The Most (And Least) Relatable Gundam Heroesby Lauren Orsini,
Gundam has given us a lot of main characters who are strong, capable, and smart. But how many of them can you actually relate to?
Since Mobile Suit Gundam first aired in 1979, the show has always starred somebody who pilots the main mobile suit according to his own moral compass. Now, what that moral compass is – and the decisions they make as a result – changes from pilot to pilot, which means you have an entire roster of complex heroes to compare and contrast with each other and yourself. It's a pretty rich variety of personalities and belief systems – selecting your favorites, and then thinking about why you relate to those heroes (and the ones you relate to the least) can reveal things both about yourself and the Gundam stories you respond to the most.
In this list, I've ranked five of the Gundam protagonists I find most relatable, followed by the three who simply don't resonate with me. This isn't entirely about these characters being likeable or unlikeable – it's rooted in whether they make choices that are completely incomprehensible or down to earth, based on my interpretation. Some of these characters are written in a way that's in touch with regular people (according to me), and some aren't. You might disagree – when you're done perusing my list, pop over into the forums and let us know which Gundam heroes you relate to the most, and why!
The five protagonists I most want to root for:
1. Iori Sei, Gundam Build Fighters
Sei is a no-brainer—he's not even a pilot! He's just a Gundam fan, the same as all of us in the audience. He's a middle school student who likes building Gunpla (Gundam plastic models) and quoting his favorite anime series. Sei passionately attempts to improve himself and his model building, but suffers from an occasional lack of confidence. At times like that, he turns to his Build Fighter partner Reiji, his puppy love crush China, and his doting mom. Every Gundam protagonist seems to have endless friends and allies, but with Sei it especially makes sense. He tries so hard at everything, you just want to help him, too.
2. Amuro Ray, Mobile Suit Gundam
Gundam fans, myself included, give Amuro a really hard time. This kid gets the opportunity of a lifetime—to pilot a giant robot with lasers—and he sits around whining in his room? But if I take a step back, it's hard not to admit that if I were in his position, I'd act exactly the same way. Amuro is 15 years old, more concerned with his inventions and his dad's long absence from home than in even remembering to make himself lunch and get to school on time (these tasks fall to his childhood friend Fraw Bow). His raw talent is there, but he's not emotionally ready to pilot the Gundam, not at first. His arc is a natural coming of age story, as the One Year War forces him to grow up and become a capable, principled pilot.
3. Garrod Ran, After War Gundam X
It's a tall order to name a Gundam protagonist who isn't highly educated, specializing in computer science, or military service, or otherwise deeply gifted with clairvoyant “Newtype” powers. On the other hand, there's Garrod, a regular guy with no schooling or skills, just a big fat crush on a cute girl and a heck of a lot of drive to protect her, and eventually, everyone else. When we meet Garrod, he's working as a Vulture, a scavenger who gets by excavating old military equipment from a war that ended before he was born. For that reason, Garrod is often the voice of reason in Gundam X, observing the way that adults have carried over their now obsolete concerns into the post-war era, and I can't help but agree with him.
4. Domon Kasshu, G-Gundam
Domon's character is more like audience wish fulfillment than any other Gundam pilot's. He's a morally upright hero who uses his strength for good to the point that he can't imagine why anyone would be intentionally evil, a flaw that makes him gullible but no less endearing. Domon fights for the same reasons that I would fight, were I strong enough to do so—for his family, for his loved ones like Rain, and for justice. When somebody that Domon trusts betrays him, it's a shock that hits the audience, too, since Domon is so much like us. While many Gundam shows focus on external politics, Domon's high emotional stakes in every situation make G-Gundam is an immensely personal show.
5. Shiro Amada, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team
Shiro Amada arrives at his officer post brand new and full of optimism. Fresh out of military school, he's enthusiastic about defeating the Zeon soldiers he's learned so much about. If only life were so simple, with clear lines of good and evil! Things get complicated quickly when he learns about the enemy's humanity by falling in love with a Zeon soldier. As he picks up real life experience commanding The 08th MS Team out in the field, Shiro becomes more committed to achieving peace through compromise than any other Gundam pilot, many of whom tend to fall back on their overpowering abilities to make their point. Throughout 08th MS Team, Shiro is portrayed as a level-headed guy who only gets irrational for a very relatable reason, love.
The following three are my picks for the least relatable. While I like all of them, I just can't see eye to eye with any of them!
1. Kira Yamato, Gundam Seed
My goodness, is there anything Kira can't do? He's easily the most skilled pilot in the entire Gundam franchise. He never loses. He's a computer whiz and a mathematical genius and a Coordinator, the Gundam Seed universe's word for Newtype. He's brilliant with the ladies. And throughout everything he does, he maintains moral superiority, expounding on the wrongness of war. He doesn't want to fight (but if you insist, he will slaughter you). His picture is in the dictionary next to “gunboat diplomacy.” For a guy who claims to love peace and hate fighting so much, Kira sure spends a lot of time decimating his enemies. Kira is the Manic Pixie Dream Boy of Gundam, perfect in so many contradictory ways that it starts to not make sense.
2. Heero Yuy, Gundam Wing
It's not a coincidence that thousands of Americans became Gundam fans after Gundam Wing aired on Toonami. But I can't say it was because we all so very deeply related to everyone's favorite teenage killing machine. Affable Duo Maxwell, maybe. Or debonair Zechs Marquis. But not Heero, a protagonist who I almost hesitate to call a “character,” because there's so little emotion to him for such a large part of the series. We learn that Heero has been trained harshly as a human “weapon” and forced to rein in his emotions to the extreme, and this discovery is certainly supposed to make us feel for him, that it's not his fault he's like this. But in a series that doesn't make character development a priority, Heero doesn't give us a lot to work with.
3. Kamille Bidan, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
Kamille has a lot to be angry about. He's been roped into a war he doesn't care about for a dumb reason—when a soldier makes fun of his “girly” name, he decides to get back at the entire army by stealing their experimental mobile suit and fighting for the other side. He's an angsty teen for sure, spending most of Zeta Gundam in his rebellious stage, lashing out at his superiors no matter how many people slap him across the face (and that's at least three people). Kamille's decisions are not motivated by a desire to do good or to protect anyone—and sadly, by the end of this tragic series, he has hardly anyone left to protect. Kamille is powered entirely by negative emotions and irrational rage, and while it's easy to pity him, it's very difficult to relate.
Which Gundam pilots do you relate to the most – and which ones drove you up the wall? The Gundam multiverse is full of fascinating and frustrating—but never boring—main characters.
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