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This is an interview with director Takamatsu Shinji from Otakon 2015. Takamatsu as worked on many anime including Gundam X, the Brave (Yuusha) series
First question. Most Gundam series had romance but didn’t have it as a strong focus. Gundam X is a series that put the romance at the very forefront, and it was in some ways the main focus. Why was this decision made for this series?
It’ll be a long story!
I wanted to make something that was Gundam but not Gundam. One rule of Gundam X was to get out of Gundam and to be meta about Gundam, to do things that were not like “Gundam.”
Before that, about a decade prior, you worked on Z Gundam and Gundam ZZ. What was your director Tomino Yoshiyuki, and how would compare his style to yours?
Well, I did grow up watching Gundam myself, and by the time I started to work at Sunrise Mr. Tomino was in the position of being a great director, so it was a scary prospect working with Tomino.
During Z Gundam I was production management, so I reported directly to him, and I was scolded by him every single day. There were days when I was scared about everything.
Romi Park is also at this event, and she gave a similar description of Tomino that is not inaccurate compared to yours.
However, Ms. Park worked with Mr. Tomino much later than I did, and if you look at Mr. Tomino at the time of Z Gundam, he really was off the wall.
You’re also very well known for your work on the Brave series, and you worked on many of them. What was the main reason you returned to the Brave series for so many years?
The first director of the Brave series, Yatabe [Katsuyoshi], brought me onto production for the show, and I worked on a little bit of Gundam in between. So, there was a hiatus for me, but otherwise I started from beginning to end for the entire series. And I got my debut as a director from the Brave series, so I am very much fond of the Brave series.
Might Gaine was my debut as a director, so I am particularly fond of it.
In that case, I have an interesting question to follow up with.
The Brave series is known for being very toy and merchandise-heavy but also having good storytelling, as well as in some cases the staff resisting the merchandising aspects of the Brave series. Two famous examples I know are a hidden cel in Goldran which sarcastically talks about it’s supposed to be a robot that’s easy to make into toys, and how Might Gaine’s ending is a criticism of the toy industry.
What were your and the staff’s feelings at the time, and how did the toy companies such as Takara react?
That’s a very deep and vexing question!
So when I was getting started with Might Gaine, I was told that there’s just supposed to be good and bad, and all I had to do was to have toys that featured good guys and bad guys who would just battle. The staff really felt we need to show some kind of resistance, and that that wouldn’t just be the end of the show. And by staff, I mean myself.
You did not work extensively on Gaogaigar, but I have to ask this question. Do you have any details you can share as to why Project Z never got off the ground?
That I don’t know about!
That’s okay! Moving on, another similar series you worked on was Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter, which was based on an arcade game. How would you compare working on Gyrozetter vs. working on the Brave series?
Gyrozetter was based on a video game, so while the look and feel of the show may be similar to a giant robot show, production of the show was otherwise completely different.
Unlike previous shows, the robots came from video games, so it wasn’t really needed as a tangible object, and I thought we could have done more with that.
I did grow up watching toy merchandise-based shows and I did think about what if the robot were a toy, but that wasn’t reflected in the show. That would be my regret. I talked about the resistance to merchandising intent of the toy companies for your earlier question but I actually love toys.
Last question. In regards to Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!, people have talked a lot over the years about the idea of a magical boy series. Whenever anyone brings up magical girls, someone asks, what about magical girls? What was the motivation behind finally putting that into reality?
The producer pitched it to me, and I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to work on something no one’s ever done before? And it turned out to be fun. (laughs)
Gundam Build Fighters Try has made a number of references to fighting styles from other anime, manga, and games, especially towards the end of the series.
In Episode 19, the character Ichinose Junya pulls off a couple of attacks from various fighting styles. This includes a demonstration of boxing, which might look familiar:
This is actually Makunouchi Ippo’s finishing combination from Hajime no Ippo: the Liver Blow, the Gazelle Punch, and the Dempsey Roll.
Next, Junya demonstrates attacks from Ba Ji Quan:
This specific sequence leading into the shoulder tackle is one of Akira’s signature attack strings from the fighting game series Virtua Fighter:
In Episode 20, Kamiki Sekai, one of the central characters of Gundam Build Fighters Try, sends a burst of energy rippling forward by slamming his fist into the ground:
This is a reference to Terry Bogard’s special move, “Power Wave,” which he’s used since the original Fatal Fury and all other games he’s appeared in.
This last one I’m not 100% certain on, but in Episode 23 Junya appears again and confronts Sekai:
I believe it is supposed to be an homage to Fist of the North Star, specifically Souther’s Nanto Hou’ou Ken style:
That’s all I’ve spotted for now. If there are more, then I’ll probably make another post.
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Gundam: Reconguista in G continues to be the kind of whirlwind experience that I love in a Tomino anime. Part of that feeling comes from the show’s tendency to throw around a lot of terms without explanation that everyone but the viewer understands, only to gradually peel back the layers over time. Among these many terms are clear references to the Universal Century timeline of the original Mobile Suit Gundam that Tomino directed back in 1979, and I’ve noticed that there are a couple that relate strongly to the character Lalah Sun from that first series.
The first and most prominent reference is the G-Reco character Raraiya Monday. Not only does she have dark skin like Lalah and appear to exhibit some connection to the G-Self, the “Gundam in everything but name” of the series, but characters will sometimes even refer to her as “Rara,” which sounds mostly similar to Lalah in Japanese (ララ vs. ララァ). When looking at their last names as well, a connection forms: Lalah Sune -> Lalah Sunday -> Rara Monday -> Raraiya Monday.
The second reference comes from one of the terms being tossed around by characters that has yet to be seen: The blueprint of the “Rose of Hermes.” In Japanese, Hermes is pronounced “Erumesu” (エルメス), which is the exact same pronunciation as Lalah Sune’s Mobile Armor, the “Elmeth.”
(By the way, I learned about the pronunciation thing from watching Densha Otoko, which has as an important object in its story, Hermes-brand tea cups.)
What does this all mean? While I don’t know if these are thematic references or actual plot points, if I were to assume the latter it would mean a few things. First, Raraiya is probably a Newtype (maybe even a Cyber Newtype given her personality?), and the reason nobody is aware of this possibility is because the concept of Newtypes has been buried with time (we also see the protagonist Bellri have occasional Newtype-like flashes). Second, the blueprint of the “Rose of Hermes” might actually refer to design documents for the Elmeth’s bits. If that were the case, whoever joins Raraiya with the Rose of Hermes would gain a powerful weapon, which would also connect to the criticism of militarization that is a central plot point in Reconguista in G.
One of the talking points of the new anime Gundam: Reconguista in G, related to the fact that it’s the return of Gundam creator Tomino Yoshiyuki in a directorial role, is that the dances performed by the characters in the eyecatches were choreographed by, of all people, Tomino’s youngest daughter Yukio. According to Japanese Wikipedia, Tomino Yukio is a modern dance choreographer living in the Netherlands, and as it turns out, some of her performances are available on YouTube.
Be warned, these videos contain some nudity.
I’m not really into dance, so I can’t comment in depth on the performances or the choreography, but I find it interesting that both of his children went into the performing arts (his oldest daughter Akari is a theater director in Japan). Obviously I have no idea about their family but I do feel that Tomino’s own work in anime reflects a kind of performative spirit in itself (his dialogue often sounds like it comes from a musical or play), and I wonder if this has influenced his children in any way.
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.
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.)
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
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 the Moon 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 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.