All the various Gundam shows come together to make a strange animal. They are all part of the same franchise but are radically different from each other. One of the odd things I have noticed is the two types of Gundam fans in the U.S. There are Universal Century purists that are usually older Gundam fans. They either hate Alternate Universe Gundam series or are extremely harsh judges of them. New Gundam fans tend to judge all the Gundam series on their own merits and flaws which I prefer. I remember hearing nothing but bad things about After War Gundam X back in the day. It was supposedly a horrific show that was the lowest point in the Gundam series. After I watched Turn A Gundam which also had a bad reputation but found it to be my favorite Gundam series I decide that maybe I would give Gundam X a chance. This was reinforced by various friends on Twitter assuring me that it was worth a shot I plunged into the unknown.
Gundam X begins after the apocalyptic end of a war between the Earth and the colonies. During the climax of the war the colonies dropped themselves on the earth killing 99% of the population. Fifteen years later the environment is somewhat stable again and people are just starting to making decent headway in the rebuilding of Earth. Garrod Ran is hired to save a kidnapped young girl named Tiffa Adill with mysterious powers who was taken by mercenaries. But the people asking Garrod to rescue her might not have her best interests at heart. While rescuing Tiffa Garrod also finds an amazing pre-war mobile suit called the Gundam X. This suit is just as mysterious and powerful as Tiffa.
Garrod Ran is a likable chap. I like describing him as if you took all five Gundam Wing pilots and made them one guy with Duo being the main and strongest template. He is a loner but usually easy going, energetic, and resourceful. He goes through periods where he is depressed and angry but he’s fifteen. It would be highly unrealistic for him to be any other way. Garrod has an aptitude for piloting but does not start out as an ace and it is implied that he has done some piloting before the show begins. Tifa Adill is sort of a stock mysterious girl with powers but she is a well done version of that archetype. It turns out she is a Newtype but unlike in the original Gundam series she never uses her power for combat. She is a quiet and odd girl who cuts herself off from everyone else. Although it is never stated, you know that Tifa has been unable to live a normal life ever since she discovered her powers. Still she is a good and kind person who wants to help others but is not always sure how to interact with people in order to do so.
Eventually Garrod and Tifa wind up on a ship called the Freeden. The captain, Jamil Neate, was a war hero who now goes around saving Newtypes while earning a living as a mercenary and scavenger. He is a quiet father figure for the crew who is trying to atone for several major sins committed during the war. The rest of the crew is a tightly knit group that slowly integrate Garrod and Tifa into their family. They are a varied bunch from the ditzy blond helmswomen to the the 12 year genius mechanic. In the first episode we are introduced to Witz Sou and Roybea Loy who start out as independent mercenaries but they quickly become full members of the crew. They usually fight along side Garrod in lesser Gundams while providing him the advice of a pair of older brothers. I would be remiss in not mentioning Paula Cis, the spunky tomboy that saves Garrod at one point and later allies herself with the crew of the Freeden. She was obviously supposed to get a deeper back story and more screen time but Paula is a victim of the show getting the number of episodes cut. Which is upsetting because Paula Cis reminded me of a mixture of Sayla Mass and Allenby Beardsley. In other words, pure awesome.
The villains in the series are usually greedy individuals using the chaos that the colony drop caused to profit or push their personal agendas on the world. Gundam X is much more arc based than previous Gundam shows so the minor antagonists are usually around only for a few episodes. They are a mix of scheming politicians, evil and slightly mad scientists, despicable pirates and mercenaries, and power hungry war mongers. The only consistent villains Ennil El and the Frost Brothers. Ennil’s role changes several times throughout the series depending on who she is working with at the time. She is rather well endowed and they like to remind you of that from time to time. Shagia and Olba Frost are evil schemers who I think are supposed to be charming in a Char-like fashion but come off more crazy than cool. In fact they only kill enemies soldiers to set up their greatest act of ally murder yet. They keep going after Tifa and quickly develop a rivalry with the crew of the Freeden. I sort of wonder if part of the reason Gundam fans never got into Gundam X was because so many of the antagonists were villains instead of just heroes on the opposite side. Then again the Titans from Zeta Gundam were hardly shades of gray.
After reading this very good article on Gundam X I noticed something that I really liked upon reflection. In most Gundam iterations, a Gundam is exponentially better than any other mobile suit in the series and therefore the only real threat for a Gundam pilot is another Gundam pilot. In Gundam X it seems that Gundams are better than regular mobile suits but they are merely a level or two better. This means that the pilots for the Freeden can’t take on armies by themselves and the Gundam X’s trump card is amazingly powerful but limited in it’s applications which is unusual. Also the Gundam X eventually gets a weapon called the Harmonica Cannon which not only has an awesomely silly name but is actually awesome. It gives you a greater sense that the pilots have to fight hard to earn any of their victories which is refreshing.
It’s almost immediately obvious that Garrod Ran and Tiffa Adill are the official couple they are moving together for the whole series, spoiler! They obviously like each other right off the bat but they are both not romantically experienced teenagers so they are clumsy about expressing their affections. Slowly but surely as the series goes on they come to realize how they feel, how the other ones feels, and how to express those feelings. They also, very importantly, learn who the other one is beyond their first impression. I thought that was well done and cute especially after watching Tomino’s attempt at romance. I will say that there are a few other relationships in the series. Some are well done and some are TOMINO SAYS YOU ARE IN LOVE NOW! But the main romance is done well enough that I forgive it when they throw one or two characters together for hardly any explained reason.
In many a place I have seen Gundam X described as an alternate take on the Universal Century time line. While I think this is 100% correct I think it leaves out a vital part of this alternate take. It is also an examination and criticism of the themes in the original series. Most importantly it is an examination of the role of Newtypes and humanity. I think you could do a whole paper on the issue and I am sure there are several in Japan. It’s a fascinating subject but extremely spoiler heavy. I might go back and do an article with spoilers on it one day. In my opinion Gundam X is an examination of what would have happened if there were not an Amuro Ray to help bring the One Year war to a speedy conclusion. The reason there was no Newtype like Amuro Ray in the After War universe is one of the major themes of the series.
I can’t say that Gundam X is the pinnacle of Gundam but it is enjoyable show. I can’t agree with the major complaints with the series. The ending was a bit rushed but they did everything they needed to. It ties up all the lose ends and has about as much falling action as any other Gundam series. I also feel that people often complained that the characters in Gundam X were unlikable. I feel for people living in a post apocalyptic world they were fairly upbeat and well-adjusted. I think that having just come off of Gundam Wing people wanted more Gundam Wing but got something that was good but not what they were hoping for. This is a real shame because there is a lot to like about Gundam X. If your looking for a enjoyable mecha show I think you might be surprised at this unappreciated gem.