Hello, and welcome to the six days of Gundam Christmas! Gundam and Christmas? Well, of course, the only thing I could be talking about is the 1989 six episode OVA Gundam 0080 War In The Pocket. The Blu-rays were released for the first time ever in Japan this year and with them a slew of interviews that for the next six days (one day an episode) will be uploaded here! Any screenshots from the actual OVA will correspond with the day released — today, the 6th day will only have episode one screenshots, 5th will have episode two, so on and so on. This is so not to spoil anyone who might be watching for the first time.
Without further ado, let’s start off with the producer Uchida Kenji!
— Your first job as a producer was working on Zeta Gundam, correct?
Uchida: That’s correct. I have some recollection of Mobile Suit Gundam being in production the year after I joined Sunrise, but it was made in the other studio, so I only remember thinking “they sure have started something crazy over there” (laughs). After that, I work together with Tomino (Yoshiyuki) on Combat Mecha Xabungle, Aura Battler Dunbine, and Heavy Metal L-Gaim until I finally became the producer of Zeta.
It was still the 80s, so the anime industry hadn’t yet encapsulated what the targeted fans wanted. Generally, a series’ characters were one use only. Even with shows like Ultraman airing — where they repeated their structure — nobody thought about refining and continuing with the same characters. Of course, we could look at American classics like Batman and Superman as a reference for how to make a series live on, but we didn’t want that kind of method. That’s why we focused on the selling points of the previous series and what made it Gundam, not eternalizing it.
— And yet you both went to work on Gundam ZZ and Char’s Counterattack. Even the SD Gundam shorts compilation that released alongside Char’s Counterattack resonated with people.
Uchida: Looking back, I think we were exploring our boundaries. Regardless of whether it was the original Gundam or Zeta, once the boom passed, we were bound to lose fans. It was around that time that Kodansha started running the Gundam Zeta manga and Carddass began their sales. Different media and new products were around to support a time when Gundam wasn’t airing on TV. It was then that we thought it would be good to put out something like SD Gundam — different from the hard themes we’d been putting out until then but still in the same spirit. With that under our belts, it dawned on all of us that to preserve Gundam it was necessary to focus on media outside of just movies.
— And on that train of thought, the first Gundam OVA 0080 was directed by not Tomino, but Takayama (Fumihiko).
Uchida: Leaving aside what Tomino might have felt about it, for me, watching him surpass his previous directing ambition and charm with shows like Xabungle, Dunbine, and L-Gaim, then having to return to the Gundam series seemed like a waste. As a production producer, I wanted to see Tomino work on other series. I was grasping at straws for a structure to preserve Gundam. That’s why I went to the company and told them that Tomino should focus on shows other than Gundam, that someone else could continue on the series. But, that was not a hit, and I butted heads with the company on many occasions. When I told them “listen, I won’t work on a Gundam show,” they said “fine then work on this!” and set me as the producer for the latter half of Mister Ajikko (laughs). Eventually, Itou Masanori and Yamaura Eiji, some of the higher-ups in Sunrise, heard me out and somehow managed to get the ok for a Gundam show created by someone other than Tomino. He did go on soon after to direct Mobile Suit Gundam F91 with a different producer.
— Do you recall how Tomino reacted to hearing about Gundam being directed by someone other than himself?
Uchida: I introduced Tomino to Takayama, but I don’t remember much from that meeting. What I do remember was at the end of the final product screening he said, “Well, that works.” Leaving aside the various interpretations of “well that works,” I was taken with his words.
— Bringing on Takayama as the director was a pretty intrepid decision.
Uchida: That was something that had to be decided before we set the whole project took flight. I talked with Watanabe Shigeru and Takanashi Minoru from Bandai Media (now Bandai Visual) about the budget, the projected income, a lot of things really, but we just couldn’t come up with an estimate. One episode at thirty-minutes seemed long, so when we brought up making it six episodes. We initially thought about making it an omnibus collection of various directors stories. This led us to meet with several candidate directors and screenwriters.
— Right before War in the Pocket, Sunrise • Bandai Visual released six episodes of Starship Troopers. Mobile Police Patlabor was also six, thirty-minute episodes that initially intended to have different directors for each episode.
Uchida: I didn’t know that Patlabor was in our same position. We actually went to Oshii Mamoru to ask him to direct an episode of 0080. When we asked him, his response was like, “Wait, me directing Gundam?!” (laughs). We also asked Tanaka Yoshiki, the Legend of the Galactic Heroes author, if he was interested in writing an anime screenplay (laughs). In the end, not as many people as we had hoped for were on board.
— That’s when you gave up on the omnibus route?
Uchida: That’s correct. Six episodes at thirty minutes come out to be the perfect length of one movie, so we thought of a story along the same vein of The Eagle Has Landed and switched gears to thinking carefully about who would direct. I believe it was Takanashi who introduced us to Takayama, as they had worked on Macross together. I don’t remember. When I asked who he was, Takanashi told me he was Yamaga (Hiroyuki)’s and Anno (Hideaki)’s mentor during their time on Macross together.
Now, this is a dated way of handling things in the industry (laughs), but we read his past storyboards. Whenever I went to someone to ask for their help with directing or screenwriting, I always asked to read their storyboards or screenplays. If we couldn’t see eye to eye on things, then I wouldn’t bring them onto the project. When I read over his storyboards, I thought, “this is the kind of person that can make what I envision.” It was just what we were searching for.
— What was your first impression of Takayama?
Uchida: Well, compared to back then he’s gone on to follow Minami (Masahiko) from Bones and Matsukura (Yuji) from J.C. Staff, so his hygiene and nutrition have improved quite a lot (laughs). But, a lot of amazing directors are a bit unusual, so it was a sort of “ah, he’s that type of person” moment. However, no matter how many times we met, whether we talked about novels, manga, horse racing, or shogi I always felt like he was the person that the story needed.
— How did you select the other staff?
Uchida: After watching Royal Space Force – The Wings of Honneamise I felt Yamaga was incredibly capable of writing SF. He was also from Gainax whom we had enlisted the help of while working on Char’s Counterattack. What I had to keep in mind that it was Takayama’s first time directing. If I had brought in a veteran writer, it would become their story, and I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted Takayama’s story.
I forget when exactly Yuki Kyosuke came into the equation, but Sato Junichi (lead storyboarder for 0080 under the name Hadame Kiichi) introduced him to us. Mikimoto (Haruhiko) was an acquaintance with Takayama from their time working on Macross, but his character designs were rooted in his admiration for Gundam’s original character designer Yasuhiko (Yoshikazu), so it was an effortless changeover. Izubuchi (Yutaka), our mechanical designer, had saved us during ZZ and Char’s Counterattack, plus his designs were exceptional, so we were expecting a lot from him since he knew just what the world of Gundam needed.
— The finished product was very focused on drama and felt more mature than other entries.
Uchida: I don’t know if I’d call it mature or not, but one thing I was on edge about was the strength of the mobile suits’ existence. A large majority of the fans that remained until Zeta was released were fans of the mobile suits. I was very thankful for their patronage, but if we created a show aimed at them, we’d be closing off everyone else that might want to start watching. It was something that I was worried about while working on Zeta and again when working on 0080. That’s why we focused on the drama and laid low on the mobile suit love.
— Was there ever a moment when you thought “this will work out”?
Uchida: Hmmm. When Yuki, Yamaga, and the others brought together the prototype for all six episodes, I finally felt that putting everything together was actually possible. Oh, and when I could get a feel for what direction Takayama was heading once he finished his storyboards.
— This is a bit off topic; the 3DCG space colony used in Char’s Counterattack was reused in 0080, wasn’t it?
Uchida: It was. Tomino was entirely on board with the idea. The 3DCG in Char’s Counterattack wasn’t all that cost efficient (laughs), so if we could use it in 0080, we wanted to. It’s also a bit silly to go back to a hand-drawn depiction when the 3DCG version was available to use. With that, we moved ahead and got IMAGICA’s permission to use the footage.
— How was it decided that the space colony would be 3DCG for Char’s Counterattack?
Uchida: Tomino had the idea for the colony to spin and I told him I’d try my best (laughs). In the early 80s, there were anime movies that used 3DCG but not to that level. When I told them what exactly we wanted, they came back at us with a five-hundred million yen price tag (laughs). Somehow we were able to use 3DCG regardless.
— The release of the Gundam wartime photo collection M.S.ERA post 0080 was also an unusual approach.
Uchida: I think the front runner of that idea was Izubuchi. Director Takayama and the rest of the staff enjoyed the idea. I went to Bandai Media’s publishing division B-CLUB and discussed it with the editor, Kato Satoshi. I pleaded, “The 0080 animators still want to draw!” (laughs). Books have a different deadline schedule — with plenty more time — so everyone was able to draw in detail. Tajima Teruhisa played a significant roll in the art as well.
— Looking back, how does it feel to have had 0080 meets and exceed its entrusted role?
Uchida: With 0080 and the following OVA Gundam 0083 Stardust Memory I sensed that the OVA format was something we could continue. Borrowing the Gundam brand, it seemed possible to open the gateway despite the adult-aimed story coupled with OVA format. Similar to the first OVA to ever be released, Dallos.
— Establishing a show around such a target base is quite an affair.
Uchida: If to-video animation had been more popular earlier, like when Xabungle came out, if that were the case, maybe more people would have had a chance to understand Tomino’s work a little more. I wonder now and then if we could have created a new show instead of Gundam part two.
— You sensed that with entries like 0080, you could separate from the TV sponsors and focus on targeted shows. This is an impulsive question, but Uchida, what do you find to be the allure of Gundam?
Uchida: Amuro is your average kid that gets pulled into the deep history and story of Gundam. From the get-go, the surrounding environment is the stage for side stories from different perspectives. The universe holds the opportunities to build on other characters’ points of view. That capability is what first captured me. It’s also the common man’s war. Amuro is initially presented as a normal kid, and even when his generation is set as soldiers the fact that they are still normal human beings remains unchanged. Setting the common man’s war as our theme and point of amusement, we were able to entrust Gundam series into other directors hands.
— What are your thoughts on 0080 after all these years?
Uchida: Once, after we had wrapped up production, I thought about reediting everything together into a single movie. It could be a stand-alone piece that way. When I asked director Takayama about it, he said it wasn’t feasible. We even invited Takamatsu (Shinji), one of our unit directors, to try and re-cut everything. The result, however, ultimately didn’t capture the feeling I was looking for — Takayama and Takamatsu thought so as well. I’m not entirely sure myself what we were missing, but I would love to see someone take on the challenge of compiling 0080 into a movie.