Production History

The History and Production of Turn A Gundam: Part I – Victory Gundam & Battling Depression

It’s Turn A Gundam‘s 22nd anniversary! To celebrate, I’m unveiling something big.

Welcome to a series of blog posts detailing the history and production of Turn A Gundam! My goal is to provide an accessible source of context and knowledge for reference purposes, and to improve discourse. This is the culmination of research I’ve done over the past decade. It’ll be divided into four parts for easy reading as follows:

  • Part I – Victory Gundam & Battling Depression
    • The 1980s
    • Victory Gundam
    • Depression
  • Part II – Influences & Inspiration
  • Part III – Prelude to Turn A Gundam
  • Part IV – The Era of Turn A Gundam
Part I: Victory Gundam & Battling Depression (banner credit to @nanopocalypse)

Without further ado…

Turn A Gundam effectively served as therapeutic recovery for director Yoshiyuki Tomino, so to truly understand it we have to dial back to the 1980s and mid-1990s to briefly establish some context.

Yoshiyuki Tomino is the creator of Mobile Suit Gundam. He has directed many titles in the franchise’s history, including of course Turn A Gundam. Here is at the Anime New Century Declaration of 1981, a momentous occasion to promote the first MSG film.

Let’s revisit the 1980s, the decade in which the mecha anime boom was at its peak. Tomino’s Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) had reached new heights with the success of its TV re-runs and movie trilogy, and the plastic model toy industry was booming as well. Between 1981 and 1986, Tomino directed a slew of mecha anime in succession—Ideon, Xabungle, Dunbine, L-Gaim, Zeta Gundam, and ZZ Gundam, all shows marked by his now-trademark style. Sunrise—the studio responsible for producing these anime, and Tomino’s employer—was ultimately beholden to its sponsors, most notably Bandai who had launched its plastic model industry at the cusp of the decade. Bandai had one goal in mind: to sell model kits. Tomino’s anime were popular, and Bandai demanded that these shows continue to introduce new robots and battleships so that they could then manufacture toys to generate sales. This corporate-controlled environment is what gives credence to the idea that mecha anime are “toy commercials”, so to speak.

This inevitably trickled down to Tomino who, as the director, would be forced by Sunrise producers to introduce new elements into his plots to satiate the higher-ups. This phenomenon was most prevalent with Zeta Gundam, given that it was the follow-up series to the massively popular Mobile Suit Gundam. The Gundam brand was selling model kits (“Gunpla”) like crazy, and Bandai used Zeta and the subsequent ZZ‘s popularities to catapult its own industry. While this undoubtedly benefitted Gundam as a whole, it left a sour taste in Tomino’s mouth and caused him to detest working on these anime. This suffocating domino-effect fueled by a toxic environment all came crashing down with 1993’s Victory Gundam.

Victory Gundam was marred by unreasonable demands from Bandai and other sponsors. By Victory, Bandai’s stranglehold on a show’s actual production process had reached unprecedented levels. For instance, they decided that the titular mobile suit must appear in the first episode, despite Tomino’s planned scenario; this resulted in the first episode being slightly at odds with the introductory narrative. It consists of a future event that’s then explained via flashbacks in the following episodes, all for the sake of Gunpla marketing and promotion. Tomino had dealt with Bandai for over a decade, and at this point in his career he could not take it anymore, so he found ways to retaliate. One time in a meeting with Bandai executives, they demanded that he include battleships into the show in an effort to further appeal to younger audiences. Tomino lashed out by saying he’d make ground-based battleships with wheels on them (the Adrastea-class). To his surprise they accepted his preposterous proposal, and the TV station found no qualms either as long as ratings stayed the course. Tomino continued to make irrational decisions like this and grew to dislike Victory‘s mechanical aesthetic, and it’s a Gundam title generally recognized for its outlandish designs—the infamous Einerad comes to mind. He was also disgusted by its “ugliness”; it’s a very chaotic anime with a high character death count, almost as if Tomino was airing out his frustrations on-screen. That said, despite being demoralized he put in effort into each episode, doing his best to pay attention to the themes and topics and including comedy-elements where appropriate. The TV stations and sponsors were satisfied, but he was prepared for Gundam to be eternally ruined. To make matters even worse, in 1993 Sunrise merged with and was later acquired by Bandai, against Tomino’s wishes.

Halfway into Victory Gundam‘s run, Sunrise executives approached Tomino about the next Gundam title. They had no choice but to continue the franchise due to sponsor demands and TV ratings. However, Tomino had no interest in carrying on with directing duties and declined to be involved in the planning process, believing that the franchise’s decorated history was coming to an end. His motivation was at an all-time low. He instead recommended his protégé Yasuhiro Imagawa be the new face of Gundam. He valued Imagawa’s free-spirited directing style and wanted him to make something with wrestling-like elements. He figured Imagawa could breathe new life into the franchise. [Note: this would eventually lead to the creation of G Gundam. It’s long been rumored that Tomino himself was unofficially involved in an advisory role of sorts, but I haven’t come across anything to validate these claims.] This is all worth noting because G Gundam is the only Alternate Universe Gundam series and non-Tomino-directed title that Turn A Gundam references in a direct manner, clearly a conscious decision.

A screenshot from G Gundam. Tomino hoped Imagawa would breathe new life into the Gundam franchise.

At a Victory Gundam afterparty, a member of the photography team—who are responsible for composing animation cels & backgrounds and then filming it to film—approached Tomino to apologize for the camera-work in the final cut of the last episode. The original shot was meant to be much wider than it ended up being. This gutted Tomino because he viewed it as his own error. As the director, it was his responsibility to review and revise storyboards as needed, so someone else covering for his mistake was a final blow to his confidence level. Tomino apologized to the staff member, saying it was not their fault. He wanted to go back and fix the scene for home release but never had the opportunity to do so.

The camera-work in this cut was intended to be wider than it was.

Victory Gundam exposed Tomino’s mental state and resentment towards reality. It was the lowest point of his career and the straw that broke the camel’s back. In fact, many years later for the Memorial DVD box Tomino would include a facetious message reading “Don’t buy these DVDs because you should not watch them!!”, and in the decades following its conclusion Victory Gundam has become an almost taboo topic in the industry. Tomino was fed up with everything—Sunrise, Bandai, Gundam in general. Shortly after it finished airing, he fell into depression and began to socially isolate himself, suffering from uncontrollable bouts of dizziness and ringing in the ears, essentially a post-traumatic bodily response.

Tomino’s symptoms were fierce. He’d feel intense anxiety if he left the house. He couldn’t stand the vibration sounds of a car, especially when in the passenger seat. He couldn’t walk without a cane, and the asphalt roads made him feel sick. He’d often fall asleep on his office floor without realizing it. He even contemplated suicide. Basically, he was miserable. Tomino consulted ENT doctors and even psychic mediums to ease his pains, however it was acupuncture that allowed him to begin to stabilize. He relied heavily on his wife Aako [note: this is a pseudonym] to take walks, rush him to the hospital as needed, and schedule all his acupuncture appointments. He has credited and praised her nonstop. Despite his conditions, he was a fighter; he figured if he was going to live he wanted to be healthy, so he took steps to heal himself. He played a lot of Puzzle Bobble for the Super Famicom as a stress and anxiety reliever. It was one of the few games he enjoyed because he could play it endlessly and rarely ever win. This allowed him to take his mind off things and relax. He also wrote a handful of novels : “Look for Avenir”, “King’s Heart”, and “Garzey’s Wing” (which was also adapted into a 3-episode OVA). This was a habit Tomino had and continues to have; he’d air out frustrations by writing to prevent himself from internally collapsing.

Sunrise continued to churn out Gundam titles even after G Gundam had concluded: Gundam Wing (1995), The 08th MS Team (1996), Gundam X (1996), and Endless Waltz (1997). Tomino was not consulted for any of these productions, and this did not sit well with him. He felt neglected, as if his long years of hard work and dedication had meant nothing, and he often had evil thoughts of getting “revenge”—thankfully nothing came of it. He noted what he called the “curse of Gundam” as an inescapable disease for Sunrise staff & producers. They had no choice but to continue making Gundam, despite it regressing as a franchise and slowly being rejected by fans. TV ratings were steadily dropping with G and Wing, and Gundam X‘s reception was so low that it was forced to prematurely end at 39 episodes. Tomino saw this as an inevitable end-result of the downwards spiral caused by Victory Gundam. He also contributed it to the fact that Gundam had no meaningful challenger in the real-robot market, which led to complacency and collapse. Tomino would return to Sunrise later in the decade to direct Brain Powerd (1998) [discussed in detail later].

In the mid-late 90s Tomino began a partnership with Marigul Management, a company funded by Nintendo and Recruit to provide a safe haven for creative minds to focus on original game design and other projects. They offered to provide him mental health assistance and to protect his rights. He was assigned a personal health assistant who was very understanding of Tomino’s situation and was a good listener. He was moved by the company’s mantra of working together to build a better tomorrow—it was in stark contrast to the people he had interacted with in the animation industry. His time with Marigul Management was a significant step forward in his rehabilitation process, as it allowed him to move on from his bitterness with Sunrise and Gundam, and his petty thoughts of “revenge” subsided. He even had the opportunity to dabble in video game design, though those efforts never yielded anything substantial. It’s also because of this partnership that Tomino was introduced to Akira Yasuda from Capcom, who’d go on to become Turn A Gundam‘s character designer and a staunch ally.

Marigul Management was instrumental to Tomino’s recovery. They provided him mental health assistance and an avenue to discuss original projects and ideas.

During his years of depression Tomino looked inward, particularly to the women in his life. His mental health assistant was a woman and he regularly relied on his wife for moral and physical support. Raising two teenage/young adult daughters also proved to be an influence. The Tomino household was predominantly dominated by women, and his previous patriarchal mindset began to change as his eyes opened to the challenges young women faced in modern society. His daughters’ likes and dislikes and their forays into the performing arts—dance and theater—had tremendous impact on him. He began to find interest in all-female theater troupes and his views on gender and sexuality evolved.

In the next post, I will cover many of the items which influenced and inspired Turn A Gundam.

PART II – Influences & Inspiration

This series of posts is made possible by the following main sources of supplementary material: Turn A no iyashi, both volumes of the Newtype 100% collection, both volumes of “The Memory of First Wind”, “Mead Gundam”, various Newtype and Animage magazines, Ring of Gundam plot details, Akiman’s character artbook(s) & Twitter feed, Turn A Gundam Blu-ray audio commentaries, the Brain Powerd Spiral Book, publicly published interviews with staff, and my own personal industry contacts and individual research.

This series of posts is made possible by the kind assistance of the following people: Sachi F, Katarina Takahashi, @SunDogGen, @SenseiHanzo, @kraker2k, @nanopocalypse, and others.

13 thoughts on “The History and Production of Turn A Gundam: Part I – Victory Gundam & Battling Depression

  1. I wonder if Tomino’s anxieties/depression and the phyiscal symptoms, including not being able to walk without a cane, play into how he portrayed Dianna in Turn A. The cane is the most obvious similarity, but Dianna herself seemed very resigned to life and depressed initially and only really comes alive after being forced to live Kihel’s life. Where did you find the detail that Tomino had to use a cane to walk, out of interest?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s possible there’s a connection! Tomino mentions having to walk with a cane in his Turn A no iyashi book/memoir, though fwiw it was Akiman’s idea to give Dianna a cane in the epilogue. Dianna as a depressed and resigned individual is in reference to Princess Kaguya, who wanted to live a mortal life on Earth rather than an immortal one on the Moon (i.e. Dianna living for generations via cryosleep). She comes alive as Kihel because she’s finally allowed to live out her dream/purpose.


      1. Thank you by the way, for your reply as well as for doing this. Turn A is my favorite Gundam show, and one of my favorite stories full stop and I love reading the information you’re finding. One thing I find interesting that I’m wondering if you can shed more light on is Dianna’s brief mention in the final episode about how she can’t remember the faces of her parents. I think it’s presented as a function of her extended life, rather than cyrosleep itself but do any of the novels, manga, databooks etc. delve further into the effects of that extended life?

        It’s also mentioned in the show by Sweatson Sutero that Gym is two to three thousands of years old, but this seems odd since the show also has Sid/Horace say they think the Turn A is only about two thousand years old too, so that’d mean that Gym is old enough to have seen the Turn A’s creation and the destruction of Terran civilization. Gym’s later makes a comment about his family being thousands of years old, so it’s possible Sweatson is referring to his family when he says Gym has been practicing combat for thousands of years, but I wonder if you’ve come across more concrete information on the ages of various people or any kind of rough timeline of events (i.e. the Turn A’s creation, the destruction of Earth civilization and the Moonrace isolating)?

        You translated some talk about Tomino originally envisioning Turn A as a two year show and it’s a real pity it was shortened, both because I’d love to have more Turn A fullstop and because I’d assume that second year of content would have done a lot to explore Moonrace society and it’s social stratification, how cryosleep effects people/society and so on and everything we do know about the Moonrace is already intriguing.


      2. It’s my pleasure! My goal with this blog is simply to share the love and make info/resources more readily available. You know, that’s a good question. It’s not something that’s ever really discussed in anything I’ve read or listened to. I think the implication is that it’s due continuous on-and-off cold sleep that she’s had to endure. It’s theorized that longterm cryosleep can have adverse affects on the human body, possibly including memory loss, etc., we see Corin Nander as an extreme example here. And yeah, there’s some inconsistencies with the in-universe timeline; even in supplementary books it’s not that consistent. There isn’t concrete information for something like this, and they keep adding new things to it too (like in the Turn X MG manual). The way I view it is that the Dark History is more like an idea or framework, the nitty-gritty details don’t really matter. We might have gotten a better glimpse or understanding if the show was longer, as you mentioned. I would have loved to see them expand on the setting and detail of the Moonrace’s society, that’s always been a slight gripe I had with Turn A. It’s a shame too, because Tomino’s request was officially rejected around halfway into Turn A’s run, and you can definitely feel the pace increase in the latter half as a result.


      3. The impression I got was that Dianna living so long, and presumably so long after her parents passed away, meant that her memory of them had just disappeared over time rather than that it was a result of the cryosleep. That’s purely my own interpretation though, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was meant to be more of a factor of cryosleep. Speaking of, I saw some text from another source years ago that said that Corin had been put in cryosleep as a criminal and that the people doing so had intentionally messed with his memory as a form of punishment (“reitou-kei” or punishment by being frozen); is there any veracity to that from your experience?

        I’d kind of like to know a bit more about Corin in general, if you’ve come across more. I know the common interpretation of the anime is that he’s from AC because of the one flashback of the Wing’s face and the “It’s a Gundam!” line, but I think that’s just a cute reference some animator threw in personally and think it’s more likely he was either around during the original Turn A/Turn X conflict, or even the pilot of the Turn X who lost to the Turn A. He was imprisoned on the Moon, apparently for a crime from my unsourced experience, which in my head is because he failed to stop the Turn A from destroying Earth civilization and that being deemed criminal or worthy of punishment. He also recognizes the “ionic stench” of the Moonlight Butterfly, and has a fear of the Turn A in particular.

        He must have been released on the Moon at some point in the relatively recent past too though, because one of the Moonrace militia engineers recognizes him (and is scared of him) when he arrives on Earth. Does anything ever go into any further detail on Corin, his life or past etc? Or even just info on cold-sleep in general, honestly. The impression I got from the anime was that most citizens in Ghigham and other cities on the Moon went into cold-sleep a few times during their life, but that the river-men Loran was part of rarely if ever did since they were a part of the poorer section and that royal figures like Dianna, Gym and Agrippa went into cold-sleep often and lived for hundreds or thousands of years as a result. That kind of social stratification is one of the really interesting parts of the Moon that the anime unfortunately never got a chance to explore, and any info on it would be cool.


      4. Ah, hmm… I think at this point we’re diving into the realm of unproven science fiction w.r.t. cryogenic preservation (“cold sleep”). Dianna has only technically lived for a long time; she’s constantly been put into cold sleep and awoken over and over again. Hence the idea that her body is very slowly “decaying”. I believe real-world research is still being done on the effects on the human body, and whether or not memories can survive the process. It’s all just hypothetical.

        You’re pretty much on the ball about Corin. I believe they mention it in the show itself, no? That he was “punished” by being put into cold sleep. The Gundam Wing flashback was something inserted by Wing staff who wanted to include a cheeky little reference. Tomino himself barely had any idea about Wing, but approved it because the staff was so eager about it. He figured it fit with the whole thematic purpose of the Dark History.

        Yes, one of the supplementary materials does shed some light on cold sleep and Moonrace society but it’s not a whole lot honestly. I’ll have to read through it again. I agree with you 100%, there’s a lot of interesting bit about its society and its social stratification that could have gotten more light. Yeah, the canal peeps are basically “lower class” folk who don’t enjoy all the same luxuries as middle/upper class & royalty.


      5. Every time you answer a question, you mention something else I want to ask about as a follow up. I’ll leave you be though, and stop annoying you with that; beyond thanking you for answering as much as you did. Looking forward to more of your articles, the manga, and whatever else you’ll upload.


      6. Haha, no worries! I enjoyed our little talk. Feel free to reach out anytime, via the comment section or Twitter or anywhere else 🙂


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