Interview with Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt Author Yasuo Ohtagaki [1/3]

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt is an ambitious take on the world of popular anime Mobile Suit Gundam by Yasuo Ohtagaki, author of Moonlight Mile, a dramatic series with a story that unfolds on the surface of the moon. The well-received series featured in Big Comic Superior has been compiled into two books, and is expanding in new ways such as through the development of plastic models of the mobile suits in the series in December. We had a chance to speak with Yasuo Ohtagaki in this special three-part interview!

Comic Soon: First, I’d like to ask you about your connection with Mobile Suit Gundam. As the author of Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt, what kind of series is Mobile Suit Gundam to you?

**Yasuo Ohtagaki**: For people in my generation, Mobile Suit Gundam is like a first love, so no matter how long I live, I think I will probably continue to love Gundam. Just like with the generation after mine with Kinnikuman, or the generation after that with Pokémon, it’s a series we’ll always love.

It’s not necessarily that Gundam was the only great series out there, comparatively speaking. When you compare it to the greatest movies of all time, I’m sure there are places where it doesn’t measure up, but Mobile Suit Gundam was the first thing I watched when I started to consciously choose what I watched, so it was like my first culture shock experience.

**CS**: What about robot anime that came after Mobile Suit Gundam?

**YO**: For the so-called real robot series, I did watch all of Heavy Metal L-Gaim. I was hoping for the same kind of elation I felt when I saw the three Mobile Suit Gundam films, but it didn’t feel the same, and I felt more dissatisfied.

**CS**: So you watched the real robot anime looking for something like Gundam then?

**YO**: I think all the fans in that generation did. The generation before us who came up watching Japanese and foreign films probably wondered why we were interested in something so minor, but for adolescent junior high school students, things such as the weapon-like way the Gundams operated were really new.

CS: Among the anime of that time that had giant monsters and mecha in order to sell toys, the mobile suits were pretty original.

**YO**: Except, Gundam at that time wasn’t necessarily selling that well, so I don’t think the toy companies and TV network really had that kind of expectation. Because of that, no one was checking up on them, and they were able to do what they wanted. I think the lack of attention earned them some freedom.

**CS**: The TV broadcast of Mobile Suit Gundam was even cut short. Afterwards, Gundam models became a hit and things like realistic models incorporating the image of armored fighting vehicles and the MSV spread, which led to our current way of looking at Gundam.

**YO**: It was all the rage, so I would steal my friend’s copy of How to Build Gundam (Hobby Japan) and read it [laugh], and I would copy the examples and try to build Gundam models myself. After that, models built by fans became popular, and Bandai adapted those into products. Like with the three theatrical films, fans being able to get behind this anime that got canceled and make companies do something in a big way gave those in my generation a feeling that we can make at least a small difference in the world, and there was a big feeling of accomplishment among junior and senior high school kids at the time.

**CS**: In that sense, Stream Base’s Katsumi Kawaguchi, the Kawaguchi Meijin of Bandai, who was at the same event as you recently, was something of a hero then, I suppose.

**YO**: He was! [laugh]. He was a college student at the time, so he was kind of a slightly older brother for us. Seeing people like him going out in the world and being successful and making big changes gave me courage and made me aspire to be like them.

**CS**: Did you continue to follow Gundam after that time?

**YO**: When I moved to Tokyo at 19 and became an assistant, I took a break from anime. There was a lot of other things I had to study, so I even put my model hobby on the shelf and I didn’t touch it at all for over 10 years.

**CS**: As a manga artist who had been cut off from Gundam, what was it that “reunited” you and the series to get to the point where you were writing Thunderbolt?

**YO**: When I got my work serialized and things calmed down for me a bit, I had an assistant coming in from time to time who liked Gundam. I was surprised someone so young liked Gundam, so I asked about it, and he mentioned some title I had never heard of. Looking into it, I found out that there were OVA Gundam sequels, and so I watched Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, and I thought the quality was amazing. So then I went to a model store, and I was surprised by all the colored plastic and the fact that with poly-caps you didn’t need adhesive anymore. I was feeling nostalgic for a bit, so I would buy new Gundam models and put them together.

**CS**: Gunpla has really advanced compared to the old kits, haven’t they? Gundam pictures on Twitter have also become popular these days.

**YO**: After one to two years of being into Gunpla, eventually I joined Twitter. A lot of people were tweeting pictures they had drawn, so I thought it might be good to try it myself, but with work, I didn’t have the chance. One day, Seki (designer who works on the book design for Thunderbolt) from Volare tweeted a picture he had drawn of Char, so going along with that, I decided to upload my own Gundam picture. The reaction was incredibly positive. Seki drew another picture of Char the next day, and then I drew a Gundam picture, and we had fun doing that over and over.

**CS**: The tweets were compiled as a “Manga Artist Gundam Fest” and generated a lot of excitement.

**YO**: Manga artists don’t usually get reactions to their work in real time. Before the Personal Information Protection Act, I would get fan letters and survey responses, but the name and addresses of the readers would be redacted when there were handed to me. You couldn’t tell who the other person was at all, so it wasn’t interesting and I stopped receiving them. From there, I began to feel distanced from my readers and I couldn’t tell who was being reached with the manga that I was working so hard to produce, and it was at that time that I started Twitter.

**CS**: The fans can respond directly to you on Twitter.

**YO**: When I started, I had so many responses that I was surprised by how many fans I had, and I began wanting to do something for them. There was that, and then people were happy when I did the Gundam artwork. They were mostly just quick sketches, but I was uploading a picture a day, and then I received an offer from Superior to draw a Gundam manga... It felt like I was destined to do it, so I readily told them, “I’ll do it!”

Source: Comic Soon

© Sotsu Co. Ltd / Sunrise Inc.
© Sotsu Co. Ltd / Sunrise Inc.
© Sotsu Co. Ltd / Sunrise Inc.
© Sotsu Co. Ltd / Sunrise Inc.

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