Before New York Anime Fest, Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino was asked what he thought of the current Japanese animation industry. He said he tries not to think about it.
Fair enough: we try to avoid it ourselves, but we just can’t. Look at the coming Japtoon-packed (but kind of boring) fall season! Look at the deplorable conditions of the industry! Look at poor Manglobe, which has stooped to adapting light novels about swordswomen in maid costumes after the previous business plan– to make good, fresh cartoons— failed due to lack of interest in same! Of course, we’d be surprised if old man Tomino even knew any of this was going on, and we’d be doubly surprised if he gave half a shit. But for a dude who plays it so detached, we think Yoshiyuki Tomino knows a little more than he lets on.
Otaku are a kind of professional, Tomino began, and indeed, he spoke to us in the crowd as though assuming us to be future creators ourselves. What followed was a lecture that wasn’t about what to do– by his own admission, the man has no idea– but about what not to do. This is something Tomino knows all about.
The point that Tomino would bludgeon us with for much of the hour was: “Just because you like anime doesn’t mean you can make it.” Many of the short pieces this very site has reviewed– and, indeed, many Colony Drop Official Favorites– demonstrate this quite well: it isn’t enough to just throw the things you love into a story and expect a good story to appear solely because these things are present.
(Koichi Ohata and skulls are naturally an exception.)
That said, look at where Japanese cartoons are right now. They typically air after most productive members of society are asleep for one thing. For another, they’re hopelessly mired in an inbred otaku culture, one that too often only cares about getting the obsessively fetishized and codified little girl, superhero or giant robot onscreen without worrying why we should care. This stuff is too often trapped in genre: it’s being made by and for otaku whose field of reference has never strayed from the otaku world, and with an audience that so insistently demands the same old shit over and over again, why would the otaku on the production side ever bother breaking out? The industry and the people who consume its products are stagnating together.
Tomino took bold moves with the original Mobile Suit Gundam because he was ambitious enough to see beyond the bounds of the giant robot cartoons that already existed, to aim for something new. While Gundam never outright abandoned the tropes and confines of giant robot anime– and was better off for it– it was a landmark and mildly subversive cartoon that, despite Tomino’s refusal to admit to the fact, helped create a new subgenre.
But look at Gundam now: it’s a franchise. Tomino says that a good story is first priority, but with Gundam story has been second place for years to the sacred task of selling toy robots to kids and nerds like us. The series is stagnant, and as a profitable genre franchise it must stay that way. Let’s say that, in some theoretical world, a talented staff were to make a fresh, smart Gundam series. The problem is that it’s still Gundam, and as we saw with the second half of 00, Gundam is too big for some tool at the studio not to order you to screw it up somehow.
Tomino knows it’s a lost cause to look to Gundam for the forward movement the anime industry so desperately needs: at the end of his Q&A panel, he treated us to Ring of Gundam, his recent short that is, in essence, about how we don’t need Gundam anymore. The old man still firmly believes that adults are the enemy, (he dubs himself the “super enemy”) and he knows better than anyone that it’s up to a new generation of creators to make a new generation of entertainment. And maybe it’s up to you, reader, and the people around you– as it once fell to Tomino, Yasuhiko and Okawara– to make that future. In this case, Colony Drop Industries would like to, with apologies to Mr. Tomino, echo his position:
Something new, please.
It doesn’t even have to be anime.