Tuesday, November 29, 2022


There's still plenty of Gundam manga out there I could talk about (and probably will at some point), but there is only one is about the making of Gundam itself ...sort of.

THE MEN WHO CREATED GUNDAM (Gundam Sousei), by Hideki Ohwada.  First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2022.


This comic retelling of the making of 1979's Mobile Suit Gundam follows Yoshiyuki Tomino as he wins over collaborators with his brilliant ideas, works around the schemes of corporations, assaults actors and staff alike, and eventually win the hearts and minds of a generation of otaku with one of anime's most iconic franchises.

You might be saying "Megan, didn't you already talk about this manga at length on a podcast elsewhere?"  To which I say: Yes.  Yes I did, but let me record some of my final thoughts on it here for the sake of posterity.

You would think that this manga would be right up my alley, considering my fascination with Gundam and casual interest in the behind-the-scenes drama of making anime.  Alas, you would be wrong.  I went into some of my more pedantic specific issues on the podcast linked above so I won't rehash them here.  I still doubt that anyone who wasn't already familiar with some of these making-of stories would find them that amusing, even if this release does make an effort to provide some context.  I still do have two major complaints, though..

First of all, the humor is not particularly clever.  Most of it tends to be based around shock value and crudeness.  Occasionally it's effective (such as Tomino motivating Toru Furuya's performance as Amuro by punching him), but most of the time it's lame running gags like showing future Gundam Unicorn novelist Harutoshi Fukui getting painful boners from the thought of Gundam or Tomino randomly grabbing the ass of the resident production assistant (and the odd idol singer).  Even allowing for the leniency of comedy, these gags feel like a step too far - too far out of character for the people involved and too removed from the context to work as a joke.

My biggest problem is one that is absolutely prevalent, downright structural.  This manga might have been called "The Men Who Created Gundam," but in truth it's focused on just one man: Yoshiyuki Tomino.  Ohwada's vision of Tomino is a galaxy-brained giga-chad who can do no wrong.  Every idea, no matter how outrageous, is proven to be correct.  Every collaborator, no matter how skeptical, is won over by his brilliance.  This is also a version of Tomino that cares about the corporate side of things like marketing and toy designs (and if you know anything about the real Tomino, you'll know why him caring about gunpla is more ironically hilarious than any joke in this book).  It also treats the success of Gundam as a franchise as an inevitability, a unequivocal good for the world brought into being by Tomino the mastermind.  

This approach ignores the scrappy, collaborative nature of making anime in general (and Mobile Suit Gundam in particular).  Major collaborators like mechanical designer Kunio Okawara and character designer/animation director Yoshikazu Yasuhiko largely fade away in its second half, as the focus shifts more to the reactions of anime magazine editors and the otaku.  Animators are basically ignored beyond a brief cameo by a young Ichiro Itano.  Maybe I'm asking too much of a manga that's meant to be a comedy, but perhaps if the comedy was better and hued a little closer to reality, maybe I wouldn't notice these things so much.


Ohwada's style is certainly more dynamic than one typically sees in comedy manga.  There's a lot of big, flashy, dynamic punches, reactions, and paneling, and it definitely reinforces the manic tone of the comedy.  His take on the actual people involved takes a fair amount of liberties, though.  Nowhere is this more obvious than with his take on Tomino himself.  While there's a surface resemblance to the man, his cue-ball bald head and dark shirt is closer to Tomino's current appearance while his lithe, muscular body is pure invention on Ohwada's part.  Meanwhile, the voice actors just look like their characters (with the curious exception of Char's voice actor, Shuichi Ikeda), and those that are just made-up or composites of multiple people are these round, squishy, generic-looking sort of anime people.


After every chapter or two there is a brief, explanatory essay explaining the actual history behind some of the events of this manga.  The essays are well-written, as they manage to get across a lot of info without losing its casual tone with plenty of images to boot.  There are also a couple of guest columns from a former anime magazine staffer as well as a producer.  


It pains me to rate The Men Who Created Gundam so low after waiting so long for this release, but I won't let my own fandom make excuses for bad comedy and the blind worship of both Tomino and Gundam as a capitalist product.  I can't see it appealing to anyone who isn't already a Gundam fan, although I suspect those less familiar with its history (or simply less pedantic than myself) might have more of a good time with it.

This book is published by Denpa Books.  It is currently in print.

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