God, the Devil, and Imagawa Yasuhiro

god devil imagawa yasuhiro

I am far less a fan of creators than the works actually created. Being this way I approach this post knowing that I won’t be providing much insight or contributions to the biography of the anime director Imagawa Yasuhiro, or how biographical details factor in his work that I dearly love.

This post will have important spoilers on the following shows: Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Mobile Fighter G Gundam, and Shin Mazinger Z Shogeki Hen. If you haven’t completed the above shows I recommend that you do so. This post will be waiting for you at the end~

At some point, everyone gets their chance to train at the Guyana Highlands, and I will bring some of what I learned there into this post. HYPER-MODE ON!

GundamGallery G Gundam140

Much to my delight, the works of Imagawa take on nothing less than putting the whole world and humankind in the balance of a massive conflict, both organizational (as in nation-states, and international agencies) and very personal (as in familial). Also, what draws me to him is how his works are chock full of love for tradition and their source works.

As far as I’m concerned, Imagawa Yasuhiro is a saint within my aesthetic of ‘Remembering Love.’ WTF is that? It’s just this idea I have of creative use of homage and referencing in the pursuit of creating something new and powerful. In the three works cited here, Imagawa has taken tremendous liberties with the source material, with such audacity and balls-out fearlessness in betting that the fans of the source material will not be alienated by the new work.

I think he won that bet every time.


This post is less about the method he used but rather a consistent theme that I still find difficult to express succinctly, much less with elegance. In the three works discussed here, there are these two elements:

  • The nature of villainy and the presumed enemy is not quite the enemy.
  • A machine that can go both ways: to be God or the Devil.

Both elements work together in expressing the fullness of the story. I should note that these are not the only themes at play, only that these are the ones I’ll look into in this post.

Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still

DR. FRANKEN VON VOGLER is not evil. For most of the show he is treated as the arch-villain both by the forces of good (The Experts of Justice), and the forces of evil (Big Fire) – who sought to benefit from his supposedly destructive work, the perceived legacy of the Tragedy of Bashtarlle.

The Tragedy of Bashtarle is when a terrible explosion wiped an entire country off the map due to an experiment gone wrong. Von Vogler was part of a crack team of scientists on the verge of completing the production of the perfect energy source. It was believed that Von Vogler insisted on pushing with a trial despite the risk of meltdown.

After the meltdown, Von Vogler left his son Emmanuel these words: “Stop Shizuma,” then handed him one of three drives that needed to be assembled. Dr. Shizuma had at the time gone on to supposedly perfect the production of the energy source, and the subsequent machine was named in his honor: The Shizuma Drive, a clean and rechargeable energy system that revolutionized the world.

By the beginning of the anime proper, the whole world was completely dependent on the energy produced by the Shizuma Drive. Emmanuel had thought that his father acted in bitterness and wanted to ruin the world running on clean energy thanks to the usurper Shizuma. Emmanuel was consumed by this idea of inheriting his father’s quest for revenge, and convinced Big Fire to let him lead an operation to bring the world to its knees.

But see, the Shizuma Drive can go both ways: within it is both God and the Devil. Von Vogler was no villain. He was the most brilliant of the scientists and wanted the strictest of trials. He foresaw that, the drive in its current incarnation upon reaching critical mass in terms of human dependency on it, will extinguish all oxygen on the planet.

The components he tasked Emmanuel to complete were not going to destroy the Shizuma Drive, but will rather complete it. And it did, in the end… but at the cost of the Von Vogler family’s lives, and Emmanuel’s soul. The monster sphere that Emmanuel used to try to wreck the world actually prevented its destruction.

Isn’t this beautiful, how Emmanuel fulfilled his father’s wishes while reading it the worst possible way, and doing truly evil things in his name? Emmanuel prevented the true tragedy posed by the Shizuma Drive, while attempting to cause the end of the world.

Mobile Fighter G Gundam

GundamGallery G Gundam35

MASTER ASIA, THE UNDEFEATED OF THE EAST, is not evil. Cruel, yes. Horribly mistaken, yes. But he is not how Emmanuel Von Vogler is or how Franken Von Vogler was perceived, nor is he someone who wishes chaos and destruction for its own sake.  It is easy to misunderstand Master Asia. For the most part Domon Kasshu read his actions as an attempt to rule the universe.

But the real villains are hidden from view, for the most part due to the distractions made by not only Kyoji Kasshu, then Master Asia, but also Wong – the head of state of Neo Hong Kong and current administrator of the universe. Furthermore, there is the interesting betrayal of Ulube and Dr. Mikamura – who betrayed the Kasshu family similar to how Shizuma did Von Vogler.

What was at stake? A machine that can save the world and destroy it. While it is easy to dichotomize God Gundam vs. Devil Gundam, the binary is misleading. God Gundam is only a machine for fighting. The Devil Gundam is the machine that has God-like powers: not only to destroy, but to change life (and control behavior via the DG Cells), and to evolve.

g gundam master asia king of hearts

Master Asia’s goal is to get rid of humanity in order to save the Earth. This way he is in the tradition of Char Aznable, who intended the same; and the Anti-Spirals of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. With Devil Gundam, humans will all be unable to return to Earth, and the ecology of the planet will recover after millennia of human abuse and neglect.

But who is the real enemy? This isn’t an easy one to respond to. After the human desires that wanted to use the Devil Gundam for their misguided or selfish ends have been bested, the Devil Gundam itself has grown much too powerful. And the source of this power has shifted to appropriate Rain Mikamura, which transformed the finale into a damsel in distress love story: to destroy the Devil Gundam is to destroy Rain.

Of course, love prevailed – AND HOW! The machine that was intended to be God but became the Devil was vanquished, and humanity will have to make do, to govern itself progressively in a world without Gods and Devils.

A digression:

It is interesting how Neo Japan – as a government is the systematic or organizational evil in the narrative. This is opposite to how Japan is usually portrayed only as the source of the nobility and honor in the story. The Japanese individual in the form of Domon (and Rain) is still portrayed as honorable and courageous, but organizationally Japan is corrupt in this show.

Shin Mazinger Z Shogeki Hen

mazinger shin mazinger 26 dr hell baron ashura

DR. HELL is an evil man. There’s really no betraying a name like Dr. Hell and making him a virtuous character. This man is very, very bad. Rightfully he is portrayed without sympathy throughout the narrative, having done corruptions unto living things in the name of what seemed to be world domination,

But as it turns out, the perversions he performed unto the very sympathetically portrayed Baron Ashura served as humanity’s best defense against an entire race bent on destroying or subjugating it. While we aren’t invited to look upon Shin Mazinger Z, how no one really can claim to be innocent except the few young people.

Almost every character has compromised herself or himself, often in a life-defining way. The ‘good guys’ are often shown to be ‘no-good’ people indeed. This is important because Kabuto Koji and Mazinger Z itself are part of a clear choice: to be God or Devil. Between them is the power to be so. The real villain may yet to appear, and that may be Koji and Mazinger Z itself.

mazinger shin mazinger tsubasa nishikiori slasher

In this case, you have the Mazinger Z robot similar to how the Devil Gundam must have been when it was freshly constructed, before it began to develop a kind of consciousness that behaved in a dynamic similar to the Love Me AI in Summer Wars. Not that different is Gian Robo itself, whose energy source is the ‘dirty’ nuclear energy (capable of making the Earth a hell) juxtaposed to the perfect and clean Shizuma Drive energy.

The power of evil potential is used as a force of good. In this way the stories Imagawa presents in animation honors the human being with the power of choice. We can really go either way; great and terrible things are within our powers to bring forth; do we choose to be God or the Devil?

Further Reading

Excellent writing on Mobile Fighter G Gundam that must be visited and revisited (Iknight 2008)
More on the finale of Shin Mazinger Z Shogeki Hen (animekritik 2009)
Baron Ashura steals the whole damn show [->]

Haven’t seen any Gundam at all? Find your Gateway Gundam!

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.
This entry was posted in comparative, Gundam, Mazinger Z and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to God, the Devil, and Imagawa Yasuhiro

  1. Very nice post. I don’t really know how to respond to it, since you were pretty comprehensive here, but Ill give you two thumbs up and a nod of the head. Also, you made me think about something interesting which I’ll post about myself sometime in the future: The world of G Gundam really is represented as being post-apocalyptic and hellish. One isn’t tempted to think about it because it’s hard to tell early on that G Gundam is any more than a super robot show, but when you really think about Master Asia’s plan, it makes all the more sense when you think back on the show and realize that you can’t remember almost any place that wasn’t largely ruins.

    • Hmm, I dunno. While it’s not often to have post-apocalyptic settings for super-robot shows (the recent one is TTGL, and sort of DieBuster — but this is a complex qualification), I’m having trouble seeing the significance of your observation. I mean the flagship real robot franchises aren’t necessarily post-apocalyptic (Gundam, Macross) so G Gundam being post-apocalyptic isn’t significant in the sense of keeping or breaking traditions.

  2. schneider says:

    re: Mazinger Z

    This is why Mazinkaiser fails. While Mazinger Z is a machine that could either become God or Devil, Mazinkaiser CAN SURPASS BOTH. Balls out action aside, it missed the point.

    Bian Zoldark of the SRW Original Generation games arguably influenced Dr. Hell’s Shin incarnation. He created an army bent on world domination with the ulterior goal of escalating the Earth’s mecha arms race. He told the good guys that they must defeat him in order to stand a chance against the alien threat, and they stepped up to the challenge.

    • Hmm I can see where you’re going with the Mazinkaiser criticism. Surpassing God is kind of silly. There is no greater concept so the transcendence of it is kinda problematic.

      Thematically, it’s even more of a problem perhaps; because the power and corruptibility caveat is a strong part of what makes the narrative gripping.

  3. Robert Weizer says:

    As I was telling 21stcenturysodalessboy, I generally don’t get nerdy about staff on anime. That means it’s really telling when I say that Imagawa is my favorite director.

    • Yeah I’m not much of a creator nerd myself, and Imagawa is certainly up there among my favorites. Just don’t ask me how to evaluate my faves in some kind of merit system. I just wouldn’t know how to. I just like ’em, pick ’em, and stick ’em in a list (Kawamori, Anno, Tomino).

  4. Anonymous says:

    You didn’t talk about the tetsujin remake. it also talks about how Tetsujin can either be used for good or bad, depending on the person controlling it.

    • Unfortunately I haven’t started watching that show. This is the only reason it’s not included though I am aware of it and have it archived. I’m glad you confirmed the consistency of the theme. Thanks anon.

  5. drmchsr0 says:


    However, I perceive it as less of his brilliance and more of the source material portraying that.

    Directors can choose to enhance certain issues and themes, but as a whole, I believe that his brilliance lies in bringing out the epic conflict (and his favorite theme of whether a machine can be used for good or evil) while making absolutely everyone look their best.

    Shin Mazinger Z is probably the latest example of that. Even Boss Borot got to CATCH and FLING a missile at the enemy.

    • Have you seen the original shows? I’d like you to confirm these elements as core features of the source material. That would be quite informative I think.

      • drmchsr0 says:

        I’m aware that G Gundam is an original.

        And while I have some problems watching the original Mazinger Z (THE PACING IS PAINFULLY SLOW), I have read the first volume of the manga, and it explicitly says that Kouji could choose to be God or the Devil as long as he had Mazinger Z.

        …Not too sure about Giant Robo, though. Must look into that.

        • So how can you perceive the thing you said while seeing so little of the original material which even only applies to 2/3 of the subject of this post?

          • Matt Wells says:

            Don’t know about the manga, but in the live action tv series Giant Robo was to be a tool of destruction in the hands of the BF group, until Daisaku gained control of it for the IPO. Imagawa’s Tetsujin 28, while supposedly being more faithful to the original 50’s manga, very much plays up a similar angle on this theme.

            Its a theme Imagawa returns to again and again in his mecha shows, either based on the source material or his own obsessions. In Tetsujin the robots are tools, it is the intent of the operator which determines whether their actions are for good or evil. Hence why Tetsujin, once praised by the public for its actions, is defiled as a monster when the American Mafia seizes control of it and forces it to rob banks.

            The paralell to the whole “God or Devil?” theme in this series is whether creations like Tetsujin, made in times of war to cause harm, are either inherently weapons to be used or sealed away; or tools that can be used for the benefit of peace.

            Shotaro has to defend his use of Tetsujin in this manner in episode 23, “Tetsujin on Trial”. The show’s definitive moment for me comes in epsidoe 8, where a bruised and beaten Shotaro definatly declares he doesn’t care whether Tetsujin is a wepaon or tool, he WILL fight alongside him to ensure a peaceful future! He then procedes to go to town on an enemy robot, bursting through it in one rocket powered strike. Great stuff!

          • I realize now why there’s less of this plot line — on defending the purpose of giant robots against the public. It would seem that it’s been done well already. I appreciate less direct touches, like that of Gundam Unicorn on the binary type of conflict/theme.

  6. Kaioshin Sama says:

    Man I love it when you pick out incidental little things like this that I might not have thought of myself. When I’ve had fun reading something I know it did it’s job.

    Anyway enough flattery, I’m pretty sure Ulube Ishikawa best fits the description of villain in G Gundam. None of his reasons for making use of the Devil Gundam struck me as ultimately selfless like Master Asia’s did.

  7. Shinmaru says:

    Gah, I could have sworn I replied to this post already.

    One related theme I love in the Imagawa anime I’ve seen (the three you list) is the complex family dynamics and how, much like the villains, even family are not what they appear to be on the surface . . . but neither are they completely terrible and incapable of redemption, despite whatever transgressions they may have committed. I love that human unpredictability in Imagawa’s characters.

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  9. Jack says:

    These sharp insights certainly highlight a theme Imagawa seems to be interested in bringing to the surface. If this where Film Studies we’d be talking about “auteur theory” in hushed tones (or at least a heavily modified version of “auteur theory.”)

    Upon reaching these three great works in some-what rapid succession another idea, tangentially related to this one, worked it’s way into my head. Imagawa is far, far more interested in the nature of villains than he is in heroes. The Devil can be more more memorable.

    Perhaps this is just a by product of working with super robot tropes but often the main heroes aren’t all that interesting. Kabuto Kouji is a pretty basic good guy who does good things. He can’t really do much else because that’s the nature of these stories that conflicts between good and evil.

    But the role of the villain can be far more interesting. They can be: evil (Dr. Hell), misinterpreted (Master Asia), heroic in their own way (Alberto the Impact, even heroes get to make heroic sacrifices in Imagawa’s show), tragic (Emmanuel) ruthlessly unpredictable (Tsubasa Nishikiori) and so on. There’s such a rich variety of characteristics to be found in their deeds and exploits, the are very flexible characters.

    So much so that when I think of Shin Mazinger Z I remember “Baron Ashura”, when I think Giant Robo I remember “Emmanuel”, when I think on G Gundam I remember “Master Asia”. It can’t be a coincidence that all his works have such fascinating villains.

    • It could very well be beyond just Super Robot tropes, but on Shonen tropes in general. It wouldn’t be until Amuro Ray (I think) that you’d have a whiny kid as a lead pilot (and this ushered the Real Robot subgenre). When we get interesting, we often don’t know what to do about it: Ikari Shinji.

      I think amorality is a shortcut to interesting without having to make complex characterization.

      As you say, the villains sometimes enjoy the choice work of characterization done on them, being one of the primary sources of the complexity in the narrative.

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