Tomino Yoshiyuki: 40 Years of Gundam

On May 5th, NHK aired the results for the Ultimate Gundam Showdown — a poll of all Gundam series to rank the top show, character, mobile suit, and song. Along with announcing the results, various segments were aired including an interview with director Tomino. The transcript of the segment can be found here, and the videos of the last four questions can be found here.

Keep in mind that while this is celebrating the 40th anniversary, said anniversary doesn’t technically occur until next year.


The Past Forty Years

Tomino: The original plan was to complete everything in one story — have Mobile Suit Gundam as a one-shot anime, but we ended up continuing it. The past forty years have been a constant struggle of figuring out how to draw out and extend Gundam. I believe it’s been a forty year long history of everything else losing to Mobile Suit Gundam.

— Losing to Mobile Suit Gundam?

Tomino: Yes. I don’t think any of the others have captured the same popularity Mobile Suit Gundam did.

Favorite and Most Fulfilling Scene From Char’s Counterattack (Axis Transfer Treaty Meeting)

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Tomino: There was a lot of thought that went into the best way to compile all the dialogue. Take the meeting scene for example. We wanted as little theological talk and counter-arguments as possible. Char simply handed over the gold bars. By handing over the gold, the others realize he bought out everything but is only letting them see this much. When the viewer comes to this conclusion, it’s our win. The villain and gold bars were enough to fulfill what the scene needed (laughs). No need for a lengthy explanation. I’m proud of what we did there.

Recent Point of Discontent with Char’s Counterattack

Tomino: I was furious when I saw the 4k version of Char’s Counterattack. The battle scenes dwarf everything else. People won’t understand what’s going on in the story. It becomes a bunch of giant robots and cheeky one-liners. I put a lot of effort into removing lines like “taking off!” and “I’ll finish you here!”, so I felt like I was going to die watching the new version.

The Creation of Char

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Tomino: I decided to name the antagonist Char. Char is a pretty cool name, right? But why is it cool, you ask. You see, when Char arrives, he comes charging in. That’s as far as I went with Char’s creation. Then that dummy Yasuhiko took my charging antagonist and gave him a mask of all things. If the character underneath that mask wasn’t hiding some disfigured face, and instead had a significant personal backstory, he would probably have to take off his mask eventually. If let’s say, he had a family member nearby, and they happened to meet face-to-face, he would have to take off his mask. I’m telling the truth. If you notice, Sayla wasn’t created until we started drawing the storyboards. She was a character we pulled out of thin air.

We would put his little sister on the allies side, and that would be even more reason for the protagonist side to have to deal with Char. The enemy having such a relationship with the protagonist allies was something I absolutely haven’t reproduced since. It’s such a stage drama kind of character. I thought, huh I guess I can write drama.

A Truly Heart Wrenching Scene

Tomino: When Char sends those gold bars to the White Base for Sayla, and she cries for her brother all by herself — I was done. When the story comes to that part, I’m nothing but tears. Directors and authors often tell me it was rather well made. At some point, the characters bring their own story to life. All I can do is follow along after them— that’s what it feels like at least. Even though it’s been forty years since I’ve worked on it, I still cry.

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— The characters brought their own story to life?

Tomino: Correct. I realize it’s not a very logical thing to say. I just can’t bring myself to mouth the words “I made that” when it comes to parts like that. I would love to boast I had a hand in the part where she calls out for her brother while alone in her room with her hands crumbled in her lap right before she breaks down crying, but I can’t. I didn’t make that. That was all Sayla.

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The Much Debated Newtypes

Tomino: I was stuck on how to make the series appear science fiction-y. The story became the One Year War chronicles at some point in the planning process. I thought about lightly sprinkling in this idea of newtypes, but knew I couldn’t haphazardly write it. Regardless, the second the word emerged in an episode, this word that offered the theory of human evolution, I realized that because I had no knowledge about philosophy, I couldn’t draw out the full potential of its plot line. I worried how in the world we would continue in the second cour, but it was around that time that we were told the show was canceled. I was relieved it got to have its brief life at least. Unfortunately, it was the exact opposite. It narrowly escaped death and because the idea wasn’t fleshed out, it ended up remaining a constant topic of discussion.

—It became a legend.

Tomino: It exploded. However, by insisting on using philosophy, human evolution dips into philosophical theories, and honestly, that’s thinking too lightly of the field and putting too many restrictions on it. That’s something I’ve wanted to say for the past thirty years, but I never had a stage like this to say it [1].

Frankly, I thought I could run away from it. I thought by not bringing up the question in the slightest I could escape. When I first thought it was all over, the studio came to me asking if I was going to work on the next one. I asked them next what? When they responded, “Gundam” I felt depressed.

— (Laughs) So by the time Mobile Suit Gundam was canceled…

Tomino: I’d already run out of ideas. Any and all talent I had as a writer already left me. Some of my following anime weren’t very good, right? If I had to pin down what exactly made them bad, I would have to say they were all a little too realistic. You could essentially see the pictures we were using as a foundation, and that’s not a good thing with anime.

I really shouldn’t bring up Miyazaki Hayao here, but every so often I would catch a peek at the kind of work he was doing. No matter what, when you think of anime, you think of Miyazaki (laughs). But you know, you know, I’m not stupid! I knew I couldn’t go down the same route as him, and I couldn’t work on children’s anime like Doraemon or Obake no Q-taro. I was left wondering what to do and fell into despair. That’s when they came to me with Zeta Gundam, or well Gundam part two at that point, and I realized that I already had the label of “giant robot Tomino.” With that realization, I had to put some careful thought into the idea that this was the career I’d have for the rest of my life. It’s not anything to be proud of.

It’s Not Gundam! The True Meaning Behind Reconguista in G

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Tomino: Taking a step away from mainstream Gundam, the reason I decided to work on Reconguista in G was that, to me, it’s unquestionably not a Gundam series. In my head, Gundam already reached its conclusion. All the Gundams after ∀ Gundam are borrowing the Gundam title. The normal Gundam structure and heart of their stories are understandable with only a brief introduction. It’s obvious why people who are well acquainted with Gundam were lost and asking how G-Reco became such a befuddled story. It’s because it’s not Gundam. That was lost on everyone. Anime as a medium works in a way that even if something looks similar to Gundam, we can add in stories like G-Reco, and it will ultimately work out.

Let’s say there were a 100 kids that watched it. I’m positive that at least two or three of them would see where we were aiming. Some people that watched the original Mobile Suit Gundam went on to become members of JAXA (Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency). These are men and women that launch rockets into space, and yet for the past twenty years, they’ve been taking in Gundam at face value! I’ll be honest — I hate that. I think it’s something specific to Gundam fans. They get caught up in the science and technology aspects — like rocket engineering or astronomy — but Gundam has other components to it. There is all the stuff after Newtypes.

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G-Reco was an anime I wanted people that can see history in the making to watch. Hmm…if I had to put it in words or an expression… Actually, I guess it’s more of a phenomenon. Something I’ve witnessed in these last ten years. I thought that the heart of those kinds of fans were concentrated in those scientific fields, but about seven or eight years ago, it came out that one of them was a National Diet member. The writing was on the walls. Hearing him talk about how many of members of the ministry and government agencies are fans of Gundam made me realize that my stories managed to resonate with those in the humanitarian field.

If that was the case, I wanted to try making something like G-Reco. No doubt about it, out of 100 people there would only be two or three that wouldn’t think, “Huh, this is weird. What’s happening?” It’s inevitable that more people would that think that.

Nothing But Praise: Okawara’s Gundam

Tomino: I’ll never forget those first designs. Nothing has been able to surpass them to date. Okawara hit the nail on the head with those designs, and no matter what else is released I don’t think anything will surpass it. That’s why Okawara’s gundam was chosen for the first life-sized statue. No matter how many times it gets replaced, it started the tradition of Gundam statues in that location. It’s the prototype, a humanoid, that stood eighteen meters tall. It’s the only prototype of its kind. Yeah, now there is a different statue where the original once was, but it has no way of outdoing its predecessor. It’s just a caricature of the former.

 

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In ten years, regardless of preference for his designs, Okawara’s gundam will be well received. There was a time when people despised his designs. They’d hate on them calling them box builds. Despite all of that, his fascinating designs managed to be built on a 1/1 scale, and I wanted to show the world that it’s possible to overcome criticism. It’s a way of telling those that doubt his design that they have bad taste.

People complained about the modeling and the mobility of the models. Problems that made it obvious they were just stuck in the times, worrying about trends. Right now, there aren’t many saying that over-accessorizing is preferred. It’s a trend, that’s all there is to it. Soon enough we’ll return to simplistic designs. That’s why it’s highly unlikely for anything to top Okawara’s gundam.

— That’s something you were convinced of upon seeing the life-sized gundam?

Tomino: That’s right. That’s why I don’t think it’s a matter of liking or disliking the design. The gundam holds its ground.

A Message To Voters: Tomino Yoshiyuki From Here On Out

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—We collected 1.5 million votes filled with love and respect for the Gundam series. And it goes without saying there were many more who voice their support.

Tomino: Of course.

— As the father and director of the series, what message do you have for all the fans out there?

Tomino: If it weren’t for chances like this, I would continue my daily life not knowing how much support and encouragement the series gets. I’m so thankful to see all of this support. I’ve only got so long until I expire, and even though I can’t work that much, I want to try. That way I can tell people to try a little harder for this old man’s sake.

In other words, I don’t want them to say they’ll work harder. I want them to see those giving it their all, and feel like they need to work a little harder to better themselves. Maybe that would stop empty promises to work harder — I’d be more than thankful for that. I’m not sure what would work, but in this industry, it’s hard to get a message across without actually going out and doing something. I’d appreciate if I could negate empty promises in any way. I can’t say if it’s something that can be sustained, but I’d be thrilled if the support kept coming.

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[1] Tomino has touched on the stretch of Newtypes before in an interview with Ollie Barder for Forbes, but I believe this was English only content.

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