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NYAF2009: Yoshiyuki Tomino Q&A Panel Report

The New York Anime Festival was a proud host to Yoshiyuki Tomino, the legendary father of the Mobile Suit Gundam anime series, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. On Saturday afternoon, the festival hosted a special Q&A session with Tomino-san, beginning with a highlight reel of his many hit series, starting with Triton of the Sea and continuing through with titles like Aura Battler Dunbine, Heavy Metal L-GAIM, Overman King-Gainer, The Wings of Rean, the Ideon series, and, of course, the many Mobile Suit Gundam series. The panel began with 2 questions from Anime News Network’s call for questions, but then began to take questions from the audience, with Tomino-san often seasoning his answers with a self-deprecating sense of humor.

The answers below were the English translation provided by his translator at the panel. Some questions have been edited for length.

Q: What do you believe made Gundam such an important cultural icon for Japan? How does it make you feel as its creator?

TOMINO: After seeing the life-sized statue of Gundam in the (Shiokaze Park), it renewed the sense of obligation I have to deliver a very clear message in whatever work I wish to pursue in the future.

Q: A theme in Gundam is that understanding one another can act as the path to peace? Do you think that people will ever stop fighting each other? Do you think that people have to make peace permanently to evolve as a species, or is war a necessary evil that spurs the human race to keep surviving?

TOMINO: I personally feel that war is not necessary for existence, but given the current climate and economic picture of the world, unfortunately I feel that war will continue to go on for some time. It may take on new forms as well, and while it may be a hard concept for many of you to understand, but war will be in our lives for quite some time.

Q: At the end of Char’s Counterattack (spoiler warning!) Char said something to Amuro like, “Lalah Sune (?) could have been my mother.” What did he mean by that?

TOMINO: I believe that in each one of you exists a creator of your own right. I actually don’t remember completely the concept for that, so I would like to leave it up to you to decide what that meant. (Laughter)

(NOTE: My recording was barely audible for the following question, and the questions weren’t being repeated for the audience at this point of the panel. “Sayla Mass” seems to be the only character who fits the context and what I can make out from the recording, but it’s remotely possible that the questioner was asking about someone else.)
Q: In Zeta Gundam, you weren’t able to use the character Sayla Mass (?) due to external issues, so she only has a brief cameo. Had those issues not been in place, how do you think Zeta Gundam would have come out differently?

TOMINO: I’m sorry, it’s been a while. (Audience laughter) I don’t quite remember the Zeta Gundam story, so I really can’t answer that question. I’m sorry.

Oh, wait. Wait a second. I think I remember it. (More laughter). I have a vague memory that to allow them more airtime would have complicated the plot even further, and so the decision was made not to include them in the story more.

Q: Did you ever expect to see Gundam become such a big influence on everyone who came afterwards?

TOMINO: Well, unfortunately, I myself am not a Newtype as you can probably tell, so I never anticipated such success, no.

Q: With the short film “Ring of Gundam,” do you feel his work is complete, or would you like to expand it?

TOMINO: I hate to make any comments about anything might happen to this world after my death, so I don’t think I can adequately comment on that, which means that Gundam will probably continue on for another 20-30 years. (Laughter and applause)

Q: Where do you see the mecha genre going in the future?

TOMINO: I think that depending on how it’s created will come to tell whether its popularity will continue or not. Not being able to see into the future, I don’t think I can adequately comment on where it will go from now, but it will definitely depend on those who are creating it. As you know, we live in a capitalist society which is based on the market, so it in part also depends on all of you to keep this going.

Q: What was the rationale of using adolescents as the main characters in the Universal Century series?

TOMINO: It’s mainly because I feel that adults, having already grown up, are fairly irresponsible and fairly shortsighted in their worldview. Those who are young have much longer to live, and must consider what happens in the future. I made a brief point earlier about economists and politicians, but they too very much live in the now and are extremely short-sighted. I felt it was more important to portray these characters as youths. One of the main themes in the Gundam series is that the adults are the enemy.

Q: From a visual and mechanical design perspective, which Gundam series was your favorite, and which mobile suit design was your favorite?

TOMINO: I don’t really want to answer that question, but since I’ve been asked that question so often, let me give you a bit of my thought process. In Victory Gundam, where they produce the scaled-down mobile suits, I think it’s the most logical and realistic if we were actually going to create mobile suits. Their height is about 12-13 meters (35-40 feet) in length, so if I had to choose, that’s the ones that I like the most. When they created the 1:1 scale for the anniversary event, what they found out through that is that it’s still too big and unwieldy, and problematic in its construction, but the events promotion people said, “No, no, this is the perfect height.”

Q: You had worked with the late director Tadao Nagahama. Is there anything you can relate about your personal experiences with him?

TOMINO: I worked with director Nagahama for several years before Gundam, and what I learned from him was the sense of right in stories aimed towards children. When creating works for children, it should not be biased in one way or another or leaning more in a political sense, but to provide a very pure and good story.

Q: What advice do you have to aspiring writer/animator/directors in achieving the same “aspect” in your work?

TOMINO: This is at once both an easy but difficult concept and project for you. You must work several times harder than anyone around you. Just keep working and work hard. That’s all.

Q: Aside from scenarios in games, did you ever consider an ultimate outcome of the One Year War?

TOMINO: I don’t think that I personally would be involved in such a project. However, there are still current Gundam series in which I have granted the writers and screenwriters creative freedom, so I’m sure there will be possibly many new stories and different endings in the future, but I myself am not involved in that. And if you don’t like what you see on the screen, just don’t watch it.

Q: Have you ever thought of taking your Mobile Suit Gundam novelization to animation or live-action?

TOMINO: Unfortunately, I think chances of that particular novel is near zero in the sense that I, myself, have different thought processes than I did 30 years ago when I wrote that novel. Second, I don’t have a lot of interest in pursuing a live-action adaptation of that work or any other right now, although I am slightly interested in the possibility of producing something that is anime-esque live-action or live-action-esque anime, but again, nothing concrete.

Q: During a recent game conference, Tomino-san said that video games are evil and wasteful. Since we know you approach your work with a sense of professionalism but also with a sense of trying to give back to the world. How do you give back to the world regardless of the profession you’re working in?

TOMINO: It’s kind of a difficult question, so let me split it up a bit. In terms of games, especially computer games, I feel that too many people waste too much time playing them. That’s what I meant that games are evil for humankind, because instead of spending all that time playing games, you should be working towards something else. In fact, I’m often quite disappointed in myself because once in a while, I myself end up playing games all night and wasting all my time. (Audience laughs, applauds and cheers)

Essentially, what I meant by “adults are the enemy” is, what do children think if they see the adults around them spending their money and life in frivolous activities? I say that kind of message through anime because it’s a work of fiction. If I said that in real life, I could never be President, but I think that there need to be adults who say that and who make those kinds of statements.

Q: Out of all the works you’ve done, which have you been really proud of?

TOMINO: Actually, I would say that the answer would be none, because as a creator, the moment one becomes satisfied about one’s work is the moment that one stops being professional. As soon as you finish one work, you have to go, “God, I have to make up something better next time.” You have to keep going or else you die as a creator.

Q: Of all your works, how do you feel you’ve changed as a director from your first work until now?

TOMINO: I have to say that I’ve always striven to be a very diverse director and learn all kinds of techniques and a wide range of abilities. Even within Gundam, I’ve always tried to show a different part of himself or show a new technique. Yet, if you think about it, humans live in a very narrow range of action and reaction, and it’s not easy for people to change that much. So, I always find himself falling back into old habits and patterns, so it really makes me aware sometimes of how powerless I am.

Q: What were some of your inspirations that you used in making the Gundam franchise?

TOMINO: That’s actually a really difficult question to answer for me. I have to say that there was one thing that I always kept in mind: I didn’t want to create just any television animation. I wanted to create a science fiction movie that both adults and children can enjoy. If that’s what you can call an inspiration, that would be it.

Q: While you were working on the Gundam franchise, was there ever a point in time that you should stop, and why did such a thought occur?

TOMINO: Whenever one works on a series and one finishes one portion of the series or one of the series within the franchise, one always feels very drained as though you’ve expended all your energy, “Oh, I just can’t make the next one.” And yet, when 3 years go by, and you get an offer from your sponsors, you start thinking, “God, I gotta pay the bills!” (laughter and applause)

Q: Will we ever see a Crossbone Gundam anime?

TOMINO: Can you go find me some investors? (laughter and applause)

Q: After the new translation of Zeta Gundam, will we ever see a new translation of Double Zeta Gundam?

TOMINO: I actually didn’t even really want to hear that question.

Q: What influences did you have other than cinema, such as literature or theater, in creating your work?

TOMINO: That’s kind of a difficult question to answer. There are certain things that go into making a good movie, something that’s fun and enjoyable and you can sit through for a long time and still enjoy throughout. Not only does that film have to stand out as a piece of literature in itself, but it’s also important that there is literature that can be adapted in such a way into film. It’s important in order to be able to bring out the best and top quality of film, there are several things to keep in mind. To learn all the different aspects that go into that, you have to study in the university for a whole year. That’s why there are a lot of movies that have come out recently that are considered great works of film, but I question them. And therefore, to make any anime a good piece of work, it has to also be cinematically proficient. That’s because anime itself is film. If you make an anime only thinking of the animation process, you’ll make something only anime fans will appreciate.

When I created Gundam, I looked at it more as a film work, and incorporated more techniques and technologies used to make films themselves. That’s why I think it was possible to create the film Gundam from the TV series in such a smooth transition. Otherwise, it would not be easy to make a 2 hour movie by taking pieces and sticking it together. However, a lot of movie critics and sociological people who study film have not noticed that. Unfortunately, a lot of anime fans watch it thinking that it’s really easy to do that. There are very few people able to discern how technologically difficult from a creative standpoint it is to make something like that. That can be seen in the original trilogy. Otherwise, how many of you would actually watch something that was made 30 years ago? (Applause) It’s impossible to create a film just based on one’s emotional feelings for it or just because you want to make a movie. It takes things like hard intelligence and technology to bring that all together. I could go on for about another 3 hours on the subject.

Q: What has influenced you since you became famous with Gundam?

TOMINO: Like I said before, “adults are the enemy,” well, I’m a really old man now, so I’m even more of an enemy. 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 that are inside my head, so I’m a super enemy. So, don’t pay attention to me at all. (laughter)

Q: Of all the works you’ve done, which one is your least favorite and why?

TOMINO: I hate most of them. (laughter) It’s because most of the time, the moment I finish whatever it is that I’m working on, I feel an intense sense of regret. (In English) “But I love them.”

Q: You make a lot of war anime. Will you ever introduce a romance or drama series without war influence for the ladies?

TOMINO: I’ve always been aware of certain feminine qualities even within myself, so I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that I could make something for a female audience. However, as you can see, I’m an older gentleman, and I don’t think I can find any sponsors for that kind of thing.

Q: What do you think of gunpla (modeling)?

TOMINO: I’m sorry, I’m not very knowledgeable about the plastic model industry, so he can’t answer that question. Unfortunately, I can’t really make a statement on the plastic scale modeling kits, probably because I’d be eradicated from the industry if I made his true feelings known.

Q: Why did you name the series “Gundam”?

TOMINO: It’s actually not a name that I put out there, but 30 years ago, when we were deciding what to name the series, we were trying to find something that didn’t sound like any other franchise that currently existed, and we just happened to come upon the name “Gundam.” It’s not something he would have come up with. That’s the world of adults.

Q: Which direction do you plan on taking the Gundam franchise in the future?

TOMINO: I myself do have a certain idea of how I want the series to progress, but I don’t unfortuantely have the time right now to go into that. Now that I’ve also asked others to carry on the franchise for me, it would not my place to say.

Q: In the next 10 years, what kind of work do you want to produce?

TOMINO: Only the gods know.

Q: What are your opinions on how Gundam influenced the mecha genre and anime in general?

TOMINO: It may seem so from those of you who live on the East Coast — I’m very glad you think so — but looking at the industry over the last 10 years, I don’t really think Gundam has had that big of an influence any more. In fact, as you might see from all the cosplayers on the convention floor, samurai-type anime, especially with swordwork and swordplay, seems very popular, so I’m starting to think that maybe we need to start incorporating that into Gundam.
Q: How do you view the western audiences viewing your works?

TOMINO: I never really focused on a western audience vs. an asian audience. I just wanted to make good works of film in the anime genre.

Q: Is the overall message in “Rings of Gundam” that we should look forward instead of to the past?

TOMINO: Yes, of course.

Q: While there are many strong female characters in Gundam, 99% of the questions asked today were asked by men. It seems that it’s a very male fandom. Did you want Gundam to be for both men and women?

TOMINO: When the first Gundam came out, the majority of the fans were mostly teenage girls. That was one of the things that I hoped for when I created it.

Q: Why are there no Newtypes in Turn A Gundam?

TOMINO: I didn’t include specific Newtypes in Turn A because those who appear in it are destined to become Newtypes. Otherwise, they would not have lived the way they did on Earth.

With that, the panel ended and the “Ring of Gundam” short film was shown to the panel attendees.

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