Yoshiyuki Tomino began his career on the first anime ever, and continues to make series today. A career of over 50 years, the ‘Father of Mecha’, and creator of the ‘Real Robot’ genre, Tomino is a foundation of the anime industry.
‘Kill em All Tomino’ is famous for dark, mature, and death filled series. His script and storyboard designs set the standard for the industry that many still hold today. He would create entire sub-genres and his anime are iconic for Japan across the world. The ultimate Established Director.
Yoshiyuki Tomino attended the largest school in Japan, Nihon University, in the art department and would get a job fresh out of school working under Tezuka at Mushi Productions on the first anime.
Technically speaking, the first series in Japan to be animated in the style was a 3 minute short called Instant History, and there are other shorts predating that. The more widely known ‘first anime’ Astro Boy, is what really changed the game. Tomino would act as script and storyboard on the series to bring Tezuka’s vision to light. His knowledge of technical and sci-fi work would give the series a unique believability, and Tezuka would use him for a variety of Mushi Production shows in the 60’s.
During this time at Mushi, Tomino would work with a wide variety of the Second Generation of animators. Inspired by Animal 1, Dezaki‘s famous Ashita no Joe series would have Tomino on storyboard. Pre-Studio Ghibli, Takahata and Miyazaki would work with Tomino on Anne, Heidi, and the show that would set the frame for future Ghibli films, Future Boy Conan. Tomino would work with Sasagawa, maker of Yatterman and Gatchaman, Hata, a prolific director most famous for Finding Nemo, and Ishiguro who brought us the masterpiece Legend of the Galactic Heroes and the great series of Macross.
Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, of Space Battleship Yamato and Crusher Joe, would be a key figure in making the first Gundam series and worked directly with Tomino many times over the years. Their shared passion of sci-fi, and well researched mechanics of space, made each series impressive and inspiring.
Keisuke Fujikawa would constantly inspire Tomino through his scripts and screenplays. Fujikawa was close friends and scripter for Go Nagai, another legend of the industry, and their stories would be a mirror to Tomino’s own series. As Tomino created the ‘Real Robot’ and apocalyptic stories, Fujikawa was making ‘Super Robot’ series like Mazinger Z, Space Opera series like Queen Millennia, Galaxy Express 999, Space Battleship Yamato, and the beginning shoujo series like Cutie Honey and Aim for the Ace!
Sunrise and the Gundam Legacy
By 1971, Tezuka’s studio had gone bankrupt and the staff had spread into other places. A lot of these studios, like Kawajiri’s MadHouse, had kept the lifestyle and action series but the studio Sunrise chose to focus directly on the robot genre. With the ability to sell toys based on the series, Bandai and other toy companies would fund the studio to make the more difficult to animate Mecha series. This would become an issue at times with toy companies cutting funding or cancelling Tomino’s early series, not recognizing the genius in them.
Tomino joined Sunrise and began to storyboard, script, and direct a variety of series over the 70’s. Notably among his eary storyboard work is Brave Reideen, the first series to feature robots with souls, and Zanbot 3, a dark series that set the tone for future shows under the genre Real Robot. Tomino also worked in various capacities on:
In 1979, Tomino would create one of the most iconic series of anime with Mobile Suit Gundam. As the original creator and director, along with writing a series of manga and 3 novels based on the same story, Tomino introduced the world to Real Robot. A revolutionary Mecha show with no match in cultural impact, until Anno’s Evangelion in the 90’s. While many creators would aim to mirror Tomino’s works, Gundam has far surpassed both anime and media in general to become one of the largest franchises in history.
Making a clear distinction from the previous ‘Super Robot’ series, the story revolved around the warfare the characters were caught up in. The new story that explored politics and the sins of humanity was entirely new ground, and audiences would jump on for the ride in droves. That was after the films came out, the series actually failed and was cut short.
The designs of ships and locations were all set remarkably well and inspired by Space Battleship Yamato. The mobile suits would shift from the large robot style into a more humanoid design inspired by the 1959 Starship Troopers novel. This worked beautifully with the dark, psychological, and violent series that featured humans on both the good and bad sides of the battle fighting to win.
With a shoestring budget, the series relied heavily on Tomino’s great script and storyboard talents. This didn’t translate well to audiences at first, with it’s original run cut from 52 episodes to 39, and only tight negotiations bringing it back to 43 by the end. Luckily as the show was airing, Bandai would pick up the Gundam robots for a toy line and they exploded in popularity. The toys would fuel the funding to make a movie recap and add a proper ending that would become iconic with the wider audience. Gundam would also win the first Animage Anime Grand Prix prize in 1980.
The Gundam story has gone pretty big, with Tomino’s works mostly being the yellow line. Attempting to cover all of Tomino’s works in Gundam would take a while and require a lot of reference. With over 20 entries to the series, manga and novel prints, and a large Video Game library, Gundam is a monster of a franchise.
Here is a brief rundown of his works:
After the original series and the movie remakes, Tomino would make the direct sequel. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam’s attention turned from the war and politics to the more personal aspects. Often mentioned as the ‘dark and gritty’ era of Gundam and one of the franchise’s best series. For the 25th Anniversary, the series was made HD and put into 3 films.
Tomino went into a heavy depression after Zeta and his following series ZZ would be a big step down in quality. The trend would continue through 3 more series and quite a few shows outside of Gundam as well.
A few years later, with a fresh mind, Tomino would channel his best Sato impression. Turn A Gundam would take a big shift away from the war and politics of previous series, and would connect all the disconnected stories of Gundam into one century. With a new ‘Happy Tomino’ style of story, the series takes a much lighter tone and the characters are allowed a slower pacing to really flesh out.
He still makes new entries to the Gundam franchise, the 2014 Gundam: G no Reconguista being the latest entry. More importantly, his scads of students are making their own versions with SEED, Stardust, 00, and a variety of others to explore. So next time you have a year or two set aside, try and catch em all!
Tomino’s second major series would follow the Gundam standard of being cancelled early and then remade into films. The Ideon: A Contract and The Ideon: Be Invoked would re-tell the story and add a new ending, but the original series would be even more influencial than Gundam.
The series would be a space opera detailing the horrors of war and humanity’s flaws. Considered to be the prototype of the modern dark and twisted science fiction anime such as the above-mentioned Neon Genesis Evangelion, Akira and Tomino’s own bleak Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. Ideon featured art and storyboard design that broke new ground, but its brutal and twisted violence would be the true legacy and earned the director his moniker of ‘Kill em All Tomino’.
“By directing combat and war pieces, I could experience catharsis and successfully avoid committing a murder in real life. In this sense, I’m really grateful for that because I was conscious that I had such homicidal traits, to be honest.”
His career would continue to drive the sci-fi genre through his non-Gundam series. Some of these are big failures, some are quiet cult classics, but each attempts to break new boundries in anime.
Blue Gale Xabungle would be one of the first ‘Western Sci-fi’ that would give us series like Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebop. Tomino would adapt his own novel, The Wings of Rean, into the fantastic Aura Battler Dunbine and the disappointing Wings of Rean. He also would make the absolutely horrid Garzey’s Wing.
Then came the notable series Brain Powered, which featured Tomino’s later style based around light hearted entertainment and serious issues. The show was a mess with bad animation and complaints of Tomino’s lack of focus. Yoko Kanno, longtime musical wonder woman to the industry, would complain about Tomino being very unspecific and talking a lot about ‘agelessness’ with no real vision of what that was.
Adding to that was Tomino’s open disagreement with another major Mecha series airing at the time. Hideaki Anno was making an homage and reconstruction of Ideon’s style, into Neon Genesis Evangelion. Many people compared the series, and Tomino would point out that he thought shows should be entertaining above all else. Tomino was not a fan of Anno’s direction apparently.
So I was very upset when I saw Evangelion, because it was apparent to me that the people who made it weren’t thinking at all about making fun for or gaining the sympathy of the audience. Instead they tried to convince the audience to admit that everybody is sick, practically in the middle of a nervous breakdown, all the time. I don’t think you should show things like that to everybody. It’s not entertainment for the masses–it’s much more interested in admitting that we’re all depressed nervous wrecks, I thought. It was a work that told people it was okay to be depressed, and it accepted the psychological state that said if you don’t like the way the world works, then it’s okay to just pick up a gun and attack someone. I don’t think that’s a real work of art. When people see that, they begin to realize they are the same way. I think that we should try to show people how to live healthier, fuller lives, to foster their identity as a part of their community, and to encourage them to work happily until they die. I can’t accept any work that doesn’t say that.
— Yoshiyuki Tomino, about his thoughts on Evangelion
I equate this mostly to ‘old grumpy director’ syndrome, the kind that often hits Miyazaki, but Tomino would follow up on the statement with a big shift in tone, breaking from the death heavy series. He would make Space Castaways Vifam based around a group of children. It still maintained the dark and adult themes, but the story focused a lot more on the characters. This followed into Heavy Metal L-Gaim, that tried to be more Space Opera than Mecha, and the fun times of Overman King Gainer.
Tomino would also direct the live action film Japan Sinks in 2006, and made one of the best natural disaster scenes ever.
Yoshiyuki Tomino’s series have become iconic for not just anime but Japan in general. His development of the Real Robot style, dark themes, and expanding sci-fi, has branded much of anime’s styles and reputation world wide. With a wide library to choose from, Tomino has had many successes and failures, but his title as Father of Mecha and the influence he’s pushed over the decades has earned him the last spot on our Established Director section.