Sakura Con 2024: Gundam Seed Freedom Panel

This year, Sakura-Con welcomed the voice actors Sōichiro Hoshi and Rie Tanaka among their special guests. Hoshi and Tanaka took some time to sit down with fans and talk about Mobile Suit Gundam Seed FREEDOM, the film sequel to Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny, which premiered in Japanese theaters in January, nineteen years after the TV series concluded. The crowd, a mix of old and new fans, brimmed with excitement. Lacus Clyne cosplayers abounded, with a smattering of Kira Yamatos alongside them.

After greeting the room, the panel’s moderator introduced the two guests. Hoshi came out clad in a black and white cardigan and bucket hat, and Tanaka wore a flowing cherry blossom dress and a soft pink wig. The first two questions were about visits: have they been to Seattle before, and what did they think of the con? This is the first time in Seattle for both of them, And Hoshi’s first visit to the US. Hoshi remarked on the length of the plane trip – nine hours – and how American anime fans take their fun seriously. It was amazing to think that all of this was happening because of Gundam Seed. Tanaka shared how she loved two local specialties, coffee and big slabs of meat, and has been taking full advantage of both. She loves seeing the cosplayers and is especially delighted by the “oshi bags” some fans have decked out with merchandise of their favorite characters.

From there, the moderator showed a key visual of two Gundams standing in a field and continued with a recap video to remind fans of everything that happened in Gundam Seed. Unfortunately, the lighting in the room made the projected video difficult to see, so if you weren’t already intimately familiar with the series, it was nearly impossible to tell what was going on.

From there, the questions turned to Hoshi and Tanaka’s relationships with the Gundam franchise. When asked about their impression of the franchise before joining the Gundam Seed cast, Hoshi detailed how he’d watched every Gundam series since he saw the first one as a young child and even built Gunpla. He’d always wanted to play a character in a Gundam show, but could never make it happen until he was cast as Kira. Tanaka became a fan when she saw Gundam Wing and fell in love with Heero Yuy in high school. The audience seemed especially excited about this, cheering and laughing at her response, while Hoshi commented on how young she was.

Then, they were asked about their relationships with their characters: What kind of characters are Kira and Lacus? What do they mean to you? Hoshi described Kira as the kind of character who is forced to be a protagonist and pushes back against his destiny, plagued with difficulties, worries, and doubts. Throughout SEED and SEED Destiny, he grows into his role and comes into his own. In Freedom, Hoshi played Kira as always having something he was fighting against in his mind. In the nearly twenty years since Destiny concluded, there has been a regular stream of SEED content, so he’s never been distant from the role; in fact, he believes that he and Kira are inherently linked in some people’s minds.

Tanaka described Lacus as at first coming across as floaty, untouchable, and unreadable. Over time, though, she starts expressing her thoughts and taking a stand. Under her distant-seeming surface, she’s always thinking, and when she concludes, she states it clearly. Tanaka contrasted Lacus with Meer, who she also played, describing Meer as more human. In Freedom, she decided to set aside her previous performance and play Lacus in a new way. She feels like as a person, she is more similar to Meer, always striving to be more like the too-perfect Lacus, but Lacus is her oshi.

The actors then reminisced about what it was first like to record for their roles in SEED. At the time, they were relatively new voice actors, and SEED‘s cast was filled with highly respected veterans, which motivated them to work hard to keep up. Tanaka also recounted how she first auditioned for Flay, but was asked to sing Lacus’ song “Shizuka Yoru ni,” and was cast as Lacus instead.

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They then showed a trailer for Freedom, which was once again hard to make out because of the room’s lighting. In the end, the trailer revealed that it will be screening in the US on May 7 and 8. The next question was how Hoshi and Tanaka felt when they learned Gundam Seed would be getting a sequel. Hoshi said that after Destiny ended, a sequel movie was always in the works. It was never canceled, even as time passed, and every year he would think, “Maybe it’ll be this year?” When they finally announced the movie was going into production three years ago, he thought, “Yes, finally I’ll get to play that character again.” Tanaka had been worried that it would never happen, but Takanori Nishikawa, better known as T.M. Revolution, who wrote songs for the series, believed it would come eventually and helped her stay optimistic. When word came that it was finally happening, she cried from her overwhelming happiness and nostalgia.

When asked what he hoped fans would take away from the series, Hoshi said that all sorts of different fans would be watching and each one would take away something personal for themselves. Longtime fans would think, “I’m so glad I held out hope and waited all this time for the sequel.” More recent fans would enjoy it, even without that long-held anticipation, and he felt the movie would still be a good introduction for brand-new fans, who he hoped would then choose to go and watch the originals. Tanaka said the ending would leave fans feeling happy compared to previous installments. She played Lacus with a different personality and different feelings but promised it would make sense. She also recommended audience members bring a few packages of tissues with them.

A bit sheepishly, the moderator confessed that the end of the trailer had spoiled what was supposed to be a big announcement for the theatrical run. He asked what Hoshi and Tanaka thought of the film being screened for audiences worldwide. Hoshi answered that when it premiered in Japan, he saw the fan response and he thought, “Wow, they’ve been waiting for this.” Now at Sakura-Con, he realizes that fans worldwide have been feeling the same anticipation, and he’s happy they’ll get to see it in theaters. Tanaka noted the two-day run and urged the audience not to miss their chance to see the characters they’ve loved, hated, and wondered about for twenty years on the big screen. She wants everyone to see how they turned out, especially Lacus and Kira’s relationship.

From there, they showed the first six minutes of Freedom. Again, it was hard to tell what was going on due to the room’s lighting, but one thing was clear: the movie was determined to start with a bang, taking the audience right into a lengthy battle scene. After the clip, the moderator asked the guests what they wanted fans to be excited about. Hoshi commented that the audience would be even more excited for May since they saw how the movie opens with a battle. Technological advancements have made it possible to make something very dense, with a lot happening on-screen all the time and a lot of drama, so he hoped people would try to watch it multiple times to see everything that happened. Tanaka mentioned that the movie would bring many new challenges for Kira and Lacus, but she couldn’t go into it without giving spoilers. She promised every character in the huge cast gets their time to shine, so it’s a worthwhile movie.

They describe how it felt to see the completed film. Hoshi talked about how they saw the movie right before it was released, and how different it felt from the incomplete footage they’d used when recording their lines. He couldn’t put into words the feeling of having waited and waited, and when he finally got it, it couldn’t have been better. This was the answer everything was waiting for. Tanaka cried “like a faucet” at scenes that brought up long-held feelings in the story, making her think, “So this kind of story can also happen in Gundam Seed. This is one story that was possible to tell in this world.” She admitted that she cries easily, but maintained that everyone in the room would cry too.

The final question was how the characters developed from the TV series to the film now that they’re older. Hoshi discussed how Kira had become a pillar of strength in Destiny, and now in Freedom he leads a group of MS fighters. Kira has developed in ways that suit him but may surprise the audience. Tanaka once again alluded to something mysterious happening with Lacus. She refused to reveal much, citing spoilers, but entreated fans to see for themselves in the theater.