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

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

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

Amazing.

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

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

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

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

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

On the recent Anime World Order podcast there was an e-mail from a listener lamenting the lack of “real mecha anime.” The AWO guys (Clarissa was absent) concurred with his view, and said that, while they understand the argument that elements they don’t enjoy in current shows were present in past robot anime, the ratio of ingredients for baking this “cake” has changed for the worse. As one of the people who speaks about elements of current robot shows being able to trace their elements back to previous decades, and who has argued this point before, I agree that the shows of today are different. Different things are emphasized to differing degrees, and the robots are not always used in the same ways as they would in the past. My question in response is simply, what is wrong with this change?

From what I understand, when Anime World Order and their listener say they desire proper mecha shows, what they are actually looking for are shows heavily featuring action, power, and manliness as represented by giant robots. While I too am a fan of cool robots shooting lasers and all sorts of diplays of machismo, and I’m aware that Daryl and Gerald’s tastes are not exactly the same as their listener, the problem is that if you define “proper mecha” as such, then the genre becomes extremely limited.  Who draws the line to say, “this is the correct amount of robot prominence in a mecha show?” You can point to Mobile Suit Gundam and say that it’s a show that has the “right ratio” of elements, but I can point to Mazinger Z and say how actually different it is compared to Gundam in terms of narrative focus and even the ways in which the robots are used, not to mention the differences between Gundam the movies vs. Gundam the TV series. How about Superdimensional Fortress Macross, which (indirectly) takes the Char-Amuro-Lalah love triangle and transforms it into a main draw of that series?

The reason I bring this up is firstly because I want to emphasize how much  that ratio has changed even within the conventional history of robot anime (and I am deliberately avoiding bringing Evangelion into the equation due to its unusual position), but even more importantly because the shows which “get it right” in the current age are the product of adjusting the ratio in favor of a certain perspective on what giant robot anime should be like. Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo is brought up frequently in the podcast as an example of a relatively recent giant robot anime done right (or at least in the spirit of the old stuff), but it does not actually have the same ratio of elements as the robot anime of the past. If anything, it’s somewhere between the tamer Getter Robo anime of the 1970s and the harsher Getter Robo Go manga in terms of action and violence, and to highlight certain elements of each while ignoring others makes not for a show like the old stuff, but one which emphasizes certain desired elements from the previous works. This is hardly a problem as Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo does in fact offer the things that AWO says it does, but it’s also the result of distilling a robot anime into something more focused and specific to the preferences of particular viewers, which is not that different from the objections leveled at the current audience of robot anime.

I understand that this criticism is primarily aimed at Code Geass and other anime like it which put characters front and center in their stories and use robots for flavor. While I could argue that shows like Votoms do the same thing only in a way which emphasizes a masculine ideal, if we assume that current shows simply do not have enough robots, then I have to ask why the thrill of violence and power should be the primary motivation of robot anime? AWO speaks of the sacrifices that robot fans must endure in current mecha shows, but what about the same sacrifices people made in the past to enjoy those old robot shows when the ratio may not have been ideal for them? If people see elements such as romance, attractiveness of characters, drama of war, friendship, or any number of themes in robot anime, then I think it’s fair to say, “You know what, it’s cool that those elements are there, but wouldn’t it be great if there were anime which really brought those things to the forefront for people instead of having them buried beneath layers of action?” Using robots as a means to tell the story at hand, having problems solved by thoughts and intentions instead of by robots as a power metaphor, those sound like great ways to convey a narrative or express an idea. De-emphasizing power in a giant robot anime can and often does lead to interesting things.

Turn A Gundam, which isn’t a “modern” mecha series like Code Geass, but still places both a different level and type of emphasis on its mecha component, results in an overall stronger story because of it. The 2004 remake of Tetsujin 28 is hardly like the old 1960s one, because the theme shifted from “isn’t it cool that this kid has a robot?” to “exploring the post-war condition of Japan and the specters of the war through this robot as a science fictional element.” Yes, the latter theme was part of the original manga and anime to an extent, but by not having to value the proper “ratio,” it was able to do more. Robotics;Notes possesses many of the “flaws” of current robot anime such as an emphasis on high school, a lack of robot action, and a strong dose of drama, but it’s also an anime which emphasizes the thematic purpose attributed to giant robots. It uses the intimacy of a high school setting to show the bonds the characters have with the concept of giant robots, and does so by utilizing the “modern formula” that is supposedly anti-mecha. In all three cases, their amount of straight-up conventional robot fighting is less than expected, but it allows them to serve different purposes.

Gerald spoke of Die Hard and how keeping its constituent elements but not understanding it as a whole does not necessarily make for a proper Die Hard. That might be true, but why are we limiting the scope to just one movie? Action movies can be Commando, but they can also be Highlander or The Dark Knight. If that example is too broad, then let’s look at a franchise like The Fast and the Furious. After four movies about racing cars in deserts or highways and having some vague infiltration plot, Fast Five comes out and changes the formula into what is essentially a heist film. By focusing more on action with purpose and the teamwork element, and being less about the cars themselves, the result is a much more solid and well-rounded film which is still undoubtedly of the action genre.

Or to put it in terms of Daryl’s analogy, yes if you change the proportion of ingredients when baking a cake, you get something different. The thing is, cakes are but one possibility. What we have now are robot pies, robot souffles, robot quiches, robot donuts. You might prefer cake in the end, but all of those are equally valid and can be equally delicious.

The 2012 Les Misérables movie was my first experience with the story in any format, and while watching it I had a thought that was probably the last one anyone would have: What if Gundam AGE were more like Les Misérables?

(Warning: Gundam AGE spoilers. Also for Les Miserables, but maybe that’s less of an issue because the book is quite old.)

flitoldyoung

I have a couple of reasons for comparing the two works. First, Gundam AGE, like Les Misérables, is a generational tale with a large cast of characters essentially centered around one strong-willed protagonist. Second, Flit Asuno, the hero of Gundam AGE, is extremely devoted to his quest to crush the enemy who has taken his family and his home, and over time it gets to the point that “eliminate the enemy” becomes a near-dogmatic mantra that he’s created for himself. His unerring path had me drawing parallels to Inspector Javert and his single-minded pursuit of Jean Valjean, while Javert’s personality that would have him rescue a man from robbers and then arrest the same man for not paying taxes further reinforces this comparison.

Gundam AGE suffers from not being able to properly bridge its generational shifts. The choice as to which characters remain and which ones leave (either by death or simply by never being on-screen again) feel rather arbitrary in that show, and so it loses the momentum that a work like Les Misérables manages to keep right until the end. So, if it were possible to revise Gundam AGE, I would make it more like Les Miserables but centered around Javert, with Flit of course being in that role of the straightforward devotee of justice, also reworking the enemy Vagans to be multiple characters playing the role of Jean Valjean-like antagonists, characters who challenge Flit’s black and white world view. However, I would also keep the element from the original Gundam AGE where Flit has a child and a grandchild who eventually rescue him from himself in his old age, so that his life doesn’t end as tragically as Javert’s. I’ve not read the book, but I know it is much more complex than the musical, and I could see a proper story existing somewhere between the two, depending on the audience desired, as well as other factors such as where exactly the broad strokes of the story should be focused.

Of course, there’s one last question to consider: would this version of Gundam AGE have singing? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

A new Super Robot Wars game was announced yesterday, Super Robot Wars UX for the Nintendo 3DS, and the amount of new and unexpected entries makes me want to talk about it, as well as some other SRW-related thoughts.

I think you can roughly categorize Super Robot Wars into two types of games: the flagship titles, and the experimental ones. The former consists of the titles with the best animation and the most-anticipated anime entries into the franchise. The latter can go in a number of directions, from aesthetics (3D models instead of 2D sprites in Super Robot Wars GC) to gameplay (a switch from turn-based to real-time strategy as with Super Robot Wars Scramble Commander), but often times “experimental” simply ends up referring to the titles chosen for that game.

That’s pretty much where UX is. Just look at the debut works for this version.

  • Kishin Houkou Demonbane
  • Fafner in the Azure: Heaven and Earth
  • Wings of Rean
  • Cyber Troopers Virtual On’s Fei-Yen HD
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00: A wakening of the Trailblazer
  • SD Gundam Three Kingdoms Legend: Brave Battle Warriors
  • Mazinkaiser SKL
  • Heroman

When you include the other titles that are in this game, the first thing that jumps out is just how new most of the anime are. Not only is the Mazinger franchise represented by its latest one-off OVA series, but the actual oldest anime in the entire game (and the only two from the 1980s) are Aura Battler Dunbine, and then Ninja Senshi Tobikage of all things. If it were a flagship title, there would have to be certain staples, but with a “lesser” SRW like this, it’s possible to inject a ton of new blood into it and not offend anyone.

Not only that, but when you look at some of the recent titles chosen for UX, they seem to be among the least likely candidates even among non-flagship SRW games. Brave Battle Warriors is actually an already-super deformed Gundam anime done entirely in 3DCG and based on classical chinese literature, the sort of title one would least expect to represent Gundam even with the fact that SEED Destiny and 00 are there. Though I’m sure it’s based on the anime version, Demonbane‘s inclusion may be the first instance (and correct me if I’m wrong) of a visual novel appearing in SRW, which opens the gate for things like Muvluv Alternative.

Heroman I wasn’t even sure counted as a giant robot anime, though I guess if you think about it, it’s basically a combination of Tetsujin 28/Giant Robo with Gold Lightan (though Gold Lightan has yet to make its debut). Possibly craziest of all is the inclusion of Virtual On in the form of a Fei-Yen dressed like Hatsune Miku. Virtual On in SRW Alpha 3 paved the way for non-anime/manga to appear in Super Robot Wars games, and this takes it to another level, as I’m pretty sure Miku Fei-Yen is nothing more than a model kit!

It might sound like I’m complaining, but I’m really not. I actually love it when SRW games go a little wild like this, though one complaint I do have is that the DS SRW games have never been the most impressive when it comes to animation. My issue isn’t even with the quality of the sprites or an unfair comparison to the exquisitely animated Z series of SRW, but that a lot of the shortcuts taken to try to make the games look better actually end up making them look worse. In particular, I’m referring to the way the DS games including UX incorporate cut-ins, and detail shots. Instead of creating the images to better match the sprites and the visuals of the rest of the game, the DS SRWs basically take screenshots directly from the original anime, and while this means things look accurate, it also sticks out in an odd way and messes with the way the attack animations end up looking in a manner which didn’t quite affect previous games with worse sprite animation.

But it might just be that with a game with this daring of a series list, some things have to give. In that case, I’ll take it, but will still hope for better the next time around.

Gundam is one of the most well-known, influential, and highly regarded franchises in anime history. At this point over three decades old, many changes have occurred in Gundam, but none may be as interesting or so able to fulfill its potential as 1999’s Turn A Gundam. Created to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Gundam and directed by the creator of Gundam himself, Tomino Yoshiyuki, it differs in many ways from other iterations, notably in its setting and aesthetics, but at the same time does wonders with everything it has. It shores up many traditional weaknesses of Gundam and Tomino’s work, and brings a variety of interesting twists to Gundam that don’t just come across as differences merely for the sake of them, resulting in just an all-around strong, engaging, and multifaceted story.

In stark contrast to every other Gundam series in current existence, Turn A Gundam takes place on an Earth with roughly World War I-level technology and social standards. In an age of biplanes and debutantes, the world is flipped upside down when lost descendants of humanity from the moon return to the planet with intentions to emigrate. Because the humans on Earth see this “Moonrace” as alien invaders taking away the land of their ancestors and the Moonrace sees the Earthlings as backwards barbarians prone to violence, tensions rise.

The only things keeping the scenario from boiling over and the Moonrace from wiping out the opposition with superior technology are the fact that the political scenario is not as simple as “Us vs. Them,” and the discovery of ancient and seemingly anachronistic “mechanical dolls” (what the people of Earth call mobile suits) in the mountains, particularly the powerful and mysterious “White Doll.” Caught in the middle of this conflict is a Moonrace boy living on Earth named Loran Cehack, whose love for both his original and adopted homes pushes him to pilot the White Doll in an effort to prevent all-out war from breaking out.

There are certain phrases thrown about when reviewing anime, such as “character-based,” “theme-based,” “story-based,” and “world-based,” as if these categories are mutually exclusive or even contradictory, but Turn A Gundam is a series which strongly delivers on all these levels and more because of the way all of those components reciprocate with one another. The history of the world shapes the thoughts and backgrounds of the characters, who act within that world to create a grand story with many intricate elements, and it ultimately results in the delivery of certain themes, such as “the strengths and weaknesses of technological progress” and “awareness of history,” by taking a large-scale, global perspective and focusing it through smaller and more intimate character struggles.

This can be seen in the way the series portrays the constant clash of values and beliefs at various levels and between different people, consistently showing how many of the people involved are intelligent or enlightened or even kind-hearted in their own way, but are prone to mistakes due to the limits of their experiences. An archaeologist who cares little for religion and ceremony is so intent on digging for the sake of knowledge that he ends up exacerbating the conflict between the two sides by uncovering powerful military technology. Politician characters possess the negotiation skills and long-term thinking necessary to balance out their followers’ shortsighted and hotheaded reactions to the deaths of their comrades, but their high ambitions blind them to their own misdeeds. Qualities praised in soldiers, such as valor and daring, become problematic in the face of dangers well beyond their comprehension. As such, when these characters and many more sabotage themselves it comes across as perfectly understandable.

The cast of Turn A Gundam is absolutely gigantic, but it never comes across as too unwieldy for the show. Civilians and soldiers alike are given proper time and elaboration, and it really makes Turn A Gundam feel like a comprehensive world populated by real people. Loran is a gentle soul, but not one whose desire for peace prevents him from taking action, and over the course of the series is simultaneously built up and torn down by events both within and out of his control. Dianna Soreil, the leader of the Moonrace, is beloved by her people, but must deal with not only the difficulties of being opposed by Earth militias but also political infighting on her side. Her personal bodyguard, Harry Ord, is a loyal and admirable man, but one who over the course of the series shows how he is not blind to deception or his own feelings. Neither of Loran’s companions from the moon, Keith Leijie and Fran Doll, are soldiers or anything close to it, yet their stories about trying to start new lives on Earth are just as strong.

The Heim sisters, the adopted family of Loran (pictured in the middle below), or more accurately, the masters he works for as a servant, probably grow the most in the series. The tomboyish Sochie (left) must deal with her prejudice and anger against the Moonrace, while Kihel (right) and her uncanny resemblance to Dianna puts her in a situation central to the story, where she must push her already clever mind to its limits. Even extremely minor characters exude a sense of place in their world, and in some cases a lack of sense of place actually winds up becoming a strong defining trait in and of itself.

Also contributing to the strength of the show’s cast is the fact that the romance is actually extremely well done. Traditionally this has been a weakness of Tomino’s anime, particularly in the Gundam franchise because it is often ran through at an accelerated rate so that it can be a plot point or cause for tragedy, but Turn A Gundam manages to provide relationships which grow organically over time, particularly the two most prominent ones in the series. In these cases, the characters don’t so much have a moment where they Fall in Love, but rather as you watch them you see how they grow closer. Even the relationships which are a little more fast-paced are given reason in the series itself: in a situation like war, people start to think about their own mortality and regrets.

Possibly one of the reasons why the romance comes across so well is that many episodes are devoted primarily to showing people living out their lives amidst the backdrop of war, what might be deemed sillier episodes but which work to build the characters further. For Loran in particular, he is able to show how the White Doll, the titular “Turn A Gundam” as is revealed later, can function as more than just a weapon of destruction, and even the instances where he ends up having to crossdress (apparently an enduring legacy of Turn A if fanart is any indication) becomes both a plot point and a hint for later character development. War is shown as both the forefront and the background depending on the episode, and it creates a more robust setting as a result.

One topic that is difficult to avoid when discussing Turn A Gundam is the aesthetics of the show because of how the series visually sticks out among its fellow Gundam anime. Central to this is the fact that the Turn A itself is a far cry from the traditional Gundam design, and I remember that back when the series and its visuals was first announced there was a backlash against it. Designed by American Syd Mead (Blade Runner, Tron), the style of the Turn A, with its signature white mustache and strange angles, seemed to go against the image of Gundam that had been cultivated over the years. Even over a decade ago I jokingly photoshopped the Devil Gundam from G Gundam onto a Turn A Gundam head and called it “The Ugliest Gundam Ever.” But now, my opinion of the Turn A Gundam is that it not only looks good, but that it fits the role of a Gundam far-removed from those that have come before it. Over the course of the anime, the “White Doll” plays many roles and carries with it the question of to what degree can we break from the past, and this break in design says a lot in and of itself.

What’s even more impressive to me, however, is that each of the robot designs in Turn A each are strikingly different from one another in a clear manner even, I would argue, when the person watching doesn’t have a particularly keen eye for mecha. The ostrich-like WaDOM looks nothing like the “muscular” Sumo, and even when it shares the same color scheme as the WaD their sheer difference in size makes it plainly obvious which is which. At the same time, the mobile suits of the Moonrace share a certain similar aesthetic quality which unites them thematically.

Compare this with the mobile suits of Zeon in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, where even though there is a clear direction for enemy design, it can potentially be difficult to tell a Gelgoog from a Zaku from a Dom, or from a later series like Gundam W or Gundam 00, where the “Gundam design rules” mean the differences are primarily in little details like weapon types or color schemes or what sits on their backs. With Turn A Gundam, even the retro Mobile Suits found over the course of the series by the people on Earth are so different from each other and everything around them that they gain individual identities all over again.

Like the mobile suits, the characters have a particularly strong pedigree somewhat outside of traditional mecha anime, as the character designer for Turn A Gundam is Yasuda “Akiman” Akira, a man known for his work on the Street Fighter franchise, particularly the creation of Chun-Li. Also like the mecha, the characters and animation for the series don’t seem to carry the best reputation, often times regarded as “okay” or “serviceable” due to the simplicity of the designs, but in my opinion the character designs are excellent.

The designs are deceptively elegant, and that “simplicity” gives me an impression similar to Yasuhiko Yoshikazu’s original designs from the first Gundam. Careful attention is paid to details such as clothing and hair without going overboard, and even the sparse shading contributes to a more refined and subdued look. Much like the mecha, the characters all stand out uniquely at a glance, with one notable (and intentional) exception in Kihel and Dianna.

If I had to describe Turn A Gundam using other anime titles, I would say it has the thematic elements of Panzer World Galient, half the grandeur of Legend of the Galactic Heroes (which keep in mind is still a vast amount), and characterization on the level of Eureka Seven. The show is amazing. It’s gripping in a way that shows Tomino at his finest, with its balance of heavy elements with a sort of lighthearted whimsy which also manages to enrich every aspect of the story, its characters, and its ideas. As I finished Turn A Gundam, I could feel it taking over my thoughts and emotions. It’s amazing, and I can’t get it out of my head.

Ever since Mobile Fighter G Gundam, various anime in the franchise have been accused of not really being Gundam, or for betraying the idea of Gundam in some capacity. Whether that’s robots powered by martial arts, a preponderance of pretty boys, or the presence of a mustache and biplanes, it’s clear that, at least to some, there is a vague idea of what Gundam shouldn’t be, but what I find interesting is that over time these prejudices seem to fade or in some cases even become something of a minority. Where once in the English-speaking fandom G Gundam was seen as a freak accident at best, nowadays you’ll find plenty of people who actually will say that G Gundam is their favorite Gundam, or even that G Gundam is the only good Gundam.

I am not here to judge anyone’s tastes or preferences, but rather I would like to wonder aloud about how and why this happens. In the case ofGundam W and G Gundam, the answer partly lies in the way they were situated in the Toonami block of the early to mid 2000s and were able to build up a fanbase as a result, but I feel like that is just one instance of a more basic process at work.

Whenever opinions form about a current or upcoming Gundam, it seems to come primarily from those most invested and devoted to Gundam. This group consistently has Gundam-ness as a priority, and so the initial discussion is shaped by that established fandom and their values. What I’m thinking is that over time, a series has a greater chance of reaching more people, and eventually they’re found by people who won’t necessarily label themselves as Gundam fans, whose value sets are different. At that point, a series may reach an audience more receptive to its ideas or less prejudiced against it (though they may carry their own prejudices different from the ones of more hardcore Gundam fans).

Essentially, what I’m wondering about is whether or not Gundam series (and perhaps other franchises like Macross) undergo a process where they first start off surrounded by their immediate fandom created by the franchise, and then break through that established core, such that the discussion about these series starts to change, that it’s not simply “a matter of time” but also a matter of reaching people who might be more receptive to it. That might not mean that a series will be loved, but that there is a greater chance of it happening.

Introduction: Kakihara Tetsuya is a voice actor known for roles such as Simon in Gurren-Lagann, Natsu in Fairy Tail, Angelo Sauper in Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn) and Jin in BlazBlue. I had the opportunity to sit down for a group interview, which proved to be very informative, particularly in regards to his German background, as Kakihara was born and raised in Germany until 18.

Note that the Japanese names are last name first to maintain consistency with the blog. Also, if any of the other interviewers wish to be known, please tell me.

Interviewer A: What’s it like growing up in one country and going back to Japan? What were the hardships and adjustments you faced?

[Kakihara gives a long, serious response]

Translator: Where were the pauses so I could translate?

Kakihara: It was such a serious topic that it was hard to not…

In Germany there’s a school system you’re into until your teens, but by the time you’re in 4th grade you have to decide your career path. 5th grade is when you go into technical schools or pursue further education, and that’s the point you gotta make it. And once you make that decision… I chose to go to university, I chose the educational path. But once you start this new school you’re there for 9 years until Grade 13 with the same amount of people. But during those years I would go to Japan every summer vacation, see anime on TV, see all of the things in the culture and subculture I fell in love with.

But every year you’re in the same school with the same classmates year after year and mostly people don’t change. But there are a number of dropouts who fall out each year, and even though 150 people started the same grade as me, by the time I graduated there were 40 people left. So it was a very strict school. But, seeing that I had such an interest in Japan I decided to move there and pursue a career in the cultures I was interested in, which includes voice work and acting. So that’s how I came to Japan to pursue an acting career.

Interviewer A: Most people who want to go into something can’t always succeed. What made it possible for you?

I ran way when I was 18. I haven’t seen my parents in over 10 years. When I went to Japan after I graduated, I had no other choice but to succeed. I couldn’t drop out of this. It was a driving goal, and it had to happen, and I made it happen. And now that I look back on it, I think that I’m very happy with what I’ve done.

Translator: Pretty gutsy!

Interviewer B: Well you mentioned being part of the subculture at least over vacations before you became a producer in the subculture, a creator, an actor in the subculture. Since becoming involved in the creation of works, have you had any fanboy moments, working with someone where you felt “Oh my God, I don’t believe this is happening?”

Translator: [discussing with Kakihara whether or not he needs to translate] He understands English, he just pretends not to.

Kakihara: Of course. Famous people, when I go to work, they’re to my left and to my right.

Was there anyone in particular who was a hero?

Kakihara: No one specific comes to mind…

I find the people who’ve been doing voice work since I was a child still working… I’m going to be 30 this year and to see them still working is pretty amazing. Our seniors are amazing. There are no other words than that.

But if I need to name someone in particular, Takayama Minami, the voice of [Detective] Conan. So, seeing someone who’s had so many starring roles for decades is someone who I’d respect, but I’ve never really been the kind of person who looks at another and goes, “Boy I’d like to be that person one day!” That’s not the kind of person I am.

Having been working myself for a decade now, when I work with these people, I still feel, boy I still have a lot further to go. Like, working on a show like Saint Seiya Omega where Mr. Midorikawa [Hikaru] is in there, or from the previous versions of the show Furuya Tohru from Gundam, boy, they still got the same voices they did decades ago. There are so many of these greats around me, so even though these are people who should be admired, I am on the same stage as them. If anything, I’m in competition with them to be just as good, so I respect them but I don’t exactly admire them. I’m going to defeat them.

Interviewer B: This is entirely off-topic and somewhat irreverent but I’ve gotten good responses from all of the other guests. Do you have a favorite swear word, and what language do you swear in?

Kakihara: It used to be German in the past. Can I say this word?

Interviewer B: Go ahead.

Kakihara: Arschloch! Arschloch.

Interviewer B: [laughs] The blacksmith in the Dealer’s Room also said that it’s his favorite food.

Translator: What’s the word?

Kakihara: [in English] Asshole.

Interviewer B: That’s the third time I’ve gotten it this weekend! In German!

Kakihara: Leck mich am Arsch [Kiss my ass]. I recall saying this a lot in German.

I’ve begun to think in Japanese these days. I can’t say I really use a lot of swear words in Japanese. To myself or to someone else? It depends on what you’re saying it about and who you’re saying it to. “I hope you burn.”

Translator: Do you say it to them or do you think it?

Kakihara: I say it to them, if they do something idiotic.

Interviewer C: You do a lot of work outside of anime, so what do you think of Otome Games in America, since there a lot of gamers out there? You’ve done voice work in Amnesia, Ren’ai Banchou, Grim the Bounty Hunter…

Kakihara: The relationship simulation games? Love sims? One of the things that attracted me to voice acting was Tokimeki Memorial. That’s a love simulation game for boys. It’s definitely the founder, the one that really started the boom of the love sim games. It was one of the first that was voiced by voice actors. I felt amazement in the Japanese culture, to create a game that allows you to pursue a simulated romance. Of course, it started out being directed towards boys, but these days it seems to be concentrated a lot towards girls playing these games.

I think it’s a very interesting part of what I do in my career. I have to spout lines I would NEVER say in real life, or go to a date location that I would never choose myself, but being able to experience it through these voice roles is very entertaining.

[Asking the interviewer] Are dating sims really popular here?

Interviewer C: I play a lot. All of my friends play a lot also.

Kakihara: [in English] Thank you very much.

Just learning that people are fans of your work even in the United States is always a pleasing thing to learn.

Ogiue Maniax: Given your native fluency in German, I’m wondering if it’s had any influence in the roles you’ve taken as a voice actor. For example, I know that in Nanoha you voice various weapons which speak in German.

Kakihara: So like you said, in Lyrical Nanoha I do speak German, but when a Japanese person imagines a German, they imagine someone who’s burly, wearing a military uniform with a very low voice. My voice tends to be very young-sounding, so I’ve been to recording sessions so that I can direct others on their German because the actors have the voices the producers wanted. But as an actor I would have liked to perform those lines myself.

I have to say, my German has not been a help in my career in most cases. But in cases like this where I come to some place in the United States, having spoken German in my life I can actually listen to English and comprehend a lot of it, so it’s been a great help in this trip.

Ogiue Maniax: I think one of your most famous roles is Simon in Gurren-Lagann, so I was just wondering what giant robot anime you watched growing up, and if any of these shows influenced you portraying the role.

Kakihara: I didn’t really watch a whole lot of robot anime, but there are a lot of shows when I was growing up with hot-blooded main heroes, so seeing leads in these action shows or sport shows did give me some influence in portraying Simon. It’s not just anime you learn from. From manga and everything else you can just get inspiration to portray a character.

Interviewer B: If you could work on a character in any IP, anywhere, do you have a dream voice you want to do?

Kakihara: [in Japanese] What kind of program?

Translator: [in Japanese] Anime or manga, or…

Kakihara: [In Japanese] An anime currently running?

Translator: [in Japanese] That, or even an anime that hasn’t been made yet.

Interviewer B: If they decide to make an anime version of Batman, that’s fine too.

Kakihara: There’s a comic called Bachi Bachi, I really like this title. Do you like sumo in the United States?

Interviewer B: There’s not much chance to see it but when it’s on.

Kakihara: I think it would be a hit anime show if it would ever be made. I’d love to play the lead in that show.

Translator: I don’t think a sumo anime would succeed in the United States. No cute girls in sumo.

Ogiue Maniax: The image of sumo is very foreign, also.

Translator: E. Honda is what people think of.

Interviewer B: Wasn’t there an American champion a few years ago?

Translator: A Hawaiian.

Ogiue Maniax: Akebono.

Translator: But there’s no popularity here. [In Japanese] The only image of sumo here is E. Honda.

Kakihara: Edmond Honda.

Translator: Only Honda.

Kakihara: I think it could be a foothold to make sumo popular here.

Introduction: I attended Otakon this year and got the chance to interview mechanical illustrator and designer Tenjin Hidetaka. Responsible for box art from various series including Gundam and Macross, his latest work can be found in Aquarion Evol. His official website can be found at http://www.studio-tenjin.com and his Twitter is @TENJIN_hidetaka.

For the sake of consistency with the rest of this blog, Japanese names are last name first.

OM: How did you get started working in the anime and toy industries?

Tenjin: My very first anime work was Macross Zero from Satelight. I can’t remember what year it was, either 2002 or 2003, but my first anime was Macross Zero.

OM: How is it like working with Kawamori Shouji? How did you meet?

Tenjin: I met Mr. Kawamori Shouji because I had been illustrating for a Macross fansite. I was drinking with a few friends of mine I had met through the fansite and Mr. Kawamori Shouji also attended the event.

But even before I met Mr. Kawamori Shouji I had been working as a professional illustrator, so when I had a chance to meet him I showed him my portfolio, and he gave me the chance to start working with him.

OM: Does the fansite still exist?

Tenjin: The fansite no longer exists. I deleted it right away. But I think some archive of it still exists. Some very hardcore fans from the past still hold onto their precious archives of the past.

OM: I can understand that. So you work both in fantastic designs such as robots as well as more realistic designs such as planes and other vehicles. As an illustrator, do you use the same philosophies and concepts in drawing the realistic vehicles and the more fantastic ones, or are there more significant differences you have to keep in mind while drawing them?

Tenjin: I think about the practical purpose of the vehicle, how it’s used. For instance, with a Gundam it’s a weapon, an instrument of war. So I picture what a tank would be like, and I take the heavy texture of paint and use it for the Gundam. But on the other hand, for something like a Valkyrie, it’s basically a plane so I try to use lighter textures and try to focus on thinner silhouettes.

OM: I actually have a question related to that as well. When it comes to robots, we mainly hear about mechanical designers such as Katoki, Okawara, and Kawamori, who are all about designing the robot from various angles, but we rarely get to hear from someone who’s a mechanical illustrator. What are some of the unique advantages and some of the things you have to consider while drawing mecha without necessarily having “design” in mind?

Tenjin: The difference is, when there’s already a design, I need to think about what the designer had in mind. Even with something as simple as a single line, I have to think about what its purpose is. I need to focus not just on the design in front of me, but other designs that the designer has created because what I am trying to portray through my illustrations is not just the mechanical design or that one item, but the worldview of the designer, the fantastic world that the designer is trying to communicate.

For example, for classic model art for the package or box art, something I focus on is the background. By putting a lot of details in the background, I try to express the storyline of the world behind the design.

OM: You worked on Aquarion as well as its sequel Aquarion Evol. It’s been a few years between those projects. What do you feel you’ve learned between Aquarion and Evol in returning to the franchise?

Tenjin: Something I improved in is weathering texture, introducing weathering to express just how old a vehicle is within the world of Aquarion and Aquarion Evol. But with Aquarion, there are two time periods, the present and 12,000 years ago. I don’t think I was successful in depicting how things would change in 12,000 years.

OM: Related to Aquarion, it seems like 3D modeling is increasingly used to animate mechanical designs, and figures such as Mamoru Oshii have talked about how there are fewer and fewer people who know how to work with 2D designs without going to 3D models. As an illustrator, what do you see as the potential for 3D modeling for mechanical designs in anime?

Tenjin: When I first entered this industry, 3D animation was just at its start. You were seeing the very first examples of 3D animation and, to be honest, the quality was very low. But these days 3D is used very frequently in Japanese animation and very naturally and so the techniques have improved enough that you don’t really notice the differences between 2D and 3D animation. So, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about in that respect.

OM: I just have one more question. I noticed that there quite a few works in that slide show [Tenjin had in front of him an iPad displaying various examples of his box art] from VOTOMS. Do you have a particular fondness for VOTOMS?

Tenjin: [in English, without the need for a translator to explain my words] Of course!

As the final part of the generation-themed Gundam AGE begins, I’m reminded of the “Machete Order,” a way of watching the Star Wars movies which supposedly introduces all of its elements in the best ways while cutting away some of the excess. Specifically, “excess” means “Episode 1,” as the entire adventures of a very young Anakin were deemed unnecessary and even perhaps detrimental to enjoyment. While I don’t think any of the parts of Gundam AGE are awful, it does make me wonder if it’s actually possible to watch the third and fourth Gundam AGE arcs without having watched the prior two.

While it would be sad to lose characters like Woolf and young Emily, I feel like the third part introduces you enough to the returning characters that someone who got into the show right at that point wouldn’t take long to fully grasp the story, and perhaps because the ratings were so low they actually made it with this in mind. While you don’t get to see Flit go from idealistic young boy to supportive but crotchety old man, you also get to immediately see the differences between him, pirate Asemu, and noble Kio. Obviously as someone who’s already watched the previous parts I can’t simply use my own experience to judge the effectiveness of omitting the earlier parts, at least not without much scrutiny and testing on willing subjects, but I would be interested in hearing thoughts on this matter.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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