Fukui Harutoshi: From Unicorn To Moon Moon

 

Fukui Harutoshi, well known for his work on Gundam Unicorn, has released a new manga this month. I’m usually not one to read manga, but the subject matter revolved around the much contested Moon Moon colony of Gundam ZZ infamy. Whether you consider Moon Moon as a ridiculous hurdle to reach the good story ZZ has to offer, the greatest arc in the Gundam franchise, or have no experience with ZZ at all, Fukui hopes to entertain us once again.

Originally published in the November 2017 edition of Gundam Ace


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Filling in the Lost History

Gundam Unicorn has finished and yet here you are again working on another addition to the Gundam franchise. How did you go about the planning process for Moon Gundam?

Fukui: I actually made the proposal for Moon Gundam prior to writing Unicorn, so I used that as a conceptual base. This information is already out in the open, so there is no need to keep it a secret. The subject matter for the now-publishing Moon Gundam and the proposal are essentially one in the same. At the time, Sunrise had expressed having a story that a wider audience could grasp, so the Moon Gundam plans were put on hold. With that, I took another look at how to proceed and turned up with Unicorn. Even I had forgotten that it was initially supposed to be Moon Gundam.  The idea up and vanished from me. What brought the thought back to life was working on Great Works [Gundam Unicorn Great Works Complete Collection]. For the book, they asked if they could run an article looking at the planning processes of Unicorn, so I looked over the papers for the first time in at least a year and a half. I wonder if letting it sit for a bit was for the better. It felt like something readers would enjoy, but it probably would have been buried if it was released back then. Naturally, because it’s the conceptual predecessor to Unicorn, there are going to be some similarities with names and characters that show up. However, if it can clear that hurdle, I think it will get an excellent response.

— Having the story takes place in Gundam ZZ’s Moon Moon Space Colony has had a significant impact.

Fukui: If we’re going to talk about that, we first have to look at the market at the time of the original concept. It was 2005, Gundam Ace was sailing smoothly, and the Gundam market was just starting to take shape. Book and merchandise sales were looking good, but there was still a strong feeling of “when I was a kid waiting in front of the gunpla store there wasn’t nearly this many series.” I wanted to bust down that barrier and provide a look back into the original Gundam Universe.

— The Gundam series has certainly piled on itself over the years, giving it the impression that it’s difficult to start.

Fukui: That’s accurate. Even a firm grasp of the events from the Mobile Suit Gundam to Char’s Counter Attack requires a scholar’s basic arsenal of information. It’s very easy to forget things here and there. Even for longtime fans, Universal Century (UC) is a high hurdle to clear. That’s why the setting of Moon Moon, where these UC inhabitants have little knowledge about Gundam, is perfect.

— For longtime fans, the events of Moon Moon overlap with certain characters.

Fukui: That’s right. Just like a frog jumping out of its well into the ocean, our main protagonist from Moon Moon will learn one thing after another about the outside world. That world is one shaped by the original events of Gundam. For people that have seen it, they can gather interest in seeing what’s happened since, while newcomers can view the world alongside the protagonist. For a character from a closed-off world with a primitive lifestyle, leaping into a near future SF world is bound to be shocking. This kind of approach is a relatively standard method of storytelling. However, this style isn’t something found in Gundam, which made me want to take the plunge.

— Having the actors in this story experiencing Universal Century for the first time is an interesting point to view to try and take.

Fukui: I don’t think it was a bad idea, even now, but I feel like I ended up repeating idea with Unicorn.

— It wasn’t the primary focus, but Unicorn certainly had one imagining the past of previous Gundam series.

Fukui: Nowadays Gundam is all around us. If there is something that peaks your interest, you can go look it up on the internet. Most of the Gundam series are available for streaming, as well. Under these conditions, even if we were to redraw the world of Gundam, there would be no point. That’s how Moon Gundam and Unicorn got their beginning. They weren’t there from the start.

 

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Some of the Gundam titles Amazon Prime Japan has available for its members.

 

— Was there anything different about how you wrote up the project?

Fukui: This was a personal problem for me as an author. Restarting Moon Gundam meant I had to be very conscious when I went back to what the characters would see on this kind of adventure. There were a lot of events and possibilities that could have occurred before Char’s Counter Attack. With my story, I would be shedding light on these hidden histories. My plan of attack wasn’t all that different than when I first started, but how I felt as a writer had departed quite a bit. It’s not that I needed to dig up anything I’d forgotten, but that had to rethink what I already knew.

The side of UC you’ve never seen

— Fukui, what were your feelings about Moon Moon from ZZ?

Fukui: I thought it was interesting to see the themes drawn from the moon. Take for example the fact that in UC, Side 3 is the only colony that can see the backside of the moon. Regardless, the rest of UC knows that backside, much like they know the dark happening occurring throughout the years. However, we’re taken to Moon Moon in ZZ, a place with no details. I mean, the name of the place is Moon Moon, so it clearly has some relation to the moon, and yet it’s never discussed. Not even the Followers of Light had an answer. That’s why I’m going in and answering them. Why do they live as a lost colony? Well, I plan to shine a light on the side UC never touched.

— When the UC timeline is at such a technologically advanced stage, it makes you wonder why this colony tossed it all aside.

Fukui: The intention at the time of making ZZ might have simply been to have an unexplored and secluded region. I don’t think there was a grave concern for why, just that there was this lost colony. When ZZ aired in the 80s, it was a time where if you told everyone a mass bombing burned all books and information leading to mass confusion, they would nod their heads in agreement. In WWII there were a lot of people that had their family registry burned in the air raids. However, the 80s have long since come and gone, and now it’s difficult to imagine that kind of incident happening with companies having most of their data digitized. We have backups of our backups, so it seems near impossible to imagine humans having to start from a completely blank slate. That’s the sort of visceral response you would get nowadays.

— It doesn’t seem like a completely forgotten past would be possible unless no one did anything to stop it.

Fukui: From that perspective, Moon Moon’s continuing existence as a lost colony seems out of place. Up until now, only the shining examples of futuristic characters have been drawn, but there are an immeasurable amount of types yet to be touched. On the surface, UC appears to glow, but if you take a closer look at that light what you find are deeply rooted crevices of darkness. That’s when I thought about what it would be like to cast the shadow of our current society into the Gundam world. It would be the story in-between the well-known events of UC. During that, I thought it would be interesting to stumble upon the rise of these crevices.

— It feels like a new side of the Universal Century is being presented with the profound setting Moon Moon holds.

Fukui: I mean, it’s a bit difficult to imagine even UC hippies starting from square one and weaving clothes from plants. It’s possible that they continue the tradition of fast fashion from AD century, or maybe they migrate like the hippy culture they aspire to emulate. I might have subconsciously matched the artificial nature of Moon Moon with the New Wave science fiction of the 60s and 70s. It’s one of the ways I touched on a cultural side to the story rather than the scientific accuracy.

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— This story has a lot of ZZ components written into it, do you have any sentiments towards Gundam ZZ?

Fukui: Not especially. If the story didn’t call for being based around ZZ, I don’t think I would have worked with it. However, I used a lot of ZZ references while working on Unicorn as well. The reason was probably that I first watched ZZ upon accepting the request to write a story. If I had seen it while it aired, I most likely would have forgotten all about Moon Moon. It’s because ZZ was fresh in my mind that so many elements of it are present.

— It’s exciting to think how Moon Gundam will connect to Char’s Counter Attack and Unicorn.

Fukui: I have no plans to alter the already established timeline so you can rest easy with that thought in mind.

Looking at the potential of manga

— I’m sure there were a great many fans that assumed you would be coming out with a novel when it was announced you were working on a new project. Why was it that you chose manga as your medium?

Fukui: Until you pointed it out just now, the idea of writing this as a novel hadn’t popped into my mind. I think the roots of this project came from the idea that Unicorn’s illustrator Kosai (Takayuki)’s art could breathe life into an exciting story. I’d met with many manga authors who seemed perfect for serialization but weren’t onboard with the project. Kosai was the trump card I’d been keeping up my sleeve. There were times when I harbored feelings about how the progression would play out, but if it weren’t for Kosai, Moon Gundam would have failed. He had worked on projects before, but it never felt like he brought out his full potential. Letting his power take a life of its own was my only concern, so I never thought about anything other than a manga.

— Working on this manga, did you change your approach to writing as compared to working on novels?

Fukui: Everything from anime to novels is a different process. The critical point of each medium differs significantly from one to the other. Some places end up resolving too quickly while others have to hold out longer than expected. It’s especially unfamiliar since I’m more accustomed to working with a solid story in place or a short scenario finished. This time I started from a cloud of nothingness. I first gave the concept/prototype to Kosai and then amended the continuity or lines. It’s been an entirely new experience. Creating a manga in this way was a first for me.

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— Can you tell us the story behind Gyōbu Ippei joining on as the mechanical director?

Fukui: I’ve been interested in his designs ever since I saw his work in Reconguista in G. Those working as a mechanical designer are overwhelmingly small in respects to the rest of the world, it’s a constant struggle for them. Gyōbu’s schedule was pretty jam-packed, but we were able to request him just as it freed up.

— What stands out in Gyōbu’s designs?

Fukui: His silhouettes are fascinating. Nowadays the trend of Gundam designs follow suit after Katoki Hajime’s designs, and I was looking to get back to the impact that comes from the original silhouette. We stressed the original silhouette in the Moon Gundam and eventually arrived at the image of it carrying a crescent moon on it’s back.

— What kind of request did you have in concerns to the design?

Fukui: I asked for an unbelievably huge crescent moon on it’s back and Gyōbu came up with a perfectly balanced design. I have no eye for balance, so I always end up throwing out ridiculous ideas. A pro’s job is to design with the thought that it could become an actual model or product in the future. It’s the same as when I requested the Unicorn’s eyes to emerge from the face plate when it opens.

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— How do you feel now that the first chapter is finished?

Fukui: It’s the first chapter so there were parts that didn’t change at all and there were parts that we revised over and over again. That said, if we wrote according to the original plan without wavering, we would portray precisely what we wanted. Thanks to Kosai, the Moon Gundam I imagined took shape. I feel the most relief knowing that.

— Finally, do you have a message to those that have finished reading the first chapter?

Fukui: We live in a time where it’s increasingly difficult to get your work published. Moon Gundam is another Gundam publication, and I believe, much like its predecessor, it will work its way to becoming a riveting story. Only time will tell if it gets gunpla or an animated version, but until then I hope you enjoy the manga.

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