The blurred line between doujin and professional projects in the ‘80s was 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 minimal success outside of Japan. ASCII was planning to release a game based on U-Gaim for the upgraded MSX2 and commissioned the promotional video in anticipation.
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 seems extravagant, but it wouldn’t have been out of character for ASCII. To celebrate one million MSX units sold, 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 1985. 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.
Edit: Who would have guessed screenshots of the canceled U-Gaim game would eventually show up on twitter? Not me, that’s for sure. But they did!
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. 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.