[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.

 

Tomino Yoshiyuki’s “Big Picture”: Why the Gundam Creator Can Be So Hit or Miss

Director Tomino Yoshiyuki is a perplexing figure in the anime industry. He’s the creator of Gundam, which makes him a legend to a certain type and generation of anime fan. He’s been described as passionate and even frightening by those who’ve worked with the man. Also, because his anime range from legendary to seemingly non-sequitur nonsense, Tomino has a George Lucas-esque reputation, where people can’t tell if he’s a genius, a fool, or a one-hit wonder. While this might mark Tomino as an inconsistent director, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that a major factor in the effectiveness of his anime is length. Tomino is a creator who’s better with longer-format series than shorter works.

I think one of the roots of all this is the way he approaches setting up an anime. In a recent episode of the Anime World Order podcast on the Tomino-helmed mid-2000s animation Wings of Rean, the hosts referenced an interview included with the DVD release. When asked  about his approach to film by using a classic ramen analogy (do you start with the ramen itself or with the steam that suggests its presence?), Tomino says that he prefers to start right at the point the noodles reach the lips—and if the lips are sexy, all the better. This seems like a very roundabout answer that might not make sense at first glance, but it’s actually a very good description of how Tomino constructs narratives.

Take Reideen the Brave, Tomino’s first ever directorial work on a giant robot anime. Instead of calmly introducing the main characters, the villains, the stakes, and finally the wondrous robot (as was typical of even the best robot shows of the time), Reideen the Brave‘s first episode comes a mile a minute. The main character, Hibiki Akira, is playing soccer with his friends! Suddenly, DEATH AND DESTRUCTION AROUND THE WORLD AS LANDMARKS CRUMBLE. A voice calls for a hero to awaken. It speaks directly to Akira and tells him the AGE OF DEMONS has come about, and that he needs something called “Reideen!” A LIGHTNING BOLT HITS AKIRA.

Keep in mind that, including the opening, less than five minutes have passed.

I love this first episode because it really puts the viewers into the thick of things and leaves us to try and piece together everything going on. As I’ve watched more and more of Tomino’s works, this is clearly a trend, evident in shows from all across his history with anime, such as Space Runaway Ideon, Overman King Gainer, and Gundam: Reconguista in G. It’s the directorial equivalent of shoving someone into the deep end of the pool and asking them to make it to the surface, and when there’s enough intrigue laid out, it can become a fine motivator to stick with a series. However, this can be a double-edged sword, and the other side of that blade produces his more maligned works, like Garzey’s Wing and Wings of Rean. If that rush of information isn’t compelling enough, or doesn’t leave enough meat to sink one’s teeth into, it becomes a poor framework to build on.

My belief is that Tomino is a “big picture, big philosophy” creator who tries to show fragments of a world to give it a sense of scope and significance. By doing this, he tries to actively challenge viewers to think about the real world. The issue is that the “little picture” often escapes him. This is perhaps why creating convincing romances is one of his weaknesses—the development of relationships is a very intimate and local thing. He does fine with established romances, and he’s great at placing a romance within the greater context of a world in motion, but the actual motions of love burgeoning between two people seems to escape him. Instead, he goes for instant love: newtype psychic explosions and the like.

When Tomino has enough room to really lay something out, like in Ideon or Mobile Suit Gundam (even though those two series originally had their runs cut short), the blanks he establishes in the beginning can be slowly fleshed out and given dimension by him or whatever staff he has. Turn A Gundam is probably the best example. It was allowed to run its full length without being cut down at the knees like those other earlier anime, and the result is just a sprawling story where emotions and human actions ripple through outer space.

However, it always seems as if Tomino tries to make “big picture” anime even when time is much more limited, and this is why the shorter works end up feeling so inscrutable. Longer works can breathe, but there’s literally not enough time to fully expand on the forces that Tomino is trying to convey in his works. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the five-minute Ring of Gundam is so incredibly obtuse, even compared to the infamy of Garzey’s Wing. Something like Reconguista in G falls in the middle. There’s a lot of rushing from one moment to the next, but also plenty of indicators of how the world has changed since the era of the old Gundam anime, and the unceremonious death of one of the series’ main antagonists works satisfyingly well given the groundwork laid out by those episodes. It’s just that individual character actions often go unexplained.

Tomino Yoshiyuki will continue to be a divisive creator because certain elements considered to be fundamental to good storytelling are things he either can’t do or doesn’t care for. However, his desire to convey big ideas,  challenge viewers politically, and make them put in work while watching his anime is something to admire. This approach is poorly served in shorter works, because Tomino doesn’t try to compromise, but if given enough room he produces some of anime’s greatest.

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Gundam: Reconguista in G – Ambition, Eccentricity, and Perspective

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans and Gundam Thunderbolt seem to be the Gundam anime a lot of people are looking for. Whether it’s the story of child soldiers of the former or the hard SF feel of the latter, they both capture in different ways the idea of Gundam as that realistic war story with a science fiction twist. While I’ve been enjoying both of these quite a bit, I wanted to step back and look at the previous Gundam anime, 2014’s Gundam: Reconguista in G, because I think it was a legitimately strong series whose merits went underplayed and under-appreciated.

Gundam: Reconguista in G has a reputation for being confusing, convoluted, and nonsensical. Even the writer and director himself, the original Gundam creator Tomino Yoshiyuki, considered G-Reco a disappointment. I disagree. While the series is rife with Tomino-isms that make the narrative and its characters’ decisions hard to follow, one thing rings out loud and clear: G-Reco is the story of people who, for better or worse, have no true connection to war.

G-Reco takes place many years after the end of the original Gundam timeline. In this new era, the Regild Century, voyage into space is restricted, and energy resources are rationed out to prevent the world from falling into the same catastrophes which scarred previous generations. Over the course of the story, characters frivolously and repeatedly switch sides, the ones most eager to fight have the least conception of war’s effects on humanity, and ultimately even as soldiers die left and right, the consequences of their warfare, if you can call them as such, are vague and ambiguous. On the surface, it doesn’t appear to be a story worth following, but I believe that it all emphasizes a central point, which is that the more humankind is distanced from war, the less they understand its repercussions.

Tomino was born during World War II, so it should come as no surprise that the original Mobile Suit Gundam had a strong anti-war message. While the children of that generation weren’t born in an era of conflict, the adults knew full well what post-war reconstruction was like, and many anime and manga creators have strongly believed in the dedication to pacifism stated in Japan’s constitution. However, G-Reco debuted in a different era, in this current time when forces in the Japanese government have clamored and have now even successfully reduced the influence of the Japan’s official stance on pacifism. Similar to Gatchaman Crowds Insight, G-Reco argues that, while there are merits to a world where large-scale global conflict is a distant memory, namely because it means people don’t have to suffer to the same degree, it ironically pushes war and violence even further into the realm of appealing fantasy. It becomes about heroes and villains, about glory and pride, rather than death and destruction.

At the same time, the characters in G-Reco are largely positive and optimistic, and while its ending is rushed and its final scene is undoubtedly the most confusing part of the anime, it also speaks towards a great deal of faith in the youth of today. They make plenty of mistakes, and they’re in some ways just as guilty of treating war as play, but they’re also not beholden to the manipulations of adults and the older generation. In this respect I get a vibe from G-Reco not unlike that of Evangelion 3.33, though the unique tendencies of their respective directors make for different overall presentations.

I think it’s fitting that the last battle in G-Reco concludes with no clear winners and no real fallout, but also has some notably unceremonious deaths. It pushes the idea that war is both meaningless yet full of things that cannot be undone, and it is up to the current generation of humanity to take advantage of our distance from war by keeping it there, while remembering that such distance comes with its own perils.

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Gundam: Reconguista in G and the Ghost of Lalah Sune

Raraiya_mondayGundam: Reconguista in G continues to be the kind of whirlwind experience that I love in a Tomino anime. Part of that feeling comes from the show’s tendency to throw around a lot of terms without explanation that everyone but the viewer understands, only to gradually peel back the layers over time. Among these many terms are clear references to the Universal Century timeline of the original Mobile Suit Gundam that Tomino directed back in 1979, and I’ve noticed that there are a couple that relate strongly to the character Lalah Sun from that first series.

The first and most prominent reference is the G-Reco character Raraiya Monday. Not only does she have dark skin like Lalah and appear to exhibit some connection to the G-Self, the “Gundam in everything but name” of the series, but characters will sometimes even refer to her as “Rara,” which sounds mostly similar to Lalah in Japanese (ララ vs.  ララァ). When looking at their last names as well, a connection forms: Lalah Sune -> Lalah Sunday -> Rara Monday -> Raraiya Monday.

The second reference comes from one of the terms being tossed around by characters that has yet to be seen: The blueprint of the “Rose of Hermes.” In Japanese, Hermes is pronounced “Erumesu” (エルメス), which is the exact same pronunciation as Lalah Sune’s Mobile Armor, the “Elmeth.”

(By the way, I learned about the pronunciation thing from watching Densha Otoko, which has as an important object in its story, Hermes-brand tea cups.)

What does this all mean? While I don’t know if these are thematic references or actual plot points, if I were to assume the latter it would mean a few things. First, Raraiya is probably a Newtype (maybe even a Cyber Newtype given her personality?), and the reason nobody is aware of this possibility is because the concept of Newtypes has been buried with time (we also see the protagonist Bellri have occasional Newtype-like flashes). Second, the blueprint of the “Rose of Hermes” might actually refer to design documents for the Elmeth’s bits. If that were the case, whoever joins Raraiya with the Rose of Hermes would gain a powerful weapon, which would also connect to the criticism of militarization that is a central plot point in Reconguista in G.

Tomino’s Daughter (NSFW)

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One of the talking points of the new anime Gundam: Reconguista in G, related to the fact that it’s the return of Gundam creator Tomino Yoshiyuki in a directorial role, is that the dances performed by the characters in the eyecatches were choreographed by, of all people, Tomino’s youngest daughter Yukio. According to Japanese Wikipedia, Tomino Yukio is a modern dance choreographer living in the Netherlands, and as it turns out, some of her performances are available on YouTube.

Be warned, these videos contain some nudity.

I’m not really into dance, so I can’t comment in depth on the performances or the choreography, but I find it interesting that both of his children went into the performing arts (his oldest daughter Akari is a theater director in Japan). Obviously I have no idea about their family but I do feel that Tomino’s own work in anime reflects a kind of performative spirit in itself (his dialogue often sounds like it comes from a musical or play), and I wonder if this has influenced his children in any way.