Gattai Girls 11: “Granbelm” and Kohinata Mangetsu

Introduction: “Gattai Girls” is a series of posts dedicated to looking at giant robot anime featuring prominent female characters due to their relative rarity within that genre.

Here, “prominent” is primarily defined by two traits. First, the female character has to be either a main character (as opposed to a sidekick or support character), or she has to be in a role which distinguishes her. Second, the female character has to actually pilot a giant robot, preferrably the main giant robot of the series she’s in.

For example, Aim for the Top! would qualify because of Noriko (main character, pilots the most important mecha of her show), while Vision of Escaflowne would not, because Hitomi does not engage in any combat despite being a main character, nor would Full Metal Panic! because the most prominent robot pilot, Melissa Mao, is not prominent enough.

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Granbelm is a series that feels both modern and retro at the same time. The cute all-female cast is standard for current anime. Its premise, which pits these girls against each other in a Highlander-esque scenario to inherit the Earth’s magic, screams “early 2010s anime.” The story is straight-up early 2000s sekai-kei, a genre where the relationship between two characters determines the fate of the world. The mecha designs come straight out of a tradition of cutely proportioned robots from the late 1980s to early 1990s. Yet, while Granbelm isn’t shy about making its influences known, it’s also not ruled by them.

Female mecha protagonists are uncommon, which is why the lack of men in the series stands out all the more. That being said, this is not all that unusual, as there was an industry realization at some point in the industry that the total or near-total absence of male figures in anime could be a selling point to male and female audiences alike. In this sense, Granbelm follows in the footsteps of franchises like Love Live! and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, with the general mood of the show being more towards the darkness of the latter.

While having a predominantly female cast and thus passing the Bechdel test practically by default is by no means a mark of inherent feminism, these characters are varied in their personalities, motivations, strengths, and flaws in ways that emphasize their sheer presence on the screen. Whether it’s Anna (above) and her obsession with living up to her family reputation or Shingetsu and her guilt over her own power, the characters are convincing in their convictions. All the more impressive is the portrayal of the heroine, Kohinata Mangetsu (below). Although she comes across initially as a very generic protagonist, the series takes her naivete and exuberance and juxtaposes them against the others so as to highlight essential truths about her character in a manner most reminiscent of Selector Infected Wixoss

Moreover, it’s Mangetsu’s relationship with Shingetsu—their names meaning “full moon” and “new moon,” respectively—that is central to Granbelm. The way it plays out, similar yet profoundly different to Madoka and Homura’s in Madoka Magica, could only work with such strongly defined characters.

Given the general angle of Granbelm, the mecha might initially seem like an afterthought, but the series’s staff have worked hard to make them a vital part of the show in ways I appreciate a lot. Not only does the series wear its influences on its sleeve, with visual references to Gundam and even Space Runaway Ideon, but the way that characters argue with each other over heated personal and philosophical issues is right out of the playbook of Tomino Yoshiyuki, director of the original Mobile Suit Gundam and Ideon. Each robot—or “ARMANOX” in the anime’s parlance—reflects in form and function the personalities and fighting styles of each contestant. Whether it’s stealth, agility, or even emotional manipulation, you can sense through how they fight just what kinds of individuals they are. Mangetsu’s unit, White Lily, is fueled by her enthusiasm at the notion that she can be special in ways that elude her self-perception of mediocrity, and it comes across in the limit-shattering power and energy White Lily can generate.

Aesthetically, the ARMANOX draw from a very specific genre of giant robots: the chibi-fied robot tradition that began with SD Gundam and came into prominence in the 1980s to early 1990s anime thanks to titles like Mashin Hero Wataru, Mado King Granzort, and NG Knight & Lamune 40. Currently, the only modern anime that shares this look is the current 20th anniversary sequel to Wataru, which actively draws upon that visual nostalgia and carries a more straightforward good vs. evil story common to its original’s peers. The use of these mecha, with their squat and rounded appearances not only makes the visuals of Granbelm memorable against the backdrop of current anime, but also helps contribute to the cute yet foreboding feel of the anime as a whole. 

Granbelm takes cues from many anime trends over many decades, but it ends up synthesizing them all in an emotionally satisfying and thought-provoking manner. Vital to this success is the series’s portrayal of both its female characters and the giant robots they use to fight as reflections of each other and of the world they occupy. 

Success and Failure in the Ongoing Attempt to Bring Kids Back to Giant Robots

Giant robot anime began very squarely in the domain of children. Loud, boldly colored robots appeared on TV (at least, once color TV became common), and the toys based on them came full of fun gimmicks and gizmos. Over time, there was a maturing of the genre in many ways, both in terms of themes presented and the aging of fans, so by the time we got into the 2000s, things changed. Between Pokemon, card games, and more, giant robots have just not been the ticket to big toy sales among kids. Thus, most giant robot anime of the last fifteen years rely more on adult tastes and nostalgia, or at the very least have been aimed at young adults. However, every so often, you’ll see moves to try to reclaim giant robots for kids, and they communicate a reality that mecha alone tend not to capture kids’ hearts in this day and age.

Gundam AGE

One of the more significant attempts to capture that younger audience was 2011’s Gundam AGE, because of how Gundam is what arguably kicked off the move toward mature audiences all those years ago and because it’s traditionally been such a sales juggernaut. Although keeping the traditional “robots in war” staples, Gundam AGE was a concerted effort to target kids, right down to more toyetic robot and weapon designs. Unfortunately, the series pleased pretty much no one, including me, despite my initially high hopes. The story was a mess, and the model kits failed to attract older and younger customers alike, to the extent that a kitbash of Madoka from Madoka Magica with beefy Gundam arms became more of a sales point than the actual merch. Later Gundam overtures towards kid audiences were more successful via the Gundam Build Fighters and Gundam Build Divers spin-offs, but both treat the mecha as collectible items utilized in virtual environments—closer to the popular style of Japanese kids’ shows.

Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter

Another instance is 2012’s Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter, though this one is odd in that what it ultimately tried to promote was not toys or model kits, though some did come out. Rather, like Aikatsu! and Pripara, the bread and butter of Gyrozetter was the card-based arcade game. Ultimately, it was called a major mistake on the part of Square-Enix. Personally, I think the show is very enjoyable, but it’s also arguably better known for its attractive older characters than anything else—so not exactly kid’s stuff. 

While hitting the mark seems difficult, there is one company that seems intent on making giant robot anime work for kids: toy maker Takara Tomy, the originator of Transformers. In addition to that long-standing international cultural staple (whose success has so many external factors that it’s hard to gauge in terms of success as “anime”), it’s Takara Tomy that keeps taking swings, down to even pushing the ZOIDS franchise as their “third pillar” along with Transformers and Beyblade. 

2018’s ZOIDS Wild anime is a continuation of the ZOIDS franchise, which has been receiving animated adaptations since 1999’s ZOIDS: Chaotic Century. Given its longevity, it would be easy to assume that they’re doing something right with their use and portrayal of giant robots, but I think there’s a key factor that keeps ZOIDS relatively popular: the use of animal-shaped robots as opposed to humanoid ones. The more universal appeal of dinosaurs and cool beasts does a lot of the heavy lifting. 

Tomica Kizuna Gattai Earth Granner

Along this vein, Tomica Hyper Rescue Drive Head (2017) and Tomica Kizuna Gattai Earth Granner (2020) both involve motor vehicles that can transform into robots—and, unlike Gyrozetter, have the many toys to show. The Tomica line is primarily more about cars than mechs, and the toys have enormous success in Asia. Again, the robots are not the main popularity factor, acting instead as an additional flourish to push it over the edge. Transformers, in a sense, combines both ZOIDS and Tomica’s appeals together, while also banking on brand recognition. Moreover, while giant robots are still a staple of tokusatsu, they’re more a secondary component to the color-coded-hero fantasy that defines these live-action series. The previous Tomica tokusatsu series use cars in a similar manner. 

Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion

The strangest case might very well be 2018’s Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion THE ANIMATION is a series about bullet train (“Shinkansen”) robots sponsored by the East Japan Railway Company. Somewhat like Gyrozetter, there’s an unconventional ultimate goal—promoting Japan’s high-speed rail system—but unlike Gyrozetter, the toy and merchandise line is definitely there. In addition, while ZOIDS Wild, Drive Head, and Earth Granner all target boys ages 10-12, I can’t help but notice how aggressively kid-friendly Shinkalion’s aesthetics are, from the character designs to the story. What really makes Shinkalion an oddity, however, is that its success isn’t measured solely in toy sales, but also the degree to which it creates good PR for Japan’s public transportation.

It does sadden me that mecha don’t appear to carry an inherent appeal for kids these days, but I do think that sprinkling in robots can potentially push these franchises into becoming more memorable and enjoyable. Also, I’d like to think that Takara Tomy is laying down a foundation for it to happen in the future, and much like how adults who grew up with super robots in the 1970s grew attached to them, perhaps in a couple of decades we’ll see nostalgia for the Shinkalions and Earth Granners of the world.

Mashin Hero Wataru Is Available Free and Legally on YouTube

Mashin Eiyuuden Wataru (Mashin Hero Wataru) is a 1989 children’s giant robot anime that still has ardent fans to this day. After appearing in the video game Super Robot Wars X, it’s now getting a new sequel to celebrate its 30th anniversary—along with a new set of toys to collect. In order to promote this new series, the Bandai Spirits YouTube channel has actually been putting up the entire Wataru series with multilanguage subtitles!

The channel uploads one episode a week, and the English translation is very solid. The only hiccups come from the fact that Wataru likes to make Japanese language puns—the bane of all translators.

My early impression is that it’s a fun and entertaining series about an energetic boy who gets transported to a fantasy world and who can summon a giant robot. Wataru is humorous and light-hearted, but actually has a few elements of intrigue that build on one another. In our current age of “good boys” in anime, Ikusabe Wataru doesn’t feel out of place at all.

It’s also worth noting that Wataru and his ninja ally Himiko are both voiced by seiyuu giants: Tanaka Mayumi (Krillin, Luffy) and Hayashibara Megumi (Ayanami Rei, Lina Inverse) respectively. If you want some top-class acting chops, this series of full of them. The main robot, Ryujinmaru is actually played by the Kaiji narrator, Genda Tesshou, and another major character has Yamadera Kouichi (Spike Spiegel) behind him.

There’s no telling how long the episodes will be up, but watching them is a great way to support and enjoy a beloved old anime, even if it’s perhaps your (and my) first time watching it. There’s also no guarantee that they’ll have the entire first Wataru series available either. However, based on the fact that they put up all of Armored Fleet Dairugger XV (aka Vehicle Voltron) up to promote the Soul of Chogokin future, signs are positive. At the very least, I hope to be ready when the 30th anniversary sequel, Mashin Hero Wataru: Ryujinmaru of the Seven Souls hits later this year.

Now, where’s that Keith Courage revival?

Quesstions: A Renewed Look at Gundam: Char’s Counterattack

Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack is a defining anime for me. It cemented Gundam in my head as this incredible thing, and its aesthetics (especially its main mobile suits) remain among my favorite ever. That’s why, even though I’d seen the movie plenty of times in my youth and I own a physical copy, I still decided to attend the recent Fathom Events screening. It also didn’t hurt that there was an exclusive new interview with director Tomino Yoshiyuki.

There was one big mishap at my screening, which was that the theater played the wrong audio for about the first ten minutes or so. They eventually fixed it, but were not allowed to restart the movie because it was a Fathom Event. Thankfully, they gave us a free voucher for a future showing.

That mess-up aside, watching the film at my current age made for a significantly different experience compared to when I was a teen in the early 2000s. It wasn’t just that I was older, but that the current circumstances of the world make clear the failure of the story’s adults all around.

Char’s Counterattack is the finale to the ongoing rivalry between the original Mobile Suit Gundam protagonist, Amuro Ray, and his greatest rival, Char Aznable. Both older and in different positions after two different wars—the second of which they fought side by side—it’s a bookend to their ongoing personal, political, and philosophical differences.

One notorious character in the film is Quess Paraya, a young and talented Newtype (essentially a psychic) who willingly gets wrapped up in the conflict. She’s infamous in the fandom as a character nearly everyone hates because she gets in other characters’ ways and acts like a know-it-all despite her age. However, when I watched this time, I could only pity her.

It’s true that Quess can be infuriatingly impetuous and overconfident, but I realize now that her side plot is less about her screwing things up due to arrogance and more about the adults who fail her at every turn. She’s the classic case of a teenager with very real talent and insight but who doesn’t realize how her lack of experience and first-hand understanding of the world limits her. Quess thinks she’s figured it all out but she hasn’t, and when she interacts with Amuro, Char, and even her dad, they all brush her off in different ways or enable her in the worst ways possible. She’s someone who could be guided and mentored, but no one has the time or desire. Even those closer to her in age, who are romantically interested, lack the maturity to be good partners.

There’s a point at which Amuro and Char are fist-fighting while arguing, and Char says that humankind is ruining the Earth and something must be done about it, which prompts Quess to immediately join his side despite ostensibly being with the Earth Federation due to her dad. The way Quess thinks she’s on the same wavelength as Char, even though she knows so little about him, brings to mind a teen on YouTube watching an extreme political video and thinking, “Yeah, I get it!” without realizing how much they’re being manipulated.

But it’s not just Quess who suffers from being a half-broken machine—this is a recurring theme throughout the entire cast. Amuro is trying to be a mature adult who’s both a good soldier but also independent-minded, but can’t shake the ghosts of the past. Char is trying to be a real leader and successor to his dad’s legacy but also can’t come to terms with how things played out with Amuro all those years ago. Gyunei, a soldier under Char, is so close to figuring everything out, but actually thinks that scoring the figurative winning point in the big game will turn everyone to his side. They’re all in shambles, and the film takes away some of their mystique even as it showcases them in gorgeously animated space combat.

In the Tomino interview afterwards, the director described Char in Char’s Counterattack as someone whose star quickly rise in his youth as a pilot, but who finds himself inadequate as a leader partially because he still desires to settle things personally. It positions Char as not the enigmatic rival, and instead a man frustrated by his own limitations but refusing to directly them. It might be no wonder why my teenage self didn’t quite get it.

[Anime NYC 2019] Tomino’s Movie Magic: Gundam Reconguista in G Part 1

At Anime NYC 2019, I attended the screening of Gundam Reconguista in G Part I: Go! Core Fighter, the first of five planned compilation films based on 2014’s Gundam: Reconguista in G TV series. It was one of the events I was looking forward to most at the convention, and not only because legendary Gundam director Tomino Yoshiyuki was there.

I am a staunch defender of G-Reco because I believe that in spite of its flaws, it has a strong anti-war message which surpasses even the original Gundam‘s in certain respects. Its setting, in an era after the original Gundam timeline, shows what war is like when the cataclysmic devastation of the past is all but forgotten, for better or worse. But I acknowledge that G-Reco did not exactly take the world by storm, as it could be a confusing series, and Tomino’s  “throw you in the deep end” style of no-context dialogue did it no favors.

Thus, I came into the screening with the hope—albeit a tentative one—that these new movies could clean up the rough edges of the series enough to get its ideas and themes across effectively to a wider audience. After all, for every Mobile Suit Gundam trilogy, which is in many ways superior to its source material, there’s a Mobile Suit Z Gundam: A New Translation, which feels sloppily put together. However, I immediately noticed that the film is much clearer and easier to follow, allaying my fears.

There are two simple but major choices that make this first G-Reco film less convoluted. First is the decision to condense the series into films in the first place. Second is the heavier use of internal monologue to make character motivations more obvious.

Many of the scenes and plot points relevant to one another in the TV series could be episodes apart, and by the time something came up again, it was easy to forget what information had been communicated already. But in the movie version, everything is more tightly packed together such that ideas and threads are fresher in the memory. It’s easier to see how various aspects of the world-building fit together, and what potential they hold as the story unfolds.

In regards to characters’ inner minds, the TV series suffered from what seemed like constantly inconsistent actions from characters. They’d switch sides, kill those close to them seemingly without much regret, and just be generally difficult to follow or comprehend. The hero, Bellri Zenam, was especially obtuse. Now, however, there are multiple new scenes of characters expressing either through thought (and sometimes even voice) just how they’re feeling and how it’s affecting their decisions. While the film is still characteristically Tomino and can be full of puzzling dialogue, having it be undergirded by these inner monologues helps to prevent the characters from coming off as sociopaths.

The biggest surprise to me is how much better I understood the character of Noredo Nug, Bellri’s friend and possible love interest. Noredo believes in Bellri’s goodness even more than the man himself does, and she’s willing to defend him in this regard even when he won’t do it himself.

Before the screening began, Tomino said that everyone who came for a Gundam movie will be disappointed because this isn’t Gundam. It seems like a tongue in cheek comment, but I think he really meant it in a way. The message he’s trying to convey through G-Reco is trying to target a new audience that isn’t entrenched in the existing Gundam cultural juggernaut—most likely, that’s what stuff like Gundam UC is for.

Because I’ve seen the TV series, it was impossible for me to go in with fresh eyes Still, I strongly feel that this first G-Reco film is a much more refined work, and while it can still be a challenge to follow at times, it is a major step up. I also just recently rewatched Gundam F-91, and that movie just falls apart a third of the way through, whereas Go! Core Fighter was enjoyable and thought-provoking throughout. Provided nothing goes horribly awry with the sequels, I believe that the Mobile Suit Gundam Reconguista in G films will be the definitive version.

 

Soul of Chogokin Gordian vs. Baikanfu and the Matryoshka Robot Legacy

In the world of giant robots, what you see traditionally has not always been what you get. The cool robot that appears in an anime might look significantly different from the toy it’s based on due to the fact that metal and plastic are limited by the physical world in ways drawings are not. The difference between the gimmick-laden early Gundam toys and the more show-faithful model kits that followed is a prime example. This disparity is why the announcement of the Soul of Chogokin Gordian is of particular interest to me, despite me not having much emotional investment.

When it comes to being true to both toy and anime sides, the Soul of Chogokin line of deluxe figures is arguably the best there is, and I have no doubt that they’ll faithfully reproduce the designs from the anime Gordian Warrior. By itself, this would be the story of an obscure 1970s series getting its due in the Soul of Chogokin line, but there’s an extra wrinkle—a child or clone twist, perhaps. There’s actually a robot toy that originally began as a repurposing of the Gordian Warrior line known as Baikanfu (or Vikungfu) from Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos, and this particular robot was already made into an SoC figure back in 2007. Yet, because the associated anime are so aesthetically different from each other, this practically necessitates two different approaches.

Gordian Warrior has very little presence in the English-speaking world, as its toy came and went as part of the 1980s Godaikin line, and the anime’s only official release (streaming only) was by the now-defunct AnimeSols. Still, one look at the opening is all it takes to understand why the Gordian robots with their Matryoshka doll–like stacking gimmick would be fun and attractive toys. It’s likely why they were revived for Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos, and when you see the toys from each anime side by side, the connection between the two series is all the more obvious.

But thanks to the magic of art and imagination, these two extremely similar toys end up being portrayed wildly differently on TV. In animation, the three Gordian robots—Protesser, Dellinger, and Garbin—have less exaggeratedly hypermasculine proportions compared to their Revenge of Cronos equivalents, Rom Stohl, Kenryu, and Baikanfu.

Despite Harbin being the biggest robot in Gordian Warrior, its simple blue and white color scheme and its slender body look downright austere compared to Baikanfu. And because the Soul of Chogokin line aims to embrace both the fun of the action figure and the style of the anime, it means getting to see how the same basic toy design ends up interpreted through two different lenses as prestige objects. Where will they differ? Where will they show commonality?

Gordian and Baikanfu are not the only example of designs being reused. One notable example is the Transformer Six Shot, a robot with stuff forms whose toy was repainted and resold as the ninja robot Shadowmaru from Brave Police J-Decker. Like the two stacking robots, Six Shot and Shadowmaru look so different in animation that it’s a surprise to find out their toys are virtually the same.

The Soul of Chogokin Gordian from Gordian Warrior is more than an opportunity for nostalgia, as it’s also a chance to look at how the same line has interpreted it’s design with respect to its spiritual successor in Baikanfu from Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos. It’s ripe ground for appreciating some smart, nostalgic toy design along with the creative interpretation of toy to anime transitions.

Burn to Fight: Promare

Promare, the new anime film from Studio Trigger (Kill la Kill, Inferno Cop) and director Imaishi Hiroyuki (Gurren-Lagann) is a visual spectacle that encapsulates everything that makes the studio stand out among its peers.

Starting from its announcement all the way to its release, there had been a deliberate vagueness around what Promare is even about. The only things available to potential audiences were some character designs that seem to draw inspiration from previous Trigger anime, a very basic plot outline, and the sense that the creators themselves weren’t always entirely sure what the premise was. Even the meaning of the title, Promare, is kept secret. But rather than this ambiguity being a weakness, it has actually ended up being a strength. There’s a certain degree of “feel, then think” that Promare emphasizes, and the result is an energizing work that comes across as a kind of full-body experience.

Promare takes place thirty years after a great disaster. One day, random people around the world suddenly began to spontaneously combust and gain the ability to control games, causing significant changes to society. The protagonist, Galo Thymos is a brash but courageous fellow who believes strongly in the firefighter spirit, and who works for the group Burning Rescue. As he deals with the flames, he begins to discover that everything he knows about the flames and the people who create them, is far from the truth.

The beginning of the film can be challenging to comprehend because it’s so visually overwhelming. The art style largely eschews black outlines, and the heavy use of flat, vibrant color planes along with the constant emphasis on action makes it initially difficult to even know what to concentrate on. However, this assault on the senses acts as an introduction to the aesthetic of Promare, and by the middle of the film, it was like my eyes had fully adjusted to the world. By then, virtually everything, particularly the fighting, was a treat—somehow artistically daring yet also comfortably familiar, like avantgarde pro wrestling.

This is not to say that the film is all pizzazz, without any worthwhile storytelling. While wrapped in a package of flashy action scenes and detailed animation, there is a strong message about taking the steps to understand more of the world around you, including those you’ve misunderstood, and unjust actions you may have previously ignored. The characters are similarly simple yet multifaceted.

Without spoiling too much, the film is packed with the things people come to Trigger for, and as someone who resonates with the Studio’s themes and aesthetics in general, it was right up my alley.

So in conclusion, abolish Freeze Force.

Thinking About Hong Kong Through the Lens of G Gundam

Hong Kong has been on my mind a lot as of late. Earlier in the year, I began re-watching Mobile Fighter G Gundam, an anime in which the latter half of the series takes place primarily in the futuristic “Neo-Hong Kong.” A few months earlier, I actually visited Hong Kong for the second time ever—the first time was three decades ago when I could barely remember a thing. Then, in recent weeks, news of Hong Kong has been dominated by the ongoing protests there in response to the Mainland Chinese government. This confluence of events has me wondering about how Hong Kong was traditionally portrayed in media, and imagining the possible Hong Kongs that could have been.

Giant robot fighting tournament aside, the Hong Kong of G Gundam is close to the classic portrayal of the territory in the 1980s and 1990s: tall buildings and a mix of glitz and grime, much like in Bloodsport or the countless works to come out of the famed Hong Kong film industry. One major difference between fiction and reality is that in G Gundam, the Neo-Hong Kong government is the sovereign ruler of all nations—a consequence of winning the previous “Gundam Fight” tournament. It’s extra ironic because G Gundam was made in 1994; that’s a mere three years before Hong Kong was to be returned to China after two hundred years as a British colony. According to a talk by director Imagawa Yasuhiro, the producers of G Gundam were aware of this and didn’t care.

While Neo-Hong Kong being the world’s foremost power is portrayed as a double-edged sword, especially in how the appearance of prosperity hides the damage and decay of the Earth itself, seeing a Hong Kong so powerful contrasts with its relatively declining influence in the real world since 1997. Hong Kong had been a major player on the world stage due to the economic freedoms allowed by its British colony status, and the relationship between China and Hong Kong is meant to be “one country, two systems” in order to maintain the make-up of both, but there has long been a growing fear by residents of Hong Kong that this was never meant to last.

Two areas that point to Hong Kong receding from center stage are the film industry and the pop music industry. Hong Kong’s notoriety in movies is a shadow of its former self, while China increasingly funds and influences major Hollywood productions. Cantonese pop from Hong Kong, which swept Asia in previous decades, had a long lull that it seems to only be recovering from now. This stands out all the more because the prime minister of Neo Hong-Kong in G Gundam is named Wong Yun-Fat (a reference to famed director Chow Yun-Fat), and the fact that G Gundam itself has a full-on Cantopop soundtrack for the second half of the anime.

Visiting Hong Kong, I noticed how different each area of the territory is. Hong Kong island feels like it’s somewhere between London and New York’s Chinatown. Kowloon reminds me more of the Asian cities I’ve been to, and is also the namesake of Neo-Hong Kong’s Kowloon Gundam. I didn’t go to the New Territories, but I hear it’s where you live if you want to get away from everything else. Lantau Island, in the New Territories, is actually the site of the final battle in G Gundam. On Sundays, you’ll see countless girls, many in hijabs, occupying the street. That’s because it’s the only day out of the week that the domestic workers of Hong Kong—from Indonesia, the Philippines, and other Asian countries—have off. Hong Kong is a place of amalgams and contrasts that reflect an economy of haves and have-nots, not unlike the world of G Gundam.

Hong Kong is still significant in the world, but China’s economic rise is one of the biggest stories of the last two decades. Because of the mainland’s increasing global influence, it makes me doubtful that we’ll ever see more Neo-Hong Kongs in media, Hong Kongs that dominate the Earth. “Hong Kong as powerhouse” is an interesting narrative, but because it’s competing with the tale that the influential are seeking to weave, it might very well remain in the imagination.

Otakon 2019 Interview: Furuya Toru

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2019 in Washington, DC. Furuya Toru is the voice behind famous anime characters such as Amuro Ray (Gundam), Tuxedo Mask (Sailor Moon), and Seiya (Saint Seiya).

Ogiue Maniax: It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Furuya. I have a few questions I’d like to get the answers to. First, you’re known for many famous roles, but one of your early major ones was Hoshi Hyuuma in Star of the Giants. What was it like working on the show with director Nagahama?

Furuya: That was an anime from almost fifty years ago, and back then I was a middle schooler, and back then, Nagahama-san wasn’t there at the recordings. So I actually don’t have too many memories with him, unfortunately.

Ogiue Maniax: I have another question about Star of the Giants. I’ve heard before that there is a famous episode where a pitch–a single pitch–takes the entire episode. I’ve had trouble finding out more about it. Do you recall this episode, and if so, do you remember what it was like to work on it?

Furuya: There wasn’t an episode where a single throw was one episode, but there was an episode where a single inning was one episode. The anime always did this thing where it would end at a really good place–the camera would stop at the ball right in the air, and many people would want to know what happened next. So I think that went on to be talked about as only one throw in that episode

Ogiue Maniax: I want to ask about one of your recent roles. One of my favorite roles you’ve done is Casshern in Casshern Sins.

Furuya: With regards to Casshern, back then, I was at a point in time where I was thinking that I’ve gotten old and there’s lots of new people in the industry, and I’m not gonna have many main character roles like before. But then, Casshern from Casshern Sins was an offer I got directly from the director of Casshern Sins, director Yamauchi, who I had worked with previously on Saint Seiya. I was very honored at the fact that I was able to do the main character, and it was a while since I played a main character for a TV series. Unfortunately, maybe it was the overall theme being a bit dark and heavy, but it did not receive as good a reception as we hoped for, but I really like Casshern Sins.

Ogiue Maniax: It’s a really excellent show.

Furuya: [In English] Thank you so much!

Ogiue Maniax: I want to ask you about another main character, one that’s more obscure: the main hero from the anime Groizer X. Did you know that the show is actually apparently quite beloved in Brazil?

Furuya: [In English] Really?! [in Japanese] I didn’t know at all. I’ve been to Brazil three times, and I  knew Saint Seiya was popular, but I never heard anything about Groizer X.

Ogiue Maniax: I read online that it was one of the first mecha shows to come to Brazil, so it influenced Brazil in terms of giant robot anime.

Furuya: I think the people there might not realize I did both Kaisaka Joe from Groizer X and Seiya from Saint Seiya.

Ogiue Maniax: My next question is going back to your experience with directors. Director Tomino is known for being a very interesting person. As someone who has worked with him a lot, do you have any favorite stories or memorable experiences with Director Tomino?

Furuya: This is going back to Gundam, but back then, Gundam was a very new and novel concept for a show. As the person who came up with it, I thought he was a genius. I also thought he was a very scary person, but he actually came to all of the recordings we had, and he didn’t give too many directions. But back then, I remember that there were a lot of new female voice actors in the field, and lots of them were having a hard time doing their roles. So Director Tomino would actually be very caring to explain exactly how he wanted some acts to be done. So that was memorable.

Ogiue Maniax: Speaking of female voice actors in Gundam, I was recently watching an anime with Inoue You [the voice of Sayla Mass], and to me, you and Inoue both are fantastic voice actors. Sadly, she passed away, so I wanted to know if you have any lasting impressions or memories of her.

Furuya: You-san was in the business since childhood, so I really looked up to her. She was also a really good cook. Back in the Gundam days, after recording, we would go over to her place to have curry that she cooked.

Ogiue Maniax: That’s wonderful. 

When I think about your performances, you’re very good at playing characters of all ages–young, old, different personalities. Do you have any advice for, say, new voice actors who are trying to achieve that versatility?

Furuya: For new people in the voice acting field, I would actually say they should want to experience many things because my personal experience when I get new roles to play is that I go back and do some research on what kind of role this is, what kind of world this is, and what character I’m doing. I would think long and hard about what kind of voice that character would have. I would go as far as to act the same movements as the characters would be making. So I’d actually do it kind of like a play, where I would actually move the same way and give a thought as to what the character would move like, or what the world is like. In that sense, my approach towards those roles is the versatility I have, and to new voice actors, I would suggest them to get many new experiences so they can give more educated thought on how a character may sound like.

Ogiue Maniax: If there’s one message you’d want people to take away from Gundam, what would it be?

Furuya:

Ogiue Maniax: Thank you very much!

Why Are There So Few Recent Titles in Super Robot Wars T?

When a series gets into a Super Robot Wars game, for the first time, it’s a momentous occasion, especially when the game in question is one of the “mainline” iterations. The mecha (or even spaceships these days!) can be from old and obscure works, cult favorites, and even the new hotness. When playing through the recent Super Robot Wars T, however, I noticed that there’s a significant dearth of recent series, and I’m using that term loosely—out of every anime included, only two are from the past 13 years.

Even that number doesn’t tell the whole story. One of the anime referred to above is 2018’s Mazinger Z: Infinity, a film sequel to the original Mazinger Z anime franchise. While technically “modern,” it’s meant to be a nostalgia work. That leaves only Expelled from Paradise, a 2014 film. The next one after that is Gun x Sword from 2005. It’s not inherently a bad thing, and there are a number of welcome surprises in SRWT like Magic Knight Rayearth, Cowboy Bebop, and Captain Harlock. In a Famitsu interview, the director, Terada Takanobu, mentioned that one of their decisions for including new titles was a desire to have something for every age group. So in the sense of newcomers alone, it’s a pretty even split. However, the heavy lean towards the old is still noticeable, and I think a number of factors go into this.

First, as the years go by, what is considered an “old” title vs. a “new” one widens. Second, mecha anime just isn’t the bustling industry it once was, at least not in the same way. Third, I think that, as much as they tried to pull in fans of all ages, their core demographic seems to be working adults somewhere around 25-39, given both the themes of the game and the title selection itself.

For many younger anime fans, a span of five years might very well cover their entire fandom, let alone the now five decades that have elapsed since the original Mazinger Z anime debuted. For Super Robot Wars, this goes double, as it often takes quite a few years for a hot new mecha title to get the spotlight. Back in the early 2000s, Gaogaigar (1997) and Shin Getter Robo Armageddon (1998) were considered fairly young upstarts when they appeared. Now, in Super Robot Wars T, they’re grizzled old veterans. Outside of Super Robot Wars specifically, it’s always fascinating to see a title like Cowboy Bebop (1997 debut but aired on Adult Swim in 2001) go from being the hot new thing in the US to being a virtually canonized masterpiece that’s sometimes more discussed than viewed.

The relative oldness of the entries in SRWT is in part a consequence of how giant robots are simply not the industry juggernaut that they once were. Long gone are the endless number of children’s mecha shows, and the robot anime that do remain know that their audience will often skew older. Super Robot Wars, given its nature as a crossover celebration of what is increasingly a niche genre, is sort of tailor-made for nostalgia, compounding the sense that its appeal does not lie in attracting newer, younger anime fans, but those with a lot of experience watching and loving mecha anime. There are newer titles to pull in, but will they have the same draw as these assumed childhood/youth favorites?

In that sense, it’s interesting to note just where the nostalgia hits hardest for SRWT. Many of the titles are squarely in the 1990s without being made as sequels or reimaginings—Cowboy Bebop, Magic Knight Rayearth, Nadesico, G Gundam, Gaogaigar, and Might Gaine—while plenty of other titles are late 80s or early 2000s. Director Terada mentioned that international fandom was a consideration for which titles to include, and while not the case with every country, I think that the 90s is an especially strong time for fan nostalgia now—or at least the 90s anime they may have seen years later because anime distribution wasn’t nearly as speedy back in the days of VHS tapes and Real Media Player.

It’s also telling that the gimmick of the main heroes is that they’re salarymen, i.e. full-time working adults around ages 25 to 39, instead of teenagers. In some sense, it works as a gimmick, but when past original characters have been decidedly less mundane in their basic premises, the idea of “loyal company employee” stands out. There’s something to be said about how the notion of the salaryman as the default position for adults in Japan has been shattered for many years now, but I won’t go much into it except to say that while a heroine who just really likes a steady paycheck might have seemed like the most milquetoast thing once upon a time, in our current global economy, that idea almost borders on escapist fantasy.

Or maybe the team just really wanted to do a story with Jupiter as a focal point. Between Shin Getter Robo Armageddon, Nadesico, Crossbone Gundam, Aim for the Top!, Gaogaigar, and Cowboy Bebop, the fifth planet from the sun gets major play.

There’s one last possible reason the series is lacking anime titles from recent years: they’re saving them for a direct sequel. While there’s no news yet of a true follow-up to Super Robot Wars T (as opposed to just another game with a completely different cast and universe), there are enough loose threads in this game that a continuation would not be surprising.