Gundam. That is a word that means so much to anime fandom in Japan. There were realistic robot anime before Gundam but almost every real robot show after Gundam either borrows from Gundam or goes out of its way not to be Gundam. I have watched most of the recent Gundam series but I have always wanted to see the origin. Every other part of the franchise has in some part paid homage to its founder. Anime of all genres have made reference to the series. Revered by many fans as the pinnacle of the franchise to which all later iterations are mere hollow shadows. It is required viewings for anyone who wants to fully understand what anime is all about. So here we go. We shall try and tackle one of the giants of anime once again of for the first time.
With the 30th anniversary falling in 2009 it seemed appropriate and also a solid reason for me to finally sit down and watch the series that kicked off a franchise I am coming to enjoy more and more. To be honest, I never really felt comfortable calling myself a Gundam fan, and have refrained from doing so, until I watched the beginning. So now that I have solidly planted myself in Gundam history I plan on watching more of the grandiose back catalog of shows because original Gundam is as good as boasted. I’m not sure if you are reading this because you want to know if you should watch original Gundam or if you have already watched it and just want to know what we thought, but either way it should be interesting!
Gundam 0079 starts in the middle of a most horrific war that will become a mainstay of the franchise. Several space colonies lead by the principality of Zeon have declared bloody independence from Earth. Due to atrocities on both sides, half the population of humanity has been wiped out. Gundam begins during a lull in the fighting. Amuro Ray was just a nerdy kid into electronics on the orbital colony Side 7 until the day that the Zeon forces, lead by the mysterious ace pilot Char Aznable, attacked the colony. During an attempt to steal the Federation’s newest technology, Amuro winds up defending the newly created battleship White Base with the revolutionary robot called Gundam. When most of the command staff of the White Base is killed in the raid civilians, low ranking military personnel is forced to man the ship. So a team of mostly untrained survivors must try to get the most highly sought technology back home to Federation controlled territory. What effect will this untrained crew have on the war? Who will survive?
White Base has many good people on it, but Amuro Ray is their shining light of hope to get through this mess. Amuro was a character that I really fluctuated on. He seems reasonable in the beginning but then goes into no-one-likes-me-so-I’m-going-to-be-a-brat mode for a while that is exceedingly annoying. There is a war on man! However, on the flip side he is a child thrust into being a war hero. But these instances show him as the kid he really is, that and him actually thinking he had a chance with Matilda. Also his complete lack of concern for Fraw Bow shows him as both oblivious and selfish considering she is the only person to always stick by him. I did really enjoy his obsession with electronics, so much sometimes that he forgets all else going on around him. And since he invented Haro, he technically rules forever. He certainly isn’t the most likable main character but I think he has good enough moments that get him through.
Amuro is a best summed up as a likable-genius-hero who is also a crybaby-moronic-jerk. Which is sort of paradoxical but in that paradox lies Amuro Ray. Depending on when we look at Amuro he can be an awesome character or a complete dipstick. He sometimes oscillates between these two states of being within a matter of seconds. He will take charge and stand up for everyone in White Base one minute and be a selfish brat the next. He also has the habit of doing something super stupid every four or five episodes that just make you want to smack him. Although this makes him a realistic teenager it also makes him a hard character to like at times.
So I was a Char fan from the moment he hit the screen (Does this have to do with my love of blonds? Maybe, but it was so much more!). Since this is in tune with many a Gundam fan, it shouldn’t be that surprising. He is an enjoyable villain who is smart, cunning, skilled, and works only for his own agenda. This becomes increasingly apparent as he plots against his own comrades in classic gleam-in-my-eye evil style. He is also Amuro’s main rival and their final battle is what you are really looking forward to rather than the end of the actual war. Clearly masked villains and heroes are all but common everywhere, but Char sets the standard for the Gundam series. I was very surprised to see him remove his mask and show us (along with one lady) his face early on in the series. We also believe it is all because of Char that people like Zeon. P.S. Char is also the first character in the series to get fan-service, I will never forget that Char shower scene!
Char couldn’t be more different than Amuro. He is simply a charming and demonic magnificent bastard. I mean there is a reason that Char is the icon of the series more than any other character in the show including Amuro. Every subsequent Gundam series has tried to capture some of the lightning-in-a-bottle that is Char. He is constantly scheming against the Federation and Zeon to the point it is clear he is not a solider in the Zeon army but a solider in the Aznable army. No matter who he kills, betrays, or sabotages you can’t help but like him. He has style, finesse, deviousness, and bad-arse pure ability. Men and women would drop their knickers for him in an instant.
I know Bright Noa definitely has his fan following. Famous for his Bright Slap I think people over estimate his power because I definitely remember Amuro still being a punk after this scene. Still Bright is the hard arse who really has everyone’s’ best interest at heart. If Bright is the father of the crew then Ryu is the older brother to Amuro’s angsty middle child. This also makes Hayato the little brother. Kai Shiden wins the award for ships biggest bastard and family black sheep. I could feel the hate rising off of Natutaki every time he appeared on the screen. Constantly flirting with Sayla did not help. He does eventually straighten out a bit after some major tragedies. Mirai acts as the crews mother by taking care of everyone and acting as a counterbalance to Bright. Sayla then takes the role of the sexy older sister. She is confident and strong with all the men on the ship constantly taking notice of her. Fraw Bow is then the little sister. A little more naive and childish than Sayla but she has her heart in the right place. To take this analogy to its breaking point, I guess that makes Sleggar Law the pervy drunken uncle. Everyone on this ship expect maybe Job John deserts or flagrantly disobeys orders at some point in the series. Actually maybe Job John did but his name is Job John so no one cared.
We spend quite a lot of time getting to know the White Base crew which has every type of personality. This goes to cause plenty of conflict but also means that everyone will have someone to like on the crew. Fraw Bow comes along with Amuro and ends up bring part of the bridge crew. She also takes on the role of surrogate mother to a group of kids on the ship. I really liked the kids, but who really thought keeping children on a warship was a good idea? Atleast they are useful at moments like when they find all the Zeon bombs! Then there is Sayla, who has a calm and cool demeanor and some secrets to keep it interesting. She has guts and also ends up being a pilot a little later on. The other pilots on board are variable. Most lovable being Ryu who is a happy fellow followed by Hayato who is rather shy and reserved. The bottom of the chain is clearly Kai, who I would have loved to strangle, and Slegger who doesn’t show up till much later but was able to be a bigger jerk than Kai in a shorter amount of time. Everyone on the ship is also used to stroke Amuro’s ego at one time or another, not that he was really listening. Running this rag tag team is Bright who is thrust into the command position early on. He learns as he goes and eventually they make quite a formidable force with Amuro at the forefront.
The Zeon forces have a liberal sprinkling of colorful characters, including the most ugly royal family you ever did see (minus Garma), one of which I started calling Cobra Comander’s girlfriend, a guy we nicknamed Snake Man, and a man with a most magnificent mustache. We get to see them a lot less than the Federation forces, but we do glimpse everyone from higher ups to frontline soldiers. There are moments when they even help the Federation civilians. Rumble Ral is particularly memorable, see magnificent mustache. You’d think that somehow this would make us understand them better, but every time we see something good it seems they turn around and do something bad right after. However, to be fair the Federation is full of super jerks, too. I understand the concept that leaders are the really evil part, but it was a hard sell at points. Though the movies do this much better with their more condensed incidents.
Zeon’s popularity is an odd phenomenon to me. They are mostly unlikable jerks and rather nasty people but not in the cool way. Sure Ramba Ral was pretty great and Crowley Hamon has cougar appeal but other than that you hardly seem that many likable Zeon characters. They tend to be evil, fascist jerks that go around abusing civilians and trying to blow up children. That does not win me over to their side. Zeon also has more of a selection of mobile suits which might lead to it’s larger fandom but that also means a larger selection of very silly mobile suits. Char love is so strong people remember Zeon as being much cooler than it actually was.
The (mostly) lovely ladies of Gundam are a diverse bunch. Each one displays some commanding and strong traits, but some aren’t able to maintain them it seems without a man around. You there Mirai are a sad example of this very quality. What a bumbling person she became when she had to take Bright’s place for an episode, practically crying and hesitating at every turn. Lucky, others fair a little better. Sayla starts out rather bizarrely but as the series continues she does end up standing her own ground. Though they make her into an irrational woman when it is convenient for the plot. Crowly Hamon is rather awesome when she leads her Zeon troops. She is married to Rumble Ral so she better well be cool. Matlida also stood out as a good commander of her Federation force. Fraw was probably portrayed the most consistently of all. She has a firm and motherly feel as she cares for the children on the ship. I am including Amuro as a child that she also takes of. And last but not least one would be remiss to not briefly mention Lalah Sune. She shows up late in the series and moves between peaceful hippie ghost and supreme soldier. Her popularity rather amazes me but she was memorable.
Tomino has an odd way of writing female charters. He loves to write strong female characters and then have them utterly fail when they do something critical on their own. Sayla is always sharp and commanding as long as she is not on her own. Then she either falls apart, fails, or makes bizarrely irrational decisions. Matilda and Hamon are pretty strong female characters but they don’t appear in the series for an extreme amount of time. Lalah Sune is ethereal enough to be almost alien so it’s hard to pin down if she is a strong female character. It’s like Tomino likes strong females but hates women in general. Apparently later Gundam series only reinforce this theory. That and the only reason Amuro doesn’t smack Fraw all the time is because it would take time away from verbally abusing her.
The few relationships that crop up during the series are a point of interest. Don’t worry I won’t blow the lid on who ends up with who! But I will say that most of them couldn’t be more underdeveloped if they had tried. The one slow build that they were doing a decent job with was completely thrown out the window in favor of a BOOM-WE-ARE-IN-LOVE-FOR-THE-DRAMA-OF-YOUR-DEATH moment. Only one relationship ever made much sense to me, ONE. But equally astonishing was people thinking there was a love triangle in this series. Let me give you some perspective. If the triangle involves two guys and a girl, when the girl is IN NO WAY conflicted over who to be with. It is not, NOT a love triangle. Just sayin.’ I would say this part is better developed in the movies but still rather slap-dash. I wasn’t really rooting for any relationships but if you are going to throw them in you have to give me a little to go on.
I had always heard that Tomino has no idea how to write a believable romance. I now understand what they have been talking about. People seemingly fall in and out of love for no particular reason throughout the series. The famous love triangle of Gundam 0079 is only in the minds of people who talk about it. Seriously. I was more involved with this triangle than one of its participants. Soulmate my arse. The best thing I can say is at least Tomino did not pair off Sayla with some loser. That would have greatly angered both of us.
There are two grades of robot in Gundam 0079. Gundam and every other robot in this series. The Gundam is clearly several cuts above. This explains why the mechanically adept but unskilled Amuro can fight and win against the veteran Char. The Guncannon and the Guntank are the other two Federation mobile suits but they are basically there to support the Gundam or get into serious trouble and have the Gundam pull them out of the fire. The Zeon mobile suits come in two distinct families, the mobile suit family and the mobile armor family. The suits mostly look like Zakus and the armors mostly look silly. Most notable of the silly has to be the Zakrello which has to be the goofiest mecha in the series. No matter what you think of the designs they are iconic beyond any doubt. All the main suits that have bared the name Gundam have taken their basic design from the original. The Zaku is also an equally iconic suit even turning up in Turn-A Gundam. The mecha designs are also famous for saving the series from obscurity. When Mobile Suit Gundam first aired it did poorly in the ratings and had its 52-episode length cut to 43. It seemed like Gundam would be a little remembered gem of the mecha genre. Then came the rise of Gunpla. The model kits from Gundam became hugely popular and the series went from obscure to sleeper-hit. With this surge in popularity, Gundam was re-released as three movies that both summed up the series but also added and changed certain elements Tomino did not like. The overwhelming success of the movies and the merchandise is what led to the rise of the juggernaut that is Gundam.
I think you left out a most important piece of equipment. And it makes it clear why Amuro can beat Char back. It is called the Gundam Hammer. And it is a giant spiked-ball on a chain. If you will recall this is actually a mace, but in the future it is apparently a hammer. Also for a good amount of time the Gundam is split into three pieces. Obviously done for toy purposes but makes little sense outside of that. We must have sat there watching endless recycled footage of that thing coming together. And many a Zaku busts out a space ax, sometimes a HOT PINK space ax. And lest we forget Char’s final mobile suit. It looked like some sort of flying goblin. Maybe it was reflecting the level of ugly found in the Zabi family. Maybe it was supposed to scare people into submission. Both sides of the war have some laughable pieces in their arsenal. Why they dispensed with this in the movies for the most part is just no fun!
I really enjoy 70’s style character designs but in the ever growing new generation this is rare. Nostalgia is much better than most animation from the 70’s and 80’s and Gundam is no exception. Though the movies have upgraded some sections. This isn’t a bad thing and really isn’t a hindrance to the show but it is a fact that sometimes the animation is poor, sometimes the characters are off model (I’m looking at you giant pumpkin sized Haro), and sometimes it will make you laugh. Though for some reason in and after episode 37 there are random bouts of higher quality animation interspersed. On the whole the world seems futuristic enough. However, clearly what the “future” looks like to people in the 1970’s is a little different than how we might picture it today. There is a moment where those punch cards come out of one of the computers. Also Amuro using some sort of sack-like object for re-entry into the atmosphere was hilarious. None of this stops it from creating iconic characters though. The opening song will make you wish that all new robot shows employed such theme songs. GAN-DA-MU!
As you might have gathered, we watched the trilogy of Gundam movies as well as the original TV series. Using mostly footage from the original TV series Tomino added some new footage that summarizes the original series. Tomino also made some changes to things. The most obvious change is that Newtypes are constantly talked about in the movies as opposed to only coming up at the end. Also some of the sillier upgrades, weapons, and mobile suits are left on the editing room floor including the Gundam Hammer, the G Parts, and the Zakrello. Overall it is a good test drive of the series and gives you everything you need to know if you don’t want to spend the time to watch the whole TV series.
I feel animation wise there is nothing partially special about Gundam. The character designs are nothing particularly special. The animation is low budget most of the time with frequent recycling of footage. Then again considering the budget they were given, it was the best they could do with the resources. The background music is pretty bombastic but it fits the series. The opening is in the classic over the top style of 70’s robot shows. The ending theme threw me off being this old ballad out of nowhere. Mike Dent sent me an awesome collection of orchestral arrangements of Gundam songs with two very nice songs from the original series.
How real is this pioneer real robot show? Since Gundam is considered the father of real robot shows it is easy to assume that Gundam is ultra realistic. That is hardly the case. It was revolutionary and a major influence that opened the door for all other real robot shows. You can see that the super robot influences are still present in much of the design of the robots. Also Gundam’s mid-show upgrades and the fact that it is light-years ahead of most of the mobile suits hearken back to super robot shows. But the use of robots as mass produced weapons in a ideological and political war was largely unexplored before Gundam and hardly a popular aspect of the mecha genre. Also Sunrise is partially to blame for insisting that Tomino not stray to far from the proven formula. So many changes like making the Gundam red, white, blue, and gold instead of a more realistic gray to sell more toys. The again it was toys sales that saved Gundam in the end so maybe there was a point to it all. Gundam is not the ultra realistic real robots shows that we sometimes see today but it was as real as you were going to get at the time and that is what counts. It took a gamble that paid off a hundred fold.
I am so glad that I watched this show. Not only is it a little piece of anime history but it was enjoyable too! Filled with a little over the top drama, epic battles, and robots. It showed everyone that a robot show could be something more. I can’t imagine loving robot shows if Gundam hadn’t come along when it did. A fun thing while watching the show was picking out references that have been used in later shows. Obviously every Gundam series after this has taken something away, but different pieces have gone to different areas. Would I say original has now eclipsed every other Gundam series and planted itself firmly as my favorite? No. However, would I say that is was a damn good show? Yup. Perhaps it is just the syndrome of not seeing it first, but many of the modern Gundam shows produce a high quality show, too. And I absolutely recommend it, though I think you could skip just to the movies. They give you the same story in a better pace with some tweeks. I guess I can say I’m a Gundam fan now.
I guess I have three important questions to ask at the end of this review. How does Gundam 0079 compare to other Gundam series, other robot series, and other anime in general? I really liked Gundam. I feel it has it share of iconic characters and ideas that would go on to shape mecha shows forever. It is also genuinely entertaining and suitably epic when needed. On the other hand, I feel that other Gundam shows are often unfairly critiqued when compared to the original. People tend to gloss over the flaws of the original series and focus on the faults of newer ones, even when they are the same exact thing. The Gundam movies remove some of the ridiculous portions of the series into a more streamlined package but it does not remove all the faults. I personally consider it on the same level as Seed, Turn A, Wing and 00. I have preferences between all the Gundam series and some have more faults than others but I don’t see one as vastly greater or worse than the others. The one thing that cannot be ignored is the impact that Gundam had. It forever changed mecha as a genre. Much like Evangelion everything becomes pre-Gundam and post-Gundam.
Bonus Top 5 Alternative titles for this post
5. I will never forget that Char shower scene as long as I live!
3. The funniest part is Amaro thought he had a chance of scoring with Matilda.
2. TOMINO SAYS YOU ARE IN LOVE NOW!
1. Char, you won my heart three times as fast.