The internet has been set ablaze with the new that Mobile Suit Gundam will finally be getting a live action adaptation thanks to a partnership between Legendary Pictures and Sunrise. And while it may not be the first live action Gundam film, as so many articles like to claim, it also won’t likely be based on any existing Gundam timeline. I have my reasons of course, and they relate to how Gundam as a franchise is perceived in different countries.
When looking at the Gundam franchise as a whole, there are two places that you can call a beginning. The first is the most obvious one and the literal beginning of the Gundam franchise: Mobile Suit Gundam 0079. It’s where everything began almost 40 years ago in Japan. And while the series had a rocky start, it found its fans and would go on to build an empire. To say that 0079 holds a special place in fans hearts is an understatement. So it’s not not hard to believe that the first big screen adaptation of Gundam(G-Saviour was a TV film, like something you’d catch on the Sci-fi channel one Saturday afternoon.) might go back to that very beginning. But here’s the thing, the Universal Century timeline, while it has its fans around the world, is the most popular in Japan. It’s popularity is lower when compared to the United States where the alternate timeline series tend to reign supreme. Looking at it that way, a live action 0079 film would make a big splash in Japan, and I don’t doubt that Gundam fans and even anime fans in general would go to see it, but it wouldn’t pique EVERYONE’s interest. And that brings us to Gundam’s second beginning...
In the year 2000, Gundam Wing graced US airwaves, airing an edited cut during the day on Cartoon Network, and an unedited broadcast during Toonami’s Midnight Run segment. While it was not the first English release of a Gundam anime(The MSG Trilogy films, War in the Pocket, and Stardust Memory released two years prior.), it is, indisputably, the most popular Gundam show in the United States for multiple reasons. The first is that it was the first Gundam show to air on television, and thus be exposed to a much, much wider audience. The second is the result of that broadcast: The creation of an entirely new generation of Gundam fans unfamiliar with the original Universal Century timeline, and who may not have even been into anime in general prior to Gundam Wing. And thus, all these years later, they still look fondly back at Gundam Wing as the beginning of their journey and it was the release that propelled Gundam to popularity in the United States, even if that popularity would fizzle out after Bandai and Sunrise made some odd choices to follow-up Gundam Wing. Even still, the Gundam fandom is still strong in the West, and while the Universal Century timeline now has fans, most still put Wing on a pedestal, meaning it would resonate far more with western fans than a live action adaptation of 0079 would.
But those are the only two series that would likely be on the negotiating table for a live action adaptation. No other Gundam series honestly holds a candle to Wing and 0079, both in terms of popularity and recognizability. SEED, 00, IBO, certainly not AGE, and a bunch of UC shows, none of them would really strike that chord with the fandom. But that’s the third reason I believe this film won’t be based on anything that currently exists: It needs to reach an audience that goes beyond just Gundam fans.
One thing UC and AU fans can agree on is that Gundam is GOOD. If you make a Gundam movie, a lot of them will go see it because it’s more Gundam. Heck, how many Gundam fans went to go see Ready Player One just because the RX-78-2 shows up in the movie? I really wanted to, for other reasons as well, but I really wanted to see Gundam in a movie. Sadly, didn’t get the chance, but that’s besides the point. Legendary Pictures and Sunrise need to make a Gundam movie that will attract not only fans of Gundam, not only fans of anime, but also the masses. And since Gundam already effectively resets itself with every new AU installment, the best option in my opinion would be to create a new AU and set this live action film in it. New factions, new war, new characters, and brand new mobile suit and ship designs. Stuff fans have never seen before, and a premise that’s more inviting to the average moviegoer because prior knowledge is not required and nostalgia isn’t the main driving factor.
It would also help the story flow better. The story has to fit within a reasonable runtime of less than three hours, heck, probably a little less than two hours. If they were basing it on a pre-existing story, a lot of the plot may get botched in an endeavor to speed things up. Frameworks are nice for speeding up production, but then you have to trim the fat. Only so much can fit, and some things will suffer. And that’s a recipe for ticking off the fans. Starting from scratch would solve that issue. While there’s no guarantee it won’t still have problems, there’s less of a chance of it. It’ll make the movie fresh for everyone.
Only time will tell which route they ultimately go, and I honestly wish them luck in this venture. Gundam is one series that deserves a good live action adaptation, and if anyone in Hollywood can pull it off, it’s Legendary Pictures, but previous adaptations, both of Gundam and other anime, have notoriously been flops, so one needs to remain on the side of caution going into this. Hopefully, with Sunrise co-producing the film, including writing the story and presumably providing the mech designs, things will turn out much better.