Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
After War Gundam X
Sub.DVD - Collection 1
It's been 15 years since the end of the 7th Space War, and humanity is still picking up the pieces. This show follows the Freeden, a “Vulture” ship that traverses a post-apocalyptic Earth salvaging old weapons and mobile suits. However, its captain, Jamil Neate, has a second, more covert purpose—to seek out Newtypes, humans like himself with supernatural powers, and prevent them from being exploited the way he was during the war. This is all news to Garrod Ran, the scrappy 15-year-old mobile suit pilot hired to “rescue” Newtype Tiffa Adill from the Freeden and deliver her to a shady employer instead. When he learns about Jamil's mission and past, he has to make a decision about what's best for Tiffa—and for himself.
A full twenty years after its release in Japan, After War Gundam X has finally made it to English speaking audiences. This show came out in 1996, just a year after Gundam Wing, and has continued to live in its shadow. Gundam Wing was not only successful in Japan, but wildly popular in the United States as a Toonami flagship series that introduced many westerners to the Gundam franchise for the first time. It would be logical to think that after a runaway overseas success like that, Sunrise would want to bring the next Gundam show to the west as soon as possible. So why did Toonami air the older title G-Gundam, and pass over Gundam X?
The viewer numbers say it all. Gundam X saw audience ratings so low that it soon lost its coveted 5 PM Friday timeslot and began airing at 6 AM Saturday. The numbers didn't get better from there, and the series was cut from a year-long run to just 39 episodes. Its cancellation means it shares something with the original Gundam show, Mobile Suit Gundam, but it certainly could not have been seen as a good omen. Now that the first half of the show is out in the west, fans can finally see for themselves that it's a fairly average show. If you can get used to that '90s slowness, it's a Saturday morning cartoon calibur story with a few interesting points, memorable characters, and bizarre oddities that gets its depth from being part of the Gundam universe.
Gundam X has a '90s era plot that won't resonate with fans accustomed to a quicker pace. It takes three initial episodes to set everything up: teenage protagonist Garrod Ran meets the mysterious, childlike Tiffa Adill, gets hired to “rescue” her from a salvage ship captained by Newtype Jamil Neate, and eventually decides not only to disobey his shady employer, but to join the ship as a pilot himself. Had it been made in 2016, the first three episodes would have been compressed into one. The real story begins when Tiffa and Garrod join the Freeden crew and begin assisting the team with its overarching mission to seek out Newtypes all over Earth, a quest that gives the plot a Star Trek feel—a constant panorama of new places and temporary allies and antagonists—with the slate wiping clean again after every arc.
With this pair on board, the pace begins to escalate: Tiffa, a Newtype with clairvoyant powers, sketches out the locations she sees in her dreams, and Garrod goes out to investigate (and is often forced to fight what he finds) in his Gundam. In these first 19 episodes, the team encounters three Newtypes which all fall into tropes—the cybernetically enhanced prettyboy enemy-turned-ally Carris Nautilus, the “nude lady in a tube” Lutil Liliant, and oh yeah, a hyper-intelligent white dolphin. With all three, there's a feel of science-turned-magic that you might find in any Saturday morning cartoon, and treated with the same quasi-sincerity. Less interesting are the two recurring villain entities, the telepathic Frost Brothers and the pirate queen Ennil El, who have dubious motivations of revenge against Garrod.
Similarly, the main characters are all cookie-cutter tropes you've seen, if not in other Gundam series, in other '90s anime. Captain Jamil is the ship's strong leader with an unhidden vulnerable side thanks to his wartime trauma. He serves as a father figure to both fifteen-year-olds, helping hotheaded Garrod become a better Gundam pilot, and protecting meek woman-child Tiffa, a Newtype like himself, from harm. Garrod endures brotherly joshing from fellow pilots Witz and Robea, while Tiffa receives motherly guidance from Toniya and tough love from Sala. Even on a ship with a child mechanic actually named Kid, these two are treated like the ship's children and this show, like most Gundam shows, is a coming of age story. But it's a too-rare treat when the show focuses on extending character development beyond basic archetypes, like in the unexpectedly heartfelt episode 15, “Do You Think There Is A Heaven?” which narrows in on side characters Witz and Robea.
There's not much visual innovation here, either. Characters are line drawn with limited shading, providing visual interest only to make exaggerated '90s facial expressions during each episode's occasional gags. When Carris Nautilus kidnaps Tiffa, he asks “How do you like your quarters?” and receives total silence in return. We the viewers are treated to a mere suggestion of dark brown wood paneling and white sheets—no wonder Tiffa's not impressed! The music is considerably more conducive in setting the mood—while the upbeat tempo intro song is just as addictive as I've come to expect from Gundam openings, the instrumental themes have considerable range and shift with the show's serious-funny-serious tone. Also, this is the first time Gundam X has been officially subtitled in English, but I found its reliance on modern turns of phrase to be weirdly colloquial and a little out of place for the older property.
With its slower pace, wacky faces, and revolving door of antagonists that includes a sentient dolphin, this is the cartooniest of Saturday Morning cartoons. But it's not totally forgettable, and it owes any glimmer of depth to its belonging in the established Gundam universe. Most likely, the people who are going to give Gundam X a chance are people already familiar with the Gundam canon. Within the universe, Gundam X has some interesting things to say about Gundam concepts. While many Gundam series attempt to hold off the apocalypse, Gundam X presents a world in which the worst has happened, and how humanity attempts to get by anyway. While other Gundam series portray Newtypes as the chosen few, Gundam X suggests the other side of the coin, an increased risk of exploitation and trauma. And of course, there's the innovative and beloved Gundam X design—but it's one gem in a sea of clunky suits, and the animation budget is rarely enough to show everything the X can do. Looking at Gundam X as a whole reveals some interesting riffs on the intellectual property it has to work with, but you'll still have to slog through predictable characters and ho-hum animation to get there.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : B+
+ Innovative riffs and deep thoughts on the Gundam universe, a soundtrack with range.
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