One can spend hours analyzing all the various things Yoshiyuki Tomino may or may not have said or done, but I’m going to focus on just one in this post. This is a rumor that used to be widespread in the English-speaking fandom but has since died down in recent years. It’s always been something that’s annoyed me, so I’m here to stomp it to the ground.
RUMOR: Tomino originally intended for Loran Cehack, the protagonist of Turn A Gundam, to be a girl but Sunrise/Bandai didn’t let it happen. What resulted was Tomino acting in “backlash” and having Loran cross-dress on multiple occasions. Some characters in the show even consistently refer to him by his female persona “Laura Rolla”.
Okay, so as far as I am aware this has only ever been speculation. I feel that if there was any backing evidence to this claim, it would’ve been brought up in some capacity by now, especially with the advent of major fansites like Tominosuki and Japanese subject-matter experts on Twitter and other outlets. The idea of Tomino “lashing out” due to corporate meddling is nothing new (see: Zeta Gundam, Victory Gundam), but Turn A Gundam‘s existence is almost entirely an antithesis to that. Now, I won’t deny the possibility that Tomino at one point may have expressed some desire to create a show with a female protagonist and was shot down, but that doesn’t necessitate any connection to Turn A.
The speculation stems from the opinion or idea that it simply “makes sense” – that Loran is more effeminate than the usual Gundam protagonist, that “Laura Rolla” is very attractive as a female character design, and that the story would’ve still flowed well had Loran been a girl. Now, I don’t necessarily disagree with any of that. Personally I’d have liked Loran to to be a girl; IMO not much of the story or Loran’s character would need to be altered if so. But the “should’ve” or “could’ve” are irrelevant here – there is little substantial proof that it was ever a thing, outside of hearsay and wish-fulfillment.
I’m going to go into some detail disclaiming this rumor with some facts and drawing-of-threads:
1. Turn A Gundam‘s character designs are by Akira Yasuda (“Akiman”) of CAPCOM fame. The earliest archived concept art of Loran actually has him appearing more masculine than that of his final design. This is the easiest and quickest way to debunk the “Loran as a girl” theory, because if anything it reverses the story of the rumor mill.
Early concept designs of Loran (source: “Yasuda Akira ∀ Gundam Designs”). During initial drafts, Akiman was asked to have the characters dressed in modern-day clothing. This was later changed as the setting was revised.
To add to this, Akiman has shared many drawings from various production materials on Twitter, in artbooks, and other outlets – not a single one of them depict Loran as female, aside from the obvious Laura Rolla sketches. Which leads me to my next point…
2. AFAIK, none of the staff — producers, scriptwriters, designers, seiyuu, etc. — have ever mentioned that Loran was originally intended to be a girl. Now, it’s certainly possible that they were simply not privy to this knowledge, but I feel like that’d be all too coincidental. Cursory searches of Tominosuki, JP wikis, and other sites yield no results either. And not once is the topic addressed in the recent Turn A Gundam blu-ray audio commentaries, which feature important staff like Romi Park (Loran’s seiyuu) and Akiman (the character designer), and even some producers and scriptwriters. And just to clear it up: Romi Park was not selected as Loran’s seiyuu because they intended for Loran to be female. She was chosen long after his character design had been finalized; in fact, she initially auditioned for the roles of Dianna and Kihel! Maybe it’s just me, but 15 years after the show’s ended and no one has bothered to address this topic? Not even Akiman, one of the biggest Tomino fanboys to exist? Hmm.
3. The idea of the protagonist cross-dressing is nothing new to Tomino’s anime. In episode 40 of ZZ Gundam, Judau cross-dresses to disguise his way into a perverted colony leader’s abode. Hilarity ensues. I feel that there is a bit of a ZZ Gundam retread in Turn A, more so than one would initially think. Obviously the show heavily references Universal Century Gundams as a whole, but some smaller facets from ZZ are distinctly brought to light. Aside from the cross-dressing bit, the Kapool makes a return; a unit only prominently featured in a single episode in ZZ. In Turn A, the Kapool is one of the most widespread mobile suits among the Earth Militia, and one of the main characters–Sochie–pilots one. Its marine capabilities are also slowly discovered and utilized to great effect. One could also draw comparisons between ZZ’s Moon-Moon arc and Turn A’s Manuipich arc in the themes it covers; in a twist of fate, the fandom generally sees both arcs as low points in their respective shows. If you examine the show from this angle, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say the cross-dressing aspect just another pronounced ZZ retread.
Left: Judau dressed as a girl, Right: the Kapool as it appears in ZZ ep 24.
4. Loran simply is different from the usual Gundam protagonist. I wrote a blog post surface-analyzing his role as a protagonist, which goes into some detail. He’s not brash, outspoken or outwardly, and he’s certainly not the stoic, serious-business type. He’s naive, innocent, honorable and less “manly” than the precedent, and frankly I don’t see anything wrong with that. Tomino plays around with this set of character traits and throws in cross-dressing as a running gag. It’s introduced as a tool to advance Guin’s political agenda, and it sticks around due to all the chaos and confusion inherent to the plot.
5. Lastly, themes of dual identity are important and stressed on in Turn A Gundam (Loran <-> Laura, Dianna <-> Kihel, Turn A <-> White Doll).
I think a big reason this rumor took off is due to the advent of the household internet. Online anime communities were young and impressionable in the early 2000s. Imageboards (4chan) and message boards allowed information to take off and circulate around easily. Citing sources was less of a concern to many people, because finding and searching through reputable resources was a lot harder than it is now. And it was a rumor that “felt right”; it was easy to see it fit the eccentric character known as Yoshiyuki Tomino.
And this is just one of many.