The following is a record of the planning and development of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series. I've done my best to organize key events and production materials in chronological order, drawing mainly on these sources:
I've tried to limit this account to facts confirmed either by original documents or multiple sources, so I generally haven't cited sources for individual details. One of the most complete accounts comes from Masao Iizuka of the Sunrise planning office, in Yosensha's "Gundam Age":
For more insight into the origins of Gundam, I recommend the 2019 NHK documentary "Making Gundam: The Inside Story" (available on YouTube) and the English release of Hideki Ohwada's manga "The Men Who Created Gundam" (Denpa Books, 2022).
☆ Click the image thumbnails below to see them at full size! ☆
Nippon Sunrise's Studio 1 during the production of Mobile Suit Gundam, as depicted by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko and published in "Mobile Suit Gundam Complete Works 5." Featured here are:
Planning for the animated television series that would ultimately become Mobile Suit Gundam began around March or April of 1978. Super Machine Zambot 3, the first original series by the animation studio Nippon Sunrise, had just ended its broadcast run, and the followup series The Unchallengeable Daitarn 3 was soon to debut. This new series would be Sunrise's third original creation.
Unlike the "super robot" titles Zambot 3 and Daitarn 3, the new series was intended to be a more serious science fiction drama that could compete against the acclaimed Space Battleship Yamato. While the heroes of Yamato were adults in a military setting, Sunrise's new series would focus on boys and girls caught up in a space war, using Jules Verne's novel "Two Years' Vacation" as its inspiration. The story began taking shape under the working title Freedom Fighter.
At this stage, the project was guided by Sunrise planning division manager Eiji Yamaura, Masao Iizuka of the Sunrise planning office, and scriptwriter Hiroyuki Hoshiyama. Incidentally, the pen name "Hajime Yatate"—credited as co-creator of Mobile Suit Gundam and other Sunrise works—served to represent the collective contribution of Yamaura and the rest of the planning office.
Over the summer more creators joined the planning meetings, including Yoshiyuki Tomino, the director of Zambot 3 and Daitarn 3, and character designer and animation director Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. In an interview in the 1998 "Mobile Suit Gundam Memorial Box Part-1," Yasuhiko recalls:
Gundam wasn't something that was brought to me, but something launched from scratch with Mr. Tomino and Mr. Yamaura, who was the planning division manager at the time. It was the result of us all lounging around in the planning office—so it was called, but it was more like a six-mat room in an apartment—and sharing various ideas as we attempted to make an animation like nothing that had come before.
It was Tomino who eventually organized their discussions into a memo, more than 30 pages long, which became the first version of the series proposal.
Summer 1978 Sunrise planning meeting, as recalled by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Yasuhiko is at lower right, and director Yoshiyuki Tomino at top left. I believe the figure at center right is Eiji Yamaura, and the pair at lower left may be scriptwriters Hiroyuki Hoshiyama and Kenichi Matsuzaki. (Thanks to Evie for the latter identification!)
This illustration appears in the Yasuhiko interview collection "My Back Pages," released in 2020 by Ohta Publishing.
Yasuhiko, incidentally, participated under a very specific condition. The Japanese job title usually translated as "animation director" is actually more of a supervisory role, which consists largely of correcting drawings by the rest of the animation staff. This time, Yasuhiko requested the English term "animation director" to reflect the larger creative role he intended to play. In his 2020 interview collection "My Back Pages," Yasuhiko recalls:
On Gundam, I made it clear at the very beginning that I wouldn't do it if I were only the animation supervisor (作画監督, sakuga kantoku). I'd previously directed episodes, and on Yamato I was also doing written setting, so I impudently declared that I'd no longer simply do the work of fixing the drawings. When we were wondering what to call this job, since I'd still actually be drawing pictures, I suggested "animation director" (アニメーションディレクター).
I think this wasn't really the first time I'd suggested the term "animation director." When the theatrical version of Space Battleship Yamato was being launched, the question arose of how to handle Mr. Noboru Ishiguro, who directed the TV series episodes. As we were working with Toei on the theatrical version, a new film director, Mr. Toshio Masuda, became involved. At that point the relationship between Mr. Leiji Matsumoto and Yoshinobu Nishizaki was getting pretty bad, and Nishizaki thought, "Since we also have (Toei's) Tomoharu Katsumata, we don't need Ishiguro, who's part of the Matsumoto clique."
I then said, "Mr. Ishiguro is someone who understands animation, and it's thanks to him that the TV series went so well, so we absolutely need him." In that case, Nishizaki said, "We've already chosen an animation supervisor, so what do we do with Ishiguro?" On a whim, I suggested "animation director." I said I wanted to put him in a position like the hisha-kaku role in shogi, where he could speak out and involve himself in various ways.
So on Gundam, I sought the position of "animation director" so I'd be involved in a way that let me intervene a little more in the overall work. This doesn't mean I couldn't share my opinions about the work even as an animation supervisor, but I wanted a stronger guarantee of my right to speak up. Of course, I'd still be taking the lead on fixing drawings and producing artwork, but I also wanted this kind of permission to exceed my authority.
In the anime industry, the director (監督, kantoku) is called a "chief director." I felt the term "animation director" conveyed the image of a kind of utility player underneath the chief director. But it wasn't like that once production began. The stories that were being created in script form were all really interesting, so ultimately I decided that wasn't my role, and my responsibilities would be limited to simply supervising the drawing.
At this point, a couple of different options were being considered for the mechanical design. One was Studio Nue, later known for Super Dimension Fortress Macross, and the other was freelancer Kunio Okawara, formerly of Tatsunoko Production. Both are listed in a September 8 series proposal, but ultimately the job was entrusted to Okawara alone.
In the meantime, Okawara was commissioned to design the heroes' mothership Freedom Fortress, which was based on an unused design from Daitarn 3, and the fighting vehicles Freedom Wing and Freedom Cruiser.
Around the end of August 1978, the project underwent an abrupt change of direction. Its main sponsor, the toy company Clover, felt that the Freedom Fortress had poor sales potential. (The company president reportedly called the ship a "wooden horse," giving the future White Base its nickname.) Clover requested that Sunrise add robots to its new series for merchandising purposes.
In the name of science fiction realism, Sunrise decided that these robots would fight with beam guns rather than rocket punches. From the concept of a gun-wielding robot operated by children, the project gained the new working title Gunboy. This new name was reflected in a Tomino memo titled "Gunboy Approach," dated August 28, 1978.
Gunboy planning materials by Yoshiyuki Tomino. The date of the robot sketch is unknown, but is presumably early in this stage of the project, as elements of this design can be seen in the early Gunboy designs below.
Left to right: Tomino's file folder, "Gunboy Approach," robot concept sketch.
Around the same time, Yasuhiko created a first round of rough character designs. Although the character names would undergo many further changes, most of the familiar Gundam heroes were essentially complete at this point.
Early character designs by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Note that the heroine Shima Hachijo will later be cut from the lineup, and that the enemy Zeon are at this point extraterrestrial aliens rather than human space colonists.
Left to right: Shintaro Hanabusa, Mirai Kitaru, Raizo Fuwa, Akira Kidomaru.
Left to right: Shima Hachijo, Ryu Mizuta, Azuma Hongo, Gerber & Gundry.
In early September, Tomino completed a project proposal under the working title Space Combat Team Gunboy. This proposal includes a detailed introduction to the story, set in the year 2XXX on the colony world of "New Earth" in a distant star system, and descriptions of the major characters and the main mecha. A full translation of this document can be found at Zeonic|Scanlations:
Some sources, such as "Gundam Archive," claim that this proposal was completed in November 1978. However, the original document appears onscreen in NHK's documentary, and we can see the date stamp "7898."
September 8, 1978
Space Combat Team Gunboy proposal by Yoshiyuki Tomino.
(As reproduced in "Gundam Archive.")
Images of original proposal documents from NHK's "Making Gundam: The Inside Story."
At the suggestion of science-fiction author Haruka Takachiho of Studio Nue, the staff looked to Robert A. Heinlein's 1959 novel "Starship Troopers" for inspiration in making their robots more realistic. Working from Heinlein's concept of Mobile Infantry wearing powered armor suits, they proceeded with the idea that these robots might be only 2.5 or 3 meters tall.
It seems to have been around this point that Kunio Okawara was selected as the sole mechanical designer, largely on the recommendation of character designer and animation director Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. In a 2015 interview with The Sankei News, Yasuhiko says:
This has been discussed in various places, but Studio Nue (an SF planning and production studio that participated in works such as Space Battleship Yamato and Super Dimension Fortress Macross) had created illustrations for "Starship Troopers," by (American SF author) Robert A. Heinlein. (SF author) Haruka Takachiho, who at the time was representing Studio Nue, recommended that we read it, and told us "there are also these kinds of concepts." Along with a plan by Yoshiyuki Tomino (the chief director), the planning of Mobile Suit Gundam proceeded with this as reference.
The natural flow would thus have been for Nue to do the mecha design. But at the time, as someone who was making the drawings, I said "I'd like to deliberately place the order somewhere other than Nue." TV anime should be about something, and it becomes awkward if you bring in too much logic. I'd had that kind of experience many times with Nue, and I was afraid it would be exhausting.
At that point, the only other place doing mecha design was "Mechaman" (a design studio established by Mr. Okawara and Mr. Mitsuki Nakamura). That's how Mr. Okawara came to participate. I'm still friends with Haruka Takachiho, but I think I did an injustice to Nue. Ultimately, though, I feel it was the right decision. As an animator, nothing beats a simple design. Compared to the many lines of Nue's designs, Mr. Okawara's designs had a simpler image, so I was pleased when we settled on Mr. Okawara.
Though both Okawara and Yasuhiko submitted designs inspired by the powered suit concept, none of their initial ideas were deemed suitable for the main hero. In a 2019 interview with Oricon News, Okawara recalls:
Regarding the Gundam's design, the animation director, Mr. (Yoshikazu) Yasuhiko, first proposed a robot inspired by the powered suits that appeared in Robert A. Heinlein's SF novel "Starship Troopers." The design I came up with was based on a space suit, but neither of them were suitable for the main robot. So I made Mr. Yasuhiko's draft the Guncannon, and proposed a robot with a "samurai" motif which became the first draft of the Gundam. Mr. Yasuhiko cleaned it up to create the current Gundam.
As the sponsor requested a team of three robots, Yasuhiko's design was adopted as a supporting member. While earlier "super robot" works such as Getter Robo featured robots specialized for environments such as ground, sea, and air, the Gunboy staff envisioned a team of robots designed for different combat ranges, with a long-range tank type completing the lineup. (For some further discussion of this, see this typically superb Kunio Okawara profile by Ollie Barder.)
Early robot designs by Kunio Okawara and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Yasuhiko's contribution, at top right, is inspired by the "Starship Troopers" illustrations of Studio Nue's Kazutaka Miyatake and Naoyuki Kato and dated September 21, 1978.
Left to right: Gunboy, Assault Type Mobile Infantry, Heavy Artillery Type Mobile Infantry (by Yasuhiko).
Left to right: Heavy Armor Type Mobile Infantry, Heavy Artillery Type Mobile Infantry.
With the robot lineup expanding, the Freedom Wing and Freedom Cruiser—developed for the earlier Freedom Fighter story, and retained in Tomino's Gunboy proposal—were refashioned into support vehicles. The Freedom Wing would ultimately become the Core Fighter escape capsule, while the Freedom Cruiser evolved into the transport aircraft Gunperry.
While the heroic robots and vehicles required commercial evaluation and approval from the sponsor, there were no plans to merchandise the enemy mecha, and so Okawara was able to design these with relative freedom. His only constraint was a request from Tomino that the enemy robots have a single eye, which is the subject of a truly impressive investigation by Sean Moran-Richards.
The idea of the robots as small powered suits was never depicted in the design drawings, so it's hard to say exactly when this was under consideration. In any case, the idea was eventually rejected on the grounds that big, powerful robots would be more appealing to children. The final size of the Gunboy was established as 18 meters, identical to the classic super robot Mazinger Z. In an interview in "Mobile Suit Gundam Memorial Box Part-1," Tomino recalls:
When it came to my proposed height of 20 meters, it was Mr. Yamaura rather than the sponsor side who asked whether we really needed to do this. Surely if it were bigger it would seem more impressive, and thus be easier to merchandise. I remember an extended exchange of views in which we were asked to make it a little bigger. To make it easier for Mr. Yamaura to explain this to the sponsors, I prepared a comparison chart to a human being to show how big it would be if it were 20 meters.
This decision created a new problem. At the time, much of the story was meant to take place in space stations, which would be too small for such large robots. The huge space colonies recently proposed by American physicist Gerard K. O'Neill—which were to become an unforgettable icon of the Gundam series—were adopted purely to provide an environment large enough for 18-meter robots to battle in.
Gunboy, Guncannon, and Freedom Cruiser designs by Kunio Okawara. The robot designs date from October. The Freedom Cruiser design, which shows all three robots packed into the same compartment, may reflect the concept of small powered suits. According to "Gundam Archive" this was drawn in November 1978, but it's almost identical to the September version above and the robots match the October versions, so it's possible the November date is incorrect.
By October, the designs for the main robots were almost finalized. Working closely with the sponsor, Okawara began designing extra weapons for the toy versions. The fact that they all shared the same transforming cockpit block meant that their upper and lower bodies could be swapped around for added play value.
Gunboy, Guncannon, and Guntank toy designs by Kunio Okawara. The captions, which use the final "Gundam" name, were presumably added at a later date.
(Courtesy of ZeonicScans.)
At this stage, the color schemes under consideration were mostly classic "super robot" patterns made up of primary colors and metallic silver.
Color designs for Gunboy and Guncannon. The Gunboy is now armed with beam swords inspired by the light sabers of "Star Wars," and the second version adds a head camera meant to evoke a samurai's "chonmage" topknot.
Meanwhile, the story and world setting were also close to their final form. In an October 10 memo, Tomino rejected the original idea of humans versus aliens—partly because it was thematically inappropriate, and partly because there were already too many alien invasion stories. Instead of aliens fighting over a distant planet, the enemy became humans living in space colonies around the Earth.
A November 5 planning memo reproduced in the "World of Yoshiyuki Tomino" exhibition catalog includes many familiar elements of the final Gundam setting. A partial translation of this document can be found at Zeonic|Scanlations:
This memo includes details of the space colonies, the idea of including "espers" in the story, and early drafts of the chronology leading up to the main story. The story itself is now set in the year 2066.
November 5, 1978
Gunboy planning memo by Yoshiyuki Tomino.
Left to right: Title page, "Considerations on introduction of espers," conceptual diagram.
Left to right: Story chronology, Side 7 setting, character comparison chart (stars indicate esper characters).
Though their names were revised from one draft to another, the original cast of heroes were largely unchanged.
Refined character designs by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Based on their names, these seem to have been completed between the November 5 planning memo and the December 25 naming memo. Though Shima Hachjio made it to this stage in the process, there are no subsequent mentions of the character.
Left to right: Bright Noa, Mirai Eiland, Ryu Kyotai.
Left to right: Hayate Subayashi, Shiden Kai, Shima Hachijo.
Meanwhile, new characters were being added to the cast. Fraw Bow and a trio of war orphans were now part of the heroic crew, as was the mysterious Asiria Mass, the disguised daughter of Zeon Zum Deikun. The enemy Zeons were led by the tyrannical Zabi family, and their forces included a masked ace named Char, modeled on the charismatic Prince Sharkin from 1975's Brave Raideen—an early Sunrise co-production on which both Tomino and Yasuhiko had worked.
Rough character designs by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. The Char sketch was completed in November, and based on their names, the others seem to date from the same time period.
Left to right: Fraw Bow, Katz, Letz, Kikka.
Left to right: Asiria Mass, Lieutenant Char, Gihren Zabi.
By December, the project had undergone yet another name change, this one inspired by the 1978 American movie "Convoy." This involved a slight change to the Japanese spelling—from ガンボーイ to ガンボイ—and consequently I've spelled it here as Mobile Steel Man Gunvoy. The change was reflected in Tomino's updated setting notes, drafted on November 14 under the Gunboy name and then revised on December 1 to reflect the new title.
December 1, 1978
Gunvoy setting notes by Yoshiyuki Tomino.
Left to right: Title page, series information, history and space colony setting.
Left to right: Space colony location setting, Zeon attack, Gunvoy and Pegasus crew information.
Left to right: Minovsky particle, beam cannon, and learning computer setting.
The main robots were also receiving their finishing touches. Yasuhiko gave the former Gunboy (and future Gundam) an impassive mask instead of a humanoid "super robot" face, and established its distinctive color scheme by adding the obligatory red, blue, and yellow tricolors to a white base. In an interview in "Mobile Suit Gundam Memorial Box Part-1," Tomino recalls:
I wanted to differentiate this from the kind of multicolored 100-meter-tall giant robots that were flourishing at the time. So at this point, Mr. Yasuhiko suggested that we go ahead and try making the hero mecha a uniform white, while I made a proposal that it should be it about 20 meters high. [...] When we actually presented a sample of the white Gundam to the sponsors, it was decided that we had to include the tricolors after all. Mr. Yasuhiko was angry, but that being the case, he said it might be good to incorporate them at some eye-catching points and he did his own color scheme.
Refined mechanical designs by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (top row) and Kunio Okawara (bottom row), with colors by the Sunrise planning office. According to "Gundam Archive," the line art at top left was drawn in November, for use in an "official proposal" shared with the sponsors and broadcasting stations. The color artwork was created in December.
At the very end of the year came one final round of title and name changes. Seeking a more powerful-sounding title, Yamaura took inspiration from the popular "Mandom" fragrance commercials starring Charles Bronson. As in the earlier working title Freedom Fighter, the second syllable of "Mandom" was written as -damu in Japanese, which also suggested a powerful protective dam. On December 25, the series title was changed to Mobile Suit Gundam, with an optional "3" appended to connect it to the previous Zambot 3 and Daitarn 3.
December 25, 1978
Title and naming memo. In addition to the new series title, "Peligun" is changed to "Gunperry," "Pegasus" to "White Base," and "Asiria Mass" becomes "Sayla Mass."
(Courtesy of ZeonicScans.)
Roughly two weeks later, Tomino made one last update to his setting notes. Though it retained the occasional reference to the "Gunvoy" and "Pegasus," otherwise the document reflects the final character and mecha names, and places the story in the new calendar era of Universal Century 0079. This version of the setting notes has been widely reprinted and reproduced, making its first public appearance in Sunrise's "Mobile Suit Gundam Complete Works 1." A partial translation of this document can be found here:
Though images of the handwritten setting notes appear in the "Art of Gundam" exhibition catalog, none of the reproductions I've seen ever mentioned the date of completion. However, the original document appears onscreen in NHK's documentary, and we can see the date stamp "'79-1-6."
January 6, 1979
Mobile Suit Gundam setting notes by Yoshiyuki Tomino.
(As reproduced in "Mobile Suit Gundam Complete Works 1.")
Left to right: Historical and space colony setting, main character organization, Pegasus mecha organization.
Images of original setting documents from NHK's "Making Gundam: The Inside Story."
Three months later, on April 7, 1979, Mobile Suit Gundam debuted on the Nagoya Broadcasting Network. The first episode, "Gundam Rising," was scripted by Hiroyuki Hoshiyama, who had been with the project since it was launched as Freedom Fighter. The episode was storyboarded by Tomino under the pseudonym "Minoru Yokitani," with Shinya Sadamitsu serving as episode director and Yasuhiko as animation director.
Tomino would go on to storyboard or co-storyboard a total of 26 episodes—more than half the series—while Yasuhiko served as animation director on 16 episodes prior to his sudden illness. In addition to his duties as series director and storyboard artist, Tomino also created rough sketches for many of the vehicles and enemy robots as the show continued, with Okawara refining these into final designs.
Mecha concept sketches by Yoshiyuki Tomino. These machines appear in episodes 16 to 22, and based on the visible dates—April 13 for the Adzam, April 24 for the Fat Uncle—it appears these sketches were drawn about three months before the corresponding episodes were broadcast.
(As reproduced in "Mobile Suit Gundam III Story Book.")
According to "Gundam Archive," the setting art for the first ten episodes was completed before Gundam's broadcast debut. This suggests the design work was running about two months ahead of the broadcast. Likewise, Yasuhiko's contributions as character designer seem to end around episode 36, which was broadcast two months after his hospitalization on October 7.
Before the start of broadcast, Tomino had drafted a story structure for the first six episodes, which is reproduced in the 2019 Blu-ray Memorial Box. This roughly matches the animated story, aside from the abrupt death of Garma Zabi in episode 6. In his 2020 interview collection "My Back Pages," Yasuhiko recalls:
In my very earliest days as animation director, I did speak up a little bit. Just after we began production, Mr. Tomino wrote something like a synopsis of the first five episodes. His pacing is really fast, and he crams a lot in, so he got as far as depicting Garma's death in only five episodes. When I read it, I couldn't understand why the contents were so dense. So I said, "Isn't this a little overstuffed? I wish the length were twice as long." At that time, Mr. Tomino really listened to me, and in fact he did turn it into ten episodes.
After this, Tomino's attention was devoted mostly to supervising the production, and for the rest of the series's first half—roughly episodes 7 through 21—the story was left mostly in the hands of the scriptwriting team. In an interview in the 2013 Blu-ray Memorial Box, Tomino explains:
While we were producing this block, as I was having the scripts written, I was also drawing storyboards and working on episode direction and animation production. This was a time when we had momentum and couldn't imagine the program being cut short, so I left the writing of scripts to the scriptwriters. Of course we held meetings, but I didn't have any time to write the story.
For that reason, this became a period in which the story had a high degree of independence, where distinctive characters appeared and ridiculous developments took place. I was burdened with the hardship of having to apply my energies to dramatizing this as a single storyline centered on the White Base.
In a post-series interview in the March 1980 issue of Animage magazine, Tomino notes that—due to production issues—episodes 13 through 15, which include Amuro's reunion with his mother and his infamous adventure on a mysterious island, were created as "extra episodes" which would work no matter where they were inserted in the story. Indeed, most of the character setting art for "Cucuruz Doan's Island" indicates that it was drawn for episode number "?"
Character designs for "Cucuruz Doan's Island" by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. The original handwritten episode number reads "#?"
M'Quve design by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko and Adzam design by Kunio Okawara. Note that the original handwritten episode numbers are different from the final production order, presumably due to last-minute schedule changes.
As the broadcast continued, the TV stations began receiving mail from the show's fans. In the 1999 interview book "The Complete Works of Yoshiyuki Tomino 1964-1999," Wataru Sekioka—who represented Nagoya TV as one of Gundam's producers—recalls:
What struck me the most was that it was Char, not Amuro, who was popular in this program. Everyone was drawing Char on the postcards they sent us. (laughs) He was supposed to be the bad guy, but he was the one drawing the viewers' attention.
—In that case, were there also requests asking that Char's appearances be increased?
There certainly were. And then, when I talked to Mr. Tomino, he told me he was getting rid of Char after about ten episodes. (laughs) I don't know whether or not he intended to kill him, but characters often die in that person's works, so Char was probably his number one target. Anyway, I told Mr. Tomino directly that would be a bad idea, and that Char was the one person he couldn't kill.
This was around April or May, but since the animation work was already in progress, he told me that even if Char returned it wouldn't be until around October. I thought that was pretty late, but it would have to do, so I decided I wanted him to come back. That was the entirety of my order. By the time he reappeared, the viewers must have had high expectations for Char's long-awaited return.
Meanwhile, the sponsors, broadcasters, and sales agents were starting to worry about its low viewer ratings and toy sales, and around June they requested a bigger variety of enemy robots for the heroes to battle. Instead of the "monster of the week" format of previous robot shows, the Gundam staff had planned to limit the enemy forces to Zakus, but the series would undergo a change of direction in its second half. Clover also requested the addition of a "power-up" mecha for the Gundam for toy merchandising purposes.
G-Armor, G-Fighter, and Dom designs by Kunio Okawara. The final version of the Dom, at lower right, was revised by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko.
It was around this time that Tomino drafted the famous "Tomino Memo," an updated story outline filled with new enemy mecha that covered the planned episodes 22 through 52. (We'll discuss this more below.) The appearance of the G-Armor and Dom in episodes 23 and 24, which aired in mid-September, were the first signs of this new approach. In an interview in "Mobile Suit Gundam Memorial Box Part-1," mechanical designer Kunio Okawara says:
After the Dom, Mr. Tomino began sending a large quantity of detailed sketches. It was probably around that time that the image of the mobile suit and mobile armor became fixed in his mind. I recall that he drew pretty detailed roughs for the Gelgoog, Zock, and so on. But I think that was good. Mecha like mobile armors aren't really one of my specialties, so if the design had been completely entrusted to me, they'd never have appeared at all. It's because of Mr. Tomino and his detailed sketches that we could construct such a vast world of mecha.
After this, the Belfast story arc that began in episode 26 ushered in a flood of new amphibious mobile suits and monstrous mobile armors. From this point on, most of the mechanical design was based on Tomino's own rough sketches. In a 2009 interview with Mynavi News, Okawara recalls:
They really were pretty rough! At the time, I was working on four jobs at once, including Zenderman for Tatsunoko and The☆Ultraman for Sunrise. So as a matter of physics, I didn't have much time.
Amphibious mobile suit and mobile armor concept sketches by Yoshiyuki Tomino. The machines in the top row, dated June 14, 1979, were intended for use in episodes 26~28 and 29~31 respectively.
Gogg and Z'Gok designs by Kunio Okawara, dated June and July 1979. The final version of the Gogg, at top right, was revised by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko.
Zogok, Agguy, Juaggu, and Acg designs by Kunio Okawara, dated June and July 1979. These were never used in the animation, but were released as plastic model kits in 1982, and are now considered part of the MSV (Mobile Suit Variation) series.
According to the "Art of Gundam" exhibition catalog, Tomino also drew rough sketches of some key locations from the later episodes of the series.
"Image roughs" by Yoshiyuki Tomino. These depict Solomon, Texas Colony, and A Baoa Qu, and are dated July 28, September 20, and September 19, 1979.
Despite this effort, Gundam's ratings and toy sales continued to disappoint. In the 1995 book "The Legend of Gundam," Sunrise's Yamaura recalls,
Around August, after about four months on the air, we began getting lots of letters from teenage fans in middle and high school. The majority of the contents were saying that they wanted us to put out plastic models, not toys. But we weren't a manufacturer, so we couldn't just say yes. I tried proposing this idea to Clover, but unfortunately, the conclusion was that as a matter of policy they weren't thinking about anything other than die-cast models.
As autumn began, the sponsors were losing patience. In the "The Complete Works of Yoshiyuki Tomino 1964-1999," Nagoya TV's Wataru Sekioka recalls:
Because we were a Nagoya station, we didn't care that much about Tokyo ratings, but they were certainly the lowest of the low. I think they were about 2~3%. At the time, they said it was being canceled due to the low ratings, but I didn't feel they were that low, and I thought we'd be fine since we were getting 25% in Nagoya. However, the broadcast period ended up being a little short of one year. For Mr. Tomino and everyone else, it's become the accepted view that it was canceled for low ratings, but that wasn't the case for our station.
Clover, however, had had enough. According to Sekioka, the sponsors' representatives met—without the Sunrise executives or the show's director—to determine Gundam's fate:
At a certain point during the broadcast, the sponsor Clover decided to give up because their Gundam toys weren't selling. So Mr. Nagaura from Nagoya TV's Tokyo office called me in to a meeting without Mr. Yamaura, Mr. (Masanori) Ito, or of course Mr. Tomino. I said to Clover that since December to January was their toy-selling season, they should sell their Chogokin toys until then, but New Year gift-giving stops in January so we should end it that month.
The next toy-selling period was the spring break in March, and I thought that if we started a new program in February so they could sell the toys then, we'd manage to get through it. Regarding the program's time slot, I said we should adopt the pattern of starting in February and ending in January of the following year.
Thus the decision was made to end the series ahead of schedule, reducing it from 52 to 43 episodes. This was evidently decided prior to the Tomino interview in volume 8 of Animec magazine, which took place on October 8. In other words, as the broadcast run entered its second half, its fate was already sealed. In the 1999 book "Gunpla Generation," author Koji Igarashi writes:
It was decided that the broadcast would end with episode 43, a drastic reduction from the planned 52 episodes. This was largely because the previously mentioned problems with toy sales hadn't improved. But this doesn't mean that Gundam toys didn't sell at all. The end-of-the-year flagship item, the "Gundam DX Combination Set," had exceptionally strong sales, perhaps because of the reduced size of the production run.
As a result, after the decision had been made to cut the broadcast run to 43 episodes, it's said that Clover approached Sunrise about extending the broadcast once again. It goes without saying that this extension ultimately never materialized, but whether this was good or bad for Gundam as a work is a judgment that should be left to the individual viewer.
Clover's Gundam DX Combination Set, priced at ¥5,800, was the surprise hit of the year-end toy-buying season.
In any case, as described in the NHK documentary "Making Gundam: The Inside Story," this decision came as something of a relief to the exhausted staff. Around this time, Yasuhiko was hospitalized with a severe illness, and the series limped to its finish without its hard-working animation director.
The final episode, "Escape," aired on January 26, 1980. In the closing narration, we're told that the year is now Universal Century 0080, and a peace agreement has been reached between the warring sides. But the story of Mobile Suit Gundam was far from over...
Mecha and character concept sketches by Yoshiyuki Tomino. These appeared in episodes 31 through 43.
(As reproduced in "Mobile Suit Gundam III Story Book.")
Byg-Zam and Zeong designs by Kunio Okawara. These are dated July and August 1979, respectively. As the Zeong is the final enemy mecha to appear in the series, I wonder how this timing relates to the decision to cut the series short?
Were it not for this early cancelation, what form might the story have taken? We can get some hints from the aforementioned "Tomino Memo," an outline which describes the director's planned story for the full-length series. The last part of this outline, covering episodes 37 through 52, was reproduced in Sunrise's "Mobile Suit Gundam Complete Works 5" in October 1980. It includes a number of new characters and enemy mobile suits that never appeared in the animation, some of which were later visualized as part of the MS-X series.
A more complete version of the Tomino Memo was reproduced in the laser disc Memorial Box in 1998. This revealed that the original document covered episodes 22 onwards, with a brief summary of episodes 22 through 30—whose plot had apparently been largely decided before the memo was written—and then detailed descriptions of episodes 31 through 52. A full translation of this document can be found here:
Helpfully, the Memorial Box reproduction also included the memo's original date.
June 2, 1979
An excerpt from the Tomino Memo, covering episodes 37 onwards.
(As reproduced in "Mobile Suit Gundam Complete Works 5.")
A more complete version of the Tomino Memo, beginning with the summaries of episodes 22 through 30.
(As reproduced in laser disc Memorial Box.)
Original pages of the "Gundam Third Cours Story" outline (as reproduced in Blu-ray Memorial Box), and Tomino's signature with "'79-6-2" date stamp (as reproduced in laser disc Memorial Box).
Meanwhile, Tomino was exploring a very different development of the story in a series of original Mobile Suit Gundam novels. The first volume, published in November 1979, very loosely followed the storyline of the animated series and ended with the destruction of the Pegasus, the Gundam, and Lalah Sune's Elmeth at Texas Colony. The second and third volumes, released in September 1980 and March 1981—and thus leading up to the first Gundam theatrical film—continued the story in a whole new direction, with a new Gundam and Pegasus, and some radically different fates for the major characters.
Original covers of Yoshiyuki Tomino's Mobile Suit Gundam novels. These were released in an English translation by Frederik L. Schodt in 1990-1991, and an updated edition is currently available from Stone Bridge Press.
During its original broadcast run, Mobile Suit Gundam had failed to win over the younger toy-buying audiences its sponsors were targeting, but its mature story and compelling characters had created a loyal following among older viewers. Starting in February 1980, the series was rebroadcast on a weekday schedule, and in the March 1980 issue of Animage magazine—published on February 10—Tomino discussed the idea of compiling the series into theatrical films as had previously been done for Space Battleship Yamato.
According to the plan Tomino outlined in the Animage interview, the television episodes would be organized into four separate films, with a total running time of ten and a half hours. The first film would cover episodes 1-12, the second episodes 16-25, the third episodes 26-36, and the final one episodes 37-43. Episodes 13 through 15, which were originally created as extra episodes that could fit in anywhere in the story, would be omitted.
Meanwhile, the toy company Bandai had negotiated a license to produce plastic model kits of Gundam's mobile suits. The first of these, the 1/144 scale Gundam, was released in July 1980. Bandai's "Gunpla" became a commercial hit, with particular appeal to fans of military-style scale modeling. Around this point in time, Sunrise and the film production company Shochiku agreed to turn Gundam into a theatrical film, and production began based on Tomino's idea of dividing the TV series into multiple movies.
Gunpla blueprints by Bandai designer Masatoshi Muramatsu, dated February 7, February 20, and April 22, 1980.
Left to right: 1/1 scale Gundam, 1/144 scale Gundam, 1/144 scale Zaku.
News of the production first leaked via the newspaper Nikkan Sports on October 2, and one week later the Mobile Suit Gundam film was officially announced. Anticipation continued building in the following months, culminating in the "Anime New Century Declaration" on February 22, 1981, in which more than 15,000 fans gathered at Shinjuku Station to celebrate their love for Gundam. (Author Matt Alt describes this event in detail in his book "Pure Invention: How Japan's Pop Culture Conquered the World," and in this 40th anniversary Twitter thread.)
February 22, 1981
Yoshiyuki Tomino greets fans during the "Anime New Century Declaration" event.
(Photograph from Asahi Shimbun article.)
The first compilation film was released on March 14, 1981. Its story reprised episodes 1 through 13 of the television series, combining or omitting some events and rearranging a few others. It was titled simply Mobile Suit Gundam, since there was still no official guarantee the story would continue, but with its immediate success the second and third installments were swiftly approved.
The second part, titled Mobile Suit Gundam II: Soldiers of Sorrow and covering the events of episodes 14 through 30, followed on July 11 of that year. The production of the final installment, Mobile Suit Gundam III: Encounters in Space, was more ambitious and time-consuming. Roughly 70 percent of this third film was newly animated, and Yasuhiko, who had been forced to withdraw from the last part of the original production by his illness, took the opportunity to show off his skills as a character designer and animation director.
New Gundam II mecha designs by Kunio Okawara. The powered-up Core Booster, introduced in Gundam II, replaced the infamous G-Armor in the film version of the story.
New Gundam III character setting art by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. This includes new designs for Dr. Flanagan, Twanning, and Asakura; an official uniform for Lalah Sune; and designs for Zeon Zum Deikun and the new characters Darcia Bakharo and Cecelia Irene, who first appeared in Tomino's novels.
Yasuhiko also created setting art for Char's horse.
The release of Gundam III on March 13, 1982, completed the film trilogy and firmly established Mobile Suit Gundam as a landmark of Japanese animation. In its newly added final scenes, a familiar silhouette appears in the window of a fleeing Zeon warship, and the movie closes with a tantalizing message...
Mobile Suit Gundam is copyright © Sotsu • Sunrise. Everything else on this site, and all original text and pictures, are copyright Mark Simmons.