Ask John: Where’s the Rest of the Gundam Anime?
I am a Gundam fan. There are Trekies, and there are wannabe Jedis; I am an avid Gundam fan. I have a Gundam DVD collection, yet it is not completed. But, I noticed that not all Gundam shows are on DVD (i.e. ZZ Gundam). Is it because they never made DVDs for them? Or is there some other reason why many people’s Gundam DVD collection, like mine, will forever be incomplete?
I’ll guess that you’ve probably heard the news that Bandai Entertainment has confirmed plans to release the Turn A Gundam television series in America. That leaves only the Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, Mobile Suit V Gundam, Mobile New Century Gundam X, and the third Gundam Igloo series unlicensed in America, in addition to numerous spin-off productions like the countless SD Gundam series, the Gundam Evolve series, short films like Gundam Neo Experience 0087: Green Divers, and the upcoming Mokei Senshi Gunpla Builders Beginning G mini-series. Considering how popular the Gundam franchise is in Japan, certainly most all of the existing Gundam anime is available on retail DVD in Japan. But despite being fairly successful in America, Gundam has yet to become an entrenched cult series in America the way it is in Japan. Certainly America has a small community of die-hard Gundam fans, but the Gundam franchise hasn’t established its own following in America independent of but affiliated with the larger anime fan community. The Gundam franchise is literally multi-generational in Japan. It launched in 1979, so there are now countless Japanese anime fans that have been watching Gundam anime all of their life. The Gundam franchise has only been established in America for about ten years, so there’s very little widespread nostalgia, affection, or interest for the older Gundam series among American viewers. The flashy, bishounen influenced, contemporary Gundam series: Gundam W, Gundam Seed, and Gundam OO have proven popular among American otaku because these series adhere closely to the characteristics of other contemporary anime that American otaku are used to and prefer. Particularly the more traditional Gundam series – Mobile Suit Gundam, Zeta Gundam, 0080, 0083, MS 08th Team, Char’s Counterattack, F-91 – haven’t been as popular with American viewers apart from die-hard Gundam followers.
For many years it was presumed that Sunrise and Bandai of Japan didn’t want to distribute their primary Gundam anime in America without the substantial exposure that they deemed necessary and suitable for such high profile (in Japan) series. That’s partly why most of the Gundam series to reach America have gotten television broadcasts. Gundam is one of Japan’s foremost anime properties, so Bandai and Sunrise naturally don’t want to see their golden child fail in America. So the series that have reached America have been carefully selected. The Gundam anime series that have reached America have primarily been the ones with the greatest chance of wining an American audience. Gundam ZZ is the third television series in the original “UC continuity” trilogy, meaning that it’s most suitable for viewers that have already watched the 43 episode original series and 50 episode Zeta Gundam series. Double Zeta is also widely considered the weakest of the first three Gundam television series. Those conditions limit its attractiveness as a possible American release. The V-Gundam series seems to have been simply overlooked for American distribution. Gundam X has its supporters, but it’s widely considered one of the worst Gundam series. It was the first Gundam anime in nearly 20 years to get canceled in Japan due to poor ratings. So it naturally shouldn’t be a primary choice of series to launch in America.
A decade ago Bandai Entertainment stated that it hoped to eventually release “most” of the major Gundam anime installments in America. The execution of that plan has been prolonged but steady. Audience demand for Gundam anime in America has never been quite strong enough to encourage a brisk, successive release of all of the major Gundam series. Japan’s Bandai Entertainment has been cautious about managing the exposure of the series in America. American distributor Bandai Entertainment has suffered numerous and ongoing distribution and market setbacks. These and doubtlessly other circumstances have impacted the distribution of Gundam anime in America, and will continue to do so. Honestly and personally speaking, I never expected to see the Turn A Gundam series licensed for domestic release. It’s one of the most uncharacteristic Gundam anime, and it takes quite a bit of patience to enjoy. It’s recent domestic release announcement should be taken as an encouraging hint that the remaining series may also eventually reach America. Bandai is likely to want the rest of its cornerstone franchise to eventually get greater international exposure. American fans can do their part to encourage additional domestic releases by demonstrating demand, particularly through buying the Gundam anime presently available on American DVD.