Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mobile Suit Gundam

Release: 1979

Director: Yoshiyuki Tomino

Rating: ****

In 1979, Yoshiyuki Tomino created a enormous divide in the Giant Robot or Mecha genre. Largely filled with flashy super hero robots, Tomino envisioned a future with realism. Gone were the rocket punches and special move names and in their place we have warfare tactics and more contemporary weapons. This change allowed for a story that focused more on political and ideological struggles as opposed to weekly good versus evil arenas. Fans refer to these now sub genres and Super Robot and Real Robot. This new change breathed life into the almost stagnating Mecha genre and most of the famous Mecha shows we have today are thanks in no small part to Tomino's work.

Gundam takes place during the new calender of Universal Century 0079. UC marks the first steps into space colonization from the necessity to preserve the ecosystem of the Earth. The rich and privileged primarily live on earth while the majority of the human race live on giant space colony clusters called Sides. The conflict between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon continues at an almost stalemate as the young boy Amuro Ray stumbles upon the Federation's new mobile weapon Gundam while his colony of Side 7 is being attacked. Being the best choice for piloting the Gundam he soon finds himself having to look at his life through a bigger lens.

The Gundam franchise is a space opera and as such is largely about the characters. Sure there are tons of set pieces and battles but seldom do battles ever take place just for the sake of it. One thing to note going in is that Gundam is quite old for it's kind and I would be hard pressed to say it doesn't show. The animation cannot compare to Macross which came out only shortly after. The original Gundam also suffered poor ratings during it's first run and as a result had to be cut short. This causes the ending to feel somewhat rushed compared to some later Gundam shows. It wasn't until the model kits or "Gunpla" came out that the fanbase for Gundam really started to expand.

On the surface, the show looks rather unscientific for something trying to portray realism in robots but with a little reading you will see a fantastic wealth of mechanics and very little use of "magic energy" such as warp drives. If you don't know what a minovsky particle is or you don't know the difference between a Zaku and a Dom. Don't worry, it all comes with a little time. The problem is, at even the shortened length of 43 episodes, it's quite a lot to sit through unless you're really committed to watching dated looking shows. Thankfully the whole series was compiled into 3 movies and I hear they basically get you though the original show without missing anything important. Alternatively to even that, there is a faithful manga called Gundam The Origin which retells the events of the original series but using updated Mecha designs. If you want something a little bit different and far more dark, I recommend the Novel by Yoshiyuki Tomino which is a very different version of the story.

Ultimately Gundam was a revolution for anime and it's effects have gone even so far as the recent Pacific Rim. Without Gundam there would be no Macross, no Evangelion, No Votoms. That being said. The original Mobile Suit Gundam is not the best the franchise has to offer but it makes a great opener to the next series. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam.
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