How Do You Reimagine The Most Popular Franchise in the Country?
The Gundam franchise is probably one of the biggest cultural exports in Japan, a stark representation of everything everyone knows about anime, manga, and celestial socio-political struggles.
While maybe not so much that last one, Japan has certainly embraced Gundam for that reason, erecting life-sized statues at local malls and featuring them on postage stamps. In the late 80s, a sketch made its way to a chief executive at Bandai, the company that produces Gundam toys, of a classic Gundam drawn so that its body was twice the height of its head.
This sort of chibi design was a far cry from the normally realistic humanoid proportions of most Gundams but seemed to present an interesting marketing opportunity.
Bandai made a series of comics featuring these “super-deformed” Gundams, and after they proved popular created a line of Gundams specifically for gachapon machines. These toys were designed to fit on the eraser end of a pencil and as a result, caught on hugely with Japanese schoolchildren. Because of the initial audience, the first manga and anime to feature the SD Gundams were more comic and light-hearted, separate from the stories of realistic robots and the political struggles and losses of the people piloting them.
The SD Gundams were usually just chibi versions of mainstream Gundams but eventually spun off into three distinct styles of Gundam. SD Gundam Command Chronicles featured modern/futuristic military-style Gundams split into land, sea, and air divisions.
These Gundams are usually depicted as being trigger-happy and militaristic for comedic effect, possibly to parodize international stereotypes of America. There is also SD Gundam Sengokuden, which takes place in a world reminiscent of the Sengoku or Feudal era of Japan and features the samurai and ninja-type Gundams of the Musha Gundam line.
Another series is SD Gundam Gaiden, which takes place in the European medieval fantasy setting of the Knight Gundam series. Soon after, other styles and lines of SD Gundam would emerge.
SD Gundam Takes Off in Animation
The first animated iterations of the SD Gundam line were a series of shorts and parodies that usually came with DVDs of feature-length Gundam movies. These were eventually known as Mobile Suit SD Gundam. The shorts would parody events from the mainstream Gundam franchise and would eventually include crossovers with other Gundam lines.
One of the newest is SD Gundam World Sangoku Soketsuden, a series where the characters and events are loosely based on the historical Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This is similar to another line, BB Senshi Sangokuden, which was a much more faithful adaptation of the story.
In 2004 SD Gundam Force was released in American on Cartoon Network. The SD here stood for “Superior Defender” and ran for about 26 episodes. The show features heroes based on the three main SD Gundam lines.
It largely follows the adventures of a boy named Shute who lives in the futuristic city of Neotopia. One day Shute stumbles upon the locked-up body of Captain Gundam, part of the Super Dimensional Guard that seeks to defend the world from the evil interdimensional Dark Axis.
Shute’s friendship reactivates Captain Gundam’s Soul Core, which is the secret to beating back the Dark Axis. As Captain Gundam represents the SD Command Chronicles line, Shute and Captain Gundam (Or just “Captain”) are joined by Bakunetsumaru from the Sengokuden line, and Zero from the Gaiden line.
The heroes would often fight against the Zako-type mobile suits present in mainstream Gundam anime. While it did relatively well in America it was Japan’s least-watched Gundam series, and many Gundam fans were less-than-impressed by its lighthearted content.
SD Gundam Generations Explodes in Popularity
Where the SD Gundam line has really taken off is in video games. SD Gundam Force had three different games released on its own, but there has been a huge amount of turn-based strategy and brawler games released based just on the SD Gundam franchise.
SD Gundam Capsule Fighter is an online game where up to 12 players take control of various SD-style Gundams for team deathmatches, as well as co-op games with up to four players.
Players can either purchase or randomly receive hundreds of different types of playable Gundams (The name “Capsule Fighters” referring to the random aspect of it), each with its own strengths and weaknesses arranged in a sort of rock-paper-scissors style of supremacy.
The main series of games featuring SD Gundam is the SD Gundam G Generation series. Bandai does have an A – F Generation, representing Gundam games that cover the general Gundam timeline. G Generation, however, is reserved for games that deal with the Gundam timeline that specifically make use of the SD Gundam style. This includes games like SD Gundam G Generation Overworld, released for the PSP.
Some of the more recent iterations in the G Generation series include SD Gundam G Generation Genesis. Genesis, like most G Generation games, is a turn-based strategy game where player-controlled squads of Gundam fighters must negotiate skirmishes with various enemies.
Genesis allows players to be in control of important battles from the various anime and manga of the Gundam universe and distills the conflicts down to a few pivotal story missions. As a result, there are many missions for the players to take on.
This was followed up by SD Gundam Generation G Cross Rays, which covered a smaller amount of stories and iterations from the Gundam timeline.
While SD Gundam doesn’t generally bring anything new to the mainstream Gundam timeline, it does bring a different array of circumstances with which to present the Gundam franchise. While it is a way for Bandai to ask collectors if they want something they’ve bought already but much smaller, it does allow for a new way to present the world-famous robot space opera.
This opens up Gundam to more demographics who are less interested in socio-political colonial/imperialist struggles, but more interested in how all these robots can be friends.