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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.
New York Anime Festival ran on my home turf of NYC this weekend, and I was there once more to experience anime, Jacob Javits-style. The most significant parts of this convention were the fact that this would be the last year that NYAF stood on its own apart from New York Comic Con (a merged con will stand in its place next year), and that the creator of Gundam Tomino Yoshiyuki would be there. As a long-time Gundam fan, I could not ignore the fact that he was set to appear in my city. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (unless you were at Big Apple Anime Fest years ago; then it’s a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity).
Friday morning, I got an official NYAF tweet telling me that people were already lining up for autograph tickets, and so with a somewhat mad dash and a long train ride, I and others managed to get to the autograph line on time and obtain our golden passes. Secure in the knowledge that I would get to meet Tomino in person, I continued on through the con.
I helped run a couple of panels this year, namely the Anime Bloggers Roundtable, and Anime Recruitment. For the latter, I was mainly a tech guy, but I managed to chime in on a few subjects, and when asked about why I was a fan of anime more than other forms of media, I gave an answer that I felt satisfied the question. My response, to sum it up, was that anime and manga are capable of addressing and portraying an incredibly diverse number of topics in a way that is appealing on both a basic surface level as well as a deeper and more emotional one. Feel free to disagree.
As for the Bloggers Roundtable, it was great fun and I got to learn quite a bit from my fellow bloggers, but I hope to learn even more and really see the differences in our blogging styles come to the forefront. Ed Chavez, who came onto the stage like a surprise pro wrestler, as well as others, mentioned that he would like to see more direct interaction between bloggers and I am inclined to agree.
I also attended panels such as the Central Park Media retrospective, where I learned that John O’Donnell is a fiercely honest businessman and speed-reader, and saw representatives of Del Rey, Funimation, Vertical Inc, Bandai Entertainment, and Harmony Gold discuss the status of the anime and manga industry, ultimately coming up with the conclusion that while the industries were in trouble, this was old territory despite being on a new frontier. I also saw the US premiere of Cencoroll, a 30-minute short vaguely reminiscent of Pokemon and Alien Nine, created by just one man a la Shinkai Makoto and his first major work, Voices of a Distant Star. It was a fine work to be sure, the animation was beautiful, and the story was simple and stylish.
But I know you’re all here to learn about Tomino, or at least my own experiences with Tomino, as all the actual news aspects have been covered in spades by various news sites. In other words, I expect you to be here for the Ogiue Maniax Tomino Experience, and I assure you that it was something.
I first saw Tomino at the opening ceremonies, where he came out with the intent to cut the red ribbon and officially open the New York Anime Festival. With a big smile on his face, and a propensity for throwing peace signs, Tomino appeared and disappeared in an instant. I knew he’d be back though.
Tomino’s keynote, despite its questionable translator, addressed a number of topics, but what it mainly focused on that I found significant was the idea that movies, film as it were, could not succeed with only one person behind the wheel. Tomino emphasized again and again that making movies, making anime, was a team effort, and that one cannot suffice on emotion and desire alone. He further explained how while he did not agree with everything that Mecha Designer Ookawara Kunio and Animation Director and Character Designer Yasuhiko Yoshikazu’s philosophies entirely, it was their combined effort which made the original Mobile Suit Gundam so successful. In addition to having it contrast with the very existence of Cencoroll, what was amazing to me was seeing Tomino embrace his status as Gundam’s creator, something he was extremely hesitant to do in the past. My personal theory is that years back Tomino was bitter that he could not escape the ominous shadow that Gundam cast upon his career in animation, but when the 30-year mark hit, he came to an epiphany that made him realize that having a work you created survive and evolve for three decades is more than most creators could ever hope for. Some might say that Gundam today is a corruption of what it was, but to have something so influential to corrupt in the first place is in itself an achievement.
The next day, Tomino Q&A was in session. First the panel began with a video summary of Tomino’s greatest works, including Triton of the Sea, Space Runaway Ideon, and Overman King Gainer. The attendees, including me, sang along with as many songs as we could. It shouldn’t surprise you that I knew a lot of them (I could hear myself being the only one singing along to “Come Here! Daitarn 3″). Also, much to Patz’s chagrin, Garzey’s Wing was missing. With that over, Tomino was introduced once more and the Q&A was in full swing. Despite the plans to ask a number of questions from the ANN forums, Tomino decided to give priority to those who were in the room. You can find out the answers to all of the questions here, though I should point out that the person asking the One Year War question was asking for an “alternate” conclusion and not an “ultimate” one.
The answer that surprised and intrigued me the most was the fact that Mobile Suit Gundam’s original fanbase was actually teenage girls. In retrospect it is very easy to see why this would be the case, and I mean that in the best possible way. Next were his answers that one of the main themes in Gundam is that adults are the enemy because they’re too set in their ways, and that as an old man he is a “super enemy,” and that to get anything done in anime you need sponsors and investors. Everyone could sense the cynical Tomino, and it turns out he’s the same as the pleasant Tomino.
What was especially great though was that I managed to ask my own question, to which I received a most satisfying answer.
Q: You had worked with the late director Tadao Nagahama. Is there anything you can relate about your personal experiences with him?
TOMINO: I worked with director Nagahama for several years before Gundam, and what I learned from him was the sense of right in stories aimed towards children. When creating works for children, it should not be biased in one way or another or leaning more in a political sense, but to provide a very pure and good story.
It’s different from the response Ishiguro gave at Otakon 2009, but I expected that and I learned a lot from that brief statement.
The panel then ended with a showing of a 5-minute clip from Tomino’s Ring of Gundam. Overall, the Q&A was a rousing success, though I wish there were more non-Gundam questions asked.
Outside of the actual con itself, a number of friends and I did some con-esque activities that made the weekend more fun as a whole. On the Thursday prior to NYAF, we watched the Eureka Seven movie, and learned that half the dub cast has trouble sounding convincing or serious. We also learned that the voice director tries his best to avoid calling E7 a “cartoon.” On Friday, we had the most Japanese of foods, Go Go Curry, and then spent the evening laying out some Most Serious Karaoke along with the likes of the Reverse Thieves, One Great Turtle, and others. Sub and I discovered that they actually had “Kanjite Knight,” and it rocked so hard we had to sing it twice. This will easily be a part of our karaoke repertoire from now on. A few trips to the Japanese bookstores of NYC were also made, where I rediscovered the Hulk Hogan manga I gave away years ago. This time, it’s definitely getting scanned.
New York Anime Festival is very unique in terms of its panel and events scheduling, in that there tends to be very few panel rooms and opportunities to see someone speak, but what is there is definitely a big hit and immensely enjoyable. I did not attend the AKB48 or Makino Yui concerts, for example, but I’m sure fans of each had a good time. What ends up happening as a result is that you get these long periods of having nothing to do except maybe go around the dealer’s room, or just sit around with friends (and luckily the Jacob Javits Center has plenty of places to sit), and actually recommend this as a way to just enjoy the con without enjoying the con. In my case, I also watched Starcraft matches as part of the World Cyber Games USA finals to pass the time (congratulations to Greg “Idra” Fields for winning WCG USA, and getting a chance to play some of the most fierce Korean pros in Starcraft history). Overall though, the panel situation is quite different from Otakon, where you feel compelled to run around to get to the next panel and have to decide on what not to attend. Things will be different next year of course.
And what of my autograph session? When I handed my DVD box to Tomino, he looked at it for a second, and as if his mental dissonance was correcting himself, he suddenly exclaimed, “Uwa…!” Then he inscribed his name, and handed me one of my most valuable possessions ever.
I can see the good times.
This morning I got a tweet from New York Anime Festival, telling us that the line for Tomino autographs was already forming as early as 7am. Now, the NYAF policy is that you have to pick up your autograph tickets in the morning, but for Friday this isn’t until 11:30am.
This is a far cry from the general Otakon system of autographs which is “everybody lines up and whoever happens to unfortunately be past the cutting point is out of luck.” Both systems have their strengths and faults, giving to varying degrees a sense of hope (however false it may be), and a sense of confirmation that yes today you will get an autograph. The Otakon system says maybe you’ll be that ONE LAST person who squeezes in, whereas the NYAF system says simply, “this is how it is and you’re gonna like it.”
I of course will be trying to get my Zambot 3 box signed, but at this rate I’m not sure if it’ll be possible. WAIT AND SEE.
New York Anime Festival 2009 is this Friday-Sunday, September 25-27, and it’s going to be the final NYAF before the thing merges with New York Comic Con to form a nerd Vegetto (or Chouryuujin, depending on your tastes). The advantage/disadvantage of NYAF is that there isn’t a whole lot to do all the time, but when there is it’s really, really worth it.
These are the events I’ll be trying to attend, as per the schedule.
Yoshiyuki Tomino Keynote @ Panel Room 4 (1A21) 5:15pm – 6:15pm
Aniplex @ Panel Room 4 (1A21) 6:30pm – 7:30pm
Cencoroll @ ANA Theater (1A08-12) 9:00pm – 9:30pm
Del Rey Manga @ Panel Room1 (1A24) 11:00am-12:00pm
Yoshiyuki Tomino Q&A @ Panel Room 4 (1A21) 1:45pm-2:45pm
Blogger Roundtable @ Panel Room 4 (1A21) 8:00pm-9:00pm
State of the Anime and Manga Industries @ Panel Room 1(1A24) 1:30pm-2:30pm
CPM Retrospective @ Panel Room 4 (1A21) 3:00pm-4:00pm
Anime Recruitment @ Panel Room 3 (1A22) 4:00pm-5:00pm
I’ll also be trying to catch any Starcraft matches during the WCG USA finals.
Also don’t forget to catch me on the Anime Bloggers Roundtable panel on Saturday from 8pm-9pm. I’ll be there along with Ani-Gamers, Reverse Thieves, Comics Worth Reading, Anime Vice, Subatomic Brainfreeze, Anime Almanac, The Gaming Dungeon, About.com: Manga, and Super Amazing Number One, there to discuss this fine art we call anime blogging. There’s a structure to the whole thing, but it’ll still probably be fairly free-form.
Look forward to it!
Anime Weekend Atlanta has announced that one of their guests of honor will be Imagawa Yasuhiro, acclaimed director of the Giant Robo OVA and the currently-running Shin Mazinger TV series. AWA is running this year from September 18-20.
Meanwhile, New York Anime Festival, running September 25-27, has already announced famed Gundam creator and director Tomino Yoshiyuki as its guest of honor. If you’re a fan of giant robots and you don’t have the time or resources to go to both, this can be a very painful decision to make.
To help you with your dilemma, try asking yourself the following two questions.
Question 1: Do you love Gundam?
Question 2: Do you love G Gundam even more?
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.
COOL AND SPICY
COOL AND SPICY