Yoshiyuki Tomino was born on November 5th, 1941, and since 1963 became one of the driving forces behind anime. He began his career working on the series commonly known as Astro Boy for Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Productions, but he ascended in the next decade to become one of the then fledging studio Sunrise’s main directors and writers, debuting in 1977 with Invincible Super Man Zambot 3, which contrasts hugely with the type of work he would go on to pioneer.
The beginning of Tomino’s golden age is unquestionably Mobile Suit Gundam, the series that spawned perhaps the most popular mecha franchise in anime. This series thrust anime into a new direction; no longer was it exclusively the domain of shows about all-powerful heroes and childlike bliss. Anime grew up with Gundam, and hardly any mecha show since doesn’t owe to Tomino in some respect. Tomino’s guise as “kill ‘em all Tomino” became legendary; he would send characters to their deaths with glee, and had a talent for emotional and dramatic endings. The mood of the director’s work is often related to his personal life; during times of depression his writing and directing is harsh and cruel, while happier periods see brighter titles created – observe the contrast between Victory Gundam and Turn-A Gundam, to name a notable example.
Tomino worked on four series over the six next years, perhaps most noticeable the popular “rediscovered classic” Space Runaway Ideon and Aura Battler Dunbine, released in 2004 by ADV Films. These series perhaps embody many fan’s conceptions of retro, eighties anime, managing to appear little like today’s accepted anime styles yet retaining a beauty of their own.
In 1985 Tomino returned to the world of Gundam, and for the next decade, he would have no escape from the franchise. The titles Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, Char’s Counterattack, F-91, Victory Gundam and 1999’s Turn-A Gundam were all masterminded by Tomino, although much of the franchise has been handled by other directors attempting to salvage their own vision out of Tomino’s originals, to various degrees of success. Apart from the unifying Turn-A, all Tomino’s Gundam works have been set in the Universal Century, a sci-fi world with attention to detail that few can boast. The UC has its own history, cultures, factions and technology that vibrantly complement the theme of space-age war; it’s certainly the heart of the Gundam crisis, with Tomino as its most significant creator and mover.
More recent works out of Gundam include Brain Powered (1998), a series with progressive mecha designs, and a non-traditional Tomino plot, while still retaining some of the retro charm of his older work, notably seen in the style of animation. Tomino’s latest work, Overman King Gainer (2002), received acclaim from fans of the director while forging a different path to those he had travelled down before, albeit still with the presence of mecha.
Throughout his career, Yoshiyuki Tomino has proven himself to be one of the most able, innovative and prolific directors of mecha anime, and continues to do so to this day.
The Gundam franchise will most likely always be considered Tomino’s masterpiece; hence, all titles spotlighted here are drawn from those he has worked on in the franchise. Perhaps his most famous and popular title outside of Gundam is 1980’s similarly mecha-based series, Space Runaway Ideon.
Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) launched perhaps anime’s most successful sci-fi franchise, and at the time was a revolutionary step in the evolution of anime. Gundam 0079, as it is often known, created a whole new type of anime – serious drama and action rather than cutesy, sunshine-soaked super robot shows – and is so has had a huge influence on all serious mecha anime, and to a smaller degree all serious anime, since. The series follows star Mobile Suit pilot Amuro Ray, the original civilian-thrust-into-Gundam, through the rivalries, battles and tragedy caused by war. More dubiously, the series is also responsible for the creation of the franchise’s closest thing to a mascot, the robotic Haro.
Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985) is widely regarded as a highpoint of the Gundam franchise. Darker and more complex than the original, Zeta sees the cast of 0079 fuse with new characters, with the legends Amuro and Char taking a sideline role to new hero Kamille, who this time fought against Earth-based forces, adding a new facet to the mostly two-sided conflict of the first series. Zeta achieves a blend of charming now retro visuals, slick action, intense drama, endearing characters and tragedy that few mecha series can claim to equal.
Mobile Suit Victory Gundam (1993) sees Tomino, after a few years of relative kindness, once again become a cruel master as his characters suffer in the Gundam series perhaps most deserving of the “kill ‘em all” moniker. It’s also a series Tomino now personally despises to the extent of telling consumers not to buy it. Hero Uso Evin’s relative youth contrasts starkly with the oppressive nature of the show, explained perhaps by Tomino’s depression at the time of creation. Despite the bleak nature of the show, however, Victory remains another highly enjoyable and thoughtful tale of mecha and war.
Turn A Gundam (1999), dubbed so because the Japanese name including a symbol that looked like a reversed “A,” was created to commemorate the series’ 20th anniversary, and is perhaps the most Gundam underrated series. Eschewing the deep future, sci-fi settings of prior series to create a steampunk world, replete with wholly unique mecha designs, Turn A Gundam is perhaps the last of Tomino’s Gundam masterpieces, and by no means a weak link in the franchise.
Tomino’s Works and Short Biography
Paul’s Review of Mobile Suit Gundam Movie I
Paul’s Review of Mobile Suit Gundam Movie II
Paul’s Review of Mobile Suit Gundam Movie III
Paul’s Review of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
Paul’s Review of Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack
Stuart’s Review of Mobile Suit Gundam F91
Stuart’s Review of Turn-A-Gundam
Sadly, not all of Tomino’s work is available on DVD on R1 or R2 Britain, but a significant number of titles are available, especially in the US.