The blurred line between doujin and professional projects in the ‘80s were highlighted in the strange circumstance of Pony Metal U-Gaim; a doujin parody tapped to be a Japanese PC game and adapted for animation as a promotional video before sliding away into obscurity.
Originally created as a parody of Heavy Metal L-Gaim and Creamy Mami, U-Gaim was the basis for a number of books, comics, and garage kits released between 1985 and 1988 by Fruit Company (later books use the name Fruit Company/Project-U). Tapping into the “robot girl” phenomenon of the era, there’s a lot in commonality between U-Gaim’s designs and contemporary doujin and semi-pro projects like Lumroid (a doujin series featuring a feminine robot clearly inspired by Lum of Urusei Yatsura) and Neko Mimi.
Best remembered as a 3-minute promotional video animated by Sunrise workhorse studio Anime R (Black Magic M-66, Armor Hunter Mellowlink), the common misconception has long been that U-Gaim was pitched as a TV show or OVA, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. A promotional blurb in the 1988 General Products catalog explains that the video was commissioned by ASCII, a publisher-turned-electronics firm that had teamed up with Microsoft to release the MSX, a personal computer standard that saw little success outside of Japan. ASCII was planning to release a game based on U-Gaim for the MSX2 and commissioned the promotional video in anticipation of that.
Information on the U-Gaim video game seems largely non-existent — outside of the General Products catalog, I haven’t been able to find any corroboration for such a game being released (although it’s mentioned here). Commissioning a 3-minute anime promo for an unfinished game may seem extravagant, but it wouldn’t have been out of character for ASCII. To celebrate one million MSX units sold, in 1985 ASCII commissioned a life-sized
brontosaurus ultrasaurus from Toho Studios (the people behind Godzilla) as the centerpiece for their “Dinosaur Land” event that began in December of that year. The massive brontosaurus had a price tag of 150 million yen and reportedly so angered Bill Gates that the ASCII/Microsoft partnership collapsed shortly thereafter. Maybe they didn’t make the best decisions.
How General Products came to be the exclusive retailer of the U-Gaim promotional video (three minutes for 3,500 yen!) is unclear, but the company clearly had some involvement in the U-Gaim “brand.” In addition to creating garage kits and posters based on U-Gaim, the U-chan character appeared in at least one Aim for the Top! Gunbuster comic in Cyber Comix, General Product’s ill-fated manga anthology published in partnership with Bandai.
U-Gaim publications ceased sometime in 1988. By then both L-Gaim and Creamy Mami were four years old and most fans had no doubt moved on to new things or at least parodies of new things. While rough-around-the-edges doujin goods had helped cater to a nascent otaku generation, by 1988 diehards were being targeted with professional OVAs, garage kits, and character goods produced by big companies with serious money behind them. Tastes had changed, too. While the designs of U-Gaim had tapped into the cherubic, round-faced lolicon style dominant early in the decade, as the ’80s came to a close, otaku tastes had shifted.
Thanks to Michael for pointing out it was an ultrasaurus, not a brontosaurus.