May the curse of bad Hollywood anime adaptations finally be lifted.
The folks at Legendary Entertainment have been hard at work mining for the best of big creature IP. In the last five years alone, the company has had a hand in reanimating Godzilla, King Kong, and the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park in entirely new franchises. Not to mention that Legendary is also the production house behind Guillermo del Toro and Travis Beacham’s giant robot vs. kaiju movie, Pacific Rim, as well as its sequel.
Whether these high-octane cinematic romps have featured creatures classic or modern, they have been warmly received in general with perhaps the exception of Pacific Rim: Uprising (an unfair assessment, because that movie is fun). Now, Legendary may have landed upon one of its biggest coups with which to expand its slate, hitting the jackpot in the business of giant robots.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, an announcement was made at Anime Expo 2018 that the first live-action Gundam movie is currently in the works. There was even a visual teaser made available too. Legendary will be partnering with Sunrise, the studio responsible for producing the premiere Gundam series back in 1979, in order to make this gargantuan challenge a reality.
Concrete details about the potential plot of the live-action project are scant. However, that first Gundam anime, titled Mobile Suit Gundam, would be an ideal story to adapt for the big screen. The show basically provides a streamlined version of the sprawling parallel universes that eventually make up the Gundam metaseries.
Mobile Suit Gundam is set in the main Universal Century timeline in which most of the metaseries is based. In this era, Earth has grown so overpopulated that space colonies have been established by an organization called the Earth Federation, putting factions on the moon and beyond.
Eventually, the colonies rise up against the Federation under the guidance of a nation called the Principality of Zeon. They fight for their independence from the Earth Federation in a conflict known as the One Year War. The use of humanoid weapons known as mobile suits make for a prime tactical advantage on either side.
The primary narrative of Mobile Suit Gundam picks up when a skirmish breaks out on one of the colonies while the Federation’s newest mobile suit, the RX-78 Gundam, is being retrieved from a secret research base. During the battle, the suit is unseasonably deployed, piloted out of sheer desperation by protagonist Amuro Ray, an untrained civilian teenager living in the colony. When the dust settles, Amuro is tasked to deliver the RX-78 Gundam to the Federation and thus begins his hero’s journey. However, he also meets and often faces off with his archnemesis Zeon Lieutenant Commander Char Aznable in the process.
These names are important because Amuro and Char make up the classic protagonist/antagonist dynamic that propels the original series forward. Amuro encompasses the core conflict of values in Mobile Suit Gundam as an adolescent with moral quandaries over the war in his wake. Char is his hostile counterpart. However, he has, amusingly enough, actually gained more traction as a fan favorite, even surpassing Amuro in top 10 popular character lists in the past. Char has his own archetype that appears throughout the more tangential Gundam properties too.
The classic Mobile Suit Gundam series essentially put down the most definable roots associated with the franchise, and it makes sense to adapt this particular anime over other stories that have taken inspiration from it. Of course, the fact that Hollywood has never had the best track record when it comes to translating beloved international IP for western audiences is a legitimate concern. We don’t need any more Ghost in the Shells or Death Notes or Dragonball Evolutions.
In this case, perhaps the argument of making a Gundam movie from scratch could be entertained. This would certainly result in fewer continuity headaches. The iconic mecha designs in the series can be paired with concepts of political and social unrest in virtually any configuration in order to keep the spirit of Gundam alive without ruining established lore.
The fact of the matter is that as a series that spans almost 40 years, Gundam has produced way too much material to be distilled into a single ideal adaptation. In animated form, there are 44 iterations across television series, films, and original video animations. The massive media franchise further comprises manga, novels, video games, hobbyist models, and other merchandise (both licensed and otherwise). And this multi-billion-dollar enterprise is only just making a leap into the live-action movie business. Filmmakers truly have their work cut out for them so as to make sure the upcoming film lives up to that enduring legacy — or at least doesn’t taint it.
For obvious reasons, Sunrise’s involvement in the project isn’t worrisome. They made the original and would know it inside and out. Meanwhile, Legendary itself has a fascinating track record with monster movies, but we can’t ignore the fact that Hollywood as a whole has sucked at delivering quality anime adaptations. All things considered, keeping a Gundam movie simple should be the way to go.