Turn A Gundam (1999-2000) was a TV anime produced by Sunrise that commemorated the Gundam franchise’s 20th anniversary. It marked the return of franchise creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, who had been absent since 1993’s Victory Gundam, as chief director. It is my favorite anime.
If you’re interested in reading quick production history and notes, I suggest this storify that I put together a while back.
Turn A Gundam is special to me. I’ve seen it many times, with my first watch being in 2008. I grew up in the late-90s/early-00s Toonami era, so my first exposure to Gundam was with Gundam Wing, which I absolutely loved at the time. Years later I would watch Gundam SEED, and that was a series that I unhealthily obsessed over. However, it wasn’t until 2007’s Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann that I truly gained the desire to seek out and learn more about mecha anime and anime in general. I began playing Super Robot Wars Alpha 3 and browsing 4chan. Both were instrumental in introducing me to several classics I had never even heard of. This eventually led me down the path of tackling the Gundam franchise’s illustrious Universal Century (I had previously only seen the original Mobile Suit Gundam) and other Alternate Universe series. I watched the MSG trilogy, 0080, 0083, Zeta, ZZ, CCA, F91, Victory, G (re), and X all very quickly. Turn A had been introduced to me as the “best” Gundam that you could “only watch after you’d seen all the rest” (a sentiment I do not share, by the way), so I was fixated on doing it the “proper” way. Around this time, Gundam 00 had begun airing so I was also busy watching that. It wasn’t until after 00‘s first season finished that I finally watched Turn A Gundam, and I loved it.
The remainder of this post is not a review, nor is it an attempt to get somebody to watch Turn A by listing everything I find good about it. There are already plenty of articles out there that do this reasonably well. In this post I simply aim to discuss why Turn A Gundam is special to me and why I’m passionate about it.
YOSHIYUKI TOMINO. I like Tomino’s works. Always have, even before I’d watched Turn A, but I’d say it’s Turn A that has kept me a dedicated fan. I really like the themes and messages Tomino conveys or attempts to convey in his anime. The theme of human innovation and prosperity; the theme of breaking through the shackles limiting society’s growth and evolution; the theme of breaking free from the endless cycle of war and death; the idea of breaking free from society’s conservatism and unwillingness to change (“those damn adults!”); etc. I also like his focus on space, space exploration, and his suggestion that the human race must eventually leave the Earth if it plans to survive–a thought shared by many scientists in the real-world. These messages resonate particularly well in anime like Mobile Suit Gundam, Ideon, and Turn A Gundam. For example, Turn A Gundam posits the idea of a “dark history” to link all Gundam series before it into a singular timeline: it is an incredibly powerful vehicle used to express humanity’s unending cycle of warfare, and it uses this vehicle to advocate a message of peace.
Tomino’s anime are usually ripe with his unique directing style and quirkiness. They’re not for everyone, and in fact many of his anime I would say are unquestionably bad. He’s also hard-headed and often demands too much control in the anime production process, which can lead to devastating results. I view Tomino as a master of idea and inspiration; his directing and storyboarding range from masterful to bad, and his scriptwriting is hard to defend at times. In Turn A Gundam, Tomino boldly chose to distance himself from main scriptwriting duties, and instead brought on several writers he had had success with in the past–a move I think was critical.
THE MOON. I’ve always felt a special connection to the Moon. It plays an important role in my religion and culture (it has historical significance in many Middle Eastern and Asian cultures). I grew up learning about the lunar calendar and the phases of the Moon. Many holidays and festivals were also decided by Moon-sightings. “Did you see the Moon?”; “I didn’t but I hear so-and-so did since the sky is clearer over there.” These type of conversations were not uncommon to me growing up. In addition to this, my Mom, who’s the youngest of 7, grew up being called the “Moon Child” (tl.) by her parents. It was a nickname given to her because she was born not long before the Apollo 11 Moon landing. So the Moon’s a celestial body I’ve always had a bit of a relationship with. And as an amateur astronomer, it’s an important object to keep track of — where’s the Moon going to be in the night sky? On any given astronomically-clear night, is the Moon out? What phase is it in? These are critical bits of info to gather since moonlight affects astronomical seeing ability. And of course, you certainly should know where the Moon is if you plan on observing it itself.
I really like how Turn A Gundam uses the Moon. It introduces a race of humans who’ve been living on the Moon for thousands of years (the Moonrace) and even postulates the idea of a Moon-based monarchy, featuring a queen. There’s also reason to believe Turn A draws some influence from the ancient Japanese monogatari, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. This is a story I have more recently been enamored by, after having watched Studio Ghibli’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya a few years back. In Turn A Gundam, folklore pertaining to the Moon is commonplace, and halfway into the show the Earth militia even plans a trip to the Moon–for some characters this is actually a return trip back home. To top it all off, one of the repeating songs and motifs in the show is titled “Moon”. I feel that all of this focus on the Moon is presented in a beautiful and even near-romanticized manner. Turn A feels so Moon.
LORAN CEHACK & DIANNA SOREIL. I love the entire cast of Turn A Gundam, and I could talk about them all day. No, really, characters like Sochie, Kihel, and Harry are amazing and worth fanboying over. But it’s Loran and Dianna who have had the longest-lasting affect on me. I really value Loran in the sphere of Gundam protagonists: he’s just such an exemplary person. He displays unparalleled loyalty towards his ladies (the Heims) and to his nation’s leader (Dianna Soreil), almost to the point of unhealthy dedication and self-sacrifice. He also serves as a “bridge” to the conflict between the Earthers and Moonrace; he’s a Moonrace fighting on the side of the Earth and advocates pro-peace and a non-violent resolution to the war. Loran’s not what I would call a true “pacifist”, but in the context of Gundam I’d say he’s the closest thing to one that actually makes sense. He’s not against fighting and hurting others if need be to solve conflicts: Loran probably kills and he knows it, but a big deal isn’t made about the fact. He wasn’t forced into conflict, rather he chooses to continue fighting to realize his and Queen Dianna’s goal of coexistence. I also view Loran as a “point-of-view” character rather than the focus character, and I think this actually helps elevate his value and likability as a protagonist. Read more on that here.
And that brings me to Dianna. Let me preface by saying that I actually like the idea of a “peace princess” in Gundam and other mecha anime. The unfortunate thing is usually these characters are not written well–Dianna Soreil, I think, being a notable exception. To be fair, Dianna’s a little different from the norm: she’s maturer (being an actual monarch and leader), a lot less naive, and her character is not bogged down by any forced romance story with the protagonist. Loran and Dianna’s relationship is marked by mutual respect; Loran admires and reveres his Queen, and Dianna respects Loran’s good will and dedication to his cause. You can interpret Turn A‘s epilogue however you like, but I think this general relationship maintains itself for the course of the show. Dianna’s her own self and displays confidence based on her own merits as a compassionate leader and person in power. She’s wise, beautiful, elegant and revered by her people, yet she’s also caring and curious and truly seeks to find common ground between both sides of the conflict. In a way, she too serves as a “bridge”. I think she’s a well-written character; the show takes a slow-and-steady approach at developing her and having her go through many experiences to mature her as a leader. It helps that Dianna’s the center-of-attention; she’s obviously not the main character but the story does revolve around her.
THE CHARACTER & MECHA DESIGN. I grew up playing lots of CAPCOM fighting games with my older brother. Games like Street Fighter II, Street Fighter Alpha, Marvel vs. Capcom, Capcom vs. SNK, Street Fighter III, etc. So Yasuda Akira’s (akiman) designs are something I’ve always been familiar with, whether it be cognizantly or not. He’s always been “the Street Fighter guy” to me. Turn A Gundam having character designs by akiman is something I actually hadn’t noticed until after I watched the show, so it was a bit of a “holy shit no way” moment for me. Anyhow, since then I’ve gone on to being a bit of an akiman fanboy. I like his sketchbook-like style and the darker colors he usually employs. No doubt nostalgia blinds me a little, but I feel that his style has aged well into modern media as well. His mecha designs are great too–the G-Self from Gundam Reconguista in G is an awesome design. I had the opportunity to meet akiman at Anime Expo 2016 and had him draw me a sketch of Dianna Soreil. One of the best days of my year.
I’m not a Syd Mead fanboy. Obviously I respect his clout and skill, but I haven’t gone out of my way to study his brand of visual futurism in great detail. That said, I really like the idea of Tomino bringing in foreign talent to work on mecha design. Tomino and his team went out of their way to secure his services and made sure he was treated properly and had all the pertinent info needed to design to his heart. Tomino specifically even asked Mead to design as if he was working on a Hollywood film production; Mead had a lot of freedom and final say. It was a wise decision–Turn A Gundam deals with the far future, so a mainstream visual futurist on mecha design is apt. It also gives Turn A a special flavor of uniqueness. It’s clear that this isn’t the usual Gundam anime, and the mecha designs really drive that home. It’s always confused me why so many people in the fandom (Japanese and Western) appear to dislike the Turn A’s design. Yes, it’s different, but, so? Isn’t that kind of the point? Personally, I like the Turn A, it’s my favorite Gundam design, though I mostly credit that to my love of the show than anything else!
THE MUSIC. I have a lot of respect for Yoko Kanno. She’s a composer who has demonstrated a mastery of many different styles of music, and I find that impressive. In particular, I like her thematic work in 90s anime. Kanno’s music feels very in-tune with the world and environments she composes for; she’s traveled the world and has had many experiences and this undoubtedly translates over to her music. She’s known to be a creative and imaginative mind, and it was her phenomenal work in Macross Plus that put her on the map. In Turn A Gundam, Kanno displays a mastery of motif-building, repetition, and emotional power in that repetition. This is expressed through the track “Moon” (which is composed and sung by Yoko Kanno herself!); there are many renditions of the theme, including the final ED “Tsuki no Mayu”. Turn A‘s music in general is super thematic, ethereal, and simply just beautiful. Tracks like “Heavy Mechanics”, “Days”, “Air Plant”, all evoke an intense sense of nostalgia and emotion to me. It’s implied in this interview that Yoko Kanno basically spent all of Brain Powerd figuring out how Tomino operates as a director and thinker, until it finally clicked and she was able to express herself in Turn A Gundam and answer Tomino’s calls. And I think it shows. Turn A‘s music is sophisticated and one with the show – “two in one and one in two”, if you will. I simply cannot imagine Turn A Gundam without Yoko Kanno’s soundtrack.
From August 28th, 2016 to March 12, 2017 I co-hosted a Turn A Gundam “groupwatch” on Twitter (#TurnAgw) which was met with modest exposure and success. The format was simple: every Sunday at 1PM PST those participating would begin watching and livetweeting about the episodes allotted for that day. It was an informal process – you watched at your own pace; participants were encouraged to tweet their thoughts and opinions and pictures and discuss together using the hashtag #TurnAgw. With the growing popularity of anime “groupwatches” on Twitter in the last few years, this is something I had thought about hosting for a while. I’m glad I did in the end, because it was a lot of fun. And it was this groupwatch that inspired me finally write this post.
I hope you enjoyed reading this. Turn A Gundam is my favorite anime and probably my favorite piece of fiction. I’m extremely passionate about it, if that much isn’t already obvious!
Most of my Turn A Gundam collection. Missing a book or two and some unbuilt gunpla.