A Brief History of Hideaki Anno’s Work on Mobile Suit Gundam

The career of Hideaki Anno has earned him accolades in many ways; as an animator, illustrator, storyboard artist, and most notably, as the creator and director of Evangelion. Yet there’s one element of his career, that while not completely unknown, doesn’t get mentioned often: his involvement with Mobile Suit Gundam. While not responsible for writing or directing any Gundam work, his work on key parts of the franchise has left its mark.

The original Gundam TV series and subsequent movie trilogy influenced not just Anno and the other founding members of Gainax, but a whole generation of animators and creatives. Naturally, there was a wish among many of them to work on Gundam. In 1984, when still known as Daicon Film, the proto-Gainax group approached Bandai about creating an OVA based on the Mobile Suit Variation model kit series. Bandai declined (at this point, work had likely already begun on Zeta Gundam), but they agreed to work with them on an original film project that would become Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise. That project getting green-lit led to the creation of Gainax at the end of 1984. As far as Gundam OVAs were concerned, it wasn’t a total loss, as future Gainax President Hiroyuki Yamaga would go on to write the screenplay for Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket [1989].

Hideaki Anno’s proposed design for a simpler Nu Gundam.

Anno’s best-known work in regards to Gundam was his work on Char’s Counterattack. The August 1987 issue of Newtype showcased preliminary mecha and character designs for the film, almost a year before it premiered in theaters on March 12, 1988. Anno’s involvement in the film was twofold. First was in his official role as a Mechanical Designer. According to Anno, Bandai producer Kenji Uchida contacted Toshio Okada, then President of Gainax, and it was decided that the studio would do mechanical design support work for the film. Anno shared this responsibility with Shoichi Masuo, where Anno was in charge of the Neo Zeon ships such as the Rewalooa while Masuo was in charge of the Earth Federation ships such as the Ra Cailum (the film simply credited Gainax for both their contributions). Anno also designed cockpits for mobile suits, colony laser cannons, and Neo Zeon patrol boats among other mechanical subjects, along with contributing early designs for subjects like the Base Jabber. He also received design requests for other items, such as food trays, but Okada determined that the budget given to them was used up and Gainax’s involvement stopped in the middle of production.

Second, Anno designed a proposal for the film’s Gundam unit, which would later be dubbed the Nu Gundam. For both Zeta Gundam and Gundam ZZ, Sunrise had commissioned preliminary designs from multiple designers and Char’s Counterattack was no different. For the film, designs were submitted by notable designers like Kazuhisa Kondoh, Makoto Kobayashi, Hidetashi Omori, Masahisa Suzuki, Koichi Ohata, Yoshimori Sayama, and the eventual winner, Yutaka Izubuchi. According to Anno, he did not participate in the design competition directly but did approach Bandai Visual producer Shigeru Watanabe with the suggestion that the film’s Gundam have a simpler design.

A few of the proposed designs for the Nu Gundam by an assortment of artists. Anno’s design can be seen in the lower left-hand corner.

Anno completed a sketch (he also included a design for a “Neo-Zeon Mobile Suit,” likely intended for the role that the Sazabi eventually occupied) that to some could be a bit underwhelming, at least compared to Izubuchi’s iconic final design, as Anno’s idea was essentially a slightly beefed up RX-78. He remarked that it was his intention at the time to create a callback to the original Gundam, saying “My sense [at the time] is that industrial products are becoming simpler and simpler, so when I look at Z Gundam and Gundam ZZ. I get the feeling mobile suits are actually backward in terms of technology.” Anno also stated that more lines in the design would make it difficult to animate, no doubt showing the influence of his time as an animator.

1987 ended up being a busy year for Anno. In addition to his work on Char’s Counterattack, he worked on MADOX-01 and served as Assistant Animation Director for Battle Royal High School. Yet, CCA was not the only Gundam project that Anno was working on that year. While fans were eagerly awaiting the upcoming film, they were also looking forward to Gundam Sentinel, a serialized novel series set during the final episodes of Zeta Gundam and the first episodes of ZZ. Sentinel followed Ryu Roots who, as pilot of the experimental S Gundam, fights against a group of Earth Federation officers who call themselves the New Desides and vow to carry on where the Titans left off.

Hideaki Anno’s Gundam Sentinel color spread in Newtype. Photo via Zeonic Scanlations, check out their extensive production history of Gundam Sentinel.

Planning for Sentinel began in February 1987 as a cooperative effort between Bandai and Model Graphix magazine. At some point, Bandai effectively canceled the project citing a desire to focus more on model kits for then-upcoming Char’s Counterattack. To salvage the project, the team working on Sentinel went to Newtype magazine to drum up support. The August 1987 issue, which also included the feature mentioned above on Char’s Counterattack, ran an article on Sentinel that showcased the S Gundam designed by Hajime Katoki.

While Anno did not participate in the development of Sentinel directly, he was commissioned to draw an illustration for this Newtype article. His painting showed a Nero fighting two of the grunt suits used by the New Desides, the Xeku Eins. The Sentinel series began serialization in the September 1987 issue of Model Graphix and was very successful. Anno did not participate in any further Gundam projects at this time, as by October of 1987, he and Gainax had begun production on Aim for the Top: Gunbuster.

By March 1991, Gainax and Anno finished their first TV anime, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water. The experience left Anno mentally drained, and he decided to cut back on further work even though Gainax was still trying to create projects for him to direct. Eventually, he would start work on Evangelion in the autumn of 1993. During this period of relative inactivity, his relationship with the Gundam franchise took an exciting turn, but instead of official Gundam work, it was a doujinshi. Entitled Mobile Suit Gundam; Char’s Counterattack Fan Club, it was released in 1993. The book contained illustrations, essays, and interviews which not only included those who worked on the film such as Tomino, Izubuchi, and character designer Hiroyuki Kitazume, but also other notable names in the anime industry such as Mamoru Oshii, Studio Ghibli President Toshio Suzuki, and manga artist and Patlabor co-creator Masami Yuuki. Anno himself took part in these interviews as a discussion partner. The book was popular enough that it was reprinted decades later for the Winter 2022 Comiket with a new introduction by Anno himself. But between Nadia and Evangelion, his skills as an animator kept him in demand and he worked on projects such as Macross Plus and the first few episodes of Giant Robo.

Hideaki Anno’s proposed design for a Neo-Zeon mobile suit for use in Char’s Counterattack.

It is the latter project that may have led to Anno working on his next official Gundam project. The director of Giant Robo, Yasuhiro Imagawa, was beginning production on Mobile Fighter G Gundam. While not outright confirmed, it seems as though Anno was tapped to create the storyboards for the show’s first opening, though he was uncredited for the work. This credit is rarely (if ever) mentioned, but was brought up by animator and director Kazuya Tsurumaki in a promotional interview he did for the anime series Star Driver. Corroborating evidence for his claim is hard to come by. Still, Tsurumaki likely knows what he’s talking about as he worked under Anno as an assistant director on Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water before going on to direct FLCL and Gunbuster 2: Diebuster for Gainax.

As of this writing, if Anno’s storyboard work on G Gundam is accurate, it was the last official Gundam production Anno has worked on. The only other Gundam-related work he did in the ensuing years was editing a book of Yasuhiko Yoshikazu’s animation drawings for the original Gundam series as well as penning an essay for the first Azioban edition of Yoshikazu’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. Of course, Anno’s claim to fame is the expansive Evangelion series and more recently a string of recent live-action films. His work reimagining classic tokusatsu series, beginning with Shin Godzilla and most recently Shin Kamen Rider, has earned him notoriety outside of his animation work.


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