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fumitan

I stopped by the Veef Show to discuss the latest Mobile Suit Gundam series, Iron-Blooded Orphans. Have a listen, as we have fairly different perspectives on the show, and I’d love to know what you think of the series as well.

For reference, the post I mentioned about McGillis can be found here, and the series I mention at the end of the podcast that I have begun chapter reviewing is here.

So in conclusion, Fumitan Admoss is the best.

McGillis_Fareed-5_G-Tekketsu-5Ever since Char Aznable became one of anime’s most memorable characters, many Gundam series have included similar rivals for their heroes. In general, they’re enemy pilots of roughly equal power who wear masks or something similar to hide their faces, and who often have their own ulterior, if noble, motives. Most recently joining the likes of Zechs Merquise, Harry Ord, and more is McGillis Fareed from Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, and his approach to being “a Char” is probably the most well-realized out of all of them.

Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans spoilers below.

Throughout the original Gundam, Char Aznable is willing to (and has!) back-stabbed even his closest friends because his true goal, to get vengeance for the death of his father, overrides any sort of sentiment he might possess. McGillis is incredibly similar. He’s willing to sacrificing childhood friends for the sake of accomplishing his motives, but in a way he might also be even more scheming and cut-throat than Char himself. While Char might sabotage some of his own side for personal reasons, he never actively leaked information to the enemy or tried to orchestrate both sides to fall in his favor.

McGillis has gone from being a fairly interesting character to being one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the next season of Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. Given the overall quality of the show, I really, really hope the series doesn’t suffer from Sunrise “half-way point syndrome” like so many of their mecha anime, where in an attempt to become more successful a show loses what made it special in the first place.

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As the progenitor of the “real robot genre,” every time a new Gundam series comes out the question of its realism comes up. Even though its robots tend to be brightly colored and increasingly full of weird weapons, the simple formula of mecha as tool of war endures. Just this past year, we’ve had both Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, which follows a group of child soldiers, and Gundam Thunderbolt, which combines a gritty feel with a more hard science fiction feel. Which is more realistic? Does it matter?

I don’t intend to actually answer these questions. Rather, I’m bringing them up to try and start a discussion about the ways in which we try to position the idea of realism in something like Gundam. It’s not the first time I‘ve talked about it on this blog, either. With the first episode of Gundam Thunderbolt available, however, I can’t help but feel that it’s probably the Gundam a lot of the fans who revel in a certain image of realism have been looking for. One might call it the Macross Plus of the Gundam franchise in this respect. Its hard SF aspects, both in terms of presentation of technology and its expected character types, provide an interesting contrast to Iron-Blooded Orphans, which has a more contemporary “anime” look, cute girls and handsome boys and all. One can almost detect a generation gap in Thunderbolt vs. Iron-Blooded Orphans in terms of anime fandom; Thunderbolt feels like it came out of the science fiction conventions from which anime cons originally grew from.

In turn, Iron-Blooded Orphans seems more divisive in terms of what it tries to do with its realism, its young boys trying to carve a place in the world because of their circumstances as child soldiers. Of course, child soldiers aren’t new to Gundam. One could argue that the earliest protagonists of Gundam were child soldiers, but in this case it’s more the young guerilla archetype, seen also in Gundam 00. I do see Iron-Blooded Orphans get a bit more flack, and though my sample might be skewed by the fellow fans I interact with and observe, I think it has to do with how Iron-Blooded Orphans, unlike Thunderbolt, carries a kind of more “feminine” aesthetic that does not jive with more traditional images of realism as gritty.

Of course, grittiness does not automatically equal realism, but I think we’re trained to believe it. It’s one of the biggest trends of modern video games, and while there are plenty of games that push against it, many kids are growing up being taught by games and media that this is what “real” looks like. That said, Gundam Thunderbolt still has elements of the fantastic, and perhaps in the space between it and Iron-Blooded Orphans we can find versions of “realism” to satisfy all of those looking for it.

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g-reco-op

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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This is an interview with director Takamatsu Shinji from Otakon 2015. Takamatsu as worked on many anime including Gundam X, the Brave (Yuusha) series

First question. Most Gundam series had romance but didn’t have it as a strong focus. Gundam X is a series that put the romance at the very forefront, and it was in some ways the main focus. Why was this decision made for this series?

It’ll be a long story!

I wanted to make something that was Gundam but not Gundam. One rule of Gundam X was to get out of Gundam and to be meta about Gundam, to do things that were not like “Gundam.

Before that, about a decade prior, you worked on Z Gundam and Gundam ZZ. What was your director Tomino Yoshiyuki, and how would compare his style to yours?

Well, I did grow up watching Gundam myself, and by the time I started to work at Sunrise Mr. Tomino was in the position of being a great director, so it was a scary prospect working with Tomino.

During Z Gundam I was production management, so I reported directly to him, and I was scolded by him every single day. There were days when I was scared about everything.

Romi Park is also at this event, and she gave a similar description of Tomino that is not inaccurate compared to yours.

However, Ms. Park worked with Mr. Tomino much later than I did, and if you look at Mr. Tomino at the time of Z Gundam, he really was off the wall.

You’re also very well known for your work on the Brave series, and you worked on many of them. What was the main reason you returned to the Brave series for so many years?

The first director of the Brave series, Yatabe [Katsuyoshi], brought me onto production for the show, and I worked on a little bit of Gundam in between. So, there was a hiatus for me, but otherwise I started from beginning to end for the entire series. And I got my debut as a director from the Brave series, so I am very much fond of the Brave series.

Might Gaine was my debut as a director, so I am particularly fond of it.

In that case, I have an interesting question to follow up with.

The Brave series is known for being very toy and merchandise-heavy but also having good storytelling, as well as in some cases the staff resisting the merchandising aspects of the Brave series. Two famous examples I know are a hidden cel in Goldran which sarcastically talks about it’s supposed to be a robot that’s easy to make into toys, and how Might Gaine’s ending is a criticism of the toy industry.

What were your and the staff’s feelings at the time, and how did the toy companies such as Takara react?

That’s a very deep and vexing question!

So when I was getting started with Might Gaine, I was told that there’s just supposed to be good and bad, and all I had to do was to have toys that featured good guys and bad guys who would just battle. The staff really felt we need to show some kind of resistance, and that that wouldn’t just be the end of the show. And by staff, I mean myself.

You did not work extensively on Gaogaigar, but I have to ask this question. Do you have any details you can share as to why Project Z never got off the ground?

That I don’t know about!

That’s okay! Moving on, another similar series you worked on was Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter, which was based on an arcade game. How would you compare working on Gyrozetter vs. working on the Brave series?

Gyrozetter was based on a video game, so while the look and feel of the show may be similar to a giant robot show, production of the show was otherwise completely different.

Unlike previous shows, the robots came from video games, so it wasn’t really needed as a tangible object, and I thought we could have done more with that.

I did grow up watching toy merchandise-based shows and I did think about what if the robot were a toy, but that wasn’t reflected in the show. That would be my regret. I talked about the resistance to merchandising intent of the toy companies for your earlier question but I actually love toys.

Last question. In regards to Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!, people have talked a lot over the years about the idea of a magical boy series. Whenever anyone brings up magical girls, someone asks, what about magical girls? What was the motivation behind finally putting that into reality?

The producer pitched it to me, and I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to work on something no one’s ever done before? And it turned out to be fun. (laughs)

Thank you!

Thank you.

Gundam Build Fighters Try has made a number of references to fighting styles from other anime, manga, and games, especially towards the end of the series.

In Episode 19, the character Ichinose Junya pulls off a couple of attacks from various fighting styles. This includes a demonstration of boxing, which might look familiar:

This is actually Makunouchi Ippo’s finishing combination from Hajime no Ippo: the Liver Blow, the Gazelle Punch, and the Dempsey Roll.

Next, Junya demonstrates attacks from Ba Ji Quan:

This specific sequence leading into the shoulder tackle is one of Akira’s signature attack strings from the fighting game series Virtua Fighter:

In Episode 20, Kamiki Sekai, one of the central characters of Gundam Build Fighters Try, sends a burst of energy rippling forward by slamming his fist into the ground:

This is a reference to Terry Bogard’s special move, “Power Wave,” which he’s used since the original Fatal Fury and all other games he’s appeared in.

This last one I’m not 100% certain on, but in Episode 23 Junya appears again and confronts Sekai:

I believe it is supposed to be an homage to Fist of the North Star, specifically Souther’s Nanto Hou’ou Ken style:

That’s all I’ve spotted for now. If there are more, then I’ll probably make another post.

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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.

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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.

 

Gundam Build Fighters is a fun series about people using Gundam model kits to fight each other, and it’s absolutely oozing with references to both popular and obscure parts of the Gundam franchise. In the last episode, the anime pulls out what I think is the best reference of all, especially given the concept of the show.

In the final battle against the (scale-model) space fortress A Baoa Qu, the characters work together to take down a common threat. Among these characters is the father of the protagonist Iori Sei. Having won the silver medal at a previous tournament using a model of the original Gundam, in this scene Sei’s father Takeshi brings out the Perfect Gundam.

Though it did get a Master Grade model kit a number of years ago, the Perfect Gundam is not the most well-known Mobile Suit in the franchise. Its relative lack of popularity, however, is less important than its actual origin. The Perfect Gundam is featured as the hero’s Gundam in the 1982 manga Plamo Kyoushirou, which is premised around kids using Gundam models to fight each other in virtual reality environments. In other words, the appearance of the Perfect Gundam is actually an homage to the spiritual predecessor of the Gundam Build Fighters concept, reinforced by the fact that it’s the father of the hero who is using it.

Amazing.

Attack on Titan, the manga and now anime about a world where humans live in walled cities for fear of being eaten by nigh-invulnerable giants, is an interesting and unique title in that it goes against the grain of shounen action series and their conventions, especially when it comes to heroics. In particular, I find that Attack on Titan emphasizes people as a group over individuals in a way which doesn’t really happen in other popular titles.

When it comes to shounen fighting series, especially over the past ten years or so, gigantic ensemble casts are the norm. In something like Inuyasha or even Hajime no Ippo, you have the main characters, their friends and family, rivals, enemies, enemies turned allies, and so on until they require multiple volumes of guide books to keep track of them all. It’s even more the case that titles in the shounen fighting genre will emphasize group-oriented concepts, such as friends (One Piece) or fighting for a greater cause (Saint Seiya), but ultimately it boils down to unique characters cooperating. Where Attack on Titan differs, at least initially, is that it gives you a sense of a world where individual heroics are much more ineffectual, and it is only through the massing of people that they can have any hope of surviving in their world, and a slim one at that.

The reason why I make the comparison to Mobile Suit Gundam (though I understand that the comparison is not perfect) is that Gundam is known for bucking the trend of giant robots as metal superheroes, instead positioning it as an individual war machine as part of a greater force. The Gundam is still glorified to an extent, but compared to the shows which came before it, this is much less the case.

I think my point can be seen by just looking at the opening to Attack on Titan and comparing it to intros from other shounen fighting anime. Popular and long-running shounen fighting anime go through a process where their first openings emphasize a core group of characters, but as the cast expands they find it important to at least show a bit of each remotely significant characters. Whether it’s those slower-paced initial openings or the later frantic ones, though, there is still that focus on a multitude of individuals. In Attack on Titan‘s opening on the other hand, you barely get glimpses of the core cast, who are shown running and jumping from one structure to the next, almost as if the camera can’t stay on them for too long. Even Eren receives only a few brief moments centered on him, and in some of those cases he’s still seen as part of a group of fighters. The fact that the soldiers are all similarly dressed, male or female, instead of wearing unique outfits, and the fact that they all use standardized weaponry, creates a sense of them as a unified army.

That’s not to say that Attack on Titan lacks individualized or unique characters. There’s a clear protagonist in Eren, and there is a core cast of characters who are given personalities and particular skills such as sound judgment and lack of mercy. I’ve also read enough of the manga to know that there are developments which change things up significantly. However, the sense of group which Attack on Titan portrays goes beyond the typical shounen concept of such, and it lends an atmosphere which almost (but not quite) puts more attention on the military force than the people who comprise it. They swarm the titans like ants, which is about as un-shounen heroic as it gets.

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