Ultimate Mark

Production Reference:
Mobile Suit Z Gundam Hand Book
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Translator's Note: Tokuma Shoten's pocket-sized Mobile Suit Z Gundam Hand Book series, released under Animage's "AM JuJu" label, has a long and complicated history. Each volume in the series covers roughly a dozen episodes of Mobile Suit Z Gundam, with the usual assortment of story summary, character and mecha images, and setting material. The first two volumes were released in 1985 while the TV series was still on the air, but the final two weren't published until 1994 and 1995, around the time the series was released on laser disc.

All four Hand Book volumes were republished in 2009, following the release of the Z Gundam Blu-ray memorial box. This time, each volume included a lengthy "special interview" with a member of the TV series staff. I'm still in the process of tracking these down, but for now, here's are the interview with scriptwriter Akinori Endo from volume 3, courtesy of images provided by ZeonicScans, and the interview with producer Kenji Uchida from volume 4.

The following text is copyright © Sotsu • Sunrise.

From Z Gundam Hand Book 3

Text: Shinsuke Nakajima

"It's an important work which taught me the fun of anime."

—Mr. Endo, you joined Z Gundam in the middle. How did that come about?

Endo: I'd debuted as a pro scriptwriter the previous year, on Sunrise's Super Robo Galatt. But the series was canceled in the middle, and after that I'd been spending my time writing proposals. Meanwhile, Z Gundam had begun, and since they'd started running short on writers along the way, they gave me an interview just in case. That was the first time I ever met Mr. Kenji Uchida, who was the producer at the time.

I'm going back a little, but unlike now, in those days there weren't many people who wanted to become writers of anime scripts. I myself initially aimed to do live-action dramas. Since I was a student, I'd made up my mind to become a writer, and I'd been studying at a vocational school. (1) I was fortunate enough to win a competition with one of the scripts I wrote while I was in school, and my desire grew even stronger and stronger.

But the world isn't nice enough to let you go pro right away simply because you've won a prize. This was just before we entered the bubble era, and it was a seller's market, the opposite of today's so-called Employment Ice Age. At a time like that, a jobless person trying to become a scriptwriter would be treated like a freak by the people around them. But thanks to that competition, I was recommended for a backstage job handling equipment like cranes on film shoots.

Then, when we were shooting a promotional film for Mr. Makoto Tezuka, his producer asked me, "You don't seem like you belong on a set. What are you doing?" When I told him, "I'm studying film sets because I want to become a scriptwriter," he said he had an acquaintance who was an anime producer, and he introduced me in turn. This was Mr. Masuo Ueda (now managing director of Aniplex), who was said at the time to be the youngest producer in Japan, and was then working on Galatt.

—That feels like something of a fateful encounter.

Endo: Since Galatt began its broadcast in the autumn, about half a year after I graduated from university, looking back on it I guess I really was fortunate. (2) Maybe it was coincidence, but that sequence of events led to me getting a job at Sunrise. Of course I already knew about the work called Mobile Suit Gundam, because it had become a hit while I was at university, but I wasn't particularly a fan of anime, so I didn't have much background knowledge.

This is another old story, but when I was at university, I was working part-time at a cafe as well as being active in a film club. The cafe owner's son was around kindergarten age, and one day he was building a plastic model of a red robot. I asked, "What is it?" and he replied, "Char's Zaku. After this, I'm going to go see it in a movie." I wondered, "Char's Zaku? What's that?" I had absolutely no idea what it was. That's how much awareness I had at the time.

By the way, I have one more funny story. When I was in school, I took the civil service exam, thinking "I'll really be in trouble if I can't get a job." But the day before, for some reason, I'd been building a Gunpla myself. (laughs) I'd never been interested in building plastic models, and even now I'm not sure what my motivation was, but I wasn't going to pass the exam doing that. The ultimate result was that, as one thing led to another, I ended up writing scripts for the sequel Z Gundam. That must have been fate as well.

—What was your first interview with Producer Uchida like?

Endo: I don't remember the exact details very well, but I'd been hearing since I came to Sunrise that Director Tomino was an amazing person, so at the end I tried asking him, "What's Director Tomino like?" Thinking back on it now, it seemed Mr. Uchida had a little trouble deciding how to reply, but he answered something like "There are various kinds of anime director, but he's one of the archetypes." Later, when I met the director in person, I think I somehow understood what he meant.

—When you first met Director Tomino, what were your impressions?

Endo: My very first impression was that he was extremely shy. As we worked together afterwards, I also saw some of the tougher aspects that people talk about, but that basic impression remains strong even now.

—How did the actual scripting work proceed?

Endo: I started with episode 17, "Hong Kong City," and I began writing after thoroughly reading the previous scripts written by other people, Director Tomino's liner notes (story plan) on which they were based, the proposal, and so forth, as well as watching it on the air and studying the setting.

As for the work process, first I'd meet with Director Tomino and hear his explanation of the episodes I was doing in the liner notes. Then I'd create a plot and write the first draft. If there were no problems with the completed script, the director would make his corrections and additions, then send it to the episode director. That process remained unchanged throughout the second half of the series, all the way until the end.

However, I was still a rookie in the second year since my debut, so I was just writing what the director told me to. On my second episode, "Cinderella Four" (episode 19), the first draft was really bad and I remember getting a terrible scolding from the director. Aside from that, I've never really experienced Director Tomino's anger in person, but he said "Go rewrite it" and "I'm asking you to do this because I think you can write." So I thought I had to make up for it properly.

In the end, the second draft of episode 19 received the OK, but I was too scared to ask the director about the results directly. At the time, picking up the manuscripts was the role of Mr. Shinji Takamatsu, so I was relieved when he later told me "It's okay, because you wrote as hard as you could." (3)

—So what was wrong with that script?

Endo: In short, I hadn't grasped the character of Four Murasame. But when I watched the actual filmed episode, I honestly enjoyed it even though I wrote the story myself, and I felt it clearly displayed the power of the episode director. "Cinderella Four" was directed by Mr. Junichi Sato under an alias, and it's my favorite episode of Z Gundam not because it was my script, but because it made me aware of just what an anime episode director does.

—In the second half, you alternated the writing with Ms. Yumiko Suzuki. How did you divide up the work?

Endo: Basically, we just rotated the writing duties in alternation, but when the story involved connected first and second parts, they'd both be written by the same person. That's why I wrote the last two episodes of Z Gundam, while Ms. Suzuki wrote the first episode of the sequel Gundam ZZ which continued the story. It was all according to the work shifts.

—Was there anything you wrote as a result of discussions with Ms. Suzuki?

Endo: We were both present at the same meetings, but I have no recollection of the two of us directly discussing remedial measures with each other. Looking back on it now, it might have been better if we'd been able to get an overview of the entire series that way, but there was no time for that since we were always rushing to meet the schedule. And at the time, what Director Tomino said was absolute. (laughs)

On the following Gundam ZZ, when the director planned to kill the hero's sister (Leina), we objected and said "That wouldn't be good." (4) As a result of our discussions, he rewrote the liner notes to make the ending brighter, but on Z Gundam we weren't yet capable of such resistance methods.

One thing I clearly remember Director Tomino saying about scripting was, "Writing an entire series by yourself is very hard. The fatigue builds up out of sight." In the case of live action, a year's worth of episodes for something like a taiga drama is often written by a single writer, and that's my personal ideal. (5) But animation is subdivided into parts like storyboards, animation drawing, and backgrounds, which all progress in parallel, so physical and time issues can become a bottleneck.

However, in my later experience of doing series structure for video works and so forth, I realized that it was possible to write while considering the entire story on my own, so it certainly wasn't a mistaken methodology. If we'd made it that way, we might have been able to create a very different Z Gundam. Director Tomino said, "I could have decided the story all the way to the end in my liner notes, but I didn't do that. I want to incorporate feedback reactions from the staff and viewers as we make it." But as far as the schedule permitted, Director Tomino probably had an overview of the entire story in mind as he was making it.

When Mr. Tomino writes a script, he doesn't follow a strict format such as a certain number of manuscript pages. Thanks to that, I ended up adopting that style as well. (laughs) Depending on the production company, they may specify an exact writing format or number of pages. I can't say whether that's better or worse, but I prefer Director Tomino's way of doing it. He likes to make the length and quantity of script, storyboards, and animation as large as possible, then figure it out by cutting (editing).

I once had a chance to observe him actually doing the cutting, and he was really working like a filmmaker, deliberately cutting all the footage we'd gone to the effort of shooting. He tried to stick with that despite the tight schedule. Thinking back on how Director Tomino worked, I'm reminded once again that I myself was better suited to the job of scriptwriting, creating a work in dialogue with other talented people like a catcher in a game of baseball.

—So, what did Z Gundam mean to you as a work?

Endo: It's certainly been an asset. I'm currently responsible for creating the manga The Last Days of the Pax Tokugawana: Team Medaka in "Monthly Shonen Magazine," and that work taught me the basic attitude that led to what I'm doing now. (6)

Translator's Notes

(1) Endo majored in psychology at Kyoto's prestigious Doshisha University. Given the timing, I think this "vocational school" may be a different institution he attended afterwards.

(2) Super Robo Galatt debuted in October 1984, and ended at the beginning of April 1985, about a month after the broadcast of Z Gundam began. Endo is credited as scriptwriter on four of its 25 episodes.

(3) When Endo tells this same story in "Z Gundam Historica," he presents this as Takamatsu quoting Tomino's response.

(4) Endo doesn't clearly indicate whether this was a joint objection by himself and Suzuki, or just his own resistance. But from the context, I'm guessing this is meant to be an example of scriptwriter teamwork.

(5) Taiga drama (大河ドラマ) is NHK's term for its annual historical drama series, in which each story runs for a full year. This is virtually a genre in its own right, but here Endo seems to be referring to the specific production circumstances of the NHK series.

(6) This is the English version of the manga title as printed on the covers of the collected volumes. The first part is an elaborate expression of the Japanese term 幕末 (Bakumatsu), with "Pax Tokugawana" presumably being a play on the Latin term "Pax Romana."

From Z Gundam Hand Book 4

Text: Shinsuke Nakajima

"All the staff at the time became my comrades in arms."

—Mr. Uchida, how did you come to participate in this work?

Uchida: I'd previously been working at Sunrise as a production assistant, and Z Gundam was the first work I was ever responsible for as a producer. I was 30 years old. Before that, I'd been involved with a series of Director Tomino's works, from Blue Gale Xabungle and Aura Battler Dunbine to Heavy Metal L-Gaim.

The orders "Next time, you'll be producing" and "The content is a sequel to Gundam" came from the company simultaneously. So I'd suddenly be experiencing the hardship of creating a sequel to a work (First Gundam) which had created a tremendous movement, and the hardship of working as a producer, both at the same time. Of course, the honest truth is that at the time I was so busy with work that I didn't even have time to realize how difficult it was.

—What was your impression when you first heard they were making a sequel to Mobile Suit Gundam?

Uchida: I joined the project at a very early stage, when planning was just beginning, so my first impression was fresh surprise at the fact that the story was set seven years after First Gundam, and that the main characters were being replaced. I said, "Oh, so this is another way of doing it?" At the time, once a TV series had finished its broadcast run, nobody would ever have imagined creating a Part 2. So rather than a sequel, it felt like "We're making Gundam all over again."

—How enthusiastic was Director Tomino at the time?

Uchida: Director Tomino always thinks of the works that he's created as something that he himself should surpass, and he's someone who takes on new challenges with every work. After Gundam, though everything from Space Runaway Ideon to L-Gaim shared the same "robot" keyword, he continued taking on the challenge of creating original TV series with different points of view. That still hasn't changed, but that feeling was even stronger at the time of Z Gundam.

When it was decided that a Gundam sequel would be made due to Sunrise's business situation, I imagine the director had mixed feelings. In a sense, it was a job that would limit his own future possibilities. But once he'd taken it on, he wanted to make something different from the previous work, and because he wanted to make something more than that, I felt a kind of determination from him that "I have to undertake this."

—What does the job of a producer actually involve?

Uchida: The first job of a producer is to establish a production system that makes it easy for the director to create the work. In that sense, thanks to my long association with Director Tomino, to a certain extent I already knew what he wanted. So I started with the selection of the main staff for each part.

—The episode directors, scriptwriters, and animation staff for each episode were mostly young people in their twenties, right?

Uchida: At an early stage, the request from Director Tomino was, "I'd like to work with young people. I want to prepare a new generation of staff." Since this was my first year as a producer, I thought I'd be able to work with the veterans who made First Gundam like Mr Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, Mr Kunio Okawara, and Mr. Hiroyuki Hoshiyama, so I was a little disappointed. (laughs)

However, through the preceding works, Sunrise had been able to cultivate young episode directors like Mr. Yasuhiro Imagawa (all of whom have now gone independent and become acclaimed directors), and new talents like Mr. Hiroyuki Kitazume had also emerged. With them as a core, I then made my choices by relying on recommendations from reliable people, and working from instinct based on my own experience.

Of this younger generation of staff, my impression was that many of them were actively intrigued by the idea of making a sequel to Gundam. First they had to meet Mr. Tomino's demands, which was a high bar. (laughs) But they'd accumulated a certain amount of experience on previous works, and now they must have been exhilarated that they could take on the challenge of Gundam for themselves.

—At the stage where you were picking people, what was the biggest difficulty?

Uchida: In the case of the art director, for example, the important thing was whether or not they could express an SF worldview with a space setting. So I met in person with people we thought could do that, going to visit about 20 different art companies. I looked at their background art from previous works, made copies for use as reference, and at my own discretion I also had them draw pictures of space colonies as a test. In the same way, I used my own judgment with the scriptwriters, and finally decided on those where I felt "This is the person." The hard part was the mecha design.

At the time, the environment wasn't subdivided as it is now into main mecha, guest mecha, and props like vehicles and firearms, each with their own specialized designers. In most cases, the rule was that a single designer would design virtually all the mecha for an individual series, and it was Mr. Okawara who handed this enormous task during First Gundam.

This time, however, Mr. Okawara wouldn't be completely responsible for the mechanical design the way that Mr. Yasuhiko was for character design. I began by searching for new mecha designers, and we ended up with the young Mr. Kazumi Fujita designing based on Mr. Okawara's plans. In a Gundam series, it's an absolute necessity to have lots of mobile suits appear throughout the story, and in Z Gundam we'd also added the major concept of mobile suit transformation. Naturally, we were also getting requests for products from the sponsor Bandai, so the burden of meeting all these demands would be too much for a single designer. As a result, we ended up having a variety of people participate.

—Is that why so many different types of colorful and uniquely shaped mobile suit appeared?

Uchida: In fact, at the time I also approached Mr. Masamune Shirow, who is now famous for Ghost in the Shell. (1) He could draw really natural-looking transformations, and his designs were attractive, so I thought he would be perfect. But he was still teaching art at a high school in Osaka, so unfortunately this never came to pass.

Anyway, there were very few specialized designers within the anime industry, so I sought a variety of creators outside it. When it came to transformation, I asked people, including students and amateurs, to each come up with a quota of dozens of transformation gimmicks. Given all this, the difficulty was no more than I expected, so at the time it didn't feel excessively hard.

I have one more thing to say about the mecha. From that time onward, the idea began to appear that you could conceive of mobile suits in terms of weapons theory. But Director Tomino didn't want to lock the mobile suits into that kind of mundane system, and it seems he had a strong desire to take it further.

Besides, looking at Director Tomino's works, I never thought the mecha were the focus. Though it's called robot anime, the individual characters embody various elements like the relationship between men and women, good and evil, politics, and the future. They're depicted dramatically, like in an opera, and his consistent approach is to use the mobile suits for that purpose. Thus, even if the director didn't say so explicitly, the staff understood that when a character appeared who was more powerful than the hero, the mobile suit they rode should also have an appropriate style.

—Looking at the list of broadcast credits, the scripts for the second half of the series were written by Mr. Meigo Endo and Ms. Yumiko Suzuki in alternation.(2) Was there some reason for this?

Uchida: At first, Director Tomino created something like a series structure under his pen name Minoru Yokitani, but that doesn't mean the story was originally fixed all the way to the end. Of course he must have had some assumptions as a director, but first and foremost, Director Tomino is the type of dramatist who values the feeling of a live performance. So once the series begins and the characters and drama get moving, he looks at the reaction as he decides the subsequent developments.

With Z Gundam in particular, more than ever before, he seemed to be very consciously using that feeling, drawing out the power of the young staff who gave form to their own self-expression and training them as they made it. So as he was talking to the scriptwriters and episode directors, he'd sometimes see a sketch drawn by Mr. Kitazume, say "Oh, that's good," and incorporate that into the character along the way. He was creating without deciding too much in advance. (3) But since it was a long series broadcast over the course of a year, there was some confusion among the writers responsible for each episode, and the plans they had in mind couldn't be reconciled with those of the director. Sometimes I'd intervene to coordinate between them, but ultimately some of them ended up dropping out.

In that sense, I'm still grateful to Mr. Endo and Ms. Suzuki for hanging in there until the end. Since I was also young, I think of all the staff at the time, including them and Mr. Kitazume, as my comrades in arms.

—Looking at the recently released Blu-rays, I was surprised at how carefully the characters and backgrounds were drawn, right down to the finest details.

Uchida: As a producer, I wasn't actually aiming for such high quality at the time. The kind of "package business" we have now, where as soon as a TV series ends they release DVDs and Blu-rays and sell it overseas, didn't yet exist in that era. But the staff worked hard of their own accord. Perhaps they were raising the bar for themselves, but the storyboards and key frames they drew were unusually elaborate, and in fact I sometimes had to put on the brakes.

Anyway, they all worked with a strong determination to create a work that could hold its own against First Gundam. As a result, I think they produced spectacular visuals that still hold up even in the digital era twenty years later. I'm delighted that so many people can once again discover the appeal of the work called Z Gundam thanks to the Blu-rays, and to books like this one.

Translator's Notes

(1) At the time, Shirow was probably best known for his manga Black Magic. The more famous Appleseed and Dominion weren't published until 1985.

(2) Akinori Endo was then known as Meigo Endo.

(3) I was tempted to interpret the Japanese phrasing here, あまり先を决め込まないで作っていった, as "He was making it up as he went along." But I don't want to put words in Uchida's mouth...