I will go on the record, so far I consider Turn A Gundam my favorite Gundam series which is no small accomplishment. Much like Gundam X, I had really only ever heard people bad-mouthing Turn A Gundam the few times they would talk about it. Then I saw someone jump to its defense claiming it was only a bad Gundam series if you hated character development. My original plan was to watch all of UC Gundam and then watch Turn A, but Turn A kept tugging at me. Since I knew one or two oddities of the plot I thought I would be better severed by watching all of UC first but I quickly found that was unimportant. It lets you catch one or two little things but Turn A is completely stand alone from any other Gundam.
Loran Cehack is a man from the moon sent on early reconnaissance to see if the Earth is fit for recolonization. The problem is they have to displace the people who stayed on the Earth since the Moonraces’ exodus long ago. The Moonrace is equipped high technology that includes space travel and mobile suits while Earth still has the far inferior science of the early 1900’s. Once on Earth, Loran quickly falls in love with the Earth and is conflicted when the Moonrace starts a forceful colonization of the planet. When the fighting breaks out, Loran uncovers the Turn A Gundam which he uses to turn the tide for the otherwise outclassed Earth forces. Soon the people of Earth discover other deposits of mobile suits and begin to fight back turning what should have been a quick battle into a prolonged war.
Loran Cehack is the most likable Gundam protagonist. He is friendly, smart, sociable, honorable, loyal, and brave. He has the ideals of a pacifist but realizes the grim reality that sometimes you have to fight to protect that which is precious to you. That balance between wanting peace and the ability to realize when to fight right from the start make him a very unique Gundam hero. Usually Gundam heroes either start out try to run away from their responsibilities or talk about wanting peace while killing everyone in their path. I also find his role as a double agent fascinating. Unlike most double agents who are really working for one side, Loran is working for everyone’s best interests. This often forces him to make tough decisions but he always makes them when needed based on his own personal code of ethics. In addition, he has a delightful mixture of politeness and playfulness that sort of reminds me of Hayate Ayasaki. Something about him just makes you want to root for him.
Kihel Heim and Sochie Heim are the two daughters of the wealthy Heim family. They both become friends with Loran while he works for them. Kihel maintains a friendly but aloof relationship with Loran but it is obvious that Sochie develops feelings she can’t adequately express. Sochie begins the series vehemently hating the Moonrace after a tragedy caused by their first attack. Slowly, thanks to Loran, she begins to see that each side has their own heroes and villains. Dianna Soreil is the Queen of the moon who looks exactly like Kihel Heim. After they meet during a series of peace talks they become fast friends. Through the rest of the series various circumstances force them to switch places several times. This lets both of them see what life is like for the other side while presenting a unique set of advantages and problems. It is almost like The Prince and the Pauper although it’s more accurate to say the Queen and the Upper-Middle-Class Debutante. Both Kihel and Dianna are strong women each in their own way. As they switch back and forth they begin to add the other’s strength to their own. It’s highly implied that both women don’t just have the same face but they share the same soul.
By popular request Harry Ord gets his own paragraph. It is easy to label Harry as a Char clone but I think he is a richer character than that. Unlike Char who was in many way the polar opposite of Amuro, it turns out that Harry is more a parallel to Loran. He is the head of Queen Dianna’s Royal Guard and fiercely loyal. His loyalty is first to Queen Dianna and then to his own sense of honor. Like Loran he wants the conflict between the people of the Earth and the Moon to be settled as quickly and painlessly as possible. He fights with Loran several times but he is just as quick to hear him out when Dianna is not being threatened. Much like Loran he is an extremely likable and charming character. He can be devious but any deception on his part is for a higher purpose or for the benefit of another not just his own selfish gain.
There is a pretty big cast beyond the five principle players. One rule about them: No one ends up allied with anyone they start allied with. What starts as a simple war between the Earth and the Moon quickly turns into a multi-factional mess of scheming. We get all the juicy politics of coups, betrayals, and alliances of convenience. On the side of Earth, we have Guin Sard Lineford who is a prominent politician and a noble. He is handsome, charming, and one of the most devious characters in the series. He is constantly scheming to come out on top but much like Char you can’t hate him for it. Lily Borjarno is a young noble woman from another country that is infatuated with Guin. At first it seems like she’s a silly girl lead and manipulated by her love but we eventually see she is much more politically astute. There are a variety of other generals and soldiers in the Earth Militia including the poor Suicide Squad that gets stuck with their salvaged Zakus. As for the he Moonrace, Phil Ackman starts as the loyal leader of the Moonrace forces on Earth and Miran Rex is Queen Dianna’s personal adviser. As the series goes on, they both show their true ambitions. Poe Aijee is a overly ambitious Lieutenant whose main purpose seems to be to be the show’s Team Rocket and crybaby. Fran Doll and Keith Laijie are also undercover agents from the moon that have infiltrated Earth with Loran. They quickly becomes torn between two worlds as well. Then there are Bruno and Jacop who are villains so bad at being villains and assassins they have to become decent people just to survive. Gym Gingham is the closest thing the series has to a true villain although he only appears in the last fourth of the series. Gym is essential because all good mecha series need a psychotic god complex warmongering wannabe space samurai.
Before I make this show seem to be a magnum opus of mecha anime, I must point out that Tomino has gone a little nuts. And it certainly shows is parts of Turn A Gundam; it can be a very peculiar show at times. There is a country of Meso-American warriors whose religion centers around the worship of a mass driver. There are militant deep-cover spy Moon hippies. There are a series of fights between a mobile suit and unarmed parade floats. There are a number of unconventional uses for the Turn A include being used as a cattle transport and a washing machine. Let’s not forget Harry Ord’s goofy nerd boy disguise complete with pocket protector used to infiltrate the Earth forces mining operation. I know that turned off some people to the series but it really made me like the series. It has all the major themes of a Gundam show but it has fun with them and didn’t take itself serious all the time. This let Tomino focus more on the characters and their relationships when he had to worry less about the mecha and the war. He was able to create filled-out characters which the conflicts and relationships naturally grow out of. I like Tomino but I feel he makes better shows when he lets himself be goofy.
Turn A Gundam is the last of the Gundam series to use cel based animation. There is nothing extremely flashy about the show. The character designs are pleasant but not spectacular. Same thing with the over all animation quality. The mecha designs are varied so it is easy to like the design of one or two and just as easy to hate with a burning passion the same number. The music is done by Yoko Kanno so it is a beautiful mixture of melodies that set the tone for every scene. Even the incidental background music is rich and melodic. White Falcon stands out as a great song that has an extremely epic feel especially the use of the horns section. I will say that Moon has to be my favorite Yoko Kanno song. It’s just so good at drawing out emotion. Also, the openings and closings are additively catchy. I found myself playing them not just every time I watched an episode but many a time outside of watching the show.
Turn A Gundam is the the right combination of fun and serious, playful and thought provoking. I think that Tomino wanted to leave a positive legacy with what might very well be his last full-length Gundam series. Turn A has one of the most uplifting endings of all the Gundam series. While there are deaths, there are nowhere near the body count of earlier Tomino Gundam series. Everything is not right with the world but there is a clear potential for something better for everyone. In fact most characters get a relatively happy ending. I will admit I got a little misty eyed at the end. Of all the Gundam series that have gone unreleased in America, I would push for Turn A the most. Other people need to see how good a show this is. Maybe I just really like Sochie. But who could blame me?