I recently watched Heavy Metal L-Gaim (1984). Or, rather, I recently finished L-Gaim: I started watching it on 14 July 2009, and so it’s become the anime I’ve taken the longest to see from start to finish. I forget exactly how this happened, but it wasn’t fully translated into English when I started, and I bet that fact played a role.
L-Gaim disappointed me, mostly. It never quite flowers into either the wit of a Xabungle or the heart of Zeta Gundam‘s more serious passages. One sometimes hears it said of four-cours space operas from the eighties that they don’t need four cours, that the time goes to waste. I reject that idea in general, but I think it fits L-Gaim.
That said, most episodes of the show manage at least one moment of proper space-operatic wonder, and there are some instalments which really sing. The fortieth episode, storyboarded and episode-directed by Yasuhiro Imagawa, offers an easy example. Plus L-Gaim reportedly had some role in the genesis of Five Star Stories, so we must at least thank the show for helping to bring forth a weirder and more engrossing story.
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We’re used to the idea that production continuity linked Zeta Gundam and Gundam ZZ, but if you watch L-Gaim, or just look at staff lists, you can see plenty of links between it and Zeta, too. This makes sense: only one week separates the two shows, so Zeta must’ve been in planning and then production during its predecessor’s initial broadcast. In fact, plenty of shots in L-Gaim, especially in the giant robot action scenes, closely resemble equivalent scenes in Zeta.
What if we try, for a moment, to see these titles not as we typically break them up, as unrelated fictional continuities, but as one chain of material put out by a shifting cluster of people? For someone who worked on them in sequence, they would’ve resembled one long-running production. Let’s look at Yoshiyuki Tomino’s commitments, 1977–88:
- Zambot 3 (23 eps), 8 Oct ’77 to 25 Mar ’78
- Daitarn 3 (40 eps), 3 Jun ’78 to 31 Mar ’79
- Gundam (43 eps), 7 Apr ’79 to 26 Jan ’80
- Ideon (39 eps), 8 May ’80 to 30 Jan ’81
- Gundam film I, 14 Mar ’81
- Gundam film II, 11 Jul ’81
- Xabungle (50 eps), 6 Feb ’82
- Gundam film III, 13 Mar ’82
- Ideon: A Contact (film), 10 Jul ’82
- Ideon: Be Invoked (film), 10 Jul ’82
- Dunbine (49 eps), 5 Feb ’83 to 21 Jan ’84
- Xabungle Graffiti (film), 9 Jul ’83
- L-Gaim (52 eps), 4 Feb ’84 to 23 Feb ’85
- Zeta Gundam (50 eps) 2 Mar ’85 to 22 Feb ’86
- L-Gaim OVA (3 eps), 5 Nov ’86 to 28 Mar ’87
- Gundam ZZ (47 eps), 1 Mar ’86 to 31 Jan ’87
- Char’s Counterattack (film) 20 Feb ’88
That’s 393 original TV episodes, 5 compilation films, 2 original films, and 3 original OVA episodes; it’s something like 10,020 minutes of animation, at a rate of 18.5 minutes of animation for each week or 963 minutes of animation per year. Or, in 2020s money—bearing in mind that today almost all original TV anime run for just one cours—it’s 31 TV anime. (I hope I have these dates, episode counts and numbers right, but will welcome corrections!)
And, as @Lagrange_Press pointed out to me after this post was published, this doesn’t even take into account all the novels Tomino published in the same span of years.
I don’t list these figures out because I find them impressive. Once I stopped to think about this, I found their work implications rather shocking.
We can assume that plenty of people in less senior roles worked similarly hard: collaboration made every one of these. In some ways Tomino’s name is simply a useful (because information-rich) way to take a line through the eighties.
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As for Tomino himself, well, he seems to have a vexed relationship with his own public profile. But I’ll say this for him: he often seems anxious to ward off hero-worship. He’s probably the safest anime director to find interesting, because his actions, his statements, and the weaker among the anime he’s made all help us resist applying the kind of deification or uncomplicated approval which success tempts fans to give to creators.