Human-sized Gundams fighting on the streets of Tokyo aren’t as strange as some of the signage behind them.

On Monday, word came that Gundam would be coming to video game publisher Activision’s Call of Duty series, with the iconic anime mecha slated to show up in both Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile.

You might be wondering how giant robots are going to be implemented into Call of Duty’s boots-on-the-ground-centric gameplay, but rather than appearing as towering mobile suits, the RX-78-2 Gundam, fashionable crimson Zaku II Char Custom, and XVX-016 Gundam Aerial will be incorporated as skins, essentially cosmetic overlays for the games’ currently existing infantryman character frames.

Visually, the results are kind of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the level of detail is very nice, with Call of Duty’s artists faithfully replicating all sorts of little design elements from the mecha’s anime appearances.

At the same time, since they’re skins, the Gundam and Zaku bodies still have to move like Call of Duty’s human soldiers, and also retain the same hitboxes so as not to give those using the mecha cosmetics a competitive advantage or disadvantage versus other players. That means they have to have more-or-less human sizes and proportions, and in some of the promotional images the effect is less “Gundam is in Call of Duty!” and more “Call of Duty has Gundam cosplayers in it now,” especially when there are other human combatants on-screen.

But again, that’s sort of unavoidable, given Call of Duty’s focus on player-versus-player gameplay and subsequent need to maintain competitive balance. What is avoidable, though, is something else that’s silly-looking in the game, and which can be seen in this preview shot.

The action seems to be taking place in “Tokyo,” a new map that’s set to be added to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 on May 29 as part of the game’s Season Four update. And sure, even with a quick glance, it does its job of visually conveying “This fight is taking place in a Japanese city,” but there are a couple of things that, once you notice them, stand out as very un-Tokyo-like.

It’s not the garish anime-girl signage that bears a bit of resemblance to the titular heroine of ‘90s anime Excel Saga, though, nor is it what looks like a manga-style oni with blue hair at the top left of the image. Sure, those might be a little on the nose in terms of shouting “This is JAPAN!”, but playing into overseas perceptions of what Japan looks like has become its own branch of design in Japan, especially in areas that are seeing large numbers of foreign tourists during the current inbound travel boom.

No, the strange part is the sign between those two anime-style illustrations, the one that says お品書き.

お品書き is a proper Japanese word, so one might assume it makes sense to see it on a sign in Tokyo. The problem, though, is that お品書き, which is read as oshinagaki, is just the Japanese word for “menu.” It doesn’t mean “special menu,” “extensive menu,” or anything like that. It just means “menu,” nothing less, and nothing more, and so the sign, if you can read Japanese, looks just as ridiculous as a restaurant in the U.S. or any other English-speaking country putting up a giant, illuminated sign that just says “MENU.”

But wait, maybe the sign below お品書き, with the white text on the blue-and-purple background that says 時間営業, is a list of food items that this restaurant serves? Nope. 時間営業 isn’t a list of foods. What’s more, 時間営業 doesn’t mean anything at all. 時間, by itself, means “time,” and 営業 means “business operations,” but combined, they’re gibberish. Odds are someone on the Call of Duty team got mixed up while trying to write 営業時間, which actually does mean something: “business hours,” as in the hours a restaurant is open.

Of course, even if they had gotten it right and written the sign as 営業時間, the sign still wouldn’t have made any sense conceptually, since it’d be like writing “hours of operation” on the side of your business without writing what those hours are.

Update: Following the writing of this article it was pointed out by a reader that there may be a “24” meant to precede 時間営業 but not visible in the above image. In a different preview image of the Tokyo map visible on the Call of Duty official website, the sign does say 24時間営業, with the top of the numerals largely cropped suggesting it’s a scrolling video sign. Due to 時間 meaning both “time” and “hours,” 24時間営業 is a perfectly sensible phrase that means “open 24 hours,” so Activision is linguistically on the ball here, even if the layout, with 24 on its own horizontal line and 営業 and 時間 grouped together on the line below,  looks a little unnatural.


Nonsensical Japanese signage is something that comes up with a puzzling level of frequency when overseas creative teams are setting a scene in Japan (something similar happened with the hotel seen in the beginning of the live-action Ghost in the Shell movie).

Sure, it should go without saying that Call of Duty’s primary mission is to entertain, and so looking cool is going to be far more of a priority for the developers than linguistic authenticity. At the same time, it’s not like it’s hard to find reference photos of actual city streets in Tokyo, nor is it hard, in this day and age, to find someone who’s knowledgeable enough about the Japanese language to spot oddities like these that stick out like a sore thumb, and could easily recommend alternatives that look more natural. That goes double for Activision, considering what a huge franchise Call of Duty is, and triple since they’re actively courting anime fans and gamers in Japan with their Gundam collaboration.

▼ If Activision is big enough to license Gundam, it seems like they’re big enough to have someone who’s Japanese-proficient check their work.

All that said, there are still a few days until the Tokyo map is released, so hopefully someone at Activision is scurrying to swap in some more sensible text this very minute.

Source: Bandai Namco
Top image: Bandai Namco
Insert images: Bandai Namco, Call of Duty
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