Hollywood! Adapt This: MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM

     November 25, 2012


I have suggested some goofy properties for Hollywood! Adapt This, I’ll admit that. Some of them probably have no business being adapted at all besides my own personal desire to see them realized in live action. It’s even difficult to justify rebooting an old movie or series because the remakes rarely come close to matching or exceeding the original. One case where this isn’t true? Battlestar Galactica. It’s not the spaceships and Cylons and exploration of far-off worlds that make the show so great, it’s the quality of the relationships between the characters. This is necessary to any good story, but is often overlooked in order to bring “cool” things to life on screen; Transformers, for example. So how can we combine the awesome visual experience of giant robots duking it out with the rich character relationships and plots that make a movie worthwhile? Hit the jump to find out. Hollywood! Adapt this: Mobile Suit Gundam

mobile-suit-gundamWhile all of my suggestions for Hollywood! Adapt This come from a place of love and nostalgia, I have a special fondness for Mobile Suit Gundam. Though the franchise has been around in many different iterations since the original’s inception in 1979, I was first introduced to it via Mobile Suit Gundam Wing when Cartoon Network aired it in the early  2000s. Not only did it set off a particularly strong bit of fanaticism in me (confession: Yes, I built Gundam models and yes, I joined a text-based Gundam RPG with my high school friends), but it showed me that an animated series could have strong characters who deal with serious, real-world issues, but still look cool doing it. Plus: giant fighting robots!

What It’s About: 

The original Mobile Suit Gundam created by Yoshiyuki Tomino took place in a fictional universe in which the Earth Federation united not only the world’s continents, but space colonies and lunar settlements as well. One nation, the Principality of Zeon, declared independence from the Federation and launched an all-out war. Their superior military technology, in the form of giant humanoid mobile suits, allowed them to sway the fight in their favor, until the Federation responded with a creation of their own. Series protagonist Amuro Ray, a citizen  who stumbles upon the Federation’s mobile suit, the RX-78 Gundam, manages to pilot the MS and defend the Federation base and its inhabitants from the Zeon separatists.

Originally called Gunboy, Mobile Suit Gundam was actually not all that popular when it came out of the gates. It wasn’t until the Japanese toy company Bandai picked up the rights to Gundam’s mechas that the show really took off. Since its initial series, Gundam has grown into a major franchise that has spawned numerous series spin-offs, animated movies and video games, along with toys, models, comics, mangas and novels. Believe it or not, there actually was a live-action adaptation attempted back in 2000, with director Graeme Campbell’s G-Saviour. The Canadian/Japanese production was reportedly not well-received by creator Tomino, who was not involved with the film. So when I say this property should be adapted, let me stress that it should be adapted well. 

gundam-statueOne of the coolest things about Gundam is that the series has always incorporated existing or theoretically possible science into its writing, including Lagrange points, O’Neill colonies and nuclear thermal rockets. It’s also credited with being the first story to move from the “super robots” genre to the “real robots” genre, because it portrayed the mecha as military vehicles and weapons of war, rather than autonomous robotic beings or indestructible machines of limitless power. The mobile suits were piloted into battle, but they were also repaired in hangars, overhauled by mechanics and upgraded by their pilots. This aspect not only let viewers become more attached to the pilots and their mecha (especially when either/both were injured in combat), but it lent a sense of reality and possibility to the series. The fact that a 1:1 scale model of the RX-78 Gundam was actually built (as a non-functional statute, unfortunately) is a clear testament to the level of cultural significance that Gundam has achieved.

How Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?

Although Gundam has seen its fair share of animated movies (with more on the way), few technical hurdles exist to keep the mobile suits from appearing in a live-action film. The Transformers franchise has been wildly successful at bringing larger-than-life fighting robots to the screen, but lacks the depth of plot or character development that many fans crave. Shawn Levy’s Real Steel brought a bit more of a human element into the mix, featuring the original robot boxing creations controlled by their flesh-and-blood partners. Perhaps the most exciting development for mecha fans is Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim which will put pilots in control of massive battle suits called Jaegers in order to defend the world from the monstrous creatures known as Kaiju. But while Pacific Rim sounds like a fun film, I don’t yet have a great sense of the characters who are piloting these behemoths.

The Gundam franchise seems to have a lot in common with Transformers, Voltron, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Robotech, etc, but I’ve always found the political conflicts and personal character struggles to be a fascinating backdrop against which these mobile suit battles play out. Take Mobile Suit Gundam Wing for instance. Rather than focus on a heroic defender of the Federation in a lone Gundam against rogue separatists, Gundam Wing featured five pilots (all with great names: Heero Yuy, Duo Maxwell, Trowa Barton, Quatre Raberba Winner and Chang Wufei) who each had their own customized Gundam mobile suit and were unaware of each other initially. Their missions were to seek and destroy the legions of mobile suits under the command of the tyrannical Alliance and thereby free the colonies from oppression.

gundam-wingThis conflict sets up an incredibly complex weaving of plots, backstories and character motivations, along with real-world political maneuvering, betrayals, shifting allegiances and aspects of guerilla/terrorist warfare seen from both sides of the equation. And since the series happens to focus on the young pilots, it also has “coming of age” elements at the core of each character, who matures with each and every decision he makes, both in and out of the cockpit of his mobile suit. Gundam explores the stark realities of war, oppression and tyranny in a very serious way. It just happens to do it with giant fighting robots as weapons of war, in the place of more conventional tanks, jet fighters or battleships.

The Final Word:

A well-planned adaptation of Gundam for a live-action TV series or feature film would be a welcome addition in my book. A television series, much like Battlestar Galactica, would allow the characters room to breathe, grow and establish themselves while providing great episodic action with mobile suit battles and intrigue via political maneuverings. I’d also love to see Gundam as either stand-alone or companion films to the TV series, which would allow the budget for some spectacular battles and the exploration of the various colonies.

The series provides a rich environment for solid storytelling across the board. Gundam combines the rebellious freedom-fighter aspects of Star Wars with the brash military personas of Battlestar Galactica. It incorporates real-world political conflicts and uses  battles between characters to make commentary on the nature of war, the costs and benefits of pacifism and the evolution of humanity by natural or technological means. It’s an incredibly mature series that deserves equal maturity in the creative development process. But with the gritty and realistic tone that’s commonplace in today’s films, along with the precedent set by Transformers and the hopeful success of Pacific Rim, I think it’s not a question of if Gundam live-action adaptation will be produced, but rather when. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the look and tone of the series, here’s a fight clip from Mobile Suit Gundam Wing which shows the mobile suits, the way they fight and the philosophical debate that rages between the combatants:

Make sure to get caught up on our previous installments of Hollywood! Adapt This and tune in next week when we follow the military commandos Bill “Mad Dog” Rizer and Lance “Scorpion” Bean as they attempt to save the world from the evil Red Falcon Organization!


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