To top off Gundam Week, I’ll be finishing off with the last Gundam series (or was supposed to be the last before Bandai needed more money and decided to make another figure line and set of commercials to advertise them), ∀ Gundam. Pronounced and spelled normally as Turn A Gundam, ∀ Gundam is a legendary title for a number of reasons: it happened to be produced for Gundam’s 20th Anniversary, it happened to be Tomino’s first Gundam series after a while of shows directed by other people as well as his first Gundam after recovering from his depression and his last major Gundam series, and it happened to be considered (at first) the final Gundam. With an extremely meaningful title too, the series probably set out to be the best Gundam. Knowing how there were more Gundam series released, we have to conclude that, on some levels, it failed. However, are there an inherent flaws in ∀ Gundam that caused it to fail? Or is it an excellent, but misunderstood show?
∀ Gundam starts in a completely original setting for Gundam. It takes place in a seemingly pre-1920’s-like America, where biplanes and zeppelins were abundant, among other things. This is a stark contrast to the average Gundam, which usually begins sometime in the future, relative to us. The setting alone have given some people the idea that ∀ Gundam is a “Ghibli Gundam.” Anyway, so the main character, Loran Cehack, and two of his buddies have actually come from the moon, where there is a race of people, the aptly named Moonrace, the vast majority of which hibernating, hoping to return to the Earth one day. Loran and his two buddies are advanced scouts, there to determine if the Moonrace can actually return to the Earth. Loran and co. manage to become members of society on Earth, but when the Moonrace arrive abruptly, things erupt into a War of the Worlds-esque scenario, with the Earthlings merely defending their planet from the invaders. Loran, torn between his Moonrace heritage and his new place in Earth society, falls into a Gundam, the eponymous ∀ Gundam, and uses it to make sure things don’t get too out of hand, as both sides desire nothing more than peace.
What’s interesting about the story is that it’s by far the slowest out of all of the series. Is that bad? No, definitely not. ∀ Gundam focuses on many things, such as the politics, the common citizen’s reactions, and the rights and wrongs of certain actions taken. What’s important to note about ∀ Gundam is that the fighting is probably one of the least important parts of the show: rather than fights accomplishing things in other shows, often enough the fights accomplish nothing other than destroying any sort of relations the two sides have built up. Speaking of which, ∀ Gundam also happens to be really thematic: one of the more important themes is how a few bad apples can really screw over the efforts of an otherwise good group of people. In this case, many of the overzealous members of both sides are quick to start skirmishes, and what results is an already tenuous strained further. As a result, it feels like Tomino’s constant anti-war themes shine the most here. The titular Gundam is often shown doing non-violent tasks, such as doing laundry, herding animals, and farming. Additionally, while the ∀ Gundam is infamous among the community for its high levels of power, the main character almost never chooses some of the destructive weaponry, instead opting to use the least violent ways, possible. And I feel it works here: rather than the borderline hypocrisy in many of Tomino’s shows, he effectively shows that diplomacy and other peaceful means are the path to a good solution, not violence: being aggressive, in this case, makes everyone you associate with look bad, and not only does it harm your reputation, but the reputations of others. Interestingly enough, without going into too much detail (due to spoilers), ∀ Gundam manages to work in the other Gundam series excellently; the name of the show even fits extremely well. Additionally, ∀ Gundam happens to have one of the best endings to a Gundam series. All in all, the plot is an excellently crafted somewhat-cautionary tale with few flaws that managed to be quite beautiful.
∀ Gundam has one of the strongest cast of characters in a Gundam series. Each of the main characters have quite a bit of depth, and it’s refreshing to see that most of the characters are all benevolent in some manner: there are no truly evil enemies, and the closest person to that is actually one who has a revolutionary (in their universe), but not invalid philosophy (while the protagonist and the antagonist do have their Standard Gundam Verbal Bouts between fighting near the end of the series, it’s important to note that Loran doesn’t automatically dismiss the antagonist as someone wrong, and doesn’t automatically assume he’s automatically right). Getting back to the characters themselves, most of the cast is extremely endearing: seriously, it’s very hard to feel nothing for these characters. While oftentimes, Gundam characters can get either too preachy or angsty, in ∀ Gundam, these levels are kept at levels that don’t put anyone off. While I’ve outlined one of Loran’s inner conflicts, it’s not as if that’s the only one he has: nonetheless though, his coping with his conflicts is not grating in the slightest, and in fact, he grows a little in each episode and from each experience. The same goes for much of the rest of the cast. Two particular characters, Dianna Soreil, the leader of the Moonrace, and Kihel Heim, a member of the family Loran used to work for before hostilities broke out, look so similar to each other, that they often swap and take the responsibilities of the other. This is used uniquely, as it grows the two characters in ways that couldn’t be possible if they hadn’t switched. Much of the other characters grow in less unique, but still believable fashions, as well. Even the series’ Char Clone has a personality remarkably different from all of the other Char Clones, surprisingly. On the whole, ∀ Gundam’s cast of characters is excellent, as Tomino does everything right with them.
The art is easily the most divisive element of the series, both in Japan and in the West. Many have commented on how faces are drawn, and how creepy they can be, and I have to agree, ever so slightly. However, this isn’t nearly as off-putting as the mechanical designs. Tomino hired legendary artist Syd Mead for the new mechanical designs (who was in charge of the mechanical designs for Blade Runner, Aliens, and Tron). Now, Syd Mead is known for his designs with lots of curves and weird angles: this, naturally, clashes with the stock Gundam design, which is quite a bit more rectangular. In fact, the ∀ Gundam designs are probably the most varied in the entire metaseries. This didn’t sit well with the fans, as many feel the designs stray too far from the norm (though many think the designs are just ugly). I actually like the designs quite a bit, and I’ve found that the main designs actually serve to help get some of the main plot points brought up later on across even better than they would normally. The animation is, surprisingly, extremely high, partially as a result of the significantly reduced amount of visual clutter (as battles are often on a very small scale). Though there is a fair amount of static shots, the show isn’t obnoxious with the length or amount of such shots, and there are, in fact, quite a few dynamic shots. Additionally, stock footage is entirely nonexistent (well, it does in a certain way, but in a very plot-relevant manner). Though the show doesn’t often call for impressive levels of animation, when it does, you won’t be disappointed by it.
Yoko Kanno composed the music for ∀ Gundam, and it is by far excellent. While it isn’t as memorable as some of Kanno’s other works, many of the tracks are very memorable, and the memorable tracks are excellent. In fact, some of the tracks are so memorable, many people who haven’t even watched the series can recognize them. There is a wide range of styles used, but the most memorable ones are classical and military band style. And boy, are the songs excellent. The opening and ending themes are also well liked; the first opening theme, Turn A Turn, is famous among the community, even among those who haven’t watched the series. The sound effects are used well, and the voice acting, though droning at times, is at the same time charismatic and full of charm. All in all, there’s almost certainly something to take away from the sound department that you’ll like.
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