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December 15, 2011 12:01 AM Subscribe
Mobile Suit Gundam
posted by DoctorFedora (64 comments total)
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premiered on April 7th, 1979 in Nagoya, Japan, and with it came the now three-decade-old franchise that launched a thousand plastic model kits.
MAY CONTAIN spoilers for a thirty-year-old beloved cultural touchstone that you've likely never seen or possibly even heard of.
DEFINITELY CONTAINS many, many links to TV Tropes.
Upgrade to 56K already. You're going to need it.〜Mobile Suit Gundam〜
Named for a portmanteau of "gun" and "freedom," Mobile Suit Gundam
first aired this year, watched by… frankly, not a huge number of people. The rather odd number of episodes (42 episodes,
to be exact) was caused by its lack of viewers leading sponsors to demand a cutback from the originally planned 52 episodes.
After Bandai's Gundam model kits
showed up in 1980, though, the series' popularity blossomed and in national rebroadcasts it was well received.
Why was it popular? Gundam
was largely to the Super Robot genre
what Star Trek
was to American sci-fi: it was the flower that blossomed from a pot of dirt, bringing with it the idea that it doesn't have
to be pulpy kids' stuff. Gundam
was the first entry in what became known as the Real Robot genre
, which is typified by an emphasis on the people inside
the robots, rather than the robots themselves, as the show's stars. The emphasis on realistic science fiction concepts, such as space colonies located at the Lagrange points
and a whole field of hypothetical physics, only served to further its appeal to better-read and more discerning viewers.
The show begins in the year Universal Century (UC) 0079, and stars Amuro Ray, the son of a prodigious military inventor, living in a space colony. His isolated, not-exactly-idyllic life is interrupted by an attack on the space colony by reconnaisance soldiers of the Principality of Zeon, a splinter group that wants to secede from the Earth Union and declare space colonies independent. Once their tactics turn violent (including the original Colony Drop), it's full-blown war between them and the Earth. This conflict came to be known by the name of the One-Year War.
So anyway. Soldiers attack the colony, and one thing leads to another and bright middle-schooler Amuro finds his way into the Gundam, a prototype mobile suit (a giant humanoid space vehicle — see here for a frighteningly exhaustive list organized by series). While this trope may seem familiar nowadays, this was at least reasonably fresh at the time.
After that, Amuro and his ragtag group of friends are essentially consigned to join the army to fight for the Earth, because of their knowledge of classified technology (and also in order to not personally die).
Playing the role of a spoiler of sorts is Amuro's rival, the famous masked magnificent bastard known as Char Aznable, nominally fighting for the side of the Principality of Zeon, but with an agenda of his own. Char and his bright red mobile suits have since gone on to become iconic (with various merchandise, a Twitter client for iOS, and even a business card case available for fans).
The show's popularity stems from the character development, the emphasis on fairly reasonable characters and military strategy (although militarily speaking, the creators apparently didn't intend the show to be so directly meant as an allegory for the European theater of World War II), and an unclear sense of morality to be found within the series. Far from the at-the-time common "I love being evil!" motivations of villains and incorruptible justice of protagonists, Gundam was famous for showing individuals of the "good guys" and "bad guys" armies as entirely the opposite of what you'd expect, with members of the Earth military depicted largely as drunken and careless, while members of the Zeon military are shown as largely being kind and, in the case of Ramba Ral, honorable enough to leave alone an Earth Federation soldier he meets in a Zeon-controlled civilian area, waiting until they meet again on the battlefield.
The series has since gone on to become a cultural touchstone in Japan, and received some fandom abroad, including Italy, where it broadcast in 1980(!), and the US, where it (finally) broadcast on Cartoon Network in 2001, premiering in the US after a spinoff series from a decade and a half later (which we'll get to later). In its home country, though, you can visit the Gundam Café (site is in Japanese but has nice photos), any of a number of Gundam-themed bars, or, in the past, you could visit the 1:1 scale Gundam statue in Odaiba, Tokyo (later moved to Shizuoka, home of the Gundam model factory, and given a few improvements), constructed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the franchise. You can even get a Gundam-themed GPS navigation app for your iPhone (Previously) in Japan.
Nowadays, you can find no shortage of spinoffs and affectionate parodies of the original series alone, from officially sanctioned works like Keroro Gunsou/Sgt. Frog (who just wants to build his Gundam model kits all day) to the visually spot-on yet intensely silly comics by Tony Takezaki (tragically unavailable in English anywhere I've been able to find on the internet). A number of fans on the internet have also taken to playfully poking fun at the series'
low-budget QUALITY animation. Once you've seen some Gundam, many of the in-jokes become self-evidently hilarious as well. Others, on the other hand, not so much.
After the series' national rebroadcast, spurred by the popularity of the model kits — with the exception of the novelization written by the director, Yoshiyuki Tomino, as well as three compilation movies retelling the story of the series (FUN FACT: the movies' DVD releases are among the few region-2 DVDs sold in Japan, for a Japanese audience, to have English subtitles on them) — not much happened with the series for a while. Until, that is…
〜Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam〜
Mobile Suit Gundam's sequel aired in 1985, taking place in UC 0087, eight years after the events of the original series. As though to firmly cement in the minds of viewers that it wasn't really meant for kids, at least not really, Zeta Gundam is much darker than the original series, very much the The Empire Strikes Back to the original series's Star Wars. While most of the original cast shows up again, aged appropriately (with Hayato, Amuro's friend from the original series, growing up to look distressingly similar to a serious-faced Wayne Knight), the protagonist this time is Kamille Bidan, another teenage boy growing up in the space colonies.
All is not well in the space colonies, however. After the Earth Federation won the war in the original Gundam, they went power-mad and created the Titans, an elite force originally meant to root out and extinguish remaining Zeon sympathizers but who eventually became a military government of sorts. Under this pressure, the Anti-Earth Union Group or AEUG (awkwardly pronounced as word throughout the series) springs up to fight the tyranny of the Earth government over the space colonies.
Leading the AEUG is the charismatic
a CHAR definitely-not-Char-Aznable Quattro Bajeena, now fighting for the rights of Newtypes (a sort of quasi-The Force step forward in human evolution, prompted by the en masse move to space) to live freely in space…
Zeta Gundam is widely hailed as one of the best series in the franchise, if not the medium. Its pull-no-punches approaches to the horrors of living under a military dictatorship and of espionage in war, though, are almost certainly not for kids; rather, the series seems much more directly aimed at the fans of the original series in its original broadcast.
All this talk of seriousness, though, isn't to suggest that fans haven't done completely silly things with footage from the series.
Much like the original Mobile Suit Gundam, the series was condensed into three movies. Unlike the perhaps unwatchable three-hours-apiece Cliff's Notes of the original series' movie adaptations, Zeta's was rather more watchable at a far more reasonable length per. As the Zeta movies were released far more recently, however, the transition between the original animation that was reused and the new animation produced for the movies can be jarring at times. Long-time Gundam fan and colossal rock superstar Gackt also provided a new theme song for the movies.
Zeta Gundam was also noteworthy for being the first of a long series of Gundam tie-in video games, most of which were frankly pretty bad (with the exception, oddly, of the SD Gundam series of turn-based strategy games, which have generally been quite solid overall).
While the rivalry between Amuro and
Char Quattro remains unresolved, that'll have to wait for now, because next up was…
〜Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ〜
Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (pronounced "double zeta") came next, and was made with the intention of resolving the rivalry between Amuro and Char, but after Tomino, the director, got the green light to make a movie (see just below), that planned plot thread was dropped completely and the series became a direct sequel to Zeta Gundam. It's kind of widely ignored on the whole.
Despite a terrible start to the series caused, presumably, by trying to set a comedy in the middle of a war, many fans seem fairly fond of the series, though it still remains one of the few Gundam series never released in the US.
All else aside, though, Gundam ZZ was notable at the very least for having a ridiculously catchy intro song, called "Anime ja nai" ("This isn't a cartoon").
〜Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack〜
Released in 1988 and taking place in UC 0093, this last entry in the rivalry between Amuro and Char was also the first theatrical release of a Gundam movie, as well as the first use of any CGI in any Gundam show or movie (seen at the beginning of this trailer). The production of the movie is something of a convoluted story, with the movie being based on a novel written by Tomino, but the novel was made into a movie before this, which it was intended to be, so Tomino changed some parts of the story, but the sponsors didn't like that, so he changed it back, but eventually released the modified (original?) version of his novel as a novel.
This time, Char wants to further his goals of a human race that lives in space by trying to force an ice age on Earth. Amuro thinks this is a bad idea. Rivalry ensues.
Although he reportedly fought with depression, the alleged reason director Tomino earned his nickname of "Kill 'em all Tomino" was because he wanted to discourage sequels.
While there was some dissatisfaction with certain elements of the ending, Char's Counterattack was rather well received overall.
〜Other Universal Century stuff〜
While Char's Counterattack ended the rivalry between Char and Amuro that defined much of the franchise thus far, there were a number of other spinoffs (and even a sequel or two) within the expanded Universal Century timeline. Among them were:
• Mobile Suit Gundam F91 was Tomino's attempt to relaunch the franchise with new characters and a new setting, three decades after Char's Counterattack in UC 123. However, due to development complications, what was meant as a new TV series was instead put together into a rather disappointing movie. Notable especially for its surprisingly gruesome violence, including innocent civilians trapped helplessly in a war. Not particularly well received by fans, perhaps for the reasons mentioned here.
• Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, taking place in UC 0153 and bearing not a huge amount of direct connection to the rest of the franchise thus far, brings with it the youngest protagonist to that point (13-year-old Uso Ewin) and oh it is just so depressing. It brings with it a world where the Earth Federation is largely useless, especially in defending against a space-based invasion, also did I mention that the characters muse about the horrors of involving children in a war? This was also to be the last Universal Century series to be directed by Tomino, the original creator of the franchise.
• Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket was the first OAV (direct-to-video release) of the Gundam franchise, and brought with it both a different director and a different style: instead of the story of a full-scale war, the series' six episodes focus on a boy named Al and his experience with the Zeon soldiers who visit his space colony during the One-Year War from the original series. While very different from the rest of the franchise thus far, both stylistically and in content, it remains a fan favorite to this day, standing as an example of the Gundam franchise's emphasis on the people in the giant robots, rather than necessarily the robots themselves.
• Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn is a very recent addition to the UC timeline, being released as a six-episode direct-to-video release, and, while not yet complete (it began in 2010, with fairly long episodes planned every six months or so), it has been met with a great deal of enthusiasm by fans. On the other hand, some concern has been raised by the fact that the story is being written by Harutoshi Fukui, best known for novels that essentially glorify the Japanese military of World War II. Either way, the idea of a story that connects the year UC 0001 (the beginning of the era of space colonization) with US 0096, much later, holds a certain appeal to a lot of the fans, who seem, by and large, to be fairly intrigued at the notion of a story that reaches back to well before the One-Year War.
• There were also a number of other spin-offs, including The 08th MS Team (another OAV), Blue Destiny (a comic based on the Side Story series of Sega Saturn games), and MS IGLOO, a series of CGI shorts made for the Gundam museum near Tokyo and eventually released on DVD. I've almost certainly forgotten someone's favorite spinoff, so I hereby openly apologize for that. We're talking "Expanded Universe" type stuff here; virtually none of these were made for TV, and some of them are really obscure, like the made-in-Canada live-action G-Saviour. (G-Savior, on the whole, is not particularly well regarded by any real standard.)
〜A brief interlude: SD Gundam〜
In the mid-'80s, Bandai began a spinoff of the Gundam franchise called SD Gundam, named for the super-deformed proportions used throughout the spinoff franchise. Starting with a straight-to-video series of shorts and a series of small figures, the SD Gundam franchise has since grown to include a huge number of video games, model kits (both in the original cartoony style and the later G Generation more seriously styled ones, named for the turn-based strategy game series), and even spin-offs of the spin-off, such as the Knight Gundam and the TV series SD Gundam Force, a fairly silly joint American-Japanese production for Cartoon Network. Worth noting is the fact that, within the SD Gundam subfranchise, the mobile suits are often treated themselves as characters; the Gundam, for example, is not necessarily piloted by Amuro Ray, but is instead basically just a person-sized robot, and the SD mobile suits can in fact occasionally can be seen interacting with people as basically equals.
The rather popular SD Gundam: G Generation series of video games (most recently SD Gundam: G Generation World), on the other hand, treat the otherwise-silly-looking mobile suits entirely seriously, as though the original franchise's various series had originally been made with the mobile suits simply having giant heads and short limbs. It doesn't hurt that they're also very solid turn-based strategy games.
〜Mobile Fighter G Gundam〜
In celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, the makers of the franchise decided to do something a little different.
By way of the initial metaphor, comparing the airing of the original Mobile Suit Gundam to Star Trek in terms of how it differentiated itself from previous entries in the genre, imagine a new Star Trek spin-off where, far from simply making the Vulcan Nerve Pinch a real thing (which, depending upon whom you ask, may have been made canon either by the new movie or even invented by the Beastie Boys, as demonstrated in-movie), the crew of the Enterprise flew around the galaxy conquering civilizations while the Vulcan member of the crew dispatches his enemies with mind bullets.
Needless to say, this had the effect of creating something of a split fandom.
Directed by pre-Gundam-era Super Robot series stalwart Yasuhiro Imagawa, the story begins in a new universe, in the year Future Century 60 (already a nod to the unimaginable insanity to come). Unlike the original Gundam, in this world the elites have taken to wildly unrealistic space colonies, leaving only the poorest and most desperate on Earth, which is treated like — not so much a battleground as a ring, really. You see, the space colonies, deciding that they need a way to determine who's in charge, hold an event every four years called the Gundam Fight (apologies for the vocal track), a tournament of battles between representatives of each space colony, fought by them in their giant robots (called, conveniently, Gundams). The Gundam Fight is subject to a number of articles written into the treaty that began it. Naturally, each and every one is relevant to the plot at some point.
Unlike the vast bulk of Gundam series, G Gundam is unique for featuring a hot-blooded protagonist, an unambiguously evil villain, and an ending that even managed to split the staff in terms of their reactions to the idea (SPOILER: the Power of Love literally destroys the villain). In other words, it's essentially Dragon Ball with giant robots, and if the idea of a TV show where two men punching and kicking an abandoned skyscraper into the air bare-handed is treated as just another thing that happens (while a reasonably dramatic moment, nobody stops to say, "wait, isn't this physically impossible?") appeals to you, it just might be worth looking into. Where else are you going to find a fifty-episode show whose list of Crowning Moments of Awesome alone is longer than many whole series' TV Tropes entries?
〜New Mobile Report Gundam Wing〜
Originally released in 1995 and premiering in the US in 2000 as the first Gundam series to make it to North American TV, Gundam Wing was many fans' first exposure to Gundam in the west. Fan reactions were mixed due to its mix of character designs meant to appeal to a younger and arguably less boy-centric audience and its relatively mature themes of war and espionage. A number of fans still approach Gundam Wing with a Universal Century-preferring HURF DURFery that would make most MetaFilter readers blush, but for the most part they've moved on to just actually watching the original stuff.
The series begins in the year After Colony 195 (continuing the original series' tradition of basing the date of the setting on the calendar year of release) with the Earth government ruling the space colonies in a tyrannical manner, leading the colonies to send a team of five boys to Earth, each equipped with a mobile suit of their own yet unaware of the existence of any of the others, to fight on behalf of the space colonies. Imagine a combination of the original Gundam and Zeta Gundam with a mid-20th-century aesthetic and you're already halfway there. There was also a direct-to-video OVA sequel called Endless Waltz that served as a sort of ersatz Char's Counterattack to put a close to the story.
Due to a number of similarities between its story and that of the original Gundam (Masked villain whose secret sister is working for the other side? Check.), there have been allegations that it was essentially meant as a remake of the original. Luckily, these died down a few years later when Gundam Seed came out and there were much stronger allegations that it was not merely a remake of the original Gundam but in fact a rip-off. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Gundam Wing was also notable for being one of the first Gundam series to espouse the position that violence is bad, and I'll kill you to prove it.
Oh, right, and there was this other show that came out in 1995 that was meant as a deconstruction of Gundam (first item under the "anime" folder), itself a deconstruction of the Super Robot genre. I hear it still has some fans.
〜After War Gundam X〜
Much like how 1994 and 1995 brought speculative "what if?" changes to the original Gundam formula, 1996 brought with it Gundam X, taking place in the year After War 0015. Unlike the single Colony Drop that initiated the One-Year War in the original series, Gundam X takes place in a ruined post-apocalyptic wasteland left after dozens of space colonies were dropped on the Earth, killing nearly the entirety of the human race.
At only 39 episodes, it's clear that it was not well received by viewers at the time, with the move from a 5:00 p.m. Friday time slot to a 6:00 a.m. Saturday one certainly not helping out much. Reviews seem to suggest that it was not unwarranted. However, after its initial run, it began to pick up steam with fans, eventually reaching the point where there was enough enthusiasm to warrant a follow-up comic called Under the Moonlight.
You don't really hear about Gundam X much these days.
1999's ∀ Gundam (hereafter referred to by its pronunciation, "Turn A Gundam," because it's just so much easier to type) marked the triumphant return of original series director Tomino to the Gundam franchise for one last time. Needless to say, it's silly to expect the man who redefined a genre to not redefine a series that had, in itself, developed genre-like conventions.
As a result, our story starts in the year Correct Century 2345 (the Japanese name "seireki" noteworthy for being a play on words, as it's pronounced the same way as the Japanese word for "AD") in what is to all appearances very early 20th century North America. Back when men were real men, airplanes were real biplanes, and giant robots come shrieking out of the sky, destroying a city in a single shot from a beam cannon, and piloted by people saying they're from the moon and that they demand to be allowed to move back to Earth.
While still plagued with Tomino's trademark difficulties with story pacing, Turn A Gundam set out to be fundamentally the un-Gundam. Rather than being set in the future, Turn A is set a hundred years in the past (though those unearthed relics look awfully familiar…). Rather than being about people fighting a war, Turn A is at its core about people working politically to prevent a war (and any acts of wanton badassery tend to end very badly for everyone involved on both sides). In fact, fan legend has it that the protagonist was even originally supposed to be a woman (while this may be discredited, that has no effect on the fact that he still spends a great deal of the series publicly pretending to be a woman).
Among the most controversial elements of Tomino's new series was the choice of Syd Mead as the designer for mechanical elements throughout, giving much of it a visual style reminiscent of Tron, Alien, and Blade Runner. The fan reaction to the design of the titular mobile suit was paralleled throughout the series itself, with many characters referring to it along the lines of "the thing with the mustache." Between the characters' willingness to acknowledge its strangeness and the numerous inside jokes and references for long-time fans, Turn A Gundam developed a fairly strong fandom among those who actually watched it. The fact that its epilogue is, in this poster's completely objective consideration, a few of the finest minutes of character-driven television, ever, is merely icing on the cake.
Since its original airing, the fires of fandom have been stoked with both the Turn A Gundam being selected for the 100th Master Grade model kit (a larger and more highly detailed version than the ordinary plastic model kits) and by Bandai Entertainment posting the
TV Tropes trope names innocuous phrases "Go out with a smile," "Humans are warriors," and "New Age Retro Hippie" to Facebook as an obscure way to announce their US release plans for the series. While the release trailer slates it for a 2011 release, there doesn't seem to be much 2011 left for them to announce a specific release date during, much less actually release it.
〜Mobile Suit Gundam SEED〜
2002 brought with it a new alternate-universe Gundam series, the first in quite some time to resonate with the public in general and find a mainstream audience. Hardcore western fans have decried it for being too unoriginal and samey.
Taking place in yet another new timeline, the Cosmic Era universe, Gundam SEED sets the stage with the familiar Earth-versus-space conflict, with Earth being home to the Naturals, who are (appropriately enough) just plain ol' humans, and the space colonies being populated by the genetically modified Coordinators. The Coordinators living and working in PLANTs, a sort of orbital R&D and manufacturing compound, want independence from the countries on Earth that own and operate these PLANTs. Between political tension and Fantastic Racism regarding Naturals versus Coordinators, war breaks out, and the story begins to follow Kira Yamato, a Coordinator caught between the two sides.
While the series is known to lag in its first half, it picked up enough in its second half to create demand for another Gundam first, a direct sequel to an alternate-universe show: Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny. Much like the first SEED, Destiny was much less fondly received abroad than in Japan.
〜Mobile Suit Gundam 00〜
Airing originally in 2007 (with, in another Gundam first, a second season airing the following year), taking place in — in yet another Gundam first — the year AD 2307, Gundam 00 (pronounced "double-O") is the first Gundam series to take place in our world, just far off in the future.
In our world, 300 years hence, fossil fuels have run out, and a giant solar array ring has been built around the Earth to meet the world's energy needs. This massive undertaking was handled by three multinational alliances, comprising the majority of countries worldwide. Though they rely on each other for their energy supplies, political power plays and war between the factions remain a reality.
Enter Celestial Being, a small but extremely powerfully armed group with the goal of ending war, forever. And they don't take kindly to being manipulated by one government trying to force another into misbehaving under their rules…
Rather well liked by fans overall, Gundam 00 remains popular a few years past its initial release. Whether this is due to longevity or simply because it's recent has yet to be seen. Following the second season, a followup movie called A Wakening of the Trailblazer was released to tie up the story, the first theatrical Gundam movie release since 1991's Gundam F91, 19 years earlier.
〜Mobile Suit Gundam AGE〜
We finally arrive at the currently-airing Gundam AGE. Finally.
This time, we find ourselves in another new alternate universe, in the year Advanced Generation 108, roughly a century after the beginning of space colonization. Seven years ago, an unknown enemy called Unknown Enemy began to attack the Earth, and so mankind must fight back for its own survival, developing the Gundam AGE, the ultimate weapon, in order to do so.
Despite character designs that have — much like some element of very nearly literally every other entry in the Gundam franchise — split the fanbase, after the show's debut reactions have tended more toward the cautiously optimistic overall as the show's themes have proven more mature than the initial "kiddy character designs" reactions based on the trailers would have expected. As only ten episodes have aired as of this writing, though, there still remains plenty of time for the series to turn super great or super terrible.
〜Holy jeepers, where to even start?〜
There's a whole lot of Gundam out there, so where's a good place to start? Here are some recommendations:
• I love classic TV shows and can deal with the shortcomings inherent to TV from three decades ago. You want the original Mobile Suit Gundam, then. Follow it up with Zeta Gundam and Char's Counterattack if you'd like to see what happens to Amuro and Char, as well as many other main characters.
• I don't really know about all this futurey roboty stuff. I like historical fiction with political intrigue and deep characterization. Turn A Gundam is for you, in that case, with an even stronger emphasis than usual on the people inside the robots instead of the robots themselves, as well as a setting rich with characters just as confounded by giant robot technology as you'd be and political intrigue. (Personal note: this is one of my girlfriend's favorite TV shows ever, for these reasons)
• I want something recent, kinda topical, and high-definition! In that case, Gundam 00 is for you. It's fresh enough in the minds of fans to still be well remembered for discussion and the like, even if it won't have the longevity of the original series.
• FEELINGS ARE BORING AND KICKING IS AWESOME OBVIOUSLY YOU NEED G GUNDAM IN YOUR LIFE WITH ROBOT NINJAS AND HILARIOUS NATIONAL STEREOTYPES I MEAN WHO CAN SAY NO TO A GIANT ROBOT THAT IS WEARING A GIANT ROBOT SOMBRERO HONESTLY
• I want to relate well to someone who was born in the mid-'80s, grew up loving anime, and had a cable TV service that got Cartoon Network. Check out Gundam Wing, made in the mid-'90s so it's not too visibly dated, and with enough action and political intrigue to keep most viewers pretty happy.
〜So where can I get my hands on these TV shows?〜
While you have the option of trying your luck with certain Bays, a number of (ahem) legitimate options are available to you. If you're in a country that isn't blocked by it, Crunchyroll.com has online streaming of most series, including the original Mobile Suit Gundam, New Mobile Report Gundam Wing, Mobile Fighter G Gundam, and even After War Gundam X.
You can also pick up DVDs of the various series that have been released in English from Amazon (and get MeFi a kickback in return!):
• The original Mobile Suit Gundam
• The recent and popular Gundam 00
• The insanely awesome (or awesomely insane?) G Gundam
• Gundam Wing
〜Now you're adequately equipped to chat with your 40-something male Japanese coworker.〜
Just kidding. All you really needed for that was the original series; only a crazy person with no life would even know about any of this other stuff.