Look Both Ways! Railway Crossing Warrior Shadan

Shadan as seen in the Mobile Suit Gundam III theatrical booklet.

In the midst of the gunpla boom that saw Japanese kids crowding toy stores for model kits and anime studios rushing to create the next Gundam, Japan National Railways debuted a new safety campaign that featured an eye-catching robot that must have looked awfully familiar to the kids it was designed to help. Dubbed “Railway Crossing Warrior Shadan,” the blue, black, and yellow robot wieleded a black-and-yellow crossing guard pole and clearly borrowed from Mobile Suit Gundam’s RX-78 Gundam. But the similarity was for a good purpose; it was the center of a campaign to educate kids on how to safely navigate railway crossings.

With train tracks crisscrossing the more populated areas of Japan and railway crossings everywhere in urban Japan, ensuring that children knew how to safely cross train lines was no doubt a big concern for Japan National Railways. Since Gundam was making waves at the time and the giant robot craze was in full swing, it’s not too surprising that they honed in on the idea of a giant robot to grab kids’ attention. As for how the design of Shadan skirted so close to Kunio Okwara’s Gundam, well, I’ve seen it suggested that since Japan National Railways was a nationalized company at the time (it wouldn’t be privatized until 1987), they were able to skirt the rather glaring copyright infringement of Shadan’s design. I’m no Japanese copyright expert and admittedly can’t speculate either way, but that seems to be the running theory I’ve found on Japanese blogs.

It’s not like Sunrise wasn’t aware of the campaign, though. As Shadan was included in the “World of Gundam” portion of the Mobile Suit Gundam III theatrical booklet sold in theaters during the film’s release. This section of the booklet covered the influence of Gundam and its popularity (including the Tominoko Tribe I’ve covered previously) and Shadan earned a mention as an example of Gundam’s popularity and influence.

A large scratch-built Shadan statue appeared in Rail Magazine in 1993.

A cursory web search turns up plenty of blog posts and a few fan sites dedicated to Shadan. The nature of Shadan’s existence, likely limited to posters in railway stations, flyers, and freebie goods like bookmarks and postcards means that while the image of Shadan might be well-documented, it’s surprisingly challenging to find a high-quality scan of the original posters or pamphlets. While some of the campaign posters must have ended up in private hands, searching Yahoo Auctions or Mercari turns up very few Shadan items. A notable exception was a set of Shadan bookmarks in great condition that recently sold on Yahoo Auctions for the low, low price of 100 yen. A Shadan postcard recently sold for 1,000 yen. Nostalgia notwithstanding, there doesn’t seem to be much collector interest in Shadan.

There’s plenty of fan art, though, and even some modernized versions like a take on the classic railway crossing warrior in the style of Hajime Katoki. As you’d expect at least a few modelers have converted Gundam model kits into Shadan’s likeness. Shadan was also an early inductee into the “large Gundam statue” club, with an issue of Rail Magazine from 1993 showing a large-scale version of Railway Crossing Warrior.

Though little more than a footnote in Gundam history and an early proto-meme of sorts, Railway Crossing Warrior Shadan stands as a prime example of Gundam’s early cultural influence. If nothing else, let Shadan serve as a reminder to look both ways before walking through train crossings and always listen for the signal.

A set of Shadan bookmarks that recently sold on Yahoo Auctions.