[Spoilers for Mobile Suit Gundam, Turn A Gundam, and other works directed by Tomino]
When I first tried watching the Mobile Suit Gundam Movie Trilogy, something really disturbed me. I’ve said this before, but I think it merits repeating for the sake of my subject in this post:
In Soldiers of Sorrow (movie 2), Amuro Ray felt betrayed by Bright Noa and the rest of the crew (Bright said something to the effect that they shouldn’t let Amuro get big-headed by reminding him that he’s the only one who can pilot the Gundam), and ran away.
Ikari Shinji ran away. Renton Thurston ran away. Teen emo pilots run away. But I’m telling you that neither examples ran away the same way Amuro ran away. It’s because Amuro ran away stealing the Gundam. Not only did he steal the Gundam, he somehow dug a hole in the middle of the desert, and put the Gundam in it… completely vertically. Now the cockpit of the Gundam is in its abdomen, so either
a) Amuro dug the hole using the Gundam, then threw the big lug with his bare hands and filled the hole with his bare hands; or
b) Amuro dug the hole using the Gundam, and transformed into a sandworm like Leto II and crawled his way out of the hole and transformed back into a human again.
Either way, there was no way the RX 78-2 would be operable again because he would have either no access to the cockpit which would have been 9 meters buried in dirt, or if he did crawl out like a sandworm the cockpit would be filled and clogged with dirt. Afterwards Amuro realized that he brought neither food nor water, so he had to wander the desert to find a town that will serve him. It is significant to note I think, that Amuro does not have local currency, if any money at all. If he did find a town with a saloon (he did, and they did serve him… though he wouldn’t have to pay for it due to subsequent plot events) he had no means to purchase anything.
And what was the purpose of this histrionic display? It was a set up for a chance meeting with Ramba Ral and Hamon Crowley, a significant plot event. This arc is actually very good, and had lots of drama that grimly depicts the turns of human fates in time that feels captive to the whims of war. The set-up however, is just terrible. To recapitulate:
Rape (of logic) is a good plot device. Amuro had a hissyfit, stole the Gundam, and buried it in a hole in the middle of nowhere while having no other provisions nor plans beyond this.
When I first saw this, I just got so mad! I think my writing still reads so mad. In any case, a year after I watched these movies again and I found myself a lot more forgiving of the show’s out-of-place weirdness and gaps in logic. I had come accross the idea called LOLTOMINO. When I see scenes or things like the above (large or small, of great and miniscule significane), I just laugh it off. Bcause there will be more:
- In the second episode of Mobile Suit Victory Gundam Uso Evin performs a ‘Gundamjack’ (stealing a mobile suit) in mid-air, engaging the enemy pilot (Chronicle Asher… the name itself is LOL, but if I start talking about names in Gundam I don’t think I’ll ever finish this post) in fisticuffs. The fight in the cockpit is prolonged, and desperate; eventually resulting in Uso (all of probably 120 pounds of 13-year old squirt) beating a grown man and throwing him out of his own mobile suit Grand Theft Auto style (yeah the videogame, only with more fighting).
- In episode 39 of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam a strange woman (Rosamy Badam) who appears to be in her 20s declares herself to be the younger sister of the lead character Kamille Bidan (around 15 years old) who is a conscripted soldier in active duty and the pilot of the A.E.U.G.’s most advanced mobile suit (the Zeta Gundam) in wartime. The command and crew of the Argama let her onboard without question in episode 40, nevermind that there is nothing believable in Rosamy’s behavior, in the eyes of the cast (not just me). This is not going to end well.
- Also in Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, episode 21:
A brawl like this just happens in the bridge of the Argama, with the captain himself ‘peacemaking’ by kicking the shit out of everyone (yeah Bright Noa is badass LOL). There’s lots more, but by know I hope to have made my point. You want more? How about “waves of peace?” Just don’t make me explain it. [->]
One thing I personally don’t qualify as LOLTOMINO are general physics-related inconsistencies or problems (e.g. small helicopters lifting mobile suits, variability of damage caused by weapons depending on plot needs, etc) because one can find this in anime in general. Tomino has no monopoly on these and his habit of including these things doesn not significantly distinguish him.
Theorizing on our Laughter
Considering my relative inexperience with Tomino’s works (only having seen the Space Runaway Ideon movies some years back, and not even completing the Tomino-directed Gundam shows), I solicited the assistance of The Animanachronism in taking on this often-mentioned but rather underexplained phenomenon:
LOLTOMINO (or ‘LOLTomino’) is obviously a word used to describe something(s) in anime directed by the man. It’s therefore an open question whether the quality we call LOLTOMINO is actually inherent in what we’re watching, or just something we see because our minds have become predisposed to organise our impressions that way. But maybe inherent stuff isn’t very important, while the way our minds organise our impressions is.
I’ve frequently seen the word used almost as a justification in itself. Why did such-and-such a ludicrous thing happen? LOLTOMINO. I think for some people it encapsulates the idea that there are some things in the Tomino corpus which we can’t (or perhaps shouldn’t?) think too hard about. We just have to let such scenes pass us by on the understanding that no explanation will be forthcoming: ‘When the LOLTOMINO is gone there will be nothing. / Only I will remain.’ But it’s also seemingly just another adjective, as it’s used like that here.
(I wonder who’s meant to be laughing. Is it the audience (‘Oh Tomino, you card!’) or is it a reference to the idea that when Tomino laughs, things are going to get very bad for the characters and/or the viewers?)
Another issue that the word brings up is the actual extent of Tomino’s creative control. I’m not entirely clear on how much influence he’s had on each of the things he’s directed. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some LOLTOMINO incidents weren’t his ideas (there are such things as scriptwriters, after all). So it may partly be a symptom of fans’ desire to tie lots of things together with one author-function, and of Tomino’s relatively famous status among English-speaking anime fans, especially fans of the mecha genre.
And, finally, it feels to me like this concept has some kind of connection to the so-called ‘Happy Tomino’ (sub)genre. I can’t quite pick that apart, though. […]
I won’t argue against this assertion on the subjective nature of the ‘laughter.’ In the cases I’ve enumerated in the preceding section, I was laughing in derision, in a “LOL you stupid old fart” kind of way. I was upset at seeing these problems and had a beef with the adulation Tomino is given since I had expected little fallibility and much excellence from his works.
I think the laughter is a reflexive behavior. In the face of ludicrousness, or at least when an event in the show makes us unwilling to suspend our disbelief, we end up taking issue with the perceived (sole) author. Even if the work is delivered by a composite group, we’d be reasonable to think that the command responsibility lies with the director.
The interesting behavior among fans of his works is their willingness to forgive, overlook, or mainly laugh off these supposed problems and go on to appreciate the merits of the shows. I find this behavior in myself, and I feel that I’m onto another related dynamic.
After we finished our Turn A Gundam marathon, mechafetish said something very intriguing to me:
When you watch by yourself, LOLTOMINO makes you facepalm, gets you irritated, or even upset with the show you’re watching. When viewing with others (perhaps at least people who are sympathetic with Gundam), the LOLTOMINO becomes a fun collective experience.
HMMMMM, interesting! Going by my own experience, watching Gundam by myself resulted in dropped shows (Tomino works that I’ve seen and dropped before my ‘Gundam conversion’ include: Victory, Turn A, 1st Gundam, and ZZ). I was quite upset when I first watched Turn A Gundam. I mean, my good friend praised it to the high heavens and online I saw hype, hype, hype. When I started watching, not only did I find the mecha ugly and silly, I also would see all this weirdness going on:
- A mecha battle involving the Turn A Gundam kicking little lizard mechs aside and sometimes picking them up and throwing them like sacks of potatoes… the whole affair looked more awkward than a brawl between first graders of mixed sexes.
- Keith Lajie forcing a whole loaf of bread into someone’s mouth to prove that it’s tasty (it was, apparently).
- Everything about Corin Nander (I dropped the show after the episode of his first appearance).
When I tried watching Turn A again, mechafetished watched every single episode with me. Whether it was politeness or just the power of friendship, I was significantly less upset when I saw Corin reappear just as ridiculously and this time as a wandering monk, berserk and was pacified by being given a giant papier mache parade float of the Gundam to fight against. I found myself smiling a little, if grudgingly. By the finale, Corin Nander was a hot-blooded hero of balls-out manliness. He had won me over with his inexorable unreasonableness. I was laughing with mechafetish, and remarkably, with Tomino now. Turn A Gundam’s victory over me was near-complete.
So yes, I think given the ‘pressure’ to enjoy the show given the scarcity of common time together among friends (especially as adults with different schedules), LOLTOMINO becomes funny and yet another way to enjoy the show. In this dynamic, it actually becomes a credit to the show. More laughs, fun times with friends and anime; take that with the other merits of the show, it becomes a very enjoyable experience overall.
But what of the Man?
In the discussions about LOLTOMINO I don’t get the impression that Tomino himself gets a lot of credit for having a sense of humor. He gets laughed at, not with; as if the joke is own him for being so serious, killing shiploads of characters, and making a treasure trove of unintentional comedy. I haven’t seen Overman King Gainer, but it seems to be a work of lighthearted fun. Turn A Gundam itself is charmingly comedic in its wealth of idiosyncrasies.
Consider that it’s possible that the man is in on the joke, and in Turn A he uncharacteristically breaks the fourth wall with possibly his most over the top nutcase of a major character:
With Turn A Gundam, Tomino remembers love and laughter. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. Watched a few Tomino shows? What scenes made you LOL?