OF course the first ‘Gundamish’ hero is Ultraman but the young generation seems to be aware only of Gundam, the anime cartoon series that begun in 1979, more than a decade after Ultraman first crossed his arms to produce the blinding death rays.
Most children aged 5 to 15 who are knee deep into Gundam know the names of the characters, their strength and weaknesses, plots, sub-plots and spin-offs. Gundam today encompasses not only the obligatory computer games but have spawned a series of franchises worth 50 billion yen as of January 2008.
For those without pre-teen kids, Gundam are gigantic robots or ‘mecha’ in Japanese who burst into Japanese television in 1979 as ‘Mobile Suit Gundam’. Think ‘Transformers’ and you get the drift.
After a shaky start when it almost vanished into oblivion, it took a life of its own and begun franchising into sequels, prequels, side stories and alternative time frames and now appear on TV, manga comics, novels and of course video games.
The Gundam Academy or officially International Gundam Society is the first academic institution based on a cartoon!
Unlike Transformers which are individual entities, Gundams are large, biped robots controlled by humans inside cockpits located inside the body of the robot. Gundams are robots but in rare cases they are infused with Artificial Intelligence (AI).
In ‘Gundam Sentinel’, an AI called A.L.I.C.E develops emotions and wants to be a human at the end of the story.
In ‘Blue Destiny’, four Gundam suits share a human-like soul that allow them to think independently.
“I love Gundam stories as the technology is based on actual science so everything seems real and possible,” said nine-year-old Luo Yong Wen who became addicted three years ago.
“My father bought a ‘Blaze Zaku Phantom’ Gundam suit when he visited Shanghai. I didn’t ask him to buy and had no idea what it was but after I completed making it, I liked it. So I have been pestering my parents to buy for me at toyshops in KL ever since.”
His father Luo Qi said, “I was in a mall and saw a huge Gundam exhibition and contest. I was fascinated and wondered if my son could build the scale models.
“I am glad he is good at it as making model robots and spaceships require motor skills. My wife Flora and I can’t even hold two of plastic parts together properly.
“It is good for strengthening the eyes as children need to focus on the tiny parts to glue and stick them together in their proper places,” he said.
Luo Yong Wen’s mum, Datuk Flora Luo said, “Some of the bits are so intricate I am really glad he doesn’t ask me how to assemble! I don’t know how to use the tools and instrument. Each panel has seven to 10 parts that must be broken off or carefully cut.”
Parents are willing to fork out anything from RM150 to RM600 for a Gundam set.
“Making a model Gundam is said to be good for brain development as it teaches patience, co-ordination and encourages creativity. The fact they can glue the parts together without sticking their fingers together or making a mess impresses me a lot,” said Flora.
“Children learn logic and reasoning. It also tests their ability to read and understand instructions. Some adults fear instruction manuals as they seem so forbidding and scary and I don’t want my children to have this fear,” she added.
“I can build a simple model within 20 minutes while the more complicated ones can take two to three hours. I make little mistakes when younger but not now. I just experiment and fiddle with the parts and make sure I didn’t cut the wrong ones. Now I can complete four to five Gundams within a day,” said Yong Wen.
So far he has a vast collection of 102 Gundams, each fully fitted with their mobile suits and artfully painted. “I have to paint them myself which is part of the fun as I decide on the colours although some characters come with colours I should not change. But there are many choices which result in different, exciting effects. I also make sure I pose the Gundams to their best effect,” he said.