It’s Turn A Gundam‘s 23rd anniversary, so here’s a special article to commemorate!
When Turn A Gundam was still on-air, Yoko Kanno wanted to hold a concert to commemorate the Gundam franchise’s 20th anniversary—as part of the “Gundam Big Bang Project”. Tomino approved of the idea, and thus the concert was held on November 12, 1999 at the Tokyo International Forum. The following is an in-depth examination of the concert, along with a transcription & translation of the bonus press conference.
It’s important to establish some context. Yoko Kanno and Yoshiyuki Tomino first met during Victory Gundam (1993) where Kanno played a minor role as a pianist on its soundtrack (she’s credited on the second CD “Score II”), which was her proper introduction to the franchise. The two would collaborate again on Brain Powerd (1998) and Turn A Gundam (1999), this time as primary composer. Her role in Turn A Gundam had already been decided before she was invited to work on Brain Powerd. It was a natural move as both shows aimed to have many women on staff, hence a lot of carryover between the two, notably in scriptwriting and voice acting. During Brain Powerd, Kanno struggled to decipher Tomino’s unique way of expressing himself. She found his plot outlines incomprehensible and his music direction sparse and unclear. She had to continuously ask for clarification on his notes, and this created a bit of a disconnect in her music compositions. Nevertheless, Brain Powerd‘s music is highly-acclaimed and Kanno herself describes it as “mysterious” and “heart-pounding”. By Turn A Gundam, she had learned the way Tomino operates and her creative freedom and prowess exploded. In recording its soundtrack, Kanno sought to make it feel “real”, akin to a live concert, so she didn’t go out of her way to remove tiny mistakes. She valued the authenticity in including the odd instrumental note here and there. She wanted to compose a soundtrack that could convey the melancholic history of Gundam and its fascination with giant robots. Her thoughts culminated in tracks like “Moon”, which Kanno sings herself under the Gabriela Robin pseudonym.
Tomino has an incredibly high opinion of Yoko Kanno, calling her a genius and prodigy who’s easy to work with. He respects her passion for music and likes how she has high standards and is difficult to impress. He also thinks she provides a unique perspective as a woman and perceives art in a way older men like him can’t grasp. During their time on Brain Powerd and Turn A Gundam, he felt he learned a lot from her. Kanno enjoyed Tomino’s company because he reminds her of her father, both in age and temperament, only it’s less awkward to actually talk to him about the arts. They had many deep and intellectual conversations, and she valued the opportunity to get his insight on raising daughters.
The Turn A Gundam concert was held by Yoko Kanno on November 12, 1999 at the Tokyo International Forum and featured the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, which is recognized as the oldest symphony orchestra in Japan. The anime was still on-air at the time (episode #31 had recently aired)—a sort of “real-time” event that was difficult to do but provided a very unique and exciting experience. Because of the timing, Kanno began preparation earlier in the year while still recording the anime’s second soundtrack CD, and some of the tracks were slightly revised as a result. The concert was attended by many industry staff, including director Yoshiyuki Tomino and his wife, along with Yoko Kanno’s parents and relatives. An extensive art gallery was also set up at the entrance lobby, showcasing Syd Mead’s mechanical designs and Akira Yasuda’s character designs. A DVD titled “Turn A Gundam, The Concert” was later released containing live footage and a behind-the-scenes documentary. For anyone who’d like to watch it, you can download a rip here, and there is a music CD upload on YouTube.
The concert’s setlist was as follows:
- White Falcon (medley)
- Moon Flower
- Wooden Airplane
- Memory of Militia Boots
- The First Advent ~God’s Scorn
- The Second Advent ~God’s toe touches the shore
- The Third Advent ~something lurking beneath the Earth
- Final Shore ~Ah, the Second Coming
- Spirit of Place
- Felicity ~back to the river
Yoko Kanno hadn’t worked with nor conducted for the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra prior to this event, so she only knew a handful of its members. The average age of the orchestra was rather young, which she preferred because they were able to keep up with her constantly evolving ideas. For instance, she was able to convince the choir’s members to dance. She found them comparable to the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra who she worked with on both the Brain Powerd and Turn A Gundam soundtracks. The event’s production staff was very cooperative and accommodated all her desired sound and visual effects. Her goal was to provide a visual spectacle and convey the atmosphere of live music—including choir and performance dancers moving in-and-out of songs. Her only concern was that she’s self-conscious people will stare at her butt when conducting, but if she’s enthusiastic and having fun then she doesn’t care.
The concert featured Dianna and Kihel stage actresses played by twin sisters Natsu & Kana Itou, and Kanno was enamored by their long legs and pretty faces. Director Tomino gave them specific instructions—to always make sure they’re always smiling to the audience and to extend their hands out during the vocals in the classic “Tomino pose”. To him, when a woman holds their breath in and stands in such a position they’ll appear confident and larger in the eyes of the audience.
This concert is especially notable for featuring the late Origa (a Russian-Japanese singer) on vocals for “Moon”, in lieu of Kanno herself. They were long-time friends and this was their first public performance together; the two would later go on to collaborate on many vocal tracks for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, including massive hits such as “Inner Universe” and “Rise”. Origa passed away in 2015 due to lung cancer, a great loss to the music world. A woman named Gabriela Robin is credited as singer and/or lyricist on many of Kanno’s songs, including “Moon”, yet Robin herself would never appear in a live setting. Instead whenever Kanno would perform a Robin track at a concert, an associated act (Maaya Sakamoto, Origa, etc.) would instead sing as a guest vocalist. Kanno would later reveal to the world that Gabriela Robin is simply a pseudonym she uses, when she sung “Moon” live to an audience in 2009 and solved the eternal mystery. This context, in retrospect, makes Origa’s performance here even more stunning—Kanno’s late friend beginning a legacy.
Yoko Kanno liked Turn A Gundam and followed it weekly as it aired. She loved the show’s aesthetic and its sense of character movement, in how the characters strut around in fluttering dresses. She liked most of its character cast but was particularly drawn to Harry Ord (whom she calls “Harry-sama”), Lily Borjarno, and Guin Lineford. Kanno always felt that Turn A Gundam had a surface-level aesthetic sense of a “love story”, since it’s a drama where the fate of the characters are intertwined and it doesn’t have as much of a focus on giant robots as previous Gundam titles.
The following is a translation of the bonus post-concert press conference. I believe only segments of the full conference was provided on the DVD, so unfortunately that’s all I have to share. It features Yoshiyuki Tomino, Yoko Kanno, Natsu Itou, Kana Itou, a moderator, staff, and press.
Tomino: Should I sit at the end?
Kanno: No! Why?
Kanno: It’s fine.
Moderator: Allow me to introduce them again. The one responsible for the composition and arrangement, as well as conductor for today’s concert—Ms. Yoko Kanno.
Kanno: Thank you very much.
Moderator: Next, the “real” Kihel and “real” Dianna… [Tomino starts cackling] While that’s what we’ve been calling them, they are in fact twin talents Ms. Natsu Itou and Ms. Kana Itou. Their performance was part of today’s stage production.
Kanno: Which one is which?
Natsu & Kana Itou: Thank you very much.
Moderator: Finally is the person who continues to work on the anime production—Mr. Tomino.
Tomino: Yes, thank you very much.
Moderator: Well, today’s concert has been a long journey and accomplishment for both Ms. Kanno and Mr. Tomino… so, Ms. Kanno, was it fun?
Kanno: It was so fun, so fun, but it wasn’t enough!
Kanno: It was Director Tomino who wanted to include real-life versions of Kihel and Dianna, right? At least initially?
Tomino: I don’t remember that!
Kanno: Lies! It was the director who brought it up. It was the director, right!?
Staff: That’s right.
Kanno: It was Director Tomino who said “how about we include some real-life equivalents of Kihel and Dianna?” So many people came for the auditions.
Tomino: Is that true?
Staff: What are you talking about?! It was pretty difficult to find these two!
Kanno: Yes, I know!
Tomino: [laughing] I would like to apologize to everyone involved. And to the two “victims”, I’d like to extend a further apology.
Itou Natsu & Itou Kana: [amidst laughter] Thank you very much.
[cut to questions from press]
Man: Scenes from the anime were used quite a lot as backdrop. Who picked the ones that were used? Was it Ms. Kanno’s decision or someone else’s?
Kanno: The production professionals were there to guide us, but I did say how I’d like to have things done. For instance, I wanted to show the visuals of wind passing by; or showing specific scenes for specific songs. The editors worked very hard to piece it all together. In the initial meetings, I told myself I’d say everything that I wanted regardless of how much it would cost. I asked to have the orchestra to look a certain a way, to have three or four screens lined up, to incorporate real fire for the festival dance, how Director Tomino wanted real-life versions of Kihel and Dianna, and having a choir was also a must. Aside from the fire, they made almost everything happen. I know it must have cost a lot of money, and so many people volunteered their precious time to make it happen. It’s amazing how blessed I was with such a great staff. I thought I’d be told “sorry, we can’t do this” at some point, but in the end they did nearly everything I requested. Something like this probably won’t happen again, so today I am very happy. We’ve done it!
Tomino: If it sounded interesting, I thought “why not?”
Kanno: Right? There is no meaning if it’s forced.
Tomino: I want classical musicians to experience this way of doing things.
Kanno: It was the members of the orchestra who were happiest. They really enjoyed it! And even the choir! I was surprised how open they were to my requests. Usually, chorus members will NEVER dance if asked. If you ask classically-trained musicians to “please dance”, they’ll respond with “huh? We absolutely won’t do that!” Even when I wasn’t asking, they were trying out new dance moves. I was really happy about that.
Tomino: When I saw them dancing, I didn’t think it was the same people who were singing and dancing.
Kanno: You wouldn’t think it’s the same person, right? [laughter] Everyone in the production staff was very cooperative. It made me really happy.
Man: Thank you very much.
Kanno: Thank you very much.
Interview translation by Feez and Sachi F.