Japanese Children Averting Their Eyes From Repulsive Things…
This conversation was made possible thanks to Anno-san expressing his wish to speak with director Tomino during our interview for the V Gundam special edition, being a devoted fan of his. Anno-san considering V Gundam as the best TV anime in recent years, Tomino-san responded to his passion by exposing his own outlook on civilization or how works like theirs should be. Their discussion covered a large variety of topics.
Yoshiyuki Tomino: Born May 5th, 1941 in Kanagawa prefecture. Blood type AB. He joined Mushi Production in 1964 after graduating from Nihon University College of Art. His first work as an episode director was on Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy).
After leaving Mushi Pro, he participated in many TV anime as a freelancer. First credited as supervising director on Triton of the Sea. He is chiefly recognized for his works with Sunrise after Raideen and Zambot 3. He marked an entire generation with Gundam’s great hit, participating in the anime boom. Notable works: Ideon, etc…
Hideaki Anno: Born May 22nd, 1960 in Yamaguchi prefecture. Blood type A. He became an animator after creating DAICON III during his studies at the Osaka University of Arts. Key animator on Macross. Effect animation director on Royal Space Force. First directorial credit on Top wo Nerae!. Notable work: Nadia. Acknowledges himself belonging to the otaku generation of tokusatsu/anime fans, also a fan of Tomino’s works since Zambot 3.
A Gundam series made in consciousness of the 7 o’clock slot
Hideaki Anno: The timing of this is too late. We should’ve planned this kind of interview while the show was airing.
Yoshiyuki Tomino: But I think we didn’t have a choice for V Gundam anyway. The show went off in all directions and ended up lacking focus. We didn’t receive many letters, viewer ratings stayed low…
Anno: After all only little children watch TV on that time.
Tomino: But I thought I would be able to make people watch whenever it was. Well, that’s always my intention when I create (laugh).
Anno: But in the end I think it wasn’t easy for little children.
Tomino: That’s because I was first told that it would air on golden time, so we started the production on that basis. Of course I intended some course correction, but I still couldn’t make it good. Corrections themselves are not a bad thing, in my mind we managed to get the story out of its initial unintelligibility ejust the slightest bit thanks to them. I wish I could have shown it in a better form, that’s something I regret very much as a pro. This is why I actively endorsed G Gundam, which in fact is quite problematic if we focus on the name ‘Gundam‘. But I realized that in order to keep on creating programs for 5p.m. slots, Sunrise should shift its priorities from a focus on names to taking time slots into consideration, that’s why I supported it. G Gundam is someone else’s work, but it’s not just a work aside of mine. I’m willing to follow its reception.
Anno: I have hope in G Gundam. I think kids will like it. But I think works with complicated relationships like V Gundam don’t appeal to children anymore. As a matter of fact, even people about 20 years old prefer clean stuff now, and are becoming more and more reluctant when filthy parts are visible.
Tomino: I think the same way. And it’s because I was very aware of that current trend that I forced V Gundam’s first settings when I thought we would be able to do it on golden time, assuming a wider audience. So when we tried to remake it afterwards, roots were too deep to be drawn out completely. It was a misfortune for V Gundam, but I think trying to wear a 5p.m. outlook through that remaking process was a meaningful experience for me. Above it, and taking G Gundam’s outcome into account, I’d like to study on how to adapt our works to the current trend-based market when I’m getting the opportunity to do so. Yet I’m not planning on creating products conforming to viewer’s preference towards clean things. After all there already are plenty of works on that market. It would be meaningless if I took the same stance when creating. I would learn their representation and methods but try not to draw close to them concept wise. Furthermore, I think today’s market’s propensity will be pushed to more extreme directions, but also that it will be closely followed by an era in which it will be considered as a sickly phenomenon. Then it will be good for people to find out that even in that era, there were shows like these.
Anno: I strongly think the same way.
The danger of a society in which marketing is justice
Tomino: To be honest, I think the biggest problem in Japan is that company officials or economic experts, those adults are drawing close to young people for the sake of business. There isn’t any adult to set an antithesis for them, so I think the actual problem doesn’t coming from young people. I’m not a scholar, so I can’t explain why, but one concrete example I can give is The Beatles. What’s important is that The Beatles were born in England: the country itself is solidly built on adults’ traditions – and Liverpool of all places is just a tear-inducingly sad town in the countryside. These common folks played electric guitar in such a gloomy and depressing place, knowing that staying in the country wouldn’t change anything, but having no idea of what to do about it… They kept rebelling but in the end they had to move to Germany to find an opportunity to start they career. In my mind, that’s the key to think about this issue. The Beatles were born thanks to their burden called England. Such people wouldn’t have come out from the United States. Now, compare that to Tokyo nowadays, where old men like you and me are gathering high-schoolers to carry out planning sessions, putting all their efforts into making products according to their taste. They recognize no other authority than keeping their work, keeping their business running, and they show nothing of their righteousness as adults. I think this is what’s putting Japan out of order the most. I don’t know if it’s right or not, but to my mind, that’s the value of growing old. When youngsters say they’re “outdated” or call them “old men”, why can’t they reply “We’ve lived this way, what’s wrong with that!”? Wouldn’t it be right for them to throw the axiology they built upon their own life at younger people? A society in which old men only create products appealing to youngsters to be admired like “Wow, you’re amazing old man!” and make their own company flourish is structurally broken.
Anno: The problem comes from marketing strategies and mass-consumption. Also TV.
Tomino: If we ask whether or not righteousness brought by data theory is true, we quickly realize that it’s only suitable on an efficiency viewpoint, and that it’s not one which raises people. The Beatles were born by rebelling against the pressure of a country with strong remaining social discrimination, and old people did absolutely not participate in forging their policy and values. Putting aside the question of whether or not that kind of society is good, I have no doubt that relationship between elderly people and younger people should be like that. So like I said, in my case the problem comes from depiction, and I must reflect on my own work as an author to polish it more. But when it comes to policy, I won’t change mine now, since I absolutely don’t think I’m wrong. If it were the case would just retire. In the current Japanese society built by adults, none of them are here to create an antithesis towards younger people anymore. Yet I think people, like economists or company officials, don’t get this ominous feeling. It’s all made of economic efficiency. To give an example close to animation, think about the designs for passenger cars. They carry out market researches, keep the best-selling ones and so on, to the point where all makers have had approximately the same designs for the last 10 years, resulting in the big model change 2 years ago when the trend appeared in its worst form, making everyone feel like it wasn’t to their taste despite there only being the same kind of models. There are so many makers out there, so as a matter of fact, we could have completely different things from one another, yet all of their databases are oriented in the direction of younger demographics, so they all share the same foundation. Old men put all their efforts in gathering that data, and they create according to the market, so the products all look alike. There are so many cars in the streets, yet there is no enjoyment in watching them anymore. That’s a terrible thing, isn’t it?
Anno: Indeed, I cannot tell the difference anymore.
Tomino: It’s not interesting at all. I don’t understand how younger people can still like cars.
Anime also falls into a vortex of trends
Tomino: V Gundam had actual problems as a work, and I have to understand them as a creator. But the advantage of entertainment is that you’re able to address your opinion quite explicitly. I won’t be defensive about that, and I can’t, since I couldn’t represent it well. But in my mind, there must be things I intended in V Gundam which people in their 20’s or 30’s can’t do. However, if you disliked what I expressed, including the “What’s wrong!” part, I don’t mind if you radically deny it. I’d even want you to do so. It could be done your way, Anno-san, or anyone else’s, but when that person puts enough power to deny all I’ve done, that’s when something really new will come out. I think the reason why anime nowadays lacks excitement so bad is because of daddies’ marketing logic: trying to create according to current trends, that’s the vortex they’re falling into.
Anno: Yes, indeed.
Tomino: Even when talking about variety, we often hear things like “In response to user’s requirements” or “to respond customer demand”, but what we’re offered are only differentiations inside a very narrow range of possibilities, not actual variety in my opinion.
Animage: (to Anno) When you told us about it on May’s issue, you said the only solution would be diversification.
Anno: On the other hand I think anime nowadays has gone too far into its own specialization, to the point where it’ll soon collapse.
Tomino: It wasn’t only for anime, but there was a period of general attempt for differentiation and diversification, saying, quote/unquote, “individuality was important”. There was also the ‘caring about identity’ which was recently imported into Japanese language. But in the end it all remained in a narrow range. I’d like everyone to go outside a little bit more and know how different kinds of people get together. We’re digressing too much here… I’ll try and talk about V Gundam (laugh).
The meaning of Katejina’s last scene
Anno: This is a personal impression, but to me, V Gundam is a story about soil and women.
Tomino: Exactly. Actually I’d very often come to realize it during previews of my own films. For women in particular, I have the actual feeling of finally becoming able to write female characters.
Anno: You mean this time, at last!?
Tomino: At last, yes (laugh). I guess this gives you an idea of how unconfident I was. In that sense, I felt this time like I was not as bad as I thought – Well, if we’re talking about anime-level writing, I could say I was already able to handle it, but it’s not as simple as that. I was very glad to get to the point where I thought I’d be able to depict woman’s nature.
Anno: The fact that you lacked confidence so much also means it was that important to you.
Tomino: Exactly. I realized it when I watched the finished first episode for the first time. I could see a woman’s blunt feelings. The idea came to me two or three times during the episode, that I could write women a little bit more.
Anno: It’s the first Gundam starting from Earth and returning to Earth.
Tomino: I didn’t really think too much about it, but when I had to reflect on how to compensate for Katejina’s actions, I decided to do so. Of course if you ask me whether or not it was the right choice to make, I don’t think it was 100% perfect, and considering the fact that it’s a mecha anime, there was also a part of me who didn’t want it to be so gloomy. But I wanted to do that scenario at least once (laugh).
Anno: Compared to women characters, there isn’t any actual good male character in V Gundam, is there? (laugh)
Tomino: Like I said, this time I focused so much on writing women I almost didn’t have any interest in men.
Anno: It felt like it. It’s the first time you stuck so much to one thing, isn’t it?
Tomino: I just realized by talking about it, but all my interest in men was sucked into the depiction of the 13-year-old Uso. I could not get distracted with others. It’s very difficult for a man my age to write a boy his age seriously, so I could not handle other male characters in the meantime.
Anno: You were able to scrape some older characters, but younger ones weren’t convincing at all.
Tomino: These people were from my generation, I just had to transpose myself on them so I didn’t have to think about anything when making them. It’s what you’d call men in the prime of life who caused me trouble.
Anno: Is Cronicle a direct reflection of young people today?
Tomino: No he isn’t. I wanted to make him a proper mecha anime antagonist, but he became completely transparent after Wattary Gilla appeared. A character like Wattary should not be an end in itself, but only a mean to connect to Cronicle’s arc. At that time there were also parts in Uso’s character which remained vague, so we reached episodes 12 and 13 while still focusing on him, completely leaving Cronicle behind.
Anno: Pippinigen was also unnecessary. Characters who were supposed to be centered on Cronicle scattered too much and no young male character stood out. I had hope for Cronicle so I was disappointed by how things turned out. But I also thought what happened to Katejina was due to Cronicle being the way he was.
Tomino: That’s not really true. Katejina’s last scene was planned from quite early on. I told the staff before the first episode aired, clarifying that it could be canceled. But apparently they liked this climax very much, despite me thinking it might feel too much like a movie… So it remained in everyone’s mind, and from what I heard there is a shared feeling about Cronicle’s underdevelopment being approved by default because of that.
Anno: He was sacrificed for Katejina’s last scene.
Tomino: Then, just after the second part started, when we had to decide how to conclude the story, I said “Well, the only thing we can do is making her blind.” to which everyone simply agreed saying it was the only compromise we could find.
Anno: Personally I don’t really understand why she went blind…
Tomino: I think it’s because I couldn’t represent the relationship between her and Cronicle correctly. If I were able to depict it, I think the reason why that was possible would have been more clear. But in the end since I couldn’t do it, it’s not relevant to talk about it. The only thing I can say is that Katejina didn’t want to kill, no matter what it took. So to highlight that struggle from a playwriting viewpoint, she had to suffer a penalty in exchange of not killing.
Anno: What penalty?
Tomino: The penalty in order to make Uso of Kasareria win, since they became enemies, even if it’s a lie. She also struggles about it, and I know it as the author who created this uneasy situation, where I cannot just say “Die, please”. That’s why I won’t kill her. But she chose to join the enemy’s side, so I’m sorry, but I must apply a penalty. I will at least embellish it in a theatrical way, so please acknowledge it, that’s what I meant.
Anno: Hmm, not really sure about that.
Tomino: Please teach me then.
Anno: I didn’t feel like it was relevant to blind her. Doing so makes it the main focus of that climax. If she survives anyways she could have lost an arm, or a leg…
Tomino: These all infringed TV codes so we turned them down. Besides, that’s why we limited ourselves to suggesting that she may not see anymore. Moreover, Uso’s side deserves penalty as well, so it wouldn’t be surprising for him to lose an arm or something. Though in that case I would want to create worthy imagery, but it wouldn’t be approved. There were other ideas for that, but all of them would have repelled current viewership viscerally.
Anno: They’d be disturbed.
Tomino: Actually that’s what I wanted. If I had penalized both of them, she losing her sight wouldn’t have felt out of place as you described it to me…
Anno: It felt contrived.
Tomino: …and you could have accepted it more easily. But I thought that doing any of them would bring me trouble, and that I wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of scene correctly, so I limited it to Kaejina.
Anno: In the novel, Katejina gets burned. I prefer that.
Tomino: I’d rather have done that, but it’s completely taboo on TV. Also when we reflected on how much of that kind of imagery an audience who prefers clean things could take, well…
Animage: So you mean there is an issue with the audience’s tolerance towards that kind of representation, even before thinking about taboos in the media?
Tomino: That’s exactly the problem. In that sense it’s totally true that we compromised too much.
Anno: That’s what I thought.
Not to let children flee into compensatory behavior
Tomino: Yesterday I randomly came by Records of the Lodoss War, that’s the name, right? So I watched it. On a technical viewpoint I thought “Wow, Rintaro-san’s very good”. Even processing after his directing was fine to my mind. But as a creator, when I actually step into that kind of work, I can’t help but rejecting it instantly and in its entirety. What do you think about it?
Animage: Drawings look good, and it was a big hit as a product.
Anno: I understand very well that it sells well. But I don’t find it entertaining.
Animage: Viewers’ mindset seems to be on the side of enjoying its safe, predetermined outcome.
Tomino: Of course, they wouldn’t like to face what they find the most gross or uncomfortable on mediums like video or anime.
Anno: Since it’s compensatory behavior, sure they don’t want to pay money to see repulsive things. In V Gundam for instance, many kids stopped watching when Uso’s mother died, saying they didn’t want to watch an anime like this. Viewers react to people’s death more than we expect.
Tomino: No doubt there are kids like that.
Animage: But now that the bubble has ended, there’s the economic crisis, and climate is becoming more and more austere, so I think there will be changes from now.
Anno: On the contrary, I think they’re going to lock themselves up even more.
Tomino: Children nowadays lack the energy to live in these times. I think people actually suffering from autism wouldn’t be able to live in such an environment. But I’m in the kind of position where even if there’s only darkness one step ahead, I want to do my best until I die. At least I want to show that life is not so bad, even when we don’t know what we’re living for.
Anno: I think people need a will to live to keep on living. They won’t go on living unless they’re repeatedly told to. If religions teach obvious things such as ‘people must live even if they’re suffering’, it’s probably because they need to be told so and to realize it in order to keep on living.
Tomino: Exactly. That’s how unforgiving the world is. Our only message is: be more prepared to it. But for children nowadays, particularly middle and high-schoolers, maybe it’s their entire school life which causes them trouble. I think that’s why they don’t want to see depressing images, including the kind of story they could live themselves. But the other important thing is that there are children who actually take things as little as this harshly.
Tomino: Recently there have been rice shortages from time to time, and it’s a very good thing in my opinion. It allows them to imagine a little bit more seriously a case where there really isn’t any more food. The advantage for people creating entertainment in that case is to be able to say “Sorry if it’s disturbing, but we’re showing these austere parts in anime you like as well”, in case it helps 10 or 20 years from now (laugh).
Anno: Indeed, we must put a bit of poison inside our works (laugh), particularly for children.
Tomino: I’m absolutely sure about this.
Animage: I see, thank you very much for today.