“I have come to feel that
anime is truly a superior medium that
can depict a wide variety of themes.”
Born on November 5th , 1941 in Odawara City. After graduating from Nihon University College of Art’s Department of Cinema, he joined MUSHI Production, where he directed TV anime Astro Boy and some other titles. He became a freelancer after leaving the production, and he dealt with countless Japanese anime projects as a storyboard artist and director. His notable works include Triton of the Sea, Mobile Suit Gundam, Space Runaway Ideon, and Aura Battler Dunbine. As well as creating animation, writes lyrics and novels, and gives lectures at universities.
It was 30 years ago that the very first Mobile Suits Gundam series was broadcast in Japan. Its gripping story, inventive mechanical design, and philosophical underpinnings appealed to a wide range of audiences and boosted the level of anime. As the series’ popularity has spread worldwide, the director of the series, Yoshiyuki Tomino has been idolized by international fans. Now, in the year of the series’ 30th anniversary, he has been running around attending Gundam -related events taking place both inside and outside Japan. Prior to coming to New York to participate in the New York Anime Festival in September, Mr. Tomino answered Chopsticks NYs’ questions via email.
You are known as the “Father of Mobile Suit Gundam” in the U.S. Would you tell me what Gundam means to you?
It’s simply one of my works. Since Gundam was a commercial success, it’s considered something special, but personally, I’m more concerned about the titles that weren’t received well. Though I said it’s just one of my works, Gundam’s commercial success makes my living, so I’m truly grateful for it.
Back in the early 80s, your idea of mobile suits––human-shaped robots made for combat and controlled by pilots––was revolutionary. If there is one, could you share the inside story regarding the birth of mobile suits?
There is no particular episode, as you might expect. In effect, a similar idea was introduced in Mazinger Z before Gundam. Also, I myself used the idea in my previous works, Super Machine Zanbot 3 and The Unchallengeable Daitarn 3. So it’s nothing special. What’s revolutionary about Gundam is that they are military weapons, unlike the gigantic robots in the TV programs I mentioned above, which are treated as manga-like special items such as goods, toys, and tools. In those titles, the robots are treated as impossible, human-shaped machines. This is the critical difference between Gundam and others.
In your works, you really dig into the depth of characters psychologically, and are particular about depicting the inner side of the characters. Such a subtle, profound style of depiction is not often found in animated programs in this country , where simple, clear-cut characters are generally preferred. Would you tell me about your approach or policy regarding the depiction of characters?
Anime is a cinema, so I feel that cinematic character depiction in anime is essential. This is my fundamental policy. Since my childhood, I have thought that American comics undervalue children as readers. I can’t imagine why they do that, though. I had a similar reaction toward Disney movies. I still wonder why they only create such cartoons. Didn’t you see movies made for grown-ups when you were a small child? And weren’t you impressed with them?
In the Gundam series, you introduced a type of people called the New Type, who look exactly the same as others but have superhuman powers. It is not an exaggeration to say that the sensation in human society created by the New Type is at the center of the stories. What do you want to convey through these superhuman characters?
I disagree with the idea that you interpret the New Type as superhuman. Actually, 30 years ago, I did not define the New Type as clearly as I do today. However, the reason I adopted the word “New Type” instead of using words like “superhuman,” “esper” or “ESP” is that I wanted to suggest that all of humankind must change themselves. Today, the energy sources on the planet Earth are reaching their limits, and the environmental crisis is critical. People won’t be able to survive another 500 years if they remain the same creatures who keep the thoughts and sensibilities of the 20th century. In order to overcome these situations and live for thousands of more years, humans must become the New Type. I wish that the New Type would be understood in this way, and I intentionally avoid using sci-fi jargon.
From the dawn of anime in Japan through the present, you’ve been active in the industry. Would you share your view of the current anime industry in Japan? What does it take pride in? And what should it improve?
I value the fact that Japanese anime presented other ways of producing animation besides the Disney-style production method. On the other hand, I notice there is a trend of Japanese anime tending to be geared for grown-up fans these days, and this should be improved. I can say this from my experience. I myself have tried the same things, and I realized that it’s not so good. It’s because it easily turns into something quite egoistic, and moreover, those works often induce a depressive mood. Through my experience, I have come to think that anime should be what allows children to grow their dreams. This is nothing but adults growing themselves.
What’s the good thing about being an anime director?
I think it’s good that I was allowed to take charge of many projects in different genres and could enjoy variety shows, in a sense. Also, by directing combat and war pieces, I could experience catharsis and successfully avoid committing a murder in real life. In this sense, I’m really grateful for that because I was conscious that I had such homicidal traits, to be honest.
Do you have any plans to direct a live-action film?
No. Until I turned 50 years old, I truly dreamed of directing a live-action film. But during the days of my 50s, I gradually recognized that my wish was not realistic. And these days, I clearly understand how difficult it is to direct live-action films, and I have also come to the following conclusion: If I had to depict themes designed for adults, I wouldn’t want to create such stories. In other words, I have come to feel that anime is truly a superior medium that can depict a wide variety of themes.
Please recommend a couple of destinations to Chopsticks NY readers who would like to visit Japan.
In Japan, the mountains and seacoast are nearby, so it’s possible to visit both in a short amount of time. I do recommend that readers try this. On the other hand, Kyushu (the southern island), Honshu (the main island), and Hokkaido (the northern island) stretch in a wide area from south to north. So if you choose sightseeing courses that allow you to appreciate the differences among these islands, any season of the year is the best season.
Finally, please give a message to your fans in the U.S. Anime is a medium that is more expansive than you now imagine. Whether hand drawing, digital animation, or 3D––its capability is tremendous. I’d like you to understand this.
——— Interview by Noriko Komura
Mobile Suit Gundam (Kido Senshi Gundam)
First televised in 1979, this Japanese sci-fi anime series was produced by Sunrise. The story of the first series is set in a fictional universe where people live on the planet Earth and in space colonies, and it depicts the war for independence of the Principality of Zeon, one of the space colonies, from the Earth Federation. Though standing on this larger plot, the story centers on 15-year-old Amuro Ray, a citizen of Side 7 (one of the colonies) who also happens to be a pilot of Gundam, the Federation’s bipedal, military vehicles, and has unwillingly gotten involved in the war. The war saga involves complicated plots while touching upon many other aspects of life, such as a young boy’s initiation, team spirit, revenge, genocide, and friendship, and this has appealed to both child and adult audiences. This series is the origin of the expansive Gundam franchise that has since generated many prequels, sequels, and spin-offs in multiple media including manga, movies, novels, video games, toys, and plastic models.