Interview with Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt Author Yasuo Ohtagaki [2/3]

In this special project, we sat down with Yasuo Ohtagaki for a long interview. In Part 1, we talked with Ohtagaki about his work with Mobile Suit Gundam and how he got started with the Thunderbolt series. In this second part of the interview, we asked him about his approach to writing Gundam manga!

Comic Soon: When Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt was first serialized and the cover of Superior had a Gundam on it, I think a lot of people were surprised.

**Yasuo Ohtagaki**: I had a certain conviction when I decided to write a Gundam manga. Superior is directed at mostly 30 to 40-year-old salarymen, meaning those that were in their 30s and 40s when it was first published were the main target audience. I thought that the series could easily appeal 30 to 40 year olds now, so I was pretty confident that it would work out. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I was a bit uneasy when the time came, but in the end the reaction was quite positive.

CS: Thunderbolt is different from other manga adaptations of Gundam that tend to just “comicalize” the original anime.

**YO**: That’s right. Many Gundam manga are interesting enough for the Gundam Mania crowd, but with Superior, I knew that just would not work. People will inevitably read Gundam manga with the anime series in mind, so I thought that if I drew it like a manga from the beginning, I could counteract this tendency a bit.

CS: So you chose to express the Gundam universe through an original manga work?

**YO**: I wanted to use the techniques and style of manga and produce something that could stand on it’s own, and be read as such. Many Gundam manga are made specifically for Gundam fans, and this, I think, can unfortunately drive new readers away. Serialized manga must be accessible to anyone who choses to read them. Even first time readers are still potential fans, so when they pick up the magazine and read Thunderbolt, even if they aren’t able to grasp all aspects of the story, they should still be able to engage with the work. If they can’t, then the work itself is inadequate. I keep non-*Gundam* fans in mind always when I do my work.

CS: Do reactions from fans on sites like Twitter help you judge the general reception of your work?

**YO**: Whenever I get a message on Twitter from someone saying that they read my work, I am of course very grateful, but I think as a manga artist the best mark for determining the reception of your work is ultimately the number of separate volumes sold. I feel that there’s a limit to the number of readers you can get with a manga specifically directed at fans of the first original Gundam series. I like to think the fact that our books are selling well means that we have managed to reach a wider audience.

**CS**: So you think that there are people who read Thunderbolt not just because it’s a Gundam manga, but because it’s an interesting manga, or because it’s a Yasuo Ohtagaki manga?

**YO**: That’s right. I think fans have an expectation that the manga I write will have something different. So I try and meet this expectation, and sometimes betray it a little bit, when I work.

CS: I’d like to ask you about the visual aspects of Thunderbolt, if I may. Compared to the third Gundam film, in Thunderbolt the interpretation and expression of the Gundam mobile suits is different.

**YO**: When I was drawing as a hobby, many of my designs were based off the idea of updating and modernizing the original mobile suits, because I thought that could be interesting. With Thunderbolt, it was too important for me to approach it that way. In order to not be beaten by the other Gundam manga, I felt that I had to do more than just change the arrangement and instead go with the strongest things I could come up with. That’s why the results were so different. When I first drew the Full Armor Gundam, I thought to myself, “This is a good design!” but when thought if it being serialized and I pictured myself having to draw it every time, that scared me to death (laughs).

CS: There are actually quite a few lines in the Gundam suits, aren’t there (laughs)!

YO: There are a LOT! Sometimes I feel like I could just cry like a baby whenever I’m drawing them.

**CS**: But in terms of mecha, you had the chance to draw them white a bit in Midnight Mile, didn’t you?

**YO**: Of course I’ve gotten used to that sort of work so it’s not as hard for me anymore, but when it was first serialized, whether it was Gundam or Zaku, It was quite a bit of trouble getting a hang of the face.

**CS**: The “face”?

**YO**: A Gundam’s face in particular can change quite a bit depending on the artist and their impression. In Thunderbolt, I wanted to draw the Gundam as the villain, so I wanted to give it an intimidating and scary face. But when I think about having to draw it every time, it gets to be too much… Well, I guess I wouldn’t be doing this work if I didn’t enjoy it (laughs).

CS: When compared with other mechs, or even the Panzer from Front Mission Dog LIfe & Dog Style, don’t you think the character aspect is stronger with the Gundam mobile suits?

**YO**: It is stronger. Of course, with Gundam there is the ordnance aspect, but without the character presence they would really lose most of their charm. If you draw them as simply a tool, you’re not really giving it enough depth. I’ve felt that this is what it missing from many robot anime; they try to be realistic, but in the process end up treating them solely as objects, which I think robs them of their spirit. I think the mix of weapon and spirit within Gundam is what makes the mobile suits so fascinating, so I always try to bring out their deified and idolized mystical nature. If I don’t, I think there’s less meaning to Zaku having only one eye, or to the Gundam’s horns.

CS: Since the first Gundam series, with every new generation the balance of realism and the nature of the characters has changed, hasn’t it?

**YO**: I think one of the reasons Thunderbolt has been received so well is because there are a number of people who have become disinterested in recent anime series. I think these people have remembered how much they used to like Gundam back in the day and are now buying our books. I think that Thunderbolt could be close to the image of the old Gundam that they have in their heads.

**CS**: In actuality, the first Gundam series wasn’t necessarily all about realism. The Principality of Zeon’s mecha seem less like “real sci-fi mecha” and more like “anime villain mecha.”

YO: I think the influence from the anime mecha in series like Brave Raideen is still there. That’s one of the reasons I thought it was worth doing Thunderbolt. I enjoy drawing mecha from that time using contemporary art styles and seeing how real I can make them.

CS: When I see the mecha in Thunderbolt, I can see bits and pieces of Zeon in there, but I also get a sense of reality within the work. What do you pay attention to most in your designs?

**YO**: I do my best to not make it seem like the anime. I watch movies a lot, and there are plenty of sci-fi Hollywood movies out there. However, Hollywood sci-fi designs and Japanese anime designs aren’t particularly similar. Japanese works focus more on the design itself, while Hollywood movies tend to have practicality in mind. That’s why when I draw Thunderbolt, I adhere more to the Hollywood design aesthetic by thinking in terms of rationality and practicality, and use that to express the world of Gundam.

I think this is still a gap that separates Japanese from foreign works, but Thunderbolt is a true example of how incorporating Hollywood-style mecha designs in a Japanese manga can really set it apart. By changing the approach in this way, I realized that there’s still a lot of originality that can come out of Gundam, even now.

Source: Comic-Soon

© Sotsu Co. Ltd., Sunrise Inc.
© Sotsu Co. Ltd., Sunrise Inc.
© Sotsu Co. Ltd., Sunrise Inc.
© Sotsu Co. Ltd., Sunrise Inc.
© Sotsu Co. Ltd., Sunrise Inc.
© Sotsu Co. Ltd., Sunrise Inc.
© Sotsu Co. Ltd., Sunrise Inc.
© Sotsu Co. Ltd., Sunrise Inc.
An illustration specially drawn by Yasuo Ohtagaki © Sotsu Co. Ltd., Sunrise Inc.
An illustration specially drawn by Yasuo Ohtagaki © Sotsu Co. Ltd., Sunrise Inc.

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