Gundam plastic models gaining traction among overseas fans

Overseas sales of plastic models featuring robots and their armor in the popular Japanese sci-fi animated series “Mobile Suit Gundam” are gaining traction and proving a boon to Japan’s efforts to promote its pop culture abroad.

Bandai Co., the manufacturer of the plastic models known as “Gunpla,” said that the number of shipments of Gunpla in fiscal 2015 totaled around 14.4 million units. The overseas market, mostly in Asia, accounted for about 30 percent of the total sales.

Noting the commercial potential of the Gunpla market, a Bandai official said overseas sales “could surpass domestic sales in the future.”

Drawing on the popularity of the anime series, available on television and through online broadcast, buying and collecting “Gunpla” — a term that mixes the words “Gundam” and “plastic model” — has taken root among enthusiasts over the years.

Bandai, a unit of Bandai Namco Holdings Inc., says “Gunpla” refers to the plastic models depicting any of the robots or battleships from the Gundam series.

Since the original Gundam television series was first aired from 1979 to 1980, the animation has spawned into a successful franchise including sequels, spinoffs and video games. The story revolves around the giant robots — which are known as “mobile suits” and carry the name Gundam — fighting wars in space and on Earth.

Among those who have become smitten by the iconic robot character after watching the animated series is Jiang Ding-wei, a 20-year-old university student from Taiwan.

Visiting the Yodobashi Camera electronics store in Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics district in late August, Jiang said while he can buy Gunpla products in Taiwan, Japan has a better collection. He plans to buy a model that cannot be bought in Taiwan as a souvenir for a friend.

Since around 2000, Bandai expanded its overseas operations and global fan base by allowing fans abroad to watch the series online. It has also pitched its Gunpla products abroad and organized Gunpla model-making contests.

In July, around 35,000 fans visited the Gunpla Expo 2016 in South Korea over a five-day period.

Bandai is expanding the overseas markets for Gunpla to 14 countries and territories: South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, United States, Canada, France and Italy.

More than 400 million plastic models, in total, have been sold inside and outside of Japan.


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