TOKYO -- Bandai Namco Holdings will expand its plastic-model plant in the city of Shizuoka, southwest of Tokyo, aiming to raise its production capacity by 40% by the fall of 2020 for characters and accessories that are part of the "Mobile Suit Gundam" sci-fi robot anime series.
Gundam plastic models, called "Gunpla" by enthusiasts, are increasingly popular in Asia, with shipment volume rising 150% from a decade ago to 15.73 million units in fiscal 2018 ended March this year.
The decision to expand production was also prompted by the company's plans to make a live-action movie reboot, together with Hollywood film studio Legendary Entertainment, which Bandai Namco hopes will increase demand for the models in the U.S. and Europe.
Bandai Namco will construct a new building inside the Bandai Hobby Center, a plant in Shizuoka dedicated to making Gunpla. The facility is operated by subsidiary Bandai Spirits, headquartered in Tokyo's Minato Ward. The new building, which will cost several billion yen (tens of millions of dollars) and have a total floor area of about 1,500 sq. meters, will be installed with six molding machines capable of handling multicolored plastics.
Since their debut in 1980, over 500 million Gundam plastic models had been sold, as of April. In recent years, over half these sales have come from overseas markets, especially in Asia. Bandai Namco operates dedicated Gunpla shops in 13 Asian cities, including Shanghai.
Shipments of Gunpla figures dipped in fiscal 2016 after the company shifted its product mix toward higher-priced products, but sales have remained on an uptrend. Gunpla-related sales rose about 20%, year on year, to 32.5 billion yen ($299 million) for the year ended in March. Products priced around 3,000 yen are the most popular.
Bandai Namco has promoted the Gundam franchise overseas by broadcasting the anime locally and streaming it for free through a dedicated website. As the popularity of the series has risen, some of the plastic models have gone out of stock.