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Report: Mobile Suit Gundam Creator Yoshiyuki Tomino at AnimeNYC

by Tim Rattray,

Many know Yoshiyuki Tomino as the grandfather of Gundam, but those who attended his AnimeNYC panel will remember him as something else: a rock star who sings the song of positivity.

After November 15, 2019 was officially declared “Gundam Day” during the convention's opening ceremony in honor of his beloved creation's 40th anniversary, Tomino remarked, “I'm humbled and honored to be receiving such wonderful citations. Especially, I didn't imagine something like this would happen here in New York. And more than anything, I'm so honored and humbled to see how the Gundam generation of fans have matured into such wonderful individuals.”

It's these words that I kept coming back to as I spent the next three hours surrounded by Gundam love. For a franchise that has consistently told harrowing stories of children at war, the theme of Tomino's presence at AnimeNYC was that of positivity and bonding. Starting with the jubilant smile plastered across his face, he was setting an example for future generations whom he hoped would tell happier stories about making the world a better place.

From the moment that the convention's ribbons were cut, die-hard Gundam fans of all walks of life raced to the main auditorium to await their hero. The two-hour long queue was animated with ecstatic energy. Con-goers donning intricately detailed uniforms from across the Gundam universe mingled about their theories and favorite entries in the labyrinthine franchise. This gathering around a rare chance to see Tomino speak was an amazing opportunity to be amongst equally passionate peers. Everyone here had grown up with Gundam; it had helped shape their worldview and direction in life. This wasn't an individual experience but rather a collective one. And when they shuffled into the auditorium after a long wait, they did so “collectively.” (Also known as trying to squeeze in as quickly as possible.)

The proceedings began with brief words from Vice's Austin Walker, the panel's moderator. It was immediately clear that Walker was at one with the audience, his first words being, “I am here to live out my dream.” He briefly discussed how Tomino brought nuanced drama and themes to anime in ways that actions shows of the time weren't even reaching for, and how in doing so he paved the way for the anime landscape to come. “[Tomino] opened the door to sorts of stories that were not just about battles and not just about toys, but were also about people, the difficulties we go through, [and] the world we're caught up in. And in that way, Gundam is so much more than Gundam.”

With his legacy declared, it was time. Tomino's entrance was that of a rock star as he emerged to a raucously cheering crowd. They chanted his name as he walked back and forth across the stage, waving at the gathering, that wide smile from the opening ceremony ever-present. One fan screamed, “I love you, Tomino!” Upon sitting down, Tomino replied in English, “I love you too.” That charisma carried right into his answer to Walker's first question on why Tomino believes Gundam has endured 40 years: “In short, 'cause I made it.”

Tomino spoke next on remaking his 2014 TV anime Gundam: Reconguista in G into a film series (the first installment of which was premiering at AnimeNYC). Languishing that the original series wasn't popular when it first aired, he decided to try again in hopes that it would find an audience, saying to the crowd, “So you better all support it!” He went on to note that kids are the demographic for the film which could be a problem for people at the convention. Everyone in the room seemed eager to tap into their inner children as they responded with laughter.

On whether the people of the Regild Century as seen in his new films learned anything from the conflicts of the Universal Century, Tomino replied, “Actually, it's because I feel the people of the Universal Century did not learn from their mistakes and did not mature and evolve that I reached the story of Reconguista in G.”

Taking about how he's benefitted from animation techniques not available when he first created Gundam, Tomino noted that digital animation had allowed him to create more space colonies and bases, singling out his want to create a donut-shaped base. Walker: “Can I ask why a donut-shaped base?” Tomino dropped his head to the table in laughter before popping back up to explain that such a shape creates artificial gravity and thus is more conducive to everyday life, as opposed to the zero gravity you'd encounter somewhere like the International Space Station.

It might surprise some that novels are Tomino's favorite medium to work on. After starting out in TV animation, he preferred working in film because it was a new platform to him. However, due to issues with licensing, he started writing novels. “It was only through novels that people in Japan finally got to know me, Tomino, as the original creator of Gundam.”

Tomino then turned to addressing the dark themes of his work. He stated that being at the convention was a chance for him to have fun and think about a future where humankind evolves in a good direction so that he can bring such an idea into his own stories. The most poignant moment was when he spoke to a new generation of creators, telling them that he wanted them to eschew the negativity of adults and instead create new ideas and concepts fueled by hope. “I'm hoping to help be part of an experience that will teach those of you who have gathered here at this event in such a fun, positive atmosphere. I want you to go back and create new animation that tackles real world problems and within the creative process possibly propose and find new solutions for [them] as well.” He specifically saw New York as a place for these new hopes to be given birth as AnimeNYC's “emotional atmosphere was colorful and diverse” and that infectious energy made him happy in turn.

Next, Walker asked which of Gundam's many themes mean the most to Tomino. To audible audience agreement, he replied, “That we all must aim to become Newtypes.” However, he didn't have any particular ideas for what themes he'd want to see Gundam cover in the future, feeling they'd already explored so many. He was open to any suggestions the audience might have though, and within an instant of being told they could line up for questions, the masses sprung out of their seats and swarmed to the microphones. The translator had to ask everyone not to run. It was Anime Lisztomania (Lisztominomania?).

Some fans were interested in new entries in the Gundam franchise. Tomino turned down the idea of a Mobile Suit Gundam F-91 re-do or Turn A Gundam prequel (“Sorry”) but said that he believed an anime adaptation of the Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam manga would get made. Others told of how Gundam had influenced their careers, such as one fan who became a pilot. And when asked what his most under-rated non-Gundam show was, someone yelled out “Garzey's Wing!” though Tomino was tight-lipped whenever it came to picking favorites in his works.

Here are an array of answers Tomino gave to fan questions:

Alongside being a director, Tomino has composed music for Gundam under the pseudonym Rin Iogi. According to Tomino, “It started as a necessity as a creator. I had a couple of examples early on where I asked others to write the lyrics and what I got back was not quite what I imagined, so in the beginning that's why I decided to write the lyrics myself.” He does try to rely on professional musicians as much as possible, though.

On how he names his characters, “It's a very challenging process to come up with names. Each and every time I figuratively sweat profusely. It's a very momentous, gargantuan process, especially because I don't want to use existing names. I like to come up with completely unique names, but I end up having to use some existing names so it's very, very difficult.”

One fan noted that many in the room started watching Gundam when they were too young to understand its themes and wanted to know how Tomino wanted younger fans to approach the series. While he couldn't speak to recent Gundam entries as he hasn't seen any made in the past ten years, he did have thoughts on his original. “When I first created Gundam, I was aiming for a demographic anywhere from 10-15 years old, but I included plot and storylines that were beyond something that that age range might be able to comprehend.” Tomino mused on how he loves that we can derive new meanings from media as we return to it with age, and thus he no longer feels the need to aim for a younger demographics.

While Tomino usually came across humble in his answers, he got cheeky with a few fans. One asked if he initially expected Gundam to get popular worldwide, to which he responded smirking, “It was always the master plan.” To another asking about his involvement with the Hollywood live-action adaptation of Gundam, Tomino said, “no one would listen to my opinions, so I don't know if I'm actually going to be able to like it.”

He turned up his cheekiness to 11 though when asked about his recent quote that Makoto Shinkai's films weren't sexy enough, and as such what is sexy enough for him? After a back and forth with the fan about how “sexy” wasn't quite what he said (we won't repeat it here), he offered an unexpected answer to the question: “This might be hard for all of you to see, but in my mind, the image of a sexy animated character is Disney's Snow White.” The crowd's confusion was palpable.

The panel ended on an emotional high note when a fan asked Tomino whether he realized how much he inspired everyone in the audience to be better people. At the end of his question, the fan asked the audience to clap if this was true. They roared, and Tomino glowed. “Actually, you just taught me that. I've never heard a similar statement come from any Japanese fan so I'm actually really taken aback and surprised by hearing this. It reaffirms what I said at the very beginning where I have this impression that New York truly is a special place.”

With that, Tomino stood up. The fans followed his lead. Hoots and hollers of adulation rang through the hall. With a bow and tip-of-the-hat, Tomino exited and so did his fans, all with a new mission: to bring positivity to the world through the lessons Gundam taught them.

Later that day when I was in line for another panel, one con-goer commented on another's Gundam shirt. The two struck up a fervent conversation until it was time to file in. This small moment after the gathering I witnessed earlier struck me as true proof that Yoshiyuki Tomino's legacy is one of bringing all people together.

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