Tomino X Nagano: Partners In Mecha

Originally from the Five Star Story Outline published 12/21/2001.

But, this interview, in particular, can also be found here!

Nagano Mamoru: Guess what, I’m now the same age you when we first met.

Tomino Yoshiyuki: Is that so?

Nagano: But this is the first time that we’ve been able to sit down a talk together like this.

Tomino: Yeah, when I first heard that I thought we’ve had to at least gotten together once or twice, but that wasn’t the case. You don’t have enough time to sit down with everyone, though, I’m sure there’s a long list of people who want to have discussions like these.

— Tomino, you specifically picked Nagano out of an enormous selection of candidates as the character and mechanical designer for Heavy Metal L-Gaim, but when did you first take notice of him?

Tomino: It all started when I took a look at his fifty plus pages of annotated model sheets for the tiniest details. I asked to call him in right after that. One thing I don’t understand myself is what I saw that made me go so far as to ask him to be our character designer. Before we met, I’d never seen his characters.

Nagano: Really? At the time, I thought it would be a waste to draw only mechs, so I drew everything, even characters.



— I heard that initially Nagano was set as the mechanical designer, but only after, was asked to also work on the characters.

Tomino: I have a vague memory that we didn’t intend for him to be our character designer, but as production continued, we gradually kept asking him to work on the characters. I guess that’s how it all panned out.

— So you had a different character designer in mind?

Tomino: No, it wasn’t like that. Then again, I’m basically someone lacking in the information department. My projects always seem to start without any other staff. I don’t think about it too much, that’s Sunrise’s territory, but it makes me wonder — Am I bad at my job? Do people only see me as a source of labor? Do creators and artisans not want to be around me?

What actually happened was while production was coming along, in a pinch-hit moment someone brought up asking Nagano to work on the characters for the time being. I didn’t escort one of the company elites to Nagano’s place to persuade him to work as the character designer or anything like that (laughs).

Nagano: You did what you could. There was such a limited amount of talent working exclusively at Sunrise, seeing the director of Gundam approach me with his proposal was a first.

Tomino: I remember that. I also remember telling him that I’m a bit of a slave driver. Instead of complaining, he assured me it was better that way since he felt like he would be earning his keep.

In a similar vein of thought, the more you look for people that consider themselves artisans or creators, the more you’ll find yourself surrounded by amateurs.  There are more people in the industry that don’t consider themselves to be artisans or creators. I recently realized that, aside from the few geniuses that have surpassed us, everyone is a creator and artisans don’t exist.

Nagano: When people say, “I’m an artisan — a creator.” I say, “So, an artist?” Most of them will get hung up on the wording. Needless to say, artists are identified by those around them.

Tomino: You’re right on the money there. Wording is important, so I’d much prefer if we stopped using terms like creator and artisan. I get that if someone has the experience they have the right to say it, but when they run into a creative block and question themselves, they lose their grip and self-destruct. They think, “Am I really a creator?”

Nagano: Tomino, you’re a director, and that’s that.

Tomino: You know, aren’t we supposed to be talking about you, not me (laughs)?

Nagano: But I planned to use you as a red herring (laughs). I mean, your nickname is director, but it’s also your job title. It’s all wrapped into a nice and neat box, but it doesn’t fully capture everything. Miyazaki Hayao and Mamoru Oshii are both directors, and yet you’re the one with the nickname director (laughs). In the anime industry, you were the first to say, “I am a director.” Until then, no one had claimed it.

Tomino: There was a deliberate reason for me to say that. It wasn’t so I could establish my occupation to the world. It was because I found where I was supposed to be. I wasn’t a writer or an artist, so all that was left was to go down the path of a director.

Nagano: Until you released Gundam, anime magazines often equated anime to key animators or mechanical and character designers — their influence was stronger. Like, “oh, so-and-so drew this character, what amazing work they did.” When Gundam came out, however, despite the strength of Yasuhiko Yoshikazu’s character designs and Okawara Kunio’s mechanical designs, when the movie started screening, all the magazines shifted to discussing how much of a Tomino work it was — you could clearly hear his story.



Tomino: Yeah, I have to say, it’s a little frustrating. I look back and think about how I didn’t ride that wave.

Nagano:  Jeez, what in the world are you saying. Even in hindsight, after six months people were 100% sure that Gundam was your story.

Tomino: But, you know, when we were working on Gundam, I carelessly thought that having the stage set years after our current time would somehow cause a rift in the story. So I created Universal Century, a timeline very similar to our own. I got my technique and style down, but I was always nagged by this voice saying “Look at nervous little Yoshiyuki, the scaredy cat.” I wondered if it would follow me into my forties or fifties until I finally self-destructed. Even some years after I gave you reins of L-Gaim I thought I wanted to go back and reclaim it.

Nagano: Seriously (laughs)?!

Tomino: Basically, up until Zeta I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off and when my schedule miraculously opened up I felt like I couldn’t make anything anymore. At that time, my relationship with Sunrise wasn’t what you would call the best either, so I felt like, to some degree, I was losing it. It wasn’t that I was going crazy or anything like that, I was just dashing towards the most negative parts of normalcy. This was all right before Victory Gundam.

— Alright, what was the reason you brought Nagano on for L-Gaim?

Tomino: Animation, and all the visual aspects associated with it, changes — it has to change. To bring about that change, I brought on Nagano, who I felt had the ability to do that. Fifteen years have passed, and a good number of people have left Sunrise, but there hasn’t been a clear line of progression in the studio itself.

Nagano: Robot anime’s life has been exhausted. That’s just how things work.

Tomino: No, not robots, we had to change what made anime tick, and we couldn’t. In today’s industry, anime ticks the same as it always has, yet a surge of CG visuals slosh around and run amuck. Poor CG anime samples are brought in, and they remind me of visuals from twenty years ago. Initially, I thought CG was a handy tool, but I don’t understand how CG can reach the same level as hand-drawn anime. In the past two or three years, I’ve realized that I’m quite fond of art in motion (laughs). I never thought about how much I liked it. That’s why if people come and tell me that something has terrific CG, it had a big budget, and it was fantastic — I still won’t see it.



Zoids New Century CG


Nagano: CG animation’s time is almost up, anyway. They’re not sure where to take it. Even if they get their hands on the tools, they aren’t sure how to incorporate it into the anime industry. There are plenty of places that have exchanged traditional coloring and effects for digital, but I don’t know if they’ve thought about how to incorporate it all.

Tomino: Adding to that, I’ve started to think there is a job opportunity in redoing visuals. When I was pummeled down four or five years ago, I felt there was nothing else anime could do, but in the last two or three years, I’ve changed my tune. I was going to start anew, but there’s a problem — I had no inkling as to how to get started.

— Moving the conversation along, Nagano, when you debuted, there were a number of stars in the anime industry, like yourself. Several years later though, it seems like we don’t have stars emerging anymore.

Tomino: I barely skim through anime magazines like Newtype or Animage, so I’m not up to date, but there has to be some, at the very least.

Nagano: If there are stars, they are most likely going to come from the gaming industry or something completely unrelated to anime. Yasuda Akira who’s working on Turn A Gundam worked on games before, right? His experience was drawing for games like Street Fighter II, but even though there are tons of game-loving kids that have been influenced by him, they can’t all put a name to his work. That’s the weak point of games. The reason being that animation in games is presented in a Hollywood style. Instead of rounding up everyone for production and disbanding once they finish, they work and are credited as a company.  




Tomino: It’s all ends up funding based.  Bureaucracy dictates gaming companies.

— After Zeta Gundam, Nagano slowly phased out of working at Sunrise, correct?

Nagano: After L-Gaim, Tomino asked me to design in a specific style. I offered up a lot of options, and the designs themselves weren’t met with any criticism or feedback but…

— But those designs weren’t used.



One of Nagano’s Zeta design, jokingly adding in a Fatima from Five Star Stories.


Tomino: That was around the time I was at the peak of my psychosomatic disorder. I started seeing everything as inadequate and, simply put, went on the defensive halting any and all progress. It would have been fine if it just affected me, but because I ran Sunrise in that same direction, it ended up all flowing together. As I said, I’m a slave driver, so unless it was a plan I came up with, I wouldn’t listen, which got me into all kinds of squabbles. My head was so far up where the sun doesn’t shine that I might as well have been calling myself a “writer and artisan.” It was when I wasn’t confident in my ability that Zeta was green-lit and I started to feel defeat.

Nagano: Can I ask a question? You talk about Zeta Gundam as the one and only seed to your problem — why not the original Gundam? Why only Zeta?

Tomino: When I think about how Zeta has remained in the public sphere, and I realize it probably isn’t the best method for it to continue existing. I wanted a nuance that countered both my psychosomatic disorder and the whole of the anime industry — show them what they really are. In the past fifteen years it doesn’t seem like that message got across and whenever something similar happens, I’m reminded of Zeta.

Nagano: That’s why you should remake Zeta Gundam. Zeta was a story about the internal struggle of Char, but nowadays it feels like kids are only concerned with how broken Psycho Gundam is in games. There is a stark difference between your fans now and then. It’s best to reaffirm what Zeta’s story was about with those kids (laughs).

Tomino: Yeah, I see what you’re saying.

Nagano: Think of it this way, even if no one reads the original Musashi novel by Yoshikawa Eiji, they can read the simplified manga adaptation [Vagabond] by Inoue Takehiko. Forget about the old Zeta Gundam and make a brand new one. If you do that, I’ll draw up a new version of the Nightingale for you.



Nagano’s Nightingale published 2007


Tomino: Ok, sounds good to me.  A new Zeta is all good and fine, but I don’t have much life left in me (laughs).

Nagano: You’ve been saying that for the last ten years and yet you made Brain Powerd and many others. You still have plenty of time to create more. Directors and writers are similar, they can only make so many works and can be active for so many years, but you’ve got a long time ahead of you. That’s pretty rare nowadays.

Tomino: I get that it’s rare, and I should believe in my own abilities. People even say egregious things like “Tomino is a genius, a diamond in the rough.” I don’t have any precedent though. I don’t know how I’m going to cling to in the coming years (laughs).

Nagano: There you go again (laughs). Your name is famous enough — you can make a hybrid movie and be fine. By hybrid I mean Yasuhiko Yoshikazu can draw some characters and some Yasuda Akira can draw others. You can supervise the script and storyboard and voila you have yourself a movie.

Tomino: You have a point there.

Nagano: You might not have students or pupils within Sunrise, but I think you have raised many kids. I’m definitely one of the mischievous kids. When we worked on Brain Powerd, I fought back a lot, but that was your typical parent-child fight. Be proud that you can reach that level of familiarity with people, that a fight is nothing. I might call you a piece of shit sometimes, but if someone else were to talk bad about you, I’d be furious. What I’m saying is, those are the kinds of people you’ve raised, and you can gather those people to help you on your next venture.

Tomino: Deep down I know this, but sometimes I forget that I have my friends, supporters, and people like you right here, cheering for me. I’m always searching for that. My colleagues at the studio always ask me how I never noticed that there isn’t another creator like me around. I’m happy they say that, but I crave the extreme satisfaction and end up instantly back in search.

Nagano: That happened during L-Gaim, didn’t it? I remember working hard on L-Gaim, and yet you were already thinking about Zeta. Pretty sure I frustratedly called you out saying, “We are right at the climax of L-Gaim! Why are you thinking about Zeta?” (laughs).

But you know, when Zeta and Gundam ZZ came out, there were a bunch of magazines that had interviews with the planning staff where they were claiming “This is our Gundam.” When I saw that I flipped out screaming, “What the hell are you saying?!” For me, Gundam is and always will be a director Tomino creation. Anything else, no matter how well made, is just an imitation. That’s just on principle. There are a lot of kids out there that think similarly. They’re out there, working in different industries with newtypes on the brain, so wouldn’t it be worth it to put out an announcement to contact Sunrise if they’re interested in working with you. If you do that, people from the gaming industry will come, and you’ll have gathered a group of specialized key animators. You can make a movie with fifteen key animators, right?

Tomino: It’s possible, but man, you really can run your mouth (laughs).

Nagano: You have to do it. By doing it, you can bring in staff that isn’t employed by Sunrise. As long as they’re out there, you might as well utilize them. If it’s the director Tomino, everyone will forgive you, so you might as well do it.

Tomino: You know, I don’t think I could do that. I want everyone to like me (laughs).

Nagano: Even if you’re hated by Sunrise, it doesn’t matter as long as the young ladies like you (laughs).

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