From the Archives: Yasuhiro Imagawa Visits America

From the Archives header
From the Archives header

From the Archives is a deep dive into MAHQ’s history that revisits some old content that still has historical value.

For this inaugural edition of “From the Archives,” I decided to bring back an old feature from 2002 documenting several appearances director Yasuhiro Imagawa made in the U.S. in 2002 to help promote the Toonami airing of Mobile Fighter G Gundam. Reproduced below is the August 15, 2002, report originally compiled by me, Dale Rausch and late contributor Sam Baker.

On August 6th and 8th, Yasuhiro Imagawa delivered lectures on anime in Addison, Texas, as well as in Miami, Florida. What follows is a report on the lecture, as well as the question and answer sessions from Texas and Miami. For the Miami appearance, Imagawa delivered his lecture in a conference room at Florida International University. After being introduced by an official from Japan’s Consul General office, Imagawa opened the discussion by joking that he wanted to buy Star Trek toys in America, but they were too expensive. Imagawa began his lecture by discussing the differences between commercial anime, which is used to sell products, and noncommercial anime, which is not. He then mentioned he was surprised that Gundam Wing did better here than the original series, and that the original series was canceled. He hopes that everyone watches G Gundam so that it doesn’t get canceled like the original series. For the discussion on G Gundam, Imagawa began by showing some clips from the series. First up was a textless version of the show’s second opening sequence.

Yasuhiro Imagawa

Imagawa then went on to say how Mobile Suit Gundam revolutionized the robot anime genre. He said that as a child, there was something he found wrong with super robot shows, and he said that was the monster-of-the-week storylines. He said that super robot shows were just half hour commercials for the sponsors to sell toys, but Gundam changed all that. He said that the show’s military robots added a sense of realism to a genre that was dominated by invincible super robots. He also said that the show’s serious story added drama and a love story, which allowed the series to crossover and become something for adults as well as children. He also mentioned that the Gundam model kits were sought for their militarism and customized by fans to create new variations. He said that the high sales of model kits allowed for more creativity and less interference from sponsors. However, the way Gundam was created changed in the early ’90s. Apparently, model kit sales decreased in the second half of the runs of Gundam ZZ and Victory Gundam. Bandai, having acquired Sunrise, decided that it was time to either reinvent Gundam or simply put an end to the franchise. They decided on creating a new universe with lots of Gundams instead of one or two, and thus was born G Gundam.

Some clips were shown of episode 25, along with a customized narration by Master Asia’s voice actor (no subtitles though). The audience laughed hysterically at more ridiculous suits like the Nether Gundam and Viking Gundam, but they paid close attention to more serious clips of the God Gundam fighting the Zeus Gundam and Cobra Gundam. Imagawa said that he really liked the militaristic tone of the original series and Zeta Gundam, and he was shocked that Bandai told him he couldn’t do a series like that when he came aboard the project. He said he was shocked when he was told about the Gundam Fight and the customized national Gundams like the Shining Gundam, Gundam Maxter and Gundam Rose. He also said that at this early point the story was merely about the Gundam Fight, so he created the Devil Gundam story and the conspiracy around it to add more depth. He joked that when the show first began airing, he feared obsessive Gundam fans would stab him in the back of a dark alley for what he had done. The show was a hit in ratings and model sales, especially with kids who weren’t even alive when the original series aired and knew nothing about Gundam. Despite its popularity, much of the staff was discontent and left early on. Also, Imagawa said he was at odds with Bandai on the Gundam designs. They wanted designs that could easily be made into toys and objected to designs like the cloak on the Master Gundam. Imagawa insisted on the design, and the Master Gundam became one of the biggest selling kits. Also, the high kit sales prompted the creation of the God Gundam and Rising Gundam in the second half of the series. In closing, Imagawa said he was surprised that more than eight years later G Gundam‘s models were still popular.

Imagawa next moved on to discuss his 1987-89 TV series, Mr. Ajikko. The TV series was a manga adaptation and followed the adventures of a genius boy chef who competed in cooking contests with master chefs. Surprisingly, Imagawa said that the show was the inspiration for the live action cooking show Iron Chef, which became a hit in both Japan and America. Imagawa then showed nearly ten minutes of clips (no subtitles) from Mr. Ajikko, and the crowd laughed hysterically at the ridiculousness of them. The clips ranged from the opening sequence to parts of the first episode, as well as clips from later on in the series. He said that the show was originally meant to run a standard 26 episodes, but because it was so popular it eventually ended up running a full 100 episodes before ending. He said that he was hesitant to direct a manga adaptation, but he was allowed to add many things that weren’t in the manga. Normally, he said, manga artists don’t like anyone to change what they have created in any way. Imagawa then moved on to discuss another series he is well known for, the OVA Giant Robo. He began by showing a few clips, which were dubbed in English. He said that Giant Robo was a difficult series to work on and took ten years to complete. He said that he was told to make a series totally different from the manga, and he wasn’t allowed to use any characters from the manga. He compensated for this by adding characters from different manga series made by the same artist as Giant Robo. He noted that for a giant robot anime it had lots of martial arts and was more of a hit in America than it was in Japan.

Imagawa then said that over the year anime sponsorship has changed with the advent of Pay-Per-View. He said that there was a scramble for new content and it was quite hectic. He said that before, videos and toys were a byproduct of a series, but now series were being created to sell videos and toys. He also said that many copycats show up when something is popular, i.e. shows with maids. He said that he would rather create things that people imitate instead of him being the imitator. He then moved on to his 2002 series Seven of Seven, which recently finished airing in Japan. He showed clips from the series, including the opening sequence and bits of the first episode. The show revolves around a girl named Nana, who has split and has six personality clones of herself. Nana is an average student trying to get into the same school as the smart boy she is attracted to, but her other selves cause trouble constantly. Imagawa said he created this show because kids in Japan are changing. He said that in Japan there is intense pressure to follow the fads and do what the majority does, so he wanted kids to see that it is good to be different and have different qualities. He finished up by saying that he hoped the show would sell better in America than it did in Japan.

After the two hour lecture ended, Imagawa answered a few questions. The first question concerned his involvement in Berserk. He said that he was involved very early on only as a story consultant, but the producers kept his name on the show. Chris asked if there was a negative reaction to G Gundam in Japan, and if that changed over time. He said that the reaction was quite negative, and that many sponsors and fans refused to acknowledge it as a Gundam series. Despite that anger, the show was still a success. Someone else asked if it was possible for a foreigner to break into the anime industry, and he said it was, but that most of the foreigners were Koreans. He said that Americans worked on Giant Robo, but generally that’s not the case since American and Japanese animation had different foundations.

The next question was about what anime/manga inspired him, and Imagawa answered that he was influenced by Tetsujin 28, Tom & Jerry and many old Hanna-Barbera shows. He also cited an old anime about kids with whales who ride the whales to travel into a dream world. He said that there are many types of anime aside from giant robots, and a lot of the stuff he makes is stupid. Another person asked what series he thought brought about the most significant changes in anime. Imagawa answered that for his generation it was Mobile Suit Gundam and Space Battleship Yamato. Finally, someone else asked if he knew anything about a new Berserk anime, and Imagawa said he didn’t know about it. Another fan hijacked the question and gave an answer, and the session ended. Afterwards, Imagawa moved to a table for autographs, and he autographed a Shining Gundam MSiA toy for Chris.

Yasuhiro Imagawa

The lecture in Addison, Texas, was nearly identical to the Miami one, so here’s what was asked during the question and answer session, as noted by Sam:

An audience member asked if the English used by Stalker (the announcer) in the second episode was a reference to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and surprisingly, Imagawa confirmed this, saying that he was a big fan of the cult film, and would think of some of his ideas during the late Saturday showings. I personally was able to ask a question about why he was chosen for the direction of G Gundam. According to Imagawa, it was because Tomino wanted someone who would do something very strange and bizarre, and that it could possibly be really amazing in the process. He was very thankful to Tomino for giving him the opportunity to create a Gundam series and be part of its history. After this, he began an autographing session outside where I was able to get my Episode Guide Vol.4 (which covers G Gundam) signed, as well as a signed postcard of G Gundam. Overall, it was a great little event, and hopefully his wishes that G Gundam will be successful in America will come true.


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