Continuing my series of articles 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 community discourse. This is the culmination of research I’ve done and continue to do over the past decade. It’ll be divided into four parts for easy reading as follows. I highly recommend you read and familiarize yourself with the previous parts, as there is a lot of overlap between them.
- Part I – Victory Gundam & Battling Depression
- Part II – Influences & Inspiration
- Part III – Prelude to Turn A Gundam
- Part IV – The Era of Turn A Gundam
- Turn A Gundam officially begins
- The main voice cast
- “Live-action approach to storytelling”
- The scriptwriting team
- Assessing ratings and popularity
Without further ado…
Turn A Gundam‘s first episode was screened in advance to staff members and industry people and was applauded by most in attendance. Then-Sunrise CEO Takayuki Yoshii said it gave him chills he hadn’t felt since Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro. Syd Mead kept arbitrarily shouting “great!” throughout the screening, despite knowing little Japanese. Tetsu Kayama, who was the Marigul Management individual responsible for facilitating Director Tomino’s meetings with Akiman, was very supportive. Harutoshi Fukui, who would later pen Gundam Unicorn, enjoyed it so much he sent a fax to Tomino saying it was an honor to be involved in such a project—at this time, he had already been assigned to work on a Turn A Gundam novelization. In general, industry veterans also seemed okay with the idea of it being a story focusing on the human element rather than the mecha. Romi Park has expressed her love for the first episode on more than one occasion, and she’s particularly fond of its intro segment where Loran, Fran, and Keith sing nursery rhymes. Tomino himself was pleased with the first episode but was overwhelmed by the feedback he was receiving. In his mind, there was no way the staff would be able to maintain such a high level of quality for the show’s entire run. The episode aired on Fuji TV on April 9, 1999 and Turn A Gundam had officially begun.
At the “Gundam Big Bang Declaration” event in August 1, 1998, Director Tomino had declared that he wanted to create a Gundam series with lots of great female characters. He sought to promote a “feminine” touch and perspective and deliberately had a staff filled with more women than usual. As a result, most of the main cast are voiced by women, including the main character Loran. Tomino saw through the insecurities of many of the younger voice cast and did his best to boost their confidence. He would encourage them to speak normally rather than in a forced tone. His philosophy was that voice actors and actresses are an extension of the characters themselves, so he advised them to avoid overthinking their roles. This had a profound impact on young talents like Romi Park and Rieko Takahashi, who had a lot pressure placed on them as the male and female leads. Tomino himself was present at every episode’s dubbing process to facilitate his philosophy in the studio. So, let’s cover the main voice cast.
Romi Park was the voice of Loran Cehack. She had previously voiced Kanan Gimms in Brain Powerd so she had prior experience working with Tomino, however in Turn A Gundam she was taking on the main character role. The pressure of playing the main character in a Gundam work dawned on her as time went on, as more of her friends and colleagues would remind her that she was the face of the show. It was also her first time voicing a male character, a quality that she is characteristically known for these days. Park had initially auditioned for Dianna-Kihel but was unexpectedly cast as Loran instead. Along with Rieko Takahashi (Dianna-Kihel)—whom she shared a special bond and friendship with as young newbies in the studio—she was a member of the theater troupe Yen, where Tomino’s eldest daughter Akari worked at in a directorial role. Park viewed Tomino as a sensitive director who tried to get to know all his actors and made them feel comfortable. She never saw him as high-tempered or inapproachable despite the many rumors about his reputation, and unlike some of her peers she even felt comfortable vocally arguing with him. She had a close relationship with him, often jumping onto his lap so he could stroke her head like a pet; she jokingly viewed him as a “mother”. She’s particularly fond of the beginning and ending scenes of episode #1, having even reenacted the latter herself. Park had an in-studio rivalry with Takehito Koyasu, who voiced the show’s final antagonist Gym Ghingham, which often led to shouting matches between the two. During one intense recording session, she lost her voice and had to be rushed to a hospital to see a throat specialist. To this day, she refers to Koyasu as “aniki”. She owns an Excellent Model Series RAH.DX Loran Cehack figure and in the Blu-ray audio commentaries claims that it’s the first thing you see when you enter her home. Park continues to be a staunch Turn A Gundam supporter and fondly remembers it as the show that that jumpstarted her career.
Rieko Takahashi was the voice of both Dianna Soreil and Kihel Heim, and it was also her first major voice role in anime. Along with Romi Park she was a member of the theater troupe Yen and remains an active member to this day, and she was encouraged to audition for roles in Tomino’s anime. Takahashi initially auditioned for Fran Doll but was unexpectedly cast as Dianna-Kihel instead. Many voice actresses auditioned for the Dianna-Kihel roles, given that they were marketed as the heroine to a new Gundam title, but Tomino specifically chose Takahashi for the job. He wanted someone who could blur the line between Dianna and Kihel without making it difficult for the audience to distinguish the two. In his mind, Rieko Takahashi was the only one who could play the role. Ironically, Takahashi’s own friends often joked that she only has one voice acting style, but that’s exactly what Turn A Gundam needed with the duality present in Dianna & Kihel. Voicing mirroring characters was a challenge for her, but she credits the collaborative atmosphere in the studio that allowed her to succeed. Her peers viewed her as an elegant and mysterious “genius”, what with how seamlessly she was able to navigate between the two characters—often even during the same scene! She would come up with ways to individually help her distinguish the two characters; for instance, she used the “watakushi” (わたくし) first-person pronoun for Dianna and “watashi” (わたし) for Kihel. She was particularly fond of the famous washing machine scene from episode #21. She viewed Tomino as a unique individual who can envision both dreams and reality simultaneously. Unlike Park, Takahashi would not go on to be particularly active in the anime industry, opting instead to focus on her career in theater, but she’s always happy to reprise her role(s) in video games and other media.
Akino Murata was the voice of Sochie Heim. She had previously voiced lead heroine Hime Utsumiya in Brain Powerd, so she had prior experience working with Tomino. Much like Romi Park and Rieko Takahashi she came from a theater background, being an active member of the Himawari Theater Company to this day. Unlike some of her peers, Murata auditioned for the character she was actually cast as—Sochie. Being Brain Powerd royalty she was considered a shoo-in for the role, since Hime as a character is not too dissimilar to Sochie on a surface level. People in the studio even joked that she looked like a real-life spitting image of the character. Initially, she focused hard on raising her voice to match how she perceived Sochie should sound in her mind, but Tomino advised her to speak normally instead. Murata didn’t view Tomino as unreasonable or difficult to work with, but she admits that the aura he exudes is intimidating. She also thought he had an unusual level of intuition in how he was able to tell if someone in the studio had questions or concerns. Despite the fact that Sochie Heim and Gavane Goonny were characters who had a relationship in the show, Akino Murata and Houchuu Ootsuka (Gavane’s VA) had very little interaction with each other otherwise. That said, her favorite scene in the show is indeed when Sochie yells her heart out while wearing the wedding dress Gavane gifted her.
Gou Aoba was the voice of Guin Lineford. He had previously voiced Jonathan Green in Brain Powerd, so he too had prior experience working with Tomino. Yes, 3/5ths of the main voice cast were carryovers from Brain Powerd. Like Romi Park, Rieko Takahashi, and Akino Murata, he came from a theater background and was affiliated with the Seinenza Theater Company. He viewed Tomino as someone who could lighten the mood in the studio with ease. Despite it being a new Gundam production, Aoba did not feel additional pressure to perform and was able to slot into his new role rather quickly. Tomino had told him that Guin was a “big-shot of a man who plays by his own rules in an imperial palace”, so Aoba didn’t necessarily think of Guin as a bad person but rather an someone genuine in his beliefs and ambitions. He felt sad for Guin’s constant obsession with “Laura” and how Loran never reciprocated his feelings. Aoba is one of the staff members who has talked about the open-endedness of the epilogue, and how a sequel story set in the Galia nation was in the cards.
Tetsu Inada was the voice of Harry Ord. Turn A Gundam was his first major voice role in an anime in which he regularly had to record lines. Unlike the other main cast members he did not come from a theater background. Inada initially auditioned for Phil Ackman but was cast as Harry Ord instead. Ironically, characters like Phil tend to be his “brand” even to this day, while archetypes like Harry are rare for him. He was a passionate actor who wanted to be in-tune with his character, but Tomino did not provide him with much additional information, telling him that all he needed to know was in the script. He believed that Tomino often kept character details to himself because he liked the way the actors & actresses were surmising their roles and didn’t want to disrupt that flow. Harry was front-and-center on the receiving end of the show’s “live-action approach to storytelling”; his character details were constantly changing, and as a result Inada found it challenging to truly comprehend his thoughts and motives. However, this disconnect also proved to motivate him. For instance, Harry as a character avoided death several times as scenarios were revised, so Inada felt that if he didn’t give it his all in his battle vs. Gym then he really would die. He is a fan of Jackie Chan, and it was his childhood dream to meet the Japanese dub-over voice actor Hiroya Ishimaru. Inada would realize this dream during Turn A Gundam, as Ishimaru voiced Mallygan and Agrippa Maintainer. Inada continues to be a staunch supporter of Turn A Gundam and often acts as an unofficial spokesperson for the show. He’s happy to appear on talk shows and in interviews, and he even cosplays as Harry Ord to spread the love. The “UNIVERSE” battle cry is immortalized in anime history and Inada is proud to be associated with it. He attributes much of his career success to his time on the show.
Other notable voice actors & actresses who worked on Turn A Gundam are Takehito Koyasu (Gym Ghingham), Ai Kobayashi (Lily Borjarno), Kumiko Watanabe (Fran Doll), Hōchū Ōtsuka (Gavane Goonny), and Hiroya Ishimaru (Agrippa Maintainer).
While it’s true that creating Turn A Gundam ultimately “healed” Director Tomino’s soul, it is important to note that his mental health improved throughout the course of its production, not immediately from the get-go. This was a man still suffering from depression and isolation, a battered individual attempting to reinvent the wheel and mount a comeback. The “barrier” that is Gundam was not easy to overcome; Tomino battled with many staff members on ideological lines—he did not want the show to be like every other Gundam title, as he felt the franchise had to evolve. Some staff members even left the production out of protest and/or disagreements (recall, for instance, that he got into heated arguments about Guin Lineford’s sexuality), including the unnamed person who originally came up with Dianna Soreil’s name, which hurt Tomino personally since he was very fond of the character. Not all the young employees hired by Sunrise wanted to work on and deal with the pressure and responsibility of a Gundam production. There was also a sentiment that “Gundam” was all that Sunrise knew how to make, both from fans and investors. This sentiment was present even throughout all of Brain Powerd and it’s something Tomino sought to change. So while Turn A Gundam is a Gundam show, it simultaneously is not. After episode three, Tomino even jokingly remarked that he shouldn’t have put “Gundam” in the show’s title. He’s been chasing this idea ever since then—to divorce the “Gundam” from Gundam—and he seems to have finally accomplished it on a personal level with the Gundam Reconguista in G movies (2019-2022). It’s why Tomino is fond of Gundam titles that are unique and atypical from the typical expectations of “Gundam” as a concept, such as G Gundam.
Tomino had a bit of a hands-off approach with Turn A Gundam. He would decide the course of the story and revise scripts & storyboards as he saw fit, but he left all the fine details to others. He viewed storyboards (“ekonte” in Japanese, i.e. image continuity) as blueprints that dictate 70% of an animated work. If the storyboard was bad, then the episode would also be bad regardless of how competent all other aspects of the production are. This is why the majority of his work was in revising episode scripts & storyboards; he would read a scenario draft once, store it away in his mind, and then draw and/or edit the storyboard. He could retroactively make additional changes to the script this way too. According to producer Hideyuki Tomioka, Tomino revised approximately 70% of the scripts handed to him. But unlike many of his past productions, he did not interfere much with the actual animation process. This allowed him to be more involved in post-filming processes such as editing, voice acting & dubbing, sound/music mixing, etc., and he aimed to have friendly relationships with all aspects of production, in stark contrast to how he used to operate. Tomino viewed his past-self as “arrogant” and “delusional” and surrounded by henchmen, and he did not want to be like that anymore. With Turn A Gundam he began to listen to the ideas of the everyday staffer. He wanted to be a “good” director, because when a “bad” director and inexperienced staff work together the entire studio feels the weight and pressure of the director as they all struggle to complete the project. He felt that with this new mindset, he was allowed to communicate his ideas through the hands of many people, young and old.
Turn A Gundam‘s scenario underwent many changes in the year leading up to its broadcast, and its production followed what was coined a “live-action approach to storytelling”—as did Brain Powerd‘s—where changes continued to be made even as the show was airing and details were ironed out as the plot moved along. During scenario meetings, Tomino would hand out preliminary plot guidelines covering X number of episodes for the scriptwriters to work with. Dubbed “Tomino memos”, these broad storylines would then be selectively refined to form the plot and scenario as we know it. Setting manager Yoshitaka Kawaguchi would hold scenario meetings with the team of scriptwriters to discuss the course of the plot, and writers would be assigned to episodes based on scheduling & availability. For example, on September 21, 1999 a scenario meeting was held with all but one scriptwriter in attendance. The topic was to decide what happens at the end of the story. A discussion was held with many ideas being thrown out as possibilities: Dianna & Kihel sign a treaty to establish formal Earth-Moon alliance, Kihel stays on the Moon with the Militia, one side gets wiped out and Loran & Dianna rule over the Earth and/or Moon, and so on. It was Tomino’s idea to have Loran and Dianna live together on Earth, and to his surprise the team was happy with that suggestion. With the final endpoint decided, they began to brainstorm ideas and outline episode scenario details. This type of collaborative discussion pleased Tomino, because it was not a scenario decided all on his own. He would dictate where to steer the plot and the scriptwriters would then hash out the details.
To illustrate an example of how things often arbitrarily changed: the Correct Century timeline as a concept was still being fleshed out when the show had begun to air. Ring of Gundam was originally set in an arbitrary 2107 AD calendar date, and Gundam A Project documents lay out a timeline that is “2345 years after the end of the space age”. In episode #4, Loran states his date of birth to Moonrace officers as November 2, 2328 “Seireki” (西暦), aka the AD calendar. The Correct Century is also known as the “Seireki” (“正暦”, i.e. the lunar calendar), but this is intentional wordplay to retroactively have everything make sense. The reason Loran says “Seireki” is because the initial setting was in an arbitrary AD era, and at first only 200 years were supposed to have passed since the Dark History. Tomino later decided that 200 years was not enough for the show’s premise to make sense, so he retroactively gave the new era a fake name. This is how the Correct Century as a name came to be, and it was all decided while the show was airing!
The above is just one such example. Another major one is that initially Harry and Miran would have Dianna and Kihel swap places as some sort of strategy, but that was obviously changed—think about how different the story would be if it wasn’t! The Kapool originally wasn’t going to be in the show, but because of its unique shape the staff felt that it had something in common with Syd Mead’s design philosophy. The next mobile suit to be unearthed after the Kapool was going to be the Efreet from Mobile Suit Gundam: Cross Dimension 0079, but scriptwriter Jirou Takayama took the liberty to write “Zaku” instead in his notes and the idea sort of caught on with the rest of the staff. Character details were also constantly changing. Harry Ord was intended to die at multiple points in the story but that was changed as scenarios were revised, and the staff also could not decide what route to take when it came to his love interest (at one point, it was even going to be Sochie!). Corin Nander wasn’t originally going to come back from the dead, but they wanted a character to fulfill the role he later does and figured it’d work out. Characters like Phil and Miran have roles that feel unclear at times, which is why they often move in-and-out of the spotlight. There are many other examples that can be discussed. It’s also worth noting that it’s thanks to talented scriptwriters like Hiroyuki Hoshiyama that some of the supporting characters have fleshed out scenarios. If it was left up to just Tomino, the show probably would have had even more of a focus on solely Loran and Dianna. So, let’s briefly cover the show’s scriptwriters.
Hiroyuki Hoshiyama, as previously mentioned, was specifically approached by Sunrise and Tomino for Turn A Gundam. He was an industry veteran and had previously worked with Tomino on Daitarn 3 and Mobile Suit Gundam. They brainstormed ideas, and Hoshiyama suggested “Gundam, but in a world like Heidi“, with an abstract idea of a “nice guy” protagonist who “smells good”—Hoshiyama often emphasized smell in his works—walking through a wheat field while a mobile suit flies above (read more here). He was very interested in working on a Gundam title that didn’t involve “just robots” and was actively involved in the production process from its infancy. Along with Tetsuko Takahashi, it’s well within reason to think of them as the two “main” or “primary” scriptwriters of Turn A Gundam. And without Hoshiyama, some of the supporting characters wouldn’t be nearly as fleshed out as they are, particularly Corin Nander and Lily Borjarno. He found the episode(s) dealing with the Sackträger (#35) to be the most challenging, as he wasn’t sure how to approach it. He viewed his time working on the show a great success, as he thinks he was able to help Tomino achieve what he wanted to do. Hoshiyama passed away in 2007, his last contributions to anime being the 2002 Turn A Gundam movies. He’s credited as scriptwriter on episodes 1, 5, 9, 12, 19, 21, 28, 29, 35, 41, and 46.
Tetsuko Takahashi previously worked on Gundam Wing and Brain Powerd, so she was well-adjusted to both Sunrise and Tomino. Aside from scriptwriting duties, she was also involved in conceptual planning as literary coordinator from early-on in the production process. She attended Takarazuka stage productions with the Tomino family and would lend recordings to character designer Akiman to use as reference material. Along with setting manager Yoshitaka Kawaguchi, she researched and collected ideas, materials, and paintings from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries to help define and establish Turn A Gundam‘s setting. She studied James Frazer’s “The Golden Bough”, where much of the Adeska mythology is derived from, which all tied into the canon of Italic goddess Diana Nemorensis. Moreover, she consulted history professors about “Wakoku” (a name ancient Chinese dynasties used to refer to political forces on the Japanese islands) which was used as a reference for the Dark History. Takahashi was a very involved staff member! Her favorite scene is in episode #24; in her mind, Loran wanted to dance with Dianna at the goodwill party in episode #7, so she allowed him to fulfill his wish. Takahashi would go on to continue collaborating with Tomino and being involved with the Gundam franchise as a whole, working on King Gainer, Gundam Unicorn, Gundam Reconguista, among others. She’s credited as scriptwriter on episodes 4, 8, 15, 20, 24, 31, 37, 43, and 47.
Miya Asakawa had worked on Brain Powerd and was invited to reprise her role for the next project, so she figured why not. At first she thought the next project being Gundam was a joke, but she quickly learned otherwise. She wasn’t very familiar with Gundam outside of its songs and music, nor was she well-versed in mecha anime in general. These were, of course, positive qualities for Tomino, as he specifically wanted to bring outside minds and perspectives into his work. She belonged to the Combustibles Theater Company, and had worked as a director, writer, and actor, which encouraged Tomino to give her minor voice acting roles as well: in Brain Powerd she voices Yukio, and in Turn A Gundam she voices Mayalito. Character designer Akiman even drew Mayalito in accordance with Asakawa’s wishes, a cute-yet-strong looking character with almond-shaped eyes. Asakawa was very insistent on having Sochie wear her wedding dress in episode #30 and fought with other staff to make it happen. She figured that, as a woman, Sochie would want to at least try it on, and it was also necessary to allow her to sort out her feelings. Asakawa felt that she was at her best during episode #7; she was laughing and having a good time while penning it. She would go on to work together with Tomino on King Gainer. She’s credited as scriptwriter on episodes 3, 7, 13, 17, 30, 38, 42, and 50.
Jirō Takayama replaced Katsuhiko Chiba‘s place on the scenario table, who had to leave the production for reasons unbeknownst to me. Takayama had previously expressed interest in working on a Gundam show (his claim to fame are anime like Slayers), so he was recommended by Chiba to the production staff. He wasn’t necessarily a fan of Gundam but thought it would be interesting to work on one. He viewed Turn A Gundam as a difficult anime to get into if you’re too attached to older Gundam titles. Even though he joined mid-production, Takayama was involved in some very key episodes: #10 (where Dianna and Kihel swap places), #18 (the Declaration of Statehood ceremony), and #27 (the nuclear bomb). Tomino once told him “don’t put into dialogue what you can show on the screen”, which is very fitting advice from the director. As mentioned earlier, it’s largely thanks to him that the Borjarnon exists in the show. Katsuhiko Chiba is credited as scriptwriter on episodes 2, 6, and 11. Jirou Takayama is credited as scriptwriter on episodes 10, 14, 18, 22, 26, 27, 34, 39, 44, 48, and 49.
Ichiro Okouchi wrote a novel adaptation of The 08th MS Team in 1999 that caught setting manager Kawaguchi’s eye, who then invited him to join Turn A Gundam‘s scriptwriting team. Part of the First Gundam generation, Okouchi had been a Gundam fan since he was just a student, so he welcomed the opportunity to finally work on the “real deal”. Okouchi was a bit of a novice who joined mid-production, so he struggled to meet and adapt to Tomino’s demands and would often seek advice from the other scriptwriters. He looked up to Hoshiyama in particular and studied his scripts as guidelines to follow. Given how unique Turn A Gundam was as a Gundam work, he had little else to compare it to and use as a reference. His script for episode #23 went through five revision processes before it was finally approved. Once he settled in and adapted to the production style, his skills began to shine—he was praised by his peers for his work on episode #36. Okouchi would go on to have a major role in King Gainer. He’s credited as scriptwriter on episodes 23, 36, 40, and 45.
Ai Ota worked in theater as a scriptwriter for ten years before making her TV debut with the Ultraman series in 1997. Her breadth of work included several different genres and mediums—theater, tokusatsu, TV drama, an essayist—so she brought a new perspective to the team. Her involvement with Turn A Gundam was relatively short-lived, mainly working on scenario for the Adeska arc. The arc involved a lot of additional work on the part of literary coordinator Tetsuko Takahashi, and Miya Asakawa was voicing Mayalito, so perhaps it was appropriate to have a culturally-minded third scriptwriter to helm the actual writing duties. Ota would go on to have an illustrious career in the Ultraman franchise and would later become a successful novelist when she debuted in the 2010s. She’s credited as scriptwriter on episodes 25, 32, and 33.
Here’s the reality: Turn A Gundam was not catching on with audiences and had relatively poor TV ratings. Tomino tried his best not to listen to criticisms in journals, magazines, and online forums, but nevertheless the show’s unpopularity was causing him to feel depressed. He had hoped it would be a hit, but the fact of the matter is that it wasn’t. One of the reasons he had brought on talented people like Syd Mead and Akiman was to bridge gaps between media fandoms and drive up popularity, but obviously that did not pan out as intended. The “curse of Gundam” permeated both inside and outside the studio. Older, faithful fans were very receptive to the show, but younger fans and plastic model fanatics were very critical of it. People were demanding more mecha screentime and war-like scenarios—the typical “Gundam”-like elements that he was attempting to avoid. Tomino admitted that had he been purely a fan of the mecha aspect of Gundam, then he too wouldn’t have approved of Turn A Gundam. It got to a point that at an autograph signing, a fan once told him “you are not talented, so you need to do your best”, and Tomino agreed with them. He knew it was his job to overcome all these difficulties, but it nonetheless affected him negatively.
The killer schedule, low popularity, and fan criticisms eventually came to head and forced Tomino to take a mid-production mental health break. He negotiated with Sunrise and brought the minimum amount of work with him. He would revise two storyboards and review setting & character information via daily faxes. So for a week starting from June 18, 1999, he visited The Netherlands where his younger daughter Yukio was studying at the Codarts University for the Arts in Rotterdam. On the flight there, he read a Holland travelogue (オランダ紀行) by Ryotaro Shiba—a novelist and non-fiction writer who had been highly influential in Hayao Miyazaki’s life. He learned about the spirit of Dutch people and their long history of land reclamation. When he saw an aerial view of the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, which is built on developed land, it reminded him of a space colony aesthetic he had in mind. He bought inexpensive souvenirs for the young staff members, which was a new experience for him. In the past he had not done anything like that before and rarely even bought gifts for people in his own family. He really liked how some of the young staff members were eager to be involved in the production, and how they went above-and-beyond to ensure that he could do the best job possible as director. It was a complicated feeling for him, but he wanted to reward their vigor and mindset, and it brought him mental stability on the flight back home. It’s worth noting that Yukio would go on to become a professional dancer after completing her studies, ands she would later collaborate with Tomino on Gundam Reconguista in G‘s eyecatch choreography.
On August 10, 1999—while the TV broadcast was in-between episodes #18 and #19— Sunrise Managing Director Masuo Ueda informed Tomino that Turn A Gundam would not be greenlit for a second year. A sequel story had never been officially in the cards, but Tomino had hoped that one would be greenlit as he had already been planning scenario ideas. Ueda was responsible for overseeing the 20th anniversary “Big Bang Project”, and the fact of the matter was that the show wasn’t popular enough to warrant planning an immediate follow-up. While this disheartened Tomino, he did feel that maybe it was for the best for his mind and body. Efforts were made to increase popularity without compromising the integrity of the work. For instance, they tried to promote sales of the DVD releases by focusing more on the mecha aspect in the promotional art. Tomino was a big fan of the show’s opening theme “Turn A Turn”, but the song was not popular in airwaves and CDs were not selling well; this prompted Sunrise staff to approach him about a new opening song. He toyed with a handful of ideas to help promote the show with its new OP. The generic approach would be to introduce a mid/late-season upgrade for the titular Turn A Gundam. A “Mk-II” upgrade featuring wings or a backpack system and new armaments, etc., but Tomino could not bring himself to request Syd Mead to draw new designs. Mead’s assigned work for the show had already concluded by this point, and there wasn’t enough time to re-open the contact channels and get the ball rolling. Producer Hideyuki Tomioka suggested simply adding the Turn X and Bandit in an attempt to appease the higher-ups, so that’s what they did. Read more [1, 2]
Additionally, Yoko Kanno held a Turn A Gundam concert to commemorate the franchise’s 20th anniversary. It was held 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 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. Read more about the concert here.
Turn A Gundam was broadcast on Fuji TV and according to many sources (1, 2), it averaged a TV rating of 2.99% (click here for individual episode ratings). This is higher than Gundam X‘s average after the timeslot change (1.21%), but lower than Victory Gundam (3.89%), G Gundam (4.11%), and Gundam Wing‘s (4.25%) averages. Fuji TV producers Kenji Shimizu and Yoshihiro Suzuki allowed it to air as-is despite the ratings, because they liked Tomino & Gundam and wanted the director to do as he pleased. These two are the heroes behind why Turn A Gundam was free from sponsor demands and Tomino was allowed to make a quality anime production. Similarly, Sunrise higher-ups were extremely lenient towards Tomino during the show’s production, allowing him to more-or-less operate as he pleased.
Yet despite low TV ratings, Turn A Gundam appears to have been healthily popular with Newtype magazine readers. It was no Cowboy Bebop or Cardcaptor Sakura, nor was it Zeta Gundam or Gundam Wing of old, but for the majority of its run it maintained a spot in the top 3 of anime popularity rankings. Given the magazine’s tenure and history, perhaps much of its reader-base could appreciate it more than an average anime watcher. At the end of the day, Turn A Gundam was still Gundam, and its name alone carried a lot of weight in terms of brand and familiarity. Tomino himself had noted that older fans were more receptive to Turn A Gundam. Much of the show was also applauded by industry people, and younger staff members even called it a “rich” or “cultured” anime (“豊かなアニメ”). This filled him with a sense of pride. He figured that instead of caving in to the rabid Gundam fanbase, he’d be satisfied as long as true fans and talented people approved of the show.
Loran Cehack was very popular with Newtype and Animage readers. In Newtype magazine, he maintained a spot in the top 5 of male character rankings for the majority of the show’s run. He entered the top 10 charts soon after Turn A Gundam began airing and his popularity peaked at #1 in August & September 1999. It’s no surprise that the main character of a Gundam title would be popular, and Loran’s unique character design and chivalrous personality must have garnered him attention from both male and female fans. He also had consistent popularity among Animage magazine readers, ranking highly in their monthly character rankings. In the 1999 Anime Grand Prix, he was ranked 4th out of all male characters for the entire year.
Dianna Soreil also enjoyed some popularity in Newtype magazine rankings. Unlike Loran, she didn’t enter the top 10 of female character rankings until September 1999, but she maintained a spot in the top 5 for the remainder of the show’s run. Her popularity peaked for two months at #3 in December 1999 and January 2000. She struggled to overtake cultural phenomena characters like Sakura Kinomoto (Cardcaptor Sakura) and Ruri Hoshino (Martian Successor Nadesico). Loran and Dianna were the only two characters who had notable popularity in character polls, which isn’t too surprising as they are the two leads.
Turn A Gundam‘s epilogue was a massive undertaking for the staff. They had to make sure the animation cuts matched each phrase of music and that all the major characters were addressed. Many scenes were added, removed, or shifted around, and initially it was going to feature more voiced lines. For instance, there was going to be a scene in which Lily Borjarno gives a speech over radio and announces flights between the Earth & Moon. Tomino came up with the idea of using “Tsuki no Mayu” in the epilogue when he first heard the track. He describes his storyboarding and the directions he gave during post-production as one of the few times he relied on “feelings” as a director. The final episode was screened for staff & producers a day before its scheduled broadcast date, and it also doubled as an afterparty. Tomino and his wife were in attendance, and he started to cry when “Tsuki no Mayu” began to play in the epilogue. The post-screening atmosphere was lively and responses to the final episode were mostly positive. Tomino recalls it as the most entertaining afterparty since Zambot 3‘s. He felt validated—as if what he had sought to do with Turn A Gundam was NOT a mistake. Unfortunately, this episode’s broadcast date was delayed for a few weeks due to volcanic activity at Mount Usu at the time. To learn more about the final episode, check out my episode breakdown.
Turn A Gundam was a turning point for Director Tomino. He didn’t expect to be able to put out such a work in the mental and physical condition he was in, but his confidence grew as time went on. Good production does not always equate to good sales, and he was successful in creating something completely new to help propel Sunrise’s future. He had successfully revitalized the opinion of Gundam within Sunrise as a studio work for industry people to eagerly participate in. This gave future creators the confidence to do as they pleased, which paved the way for shows like Gundam SEED; its director Mitsuo Fukuda has even personally thanked Tomino for this. Tomino views Turn A Gundam as his “will”; he used all the techniques he had acquired in his career, but it wasn’t just his work—he listened earnestly to the opinions of his staff, especially the younger folk. This created the ultimate masterpiece. It was a historically-researched, culturally conscious, and forward-looking television program that was viewed favorably by older fans and industry people. It sustained him in the midst of depression and was instrumental to his recovery. It retaught him the simple things—the beauty and joys life can offer. He feels humbled to have been part of this work. He views it as “simply a story based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter and Torikaebaya Monogatari“, but he does not think it is boring. When the show’s production wrapped up, he admitted to himself that he was finally happy. He had overcome his depression. Tomino rewatched Turn A Gundam three times in one month after it had finished airing. He truly believes it’s the type of work where one can can discover something new each time they go through it. While he has some misgivings with how he handled some of the characters (namely, some of the villains), Turn A Gundam is a show he loves very much. He is particularly satisfied with Loran and Dianna as characters.
When I hear it’s a full Moon, I open the window and look up at the Moon and shout “Dianna-sama!” (laughs) My wife will join me once a year for the occasion, which makes me very happy. Yes, I really do like Turn A Gundam.Yoshiyuki Tomino (Turn A Gundam Art Works, 2007)
Following the TV broadcast, Tomino would publish a series of essays titled “Turn A no iyashi”, where he details the trials & tribulations he faced and how creating Turn A Gundam healed his soul. It’s an intimate self-analysis about his personal struggles and the challenges he faced leading up to and during the show’s production. For more information, be sure to check out the associated page. In the years to follow, Tomino would direct the Turn A Gundam movies, act as an unofficial advisor for Gundam SEED‘s conceptualization, and then helm his next major TV project in King Gainer. While a sequel story was never greenlit, the epilogue was left intentionally vague in hopes that one might be made. And in fact, a “Turn A Space” follow-up story was being planned at some level in the 2000s. In 2002 at Anime Expo New York, Tomino revealed to the audience that he’d like to create a story close to the world of Gundam, which led to speculation that it may have encompassed his entire filmography rather than just Gundam alone. Akiman has always been open to the idea of a sequel anime and has stated in interviews that he’d love to be involved in one. Other staff members have publicly discussed the canned sequel on Twitter and elsewhere too. This is a topic that would require a deep-dive in and of itself, but ultimately all the plans fell through. Many of its ideas were repurposed in Gundam: True Odyssey (MS Saga: A New Dawn in North America), Turn A Gundam: Wind of the Moon, Ring of Gundam, and most notably in Gundam Reconguista in G (which is the true successor to Turn A Space). The spirit of Turn A Gundam lives on in these works, and as a case in point Akiman was consciously involved in all of them.
At a post-production party, Tomino once told Rieko Takahashi (Dianna-Kihel’s VA) that Turn A Gundam would be a hit in 50 years. While we still have many years to go, it is undeniable that the show has had a bit of a renaissance in reception since it aired. Until 2014, it was viewed as “Tomino’s latest Gundam“, and that alone carried a lot of weight and made people give it another chance. People began to warm up to it and its designs; the titular Turn A Gundam was selected by fan poll in 2007 to have the honor of being the 100th release of the Master Grade line of Gundam model kits. Turn A Gundam regularly receives cameo appearances in anime across the spectrum (see: Birdie Wing for a recent example), and it was featured in a main character role in both seasons of Gundam Build Divers (a recent Gundam example). In Western fandom, it is widely considered a critics’ choice series and often receives favorable reviews from industry outlets. In Japanese fandom, it is incredibly popular among Tomino fans—in a large survey conducted in 2022 it ranked #1 in the “Favorite Tomino Work” category. Every year on its anniversary, social media is filled with posts from people across the world celebrating the show. Heck, people like me exist because of the mythical status Turn A Gundam had in the 2000s. The show also has many vocal industry ambassadors such as Akiman, Romi Park, Tetsu Inada, Takehito Koyasu, and other staff members. Even people who weren’t involved in the show will happily sing its praises when given the opportunity; Gundam SEED director Mitsuo Fukuda has claimed that it is his favorite anime, and Unicorn author Harutoshi Fukui is a massive fan as well. Yes, Turn A Gundam will likely always remain a cult classic compared to, say, Mobile Suit Gundam, Zeta Gundam, Gundam Wing, Gundam SEED, or Gundam 00, but those are cultural giants within anime as a medium itself. And remember, it’s a “cultured” anime!
And so this series of articles comes to an end! I want to thank everyone for being patient and bearing with my slow and busy schedule. This has been by largest project yet and it’s been a great pleasure to present it all to you. I hope it has proven to be a valuable resource that will enhance Turn A Gundam discussion in the English-speaking community. There’s so much more to learn and share and these posts only provide a surface-level analysis & presentation on many topics, so please continue to check out my other content. I will do my best to continue sharing my love for this show. Thank you!
These articles were made possible by various supplementary materials, my friends & family, and personal staff/industry contacts who graciously allow me to pester them for information. For a complete breakdown on my sources, please check out the associated page. This is all a culmination of my continued research into my favorite anime. Thank you.
One thought on “The History and Production of Turn A Gundam: Part IV – The Era of Turn A Gundam”
Excellent research, organization and synthesizing, thanks for doing all these posts about the production of the series (I prefer not to think about all the work it took to make them) they have been really fascinating.
After reading this I have a usual paradox, in one way or another I think I have been able to see all the intentions they put into the creation of the series while I saw it, it is impressive how the yearnings adhere to people’s projects.
LikeLiked by 1 person