Bishounen in the Mecha Genre Did NOT Begin with Mobile Suit Gundam Wing

The Five Star Stories - Cover - Volume 02

There are female viewers of mecha anime now, as evidenced by the success of shows like Code Geass and Mobile Suit Gundam 00. As far as I’m concerned this is a fantastic development. I imagine that the declining birth rate in Japan makes the people behind these works at least welcome the idea of new fans. Female fans would indeed be a growth area for the mecha anime market.

I was provoked by some interesting commentary by jpmeyer that basically says that one can identify what kind of Gundam fan by virtue of the show the fan likes the least. Here’s his rundown:

ZZ: oldfag
G: oldfag that thinks that as UC is the apotheosis of Gundam
Wing: You hate how yaoi has been polluting Gundam ever since. This is one of the only ones that is cross new/oldfag
G Saviour: You’re trying too hard, because nobody has ever seen this
SEED: oldfag that hates newfags
SEED Destiny: newfag
00: really really newfag that is reflexively hating the newest show

What interests me here is his statement about Wing.

“Yaoi is polluting Gundam…” Since yaoi is primarily pursued by female otaku, or ‘fujoshi,’ this phenomenon is due to the use of bishounen character designs in Wing, and the newer shows in the franchise. Once can claim that yaoi has indeed ‘polluted’ Gundam, because even from the Universal Century shows one can find Char x Garma doujinshi if you look hard enough (not that there wasn’t any subtext, Garma had that freaking shower scene while Char was around).

gundam w sailor moon heero trowa wu-fei quattre duo

But if Wing popularized bishounen characters in mecha anime, it certainly wasn’t the first to use such characters. I can’t verify any historical claim I make, but I present the case of a manga, The Five Star Stories by Nagano Mamoru. This manga boasts of a very rich science fiction setting that is distinguished by his very stylish illustrations. I personally find the style very feminine, reminiscent of shoujo manga.

code geass r2 ED 02 lelouch lamperouge kururugi suzakuTo some people, this is cancer.

The Five Star Stories (1986-ongoing) is a manga by Nagano Mamoru, remarkable for its rich setting and very stylish illustrations. What does The Five Star Stories remind me of? It reminds me a little of The Vision of Escaflowne in that there are bishounen and there’s a Medieval European vibe in the design of the setting and of the robots themselves. I’m also reminded of both Chobits, and Ghost in the Shell in that there are artificial life forms that serve human masters (and that it’s a major element in the narrative). I’m also reminded of the stories/comics in Heavy Metal magazine, only that the stories in FSS are interconnected by a continuing narrative, even if the stories are not sequenced in a linear. And lastly, I’m reminded of Frank Herbert’s Dune Messiah, and God Emperor of Dune novels in that the main character is following a divine path (he is turning into a God), and that the narrative timeline stretches for thousands of years.

But what does The Five Star Stories give me? It gives me delightful fanservice. Really. Top-class high-quality exquisite fanservice. Now I’m not saying that this work is devoid of substance. I think it’s quite an interesting work that has a whole lot of stuff going for it. Perhaps the most substantial themes are the questioning of the meaning of how it is to be human (contrast with the fatimas as artificial life forms), and the progress of history guided by a singular entity approaching godhood.

But yes, fanservice. Nagano’s work is teeming with fetishes – from styling the mecha designs, to love dolls, to loli love dolls, and a traptastic lead character. IT IS INDULGED.

Here’s a presentation of his color illustrations:

What I find interesting about it is the dated, yet amazing use of line and color. Everything is long and the colors are garish in an ’80s kind of way. I lived through the ’80s as a child and these works remind me of album covers from the late ‘70s and early ’80s.

Here now is a presentation of the character designs:

Look at all those long limbs! Amaterasu, the Emperor of Light looks so feminine he’s a bona fide trap. As his disguise, Ladios Sopp, HE IS ONE. Even in the more masculine characters, the impossibly long legs contribute to the overall bishounen look. But man, those girls look like they stepped off a catwalk in Tokyo in ’88. Again, the look is dated, and yet so amazing.

Here is a presentation of the mechanical designs:

To me, it feels very feminine. The detail work, the overall line, the overall put-togetherness… is feminine. Contrast this with classic Gundam designs:

gundam mobile suit zeta gundam

Blocky and masculine, even if hinting the more refined lines that will influence the designs in SEED and 00. But an even better example:

gundam 08th MS Team gouf land type

Norris Packard’ Gouf from Mobile Suit Gundam 08th MS Team, round shapes but still very masculine. The spikes help, which off-sets the fact that it’s wearing a skirt.

Now if you know of/find earlier mecha anime or manga that feature bishounen style character designs, let me know.

Further Reading

jpmeyer’s claims re gundam fandom [1] [2]
Fujoshi? What is this I don’t even [->]
Nagano Mamoru [->]
The Five Star Stories and the feminine idea of mecha (Vendredi 2009/05/22)
The best resource for Five Star Stories on the web [->]
Young Reader’ Guide to the Five Star Stories [->]

[Note: if you are reading this post via feed reader, you will not see the embedded presentations. Visit the website to view the delicious images.]

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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46 Responses to Bishounen in the Mecha Genre Did NOT Begin with Mobile Suit Gundam Wing

  1. lelangir says:

    second impact

  2. Primeparadigm says:

    Maybe you should also do a design work comparison between FSS and its parent series Heavy Metal L-Gaim. L-Gaim shares alot of storyline similarities (Eg.The main antagonist is Poseidal, who is like an evil Amateresu, Also Ladios Sop backwards is practically Poseidal)and similar mecha designs (Also from Nagano) with FSS and can be likened to be Tomino’s version of FSS (Or rather FSS is Nagano’s version of L-Gaim). Wheras FSS’s designs are lavish and grand, L-Gaim’s designs, though similar, are more utilitarian.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Heavy Metal L-Gaim is now on my informal ‘to watch’ list. I think I’ll enjoy making that comparison, even if just to track the changes in Nagano’s designs throughout is career. The Tomino angle is also very interesting. Thanks for the suggestions!

      • Primeparadigm says:

        Do take note though that L-Gaim was made by Tomino in his happy mood, and veers a bit into the realm of silliness, even by the standards of his other “Happy” series.

        • ghostlightning says:

          Ok lol. I have an upcoming post on the phenomenon of LOLTOMINO itself. Too bad I haven’t watched L-Gaim yet.

  3. SunshineDuk says:

    Awesome post. Now I really want to read Five Star Stories. Is there somewhere I can find it easily for cheap/free? I am a broke college student.

    I love reading your writing, GL, it’s so thoughtful~

    ~Duk

    • ghostlightning says:

      Thanks Duk! I think I can help you. The actual manga is around USD 10.00 per chapter, but the size of the format (as big as a glossy magazine) is very satisfying.

  4. Kiri says:

    Haha, this is another subject I want to touch on eventually, specifically within the Gundamverse, but I think I’m going to wait until I rewatch/watch some of the UC series so I can make more comparative commentary.

    I find it most fascinating when a series manages to use bishounen aesthetics while still instilling a very masculine personality/qualities within various characters. I think Code Geass is a pretty decent example of this given how gar/manly/fabulous Lelouch is. It would also be interesting to explore whether or not the feminine character design itself is the only thing that attracts fujoshi. Gundam Wing has the occasional homolust prodding, but it isn’t nearly as overt as it was in 00. If that sort of prodding was absent entirely, would the female fans have taken as readily to the series as a whole? Is there nothing else about the series that attracts them? It’s evident via fanfiction and doujin that most of their fantasies (even nonsexual fantasies) take place outside of the battlefield, so do they really even give a damn about the mecha genre as a whole or just the bishounen and yaoibait within it?

    • ghostlightning says:

      I think Shounen Jump manga is an interesting place to look. Take the hueg hit Slam Dunk where the aesthetic isn’t overtly bishounen even though the boys are pretty. The abnormally long limbs are justified in that they were basketball athletes. The manga had no subtext, only that fujoshi started making things happen in doujinshi.

      This success led to The Prince of Tennis, where bishounen pandering is OVER 9000.

      So I think Wing is to Slam Dunk where The Prince of Tennis is to 00 (to keep it within the Gundam metaverse (unfortunately not having watched SEED I cannot comment on it).

      With regard to the ‘bait,’ most H ‘story lines’ exist outside the context of battle anyway, so it may not be a useful idea to pursue.

      • Kiri says:

        The Slam Dunk comparison begs the question of how much fujoshi actually enjoy the original work as compared to the derivative doujinshi. If there is no subtext beyond what they create themselves, then it’s feasible to think that many of their characterizations are fanon as well — then, do they only enjoy the original work based on the subtext they’ve created? And if that’s case, is the title really successful in engaging the fujoshi audience in the sports manga genre and the story or is it only successful in creating a situation where it’s easy for yaoi to be derived? (Then again, if it’s the latter, I wonder what other sports manga are popular with women since most sports involve sweaty men? What sets the fujoshi-popular ones apart from the others?)

        As far as Gundam goes, SEED is probably right between Wing and 00. The female characters in SEED are more adamant than in Wing and less annoying than in 00 — there’s also more canon to the hetero pairs, which carries at least a little weight in fandom.

        • ghostlightning says:

          I can’t answer those questions re Slam Dunk, but I am aware of huge popularity contests for both Slam Dunk and Prince of Tennis characters with most of the voters female. Also, there are categories such as ‘best eyes,’ etc. lol.

          Also, I don’t know about the dynamics of enjoying subject texts enough to comment on the dichotomy of subtext only/canon only. I’d wager there’s both, because I find it difficult to enjoy something purely in terms of character designs.

          • Kiri says:

            lmao, best eyes? Most artists draw their eyes the same for each gender with minor variations for protagonist/antagonist art archetypes. 😄

            I like to think that it has to be at least a little of both — perhaps some basic character outline/history/personality to go with the pretty face as well, though it isn’t especially rare for me to come across a fujoshi in a certain fandom who is so engrossed in the fanon side that they don’t recall much of what actually happened in the series.

    • V. Jill says:

      FYI some fujoshi aren’t even into girly men.

      Personally, I won’t deny if a series has a great slashable cast, I’ll forgive a lot of faults. There are also more ‘frothing’ fangirls who are into a series solely because they like doujinshi and aren’t much interested in the show itself. I felt that way about Gundam Wing personally because the story struck me as tired and dull – when compared with NGE which was happening at the same time and seemed so different/unique. I was also a teenager at that time, and I’m sure that had a lot to do with my choices.

      On average, a fujoshi is more driven by the -characters- in a show. So we’re appreciating an aspect that maybe a lot of mecha fans gloss over, and vice versa. Doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate a nice, metallic booty too.

  5. animekritik says:

    i love the character and mecha design (any guy called Amaterasu is a certifiable trap). it really is lush. how about the story though?

    • ghostlightning says:

      The story is hard for me to talk about. It’s scope is long, but there aren’t many things that happened as depicted by the Five Star Stories themselves. The timeline provided in each chapter is very useful, and somehow turns the very idea of spoilers that spoil a reading experience on its head. The timeline shows the entire recorded history, thousands of years in the future!

      So we know who dies and when lol.

      Nonetheless, the short stories are interesting reads (especially if you like romanticized medieval stuff and silliness) — and also when they somewhat differ from recorded history.

  6. Yes L-Gaim is very silly and there’s a lot of slapstick comedy. As a result I can’t actually watch more than an episode at a time at best since as many people know I tend to find slapstick pretty annoying. Still stuck way back on like episode 12 or something.

    As for Bishounen, it goes back even as far as the original Gundam with characters like Garma Zabi. There’s tons of them over the years in mecha, I’ll see if I can’t make up a list a little later tonight.

    • Just to clarify, what’s harder to trace is the exact moment when the loli aesthetic and mecha became inexplicably linked. It’s really obvious now, but where did it get it’s start. I’ll look into it.

    • ghostlightning says:

      While I think Garma and Char can be rationalized, I’m hesitant to categorize them the same way Lelouch, Schneizel, or even Lockon are. But definitely I welcome what you can come up with. I find this quite interesting!

  7. JELEINEN says:

    Glad to see FSS get some props. I really need to dig out my copies of it and figure out which volumes I’m missing. Toy Press really bungled the English language release of it. Do you know if it’s on hiatus or is it just being published somewhere else besides Newtype now?

    • ghostlightning says:

      Wikipedia isn’t being helpful, but the latest chapter is untranslated and is uncertain. I don’t know how often it publishes on Newtype though. mechafetish lent me his copies of chapters 2-9, and 11. The gaps I had to rely on scans.

  8. vendredi says:

    Back in May I did a post on the feminization of mecha, looking at FSS as an example. It’s certainly very “gendered” in a sense – Headd Liners are always partnered with a female Fatima, who is in a sense a human manifestation of the machine, and I think that’s what distinguishes FSS from Gundam’s brand of bishounen: these are solidly locked-in sort of roles here.
    I think what’s slightly different about the usage of bishounen in Gundam is that it’s deployed in sets – we don’t have a single pretty-boy character in Wing, we have five – plus, they’re all unattached (can’t really see any of the Wing boys looking for or even enjoying female attention) which makes them the perfect pairing bait.

    On a different tack, the mecha in Five Star Stories I think hearkens to a different sort of tradition – fantasy mecha, which is not very popular today, but you can see the influence of FSS in titles like Escaflowne or Panzer World Galient.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Oh Panzer World Galient! That’s a show I want to see at some point.

      You made a good point re: the pairings fetish in FSS as opposed to the ‘feel free to pair them’ fetish available in Wing Gundam.

  9. usagijen says:

    For some odd reason, when I first caught a glimpse of Five Star Stories in my Newtype mag, the character designs never appealed to me D: D: D: But that’s like a decade ago and I’d like to think my aesthetic sense has improved since then.

    Also, Gundam WWWWWWW

    • ghostlightning says:

      LOL. So does it appeal to you now? I’d actually like your perspective on the aesthetics given your experience with shoujo.

  10. jpmeyer says:

    Gawd, I wish I could find some images but the character designs in the LOGH manga are SO BISHIEFIED.

    • ghostlightning says:

      I’ll look for the manga, since it’s LotGH after all. However, it doesn’t quite quite qualify as mecha.

      That aside, it does seem like the text begs for such a treatment, with Reinhard staying single for sooooo long and being an eligible noble. And Siegfried…

  11. KaeBoo says:

    tapered mechanical designs seen on five star stories remind me of queer eye for a straight guy…

    the tapered mechanical designs with all of its details scream they are not totally straight. However, the designs scream that you can have a mecha and still look hot and pretty… kinda like the phenomenon where the males are starting to become more vain than the females. 😀

    just for kicks… here’s an image of the O and KOG placed beside each other:

    Don’t they make a cute couple? hehehe

    • ghostlightning says:

      LOL “The O”

      Paptimus Scirocco doesn’t exactly get the bishounen treatment, but yes he is rather effeminate (he’s perhaps just as girly as Mouar or even Reccoa lol, even if he’s the dandy cassanova of Z Gundam, as opposed to Jerid who’s the manly stud).

  12. KaeBoo says:

    ack! the images didn’t show. T_T

  13. miosama says:

    I am not the type of watcher who is heavy on character design. If they’re pretty, then good for me. I’m a story person. I would never pass up a good story because of bad character design, may it be on mecha or whatever genre. (Unless it’s Windy Tales, but that’s another story.) In mecha, I don’t really see bishies, traps or yaoi connotations in character designs as bonuses, I see them as fan-pandering. Most of the time, they don’t even contribute to the progression of the story so I just leave it alone. The only time CD affects the story is if there is a in-story joke about the character’s looks like Alto and his pretty-girl-boy looks. If I paid attention to CDs, I wouldn’t have watched Escaflowne because as awesome as the scenery, mechas, blahblahblah are, the characters have noses that bothered me that I couldn’t call Alan a bishie even if he was meant to be one.

    Anyway, when mecha-watching, I look at the hardware and the story. <- that sounded a tad hard to believe considering my affectation for bishies, traps and yaoi. ^^;

    Me being a n00b mecha watcher, my list is not so broad or diversified. And coming from a long line of cutesy shoujo anime, I don't really see anything feminine about the mecha. The whole while I was browsing through the mecha CDs and reading the post, my brain was going, "Armor… it's a dude. Wait, they're mechs. Designs are meant to be androgynus." O_O

    • ghostlightning says:

      You’ll be surprised with how FSS does things. It can be off-putting in how it shamelessly does fanservice, but it does this quite interestingly, similar to how Katsuragi Misato does it in Evangelion. For lack of a better term I call this “4th Wall Fanservice.”

      It does this fairly often, where characters talk to each other knowing that they are in a manga being read – but not breaking it altogether like Misato who talks to the viewer promising SAABISU in the next episode.

      You’re probably in a weird place regarding your mecha pursuit. It’s not a bad place at all! Hardware appreciation is very important to a mecha fan. And when a work does its due focus and attention to detail on hardware (and battles) it’s pandering to the mecha fan to a very satisfying degree.

  14. schneider says:

    The Fatima stuff makes me very curious.

    I’ve a wallpaper of Zeta Gundam featuring Nagano-fied MS somewhere, it’s really good. I admire the beautiful lines.

    • ghostlightning says:

      The Fatimas are like mentats in Dune, who are artificial – who then have issues explored in other works such as Asimov’s robot literature, Chobits, GitS, and Tetsuwan Atom. And yes they are very hawt, from Sochie-like nymphs, to Maetel-like fairies, I liek them.

      Re the Nagano-fied Z Gundam mecha… he did make a whole bunch of them for Zeta (Quebeley, Hamarabi, Rick Dias, Hyaku Shiki, and even the Argama itself).

  15. asher says:

    I don’t know why but the art reminds me a bit of Yoshitaka Amano’s, maybe it’s the thin/pointy style. Also, I remember one of my instructors from comic creation workshop mentioned something about mecha art lines and how serious mecha like gundam and macross had “harder” outlines, compared to, say, Rayearth mecha (he saw my card deck, his words were ‘ang lambot ng linya’). Oh, not that I’m not going to borrow these, but for now, they are not exactly the bishounens I had in mind, lol.

  16. DonKangolJones says:

    Love the article. Definitely will have to find a way to read Five Star Stories. After Legend of the Galactic Heroes, of course. I can only handle so many long series @ once. And anytime I see Zeta or Norris’ badass Gouf I swoon. But more importantly…. don’t ever use that Sailor Moon pic w/ the Wing pilots again. My eyes bled & I was so horrified my soul almost left my body. Seriously, it was like the movie Ghost.

    • ghostlightning says:

      LOL. The good thing about FSS is that it’s not a compelling thing to marathon. The arcs are so self-contained that there’s really no rush to find out what’s next. The official timeline effectively ‘spoils’ what happens next. Since the thing stretches for thousands and thousands of years, you know some people die, certain states lose wars, etc.

  17. animekritik says:

    I just read the first two (U.S.) volumes and I’m loving it. Great recommendation. Mechas look great, and universe building is awesome. Talk about appendixophilia!!!

    • RIGHT! Wow I just realized how much this’ll appeal to you. The para-text is apparently collated fan-work (specifically the chronology).

      There’s a not-that-really remarkable movie that covers up to the marriage of Amaterasu x Lachesis. But it looks rather pretty and Wakamoto Norio plays Voards Viewlard totally besotted by the trap Ladios Sopp.

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