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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From Cutie Honey to Keijo!!!!!!!!: The Rise of Big Butts in Anime History

NOTE: This post is NOT SAFE FOR WORK

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Introduction

For as long as there has been fanservice in anime, there has been an emphasis on rear ends. Few things are more associated with anime (for better or worse) than the panty shot, and the form-fitting suits in works such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell have helped to bring posteriors to prominence. However, I believe that buttocks have not remained static over the course of anime’s history and that, over the past 10-15 years, we have reached a point where big butts are “in.” The purpose of this post is to show this gradual change in tastes while also positing some possible reasons that this change has taken place.

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Less-Than-God Voice

The other day I had the opportunity to karaoke again, and I took full advantage of it, singing anime songs from all decades and genres (but mostly giant robots). It had been, what, over a year? since I was last able to belt out some tunes and it felt pretty good.

Ever since the last time, I’d developed another favorite song to karaoke: “Tatakae! Reideen” from the 70s robot show Reideen, if only because there’s a part where you just start shouting aggressive words of encouragement.

IMA DA (NOW)! FIGHTO!

YUKE (GO)! FIGHTO!

TATAKAE (FIGHT)! FIGHTO!

And so on and so forth. Try it some time, it’s good for blood flow and for relieving stress.

Sadly I’m unable to provide a proper link for it at this moment, but at the very least you can see listen to its singer, Shimon Masato, and his most famous song ever, about a piece of Taiyaki which escapes into the ocean.

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.

Oh Me Oh My, Tomino to Be in NY

The New York Anime Festival announced its first major guest today, and it is none other than the creator of Gundam and one of the most famous anime directors ever, Tomino Yoshiyuki.

Having grown up in New York City, I was a bit upset that I was not able to meet him at Big Apple Anime Fest around 2000 or so, and thought I’d never have the chance again, especially because he’s not exactly a big name among today’s anime con crowd. But here he is again, and I’m going to make sure I bring my Zambot 3 box set for him to sign. Definitely.

I’ve spoken before about Gundam and how it’s not only influential to not only the anime industry as a whole but for me personally, and to have the opportunity to pick Tomino’s brain is something I can’t pass up. Like or hate his work you know he’s different from most others, particularly in the sense of his tumultuous career as hate turned to love.

Anime News Network has an interview with Tomino to go along with their announcement, and it’s worth a read if only for the following line”

Until I was middle-aged, I liked to cram my frustrations into my works. However, my mindset changed when I realized that anime is an entertainment medium, and it has to be something people look forward to. That line of thinking is plain to see in the Z Gundam movies.

In other words, the films were an expression of the fact that by nature, all people have both a positive side and a negative side.

Wow. I am looking forward to this.

Reideen and the Awesome Final Battle

I occasionally mention to people that I think the original 1970s Reideen anime has one of the best final battles ever. In the past, I have not been able to support this with visual evidence, but thanks to the power of Youtube and some guy, I can now present to you the decisive battle between Akira in Reideen against the evil Baraoh. Seriously, go watch it and see how action-packed and smartly choreographed it all is.

As an aside, Akira’s mom is really hot.

I Love Character Lineart

There’s the front view and the back view, and then some 3/4 views. Accompanying these shots will usually be facial expressions, different poses, possibly different outfits. Whenever I buy an artbook I look for character lineart and design images, prioritizing them over even full posters. They’re one of the main reasons I bought issues of Newtype and Newtype USA. The odd thing is, I’m not sure exactly why I like them so much.

It could be that I like seeing the creator-side of any sort of production or work. Hell, I’m not afraid to admit that years ago I bought the first volume of Megatokyo just because I was curious what Fred Gallagher had to say about his own stuff. I’m always eager to read interviews by creators, and it’s also the reason I go to their panels at conventions. I try to pick their brains and ask questions to get a better understanding of their process and themselves.

These images are the basis from which everything is animated. They serve as guides for animators to go back to whenever they’re unsure of how a character should look or feel. Character design images are the bridge between still and moving image.