By Christopher Troy
Anyway, in celebration of the US’s birthday, I figured this week’s article would spotlight Gundam’s history in America, as it did not start off with Gundam Wing on Toonami. Oh no dear readers, the relationship goes back way farther than that…
Enter the Doozy Bots:
I’ll be honest- I never heard of the Doozy Bots until several years ago, at a Gundam fan panel at Otakon, where ironically, Loran was one of the speakers. The group managed to dig up the never aired pilot for the series, which is easily the worst Gundam-related idea for a series I’ve ever saw…and I’ve seen G-Savior.
Basically Sunrise’s pitch was the following: 5 ordinary, stereotypical American kids meet up with wacky mad-scientist Professor Doozy, who creates a small army of tiny robots. Tiny robots who want to take over the world and “destroy fun” However, luck was in “fun’s” favor, as the professor also created a machine that would transfer the kid’s brains into tiny bots to combat them. Bots that look a lot like the the RX-78-2, Guncannon, and a RGZ-91 Re-GZ, amongst other Gundam-mecha related series. To recap, Sunrise wanted to make a show where a crippled black kid could turn into a Guncannon, so he could fight a tiny Zaku who rode a mecha chicken that laid eggs that spawn more enemy units.
Needless to say, the show was never picked up, and nothing of value was lost.
Other Pre-Wing Projects:
Also worth noting that in September of 1990, Del Rey Books published 3 Mobile Suit Gundam novels, written by Yoshiyuki Tomino himself, and translated by Frederik Schodt. The books were then re-released with a more accurate translation in 2004, under the title Mobile Suit Gundam: Awakening, Escalation, Confrontation. Another fun fact/spoiler: Amuro dies via a Rick Dom bazooka. Further proof that Tomino may just be insane.
The original Gundam series also surpasses Wing as the first to be available (legally) in the US. Bandai brought over the original movie trilogy via VHS to the US in the later 90s, which a completely different voice actor cast than the one used for the MS Gundam run on Toonami post-Wing. I believe there may have been UC-related Gundam PC games released in the US pre-Wing as well, but my google-fu is weak, and wasn’t able to come up with anything.
Sy Mead also deserves being mentioned-Not only has the acclaimed designer/futurist/concept artist of Tron/Blade Runner/Aliens fame actually designed a Gundam used for a series (Turn A, which never made it to the States, legally), but according to an article shown to me via Loran’s google-fu, he worked on a propoed Lion Gates’ live action U.S Gundam film that never saw the light of day.
Toonami and Gundam Wing
Allow me to be blunt: Most of Gundam’s success in American is due to Wing. It had great ratings, printed money for Bandai, and brought the franchise into the mainstream. Come Christmas season 2000, you couldn’t walk into a Toy’s R Us/Walmart/Target without finding Gunpla, Action figures, apparel, video games, TCGs, etc. The anime scene had exploded in America, thanks to shows like Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z, and Wing debuted just in time to reap the benefits. The entire 52 episode run + movie (“Endless Waltz”) were some of the highest rated programs for Cartoon Network that year, and CN was eager for more from the franchise.
Mobile Suit Gundam
With Wing being the ratings monster it was, Bandai had to decide what entry in the franchise to bring over next. They decided to start at the beginning, and on July 23, 2001, the original series debuted on Toonami. Bandai made sure there were plenty of Gunpla, toys and video games (including the excellent Zeonic Front which was an early PS2 strategy-rpg) to be bought once the series debuted, in an attempt to catch lightning in a bottle. The show didn’t perform too badly, but it failed to do Wing numbers. It was pulled from Toonami after the 9/11 incident, but the final episode would be played that New Year’s Eve, and the show was given another chance on the adult swim programming block in 2002. This wouldn’t be the last time a UC show was played on Cartoon Network though….