Gundam devastates Edmonton: How the town turned price blowing up | Cities
One of the special honors shared by the world’s great cities is the ability to be destroyed on screen. Residents of London, New York and Los Angeles have seen their cities be fantastically devastated by natural and man-made disasters alike. Nobody has experienced this as often as Tokyo: For 60 years radioactive monsters, giant robots, supernatural forces and earthquakes have been smashing the city in films and TV shows. To meticulously depict the downfall of a city is, not least, an acknowledgment of its importance: These places are worth destroying.
In Edmonton, a quiet town on the northwestern tip of the Canadian prairies, these images of mass extermination seem intoxicatingly alien. Edmonton is often forgotten not only in discussions about cities, but also in discussions about Canadian cities; or it is humorously recognized as a place with endless winters and rough, Soviet-looking architecture. Those half-truths state that the city has its treasures nonetheless, including an incredible river valley, one of the largest universities in the world (the University of Alberta), and a thriving arts scene, including the world’s second largest fringe festival after Edinburgh. With an average age of 36.5 years, it is one of the youngest cities on the continent and the northernmost city with more than 1 million inhabitants.
But here, too, the peace could not last: Huge robots finally came to destroy the place. This spring, the latest version of Mobile Suit Gundam chose Edmonton as the location for their two-part season finale. One of the longest running anime series, Gundam features huge robot battles interspersed with state politics. The show has a large international following – and an astute Edmonton blogger, Nopy, was quick to spot the place.
4th Street Promenade, a rapidly developing area of Edmonton, at Mobile Suit Gundam and Google Street View. Photo: Nopybot.com
Unlike Vancouver and Toronto, which often host American film and television production crews, Edmonton is rarely used as a filming location, and it is extremely rare to see it in fiction. Having it as a backdrop in a classic anime series was utterly surreal, not to mention deeply amusing. The place was even called Edmonton in the show’s fictional universe, which removed any hint of ambiguity.
Most of the fighting took place along the city’s main drag, Jasper Avenue. Different locations are used, as well as a recording from the eastern outskirts and a redesigned version of a government building. A couple of signs have been redesigned – my favorite is that Scotiabank will become BankBank – but strangely enough, many of the city’s better-known locations were missing: the classically domed provincial parliament, the city hall with its glass pyramid and the sprawling West Edmonton Mall, the largest in North America.
102 Avenue in Edmonton, with the City Center Mall and the Don Wheaton YMCA. Photo: Nopybot.com
Why the series chose Edmonton is unclear. It may be that the sleek building design made the place desirable: drawing Edmonton would be like drawing Japan’s own post-war architecture. It’s also interesting to note that while the animators reproduced the buildings, they didn’t reproduce the North American sprawl. Instead, Edmonton’s buildings have been remodeled into aerial photographs that are much more reminiscent of Japan’s distinctive urbanism.
Like many cities, Edmonton has a large and growing anime convention, and attendees will likely be snapping costumed photos in these not-so-boring places this summer. Edmonton may have been insignificant a few months ago, but now we’ve finally made it and earned our place among the big cities worth destroying.
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