November 2019, Animec returned after thirty years to publish a special one-shot issue celebrating 40 Years of Gundam. One of the sections featured a selection of stories about the “Declaration of a New Anime Century” event held in 1981. “Our Shinjuku Scramble” was one of those stories. Read the original here. And view all the winners and entries here!
Our Shinjuku Scramble
by Tomoyuki Uehara
At the time, I lived in Sendai, Tokyo. I first watched Gundam airing when I was in fifth grade, and it stole my heart. Once I reached sixth grade, I bought the Gundam novel that Tomino wrote and, despite how difficult it was, I read it over and over again. I learned a lot of difficult words from that book. The problem was that I didn’t know many people to talk about Gundam with. In my class, there was one boy, Nitta, and the two girls Kataoka and Omi. In the other classes, there was one boy, Sakai. That’s as large as my Gundam discussion world expanded.
When the news of the Gundam movie broke, there was an announcement in the paper for an event on Sunday, February 22nd, 1981—three weeks before the movie opened. There was a morning event that took place in Shinjuku Shochiku that required a postcard lottery entry, but the afternoon event “Declaration of a New Anime Century” being held at the Shinjuku East Station Front Square (Alta Plaza) was open entry. I wanted to go. I wanted a place where I could let all my love for Gundam run wild. I applied for the morning event and days later received a postcard informing me that I had won a ticket.
As the day drew closer, I invited Nitta and Sakai to come with me. Nitta and I were in the same class for all six years of elementary school, so I considered him the number one person I could talk to. Sakai was famous in school for taking the role of Ali Baba in the fourth-grade school play Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Despite this, he was a big anime fan who frequently called Animec, Mec. Our plan for February 22nd was simple. Since I was the only one who had managed to win a ticket for the early event, I would head to Shinjuku in the morning. Nitta and Sakai would show up for the afternoon event, and the three of us would meet up in front of the station. Easy.
February 22nd finally came, and I was up at five in the morning. My endorphins were at an all-time high. I took the JR Yamanote line from Nishinippori to Shinjuku station, and when I exited to the square, I was greeted to a huge Gundam display panel. There were fans all over the place. It was about 80% men and 20% women of what looked to be mainly high school and university students—not elementary school students like me. At the reception counter, I received a poster, a flyer, information on the “Declaration of a New Anime Century,” and my official ticket. With all that in hand, I left the plaza for later and headed for Shochiku.
The morning event showed a preview of the movie, had a talk show with the staff and voice actors, and Takajin Yashiki himself sing “Cross of Sand.” The fan costume show section had a dance number to “Here Comes Char” that particularly stuck with me over the years. Despite all of this, the real stand out moment was Yoshiyuki Tomino. I had read his interviews before, but the was the first time seeing him in person—hearing his words come out of his mouth. It was at that time, more than ever, that I really felt that I was a fan of this man.
After the morning event was over, there was still time before the afternoon event started, but I still went right to the station. I ran there, actually. Even though I arrived early, there were already a lot of people in the square. I managed to get a spot about ten rows from the front of the stage. Not bad if I say so myself. As more people showed up, the feel of the square began to get strange. There were a few more elementary school students, but more than half of the crowd was comprised of middle school to university students—basically people bigger than me.
I couldn’t spot Nitta or Sakai, so I abandoned the idea of meeting up with them. People kept pouring in, which caused an unnecessary amount of pushing. One woman actually came up to me and asked if I was alright. I was more than alright. I was absolutely thrilled that there were so many people that loved Gundam all in the same place. It got so bad that Tomino appeared on stage despite the event not officially starting and took over the mic saying, “If anyone gets hurt here, society is going to crack down on anime and anime fans, so don’t let that happen.” Everyone was pretty orderly after that.
The event started. I was surrounded by people taller than me, so it was difficult to see, but that wasn’t going to stop me—the space between their heads was more than enough to see the stage. Tomino talked a lot. Stuff like, “There are 20,000 of you gathered here today.” I specifically remember this because it was written as 10,000 in the newspaper the next day. Takajin Yashiki sang “Cross of Sand” for a second time. During the latter half of the event, two fans dressed as Char and Lalah came on stage and read the declaration of a new anime century. The whole square listened in silence as if the words unified us all. Following that, the movie preview was shown on the Studio Alta building’s digital screen, and some lottery presents were awarded. I managed to win a Gundam keyframe.
Just as quickly as it had started, the event ended. I went to the present exchange area and received an envelope with my keyframe in it. It showed the back of a soldier sitting down—I had no idea who he was. Some high schoolers near me asked if they could have a look at it, and I told them it was alright. They were looking at it for so long I worried that they were going to steal it, but they put it back in the envelope, handed it back, and thanked me.
I managed to finally find Nitta and Sakai near the area where a bunch of movie billboards were. They were able to catch the latter half of the event. On the whole train ride home, the three of us kept talking about stuff like how cool Tomino was.
It’s been thirty-eight years since then, and I’m now fifty. I work at a broadcasting station, Sakai is apparently working as a bureaucrat, and I haven’t heard from Nitta in awhile. I don’t have any idea where he is or what he’s up to, but I sometimes wonder if he thinks back to that day too.