Tokyo: Gundam Still Has Relevance, Says Yoshiyuki Tomino

Yoshiyuki Tomino, the 73-year-old creator of the “Mobile Suit Gundam” robot anime franchise, engaged in a rapid-fire exchange of ideas that hopscotched from an analysis of Tomino’s enduringly popular series to topics ranging from future energy sources to the human-robot relationship.

Honored this year with a major retrospective at the Tokyo International Film Festival, he was speaking Friday at the Shinjuku Piccadilly theater at a talk event that pitched him opposite 27-year-old media artist and University of Tsukuba assistant professor Yoichi Ochiai.

Preceding the onstage interview was a screening of episodes of the “Gundam Reconguista in G” anime series. Broadcast from October 2014 to March, 2015, it was the first new “Gundam” series for television Tomino had written and directed since 1999.

Tomino stoutly defended the show’s traditional hand-drawn 2D style as “a culture developed in the 20th Century.” “I made (the series) as a work that will be my legacy,” he added. “…I hope this culture will survive as a genre.”

A central reason for creating “Gundam Reconguista in G,” he explained, was to “make the next generation think seriously about the problem of how energy is being consumed on the earth.” One example Tomino cited was the “orbital elevator,” a fictional technology that facilitates space travel in the Gundam world, but has moved closer to reality with research into nanotubes and diamond nanothreads. “Can clean energy alone operate a man-made structure on that scale?” he asked. “It’s currently impossible…I want people now in their teens to find methods for achieving an (energy) breakthrough.”

One teenager Tomino influenced was Ochiai, who said that his viewing of Gundam at age fourteen “made me passionate about the question of renewing humanity.”

At the same time, Ochiai observed that the visual culture of the 20th Century, with its passive viewing of images on a screen, has given way to the 21st century’s more diverse, more interactive relationship with media. “We’ve moved beyond the merely visual,” he said.

But the Gundam series’ vision of interaction between man and machine, as exemplified by the giant mobile suits operated by human pilots, still has its appeal. Will the machine, in the form of the computer and the robot, finally take over from its human masters? While admitting that the possibility is “scary,” Tomino remains guardedly optimistic. “We create our own world.” He said. “We have the power to shape it for the better.”

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