mature, more realistic mecha series that served as an allegory for the horrors of war.

Tomino-san, rather infamously nicknamed “Kill Em All” for his brutal and ruthless storytelling style in both Gundam and Space Runaway Ideon, was both the best and worst choice as a writer and director of a shōnen anime.

His writing was amazing, dramatic, dynamic and unconventional, but it was also not the platform that studio Nippon Sunrise, television network Nagoya TV and initial toy manufacturer Clover wanted, and the show was nearly cancelled outright.

From this low point came the ultimate opportunity that changed model building forever, as Bandai bought the rights to make and sell model building kits of the RX-78-2 Gundam, as well as other Mobile Suits seen in the series.

These were aimed at a teenage and adult audience rather than children and immediately turned the perception of the series around, with reruns having much higher viewing figures and the premier of the first Mobile Suit Gundam film (a compilation of the first third of the series) drawing a crowd of 15,000.

The day of the premiere, 22nd February 1981, is not only seen as “the day that anime changed” (a title given to it by the newspaper of record Asahi Shimbun) but also the day that made Gunpla the phenomenon it is today.

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