Cartoon Network and Sega Dreamcast are bringing Gundam Wing to America from Japan where it is already a smash success. Jacquie Kubin reports.
Gaming studios have a history of borrowing from established cartoon properties that first jumped from the funny page to the comic book to the silver screen and then on to Saturday morning cartoons to create instantly branded video games. Since its earliest days, game developers have turned to established cartoon characters that already share a history with the consumer.
"Superman for the Atari 2600 was probably the first branded cartoon character turned video adventure game," says Jayson Hill, manager of public relations for Hasbro Interactive. "By the time of the cartridge's 1978 release, Superman had been in comic strips, books and in various cartoon incarnations for many years."
The present day animation bastion, The Cartoon Network has looked far East from its Atlanta home to Japan, importing anime programming for its after school Toonami time slot.
"Toonami combines the word cartoon with the Japanese word Tsunami, meaning tidal wave," explains Sean Akins, Senior Writer/Producer for Cartoon Networks Production Development. "Three years ago we started showing anime not to get on or start any bandwagon, but looking at all the shows that are out there, these were the shows that I thought had the best stories, looked the best, were the most interesting."
For 1999, the network reported being in nearly 60 million households with its all-animation programming being the second highest-rated basic cable channel. And it is packed with anime shows like Thundercats, Ronin Warriors and Dragonball Z.
A Japanese Hit
The latest anime hit for the network has been Gundam Wing, a television series based on the extremely large, multi-layered Gundam Universe that is more than twenty years old. In Japan the universe includes eight television series, eight feature films, four direct to video releases, a toy and model line and numerous video game releases. The Cartoon Network is broadcasting the show as pure to its original Japanese showings as it can.
"Working with these shows is an honor and dream come true and I feel Gundam Wing is the first time that anyone has been able to take an imported anime show and really do it right," says Akins. "You read stories about the different anime properties that, while huge hits in Japan don't perform as well in the U.S. The reason is they get cut to pieces and they make the plot lines goofy. They underestimate the audience, the kids, who are sophisticated enough to follow a story with multiple characters and in-depth plot lines."
Created by Yoshiyuki Tomino, who worked with Dr. Osamu Tezuka on the development of the cult classic Tetsuwan Atom (or Mighty Atom, which became Astroboy when licensed by NBC), Gundam Wing takes place in the future when mankind has moved into space, establishing five space colonies that have evolved into their own nations, or countries. The tale begins during a time of revolution in space and on Earth with each faction having built its own robot "suit," a giant mobile weapon that is piloted by legions of young teenage boys. Made of a new material Gundamian, the Gundam warriors are the dominant fighters in this battle.
The show revolves around the lives of more than thirty continuing characters, almost forty different types of mobile weapons and numerous vehicles bringing children back every day to find out what happens next.
"These cartoons are continuing sagas. Its an epic, sweeping tale and it is a great show that is very complicated and if you miss one you can get totally lost," says Akins. "It is a serial, which is against the grain of the traditional thought process of children's programming that normally you want heroes within a whole story that you can tell in twenty-two minutes and that ends every day."
The Cartoon Network is working with the original films imported from Japan. Though some changes need to be made for the American youth audience, including cutting more violent or adult scenes, adding or subtracting vocal tracks, and re-laying the vocal tracks from Japanese to English. For any paint work needed done, the Atlanta-based group uses Discreet Logics smoke*, flame* and flint* softwares. Tracking is accomplished using a motion picture compositor that is of the same size and power as the kind used in Hollywood on major motion pictures. Shows are mixed on a Fairlight, a sophisticated digital audio workstation, which is the standard production tool in its arena.
Bring on the Game
Coming to the United States the show brings with it all the merchandising, film and video elements already in place in Japan. The universe has regularly supported two to three new video game releases per year in Japan over its two decade history.
The television network is working with Bandai America Incorporated to create a new line of models, toys, figures and to release an adventure video game for the new Sega Dreamcast, "Gundam Side Story 0079."
The video game story begins in the year 0079, making it a pre-quell to the television series and, like the cartoon series, is being transported to the United States from its original Japanese release form with minor changes including English voice-overs and some scene changes for the American audience.
"Gundam is very successful in Japan and each time a new system is released, Bandai Japan leverages the introduction of these new platforms by launching a Gundam game for that system," says Ken Nakata, VP Electronics, Bandai America. "With Gundam's tremendous popularity, it is a guaranteed sale."
Cartoon Network and Sega are confident that these Gundam warriors will make a killing in the States. © Bandai America, Inc. A view from inside the battle mech in "Gundam Side Story 0079." © Bandai America, Inc.
This Dreamcast title is a single player mission based 3D shooter. As battle mech pilots, players don a virtual 50-ton mobile warrior suit. Player perspective is from within his mech, though players can switch into a first person sniping mode during battles.
At other times, visual obscurity, such as heavy fog, allows the player's vision field to be inside the battle mech only. Bandai America has included some marvelous fully voiced pre-mission briefings and gorgeous real-time cinematic movies that intersperse the missions.
"Sega's Dreamcast is a very user-friendly system on which to develop games and it was a simple decision for them to produce the game for the Dreamcast because of the ease of use for the developers," explains Nakata. "Because Dreamcast is so much more advanced than the existing platforms, it seems they can do so much more."
Anime often carries with it extremely violent scenarios and though the Cartoon Network series has been adapted for a youth audience, "Gundam Side Story 0079" is being released with an ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) rating of Teen with Animated Violence with a target audience age of 13-19.
"The Gundam saga is based on futuristic warfare and by its very nature, it is inherently violent," explains Nakata. "However, it is animated mobile suits that are under attack from animated robots and other mobile suits, which while relatively violent, is not the same as seeing violence acted out on human beings."
While previously popular with a cult audience and college students, Japanese anime (animated cartoons) and manga (comic books) are gaining increased popularity in the United States with a more mainstream and ever younger audience, as proven by the continuing popularity of Sailor Moon, Princess Mononoke and Pokemon.
"Gundam has always had a strong following in the States whether it be the snap together model kits, collectible cards, videos or wall scrolls," reports Nakata. And surely Bandai America and the Cartoon Network are looking for Gundam Wing to reach tsunami levels of popularity here in the United States.
More scenes from "0079!" © Bandai America, Inc.
Gundam Wing can be seen weekdays at 5:30 pm (EST) during Toonami (4:00 to 6:00 pm nightly.) The show also re-broadcasts uncut each evening at Midnight. Saturday morning cartoon fans can catch Gundam Wing at 10:30 and 11:00 am.
A Washington, DC-based freelance journalist, Jacquie enjoys writing about the electronic entertainment and edutainment mediums, including the Internet. She is a frequent contributor to the Washington Times and Krause Publication magazines. She has won the 1998 Certificate of Award granted by the Metropolitan Area Mass Media Committee of the American Association of University Women. Jacquie is a fan of animation and video games!