SF Consultant

Tsukasa Shikano

In fictional worlds, there exist various technologies which are key to the story and world view. These technologies are imaginary, but if they are invested with consideration of actual ones, it definitely adds reality to the world of the story. On "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" (hereafter referred to as "THE ORIGIN"), SF (Science Fiction) consultant Mr. Tsukasa Shikano was the one who brought realism to the SF elements. We spoke to him about the SF-focused aspects of this project.
- How did you come to be involved with "THE ORIGIN" ?
Shikano: At first, the person who was the SF consultant for the original manga was in charge, but they became unwell. So they needed somebody else to take up the SF consulting position, and Director (Takashi) Imanishi was looking for people. That's when I was introduced to Mr. Imanishi through an acquaintance, Mr. (Yutaka) Izubuchi, and came on board.
- In concrete terms, what does the job of SF consultant entail?
Shikano: In concrete terms, I take part in scenario meetings and give advice or ideas about how best to approach things, or I give opinions on how certain things work in terms of SF, things like that. My main work is as a science writer, so I don't just do SF consulting.
Not just "THE ORIGIN," but all such works, are fiction to begin with. They're completely imaginary, they're lies. However, if you create everything from 1 to 10 with lies, no-one will get any sense of reality from it. So if you have directors and producers who are concerned about that and want to create a work that feels realistic, then they'll want consultation on various aspects of it.
For example, spaceships appear in "SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO 2199" and "THE ORIGIN," but we don't draw the positions of their switches just anywhere. We think about, "Well, if a person's sitting here, and they use it like so, then the position should be about here," and then the designer designs it. And with guns that don't actually exist, even if you incorporate the basic shape of existing guns, you think, "If this were actually used, it would be weird for it to have such and such a detail," and you give instructions to the designers to think about that. Those fine details add realism here and there, so even if the thing is a fantasy overall, it generates plausibility. SF consulting is a part of that. It adds reality to the world and the story.
- As a matter of policy, is it important to express a connection to the real world?
Shikano: Personally, I'm fairly well-versed in actual science. When it comes to a story that's complete fantasy, if you add things that can be explained by extrapolating from current science, I think maybe some viewers will get a grasp of such considerations. So if a director wants consulting based on that kind of real science, that's when I get called in.
In "SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO," there was this thing called the Rainbow Star Cluster. But in "YAMATO 2199," the Earth side calls it the Tarantula Nebula. There is a source for this. The Tarantula Nebula actually exists, and more than ten years before "YAMATO 2199" was produced, the Hubble Space Telescope discovered and photographed a beautifully shining rainbow-colored star cluster there. When I heard that news, I didn't yet know that I would be working on a new Yamato, but I thought, "This could be used as a source for the Rainbow Star Cluster." So when I actually got the "YAMATO 2199" job, I was allowed to use this detail. It's only mentioned in the dialogue about twice, but some people may remember those lines, and when they look at a reference book about space, they might recall that and become interested in that way. I wouldn't expect everyone to understand it, but by incorporating real ideas into fiction, it's like a hook, you're thinking about incorporating elements that touch people in different ways. That's SF consulting.
- In terms of the actual work, you participated in screenplay and storyboard meetings, and would point out SF-related problem areas, right?
Shikano: That's right. But, in my case, I didn't say anything negative like, "Well, this is actually like this, so don't do that." I prefer to instead say, "That's actually like this, so it's right," even if thinking about it honestly means things won't make so much sense. I want the ideas of the writers and creators to come to life. Even if a few ridiculous things are written into it, if I understand what they want to do, then I can give them advice like, "If you do this like this, then it'll seem realistic."
- It's the job of applying reason to the unreasonable.
Shikano: I love that about it. Especially at the scenario stage, things still aren't finalized, so there's room to apply logic in various ways.
- In terms of the production, do you also give advice about the imagery?
Shikano: In my case, I went to most of the scenario meetings, and I sometimes saw the storyboards, but at the storyboard stage there was almost nothing that could be changed. I think very little turned up at the art stage that was off, but in those circumstances, it's not about my opinions getting through but the creative people thriving.
- Do you have any emotional attachment to the "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM" series?
Shikano: I was about 20 when it was first broadcast, but I thought it was really interesting, and I watched it. The SF setting, starting with space colonies that incorporated O'Neill's ideas, was really interesting. The concept of Newtypes was also wonderful. They had a kind of insight or foresight, but it was depicted in a different way from worn-out ideas like telepathy, wasn't it? That sensibility was really electric.
Also, I didn't really understand it at the time, but I later realized the human drama aspect of it was really wonderful too. And especially in the manga of "THE ORIGIN," the human drama element is in there even more. It's something seldom depicted in recent anime. It's common to be thrown in among the aces, but it also depicts people who are living earnestly. In the story, there are the ordinary people called Oldtypes, and the awakened Newtypes. Each are depicted with their own positions, and they all have their own thoughts and behaviors. That's rare in a story these days.
- What's necessary when consulting on the SF for "THE ORIGIN"?
Shikano: Well, I came in as a "relief hitter" partway through, so a lot of elements were fixed in place, and I felt like I wasn't very useful. In terms of the direction of the project, we tried to be as faithful as possible to Mr. (Yoshikazu) Yasuhiko's original manga, so we tried to keep the original dialogue as well. Even so, there were some parts where I thought, "If you think about this in a modern way, it's better to do it like this." So they tried to use the manga dialogue as much as possible, while somehow interpreting it. Kind of at the level of, "It would be odd to use this unit of measurement here." In that respect, it was really a subordinate position.
- Did you consult in detail about things like gravity inside the colonies?
Shikano: No, not very much. For instance, when howitzers inside the colony fire along its axis, the flight path would actually be different from when they fire in the direction of rotation. I said, "It would be kind of like this," but I never thought that would actually make it to film. Right there, if you have an explosion in outer space, there's no smoke. That's a famous thing. But if you say that, then you can't make anime at all. So naturally my stance is that the dramatic elements take priority.
- Was there anything in terms of SF consulting you had to work really hard at, specifically because it's the world view of the Universal Century?
Shikano: Gundam has an incredibly deep history. I couldn't add very much to it. Things like Newtypes and Minovsky particles just are what they are. It's difficult to change anything there. For example, things would be a great deal more simple if Minovsky particles were merely a technology which causes electromagnetic interference, but then you add in Minovsky Craft with the power of flight, and it becomes harder to rationalize. But we can't ignore it either… I was hounded by those kinds of difficulties.
- What did you think when you saw the "THE ORIGIN" footage?
Shikano: I thought it was just amazing. The human drama in "THE ORIGIN" is really captivating, isn't it? For longtime Gundam fans it will feel amazingly real, like this was the past these characters actually had. As with people who've really lived, it feels like, "This is what will happen to them later." The same characters are depicted in their youth and it's done so well. You often see this depicted really clearly in American dramas and such, but not so much in Japanese dramas. I think that aspect of it is very interesting.
Also, with things like the relationship between Ramba Ral and Kycilia, I felt like in other circumstances the two of them might have made a political marriage of convenience. The work made me feel those things, so I felt the realism of it in that sense. There are very few anime works that go that far. It was truly interesting dramatically. I think it's only natural it'll be a hit, and I'm delighted that I got to be involved with it, in however small a way.
- You feel the craftsmanship of Gundam's Universal Century again, don't you?
Shikano: That's right. When I was young, I think lots of people were absorbed by the world of a single work, like Gundam. One of the interesting things about Gundam is that it's full of elements that you've never even heard of. There are tons of names of people and colonies, and ships and mobile suits. And when you have stories where you understand the world view and you know words that other people don't, that's really interesting for an adolescent generation. Those are elements that obsess certain people. Then, there's the world view that that world consistently maintains. That makes it enjoyable, and you feel like the world is one that definitely exists out there. I think that's a major element of it.
When I was a kid, I loved the SF novel series of "DUNE," and there was a glossary at the back that explained everything in the world. The world-building craftsmanship in "THE LORD OF THE RINGS" is also connected to what makes the story interesting. I think the success of First Gundam is due to the same sort of exhaustively crafted world view, and I think it's wonderful that Mr. (Yoshiyuki) Tomino made it that way.
- Finally, in your role as SF consultant, please tell us what points to look out for in episode 2 of "THE ORIGIN" and onwards.
Shikano: I think there's more depiction of the colonies in episode 2 and on. There wasn't much in episode 1. I don't know how much we'll actually see, but I would love people to watch out for the inclusion of things like full-fledged orbital calculations.