Interview: Yousuke Kuroda and Seiji Mizushimaby Bamboo Dong and Evan Miller, Oct 28th 2009
Since it was first created thirty years ago, Gundam has become one of the most successful animated franchises in history. Considered by many to be the most popular series among hardcore anime fans in Japan, the series has changed the face of anime fandom irrevocably and inspired hosts of imitators. From an industry perspective, getting to work on the franchise is a prestigious gig, and fortunately for people in the industry, they aren't afraid to bring in new talent. For the most recent incarnation of the franchise, Gundam 00, director Seiji Mizushima and scenario writer Yousuke Kuroda were invited to tackle the project, along with the help of Yun Kouga (Loveless), who handled character designs for the series. We sat down with Kuroda and Mizushima to discuss "double-oh," their feelings on working on such a prestigious franchise, and some of the influences and plot lines that set Gundam 00 apart from its famous predecessors.
ANN: Many of you are relatively new to the Gundam franchise. How did that impact your approach to the series?
Seiji Mizushima: The director had a certain theme in mind. Beyond that, since Gundam is such a huge franchise, a bunch of toy companies were at the planning meetings for worldwide promotion and distribution, so their input impacted things. Of course, it also had a lot to do with what we wanted to do! Basically, we gathered everyone with a stake in the Gundam franchise, took their opinions, and made it into a "stew" of sorts, so that the finished product would become something that everyone could be happy with - the end result was 00. Sunrise was involved, the sponsors were involved... a lot of care was taken to make sure that the show would have a strong appeal that make everyone involved proud of it.
ANN: So what were some of the main things that went into the "stew"?
Yousuke Kuroda: We had a meeting with Sunrise to talk about the project. We talked about recent events, terrorism, the Iraq War and so on, and that led to the discussion of what exactly the main characters should be fighting against. We decided that instead of portraying a war between two nations, a more personal battle involving rebel militias where things were based around the stance of the main characters was more fitting for today's audience. So the first theme we settled upon was doing a Gundam story that fits better for today's world. Another was choosing the setting of a world at war, in which the main character - and this theme mostly matched my own vision for the series - is from a place far away from the Japan that your average young Japanese viewer is familiar with, unlike some of the previous series. Other than that, as we mentioned before, business plans were involved too. How to get the new Gundam franchise out there and promote it - strategic product release schedules which are put together at meetings to decide when to best promote the title, for example. So boosting sales was also very much a part of the planning of the story! (laughs)
Mizushima: It was complicated, yes. But it was fun. Our perspective is, "why doesn't the business end meet with the development end earlier in production?" So creating a compelling story that also satisfied the business end of things was crucial - in other words, presenting a story that showed the detail of war while keeping business in mind. Also, when we were creating characters, instead of having a character with intentionally rough edges, we decided to use an appealing character in the center of the story. The kind of character who younger viewers could really take an interest in. Therefore, when we began production, we began to wonder who would handle the character design. So we held auditions to decide who would create the characters.
ANN: And that's how Ms. Kouga got involved?
Mizushima: Yes, that's the case.
ANN: Regarding the character designs, what exactly were you looking for in the auditions?
Mizushima: I work with people in the industry pretty often. For this Gundam series, a series of memos were wrote in regards to who appears in the series, what the characters are like, and what kind of Gundams appear. Then, for images and designs, I speak with people I know in the industry - manga artists, anime character designers, and so on - and ask them if they would like to audition for the series. After going through all of the submissions, we decided on Kouga-san.
ANN: You mentioned that current events and the current war influenced this series. Were there any specific events that influenced moments in the series?
Mizushima: There isn't really a specific moment or event that inspired something that happened in the series, really. When you hear the news in the background and hear about a tragedy, for example. To prepare, since it isn't like we can visit the modern battlefield, we watched documentaries and read books... in other words, tried to recreate a background that is reminicent of real life events and set the story into it. Much like a situation seen from your own perspective, but the viewer can be objective about it. For the main characters that play a role in the series, there is a lot of background to them. There's a dark part of their past that leads to why they do what they do, and we wanted to show that to the viewers naturally.
Kuroda: There really wasn't a specific incident that influenced us, but there were five themes that influenced us: religion, territory and land, energy, nationality, and history. These are five things that affect people's interactions with one another, and subsequently, the events in the story can be tied to those themes. Historically, those reasons are behind why many wars begin in the first place, and in the course of those events, moments where the question of "who is good and who is bad" comes up or moments where someone feels that "something must be done" do happen. In the series, we present those moments in a way that the viewer is encouraged to think objectively about how they feel [about certain events]. That was what we wanted to do, so the reasons and themes surrounding current conflicts around the world served as a "model" for the series more than anything.
ANN: So outside of your work, would you consider yourself a political person?
Mizushima: I'm not into analyzing every aspect of every political situation; I just consider myself an observer. We're simply trying to make a story for everyone, so we didn't want to make things too political. As human beings, to a degree, these things matter to all of us.
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