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.

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.

Hajimari no Real G’s: Anime NYC 2019

For the third year straight, Anime NYC 2019 has continued to fill a much-needed void as a New York Metropolitan-centric major anime and manga convention that is run by experienced professionals.

More of the Javits Center was taken up by the con compared to previous years, implying continued growth. While it’s not as large as New York Comic Con, and there’s a bit of an upper limit as to how many dedicated otaku are in the NYC area versus how many comics fans there are, I don’t mind the current balance. One of the strengths and weaknesses of NYCC is that it’s extremely broad and seems more like a general nerd multimedia convention than one dedicated to its core concept of comics and comics-related things. With Anime NYC, however, it still feels like an event dedicated to anime and manga fans fire and foremost. That alone is much appreciated.

The Guests

The guests this year were pretty much straight out of my dream list. Sadly, due to both personal obligations and just the sheer amount of overlapping content, I couldn’t even see everything I wanted to. On the fortunate side, however, I got to attend both the premiere of the first Gundam Reconguista in G film and a press Q&A with the tsundere master herself, Kugimiya Rie. You can check out Ogiue Maniax’s dedicated entries to both of those in the accompanying links.

Anime NYC 2019 went with a pre-show lottery system for getting autograph tickets as a way to prevent people from trying to line up at 3am in the morning and to give a fair chance to those who are coming from far away or don’t have the means or ability to get to the convention extra-early. Despite the fact that I didn’t get any autographs, I didn’t mind this system because it seems to be about as fair as it gets.

Alternately, some autographs could be obtained through purchasing specific products at the start of each day. There were also the $125 Kugimiya autographs that sold out in literally about five minutes, but Anime NYC 2019 was her first US appearance, so that was more or less expected.

That said, I’m not especially fond of the trend I’m seeing at Anime NYC where guests will only sign things from the shows they’re at the convention to promote. I understand why it happens, given that the guests coming want to make sure that the works they’re being advertised for get top billing, but these industry names often have such long CVs that it’s a shame when fans aren’t be able to express love for the particular things they feel closest to. For example, wanted to get autographs from Yukana and Kimura Takahiro, one of my favorite voice actors and character designers, respectively. But rather than being able to have my Pretty Cure and Gaogaigar signed, their autographs were tied to Code Geass—a series I don’t have quite as much affection for. Limiting what can be signed (aside from obvious things like “no bootleg merchandise”) is a direction I’d like to see conventions move away from in general, even more than paid autographs.

Exhibitor’s Hall and Artist Alley

I did not end up buying much at the convention—a t-shirt here, a manga there—but from what I could tell, it was not especially difficult to navigate in terms of foot traffic. At times, it could be difficult to tell which row corresponded to what designated section, but it was manageable. They also placed the Artist Alley in the same space as the Exhibitor’s Hall this year, which meant the loss of the third-floor space but maybe more reliable crossover traffic for both the big companies and the small artists.

One new feature was a special food area in addition to the food trucks outside and the food court down in the bottom level. It was a great idea in principle, but the prices seemed a bit ridiculous even for convention standards. Go Go Curry (aka my favorite Japanese curry chain ever) was the star of the show, but the line was so constantly massive that I never had time to try their convention-exclusive fried-egg-on-gyudon curry. Here’s to hoping that it becomes a standard item on the Go Go Curry menu!

Lantis Matsuri

I was incredibly pumped to attend Lantis Matsuri at Anime NYC this year, as it had an impressive lineup of musical guests: JAM Project, Guilty Kiss from Love Live! Sunshine!!, TRUE, and Zaq. Months prior, I swooped in on a ticket as soon as they became available, and I’m glad that they eventually opened up more tickets for those who couldn’t get the initial ones. I wonder if they were hedging their bets, and trying to see if the demand would be there for more.

When it comes to attending anime music concerts, part of the fun is song familiarity and being able to enjoy your favorite themes live. But even for the less familiar tunes, Lantis Matsuri hit it out of the park. All the singers were fantastic, and really felt like they belonged on that stage. Guilty Kiss clearly had the largest fanbase there, and their hype was well deserved. I still have “New Romantic Sailors” stuck in my head. TRUE and Zaq ended with their best-known hits, “Dream Solister” from Sound! Euphonium and “Sparkling Daydream” from Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions. It was not lost on the audience that these were both Kyoto Animation series themes.

Despite the stiff competition, however, JAM Project showed they they know how to steal a show There’s something about their energy that draws you in that outshines even the brightest stars. I have to wonder how someone completely unfamiliar with them felt about their performance. They led with One Punch Man to get the crowd to realize just exactly who they are, but they also made sure to include songs less widely known by the general audience. Of particular note is their blend of GONG and SKILL, which combined two of their best Super Robot Wars themes.

There were multiple collaborations throughout the concert, and one sticks out to me above all: JAM Project with Guilty Kiss doing the second opening from GARO. Before the concert began, someone near me was expressing their love of GARO, and seeing him scream wide-eyed as JAM Project announced that the next song was “Savior in the Dark” was a real highlight of the con.

My only complaint about the concert was that the audio was a little too loud. I was not sitting especially close to the speakers, but I could feel my ears ringing the next day. I also had this problem at the Gundam Reconguista in G showing, so I have to wonder if it was a convention-wide issue.

Overall

I thought Anime NYC 2019 was great, and I’m looking forward to next year. As the convention gets bigger, though, I hope it continues to properly straddle the line between big professional expo and intimate-feeling fan-oriented gathering. It might be an impossible task, but I still want that dream nevertheless.

[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.

 

Anime NYC 2019 Hype Post, aka The Craziest, Most Incredible Guests

Anime NYC 2019 is only two days away, and I want to use this opportunity to talk about how amazing the guests are this year. I promise that this is not a paid or sponsored endorsement in any way—these are my genuine feelings, and my feeling is that the guest list this year is just virtually perfect.

First and foremost, you have the legendary director of Mobile Suit Gundam, Ideon, and Zambot 3, Tomino Yoshiyuki. I saw him 10 years ago at New York Anime Festival 2009, and I am eager to see his return. He’ll be showing the first Gundam: Reconguista in G film, and as a staunch defender of that series, I’ve gotta go see it.

Then there’s Kimura Takahiro, animator and character designer on Gaogaigar, Godannar, Betterman, Brigadoon, and Code Geass. He is one of my favorite character designers ever, and I’m so, so stoked for him to be in New York.

Speaking of Code Geass, the voice actor Yukana will be making her New York City debut. In addition to playing C.C. in Code Geass (aka the best character in that series), she’s also Teletha Testarossa in Full Metal Panic!, Li Meiling in Cardcaptor Sakura, and Cure White in Futari wa Pretty Cure!

But Yukana is not the only Cure who will be there, as Ise Mariya (Cure Lemonade from Yes! Pretty Cure 5) is coming to promote The Promised Neverland, where she plays Ray. The director of The Promised Neverland, Kanbe Mamoru, will also be at Anime NYC 2019. He’s also the director for one of my favorite anime ever, Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san.

Megalo Box is an amazing anime and reinterpretation of Ashita no Joe, Moriyama Yo, and both the director and producer, Fujiyoshi Minako, will be attending.

And the Lantis Matsuri concert Friday night will feature both JAM Project and Guilty Kiss from Love Live! Sunshine!! Having now attended concerts for both groups, I’m pumped to see them again (and again and again in the future, hopefully). Nothing is as fantastic as JAM Project performing “SKILL,” and a part of me is sincerely hoping all the groups involved will join in for a rousing “WHOHhhHHoooHHHooOoooH.”

So see you all at Anime NYC, and I hope these guests get the star treatment they deserve.

 

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!

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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Ogiue Maniax Talking Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans S2 on the Veef Show Podcast

It’s another go at Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans on the Veef Show! Following our season 1 podcast, we discuss the finale to this newest series. I’m warmer on the series while Veef is colder, but it’s interesting discussion overall.

Fight for Survival, Dream for the Future – Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

Gundam is a massive and unwieldy franchise. With a history spanning over four decades of anime, sequels, spin-offs, alternate universes, and more, after a while the distinctions between each Gundam series starts to blur. Each time there’s supposed to be a “unique” take on Gundam, they will often carry enough of the common tropes to be familiar, or will slowly jettison the new elements in favor of going with the tried and true. This is the perpetual challenge that Gundam faces, so it is to my surprise that not only did I enjoy the recent Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans TV series (which is not the shocking part; I love Gundam in general), but that I felt it maintained its identity and its high quality despite it being just the kind of series set up to derail itself.

Iron-Blooded Orphan (IBO) takes place in a futuristic world where battles are waged using giant robots called mobile suits. The story centers around the characters Mikazuki Augus and Orga Itsuka, two boys who belong to the bottom-most rung of society, uncharitably called “human debris,” and who at the start of the series are essentially indentured child soldiers for a mercenary group. Early on, they and their fellow human debris rebel against their masters, create their own mercenary group called “Tekkadan,” and fight to try and find a place in a world that literally calls them garbage. Along the way, they meet a number of allies, notably Kudelia Aina Bernstein, a young aristocrat from Mars with lofty ideals of justice and equality, an encounter which changes their lives.

On the surface, Mikazuki as the pilot of the Gundam Barbatos appears to be cut from a certain cloth of Gundam protagonist. As a highly skilled pilot who has fought from a very young age and whose lack of expressiveness makes him appear emotionless, Mikazuki is descended from previous characters such as Heero Yuy from Gundam W and Setsuna F. Seiei from Gundam 00. Where Mikazuki differs from the other two is how IBO highlights his connections with Orga.

Mikazuki is cold and merciless to his enemies, but within his friendship with Orga (it’s perhaps better to call them “brothers”), there’s a very unique connection. Mikazuki is not an empty shell, but he sees in Orga a strong ambition, and he essentially acts as a right arm for the sake of his long-time companion. Similar relationships exist between Mikazuki and Kudelia, as well as between Mikazuki and a long-time female friend named Atra Mixta. Other notable characters are Naze Turbine, a man who literally has a harem of women as his ship’s crew but is actually more about empowering women by giving them skills and educations, and McGillis Fareed, a high-ranking officer who shows what happens when friendship and ambition collide. These characters and relationships are among the many that collectively create a narrative where camaraderie and family persist in the face of harsh odds. IBO never abandons that sense of family, and it is crucial to understanding the role of Tekkadan in all of the conflicts that occur as the series moves towards its conclusions.

One notable aspect of IBO relative to past Gundam series is that, in spite of the series being subjected to the dreaded “split-season” approach, it remains remarkably consistent. One of the major pitfalls of many mecha anime from Studio Sunrise over the past 10 years or so is a tendency to try and improve aspects of the series based on marketing and merchandising feedback. Often times, the series end up losing much of what made them special in the process, but this never really happens with IBO.

In terms of emphasizing toy sales over story, IBO actually shows a great deal of restraint. According to series lore, Gundam Barbatos is just one of 72 different Gundams used in a previous conflict known as the “Calamity War.” In another series, especially one more focused on profits from merchandise, it’s likely we would have seen all 72 show up onscreen. However, even at the conclusion of IBO, only a handful appear. The Barbatos itself is also supposed to have a feature that allows it to integrate the weapons and abilities of other mobile suits, but the anime never really puts this front and center. Changes that occur in the Barbatos more reflect the changes and traumas that Mikazuki goes through as the series progresses.

Because IBO keeps its feet firmly planted and doesn’t fly off-track in a desperate attempt to cater to market research, Tekkadan never stops feeling like Tekkadan. No matter how powerful Mikazuki becomes, and no matter how much Tekkadan’s forces are bolstered, they never stop feeling like an underdog. The steps they take to get further are microscopic compared to the vastness of what surrounds them, especially when it comes to the realm of human society. One of the recurring aspects of IBO highlights this well. While Tekkadan gains military power, their approach to life, which is to treat themselves as a family first and a mercenary group second, often leaves them lacking and inexperienced in terms of diplomacy. On multiple occasions, success on the battlefield is contrasted with failure politically.

The story told in Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans feels like just a small slice of a vast world and history. Whether this is the end of the IBO universe or the start of something more, I come away immensely satisfied.