Hey everyone, hope you all have been enjoying the holidays thus far! This week is a special week on Moar Powah! It’s Gundam Week! In all honesty, Gundam Week was supposed to have commenced last week as a way to celebrate my birthday (the 26th of December). But myself and the rest of the staff were still on holiday hangover, so we pushed it back. What better way to kick things off then with a review of the original Gundam series. Let’s get started!
Mobile Suit Gundam was introduced to the world in 1979, a time when science fiction was growing in popularity thanks to the highly successful Star Wars movie. This series also helped popularize the concept of “real robot.” Ironically enough, Gundam was not popular during its initial airing; in fact, the episode count was reduced from 52 to 43. It was through re-runs that the show began to catch fire. And nearly 33 years later, the Gundam franchise still stands strong.
The plot of Gundam was pretty simple: a war between the space colonies (the Principality of Zeon) fighting for independence and the Earth Federation who had governed them. An 8 month stalemate occurs with both sides having incurred substantial losses. The Earth Federation secretly constructs powerful new weapons at the colony Side 7; Zeon attacks, and a young boy named Amuro Ray out of desperation steps inside the cockpit of a powerful mobile suit called the Gundam. Along with the young crew of the mothership White Base, Amuro and the Gundam help begin to turn the tide of the war in the Earth Federation’s favor.
When I first watched this series, I was amazed with the narrative and depth a series so old had. Having watched other Gundam series before it, I realized that all Gundam series draw many of their ideas from this original story. What we have here is the father of all classic space operas; an ingenious plot centered around the coming of age and devastation of war. What helps to magnify this effect is a cast composed mostly of young adults. At NYAF 2009, one of the guests of honor was creator and director Yoshiyuki Tomino. At his Q&A panel, one audience member asked him why he decided to use children instead of adults for the main cast. His response? To create a moar emotional effect.
Amuro Ray is your typical teenage nerd. In a blink of an eye, he’s thrust into the middle of a war and expected to act as a mature adult would. He’s forced to grow up faster than a normal teenager would. Throughout the story, we see this rash and immature boy grow into a capable adult who understands the harsh realities of war. This is accomplished through his various experiences in battle and interactions with fellow crew mates and enemies. Now I won’t go into detail about all the cast; there’s simply too many of them. Just know that they all play in the development of Amuro. Don’t get me wrong though, each character stands tall in his or her own right. As minor a role as some characters play, they are meaningful nonetheless. That means you Black Tri Stars and Sleggar Law. There are, however, a few characters I would like to point out.
Even Lucky Star draws from Gundam. Homage to the Black Tri Stars.
First and foremost, we have Bright Noa, the captain of the White Base. While not much older than Amuro, as the captain, a heavy burden is placed upon him as the leader. They clash at first, but Amuro soon begins to respect Bright and what he brings to the table as a pillar of calm and strength. The infamous “Bright Slap” scene is one of the most upfront (and hilarious) moments in any Gundam series; you can’t go around pouting when your life is on the line. There’s also Ramba Ral, the first real rival to Amuro. Ramba Ral is an elder soldier, one who has seen many battles. Amuro learns from him the meaning of being a soldier as well as having his abilities as a pilot pushed to greater heights. The classic line “This is no Zaku boy! No Zaku!” still resonates today.
Of course who could forget Char Aznable, one of the most recognizable characters in the anime industry. If anything, the character of Char alone should entice anyone to watch Gundam to see just why he’s become such a heralded character in the anime industry. He’s simply just one cool dude, with moar charisma than any character I’ve seen. His rivalry with Amuro and their interactions in subsequent UC series makes watching Gundam that much moar important. What serves as the main catalyst to their descent into utter hatred for one another is the death of Lalah Sune, a young woman who is a Newtype.
The concept of a Newtype is also very critical in the Universal Century. It’s a philosophical idea that humanity will evolve to a point where battle will become unnecessary as humans will gain a greater understanding for one another. Sounds a lot like 00 doesn’t it? That’s because this idea has influenced every Gundam series since. If you’ve watched newer Gundam series, I believe it is extremely important to watch Gundam, as you will see where the idea of “understanding one another” comes from. Amuro and Lalah were the first Newtypes (sorry Challia Bull, leaving you out), and they were able to understand each other. Char obviously is jealous of this connection, and when the unavoidable battle ensues between the 3–err 4, forgot Sayla Mass–her death further divides Amuro and Char. This concept of mutual understanding is novel, and while it sounds good, it simply will never work in my opinion. But that is an argument for another time. Still, the fact that such an argument exists today further proves the lasting effects of Gundam.
While the interaction between Amuro and the rest of the cast is one of Gundam’s strong points, the battles are just as cool. Part of Amuro’s development as mentioned earlier not only come from interaction, but through battle. He has to see just how devastating war can be, and it hits him hard since he contributes to this destruction. Kamille Bidan and Banagher Links see this effect better, but Amuro still has an adequate idea of it all. It’s also great to see not only Amuro’s evolution as a person, but as a pilot as well. Most Gundam series don’t include visual progression of a pilot’s ability as well as this one does. In SEED, Kira Yamato struggles for about…3 episodes, but his genetic superiority allows him to adapt right away. Setsuna from 00 is pretty good off the bat, and he even gets a Super Saiyan Gundam and superhuman powers. Kamille is pretty good too right away (which I found odd), and Banagher simply has to activate god mode. Judau Ashta is the most powerful Newtype which explains his pro-ness, and all the pilots in Gundam Wing were trained. I’m obviously leaving out some others, but you get the point.
The pacing of the show is perfect; we have all these battles and character interactions masterfully divided into mini-arcs with new challenges. The White Base’s great journey is symbolic of Amuro’s development. As the battles and challenges become fiercer, Amuro become stronger. Some feel that the mini-arcs detract from Gundam; I feel it was the perfect way to spin a coming of age story. I think of each mini-arc as part of a giant race like the Amazing Race reality show. Each new challenge must be finished before moving on. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this, but while Amuro is the main attraction, all the crew develop on this journey. We see the other crew members conquer their own challenges as well.
What’s great about Gundam as well is the diversity of mecha. Gundam was the first to introduce so many unique and cool looking robots. While other mech shows have a few cool robots, Gundam has many. Every Gundam series has incorporated he mono-eye mecha in some way; Gundam Seed Destiny even went as far as creating replicated versions of the Zaku, Gouf, and Dom. No other show has inspired model kit building as much as Gundam, and no other mecha can boast a 1:1 scale model.
As far as voice acting goes, it’s pretty good, although it can be pretty bad too at times. At the time, voice acting (especially outside of the main roles) wasn’t top notch. Nonetheless, the careers of some voice actors were propelled thanks to Gundam. Furuya Toru, who plays Amuro, would later play Tuxedo Mask in Sailor Moon, Seiya in Saint Seiya, and Yamcha in Dragon Ball. Suzuoki Hirotaka (now deceased), the voice of Captain Bright, would later play Kuno from Ranma, Kaifun in Macross, and Shiryu in Saint Seiya. And of course Ikeda Shuuichi has played every rendition of Char to date. The English dub is outstanding however, as Brad Swaile captures Amuro perfectly. Michael Kopsa also does a beautiful job as Char, and I would have liked to see him play Char in Zeta and Unicorn. The rest of the cast is equally great; evidence of this includes my fondness for Richard Ian Cox (Inuyasha), who I normally despise. Yet his rendition of Kai Shiden was spot on.
If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and watch Mobile Suit Gundam. If none of the great reasons above convinced you, at least do it for the historical significance of the show.
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