New York Anime Festival 2009 Yoshiyuki Tomino Q&A
by Mark Simmons,
After striking a serious note in his Friday keynote, the director of Mobile Suit Gundam showed a more whimsical side in his Q&A session the following day. Yoshiyuki Tomino's fans expect him to be outspoken, philosophical, perplexing and occasionally outrageous. And that's exactly what they got, with the tongue-in-cheek pronouncements of the self-proclaimed "super enemy" drawing both applause and howls of laughter from the standing-room-only crowd.
The panel began with a ten-minute video montage featuring all the animated works directed by Tomino, from 1972's Triton of the Sea up to the recent Zeta Gundam: A New Translation movie trilogy and Wings of Rean video series. Each clip was greeted with a round of applause, with particularly enthusiastic reactions for Tomino's various Gundam works and the wacky dance routines of the Overman King Gainer opening. As the video played, audience members could be overheard hollering spoilers for the ending of Space Runaway Ideon and lamenting the music rights issues that kept Zeta Gundam's catchy opening theme out of the mix. Without a doubt, these were hardcore Tomino fans.
Taking the stage, Tomino began the Q&A with a couple of questions submitted by ANN readers, then turned his attention to the line of waiting audience members which stretched to the back of the room. Determined to get through the entire line, Tomino fielded some thirty Gundam-centric questions in rapid succession, and the panel had already run past its scheduled ending time by the time he unveiled one final surprise - an exclusive screening of Ring of Gundam, the five-minute CG anime film which debuted at August's Gundam Big Expo.
While the director deflected a handful of questions, saying he was unable to remember specific plot points or make predictions about the future of the anime industry - "unfortunately, I myself am not a Newtype, as you can probably tell" - many of his answers were both eye-opening and highly quotable.
Why are the protagonists of his Gundam stories always teenagers? "Adults, having already grown up, are fairly irresponsible and fairly short-sighted in their world view," and thus a main theme of the Gundam series is that adults are the enemy. What are his current influences? "I'm a really old man now, so I'm even more of an enemy. And therefore I'm no longer open to being influenced by those who are younger or learning anything from them. I just move forward with my own thoughts inside my head, and so I'm a super enemy!"
Asked which of his works he is most proud of, Tomino demurred on the grounds that "the moment one becomes satisfied with one's work is the moment that one stops becoming a professional." What about a least favorite? "I hate most of them. And that's because most of the time, the moment I finish whatever I was working on, I feel an intense sense of regret." But, he hastened to add, "I love them!"
One fan took the opportunity to ask the director about another of his recent keynote speeches, when he took the stage at the CEDEC game conference to denounce video games as evil time-wasters. Tomino stood by his claim that games are "evil things for humankind," adding that he's living proof because "once in a while I myself end up playing games all night."
It wasn't entirely fun and games, though. Following up on the previous day's keynote, Tomino advised one aspiring director to simply "work several times harder than anyone around you." He also reiterated that anime is part of the film medium and must live up to the same cinematic standards. "If you make an anime only thinking about the animation process, then you'll make something that only anime fans will appreciate." His use of cinematic techniques in the original Mobile Suit Gundam television series, he feels, made it possible to adapt the series smoothly into a motion picture trilogy. "Otherwise, how many of you would actually watch something that was made thirty years ago?"
Nonetheless, Tomino observed, Gundam isn't as influential within the anime industry as it once was. Noting the popularity of "samurai-type" anime among the cosplayers in attendance, "I'm starting to think maybe we need to start incorporating that into Gundam." The future direction of the Gundam franchise, however, is largely in the hands of the people he's entrusted to create new stories. "And if you don't like what you see on the screen, just don't watch it."
As for his own future works, "only the gods know." But for now, at least, Tomino's loyal fans have Ring of Gundam to provide them with a glimpse of his latest creative direction - not to mention a fresh supply of quotable quips from Tomino himself.
Reader Questions Answered!
Given the sheer number of audience members waiting to ask their own questions, your reporter regrets that we weren't able to cover more of the reader-submitted ones. Here are a few that did get asked - by, in one case, a helpful member of the live audience.
BCD Masamune: What do you believe made Gundam such an important cultural icon for Japan (1/1 scale statues, the impact on mecha anime, etc)? How does it make you feel as its creator?
Tomino: After seeing the life-size statue of Gundam in Shiokaze Park, which overlooks Tokyo Bay, I just felt like it renewed the sense of obligation that I have to provide a very clear message in whatever work that I wish to pursue in the future.
dtm42: A theme in Gundam is that understanding one another can act as a path to peace. Do you hold out hope that humans will ever stop infighting? Do you believe it is necessary for humans to make a permanent peace with one another in order to truly evolve as a species? Or is war a necessary evil that spurs the human race on to keep surviving?
Tomino: I really personally feel that war is not a necessary existence. However, given the current political climate and also the economic picture of the world, unfortunately I feel that war will continue to go on for some time. And it may continue to take on new forms as well, and make it a conflict that's difficult for many people to understand. But yes, I feel that unfortunately war will be in our lives for quite some time.
SDS (a similar question was asked by an audience member): Back before his untimely death, you worked with Tadao Nagahama on a number of shows such as Reideen and Voltes V. As he is no longer with us, and his name is not that well-known in the U.S., would you be able to tell us about your experiences with him?
Tomino: I worked with director Nagahama for several years before Gundam, and what I learned from him was how to create a sense of right in a story aimed towards children. When creating works for children, they should not be biased in one way or another, in meaning or in a political sense or anything like that, but provide a very pure and good story. Thank you.
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