U.C. 2013: What’s Next in the Gundam Universe?
It’s been several months since it was announced that Bandai Entertainment would cease operations in North America. I would usually have a year-end, or year-beginning–which occurred before the end of the first week of January–post about where the Gundam franchise would head in the next year (for example: U.C. 2011: The Second “One Year War”). It seems that because I was late in praising the company, this happens.
When the year began, I expected many good things to happen. Most of that was true… But the fact that as soon as the first business day of January hit, Bandai would limit their reach. I thought that Bandai was doing well, considering they scaled back their operations around the late-2000s, but it seemed that it wasn’t enough. Actually, it was partially because of the popularity of Toonami that Bandai cashed in on the Gundam franchise outside of Japan, according to Topless Robot:
Bandai Japan wanted Bandai Entertainment to get the original Mobile Suit Gundam series on Cartoon Network, despite the fact it was 20 years old and appeared boring for younger American audiences. Cartoon Network refused.
To make this argument short: this led Bandai Japan to bribery, so to speak. They wanted Bandai Entertainment on the other side of the world to hold the rights to Gundam, and no one else, creating a real-life arms race–if Bandai actually held mobile weapons. Instead, it was a bidding war: This led to slightly higher prices from Bandai–and the start of a business practice that would be used by the very few Japan-based anime companies: For example: Aniplex’s limited complete series releases on Blu-ray for $500. This is also another argument of how series are obtained by companies like FUNimation. While it’s important to learn the ropes of how the American anime industry works, it will give you a well deserved headache.
Digressing from the ways of business, the hope of seeing renewed interest of Gundam in North America has been reduced to levels of the unknown. I thought Gundam Unicorn was doing well–before factoring that Blu-ray is still new to the market and there aren’t many willing to make the switch. It seems that Gundam Unicorn will hardly see a release on R1 DVD, with at least one volume released before the news broke. Unicorn is still being released, such as Episode 5, via The Right Stuf, instead of the now-closed online Bandai Store.
What’s Next After AGE?
The most recent Gundam series, Mobile Suit Gundam AGE, recently concluded. When AGE was announced, another announcement was made of the potential series to follow: a reboot of Mobile Suit Gundam through means of the most recent The Origin story. It’s thought of as Dragonball Kai, except that it seemed like it was being reanimated from the very beginning. There hasn’t been any further announcements since it was made in May of 2011. Though it would make sense since AGE was the focus.
Unicorn is still going strong, with five episodes in. The next episode is the sixth, which will not be released until next Spring. There will be a seventh episode, where the sixth was originally said to be the finale (predicted, according to the pacing of the novels). It’s both good and bad: 1) there will be more classic Gundam to go around for another year, and 2) that there will be a limited reach. If distributors such as The Right Stuf release the sixth episode, then it’s good times. But I have a feeling that this was an emergency operation, since there’s no other place to buy it, with the exception of Japan-based stores such as CDJapan–for about 25% more compared to the US Retail price for importing.
Keeping Up Hope
Bandai officially announced the discontinuation of previous titles in September. It reminded me of how there’s not much I have from Bandai since the announcement of Unicorn: The Big O S2 and Cowboy Bebop to name a few. These series are examples of higher priced items from Bandai: the complete series DVDs average $45, where FUNimation discounts their titles them for $25-$30. There were retailers that were doing this, but at times, it seems like they’re not allowed to do this–going back to Bandai’s bidding practices…
If Bandai learned their lesson, if bidding is not the way to go, then maybe someone else will take care of Gundam. I’m hoping for such after Vertical Publishing announced their plans of releasing The Origin this past summer. It’s still property of Bandai. But now I think about it, so is the novelization of the 0079 story, originally printed about a decade ago, re-released this past Spring. Then again, Bandai never held anything for printed works of Gundam, as there were TokyoPop and Viz releases of Gundam titles; Viz released parts of The Origin before shelving later releases in the mid-to-late-2000s, which was finished in Gundam Ace in 2011. Bandai’s section of print publications also folded when the announcement was made in January. But there were very few titles of Gundam, mostly of Gundam 00–the manga, the novelizations, and the spin-off series.
Will We Ever See Gundam Again?
When we had discussion about this at a Scenic City Anime & More meeting when the story broke, we had a long discussion of the above on this matter: forcing Gundam on Turner Broadcasting, instead of just waiting and see how it turns out like with Wing. Mobile Suit Gundam wasn’t boring at all–it helped me become the fan I am today, despite Gundam Wing being my entry into the franchise.
Hearing of Bandai doing such things gave me mixed feelings, undoubtedly harsh ones. “Does this means we’ll never see Gundam again,” I questioned. We will–only we’ll have to pay the import prices. In this economy, the chances of that happening is very low. I hope everyone, fans and distributors, learn a lesson from this. For now, we can sit back and wait: if Bandai will give in and let someone else take better care of Gundam, despite being a core franchise of the company.