Epoch Epoxy: Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative

Every so often, I’ll come across a specific type of retcon in a long-running series that essentially says a certain important character or thing was unseen in the background all along, and that the audience just wasn’t aware of this. It’s a kind of shortcut to make new information not feel shoehorned in, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing—just evidence that things weren’t planned from the outset, for better or for worse.

The Gundam franchise has sort of always been this way, whether it’s the Mobile Suit Variations line that talked about all the other aces fighting in the One Year War offscreen or anime such as 08th MS Team showing events from a different perspective. But the film Gundam Narrative takes it to a whole other level, being what is essentially spackle for a specific period in the Universal Century timeline.

Early Gundam series were not made to overly adhere to a finely tuned canon, as they were usually set years apart chronologically to emphasize the idea that “things have changed.” But as the timeline has become more dense with sequels, prequels, sidequels, and spin-offs, there developed a certain unexplained plot element that had no real answers: why did the crowning technology from the film Char’s Counterattack, the Psycho-Frame, stop being used in later UC works like Gundam F-91 and Victory Gundam? It’s the kind of thing that can be explained by simply saying, “Stuff happened,” but the space-opera minutiae fairly present in Gundam potentially makes that an unsatisfying answer.

The result is a movie about three kids—Jona Basta, Michele Luio, and Rita Bernal—whose lives are tied to major events throughout the Universal Century series. They were there when a space colony fell on Australia before the start of First Gundam, but burgeoning Newtype powers resulted in them being able to evacuate their town to safety. They were involved in the Cyber-Newtype experiments that were a major element in Zeta Gundam. And now their story takes them to being directly involved with the aftermath of the events of Gundam Unicorn and the hunt for the third Unicorn-class mobile suit, known as Phenex. 

Gundam Narrative basically tries to act as a bridge between two eras, and while the story is decent on its own, the focus with reconciling that incongruity results in an unusually jargon-heavy work (even by Gundam standards!), and a bit of weakness when it comes to the social and political themes that usually come part and parcel with the franchise as a whole. I’m not sure if it’ll end up being anyone’s favorite Gundam, but it’s also not a hot mess. Gundam Narrative serves a function, and it’s fairly entertaining while doing so, but I tend to prefer something with more meat on its bones.

What Drives Them—Gundam Reconguista in G Part III: Legacy from Space

The third Gundam: Reconguista in G film continues the trend of breathing new life into a less beloved Gundam series. The edits make it noticeably easier to follow than the TV series, although I do acknowledge that the story is rarely ever straightforward or presented plainly, and this is a sticking point and the reason G-Reco is fairly divisive.

But as I watched Gundam Reconguista in G Part III: Legacy of Space, I had an epiphany of sorts that I think helps explain this split opinion. Namely, the key to understanding G-Reco is to get into the minds of individual characters. I understand how this sounds a little obvious (plenty of stories are about achieving personal goals), but what I mean is that character actions can seem inscrutable until you actively try to get into their heads.

The story as of Part III: As alliances and allegiances have shifted since Part I and Part II, Earth’s great continent-states now send forces into space to meet with Towasanga, a nation on the other side of the moon, created by the descendants of the humans who settled in space colonies in the Universal Century era. Not only do Towasangans have access to technology unobtainable by those on Earth, but the Towasangans see themselves as arbitrators between the Earth and the far-off colonies of Venus Globe, which provide to the Earth the photon batteries needed for it’s civilization to function, and thus see the need to equip themselves for conflict amidst the increasing tensions on Earth. Bellri Zenam, still thinking about the deaths he’s seen and caused, tries to figure out what he should do and where he fits into the big picture.

One of the big differences between G-Reco and other Gundam series is that there aren’t two major sides, like Federation vs. Zeon or Earth Alliance vs. ZAFT. Rather, there are multiple governments and factions: Ameria, Gondwana, Towasanga, Capital Tower (which is then further divided into the Capital Guard and the Capital Army). These groups are then conprised of singular people who think independently and have their own ideas of right and wrong, which results in G-Reco being more confusing when you think primarily in terms of who is on what side, and which side is winning because these positions are always in flux. Rather, the important thing is actually to understand what motivates each character and how it affects their decision-making.

Bellri, for example, is initially driven by his opposition to the Capital Army and its inherent militarization of what is supposed to be a neutral defensive force. Upon meeting Aida Surugan, he’s also moved by his own horniness. By the third movie, he’s also filled with regret—both from having accidentally killed his own teacher in mobile suit combat and learning why having a thing for Aida is a bad idea—and his actions reflect this. Bellri constantly tries to avoid dealing lethal damage, but also isn’t so naive that he thinks he shouldn’t do anything. When he loudly shouts that he’s about to fire and does a purposely bad job of aiming, one gets the sense that he’s trying to deliver warning shots that are nevertheless real and dangerous.

The Char Aznable of the series, Captain Mask, is motivated by something very different: improving the standing of his people. As a descendant of that Kuntala, people raised to be human livestock when food was abysmally scarce on Earth, Mask’s kind are still discriminated against. It’s little wonder why he’d be so willing to ally himself with the powerful and influential. To Mask, it’s all a means to a noble end.

So when the forces of Towasanga show up, and many seem to have pursuit of glory in mind, it highlights their hypocrisy and elitism. Particular attention is paid to the female commander Mashner Hume and her boytoy, Rockpie Geti, who are overly eager to mix business with pleasure. It’s as if the film is trying to say that the only thing that’s worse than ignoramuses perpetuating war on Earth is ignoramuses who live in space who are supposed to know better and perpetuate war anyway. Still worse is the man who consciously exacerbates all this: Cumpa Rusita, the leader of the Capital Army.

I will admit that I remember little of this section from the TV series, but the slightly condensed nature of the film brings with it better pacing that makes certain events feel less abrupt. The restoration of Raraiya’s memories now comes across as strange yet reasonable, like it takes going into space to jog her memories. Bellri learning why he shouldn’t be hot for Aida also has a realness to it, as he’s shortly after shown to be struggling with some serious emotional turmoil (and his insistence on calling her Big Sis from then on feels a bit like a self-reminder).

The next parts of G-Reco are originally where the series went from okay to great for me, but I’ve also read that Tomino plans on doing some heavy changes to the end. As Bellri and Aida reach Venus Globe in Part IV, I’d like to see how it might reshape my experience. For now, it’s still a fun and contemplative ride.

Power and Truth: Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn

The Universal Century’s fight between the forces of the Earth Federation and the space-dwelling Zeon is both the foundation of Gundam and also, at times, the albatross around its neck. After 1988’s Char’s Counterattack closed the book on the central rivalry between Amuro Ray and Char Aznable, future Gundam anime would for decades do everything but provide a direct sequel. Gundam F91 and Victory Gundam set their stories decades after the events of Char’s Counterattack, other works like 0080: War in the Pocket and Gundam: 08th MS Team are side stories adjacent to Amuro’s story, and G Gundam launched the concept of alternative-universe Gundam—titles that take the name and basic aesthetics but are worlds unto themselves. This all changed with 2010’s Gundam Unicorn, also known as Gundam UC.

As a sequel to Char’s Counterattack,  can get pretty deep into the weeds. For example, to understand the power of the Unicorn Gundam and its heavy incorporation of Psycho Frames and its NT-D system (short for Newtype Destroyer) is to be invested in the lore of the Universal Century timeline. Newtypes are people who have gained extrasensory abilities in response to humankind’s expansion into space, and their subsequent weaponization of leads to the development of both aforementioned technologies; the former is a way to fully utilize their mental and emotional power (and which was once the key to saving the Earth), while the latter is a counter to such abilities. However, while these world-building elements can get complicated, they also provide a rich backdrop for Banagher and Audrey’s stories of confronting the crimes of their forefathers.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE

Much like the later Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway, Gundam Unicorn is based on a novel, but it’s also the first franchise novel to be adapted into a part of the main canon. Taking place shortly after the Earth narrowly avoided having the Luna II asteroid base dropped on it, Gundam Unicorn tells the story of Banagher Links, a student living in a space colony who gets wrapped up in a strange conspiracy after encountering a girl calling herself Audrey Burne. The head of Banagher’s school and head of the Vist Foundation, Cardeas Vist, is the most powerful man in Banagher’s colony, and his immense influence over the Federation has to do with the latter’s fear of something known as “Laplace’s Box.” When a mobile suit battle breaks out in the colony, Banagher’s psychic desire to protect Audrey leads him directly to Vist and the mysterious Unicorn Gundam, a weapon that serves as the “key” to Laplace’s Box. Why the box has such a hold on the Federation and how characters reconcile with their family histories and ties to the history of the founding of the Universal Century are central to the story of Gundam Unicorn.

By the end of the first episode, Banagher discovers that he’s actually the estranged son of Cardeas Vist, and shortly after sees his dad die before Vist gives him exclusive access to the Unicorn Gundam—and with it, a bridge to a secret that terrifies the Federation top brass. In the next episode, Audrey reveals her true identity: She is Mineva Lao Zabi, the last surviving member of Zeon’s original royal family whose leaders steered a fight for independence into a militaristic fascist regime. These central characters, both with deep roots in the two respective warring sides, are continuously challenged to look long and hard at the privileges they’ve received on the backs of the fallen. Their situations are contrasted with another character, Riddhe Marcenas (the son of a Federation politician), who desperately tries to maintain the status quo in order to avoid disrupting the familiar world he’s known.

Banagher is the protagonist, but Mineva is the stand-out character in so many ways. For those already familiar with the history, Mineva is familiar as the innocent baby daughter of Dozle Zabi, who perished fighting the original Gundam in the first anime. The monstrous-looking Dozle was ironically the most righteous and pure-hearted of the Zabis (albeit while still being guilty by association of Zeon’s atrocities), and his selflessness and loyalty are what allowed Mineva to escape with her mother. As the last Zabi, she is revered by the remnant Zeon forces, and she has a regal bearing that speaks to her status. Now on the verge of adulthood, however, Mineva sees her mission as atoning for the sins of the Zabis.

The ultimate direction taken by Banagher, Mineva, and eventually even Riddhe is what I would summarize as “Do good with the advantages you have.” None of the power they possess, whether physical or political, is bloodless, but they decide to reveal the truth that lies behind Laplace’s Box despite the fact that its contents could potentially flip everything upside down. Laplace’s Box turns out to be a monument containing the very first Universal Century charter, previously thought to be lost in a terrorist attack. While something so ceremonial should not be so revelatory, it turns out that this original charter contains a clause surreptitiously removed in later versions: 

“In the future, should the emergence of a new space-adapted human race be confirmed, the Earth Federation shall give priority to involving them in the administration of the government.”

In other words, the Federation government was supposed to have enshrined the equal treatment and political representation of the space-born, but purposely revoked it in secret in order to rule over the Spacenoids. This action is revealed by Mineva to all as a  successful move to consolidate power, its obfuscation of the truth arguably being the first catalyst that would lead to the One Year War and the continued bloodshed between Federation and Zeon. I have to wonder if this is also meant to be the catalyst that leads to the decline of the Federation that we see in later sequels like F91 and Victory.

The series does not absolve Zeon of their crimes through this, and Mineva outright states that her family is guilty of much tragedy, but that this is about spreading the real history of what transpired and to open the path for a better future. I can’t help but think of the current situation in the US and the attempts to ban the teaching of its racist past and present in an attempt to indoctrinate children into a blind patriotism. I understand that both the novel and anime predate this current unfortunate phenomenon, but nevertheless it feels more relevant than ever. Perhaps it ties into Japan’s own ongoing struggle with rewriting its history books to hide the things its wartime government inflated on its own people and those throughout Asia.

There’s a lot of meat I didn’t even touch upon, and all of it has a lot to say about war, peace, society, and justice. While Gundam Unicorn is really dedicated to trying to fit neatly in the canon of Gundam, it’s also a solid and compelling science fiction anime in its own right. Somehow, its lessons feel more relevant than ever.

Kio Shimoku Twitter Highlights January 2022

This month’s tweet highlights for Kio Shimoku are a little different: I’m doing them in chronological order rather than grouping them by subject. Tell me what you think!

January is also the month that Hashikko Ensemble ended. Check out my review!

Kio decides to drink and bathe at the same time, then watch some DVDs. He can’t drink the next day, so he hopes he can indulge in the moment.

Various model kits he built.

Kio talks about what a big personal step it was for him to start a Twitter, and that he’s gradually learning how to use it. He thought he had to do it at some point, and thinks it was good timing in more than one sense.

A compilation thread of all the various drawings he posted on Twitter over the past year.

Kio compliments a follower’s Kurotaki Mai fanart.

Kio wishes everyone a Happy New Year.

The man loves Dennou Coil, (like everyone of great taste).

Kio draws Kousei as a tiger man to celebrate the Year of the Tiger. B, the “I love Jin” superfan  for the Hashikko Ensemble character asks if Kousei’s always been that buff (while also stating how Kousei’s cat-like qualities make the image work), to which Kio says he added a bit of fantasy to the drawing.

(Just as a warning, that Jin fan’s Twitter account is very NSFW. Their love of the character is serious business—as the Ogiue Maniax, I should know.)

Kio mentions finishing the manuscript for the final chapter of Hashikko Ensemble. When the Jin fan asks if the series got canceled, Kio says “more or less.” Elaborating a bit, he says he got the call to start wrapping it up in summer of 2020, but was given the opportunity to go past the School Festival arc and end on eight volumes total. For reference, the original Genshiken was nine.

Unbuilt model kits, including Girls und Panzer.

And Five Star Stories kits, of course. He actually got the first one as a gift from a reader!

Feeling some nostalgia from when he got this at Wonder Festival. A fan shows a similar arm from a model kit of theirs, and Kio replies that he was never able to get that one (the Mighty Beta).

Kio found an old L-Gaim Mk.II model kit he built 25 years ago. He loves the look of the mecha, and finds that it has a real “Showa” feel to it.

Kio got a new scarf, and decided to draw what it looks like with Madarame as the model. He saw it being called an ascot scarf, but found that it didn’t match his Google searches. “New York scarf” seems to fit the bill better.

In light of the death of famed baseball manga artist Mizushima Shinji (Dokaben), Kio reminisces about growing up with Mizushima’s manga. In his home, there would always be assorted volumes of Dokaben around, and he would read them voraciously. In his estimation, a lot of baseball know-how for kids his generation came from reading Mizushima manga, and he especially enjoyed the series Dai Koshien. Kio offers a prayer at the end.

Also, at some point, the Dai Koshien character Kyuudou looks like a Scope Dog from VOTOMS (I don’t understand the context to this).

Kio wanted to reference an old chapter of Spotted Flower for his manuscript, and opened his old file, only to remember that he did it in the program Comic Studio. He’s switched over to Clip Studio Paint now, and seeing Comic Studio start up took him by surprise. He also notes that Asaka-sensei had a different hairstyle in this earlier chapter.

B the Jin fan has a question for Kio, asking how Kio managed to get a music note generator version of Sukima Switch’s “Kanade” because it doesn’t seem to be for sale. Kio responds that he uses a program called Score Maker Zero by KAWAI, which can also sing using a synthesized voice. Kio can’t read sheet music, so it’s very helpful for him.

Kio says that he generated these notes for “Kanade” himself, and asks if B lives nearby. B thanks him and doesn’t say anything about location, but he does mention going to the high school that Hashimoto Technical High School is based on. Kio is impressed.

As Kio was rearranging his desk in his room, his pet tortoise awoke (after barely moving during these winter months), and then stepped out of its box, ate some food, went outside, and then peed and pooped.

Kio made a Hashikko Ensemble Youtube channel, and uploaded a video of his tone generator version of “Kanade” by Sukima Switch for two male voices. It’s supposed to evoke the image of Akira and Jin singing together.

Kio made a Hashikko Ensemble Youtube channel, and uploaded a video of his tone generator version of “Kanade” by Sukima Switch for two male voices. It’s supposed to evoke the image of Akira and Jin singing together.


Some old NEO-GEO games from his college days that he found in a cardboard box. They include a bunch of Fatal Fury games, Samurai Sho-down, and even Far East of Eden.

Kio Shimoku Twitter Highlights November 2021

Another month of Kio Shimoku tweets. The real highlight this month is his opinion on ero manga artists.

Hashikko Ensemble

Kio promoting Hashikko Ensemble Chapter 46. He doesn’t like how Kurotaki Maki is cut off here, so he retweeted his old drawing of her as a bunny girl. Kio also remarks how he’s noticed that all the girls are pretty stacked (with one exception).

Here are the specific chorus/glee club versions of the songs from this month’s Hashikko Ensemble.

Anime and Manga Impressions

Kio saw the anime film Sing a Bit of Harmony. As the creator of a manga about singing, he noticed the realism with which the main character of the film, Aya, breathes while performing.

He didn’t know a Zombieland Saga movie was on the way.

Kio thinks the Zombieland Saga first ending theme sounds like a graduation song.

Kio drunk-reviewing the latest chapter of Five Star Stories. He doesn’t remember lines or story details, but it made an impression on him—particularly the character  Auxo’s expressions.

Hobbies and Model Kits

There are official water-based Gundam model kit paints now, and Kio comments that he’s had cases of the paint going all over the place using water-based acrylics. It was still fun, though. He’s painted a Juaggu and a Z’Gok that way.

Some old Gundam model kits that Kio built.

Kio finally managed to store a ton of manga in boxes. At least some of the boxes are from 20 years ago, and there are about 25 boxes with 30 books each. 

Health

Lately, Kio’s knees have been hurting after walking.

He used a saw for the first time in a long while, and now his arm aches.

Kio drinks the Japanese energy drink Lipovitan D Super to start working on a new manga manuscript. He also decided to take an outdoor bath because it’s not that cold outside, and finds it’s actually good for work.

Thoughts on Ero Manga Artists

Kio has much respect for ero manga artists because of how much they have to master: poses, anatomy, camera angles, etc. Apparently, one thing people say is “If you want to get good at drawing, do porn.” But Kio also respects those porn artists who aren’t trying to make a career and just want to draw horny things. He actually drew some in middle school, but he stopped because he was afraid of his family finding out.

Standing in a Whirl of Confusion—Gundam Reconguista in G Part II: Bellri’s Fierce Charge

The G-Self in combat

Gundam Reconguista in G compilation films Part I and Part II are currently available on the official Gundam Youtube channel. Having previously seen the first film at Anime NYC 2019, I wondered if the smart changes that made Part I significantly better than the TV series would also carry into the sequel. I’m happy to say this is indeed the case.

Gundam Reconguista in G Part II: Bellri’s Fierce Charge continues where Part I: Go! Core Fighter left off. In this era of the classic Gundam‘s Universal Century timeline, the massive space wars of the past are ancient history and the nations of the Earth are managed by a central mediating body known as the Capital Tower, home to a space elevator that receives energy batteries from space and distributes them across the world. Bellri Zenam is the son of Capital Tower’s leader, but after the Tower’s defense force, the Capital Guard, starts to be supplanted by the more militaristic Capital Army, Bellri gets caught up in the middle of a new conflict. As the pilot of the mysterious G-Self, he ends up traveling with what is ostensibly a pirate crew as he tries to figure out his place in the world.

Bellri in tears while in combat

This film continues the trend of being far more understandable compared with its source material, though that’s not to say it’s easy to follow—merely easier. Director Tomino Yoshiyuki’s style can be famously obtuse and bombastic, and that’s the case here as well. However, Bellri’s Fierce Charge establishes the characters more solidly and allows them to act as a focal point for the story. So while the complex and sparsely explained politics of the G-Reco setting can still be a recipe for confusion, viewers can anchor themselves to the emotions of those characters who are often equally confused. If there’s anything viewers might get mixed up on that the characters take for granted, it’s the distinction between the Capital Guard and the Capital Army, which reflects an ongoing debate over the role of the Japan Self Defense Force and Japan’s constitutional anti-war stance.

This is especially the case with Bellri himself, who in the TV series could sometimes unintentionally come across as carefree at best and a sociopath at worst. Here, what should have been a major turning point in his life in the original version gets a proper amount of attention, and you can see the degree to which there is a clash between Bellri’s ideals, his frustration at adults for making the world a worse place, and the decisions he feels forced to make.

Barara Peor next to a wall

Other characters shine as well. Whether it’s Captain Mask, Aida Surugan, or even Bellri’s mom, the strong portrayals of their personalities—facilitated by great animation—give Part II an extra oomph that keeps it memorable and shows the complexity of their world. Yoshida Ken’ichi’s character designs are always excellent, with side character Barara Peor (above) being an especially strong design.

I think the Gundam Reconguista in G movies are well on their way to becoming the definitive version. The new edits and footage take what were excellent but obtuse ideas and criticisms about humanity’s current relationship with war, and convey these ideas much more solidly and emotionally. I would have watched the entirety of the tetralogy already, but now I’m really looking forward to seeing the end again.

One final note: The main theme of Bellri’s Fierce Charge is by the famous Japanese group Dreams Come True, arguably better known internationally as the composers of the first two Sonic the Hedgehog games. The theme, shown above, can be found on their official channel.

Speedwagon from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure shouting "Gaaaaah! Even Shakespeare is afraid!" in reference to lyrics from the Dreams Come True song, G.

The Fight Against Oneself: Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway

In my earliest days of online Gundam fandom back in the late 1990s, the vast amount of information available was like a treasure trove of juicy morsels about what was out there. Among them was mention of a certain novel—“Did you know there’s a sequel to Char’s Counterattack? It’s called Hathaway’s Flash, and it stars Hathaway Noah [sic], who pilots something called the Xi Gundam!”

Though I don’t recall ever asking questions out loud, chief among them were: “Would I ever get to experience this story myself?” and “Why the hell would they make a sequel about Hathaway?” 

Now, in 2021, we have Gundam Hathaway, a film (presumably the first of a series) that adapts the novel into animation. Story-wise, it follows Hathaway Noa, now in his 20s and a decade-and-change removed from the events of Char’s Counterattack. Leaders of the Earth Federation have been under attack by a mysterious terrorist named Mafty Navue Erin, and Hathaway’s own history leads to him being in the epicenter of this situation. 

The action is impressive and the character animation is gorgeous, though the lack of 2D animation for the robot fights is kind of disappointing even if the 3DCG looks good overall. When the Xi Gundam shows up, you get a real sense of the sheer size of the thing. Compared to even the oversized Nu Gundam and Sazabi from Char’s Counterattack, the long distance from cockpit door to seat sells how much things have scaled up. 

But the story of Hathaway, and his internal struggle, is where this first film shines most.

I don’t know how the young me back in 1998 would have reacted to the characters and narrative of Gundam Hathaway, but I think it would have been quite different. A couple years ago, I watched a theatrical screening of Char’s Counterattack, and coming at it as an adult instead of a teen gave me a whole new perspective. The young side characters, Hathaway and the Newtype prodigy Quess Paraya, weren’t irritating fools but simply kids who are failed by adults at every turn.

In this light, an adult Hathaway makes for a compelling protagonist. While he’s portrayed as being far more skilled in combat both in and out of mobile suits compared to his child self, he never comes across as inherently exceptional the way previous main characters like Amuro Ray and Kamille Bidan were. What you have in Hathaway is a child traumatized by war, and who’s trying to prevent his past mistakes from reoccurring as an adult, but who doesn’t necessarily know what the right answer is. Within him are the dueling philosophies of Amuro and Char, clashing and contradicting. He wants to be the everyman and the charismatic leader, the hero who saves the people from both corruption at the top and themselves. 

Nowhere is this clearer than his interactions with the female lead, Gigi Andalusia. She’s an eccentric empath who’s probably a Newtype or something similar, Hathaway sees the late Quess in her, and while she can be a thorn in his side, Gigi’s exactly the kind of person Hathaway fights for. If he can prevent more tragic deaths like Quess’s from happening, he’ll do whatever it takes.

I’m looking forward to seeing where Hathaway’s decisions take him, though I know this is Gundam and the chances of tragedy are markedly high—especially because the original novels were written by the original series director Tomino Yoshiyuki during one of his more fiery periods. Whatever the result, Hathaway Noa is a worthy Gundam protagonist.

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.