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

We present a Comic Soon New Spring Special, a long interview with Yasuo Ohtagaki. In this final installment, Ohtagaki is asked about the works that influenced the visual elements of his work, writing Thunderbolt, future projects.

Comic Soon: You’ve drawn some stunning sci-fi visuals not only in Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt, but also in Moonlight Mile. Are there any works that have influenced your design sense?

**Yasuo Ohtagaki**: I’ve seen 2001: A Space Odyssey numerous times. I spent quite a bit of time studying the designs in that film. Then, in the ‘80s there were also the designs of Syd Mead. Since I was in that generation, I ordered Blade Runner and 2010 books from overseas and studied them.

CS: Strangely, Syd Mead came to do Gundam designs later on...

**YO**: Incorporating Syd Mead’s streamlined industrial designs into the myth-like world of Gundam seemed like mixing oil and water to me, so I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but from a design standpoint, I think it was wonderful. The fact that even if you analyze it to that degree, it still looks like Gundam shows that he has an amazing design sense.

**CS**: I think in some respects, designing for Turn A Gundam was something that couldn’t be done by someone who liked Gundam too much.

**YO**: It takes courage to destroy it. But, if your affection is too strong, you’ll always end up trying to protect it, so I think you have to learn from example. Doing that will just result in a rehash. You have to get rid of some part of it and build something new in its place or there is no point drawing in this day and age. As I continue my manga series, I’m always thinking about what parts of Gundam should be destroyed.

**CS**: Aside from director Tomino 1, you don’t hear many people involved with Gundam talking about “destroying Gundam.”

**YO**: I’m humbled [laugh]. I think in that sense Thunderbolt started off in a very fortunate position. Just as the lack of attention given the first Gundam TV series allowed it some freedom, my Gundam series is on a unique platform with Shogakukan’s Superior, so it’s not as tied down. In the beginning, I told them that I wanted to be able to work freely, even if that meant it wasn’t part of the Gundam canon, and they told me I could do what I want. However, that makes it difficult to adapt into anime and Gundam models... I suppose [laugh].

CS: So it wasn’t that they approached you and said, “Do it at this point in the Universal Century calendar.”

**YO**: It’s a bit off from the so-called “correct history,” but I did that on purpose [laugh]. I started off on the sidelines without much attention, which actually allowed some freedom as I wrote and I didn’t have to defend myself, so I decided to change what I wanted, and I think it was good that I could start that way. Being in that position is similar to how it was for the first Gundam, so I’ve been happy with it.

**CS**: Of course, the mobile suits from Thunderbolt were finally made into plastic models in December.

**YO**: That turned out alright in the end, and I was really grateful. Having come this far, I want to see how big it can go. There is of course fan support, but I wonder how long the people who have been reading from the very beginning will continue to hang on. Manga will always be more of a young person’s arena, so something in a magazine for older readers isn’t going to turn into much of a movement. Even if it were made into a drama or something similar, there wouldn’t be many people watching it with a sense of closeness like, “This is our series.” But, I think there may be people in their 30s and 40s who appreciate Thunderbolt as being something of their generation.

**CS**: In speaking with you, it seems that idea of “generational series” has been something of a key concept. What would you say is the manga of the young generation today?

**YO**: When I read Attack on Titan, I thought, “Those Titans, they’re killing my generation.” So when I see someone in my generation enjoying it, I’m like, “That’s us they’re killing!” [laugh] So I’m like, “I hate Attack on Titan and I won’t let it defeat me!”

**CS**: Young fans of Attack on Titan are very passionate about it.

**YO**: I think when we were young, we were just as passionate. Looking at it from my generation, the amazing response can seem surprising... But, I think there’s a repetition where, when we were young, the older generation felt the same way about Gundam. When they take down the Titans, they strike them from behind in the spinal cord, right? I think, “Not from behind!” My perspective is different, and at this age, I can’t imitate young people to make a series. My time to draw manga out of a sexual or destructive impulse has passed. For me, I had a point where I was driven to write Moonlight Mile when I was in my 30s, so after that had passed, when I thought about what to base my next manga on, I decided to base it on myself and see to what extent I could use all that I had gained in my many years on Earth.

CS: Is that why Thunderbolt mostly revolves around an adult, while many of the Gundam TV series have had teenage protagonists?

**YO**: That was because I wanted to go and do away with some of what was standard in the anime. I thought, why do they have to be 15? Why is it necessary to tell a story about youthful righteousness? When I was thinking about what do away with, I decided to first turn some of the standard aspects on their head, but still stay true to the basic themes and messages from Mobile Suit Gundam.

**CS**: The way you draw the Federation and Zeon troops is also flatter than in the TV series.

**YO**: In anime, the side the protagonist is on always ends up looking like the side that’s in the right. But both the Federation and Zeon are just countries, so it shouldn’t be about wrong and right. I don’t think there’s any point in inserting your ideologies in a manga. For people with normal lives, nations and wars are the ultimate kind of violence, and I want to draw the best ways to handle being in a war in order to survive.

So I’m not anti-war either. Wars will continue to happen, and I don’t think we’ll ever be rid of them, so the most important thing is to know how to handle them. But there aren’t that many people in Japan who think about things in that way. It’s correct to say that you’re anti-war or that there shouldn’t be war, so if you look at things as though war is inevitable, people think that you’re pro-war and you’re a bad person. But I think that’s a very narrow way of thinking, and it actually shows a lack of historical knowledge.

**CS**: On the Internet, there are a lot of people who see the differences more clearly than in current issues around the world and who say one is good and one is bad.

**YO**: However, most of the readers in their 30s and 40s have gained at least some knowledge of history and social issues. I think whether or not Thunderbolt seems realistic in terms of people’s common sense is important. The Gundam TV series are targeted mainly at junior and senior high school students, but because mine is aimed at adults who have some more experience and knowledge, I’m writing a universe that they will find realistic, and I think that’s something unique to Thunderbolt.

CS: One of the reasons that the first Gundam was a departure from the robot anime of the time was that both the Federation and Zeon were shown to have a cause.

**YO**: The battle between the Federation and Zeon was a battle between democracy and a dictatorship, but I don’t think there is that much difference between the two. When someone says that democracy is wonderful or that an authoritarian government is better, what criteria are they using? There’s an Arab quote that goes “A dictator is better than no government at all.” It changes depending on the circumstances, and right now, as I’m able to draw this manga, I feel that though the Japanese government right now is not perfect, it’s still great. I’d like to hope that in 100 or 200 years, society will continue to improve.

^1^ Yoshiyuki Tomino. Japanese animation director, actor and screenwriter. Worked as the general director for the celebrated first installment of the Gundam series, Mobile Suit Gundam (1979).

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.

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