Continuing my 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
- Part II – Influences & Inspiration
- The Takarazuka Revue
- Dance & Theater
- The Moon
- The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter / Princess Kaguya
- Miscellaneous influences
- The Takarazuka Revue
- Part III – Prelude to Turn A Gundam
- Part IV – The Era of Turn A Gundam
Without further ado…
During his years of depression Yoshiyuki 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. 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 creating Turn A Gundam, Tomino sought to promote a “feminine” touch and perspective and deliberately had a staff filled with more women than usual. The female characters in the show also take centerstage; while Loran Cehack serves as the point-of-view protagonist, characters like Dianna Soreil, Kihel Heim, Sochie Heim, and Lily Borjarno drive the crux of the plot. Please note that there is a bit of conjecture in the first half of this post, however I feel confident in presenting it. Please also note that nothing in this write-up is meant to provide an opinion or establish a canon of Tomino’s overarching views on gender or sexuality—the intent is simply to give context and perspective leading up to Turn A Gundam.
Of particular note is the Takarazuka Revue, a Japanese all-female musical theater troupe that has been active since the early 1900s. The women in the troupe play all character roles (male, female, and otherwise) in lavish productions of musicals and stories adapted from films, shoujo manga, and folktales. In his youth, Tomino had attended a handful of Shochiku Kagekidan (a competitor) stage shows, but he did not recall them very well outside of being attracted to some of the performers. Nevertheless, in the mid-late 90s Tomino began to frequent Takarazuka Revue stage productions with family and friends—his first exposure to such theater troupes in quite a while. The Tomino household held very high standards for dance and theater, so he was not particularly impressed with the actual skill of the stage actresses, but he was aroused by the women-in-costume on display and saw it all as erotic. The Takarazuka Revue had widespread appeal in Japan and Tomino aimed to make Turn A Gundam like that as well; a robot anime not just for anime fans, but something ordinary people can also appreciate. A few notable productions:
- Elisabeth: the 1996 Takarazuka Revue production of the German-language musical “Elisabeth” played an important role. It was the first Takarazuka performance Tomino attended, and character designer Akira Yasuda (“Akiman”) would later use recordings of the production—lent to him by scenario writer Tetsuko Takahashi—as clothing design references for Turn A Gundam.
- Torikaebaya Monogatari: a Japanese tale from the late Heian period that tells the story of two siblings whose mannerisms fit the opposite sex better, so they swap places. It’s seen by many critics as a serious attempt to discuss sex and gender issues and was adapted as a Takarazuka stage production in the 1980s, likely one that Tomino and staff watched recordings of. The idea of Dianna and Kihel swapping roles in Turn A Gundam is inspired by this tale.
Tomino’s appreciation for the Takarazuka Revue was amplified by his respect for the late Osamu Tezuka, who he had worked under during Astro Boy. Tomino viewed him as a genius cartoonist and pioneer of animation, and he valued how modern and innovative he and his family was. Part of the Takarazuka Revue’s success stems from the troupe members’ ability to play believable male roles and appear androgynous in character (remember, it’s an all-female troupe), and the most popular actresses tend to be the women who perform said roles. Tezuka grew up in the town of Takarazuka and was heavily influenced by these performances. He created the animanga Princess Knight based on Takarazuka stories; it features a girl born with both a male and female heart struggling to balance her personae as warrior prince and gentle princess. Princess Knight would go on to be highly influential in the shoujo world, as it challenged gender norms and paved the way for works such as The Rose of Versailles, Dear Brother, Sailor Moon, and Revolutionary Girl Utena, among others. Tomino viewed the “feminine eroticism” present in Tezuka’s works, including Princess Knight, as something that was undoubtedly borrowed from Takarazuka.
So how does this all land with Turn A Gundam? Let’s examine the main character Loran. He occasionally dawns a female persona called “Laura Rolla”, an idea inspired by the Takarazuka Revue. The episode 10 segment in which Loran trains to be a lady is even reminiscent of an actor preparing to play a part in theater (this episode’s scenario is even written by a woman). As mentioned, the male characters in Takarazuka stories are also played by women, a construct that influenced works like Princess Knight. In Turn A Gundam it’s a bit of a reverse-situation, with a man playing the role of a woman. Loran is a man who in many respects acts as a knight for the women in his life, and he even has a bit of chivalric romance going on with Dianna (not an uncommon premise in Takarazuka stories). Tomino wanted to explore both the masculine and feminine aspects that dwell within all of us, so he directed Akiman to give Loran both “male” and “female” design characteristics. This resulted in green eyes and untypically long hair for a Gundam protagonist. One could even speculate and say Loran’s pseudo-androgyny represents a symbolic conciliation between the Earth and Moon (i.e. masculinity & femininity), which parallels his role as a “bridge” between both sides of the conflict. Tomino also believed it unfair that society deems it improper for men to wear skirts and dresses—in his view men should be able to dress as women (and vice-versa) and express themselves in a multifaceted way, so he intentionally added cross-dressing as a plot point.
Like many all-female groups, the Takarazuka Revue is subject to rumors about private relationships between its actresses, and the troupe itself often embraces its lesbian themes to draw an audience. Some of this finds its way into Turn A Gundam, again in a reverse-situation, via Guin Lineford. The show does not outright state it, but companion materials, interviews, and memoirs confirm that he is indeed homosexual. Tomino viewed homosexuality as natural and part of what makes humans interesting, and he did not want to cap off the 20th century with a work trapped in society’s superficial idea of human sexuality. Thus, he ordered staff to frame an aspect of the story around Guin’s perceived attraction towards Loran. He actually got into heated arguments with a few staff members who inevitably resigned in protest, yet Tomino remained steadfast and did not allow Turn A Gundam to become shallow. It’s worth noting however that in earlier drafts of the story Guin’s homosexuality is much more pronounced, and there’s even running dialogue of Loran rejecting Guin’s advances but encouraging him to embrace his sexuality. It’s possible that Tomino was forced to tune it down.
Let’s circle back to Tomino’s two daughters: Akari and Yukio, who one can surmise are partly responsible for his exposure to the world of Takarazuka. In the mid-late 90s, his elder daughter Akari was in a directorial role at the theater troupe Yen. She invited actors & actresses to audition for voice roles in her father’s anime Brain Powerd and Turn A Gundam, knowing that he was appreciative of the theater style of acting. This included notable names, such as Romi Park (Loran), Rieko Takahashi (Dianna-Kihel), and Setsuji Satō (Joseph). Park and Takahashi were friends and would continue to reprise their membership in Yen years after Turn A Gundam had finished airing. Other actors and actresses in the show also came from theater backgrounds, such as Akino Murata (Sochie). And with theater comes dance, which Tomino’s younger daughter Yukio exceled at. In the early 90s, she forayed into hip-hop, breakdancing, and contemporary dancing, and by the late 90s she had left Japan to study abroad at the Codarts University for the Arts in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Tomino is close with his daughters, and he even visited Yukio mid-production to take a break and clear his mind. Years later, they would collaborate on his 2014 anime Gundam Reconguista in G. This combination of dance and theater in the Tomino household, fueled by his growing appreciation for the Takarazuka Revue, is what allowed Turn A Gundam to have a naturally “performative” feel at times.
For instance, there is a very deliberate focus on clothing design & variety in Turn A Gundam. As Tomino’s exposure to Takarazuka increased and Turn A Gundam‘s setting was revised and updated, he instructed Akiman to have the characters dress in early-1900s fashion. Akiman used Victorian (1837-1901), Edwardian (1901-1910), and the Belle Époque (1880-1914) eras for inspiration to create his own brand of clothing design. The characters in the show—especially the women—wear a slew of fashionable dresses and outfits, brought-to-life in a believable manner given their high social standings. This is exhibited most obviously through Dianna Soreil, who wears over a dozen outfits throughout the course of the show. The idea was that each new outfit she dawns represents a new “act” or “climax” in a theatrical play or performance. The scene in episode 10 where Dianna and Kihel sample dresses and swap places is the first of these major “acts” (in fact, Tomino liked this scene so much that it was expanded on and reanimated in the movie version). There are several scenes that also just feel like they are framed like a play or stage performance, such as the back-and-forth speech Dianna-Kihel give in episode 35 (“This is Dianna Soreil calling Dianna Soreil. This is Kihel Heim calling Kihel Heim.”).
And then there’s dance, which goes hand-in-hand with dazzling stage performances. Tomino begins to incorporate elements of dance into his anime beginning with Brain Powerd, and Turn A Gundam certainly continues the trend (his later anime King Gainer and especially G-Reco do so as well). Turn A Gundam‘s early-1900s setting definitely facilitates this; there appears to be the concept of a social season, where elites hold balls, dinner parties, and other such events to dress up and socialize. For instance, you see characters performing ballroom dances as early as the second episode. Later on, at an Earth-Moon goodwill party “Laura” shares a dance with Harry Ord, putting his lady-training into action. There’s an uncanny romantic scene midway through the show where Loran and Dianna share a dance to the song “Moon”, almost as if mimicking the closing act to a play or performance. And of course, the second opening “Century Color” features a top-down cut of Loran and Dianna-Kihel in a playful pas de deux partner position. There’s even official art that embraces the dance aspect of the show, so it’s all clearly a conscious creative decision.
The world of Takarazuka played an important role in shaping Turn A Gundam into the anime that it is, and it allowed its focus on femininity to flourish. So, let’s now dive into some pointed influences.
Perhaps the most obvious guiding hand in Turn A Gundam is, well, the Moon. The Moon is the Earth’s permanent natural satellite and brightest object in its night sky. It measures 2,158.8 mi (3,474 km) in diameter and finds itself in synchronous orbit with the Earth. The Moon’s no stranger to fiction, having been the subject of many works of art and literature for thousands of years. It has always been an object of relevance to Gundam, but Turn A Gundam turns it up a notch and provides an obvious aesthetic and thematic focus on the Moon. It introduces a separate race of humanity that lives on the Moon. These highly-advanced people, known as the “Moonrace”, have lived in isolation for thousands of years and now seek to returning to their homeland, the Earth. The main character Loran Cehack is Moonrace, and his awe and admiration for the Queen of the Moon, Dianna Soreil, is very pure and romanticized. The history of the Moonrace dates back thousands of years, and much of it has been passed down to humanity as in-universe folklore and mythology. For example, a space elevator used in ancient times to allow for travel between the Earth and Moon is described in mythology as a “holy tree”. Dianna herself, who has survived for hundreds of years via cryogenic technology, is actually a living relic to some of these tales, which adds an interesting layer to the plot. The “spirit of the Moon” is also a curious aspect of the show; suggesting that some characters embody the Moon’s “soul”, and they live their life to exemplify this trait. Tomino was deliberate in his focus on the Moon and he’s very proud of the final product; years after Turn A Gundam finished airing, he claimed that on the nights of the full Moon he looks up at the sky and passionately shouts “Dianna-sama!”
The piece of fiction Turn A Gundam draws the most from is The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, also known as the The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (henceforth Princess Kaguya). It is widely considered the oldest Japanese monogatari (fictional prose narrative) containing elements of folklore, dating back to the 9th century Heian period. Their are various renditions of the tale, but the basic outline is as follows: the story tells the tale of a mysterious Moon princess named Kaguya sent to Earth as an infant. She lives most of her childhood as a humble peasant, until a fateful day when the lunarians send riches and wealth to her foster parents. They then move to the capital and she’s forced to live the life of nobility. Kaguya grows into a beautiful woman and catches the eyes of many suitors, so she issues impossible challenges to the men who ask for her hand in marriage. They either fail to meet her expectations or try to con their way to victory. This cycle repeats itself and Kaguya loathes her life. She longs to go back to the curious lifestyle she had as a child and inexplicably begins to stare at the Moon. It’s at this point that she becomes conscious of the fact that she herself is of lunarian origin. This signals the lunarian entourage to come collect her and return to the Moon, against her wishes. She’s forced to leave her life on Earth and return home, never having lived the Earthling life she longed for. The story does not have a happy ending. So how does this connect to Turn A Gundam? The implication is that Dianna Soreil herself serves as a pseudo-expy and commentary piece on Princess Kaguya—like Kaguya, Dianna wishes to live the rest of her life out on Earth. In fact, Turn A Gundam‘s entire premise hinges on this idea; the Moonrace’s operation to return to the Earth is essentially Princess Kaguya getting a second chance. This plotline begins in earnest in episode 10, when Dianna and Kihel swap roles. She’s allowed to masquerade as Kihel and live the life of an Earthling, satiating her curiosity in the process. The connections become even more apparent during the Will Game arc when Dianna’s past is explored. Will Game served as one of Dianna’s many suitors, only unlike in Princess Kaguya, Dianna is actually in love with him. Nevertheless, she issues him an “impossible challenge”, and before he can even complete it (in this case, traveling to the orient to find a specific feather), Dianna is forced to return to the Moon and never sees him again. What’s even sadder is that, centuries later, she learns that unlike the typical Princess Kaguya suitor, Will Game was able to precure the impossible item. Loran Cehack can be viewed as the “final suitor”, so to speak, in that he’s the person who facilitates Dianna’s lifelong dream, and she even chooses to live alone with him in the end. In earlier drafts of the story, the parallel to Princess Kaguya is much more explicit, with mentions of Dianna “becoming Kaguya” and Loran allowing her to “fulfill her destiny” being running themes. In his Turn A no iyashi memoir, Tomino states that Turn A Gundam is simply a story based on Princess Kaguya featuring giant robots, and in interviews he’s said that he wanted to tell and retell the tale for new generations. In retrospect, I actually wish Turn A Gundam was advertised as a new story or adaptation of Princess Kaguya.
Tomino is known to borrow elements from folklore, fairytales, mythology, and other fiction into his works, Turn A Gundam being no exception. In the mid-late 90s, he grew to appreciate animism as an alternative to religion; it’s a belief system which suggests that objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. Tomino rejects organized religions and how they intertwine with economy and politics. He views animism as a way for humanity to release themselves from that “spell” and return to its roots. This is why he included traces of old tales in Turn A Gundam, to revisit and re-examine our origins. The following is a list of major works that had direct influence on Turn A Gundam‘s concept creation—there are a slew of works that influenced it in minor ways, but that’s for another time.
- The aforementioned Princess Kaguya.
- The aforementioned Torikaebaya Monogatari, a Heian period tale about two siblings who swap roles, was used as frame of reference for Dianna and Kihel’s infamous role swap(s) throughout the story.
- Heidi, Girl of the Alps (1974, dir. Isao Takahata) served as an early “image” reference, and Tomino wanted to draw on Miyazaki and Takahata’s successes as creators.
- The mythology of Diana Nemorensis (“Diana of the Wood”), an ancient Latin goddess who later became the Roman goddess of the Moon, was used as a basis for Dianna Soreil’s name and character conceptualization. Turn A Gundam staff used James Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” for reference purposes. Much of the show’s in-universe Adeskan mythology is derived from Frazer’s comparative study, such as the idea of a heavily guarded tree whose branch was broken off; or the Adeskan practice of slaying the old king to become the new ruler. Further research leads one to learn that Diana Nemorensis’s sanctuary was found at the northern shore of Lake Nemi, miles away from nearest city Ariccia. In parallel, Dianna Soreil resides in a secluded cabin at the shore of a lake in the epilogue.
- Yoshimoto Takaaki’s My War Theory (1999), along with academic papers on the history of “Wakoku” (a name ancient Chinese dynasties used to refer to political forces on the Japanese Islands), inspired the conceptualization of the Dark History. The actual history of Japan’s independence from continental China tends to differ from modern interpretations of the events, i.e. what’s commonly taught or told is an altered view of the history. The Dark History operates as a similar concept: the history that was buried by older generations and lost in time, only to be revealed as a black box of surprises. Tomino also wanted to emphasize the historical recognition of war and acknowledge the atrocities committed by mankind.
- Sid Munzer is modeled after the kind old man from Hanasaka Jiisan, a Japanese folktale. The old man in the story is able to make a dead cherry blossom tree come into full bloom, similar to how Sid is trying to revive old technology from the Dark History.
- The War of the Worlds is an 1898 science-fiction novel by H. G. Wells that details a conflict between mankind and an extra-terrestrial race. Tomino is a fan of the novel and its 1953 film adaptation and incorporated minor elements into the story.
- In a similar vein, minor elements from Terra e… were borrowed, as it also has a premise of an alien/human race longing to return to Earth. Additionally, the character Physis was used as a basis of design for the “Dianna” side of Dianna-Kihel. On the other end, the “Kihel” side was modeled after Ochoufujin from Aim for the Ace!
- The original Mobile Suit Gundam served as a mental frame of reference during Turn A Gundam‘s early production process (more on this in Part III).
Turn A Gundam reflected Tomino’s state of mind at the time, and it’s a work that ultimately healed his depression and brought him happiness. In Part III, I’ll explore its early production history: the events that led to its creation, the people involved, and the prelude to airing.
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”, Ring of Gundam plot details, Akiman’s character artbook(s) & Twitter feed, Turn A Gundam Blu-ray audio commentaries, the Brain Powerd Spiral Book, interviews (Tomino, Syd Mead, Akiman, Yoko Kanno, various VAs & scriptwriters), and my own personal contacts and individual research.