This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mobile Suit Gundam's premiere on Japanese television. Throughout the next year, animation studio Sunrise is celebrating the milestone in a major way. Five new Gundam anime projects were announced (Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin - Advent of the Red Comet is now wrapping up its run on Toonami), as well as big merchandising stunts (Gundam vs. Hello Kitty being perhaps the craziest one) and a slow trickle of news about the live-action movie in development by Legendary Pictures.
At Anime Boston 2019, CBR had the opportunity to talk to producer Naohiro Ogata about the future of the Gundam franchise. In particular, we were curious about Sunrise's plans to expand the popularity of Gundam internationally, especially in anticipation of the Hollywood film adaptation.
The international forecast for the iconic mecha franchise, a househ0ld name in Japan for decades, is looking bright. Ogata pointed to the sales of Gunpla, the Gundam model kits, as proof of that growth. "We've just surpassed 500 million individual Gundam model kits sales," he said. "The trend that we're seeing for 2019 is that overseas sales will finally exceed domestic sales."
Sunrise is actively working to please those international fans. When talking about the 40th-anniversary celebration, Ogata noted, "Most of the special projects and titles that we're releasing in commemoration of this 40th anniversary definitely have a heavy bent towards overseas audience and sales, not just domestic."
The Chinese market is looking particularly influential. Because Gundam does well in China, Sunrise is developing a series set there. Ogata also considered, but decided against, setting the new City Hunter movie in Shanghai, proving the Chinese market is of increasing importance to anime as a whole.
It's not only China where Gundam's popularity is growing, however. Here in the United States, Gundam merchandise sales are increasing as anime grows in mainstream acceptance. "In terms of the 2018 fiscal year in the U.S.," Ogata said, "we have seen the most Gunpla being sold ever in the U.S., so I feel that we're definitely progressing favorably in terms of our overseas reception for Gundam right now."
It seems fitting, then, that Legendary Pictures, a Chinese-owned and American-based studio, is producing the live-action Gundam movie. Ogata noted this could be the start of more international Gundam productions. Nevertheless, Sunrise will maintain creative influence over such expansion. In terms of the movie, Ogata explained that Sunrise is "doing a partnership development with Legendary Pictures where we're going into it and developing this Hollywood movie together."
The Legendary film won't be the first Hollywood production to feature a Gundam Mobile Suit. Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One included an extended cameo from the RX-78-2 that for many fans was the highlight of the movie. Upon hearing of the scene's positive reception, Ogata wished to thank the fans for their enthusiastic reaction. He noted he had some involvement in the film's production, but much of the final product came as a surprise.
"In production," he explained, "they don't film things sequentially the way they show up on screen, so I only got to see the splices of where the Gundam would come out, and I was like, 'That's good, that's cool,' but I had no idea how they were gonna use those scenes in the final film, so when I finally watched it on screen in the entirety, I said, 'Wow, I'm really thankful that they used the Gundam in the most dramatic scenes.'"
Before our time was up, Ogata got to answer one more question that's on the minds of many hardcore Gundam fans: Will the Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt streaming/movie series continue following the second season's cliffhanger?
"What I can say is that part of the reason that you haven't seen more Thunderbolt yet is because we're waiting for more the original manga story to be developed," he said. "We would like to do more, but we don't want to do it without having more material to build on. Part of it is that the creator [Yasuo Ohtagaki] unfortunately is currently having tendonitis, so we haven't seen a lot of new manga as of yet, but as soon as we have more manga, I hope that we can announce more about Thunderbolt."