The Gundam Moves!

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Το Gundam κουνιέται

Η καλύτερη εποχή για βόλτες στην Ιαπωνία είναι στις αρχές της άνοιξης, επειδή είναι η μόνη περίοδος του χρόνου με καθαρό ουρανό, χωρίς σύννεφα και βροχές. Το αποκορύφωμα της σεζόν είναι φυσικά οι ανθισμένες κερασιές, αλλά τι μπορεί να κάνει κανείς όταν αυτές…

In Japan, early spring is the best time of the year to move around, since it’s the only period of the year that the sky is clear from clouds and rain. The highlight of the season is obviously the cherry blossoms, but what to do if they haven’t bloomed yet? You go to the Gundam instead.

If you are oblivious of the great Japanese culture of animations, the Gundam series is similar to the Transformers. Giant mechas, moving robots that fight aliens to protect the earth. I am not sure if they are supposed to be driven by a pilot, or they are autonomous, but they have some kind of relationship with humans. The franchise was born in the 1970s but continues to be popular until now. Owned by Bandai Namco, a life-sized Gundam statue standing some 18meters tall is hovering above the shopping district of Odaiba. A few years back, the company replaced that “Unicorn” Gundam with a different model, in order to fulfill a larger project. They wanted to make the Unicorn Gundam walk!

Bandai Namco created ‘Gundam Academy’, staffed it with designers and engineers and tried to recreate a scene from the original animation. After a couple of years, at first glance it seems that they have achieved their goals. An 18-meter tall Gundam stands in a platform above the port of Yokohama, some 30 minutes away from Tokyo. You can visit the development facility and see the show featuring a walking Gundam until the end of March. So, it was my last chance to visit!

The Gundam moves slowly, according to the story that unfolds from the speakers. It can stand, squat and turn around. The show highlight is that after some perceived malfunction the Gundam rises again and raises its finger to show towards the sky. Including startup and wrapup, the show lasts some 30 minutes and is repeated hourly.

You can visit the academy to get some insight on the design process. There is a table explaining the history of robotic evolution, samples of the materials used on the skeleton and miniatures of the mechanisms and tricks used to emulate motion. Although advertised as an autonomous bipedal robot, achieving that at its as is an unachievable task. Instead, the robot is supported by a thick metal beam at the low part of the back. A series of rods and parts allow the Gundam to bend to the front and back.

Still, it managed to get not one, but two Guiness records awarded in December 2020; for largest mobile humanoid robot and largest mobile Gundam.

Inside the academy, there is a large wall serving as a control panel showcasing the Gundam outside. As you can see, there are balconies on the platform. With an extra ticket, you can actually visit the platform deck and see the head of the Gundam up close.

I went up the deck at around 5 o’clock, perfect timing to observe the Gundam against the setting sun. An employee was holding a timer as the small groups of people were moving one by one to capture pictures of the giant head. The landmark tower and all characteristic building of downtown are easily visible in the back, making it look like something out of a sci-fi world is actually happening.

If you look carefully, you can see the support beam holding the waist of the Gundam. There is a metallic rod pushing it down when it is time to bow down.

After the show, the Gundam is secured hovering above ground. It is not stepping down or being supported on its two legs. If the wind is strong, it should be secured with additional ropes. Two horizontal bars are supposed to keep it from falling down, in case it tilts forward too much. The Gundam sits quietly, until the timer for its next show reaches zero.

The development of the Gundam will continue, that is why the facility will not accept visitors from April. There is a wall close to the entrance with messages from people and ideas regarding new features that could be added.

Before leaving, take a moment to observe Minato Mirai, the fresh and futuristic center of Yokohama, appearing in all its glory across the horizon.

Together with the entrance ticket, you receive a plastic Gundam model, called Gunpla, which you can build yourself. I don’t know how easy it is, I will tell you when I finish it.

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