Mobilized Suit for fighting

February 2, 2018

by Avi Green

In this entry, I'll be reviewing the Mobile Suit Gundam series' primary storylines.

Mobile Suit Gundam (1979-80)

Towards the end of the 1970s came a significant era for anime, as animators in Japan started using brighter color pallettes and clearer linings for character designs. It was also a significant period for the giant robot genre too, as the designs became more sophisticated. And the wisest part of all was that the mechas still remained secondary to the human/alien protagonists piloting them.

Case in point here is Mobile Suit Gundam, the first of what would become a long running franchise (Macross, which I'll want to discuss here on a later occasion, comes a close second). It was one of various anime series with metaphors for WW2, and the story told of Amuro Ray, a young computer programmer who got recruited to battle against the Zeon Empire, which had declared war on Earth and its space colonies. While the story takes place in a more or less future era, this had the distinction of being set in what was described as 0079, making it an otherwise unclearly defined century. Which no doubt gives it a lot of mileage in withstanding the tests of time.

Ray joins the crew of the White Base airship (a possible allusion to the White House in America) as it flees the space colony of Side 7, which came under attack by Zeon Zaku mechs, which include cast members like Fraw Bow, who'd been a neighbor of his on the space colony, and captain Bright Noa, who leads the airship's crew. And Amuro's in charge of the primary weapon in their fight against the Zeon empire.

Back when it was first produced, it wasn't the ratings bonanza Sunrise studios was hoping for, but as time went by, it began to garner a lot more fandom and regard than it got the first time around. And it shows. It's a very exciting and well made adventure built on metaphors for WW2 and the Cold War.

The most notable adversary is Char Aznable, a prominent Zeon officer who wears a mask with a helmet, possibly as an allusion to the Red Baron of WW1. His sister, Sayla Mass, by contrast, sides with the Allied forces and is part of the communications team on the White Base.

There is also something puzzling about how this series was originally marketed in the US: the 15th episode, “Cucuruz Doan's Island”, was not included in the broadcast package. I thought this was strange, if only because, while the story could be considered darker and more intense, it's no more so than most of the rest of the series. Watching it, I thought it was done as good as a lot of the other parts of this show, and I think it'll be a good idea if the producers have since made sure it'd be part of the broadcast packages.

Towards the end is when it begins to offer an idea doubtlessly inspired by Star Wars: Amuro turns out to have “Newtype” abilities, which are vaugely similar to The Force in SW. His rival on the Zeon side is Lalah Sune, a young woman who'd been raised by Prof. Flanagan, and whom Char exploits for use in the war. This certainly is clever, and adds a new dimension to the storytelling.

The upside: it moves at a very good pace, and the character interactions are well scripted.

The downside: there is one sequence involving nudity, where Fraw is helping the 3 orphans wash, and one of them even asks why, if she's got breasts, the young girl's chest is flat, which makes the little girl sob, much to Fraw's annoyance.

The verdict: So it's a fine tale from its time, and would lead to sequels and a whole slew of franchise entries in the years that followed, the second of which'll be discussed next.

Gundam origins (2015)

I also took the time to look at a trio of origin prequel stories, focusing primarily on how Char Aznable came to be, along with his sister Sayla in the Zeon empire, and also how Amuro Ray came to be. In the former's case, according to this origin tale, he was born the son of a Zeon officer, rammed through a row of their tanks duing a civil war that apparently broke out in their territory, and even got his helmet with mask from a fellow student at a Zeon academy.

Amuro got his robo-sphere as a toy, according to the origin given here, which conflicts with what the original miniseries from 1979-80 told, where he designed it himself. Though it is fairly coinciding with the old story that he was a reclusive computer programming addict. Lalah Sune's origins are also brought up here.

The upside: as a prequel, the trio of OVAs have plenty of high points, by which I mean more than the more modern animation approach.

The downside: there is more jarring violence here, most notably, when a guy gets his head decapitated (which is basically what OVAs serve a purpose for: featuring more mature content than what the TV anime could show).

The verdict: they make for worthy prequels to tell how some of the leading cast began their lives, even though some elements differ from what the original show featured.

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985-86)

So after nearly 5 years, during which time the first entry gathered a cult following, Sunrise got around to making a sequel to the first, set about 7 years later as some of the characters from the first MSG are gathered together again for a new adventure spotlighting new star Kamille Bidan – a boy with a feminine sounding name – in a story where a rebel group called the Anti-Earth Union Group (AEUG) tries to defeat the Titans, an elite task force of the Earth Federation designed to hunt down Zeon remnants but which ruthlessly kills anyone demanding equal rights for the galactic citizens in cold blood. Kamille's own parents were former mobile suit developers, and he even finds Amuro Ray's old robo-drone and rebuilds it for use. It's a fairly interesting story where even a bunch on the goodie side isn't so clean themselves, and Char, in his return in this story, now works on the side of the goodies. Bidan's girlfriend is Fa Yuiry, whose parents are arrested by the Titans after Bidan helps steal two prototype Gundam MK-II models, because of her close associations with Bidan. The heroes join Bright Noa on board his ship again, and Amuro Ray comes back into the picture again to help out, as do several other characters from the first series who're now older, including the 3 war orphans.

The upside: an exciting journey into space anew.

The downside: very little, but there is one moment where a female military official has to slap away the hand of a guy who tries to put his hand on her breast, and make clear she does not approve.

The verdict: It all makes for another pretty good form of escapism, and a worthy sequel to the original series. It'd be followed up soon enough by yet another series, double Z, coming up next.

Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (1986-87)

With this 3rd installment, a mostly new cast of characters comes into the fold, with Bright Noa the only holdover from the previous two installments. A young teen by the name of Judau Ashta replaces Kamille Bidan as the lead. He's heading a pack of junk collectors and turns out to be another Newtype, drawing the flattered attention of Noa, who recruits Ashta, his sister and a few other pals to join them on another journey around the galaxy, fighting the Zeon as they stand now, all but in disarray. It follows up on a plotline from the previous series involving Haman Karn.

Unlike the 1st and 2nd series, this one takes a more whimsical, humorous tone, with some characters serving up comic relief. Which makes for a pretty good change of pace from the previous stories, and there is fun to be had here.

The upside: as a show with a lighthearted approach, it accomplishes the task well.

The downside: there is a moment when 3 of the boys cross-dress in order to save 2 of the girls from a slavemonger who's taken them as his harem. It's probably only a minor quibble, though.

The verdict: it ultimately does make a good adventure, and Sayla Mass has a cameo towards the end, ensuring the older cast hasn't been forgotten. The sense of humor and lighter style serves the tale splendidly.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack (1988)

The first feature length entry in the Gundam franchise, it's also the final fate of both Amuro Ray and Char Aznable, the latter who's reverted fully to bad guy, and came out of hiding to lead the Neo-Zeon in another quest for supremacy. Not only that, Char is vindictive against Amuro for the death of Lalah Sune during the original war over the Earth federation. Amuro joins up again with Bright Noa in leading the Londo Bell defense team against the latest Zeon insurgents...and it ends in a pyhrric victory in order to stop Char from having his way.

It was pretty well done, with exciting battle scenes, but a shame Amuro had to be lost in the end.

The upside: a great way to end the story of the original protagonists.

The downside: very little, thankfully.

The verdict: it makes a good conclusion to the first chapter of Gundam, and there's even a brief moment where it uses computer graphics in a scene of the Sweetwater colony rotating in space.

Copyright 2018 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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