Ultimate Mark

Production Reference:
V Gundam in Great Mechanics G
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Translator's Note: The following interviews, timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Mobile Suit V Gundam's broadcast debut, appeared in the summer and autumn 2023 volumes of Futabasha's quarterly magazine Great Mechanics G. The former issue also included an interview with series director Yoshiyuki Tomino, for which Zeonic|Scanlations has a partial translation.

From Great Mechanics G Summer 2023

In a Gundam work, it could be said that enemy mecha still have to provide novelty every single time. Perhaps the work itself could also be better understood from the design of thsee so-called enemy mecha. Thus, this time we talked to Mr. Junya Ishigaki, who as a youngster was responsible for designing many of the enemy mecha in Mobile Suit V Gundam alongside Mr. Kunio Okawara.

It began with a presentation using a balsa-wood model

—I think in many ways Mobile Suit V Gundam was ahead of its time, but it seems the design of the Zanscare side's mobile suits was also something of a challenge. It appears that Mr. Hajime Katoki did the Gundams and Mr. Kunio Okawara was doing enemy mecha, but how did you divide the work between the three of you?

Ishigaki: They decided to do it right after Mobile Suit Gundam F91 was finished. At the time, I was at the Sunrise planning office, so I was brought in by Mr. Koichi Inoue. I believe Mr. Katoki was nominated by Director (Yoshiyuki) Tomino, and Mr. Okawara probably continued on from F91. But to be honest, I can't remember the events of thirty years ago in that much detail. So I don't know the exact particulars of the work situation at the time, especially where other staffers are concerned. When I look back on it now, I think all I can say is "It was something like this, wasn't it?"

When they first called me in, Director Tomino gave me a proposal-like memo. I recall that when I looked at it, it said Victory Gundam, and I thought "This isn't F92?" That was the first time I genuinely met Director Tomino, and he told me "We want to do a combining Gundam with a Core Fighter in the middle. We'd like you to present it with a three-dimensional model." I was surprised it wouldn't just be a drawing.

Then Mr. Okawara made his famous Zolo wooden model, and Mr. Katoki made a model using Gunpla and Pla-Plate. (1) I didn't really know what I was doing, so I brought in a kind of scarecrow that I'd made out of balsa wood, attaching toothpicks for the joints. I recall that when they saw these, they chose Mr. Katoki's. It was probably because of the way the head was built into the Core Fighter.

After that, we started on the design work. I'm sure it was Director Tomino who said "make the cameras compound eyes," and I think it was probably Mr. Okawara who added the eyelids. I drew a succession of various mecha that didn't really look like mobile suits, saying "Maybe something this?" Once we'd more or less entered the production stage, I think I chose from among these and used them as a base to create the Shokew and Godzorla.

—Did you have any orders from Director Tomino?

Ishigaki: Nothing in particular, but I think the big imperative was to draw in children. We were supposed to introduce kids who only knew about SDs to "real" Gundam, so I drew things that would appeal to children, even if the designs were a little goofy. I think that's also why some aspects of Mr. Hiroshi Ousaka's character designs had the feeling of World Masterpiece Theater and the Nippon Animation style. The story was pretty hardcore, though.

Since it was my first time designing mobile suits, there was a lot of trial and error. At first they had a complex surface structure, but after Director Tomino and Mr. Inoue lectured me about that, I started making them simpler. At the beginning, Mr. Inoue also told me the things I'd drawn weren't really different from each other. When I was drawing the Godzorla and Shokew, they kept telling me to make their silhouettes more distinct, and I really struggled. In some respects, I didn't yet have the experience or power to think that far.

A high-cut waist with a consciousness of a human body in a suit

—Was V Gundam the first time in your career you did main mecha design?

Ishigaki: It was the first time I did it with mobile suits. I guess the Shokew was truly my first. What I was most concerned about was that, since I had to reduce the number of lines, I also had to take out the lines that showed the thickness of the armor. I really didn't want it to look flimsy, so I represented the armor's thickness by having it taper on the inside.

—Even in the work itself, there are cuts with no onscreen shading. You can see they were trying to reduce the overall production labor, but that even extended to the design.

Ishigaki: With the shading, for instance, there was a feeling that the finishing companies wouldn't take on the job, because the fact it was Gundam meant it would be too much trouble. Since the style of depiction expanded as the theatrical works and OVAs accumulated, the burden on the finishers had increased, and it may have been a reaction to that. This was going to be a TV series, right?

Speaking of the reduction in lines, I recall that when it came out on laser disc, I drew the jacket art based on the TV setting. Then they asked me to revise it, saying "Please make the drawing more detailed." I did it while looking at Mr. Katoki's drawings of the V Gundam, thinking "Something like this, huh?" I was also drawing it at poster size. Personally, I thought it looked good even without the details, but given the trends of the time they probably wanted it to look more like Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory.

—What did you consider mobile suits to be when you were drawing them?

Ishigaki: At the time, the base was something like Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket and 0083, as well as F91. But since they were mobile suits, not robots, I was conscious that somewhere in there was a human body wearing the suit. The same goes for the Vagan mobile suits in Mobile Suit Gundam Age.

On V Gundam, I was giving their groins something like a high-cut leg, and Bandai (now Bandai Spirits) told me to cut it out. But I guess Director Tomino decided to to go with my lines for the Zanscare mobile suits. Even so, I did put skirts on the Zanneck and Gengaozo... I don't remember why I gave them high-cut legs, but in hindsight, maybe I thought "The Jegan had a high cut, so it must be okay."

Looking at the mobile suit designs now, I want to play around with the balance. Their silhouettes have big heads and feet, with no hips, and I'd like to make them a little more modern. But if I tried changing that, the fans would probably say they were all wrong. Mr. Katoki's V Gundam also has big feet, so maybe that was of its time.

—They were fifteen meters tall, so maybe that also reflected a change in the depiction.

Ishigaki: There might have been that, too. Now they've gone back to eighteen meters.

—To some degree you were matching Mr. Okawara's work, but did you try to go in a different direction when possible?

Ishigaki: I've always thought it was fine to do your own kind of mobile suit, rather than doing it in Mr. Okawara's style just because it's the Principality of Zeon. I still feel that way. So if somebody else were designing Zanscare mobile suits now, I'd want them to use completely different design lines. If you're going to do something half-hearted, I'd rather they asked me to do it. (laughs)

At the time, I didn't know what Mr. Okawara and Mr. Katoki were drawing. But since I was sitting next to Director Tomino in the studio as I worked, I had a partial understanding because I could see their finished roughs and say "That's the sort of thing they drew."

The daily life of a rookie working next to Director Tomino

—I guess with the enemy mobile suits in a Gundam series, the question is how you can bring out new mecha that surpass the Zaku. Is that why they brought in a young talent like yourself?

Ishigaki: Well, I guess they could use me cheaply because I happened to be there. (laughs) I think Mr. Okawara was responsible for "surpassing the Zaku" by creating the Zolo and Tomliat. I wasn't conscious of shouldering that kind of burden myself.

—Still, there must have been some pressure sitting next to Director Tomino.

Ishigaki: When I first came into the studio for V Gundam, one day Director Tomino suddenly sat down at an empty desk next to me and started working. It was a real surprise. (laughs) I thought "I'll get yelled at if I make perspective mistakes," so I was really careful not to get that wrong when I was drawing, and I sketched in stuff like wireframes even in my roughs.

—What kinds of interactions did you have with Director Tomino?

Ishigaki: There wasn't anything in particular. But when Director Tomino was drawing layouts, he did a scene where either the Zolo or the Shokew picks up a beam rifle and then spins it around and grabs it. (2) He started laughing as he flipped through it, and then he showed it to me as well, but I had no idea what was supposed to be so interesting about it. (laughs) Anyway, that was awkward.

As production progressed, to some extent we ended up sitting back to back, but when he was editing I could the sound of Director Tomino's explosions in the next room. Sometimes I'd be saying "I can't hear you, I can't hear you." (laughs)

If you're over 20, you're a late bloomer?! Career impressions at the time

—Did he scold you too?

Ishigaki: When it comes to me getting scolded, I think that happened more on F91. On F91, the schedule was very tight even though we had a lot of lines. I didn't understand that, so when I drew the cross-section of the bus that gets sliced up by the Bugs, I heard later from Mr. Inoue that he got angry and said "How could we possibly do something like this?!"

But while he'd scold the episode directors when he was editing, and sometimes he'd get mad at the producer or the production manager, I don't think he ever scolded the rest of us.

—By the way, Mr. Ishigaki, how did you become a mecha designer?

Ishigaki: I think everyone's route to becoming a designer is different. Back then, the addresses of the production studios were written in the anime magazines, and as a ronin I didn't have anything to do, so I tried sending in some drawings as an experiment. (3) I was delighted when I received a reply. So I kept on sending more every month, and then I got a letter saying "Would you like to come visit Sunrise?" I excitedly went up to Tokyo. (4) But they were literally just talking about a quick visit. (laughs)

Anyway, after that I started dropping by the Sunrise planning office, and it feels like somehow I just ended up where I am today. About half a year after I started visiting the planning office every day, I debuted as a guest mecha designer on Exkizer. I also assisted Mr. Okawara on F91 because I just happened to be there. In hindsight, though it may have been accidental, being there at the right time was really important. Perhaps the generation before me was just short on manpower, but Mr. Yutaka Izubuchi, Mr. Mamoru Nagano, and Mr. Shoji Kawamori were all working hard on main mecha around the time they turned twenty. I was already over twenty years old at the time of Brave Exkizer, so I thought to myself "I'm starting late!"

—In every era, people always wonder how to become a mecha designer.

Ishigaki: Based on my experience, I'd like to say "Be creative and imaginative when you're wondering what to do." There's no set process. I'm often asked how to become a mecha designer, and in fact I gave that answer to a kid who'd come to a panel event, and then a few years later I unexpectedly ran into the same kid at Sunrise's Studio 1. "Um, I'm sorry for being so arrogant back then..." (5)

—So they really were able to jump right into the production site. That takes guts.

A designer's pride formed over three turbulent years

—What do you think of V Gundam's mecha design when you look back on it now?

Ishigaki: I feel my way of thinking was really flexible. I had no constraints, or rather, I was scared of nothing.

—You weren't drawn in by the previous idea that Gundam equals military, were you?

Ishigaki: I think manga-like designs were appropriate for a work like V Gundam. They wouldn't have been worked on 0083. On the other hand, it may have been because 0083 existed that they okayed my designs. Regardless of his own personal tastes, I think on V Gundam Director Tomino wanted to go in a different direction to contrast with 0083 and try new things.

—Among both Sunrise as a company and the creators involved, it seems there are many people who don't like doing the same thing (as what previously came out). But a salesperson would prefer to do the same thing over again and create a hit. Isn't that a point of difficulty?

Ishigaki: I realized after working on various Gundams and other works that what everyone wants is "the same thing but a little different." A sense of so-called "déjà vu" is important.

When I was a kid, however, I grew up watching Blue Gale Xabungle, Aura Battler Dunbine, and Heavy Metal L-Gaim over a span of three years where the lineup was different every year. When I saw Mr. Izubuchi's walker machines and Mr. Tomonori Kogawa's overwhelming characters in Xabungle, Mr. Izubuchi's and Mr. Kazutaka Miyatake's aura battlers in Dunbine, and then Mr. Nagano's heavy metals, I was really astonished, saying "Whoah, what's this?!"

I started doing mecha design thinking that I wanted to do things like that myself. But as I went along, people said "That's not quite right. Shouldn't it be like this?" (6) On the other hand, since my point of view isn't that of a fan, maybe I don't understand their feelings... Rather, I'd like to enlighten the fans.

—The sense of wanting to enlighten people is exactly the feeling of the early eighties, isn't it?

Ishigaki: So many different things came out in the ten years after Mobile Suit Gundam, but now nothing's really changed in the last twenty. I guess that means it won't sell if you change anything. I can understand that when I think about the business side, but still...

Personally, I'm the type that hates being imitated, and I don't like imitating people either. I'm happy to see things reproduced, but nowadays it feels like they're doing it without knowing what it's based on, so they're not giving much respect to the original.

Mobile Suit Gundam may have been innovative, but in a sense it's inevitable that it would become conservative as it continued.

Ishigaki: Nonetheless, I still want to take on the challenge of those three years I saw when I was a kid. When I work on Gundam now, I'd rather design the enemy side than the Gundams. I want to tackle the challenge of doing something different while still providing that sense of déjà vu.

I'd also like to try designing a Gundam, but as a life goal, it would be nice to do it around my sixtieth birthday. I want to be in a position where, when you go around looking for someone, you'd say "Oh, there's Ishigaki!" I don't know whether this would be a completely new design, but I think if I designed something as a career designer who'd been working for forty years, I could create something really impressive.

Junya Ishigaki V Gundam design works


I drew this based on some of the lines I initially sketched when the plan was decided. As for the hidden weapons, at the time there had been similar weapons in Mobile Suit Z Gundam and Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, and if they were hidden then the animators wouldn't need to draw any unnecessary parts. The large legs and shoulder parts were balanced like this because I was drawing it on B4 size paper. I guess that was also the fashion at the time. (Ishigaki)


I don't remember now why I made the face a mask, but I gave the crotch a high-cut leg and inserted bowl-shaped parts. Having no ankles was a challenge to myself, saying "I should be able to produce the same movement without them." You could call it a cheap gimmick, but I guess I was trying to do something unique with the Zanscare mobile suits. Generally, Director Tomino came up with the names of the machines, and the Shokew was no exception. The colors weren't my idea, and when I saw the final draft, I was surprised that it was almost all one color. (Ishigaki)


The order was for a flying tank. At first it had a tall and bulky form, but with four circles on top and bottom and rather strange dimensions, it was hard to draw without breaking it. (Ishigaki)


It had almost no appearances, but I agonized over the chest area. Since it was awkward to raise the arm to fly with the beam rotor, I put tilt rotors on the shoulders and gave it built-in engines in the legs, so it could use both hands freely. My idea was that if the engines were directly visible, then kids could easily understand when they saw them. As for the head ornament, I thought it would be cool if it fluttered during flight, and I wanted to create an idiosyncratic effect by incorporating something with a different texture. The name was Director Tomino's idea, and he explained that it had a slightly strange pronunciation that sounded somehow like a foreign language. (Ishigaki)


Unlike the Shokew, it has a symmetrical design, and I gave the ankles a normal structure so it would be easier to turn into a product. It has a variety of weapons, but that was probably on Director Tomino's instructions. Things like the folding fan remind me of the post-bubble era. Storing a metal whip on the shoulder could be considered a practical joke, but I wanted to include something kids would like. (Ishigaki)


The initial design was a little more like a petit mobile suit, but this is mostly as per Director Tomino's memo. It's also interesting that in the final draft, the eyes are designed so they seem to be connected. It looks pretty strange, but for whatever reason, I guess Director Tomino was trying to introduce some new things and this kind of mecha was the result. (Ishigaki)


When transformed, its silhouette resembles a Principality of Zeon mobile armor. The same is true of its arms. At the time, the only mobile armors were Zeon-made ones, so I couldn't help being influenced by them when I was designing it. The periscope-like thing on its head comes from the football-fish. It's pretty much identical to the Abigor. (Ishigaki)

White Ark

At the time they were putting out a product series called "MS in Pocket," and this was designed to accompany it as a small warship that the heroes could ride around on. It was originally about the size of the Zelerna from Aura Battler Dunbine, but that was too big, and when I was wondering how to make it smaller I was given the advice that "since it's made from Gundarium alloy, it's okay to ride on the wings." So I made it about the right size for mobile suits to ride on the main wings. Ultimately it was never turned into a product, but... (Ishigaki)


I initially wanted to turn the shoulder parts into boomerangs, but in the end I gave up and put in heat rods. I'd always wanted to use boomerangs as armament, and I tried to do that with the Rig-Contio as well. The "face" in the torso was a deliberate attempt to appeal to kids. The same goes for the Shy-tarn. (Ishigaki)

Gengaozo & Zanneck

The concept for these was Fujin and Raijin. Director Tomino specified that the pellet drums on the back should form a wing shape when detached. At the time, I didn't realize Director Tomino was such a deeply knowledgeable aircraft fan, but I guess he was really particular about that. As for the Zanneck, for various reasons it didn't end up feeling like Fujin, but the light that flows around its chest gives represents the streaming energy. (Ishigaki)


This was another mecha with a large backpack, but I drew it so it didn't look so big when seen from the front. (laughs) It looks huge from the back, and Director Tomino scolded me, saying "Why'd you make it so big?!" Personally, I like that it looks like a cloak or a two-man coat. (7) (Ishigaki)


I personally don't like big backpacks, so I made this one detachable. I'd initially drawn another plan, which was a mecha that deployed beam wings like those in my Rig-Shokew rough draft. But as it happened, Mr. Katoki was thinking of the same thing for the V2, so I decided to abandon it. I wanted to give mine wings because it had the image of an insect, but in the end we figured it would look better on the lead mecha. (Ishigaki)

Translator's Notes

(1) Pla-Plate (プラバン) is a brand name for sheets of general-purpose modeling plastic sold by Tamiya.

(2) This shot appears at the end of the second broadcast episode.

(3) In this context, a ronin (浪人) is a high-school graduate who hasn't yet secured admission to a university.

(4) The expression 上京する (joukyou suru) can mean either "visit Tokyo" or "move to Tokyo." Ishigaki goes on to say that he visited the Sunrise planning office every day, so I think he probably moved there.

(5) I think this line is being spoken by Ishigaki in this anecdote, but I'm not positive.

(6) The Japanese text doesn't specify who's saying this, but from the following sentences I think Ishigaki is describing the reaction of other staff and fans.

(7) A 二人羽織 (nininbaori) is an oversized coat used in comedy acts, which covers two people so that one provides the face and the other provides the uncoordinated hands..

From Great Mechanics G Autumn 2023

Composition & Text / Keisuke★Hoshi

The past, present, and future of V Gundam Gunpla

Though Mobile Suit V Gundam was featured in the previous issue of this magazine, for reasons of space, we unfortunately weren't able to discuss the plastic models which were a major factor in this work. With the return to 1/144 scale for the main product line (in the previous Mobile Suit Gundam F91, the main product line was in 1/100 scale due to the reduced size of the mobile suits), the advancement of "iro-pla," and manufacturing specifications created with a new audience of children in mind, there were many elements that can't be neglected when speaking of the history of Gunpla.

As an extra edition of V Gundam, we've asked Mr. Hirofumi Kishiyama, a regular in this magazine who was in charge of product development at Bandai Spirits (then the Bandai Hobby Products Department), Mr. Koichi Inoue, another regular in this magazine who was deeply involved in product development as the script setting manager of Mobile Suit V Gundam at Sunrise (now Bandai Namco Filmworks) where the work was produced, and Mr. Mizuki Fukuda of Bandai Spirits, who is currently in charge of V Gundam product development, to discuss the past, present, and future of V Gundam from the hobby perspective. Please watch it!


Defeat SD Gundam?! A comeback for realistic Gundam!

Inoue: I wanted to start by talking about the situation in 1993 when Mobile Suit V Gundam was on the air, but looking at the interviews in the previous issue of "Great Mechanics," there were places where the things Director (Yoshiyuki) Tomino and mecha designer Mr. Junya Ishigaki said differed slightly from what I recall.

—Since it's a work from thirty years ago, there are probably parts that nobody understands correctly. So please give us your subjective impression, Mr. Inoue.

Inoue: V Gundam was impressive at creating drama. In terms of the production environment, we'd started exchanging scripts through computer communication. The Internet was taking off around that time, and it was just before the switch to Windows 95.

As for plastic models, prior to Mobile Suit Gundam F91, I'd been talking to Bandai about doing new things ever since Blue Comet SPT Layzner. So when we were wondering what to do for V Gundam, we said "Let's use as much multicolor molding as possible, so you can build it as is" and "Let's bring back a series that can be purchased for 300 yen." We wanted elementary school students to buy it.

—As a manufacturer, how was the idea of a new Gundam TV series perceived at the time?

Kishiyama: The historical background is that SD Gundam was booming, and SD was the basis for Gundam as far as kids were concerned. When they saw the real proportions, they'd say "That's so tall!" The sub and main standards had been reversed.

Even within the company, when you were responsible for the real version, it seemed like your only choice was to do your best to follow the example of the SD staff. So when I heard they were going to do a Gundam TV series again after all this time, I thought "I'm gonna make a comeback with the real version!"

Yoshikazu Komiyama (then a staffer in the Bandai Hobby Products Department) created a prototype. I think the concept that the Core Fighter should bring the head back with it, since "the Gundam's head is important because it contains the computer, so it's pointless to return without it," arose from our meetings with Mr. Inoue. This led to the Victory Gundam's Core Fighter, in which the head was stored. The prototype was put to use in the later 1/100 kit.

Winning a fanbase among children, and putting the head in the Core Fighter... and, although this was probably a little later, we also discussed incorporating ideas from the RPGs (role-playing games) that were becoming popular at the time by occasionally powering up the machine with add-on equipment.

Inoue: That's how it went. By the way, part of the reason I suggested putting the Gundam's head in the Core Fighter was actually due to my involvement with Mobile Suit Gundam F91.

The weapons built into the Gundam's Core Fighter were wasted, since they became useless after docking. But they wouldn't be so pointless if the mobile suit's head vulcans could be used as Core Fighter weapons. And what's more, creating a space within the main body to accommodate the head meant that this storage space would be empty while in mobile suit form, so couldn't we reduce waste by putting the aircraft nose in there?

A structure that took advantage of the smaller mobile suit setting

Kishiyama: I'd heard there were things called hardpoints for mounting weapons and such on the machine.

As far as the products, we did our best to somehow implement a simplified transformation at 1/100 scale, but even with the 1/60 V2 Gundam the proportions were sometimes a little, well...

Inoue: Shouldn't it have been easy, since the structure was designed to allow a certain amount of transformation from the beginning?

Kishiyama: It's quite difficult figuring out how to combine structure and strength. In the 1/60 version, when the Core Fighter was removed, the arms were attached to plates on the sides of the Top Limb. The problem was that it was hard for these thin plate parts to support the arms. We also struggled with issues like creating rotation mechanisms for the forearm parts. I even wondered whether we could make it less bulky if we created a base from photo-etched parts and glued them together.

—It's truly a story of hard struggle. Was there resistance in business terms to the fifteen-meter size of the mobile suits?

Kishiyama: There was to some extent. And moreover, the 300-yen price range we'd originally been aiming for was a result of the era of single-color molding. But by the time of V Gundam, people had started demanding color reproduction. In the 1/144 V Gundam series, the setting size of the mobile suits also allowed us to change the previous structure and specifications of the product.

One example would be the V-Frame. This was meant to reduce the number of half-and-half parts during assembly, and simplify the process by incorporating a single part that connected the movable joints between the knees and the hips. (1) Thanks to this small size we were able to try various experiments, but compared to the pattern of previous Gunpla, it was a poor imitation.

We also aimed for a realistic depiction by using clear parts for things like beam shields and beam sabers that were hard to scratch-build on an individual level.

Inoue: It wasn't really reflected in the story, but the V-Frame made it structurally possible to play around with recombination. The problem was that because it was a standard frame, they all ended up following it, and in the case of the Contio the drawing and the product unfortunately had a rather different balance of proportions.

Fukuda: My generation encountered these products a little later than real time, but when I built them myself, I thought they were revolutionary. They were purely fun to assemble.

Kishiyama: In terms of manufacturing, with V Gundam, we tried to take advantage of the small size to make them easy to assemble, and to reproduce the colors. And to make them suitable for children, we made the easily broken horns out of polyethylene. That way they'd be realistically sharp, but they wouldn't break. "We're making them small, but we're making them well," I chuckled as we were developing them. But I'm not sure that was the general reaction, and if anything, the public's evaluation was that they were disappointing.

What kind of plastic model could possibly please the customers?

—Why might that have been?

Kishiyama: It seems a lot of people said "At 500 yen for a figure this size, you can't call them cheap."

Inoue: Those kinds of complaints came up in our information gathering, but it seems they were coming from people who had really been into the previous Gunpla. Those who were actually kids at the time, like elementary school students, didn't have that background so they didn't say that sort of thing.

Kishiyama: In those days, we were trying various products to gauge the customers' reactions. But with the 1/144 Victory Gundam, although we made the beam sabers properly transparent and tried various things that we thought would be improvements over previous products, these aspects weren't appealing enough for us to think it was really great.

With the 1/100 and 1/144 Victory Gundam, we made different uses of Mr. Katoki's model sheets and the sketches used for animation. The 1/144 version was made in the image of the model sheet, and the 1/100 version was based on the animation sketches. Even with the later Mobile Fighter G Gundam, the 1/144 versions were made according to Mr. (Kunio) Okawara's drawings.

At the time of V Gundam, some people said "500 yen feels expensive for something so delicate." We thought it might feel like better value than V Gundam if they were a little more macho, so we tried to make them sturdier. In the end, the G Gundam ones did sell better, but it's hard to judge whether that was due to the products or the work itself.

Inoue: The ending of V Gundam was drawn by Mr. Hirotoshi Sano, and the bulging and narrowing of the machines' bodies was exquisite. Mr. Sano was also a main animation director on G Gundam, and his drawings were very stylish. If you could take that and make it three-dimensional, it would look so cool.

Kishiyama: The Victory Gundam in that ending really was cool...

With the 1/100 version, we played up the manufacturer's System Injection 21 technology. (2) But ultimately it seemed to be ahead of its time, and the mainstream view was still "We'll color it ourselves."

Inoue: Putting it bluntly, in some respects the enjoyment of the MSV faction who liked to tinker as they pleased was probably incompatible with that of straight-building elementary-school students.

Kishiyama: It's true that Gunpla had attracted heavy users, but now we were trying to win a new audience of children, a major theme was investigating how much we could expand the possibilities by lowering the bar to entry, and in what form that would be realized.

Inoue: The request from Bandai at the time seemed to be "Make the film however you like, and we'll decide what to turn into a product and how to do do it, so please leave that to us." The way we made it was by separating the film from the products.

Mysteries of the V Gundam series lineup

Inoue: On V Gundam, who decided what to turn into a product? Many of the mobile suits that appeared in the second half were turned into products, but almost none of the mobile suits from the first part came out.

Kishiyama: Up until the creation of the Core Fighter prototype, it was Komiyama, and then Katsumi Kawaguchi replaced him.

—At the time, the lineup was a little mysterious.

Kishiyama: It's usually a matter of choosing from the mobile suit roster, but I think Kawaguchi said something like "Let's do the Abigor, because its size will be impressive even in 1/144 scale"... I also remember him saying "The Zoloat is so cool!" (laughs)

Inoue: The Shokew showed up in episode 1 and was already gone by episode 4, but we ended up starting with the fourth episode. When they said "It's simply no match for the Victory," we understood and said "Okay, that's fine." Even if you think it looks cool when you see it in action, that only applies to customers who've been able to see the completed film.

—Nowadays, you can watch it over and over again via streaming. But at the time, even though home video was catching on, it was almost a one-in-a-million chance.

Kishiyama: I think Kawaguchi, who was responsible for the Tokyo side during V Gundam, had a lot of doubts as he was deciding on the lineup. But SD Gundam was selling well, so in any case that was the main focus. Real Gundam, on the other hand, still wasn't selling.

When the time came for the V2 Gundam's Assault and Buster versions, Kawaguchi served as the intermediary, and weapon enhancement versions of the V2 Gundam were drawn that you'd look at and say, "Oh, these are like the Three Sacred Treasures in an RPG..." (3) By the way, we never released a kit that combined the V2 Assault and the V2 Buster. Kawaguchi may have known, but I didn't realize that both could be equipped at once (the V2 Assault Buster Gundam) until I saw it on TV.

After being responsible for V Gundam and Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, I felt strongly that the site creating the film and the site making the products should be connected and communicate directly.

Inoue: I was surprised when I saw a college student who'd come with his girlfriend to the plastic model section of the now-defunct Sakuraya in Shinjuku saying, "SDs are cooler!" How times have changed, I thought. (4)

Kishiyama: It probably ended up that way, including our inability to decide what was going on with the lineup, because we were trying to differentiate it from SD Gundam.

An important series that actually led to MG

Inoue: The Master Grade (MG) project started right after V Gundam, right? With V Gundam there were various concerns about how real types should be made, so maybe it was inevitable that the MG project was launched immediately afterwards. (5)

Kishiyama: I guess at the time, real Gundam didn't have any weapons that could counter the threat of SD Gundam.

Inoue: The V Gundam team were doing Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team with the same producers, and the MG project was also progressing in parallel. (6) That was around the time I went to America to work on the Pippin, and I checked the MG prototypes there. The V Gundam plastic models may have been one of the turning points that made the MG possible.

—The real robot anime of the 80s was also created by incorporating popular trends. It seems like the period from F91 to V Gundam was a time when they were desperately trying to figure out what "real" meant in the current era, and the same was true of the Gunpla.

Kishiyama: We considered many things, and tried our best to make something good, but... Bandai often does things too early.

Fukuda: It was the dawn of the present age of Gunpla. I think if it hadn't been for that, MG and Perfect Grade (PG) wouldn't exist in their current form.

Kishiyama: And with SD Gundam at its height, we were struggling to somehow hold up our end. It also served as a trial to see how customers felt about the representation, value, and use of clear parts.

Is there still hope for V Gundam?!

—What kind of audience is buying the recent V Gundam products?

Fukuda: Naturally, there's been a good response from people who were fans at the time. Even at 1/60 scale, they thought the transformation wasn't so good, but it seems those who were waiting for a perfect version in which those issues were resolved are now satisfied. Kishiyama was in charge of the MG Victory Gundam, and I was responsible for the V2 Assault Buster Gundam, and I think that generation of past fans was pleased with them.

Kishiyama: There's a sense of "We were finally able to master it." Ever since we started the MG series, I'd been saying to Mr. Katoki that we should do the V Gundam, but he kept deflecting me. (laughs) It took almost two years to earn Mr. Katoki's approval, going through many prototype revisions and changes to the rollout plan until we were able to turn it into a product.

Fukuda: We'd kept the fans waiting a long time, so there was no point in putting it out unless we could release it as the definitive version.

—What's the current status of V Gundam as far as Bandai Spirits is concerned?

Fukuda: Compared to other series, of course it feels like the denominator is smaller. Now that we've done the V2 Assault Buster Gundam, there isn't really anything else left to add to the 1/100 scale lineup. As for the RE/100 series, for the time being we've stopped with the Gun EZ, Gun Blaster, and Shokew. The feedback we've heard from buying customers has been "Thank you, we were finally able to purchase it."

Inoue: It would be hard to do something along the lines of the theatrical edition of Mobile Suit Z Gundam, but couldn't you make some kind of short promotional video that makes the beam shield and beam rotor look cool, and then sell products released alongside it?

Kishiyama: When they saw the Gundam Mk-II doing that roundhouse kick in the Mobile Suit Z Gundam movies, people said "I have to do that with the plastic model, too!" (laughs) If they saw some kind of pinup video, people would think "Beam rotors are so cool!" In that case, even if they'd never cared about the Zolo, their perception might suddenly change and they'd think it's really cool.

Back when books like "Gundam Century" came out, people filled in the gaps with their imagination and depicted things like that, and I think those who saw it were inspired to say "Maybe so, that would be awesome." If you dug into V Gundam, there are surely a lot of things that would make you say "Was it really this amazing and cool?" But at the moment, I guess it's all buried.

Fukuda: It's just a matter of timing. The release of the RE/100 Shokew may have come at just the moment when the customers' attention was directed elsewhere. Maybe it'll come back for the thirtieth anniversary. Of course it did rack up some sales before, but depending on the timing, I think the day may come when we'll try it once again. The works that various people have created up until now are truly assets, and our business is based on making use of them.

Kishiyama: The hardest thing for us is when we're fully caught up, and nothing remains to be done. Thinking about it like that, given that there are still things left to do, there's still hope for V Gundam.

Translator's Notes

(1) Kishiyama's original phrasing here is 「モナカ割を減らし」, literally "reduce the monaka fraction." Monaka is a Japanese snack made from bean paste sandwiched between two wafers, and when applied to plastic models, it refers to parts that are assembled by fitting two matching halves together. In the 1/144 V Gundam series, parts such as the shoulders, upper arms, and thighs are generally molded as single pieces connected to the V-Frame.

(2) A technology introduced with Metal Armor Dragonar which allowed multiple colors of plastic to be combined in a single part. This was used for 1/100 scale versions of the main Gundams from Gundam F90, Gundam F91, Silhouette Formula 91, and V Gundam.

(3) The Three Sacred Treasures (三種の神器), consisting of the sword Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, the mirror Yata-no-Kagami, and the jewel Yasakani-no-Magatama, serve as the imperial regalia of Japan. Similar sets of three magical items are often featured in fiction and role-playing games.

(4) The Sakuraya chain of home electronics stores was dissolved in 2010.

(5) According to Hobby Japan's "Mobile Suit Gundam MG Data Book," Bandai officially launched its Master Grade project in September 1994, six months after the end of V Gundam's broadcast run.

(6) Both series were produced by Sunrise Studio 3. On V Gundam, Masuo Ueda served as producer, with Masato Mochizuki as assistant producer. On The 08th MS Team, Mochizuki was producer on the first five episodes, and Ueda then took over for the remainder of the series.