Japanese kids are allowed to pilot sections of the life-sized Gundam in Yokohama

Gundam is one of those franchises I always thought should be bigger- no pun intended. In its native Japan, Gundam is a massive property that boasts no shortage of fans. In America, Gundam received a brief spike in popularity in the early 2000s thanks to model kits. Despite the number of model kits sold, Gundam never reached the insane levels of fan fervor that IPs like DragonballPokemon, or Yugi-Oh garnered in the same era. 

What's not to love about a story of giant war robots that surreptitiously serve as a poignant anti-war allegory? You get to have your cake and eat it too. And since Americans are obsessed with keeping the wheels of its war machine freshly lubricated with the blood of brown people, you'd think that Gundam would be a massive hit in the States. 

I guess I'm miffed about Gundam not being a cultural institution in America because it deprives me of awesome experiences. Take the life-sized Gundam in Yokohama, for example. If the Gundam franchise had taken root in America years ago, I might've been able to pilot one as a kid. Yokohama's Gundam base offers youth robotics classes and even allows kids enrolled in the program to operate the life-sized robot. Sometimes life just isn't fair. 

As reported by Anime News Network, Yokohama's Gundam Base, which is a store and museum dedicated entirely to Bandai Namco's popular sci-fi anime franchise, has been hosting robotics classes for elementary and middle school-age children ever since last November. Kids got to learn about engineering and mechanics by studying the venue's 59-foot tall RX-78-2 Gundam statue, which features robotically powered limbs that are capable of a wide range of movement. On June 21, the students enrolled in the program were allowed to control the massive robot's hand, which houses 12 motors that allow for independent movement of each of the robot's fingers. According to the report, over 1,400 children have taken part in Gundam Base's educational program.

The RX-78-2 installation originally opened in 2020. In addition to being able to move, the 18-meter tall mobile suit's eyes and vents light up, and it is powered entirely by renewable energy, which is provided by a wind turbine located nearby. The statue was always intended to be a temporary installation and was originally planned to close last March; however, the Gundam Base's managers have decided to keep the statue open for another year. The decision was made with international Gundam fans in mind, as since the statue opened just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns, relatively few fans outside of Japan have been able to travel and see the iconic original mobile suit for themselves. The statue is currently closed while technicians perform the required maintenance that will be needed to keep the giant robot's machinery functioning for the additional year. The installation is scheduled to reopen to the public on July 16.

The Yokohama statue is just one of several life-sized Gundam statues that Bandai Namco has erected throughout Japan. A RX-0 Unicorn Gundam has been built in Tokyo, which is capable of transforming between the mobile suit's "Unicorn" and "Destroy" modes, and the country's newest 1:1 scale mecha, a newly redesigned version of Amuro's final mobile suit, the Nu Gundam, was put together in Fukuoka this year.