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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Fighting for Inspiration: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for March 2016

This month I’d like to thank the following Patreon supporters, as well as my unnamed patrons as well. You’re all awesome and I’d like to talk with you all someday (and many of you I have!):

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

One thing that I’ve noticed is that my patrons come from all over the world, and I know that support for anime can be hard to come by in some places. It’s why I’m thankful for living in a major metropolitan area. Between the New York International Children’s Film Festival, and screenings of both The Boy and the Beast and Kizumonogatari, March is going to be kind of a crazy month for anime here. What’s your situation like?

Nothing’s really out of the ordinary for Ogiue Maniax this month from a content perspective. There’s the new Genshiken review (what an intense chapter!), the return of Patreon-sponsored posts in my review of Garakowa -Restore the World-, and a post that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time: an overview of the thematic relationship between Space Runaway Ideon and Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Lately I haven’t been trying to broaden my horizons in terms of writing, and I wonder if it’s causing me to stagnate some. Sometimes I wonder if I’m not developing or changing or taking risks with my writing enough, and at times I struggle to come up with new topics to write about as a result. This is actually why I’m grateful for patron Johnny Trovato, because getting outside topics to write about can spark some inspiration. Just as a teaser, this month’s requested topic is an anime I’ve been wanting to delve into more after dipping my toe in many months ago, so this is the perfect opportunity.

Though maybe it’s because I’m playing more video games, things like Fire Emblem Awakening (I know I’m a game behind!), Splatoon (in my first Splatfest ever!), and of course Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. I attended a local tournament this past weekend and did okay, getting 13th out of 35 players. It’s not much, but I enjoy just checking things out and seeing where my Mewtwo stands. I don’t think that it’s bad to play games, of course, but perhaps I need to redirect my attention back to anime and manga a bit more.

To end off, I do want to mention something I’m doing over at Apartment 507, where I also blog. After the success of my analysis of Yazawa Nico from Love Live!, I’ve decided to tackle all nine main girls (and maybe a few more!) over the next few months in the leadup to Love Live! Sunshine. For February I’ve written about Sonoda Umi, so check it out if you’re all about the Umidaaaa!

 

How Evangelion References Ideon

This post is dedicated to Anime World Order‘s Daryl Surat, who over 10 years has pointed out repeatedly that people will bring up the relationship between the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion and Space Runaway Ideon without knowing exactly how they connect.

Love it or hate it, Neon Genesis Evangelion, is one of the most influential and well-known anime ever. The story of youths with crippling psychological problems who must fight to save the Earth resonated with many, and anime came to copy, challenge, and rethink Evangelion in the years since. However, Evangelion itself carries its own influences from shows of yesteryear. For this post, I’m going to be writing about one of the major progenitors of Evangelion, Space Runaway Ideon, because it’s often brought up as evidence against Evangelion‘s originality and innovation, without thorough understanding as to what Ideon did and did not do relative to Evangelion.

Evangelion is just a rehash of Ideon,” the argument goes, but structurally they don’t have very many things in common. The city structure, otherworldly invaders, time limits, and the sense of scale when the titanic EVAs fight the similarly enormous Angels all come from Ultraman. In fact, if you want to see just how much Ultraman influenced director Anno Hideaki, check out the manga Insufficient Direction, drawn by his mangaka wife, Anno Moyoco (Hataraki Man, Sugar Sugar Rune). The escalation of trauma and the mistrust between humans comes from DevilmanIdeon, while bearing a few minor similarities to these series, brings something else to the table.

To understand Ideon, it’s useful to start at the beginning. Its story takes place in an era of space exploration and colonization. A group of archaeologists discover three ancient vehicles, which they find out can be brought together to form a giant robot called Ideon. During this time, they also encounter an alien race of conquerors called the Buff Clan, who possess legends about Ideon as a mighty god of ancient times. Though they take a number of casualties, the humans escape with Ideon, and spend the rest of the series fending off attacks from the Buff Clan with the help of the Ideon.

This sounds pretty par for the course for the time in which it was airing (early 1980s), but one thing made Ideon, as a mecha, different: it didn’t like to behave. The pilots from the very beginning are even unsure as to how to rouse Ideon from its dormancy. It powers up and powers down seemingly with a mind of its own, as indicated by a mysterious display called the Ide Gauge. If there’s a pattern as to how strong Ideon will be in any given fight, it is utterly unclear to the humans responsible for it. It is ancient alien technology that they are unable to fully grasp.

Then, deep into the series they find themselves cornered and at the brink of death. Suddenly, the Ideon achieves a power greater than anything seen before, and wipes out the enemy in an instant. Though they’re happy to have escaped with their lives, one important detail looms over their thoughts: it was not by the humans’ actions that they were rescued. Rather, they were at the seemingly serendipitous whims of the Ideon itself. As they continue on their journey, and as they continue to fight the Buff Clan, the heroes are made increasingly aware of the fact that the Ideon is powerful enough to destroy entire worlds, rend galaxies into nothingness, and wipe out civilizations… and they have absolutely no control over it. In the Super Robot Wars games, the power of the Ideon’s strongest attacks, Ideon Sword and Ideon Gun, are labeled as having infinite range as a reference to this, though the mechanics are gamified into something manageable).

If you’ve seen Neon Genesis Evangelion, you probably know where this is going. Some of the most iconic scenes in Evangelion are when the EVA-01, the protagonist Shinji’s mecha, goes berserk. During these pivotal moments, Shinji somehow falls unconscious or is unable to fight, and the EVA roars to life with a mind of its own. It fights like a beast, clawing, biting, and tearing. Its chilling cry becomes a wake-up call to the human characters who believed that they could control all of this technology and power. In the cases of both Ideon and Evangelion, the power granted to the heroes ironically creates a sense of helplessness because of the loss of control. Unlike older giant robot anime, such as Mazinger Z or even Reideen the Brave which featured a similarly sentient super robot, the spirit of the hero, or indeed all of humanity, is made to feel small and insignificant in Ideon and Evangelion. Where Evangelion differs is in its deeply introspective focus, of characters and the deep, torturous labyrinths of their psyches, and so it would be incorrect to say that Evangelion simply copied Ideon.

The Ideon TV series ends more abruptly than almost any other anime you will ever see, and a proper finale would be provided in the form of two movies, one recap and one conclusion. In the movies, the secrets of the Ideon are explored, and it’s through those secrets that further connections to Evangelion can be seen. The second movie, Be Invoked, reveals what causes Ideon to awaken and gain power: life energy. The Ideon throughout the series appears to respond better to children than to adults, and even better to babies. Though there is nothing explicitly written as to why this is the case, and I’m inserting my own interpretation into this to an extent, I believe that it has to do with the fact that children are both more full of life, and are not as warped by their experiences as the cold, cynical adults.

As the fight between the humans and the Buff Clan rages on, it turns out that meteors have been raining down on both planets, wiping out their homes. The implication behind these mutual apocalypses is that the Ideon itself and its Id energy have been testing the two sides to see if they can reach some sort of peace. Because the two sides refused to understand each other and just kept on fighting, the Ideon basically decided that both civilizations are not worth saving as they are. Hence, meteors. Ultimately, even as this is all happening, the Ideon fights the Buff Clan’s ultimate weapon, the Ganda Rowa. The two destroy each other, triggering a massive explosion that wipes out life on the surrounding planets. The spirits of those who died, both human and Buff, gather together as if all is behind them.

A few similarities to Evangelion appear here. First, the effectiveness of children as a source of “power” for the Ideon is similar to how the Evangelions appear to only function when piloted by 14-year-olds. Second, the protective element of the Ideon towards those children resembles how the EVAs have souls within them that (for the most part) are the mothers of the pilots themselves, who go berserk to save their children. Third, the Ideon’s desire to bring these two warring civilizations, and the final moments of Ideon itself, resemble the Human Instrumentality Project at the center of Evangelion. The Human Instrumentality Project is the idea that, by having all of humanity merge together, we will be free from the problems caused by people being unable to properly communicate their feelings. When we are all as one, there will be no suffering. Again, however, even if you factor out the newer works (the Rebuild of Evangelion movies, the manga’s alternative ending), Evangelion does not say the same things because of the greater focus on individual characters and their personal emotions. Ideon thinks on more of a macro scale than Evangelion‘s micro approach, despite the fact that both series involve the death of humanity.

Overall, the influence of Ideon on Evangelion can be summarized as the exploration of humans having to deal with powers beyond their control, and the apocalyptic consequences of those who continue to make mistakes even with this knowledge in mind. I hope this has been useful to you, and if there is anyone who would like to add new points, expand upon the existing ones above, or even argue against them, I welcome you to make a response.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

 

 

 

 

Visual Timing: Three Great Things About Kill la Kill

Kill la Kill, the new anime from the creators of Gurren-Lagann and Inferno Cop, is pretty much living up to the huge amount of hype surrounding it. For me, there are a few areas pertaining to the visual element of the show which really stand out.

1) Kill la Kill excels at creative sight gags.

When it comes to works that are humorously absurd, often times we say they succeed despite themselves because the humor is because it takes itself seriously and doesn’t realize its own power. In contrast, we then say other works fail to capture this glory because they tried too hard. I find Kill la Kill generally hits that sweet spot where the humor is clearly intentional, but doesn’t go overboard in extending its jokes, so it’s even more possible to appreciate its cleverness.

Two scenes from episode 3 stick out in this respect. The first happens at the beginning of the fight between Ryuko and Satsuki, when their combined willpower literally blows away the surrounding bystanders. It’s a pretty typical sight in anime which wants to establish the sheer power of its primary characters. Then, in the next shot, Kill la Kill extends that sequence to the point of absurdity by having the bystanders’ bodies continuously flying through the air. The shot lasts for about 5 seconds, and during that time it’s easy to wonder if there are more bodies being blasted away than were actually standing there moments before.

The second is after the battle, when Satsuki says to Ryuko that in order to fight her she’ll have to go through her goons, her goons’ goons, and her goons’ goons’ goons. Kill la Kill sets the image up in a somewhat abstract fashion, much like one of those old dramatic Dezaki Osamu painted stills (which I just found out recently is called a “harmony” shot thanks to Anipages). Then, as the show switches to a bird’s eye point of view, you realize that Satsuki and all of her minions are actually standing there like they’re posing for a group photo.

These sight gags stretch their conventions just far enough to pull you out a bit, but neither of them overstay their welcome. Both of them use the screen to create strong images, which brings me to my next point.

2) Kill la Kill has strong image composition.

The series uses a lot of the extreme poses key to a Kanada Yoshinori-style animation, but even in still shots and pans Kill la Kill exhibits a lot of intelligence and creativity which both enhances the mood of the show while also encouraging an appreciation in the animation (or lack thereof).

This shot of Ryuko and the tennis club captain from episode 2 literally consists off two figures sliding and changing size against a background. There’s little to no animation, and yet the moment helps to create tension because the initial image of the two standing away from each other on the tennis court gradually turns into a face-to-face confrontation with the net acting as a visual separator between the two. I find it really impressive because it was able to do so much with so little, and it’s a trend you’ll see throughout each episode.

In the same episode, Ryuko confronts Satsuki. Satsuki begins to swing her sword and she grows to massive proportions on-screen to convey the idea that she’s a massive threat and that she’s much more powerful than she looks. Obviously from the context of the show she’s not actually getting bigger, and this sort of visual representation reminds me of two things.

First, is an American football manga mentioned in Fred Schodt’s Manga! Manga!, where a tiny Japanese player blasts through a massive American roughly five times his size. Second, is Fist of the North Star, and I don’t just mean the giant mohawk thugs. That series often exaggerates the size of Kenshiro’s foes yet shows them to be relatively even in size moments later, just to transmit danger.

3) Kill la Kill makes a lot of anime references but doesn’t overdo it.

This point relates heavily to the first.

Kill la Kill makes numerous references to old anime each episode, but doesn’t depend on them for success. In episode 1 Mako can be seen performing a Kinniku Buster from Kinnikuman on her little brother, but it’s never referred to by name, and there isn’t any sort of big fancy scene where she jumps from the air and lands with an impact. They save those moments for the actual fights.

A lot of the anime and manga references involve Mako, which makes me think that this is part of her purpose as a character. In episode 3, she goes to “shield” Ryuko but more to give a strange speech about how Ryuko should get naked. During that lively sequence this shows up:

That’s right, Kill la Killi threw in a Space Runaway Ideon reference (see 14 seconds into the video). Evangelion is known to be inspired in part by Ideon, and to have ex-Gainax employees bringing it out doesn’t surprise me too much. Again, the reference doesn’t linger too long, is more about the ridiculousness of Mako as a character, and is actually a little easy to miss.

There’s also the recurring use of stars blinking in and out in Kill la Kill. It reminds me of the opening to Evangelion, right before the title logo appears, and I really suspect that it’s intentional.

Actually, I think Mako herself is an anime reference, as her hairstyle and position as the main character’s best friend immediately reminded me of the character Maki from Aim for the Ace! Ryuko’s messier hair even somewhat resembles Aim for the Ace! heroine Hiromi’s style relative to Maki’s. That Mako’s first name is written in Katakana like Maki in the Aim for the Ace! anime, that she is a tennis club member, and that her membership sets up the conflict in episode 2 all point towards this being likely.

In each case the references aid the show but do not dominate it. If someone fails to get certain references (and given the amount it’s going to happen to pretty much everyone, including me) then it doesn’t unravel the humor or make the series any less visually strong. If a reference does get through, it is capable of becoming not only a matter of spotting the homage but also considering how Kill la Kill relates to that older work. For instance, there’s this interesting relationship between Kill la KillGurren-LagannAim for the Top! Gunbuster, and Aim for the Ace! that I’d like to unravel in terms of how these shows approach similar ideas.

I also have other thoughts about the narrative and thematic elements of the show, but I’ll save those for another time. If you want to check out Kill la Kill though, it’s being simulcast from a variety of sites: Crunchyroll, Hulu, and for international audiences, Daisuki.

The Mathematics of Anime

Wildarmsheero recently linked me to an old interview with Sadamoto Yoshiyuki, character designer of Evangelion, where he describes Eva as being what would happen “if you add “Ideon” and “Devilman” together and divide by two.” A surprisingly accurate description when I actually think about that.

That brought my attention to a Post-Eva mecha show, RahXephon, which can in a similar fashion be described as the average of Evangelion and the old 70s Sunrise anime Reideen (not to be confused with the 2007 version or Chouja Reideen from the 90s).

Going by those statements, we come to the following conclusion:

RahXephon = (Ideon + Devilman + 2Reideen)/4

Anime, ladies and gentlemen.

What if Bokurano were in SRW?

Bokurano is a manga by Kitoh Mohiro, creator of Shadow Star: Narutaru. The centerpiece of Bokurano is a large robot called Zearth, and so one technically is able to call it a giant robot manga, though as you might expect from the man who created Narutaru there are some serious twists. When it was adapted into an anime by GONZO these twists were less severe, but still most of them were present.

As with any giant robot series though, there’s always the potential to have it included in the Super Robot Wars series of crossover video games. Only thing is that Bokurano’s plot makes it an EXTREMELY difficult series to fit into the general framework of SRW games, particularly because SRW games tend to have an overall uplifting message, which Bokurano only arguably does half the time.

But that’s where the following challenge lies: How do you fit Bokurano into SRW without detracting too much from either?

I think it should be obvious, but I’m going to warn you here and now that everything below this line is going to be MAJOR spoilers for MULTIPLE series. You have been warned. Check the tags to see if there’s a show you don’t want ruined for you.

There are two main issues to deal with in regards to Bokurano. First, is that the idea of one pilot dying per battle until all of them are gone. Second, is the fact that when the Zearth wins, another Earth in another dimension gets destroyed. I think you might already be able to see how this clashes with some of the themes common to SRW.

Let’s address the one-pilot-per-battle thing first. One possibility is that the Zearth will not be deployable against anything but Bokurano enemies, and that every time you use it the pilot changes (and the spell list and stats of the pilot accordingly) until you reach the last pilot. Another possibility is to have the Zearth ALWAYS deployable except whenever you reach a stage that’s Bokurano plot-based you lose the current pilot.

Of course, you don’t want to just lose all the pilots and then have the Zearth unusable, so there has to be a way to revive the pilots and in a way where they never die again and then you can use all of them. A few possibilities spring to mind.

There’s Steel Jeeg, which stars the IMMORTAL Cyborg, Shiba Hiroshi. Somehow getting the Bokurano kids to make their bodies not entirely natural may be a way of circumventing it.

Another possibility is having Shinji from Evangelion somehow find the lost souls of the Bokurano pilots and return them to their bodies and then maybe do some magic with AT Fields.

There’s also Murasame Kenji from the Giant Robo OVA who is revived whenever he dies. Granted Giant Robo is off-limits due to the death of Yokoyama and the subsequent licensing cost hike, but let’s ignore that.

The ending of Ideon meanwhile involves civilizations dying and the humans and Buff clan members having their souls “reborn.” If this could be localized into the Zearth then that’s also a potential revival method. Also keep in mind the parallels between Ideon and Zearth, in that both are extremely powerful robots that have destroyed entire planets,  are absolutely frightening monsters when you realize their true identities, and wipe out all life if either of them lose.

Now what about the whole killing billions of innocent lives per battle? How can this cycle end once and for all? In this regard, we need to deal with series that address the concept of alternate and parallel universes.

The main one I can think of is Change! Shin Getter Robo: Armageddon. In a scene from this OVA, Shin Getter Robo and Shin Dragon perform a Shine Spark, during which they discover that there are alternate Getter Robos in alternate dimensions all fighting the good fight. Well what if all of the Getters work together to simultaneously stop the horrible contest of Bokurano?

Those are more or less the more well-thought-out possibilities I’ve considered. Of course, there’s lots of potential for other crossover plot points. Here’s a couple.

Gaogaigar
The act of destroying the cockpit of an enemy robot in Bokurano bears some resemblance to when Gaogaigar was about to crush the Zonder core until Mamoru stops it and shows that it’s actually a transformed human being. Perhaps the healing power of Mamoru could do something about the other cockpits.

God Mars
In God Mars, the main character Takeru’s robot Gaia has a bomb inside of it where if the main character dies the bomb is detonated and the Earth is destroyed. So with this, even though you don’t have a sure solution on how to keep the Earth from disappearing in the even that Zearth loses, it will at least allow the Bokurano kids to have someone older to relate to. Also, a robot named GAIA and a robot named ZEARTH? Eh? Eh?

So what can you think of? Let me know!

The Mean Among Ends

Looking back at the anime that concluded in Winter of 2009, I have to say that I was quite satisfied with how all of the shows I watched had finished. I did not watch every anime that came out, but out of those I did, I felt there was a general trend of decent to great endings.

A funny thing about anime is that it has the reputation of giving the viewer incredibly good endings and incredibly bad ones, and often times fans can’t even agree on which endings are which. I could come up with a variety of hypotheses as to why people so vehemently disagree on the quality of certain conclusions (or lack thereof), but it really all comes down to personal experience, personal experience that says, for example, whether wrapping everything up by the end is a Good Thing, or if it would be better to leave some things open or to the imagination.

I think the mixed reputation for Anime Endings has very much to do with anime shows actually ending in the first place. I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing, but one of the oft-touted qualities of anime that got fans choosing it over cartoons and TV shows in their own countries was that anime tended to have endings which built upon events which occurred in previous episodes. Of course, as the general level of writing in TV shows has improved over the years there’s less of a discrepancy, but anime seems to rarely get canned outright with no warning to the writers and staff the way American TV shows do. The trend instead seems to be that if a show is getting canceled, the anime staff is told in advance so that they may try to cobble together something to finish the series off with, be it a cliffhanger ending or even the Ideon TV series’ Narrator Exposition Ending (it has to be seen to truly be experienced).

What makes a good ending? Something that says your viewing experience was worthwhile.