Monday, August 3, 2009

30 Years of Mechanical Design

The giant robot series, "Mobile Suit Gundam" is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and various events have been planned to promote the anime as a result. I doubt I need to mention here the life-size statue currently occupying Odaiba, and the tiny Gundams being packaged with Nisshin Cup Noodle won't hit the shelves for another month or so. In with all of this we also have the featured exhibit at the Hachioji Yumebi art museum, running until Sept. 6.

(No cameras allowed inside, so I had to settle for photos of the outer lobby.)

Oddly enough, this is one art event that neither the Japan Times nor the Metropolis feels is worth mentioning in their exhibitions listings. Yet, the Yumebi has put together an incredible selection of mecha art by one of the masters in the field - Kunio Okawara. The matching book (about 3000 yen) has 100+ pages, showing the paintings and toys from the exhibit. The exhibit itself takes up 4 big rooms, with a TV running anime from Yattaman, Time Bokan, Gundam, and various other TV shows that used Kunio's designs. The paintings include various triptych setups with three contrasting images each; single pictures of the Gundam, Votoms, and Yattaman robots and mecha; and concept artwork for the shows. Some of the paintings of the remains of giant robots rusting on the surface of bombed out planets are very detailed and well executed.

There are also several tables showing toy models based on Kunio's works, and a 1:1 scale giant axe as wielded by a Votom that dominates one full room (it's 7 meters - 21 feet - long). Another large-scale piece is the dog-face portion of a Time Bokan car, with a rope attached to the bell on its head. You're encouraged to ring the bell, but asked not to pull too hard on the rope.

I spent a full hour looking at everything, and then felt compelled to buy myself a Gundam kit at the gift shop at the end. Also for sale are exhibit books, an artwork collection book for Yattaman and music CDs from the Gundam series.

(Yumebi is on the second floor of the big building in the middle of the photo.)

The museum is on road 20, one mile south of Hachioji station, on the right side of the road. It's a big, nondescript apartment building, with the museum on the second floor. Admission is 500 yen for adults. Definitely recommended if you're in the area, or if you're a big Gundam fan. (Note that all of the explanatory text is in Japanese-only.)

As a side note - mecha is short for "mechanism" and generally refers to machines or giant robots. Mecha anime are cartoons featuring giant robots, and Gundam is arguably the prime example of a mecha show. A mecha designer is like a character designer for a cartoon, but instead of creating the appearance and qualities of the human characters, a mecha designer creates the designs and operations of the machines and robots for the show. Kunio was the first person in the anime industry to be given the credit "mecha designer".

There's a new Yattaman movie coming out. The ad board says "Take your picture with the Yattaman cast" (sort of).

(Back of advertising flier)


bartman905 said...

Thanks for the link to my Gundam blog post.

I also bought a Gundam model kit by Ban Dai from Yodobashi because it had the 30th anniversary logo on the box - it is a cheap kit for 880 yen only.

I probably won't open the box. The last time I made a kit was probably 30 years ago, I'm too old for this!

TSOTE said...

The only time you can say you're too old for kit building is when your fingers are too stiff to pick up the exacto knife and your eyes too weak to read the assembly instructions even when you have your reading glasses on.

Pax Humana said...

I kind of wish that LEGO would make a Gundam theme. I have seen some amazing Gundam mecha built in LEGO form. Some of them were so well built that you could hardly tell it apart from a Gundam gunpla.

TSOTE said...

Thanks for dropping by.
Lego may have a Gundam kit available in Japan. I haven't looked, so I can't say for sure. But, you probably wouldn't be able to find it sold anywhere else, for marketing reasons.