The following is a record of the planning and development of the first Gundam sequel series, Mobile Suit Z Gundam, which debuted in 1985. (For the purposes of this article, I'm using Z Gundam to refer to the animated series, and "Zeta Gundam" to refer to the star mobile suit.) Because there are few unified accounts of its production history, the following details are pieced together from a wide variety of sources, including:
The booklet included with the laser disc Memorial Box Part 1 reproduces the text of several planning memos from the early stages of production. Much of the mechanical design art also includes written dates, allowing us to place the drawings in chronological sequence. Sources for other specific details will be cited as we go along.
☆ Click the image thumbnails below to see them at full size! ☆
Despite its early cancelation, Mobile Suit Gundam had become a belated hit, leading to a popular trio of compilation films and several rebroadcasts of the TV series which earned progressively higher ratings. It was also a merchandising success, especially in the form of Bandai's plastic model kits, or "Gunpla." Throughout the early 1980s, Nippon Sunrise produced a succession of "real robot" series in the Gundam tradition, and Bandai soon replaced toy companies such as Clover as their main sponsor.
In early 1983, Bandai extended its Gunpla product line with an original Mobile Suit Variation series. In hindsight, it seems clear that momentum was building for a full-fledged animated followup. But in an interview in the Winter 2018 issue of Great Mechanics G, Masuo Ueda, the producer of the Gundam III movie and several later sequels, recalls:
After Mobile Suit Gundam, Sunrise's board of directors, Director (Yoshiyuki) Tomino, and Mr. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko all declared that they'd never make another Gundam. They said they'd done all they could with it, so Gundam was sealed. We used to say that "the day we make Gundam again is the day Sunrise goes under." So when Z Gundam started up, I thought we must be in trouble, and that Sunrise was going bankrupt. (laughs)
Director Yoshiyuki Tomino, however, was soon making independent plans for a sequel. According to the interviews and materials in the 1994 "Z Gundam Memorial Box Part 1," Tomino began considering possibilities for a "Gundam II" in February 1984, shortly after the launch of the TV series Heavy Metal L-Gaim:
About half a year before I started those memos, midway through the broadcast of Dunbine (around the autumn of '83), I anticipated that Gundam might be restarted as a business. Nobody had talked to me about it yet, but I began planning a "new Gundam" on my own initiative. I'd done Combat Mecha Xabungle and Dunbine over two consecutive years. Considering the situation at that time, I thought Gundam might resurface, and that it would keep going indefinitely as a business. After doing two robot shows, I had a general idea what to do. So L-Gaim was partly a sacrificial throwaway before doing Gundam. (laughs)
It took some time for Tomino to settle on a story. One early idea was a prequel, "Alpha Gundam," set more than 30 years before the original series. Another concept, dubbed "Char's Counterattack" or "Zeta Gundam," was a followup taking place 30 years later. Translations of some of Tomino's early planning memos can be found at Zeonic|Scanlations:
Even before the story had been decided, it was clear that some kind of Gundam sequel was in the works. When the 23rd annual Plastic Model Trade Show opened in Shizuoka on May 17, 1984, the Bandai booth featured a banner boldly announcing Char's Counterattack: Gundam, billed as a new novel written by Yoshiyuki Tomino.
Confusingly, the rest of the display featured mechanical designs and prototype models from Bandai's unrelated MS-X series. This was a planned continuation of the Mobile Suit Variation line that was ultimately canceled in favor of the animated sequel. Technically, then, none of the projects featured in this display actually materialized.
Contemporary magazine coverage of the Shizuoka show.
By the end of June 1984, the basic building blocks of the story—the lead character Kamille, the Zeon remnants based in the asteroid belt, an Earth Federation unit known as the Titans that was created to suppress the emergence of Newtypes—were in place. In his "Memorial Box" interview, Tomino recalls:
The name Kamille Bidan appeared in my memos around June, and by that point it was definitely serious. Discussion of the next project for the following year would happen around June or July. In order to firm up the plan by then, I'd been searching for a name for the protagonist since the end of spring. I ended up with the name of Camille Claudel, an apprentice of the sculptor Rodin. When I learned about her personal history, I decided to use Camille as a man's name. In fact, everything about the character of Camille Claudel was transferred over to Kamille Bidan. It was somewhat unfortunate for Z Gundam as a work, but I needed a character like Kamille to bring back the feelings that had flown from me during L-Gaim.
While the story was taking shape, veteran Kunio Okawara, the mechanical designer for the original Mobile Suit Gundam, was put to work visualizing the next generation of mobile suits. At this stage of the project, it was unclear who the enemy would be and the idea of the Gundam Mk-II hadn't yet been introduced, so Okawara had no particular guidelines for his design explorations. It was obvious, however, that some kind of Gundam would be involved.
Enemy mobile suit concept designs by Kunio Okawara, featured in "Kunio Okawara Gundam Design Works."
Early Gundam concept designs by Kunio Okawara. According to "Kunio Okawara Gundam Design Works," the designs on the right with traditional V-shaped antenna were commissioned as a supplemental order, because the initial ones didn't look enough like Gundams.
By July 1984, Tomino's plan for a new animated TV series was complete. The first draft of his Z Gundam: Char's Counterattack proposal was completed on July 17, with subsequent updates on August 4 and August 20. At this point, the story setting, major characters, and general storyline were close to their final form. A translation of this proposal can be found at Zeonic|Scanlations:
One major complication had been introduced, however. To keep up with rivals such as 1982's Super Dimension Fortress Macross and the Transformers toy line, Bandai wanted the new Gundam series to feature transforming mobile suits. But if the new series was to launch in March 1985, taking over L-Gaim's Saturday evening time slot, there wouldn't be enough time to design a transforming lead Gundam.
Thus, the plan was to begin the story with a Gundam Mk-II created by the Earth Federation, and an Epsy Gundam used by the rebel forces (playing the same role as the Rick Dias in the final version). Their technology would be combined to create the titular Zeta Gundam, which would debut in the second half of the series.
The proposal was approved, and the planning began in earnest. First-time producer Kenji Uchida, who had worked as a production assistant on several of Tomino's previous series, was responsible for assembling the staff. In an interview in the 2009 edition of "Z Gundam Hand Book 4," Uchida recalls:
The first job of a producer is to establish a production system that makes it easy for the director to create the work. In that sense, thanks to my long association with Director Tomino, to a certain extent I already knew what he wanted. So I started with the selection of the main staff for each part.
—The episode directors, scriptwriters, and animation staff for each episode were mostly young people in their twenties, right?
At an early stage, the request from Director Tomino was, "I'd like to work with young people. I want to prepare a new generation of staff." Since this was my first year as a producer, I thought I'd be able to work with the veterans who made First Gundam like Mr Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, Mr Kunio Okawara, and Mr. Hiroyuki Hoshiyama, so I was a little disappointed. (laughs)
However, through the preceding works, Sunrise had been able to cultivate young episode directors like Mr. Yasuhiro Imagawa (all of whom have now gone independent and become acclaimed directors), and new talents like Mr. Hiroyuki Kitazume had also emerged. With them as a core, I then made my choices by relying on recommendations from reliable people, and working from instinct based on my own experience.
Of this younger generation of staff, my impression was that many of them were actively intrigued by the idea of making a sequel to Gundam. First they had to meet Mr. Tomino's demands, which was a high bar. (laughs) But they'd accumulated a certain amount of experience on previous works, and now they must have been exhilarated that they could take on the challenge of Gundam for themselves.
While many aspects of the production relied on newer and younger staff, the character design was entrusted to Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, as in the original series. In an interview in "Z Gundam Memorial Box Part 1," Yasuhiko says:
The autumn of '84 was drawing to an end when they approached me about Z Gundam. I clearly remember that it was a cold day. The broadcast was supposed to start in March '85, so there really wasn't much time to do the work.
At the time, I'd begun the work of directing and animating the theatrical anime Arion (released in March '86), for which I had drawn the original story. I'd also been asked to handle the setting for the TV anime version of Dirty Pair, which was scheduled to air in the autumn of '85. So I temporarily declined, because I was physically unable to take it on. But Mr. Masanori Ito, who was then the president of Sunrise, persuaded me that both Z Gundam and Arion were absolute priorities. Mr. Tsukasa Dokite took over the character design for Dirty Pair, and I finally became involved with Z Gundam.
However, once I joined the staff, I had hardly any opportunities to meet with Mr. Tomino. When I drew the character setting and sent it in, it was usually okayed in one pass. "If we're working together," I said, "I'd like to have a little more communication." A couple of times, I went in person to Mr. Tomino's office without an invitation.
While it's possible to reconstruct the mechanical design process in considerable detail, thanks to the designers' use of written dates, there's far less documentation of Yasuhiko's work. The dates on his early drafts suggest that these were created around the same time as Tomino's series proposal.
Rough character designs by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Left to right: Kamille Bidan, Fa Yuiran, Char Aznable.
Left to right: Bright & Mirai Noa, Jerid Messa, Paptimus Scirocco.
Left to right: Jamitov Hymem, Bask Om, Kacricon Cacooler, Melanie Hue Carbine.
Second-draft character designs by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, dated August 20, 1984. Left to right: Amuro Ray, Emma Sheen, Reccoa Londe, Jerid Messa, Haman Karn.
Additional character designs by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, dated August 20, 1984. Left to right: Blex Forer, Abu Dabia, Hayato Kobayashi, Fraw Kobayashi.
Additional character designs by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, dated September 19, 1984. Left to right: Katz Kobayashi, Letz Kobayashi, Kikka Kobayashi, Mezun Mex (second draft).
Yasuhiko's rough designs were finalized with almost no modifications. However, a couple of characters who were originally meant to play major roles in the series ended up being largely or completely omitted from the animation.
Final setting art for Mezun Mex and Abu Dabia by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Mezun appears only in the first episode of the TV series, and Abu Dabia appears only in Tomino's novels.
Meanwhile, some early visuals for the new generation of mobile suits were provided by rising star Mamoru Nagano, Tomino's creative collaborator on L-Gaim. Nagano discusses his involvement with the project in an interview in Z Gundam Historica 09, published in November 2005:
—I believe you became involved in Z Gundam by transferring from Heavy Metal L-Gaim, but you heard at an early stage that a Gundam sequel was being made, didn't you?
That's right. It had been all but decided when I started on L-Gaim. At the time, Director Tomino and I were working in the same room, so when it was decided that they'd be doing Z Gundam, the two of us were always talking about it. Because Yoshikazu Yasuhiko was doing the characters, he asked me to create images for all the other visuals and devote myself to design. A little later, Tadashi Nagase joined in on the SF setting, and the three of us thought about colony and spacecraft setting as well.
The basic design of the mecha that appeared in Z Gundam, or rather from Z Gundam onward, was completely my creation. The concept was mobile suits with movable frames and complex joints, and the designs by Kazumi Fujita and others were all made according to that format. That's why I was credited with "Design Works."
According to this Mamoru Nagano profile by ace interviewer Ollie Barder, the Nagano designs below were created on the eve of Tomino's visit to the Worldcon convention in Anaheim, California, at the end of August 1984. It was here that Tomino first publicly announced that a Mobile Suit Gundam sequel was in production. (This blog article by Dave Merrill includes some reminiscences of the convention, plus a rare photo of Tomino in a Mickey Mouse hat.)
Early "Zeta Gundam" concept designs by Mamoru Nagano. These later became the basis for the mobile suit Hyaku-Shiki.
The amount of mechanical design work involved, along with Tomino's mandate to develop a new generation of talent, required producer Uchida to recruit in a variety of new designers. In his "Z Gundam Hand Book 4" interview, he explains:
At the time, the environment wasn't subdivided as it is now into main mecha, guest mecha, and props like vehicles and firearms, each with their own specialized designers. In most cases, the rule was that a single designer would design virtually all the mecha for an individual series, and it was Mr. Okawara who handed this enormous task during First Gundam.
This time, however, Mr. Okawara wouldn't be completely responsible for the mechanical design the way that Mr. Yasuhiko was for character design. I began by searching for new mecha designers, and we ended up with the young Mr. Kazumi Fujita designing based on Mr. Okawara's plans. In a Gundam series, it's an absolute necessity to have lots of mobile suits appear throughout the story, and in Z Gundam we'd also added the major concept of mobile suit transformation. Naturally, we were also getting requests for products from the sponsor Bandai, so the burden of meeting all these demands would be too much for a single designer. As a result, we ended up having a variety of people participate.
—Is that why so many different types of colorful and uniquely shaped mobile suit appeared?
In fact, at the time I also approached Mr. Masamune Shirow, who is now famous for Ghost in the Shell. He could draw really natural-looking transformations, and his designs were attractive, so I thought he would be perfect. But he was still teaching art at a high school in Osaka, so unfortunately this never came to pass.
It's unclear when the concept designs below were created, but we can clearly see an attempt being made to break away from the aesthetic of the original series. Based on Ollie Barder's interview, I suspect most of them were drawn after the Nagano designs shown above.
Mobile suit concept designs by Kunio Okawara. According to the Summer 2018 issue of Great Mechanics G, rather than specific machines from the story, these were intended to explore general design directions for the new series.
Similar mobile suit concept designs by various other designers. I believe these include Kazumi Fujita and Makoto Kobayashi.
Further development of Kazumi Fujita's concept design. This eventually became the transformable mobile armor Gaplant.
By the last months of 1984, preparations for the launch of the new series were in full swing. After an initial announcement in Bandai's MJ magazine on November 1, 1984, an official Mobile Suit Z Gundam production announcement event was held on November 19. Preliminary mobile suit designs soon began appearing in anime and model magazines, as anticipation built for the sequel.
November 19, 1984
Director Yoshiyuki Tomino speaks at the Z Gundam production announcement. On the left of the photo is Sunrise producer Kenji Uchida.
One of the first new designs revealed to the world was the Gundam Mk-II, the star mobile suit in the first half of the series. In Great Mechanics Vol.5, Satoru Matsumoto—later senior managing director of Sunrise, but at the time, the Bandai manager responsible for Gunpla planning and production—reveals that this placeholder Gundam was originally going to be derived from the Mobile Suit Variation model series:
When we asked what should we do until the Zeta Gundam appeared, we decided to introduce a Gundam that would be a continuation of the MSV line, which up until then had been cultivated with models. But when it came to using MSV, there were dissenting opinions from the internal staff and Director Tomino. In a sense, MSV had been created as an imitation of the original. And on the marketing side, there was also a concern that audience awareness might be too low.
Thus, while the model-original MSV series was incorporated into the new story to raise awareness, after MSV there was another Gundam that would become the basis for the Gundam Mk-II. The work began by establishing this as the main hero mecha.
Makoto Ishii, the author of the Great Mechanics Vol.5 feature, goes on to explain:
The MSV Gundam that Mr. Matsumoto mentioned above, which became the basis for the Gundam Mk-II, wasn't a Gundam that had been announced to the public. It was modeled on an "enhanced Gundam" that had been drawn as a plan situated after the Full Armor Gundam and Heavy Gundam.
A variety of ideas by different designers were considered, but ultimately Okawara's earlier designs were selected as the basis for the new Gundam. With input from animation director Hiroyuki Kitazume and mechanical animation director Yorihisa Uchida, the Mk-II was brought to completion by the newcomer Kazumi Fujita, who eventually became Z Gundam's main mechanical designer.
Gundam Mk-II early designs by Kunio Okawara. According to "Kunio Okawara Gundam Design Works," this was created by reusing parts from Okawara's previous roughs.
Gundam Mk-II interpretations by Hiroyuki Kitazume, Yorihisa Uchida, and Kazumi Fujita. (The second Fujita version includes notes by Yoshiyuki Tomino.)
Uchida's drawing is dated November 11, 1984. Fujita's drafts are dated November 5 and November 12.
Final Gundam Mk-II setting art by Kazumi Fujita, dated November 15, 1984.
Additional setting art by Kazumi Fujita.
Head views are dated November 24, 1984. Hatch details are dated December 1.
The other mobile suits featured in the first few episodes—based on designs by Okawara, Nagano, and manga artist Kazuhisa Kondo, with refinements and supplemental details by Fujita—were completed just before the end of the year. Like the Gundam Mk-II, these were updated descendants of machines from Mobile Suit Gundam, reinforcing the connection to the original series. Rather than the classic Gelgoog, the Galbaldy-β was based on a design from the canceled MS-X line.
Rick Dias early design and final setting art by Mamoru Nagano; additional setting art by Kazumi Fujita.
Final front view is dated October 26, 1984. Rear view with weapons is dated November 29, and detail art is dated December 27.
Hi-Zack early designs by Kunio Okawara and Kazumi Fujita; final setting art by Fujita.
Final setting art is dated October 30, 1984.
Galbaldy-β sketch, first draft, and final setting art by Mamoru Nagano; additional setting art by Kazumi Fujita.
First draft was apparently completed on November 4, 1984. Revised front view with modified skirt armor is dated December 7, and detail art is dated December 30.
GM II early design by Kazuhisa Kondo, final setting art by Kazumi Fujita.
Final setting art is dated December 30, 1984.
Nagano and Fujita also tried their hands at an upcoming enemy machine used by the villain Paptimus Scirocco, which eventually became the transformable mobile armor Messala.
The multitalented Nagano, who had been working alongside Tomino during the production of L-Gaim, collaborated closely with the director on setting elements such as new pilot suits and panoramic cockpits. Thanks to the broad scope of his contributions, Nagano was ultimately credited with "design works" on the series.
Pilot suit and equipment designs by Mamoru Nagano, with notes by Yoshiyuki Tomino.
Final design is dated November 29, 1984.
Mobile suit cockpit and linear seat designs by Mamoru Nagano, with notes by Yoshiyuki Tomino.
Linear seat design is dated November 16, 1984.
Rick Dias cockpit setting art by Mamoru Nagano, Gundam Mk-II cockpit by Kazumi Fujita.
Dated November 28 and December 5, 1984.
The collaboration between Nagano and Tomino also extended to the heroes' flagship Argama. For the most part, the rest of the spacecraft and warships were designed by Fujita, with the Shindosha studio contributing some minor vehicles and support craft.
Argama sketch by Mamoru Nagano, two sketches by Yoshiyuki Tomino.
Nagano sketch was created prior to October 29, 1984. The first of Tomino's sketches is dated November 22.
Argama final setting art by Mamoru Nagano, dated December 1 to December 12. This is some of the last design work Nagano created before leaving the production.
Salamis Kai (Bosnia) sketch by Yoshiyuki Tomino, final setting art by Kazumi Fujita.
Tomino sketch is dated November 20, 1984. Final setting art is dated November 28.
Temptation, Hario, and Alexandria setting art by Kazumi Fujita.
Dated November 28, November 29, and December 3, 1984.
In the meantime, work continued on the Zeta Gundam, the transformable mobile suit which would take the spotlight in the second half of the series. The idea was that this machine could enter Earth's atmosphere to attack the planet from outer space. Okawara's concept designs, modeled on America's recently introduced space shuttle, conveyed a sense of near-future realism.
Bandai also submitted a design by Katsushi Murakami, the creator of many legendary robots for live-action superhero series. According to "Gunpla Generation," its flight form was inspired by the atmospheric entry capsules from Robert A. Heinlein's novel "Starship Troopers." Murakami's design was later repurposed for the sinister Psycho Gundam.
"Shuttle Gundam" and other Zeta Gundam concept designs by Kunio Okawara.
Zeta Gundam concept design by Katsushi Murakami, Psycho Gundam setting art by Kazumi Fujita.
Psycho Gundam setting art is dated April 12, 1985.
Ultimately, it was Kazumi Fujita's design that was selected for the Zeta Gundam. Its "Wave Rider" transformation was based on a plan devised by Okawara, and later refined with the help of Kazuhisa Kondo and Masahiro Oda. After four months of revisions, the Zeta reached its final form in April 1985, and Fujita continued adding weapons and supplemental details throughout May and June.
Though an early version of the Zeta appeared in silhouette form in the first opening credits, the design hadn't yet been completed, and so this teaser was based on one of the early draft versions.
December 1984~June 1985
Zeta Gundam designs by Kazumi Fujita. Left to right: image sketch, rough design sketch, transformation process.
Image sketch (posted on Pinterest by @aglet6409) is dated December 5, 1984. Early design was also drawn in December.
Early designs for the Zeta Gundam's Wave Rider form. In the second of these, the mobile suit's head protrudes from the top, as in the transformation process shown above.
Zeta Gundam early design by Kazumi Fujita, head detail by Mamoru Nagano.
Fujita's design is dated January 11, 1985. Nagano's drawing was used as the basis for the original opening sequence.
Revised transformation process. In this version of the transformation, the "flying armor" on the Zeta's back is a single unit that slides over the mobile suit's head to cover its chest.
Further design revisions and head design exploration.
Near-final draft dated March 1, 1985, and final setting art by Kazumi Fujita. The date of the final mobile suit setting art is variously reported as April 12 and April 21, but from what I can see of the date, I think the latter is correct.
Final transformation process by Kazumi Fujita, dated June 11, 1985.
While Fujita was finalizing its star mobile suit, Mobile Suit Z Gundam made its long-awaited debut. The first episode, "Black Gundam," aired on March 2, 1985. Its broadcast was preceded by the first volume of Tomino's Z Gundam novels, published about ten days earlier and covering the events of the first five episodes. Throughout the series, the release of new novel volumes was synchronized with the animation, providing supplemental story information and a somewhat altered version of the plot.
February 1985~February 1986
Mobile Suit Z Gundam novel covers by Mamoru Nagano. These were released over a span of exactly one year, from February 19, 1985 to February 19, 1986. In the first volume, a message from the author explains that these are a continuation of the animated story rather than his previous Gundam novels.
Though its development had begun with the return of the character and mechanical designers from the original series, Z Gundam also showcased the talents of a new generation. The animation director on the first episode was Hiroyuki Kitazume, with Yasuhiro Imagawa serving as episode director and storyboard artist—roles they had each played on previous Tomino series such as L-Gaim and Aura Battler Dunbine. Both were relative youngsters, born on the same day in 1961. Yorihisa Uchida, another newcomer with an aptitude for robot action, filled the newly created role of "mechanical animation director."
While Yoshikazu Yasuhiko was responsible for Z Gundam's character design, the fact that he wasn't involved in the animation presented some challenges for the staff. In an interview in the 2005 book "Mobile Suit Z Gundam Nostalgia," Kitazume recalls:
When I asked about the plan, they showed me Mr. Yasuhiko's character sheets, although they were still preliminary drafts. That's when I first found out that Mr. Yasuhiko was doing the character designs. After that, I was a little puzzled to learn that he wasn't joining the animation staff. When I was at Studio Bebow, in the animation stage it was fine to simply interpret things based on the style of Mr. Kogawa or Mr. Nagano, but we didn't have that this time. The only hints we had were Mr. Yasuhiko's character sheets. and in that situation it was vexing that we had to make the characters he'd designed move in animation. And what's more, I was responsible for animation direction on episode 1.
—The number of character sheets varied depending on the character, right?
Yes. It was helpful that we had several pages of expression sheets for the main character Kamille, but there were only a few characters like that. For most of the characters, we had to draw them based on our own imagination. I think if Mr. Yasuhiko had been in charge of animation direction for the first episode, we'd have known to expect a collection of his revisions afterwards, and we could have devoted ourselves to drawing to match that. But with only the character sheets, I thought I couldn't draw in a way that made it seem like Mr. Yasuhiko himself were drawing it. So rather than doing the impossible, I could only offer my own interpretation based on Mr. Yasuhiko's drawings, just like I used to do. I thought that was the best I could do.
In a booklet interview from the second DVD volume—excerpted in the Winter 2018 issue of Great Mechanics G—Kitazume elaborates further:
I was influenced by Tomonori Kogawa, who uses a lot of low angles. I thought it might work really well if I could combine that kind of three-dimensional, sketch-like solid drawing with Mr. Yasuhiko's delicacy and character nuances. The biggest difference may be the application of shadows. Mr. Yasuhiko's shading feels delicate, with an emphasis on nuance, while Mr. Kogawa applies shadows three-dimensionally with an awareness of the light source—what he calls plane-surface shading. When it came to the shading, I decided to use a method influenced by Mr. Kogawa.
The script for the first episode was co-written by Hiroshi Onogi and Tomino himself, under the alias "Minoru Yokitani." On the original series, Tomino had worked extensively on the episode storyboards, but here his pseudonymous contributions were mainly in the scriptwriting area. The director co-wrote 22 episodes of Z Gundam, almost all of them in the first half of the series, before entrusting the writing duties to a two-person team of Yumiko Suzuki and Akinori Endo (working from Tomino's plot outlines). In an interview in Z Gundam Historica 03, published in July 2005, Endo describes the scriptwriting process as follows:
First, there were Director Tomino's liner notes. Based on those, the scriptwriter would create a structure (plot). We'd have a meeting with Director Tomino about the plot we'd made, receive various criticisms and instructions, and then start working on the actual script. The script would be rewritten from a first draft to a second draft, and maybe a third draft depending on the situation. Once it was fairly complete, Director Tomino would take over. That was how we went about it.
And in the 2009 edition of "Z Gundam Hand Book 3," Endo discusses the fluid nature of the overall series plot:
Director Tomino said, "I could have decided the story all the way to the end in my liner notes, but I didn't do that. I want to incorporate feedback reactions from the staff and viewers as we make it." But as far as the schedule permitted, Director Tomino probably had an overview of the entire story in mind as he was making it.
Producer Uchida elaborates on this in his own interview in "Z Gundam Hand Book 4":
At first, Director Tomino created something like a series structure under his pen name Minoru Yokitani, but that doesn't mean the story was originally fixed all the way to the end. Of course he must have had some assumptions as a director, but first and foremost, Director Tomino is the type of dramatist who values the feeling of a live performance. So once the series begins and the characters and drama get moving, he looks at the reaction as he decides the subsequent developments.
With Z Gundam in particular, more than ever before, he seemed to be very consciously using that feeling, drawing out the power of the young staff who gave form to their own self-expression and training them as they made it. So as he was talking to the scriptwriters and episode directors, he'd sometimes see a sketch drawn by Mr. Kitazume, say "Oh, that's good," and incorporate that into the character along the way. He was creating without deciding too much in advance.
But since it was a long series broadcast over the course of a year, there was some confusion among the writers responsible for each episode, and the plans they had in mind couldn't be reconciled with those of the director. Sometimes I'd intervene to coordinate between them, but ultimately some of them ended up dropping out. In that sense, I'm still grateful to Mr. Endo and Ms. Suzuki for hanging in there until the end.
Meanwhile, following the departures of Okawara and Nagano, the role of principal mechanical designer had now been inherited by Kazumi Fujita. A junior member of the Shindosha studio, Fujita was only 20 years old when the series debuted. In addition to his own creations, Fujita reworked many by other designers, giving the series a unified aesthetic. In a May 1986 interview in B-Club magazine, Fujita recalls:
I joined Z Gundam to do cleanup for Mr. Okawara and Mr. Nagano, and we'd only talked about me doing guest mecha and warships. But because Mr. Okawara and Mr. Nagano left in the middle, I ended up doing it all myself. As well as mobile suits, I also had to do guest mecha and accessories, so it was really tough. It was taking a lot of time at first, but by the time I'd gotten the hang of it, other people had started contributing mobile suit designs.
The mobile suit designs for the first nine episodes were already completed when the first episode was broadcast, and from then on, the creation of new setting art generally preceded the episode air dates by two months.
Marasai early designs by Kunio Okawara, Makoto Kobayashi, and Kazumi Fujita; final setting art by Fujita. According to B-Club Vol.3, its name was changed from "Domingo" to "Marasai" after setting art was completed.
Final setting art is dated March 2, 1985.
Nemo early design and final setting art by Kazumi Fujita.
Front and rear view setting art is dated March 2, 1985. Detail art is dated March 6.
Hyaku-Shiki setting art by Kazumi Fujita, based on Mamoru Nagano's early "Zeta Gundam" concept design.
Front view is dated March 2, 1985. Detail art and Mega Bazooka Launcher are dated March 5 and March 15.
Asshimar early design by Kunio Okawara, final setting art by Kazumi Fujita. This was Okawara's last contribution to the series.
Final setting art is dated March 22, 1985.
The early episodes also featured guest appearances by several mobile suits from the Mobile Suit Variation and MS-X series, giving these Gunpla spinoffs official recognition (and providing Bandai with an opportunity to repackage some old model kits).
Updated renderings of the Zaku Recon, Zaku Cannon, and GM Cannon were created by manga artist Koichi Tokita. According to "Gunpla Generation," the prototype YMS-08A was also meant to appear, but since it was cut it never received a proper name.
The starting lineup of mobile suits had emphasized continuity with the previous series, but Z Gundam also showcased a diverse variety of new aesthetics and design ideas. Chief among them was the introduction of transformable mobile armors and mobile suits, of which the titular Zeta Gundam was only one example.
The Messala and Gaplant, introduced in episodes 10 and 14, were the first completely original Kazumi Fujita designs to appear in the series. While their mobile armor forms resembled streamlined fighter craft, the clawed Gaza-C and Baund Doc, based on rough designs by Makoto Kobayashi, incorporated some of the monstrous character of the mobile armors from the original series.
Though Mamoru Nagano had left the production a few months earlier, Tomino requested two extra designs from him after the start of the broadcast run. Nagano obliged by refining two of the rough concepts he had created earlier in the series development. While he was at it, Nagano also created a new costume design for the Titans pilot Yazan Gable.
Messala and Gaplant final setting art by Kazumi Fujita, based on previously mentioned sketches and concept designs.
Messala setting art is dated March 13 and 14, 1985. Gaplant front view is dated January 25, and mobile armor form is dated March 26.
Gabthley sketch and final setting art by Kazumi Fujita. Fujita's captions on the setting art describe it as a "mobile former."
Final setting art is dated May 17 and 21, 1985.
Baund Doc early design by Makoto Kobayashi, final setting art by Koichi Ohata. According to B-Club Vol.3, Kobyashi submitted his designs for the Baund Doc and Gaza C around May 1985.
Qubeley early design and final setting art by Mamoru Nagano. According to Z Gundam Ace, this was based on Nagano's original rough design for the Marasai.
Early design is dated April 26, 1985.
Hambrabi setting art by Mamoru Nagano. This was based on the Klux, Nagano's rough design for the Messala. "Gundam Wars: Project Z" claims that this version was intended for use as the Methuss, and then repurposed as an enemy machine.
Final setting art is dated May 18, 1985.
New Yazan Gable costume by Mamoru Nagano, introduced in episode 32. In the final setting art, character designer Yoshikazu Yasuhiko replaced Nagano's head drawings with his own versions.
In addition to mobile suits and transformable mobile armors, Z Gundam fleshed out the world setting by introducing new kinds of support vehicles and equipment. These included various devices for atmospheric entry, as well as flying motherships and transport hovercraft inspired by the Gaw carrier and Do-Dai YS from the original series. Transport craft like the Do-Dai Kai and Base Jabber would become regular features in subsequent Gundam works.
The giant Garuda-type carrier aircraft, introduced in episode 12, remained enduringly popular and reappeared in the later sequels Gundam ZZ and Gundam UC. Its elaborate hangars include storage for transport hovercraft and booster-equipped space shuttles—the latter can be launched into orbit from beneath its wings.
Flying Armor and ballute (balloon parachute) setting art by Kazumi Fujita.
Dated March 12 and March 16, 1985.
Garuda carrier setting art by Kazumi Fujita, and interior layout sketch (probably by Yoshiyuki Tomino).
Setting art is dated March 18, 1985.
Do-Dai Kai and Base Jabber setting art by Shindosha.
Dated March 27 and March 29, 1985.
The Zeta Gundam itself finally debuted onscreen in episode 21, "A Pulse of Zeta," broadcast on July 27, 1985. From that point on, the series showcased an ever-wider range of flamboyant mechanical designs, most of them created or refined by Fujita.
Palace Athene setting art, full armor equipment sketch and final setting art by Kazumi Fujita. First glimpsed in episode 28, this machine reappears with its full armament at the end of the series.
Initial setting art is dated July 22, 1985. Full armor sketch and final setting are dated September 12 and 24.
Dijeh early designs and final setting art by Kazumi Fujita. This machine was originally intended for use by the Zeon remnants returning from the asteroid belt, but was repurposed for the hero Amuro Ray.
Final setting art is dated August 31, 1985.
Byarlant early designs by Viscial Design and Kazumi Fujita, final setting art by Fujita.
Viscial Design version (posted on Pinterest by @aglet6409) is dated July 3, 1985. Final setting art is dated September 6.
Psycho Gundam Mk-II setting art by Kazumi Fujita. This was Fujita's final creation for the series.
Final setting art is dated October 12~15, October 16, and November 4, 1985.
The-O sketches by various artists (possibly including Kazumi Fujita), early design by Makoto Kobayashi, final setting art by Yoshinori Sayama. According to this Twitter post from Kobayashi, the setting art was created by Sayama because Fujita had already left the production.
By the time the series reached its halfway point, it was clear that Z Gundam was a success, and planning began for an immediate continuation. In the first half of October 1985, Tomino completed a proposal for "Z Gundam Part 2." The Zeon remnants led by Haman Karn, who had just made their long-awaited debut in episode 32, "Mysterious Mobile Suits"—broadcast on October 12, 1985—would be the enemy in the new story.
Production of the followup series hastily commenced. Following an open competition, Mamoru Nagano was selected as mechanical designer, and two of his new spaceship designs made guest appearances in the final episodes of Z Gundam.
Z Gundam Part 2 proposal by Yoshiyuki Tomino, Gwanban and Endra setting art by Mamoru Nagano.
Proposal document is dated October 15, 1985.
The serialization of Z Gundam ended with the broadcast of episode 50, "Riders in the Skies," on February 22, 1986. The following week would see the debut of a new series titled Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ. But that, as they say, is a story for another day...
Mobile Suit Gundam is copyright © Sotsu • Sunrise. Everything else on this site, and all original text and pictures, are copyright Mark Simmons.