Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
Mobile Fighter G Gundam
Blu-Ray - Ultra Edition
In the Future Century, world leadership is determined through Gundam fights! Every country sends a representative fighter to duke it out in the ultimate battlefield: Earth. But with his brother missing and a mysterious Gundam wreaking havoc at large, Neo-Japan fighter Domon Kasshu has even bigger problems to worry about. Will he find allies in the other Gundam fight representatives or simply more obstacles in his way? Follow Domon and his loyal childhood friend, Rain, as they traverse the globe to uncover and defeat an evil power more sinister than any Gundam fight could ever prepare Domon for.
Yasuhiro Imagawa never wanted to reinvent Gundam. But that was exactly the task Sunrise had given him along with the directorship of Mobile Fighter G-Gundam.
For 15 years, every previous Gundam show took place in the same timeline—the Universal Century—and shared a common history of events. Then in 1994, when Sunrise was demoralized by Mobile Suit Victory Gundam's sluggish sales, corporate wanted to make big changes. It was time for Gundam to get a bizarre, bombastic makeover.
Over the course of his time at Tezuka Productions, Imagawa had gotten a reputation for dramatic, action-heavy mecha stories with a lot of theatrical punch. But even he was dumbfounded by just how big of a tone-shift Sunrise was looking for with G-Gundam. In The Mike Toole Show's overview of Imagawa's life and works, Toole describes the development process as a game of chicken: Bandai would present eccentric prototypes of G-Gundam mobile suits, and Imagawa would respond with even more outrageous requests. Instead of either side backing down, it led to the ludicrous lineup that G-Gundam is known for today.
G-Gundam had the intended effect of revitalizing the Gundam franchise, but how does it fare 25 years later? Surprisingly well, it turns out, thanks to a flashy new Blu-Ray box set that follows the original intent for the show: to double down on weirdness and never apologize.
In the midst of a still-ongoing frenzy to bring every Gundam ever to Blu-Ray in the west, Nozomi Entertainment dropped Mobile Fighter G Gundam Ultra Edition in December 2018. With a suggested retail value of $240, the latest iteration of G-Gundam contains the show's total 49 episodes and a grab bag of quirky extras like a replica of Domon's family photo with instructions on where to tear it for accuracy, a replica of Domon's iconic headband, patches, art cards, and more. It's worth noting that the most unusual item, a Tequila Gundam shot glass, was a fan request from Twitter that Nozomi delivered on. This odd assortment is worth mentioning high up because it underlines the appeal of this cult favorite and the way fans' most ardent interests are focused on what makes it different from any other Gundam show: the outrageous Gundam designs and the theatrics of Domon's determination and rage, for starters.
Visually, the Blu-Ray is captured in the show's original full frame (4:3) ratio, but just about everything else has changed. The images and smooth and crisp, though there's a bit of graininess that is to be expected considering the age of the original film (it's kind of neat when you spot it). Most strikingly, the colors have been boldly and noticeably adjusted from the original DVDs and Cartoon Network run. (Check out G-Gundam streaming on Crunchyroll to see the muddier, fuzzier DVD transfer.) Look! The East is burning redder than ever before—and the series' rich primary palette come across warm and bright. While this is an intentional change that doesn't stay true to the original, I think it's a great editorial decision. It depicts the colorful world of G-Gundam the way I remember watching it, not the way it actually was.
The audio is likewise upgraded, with both Japanese and English dubs delivered in stereo with lossless tracks. The iconic, high-powered first intro song “Flying in the Sky” (and the woefully underrated second intro song “Trust You Forever”) have never sounded so bold. At the same time, the original voice dubs are unchanged and certainly show their age—the English voice actors must match the pacing of the characters' mouth movement which makes them speak quickly and unnaturally. At the same time, this is my preference for watching G-Gundam (my apologies to the talented Tomokazu Seki, who voices Domon in Japanese) because the theatrical over-acting perfectly matches the bombastic mood of G-Gundam overall.
With the stylings of a pro-wrestling match and bold personalities to match, this show's story is unlike anything else in the Gundam universe. The dark themes of war and destruction that characterize shows like Gundam Zeta (which Director Imagawa worked on before moving on to this!) are replaced by the festival atmosphere of a sanctioned Gundam tournament. In an interview, Imagawa said that some fans found the show “heretical” at the time because it was such a different approach (in the same breath he noted that Americans loved the tonal shift). But the idea behind Gundam's first non-UC offering was to make a show that didn't require tons of knowledge spanning back to 1979. Kids who didn't grow up with Gundam could still enjoy it.
There's no bigger kid than the series protagonist. Though he's dealing with familial angst, Domon Kasshu can never be taken seriously as a tragic figure because he's just so declarative, a drama queen who takes himself very seriously even if others don't. One of the things that makes Domon such an endearing Gundam protagonist is that despite his prowess as a fighter, he's terrible with interpersonal relationships and such a jerk to Rain that his lines often cracked me up (he may be unkind, but he's also harmless). Domon is solving his problems with inhuman power, but still-developing social skills matching the intended young audience watching him. That's not to say the show doesn't have any depth—its childish, feelings-first approach brings warmth to an otherwise standard battle between good and evil. One of Domon's more self-aware lines is “I'm just a man who's ill at ease, who only knows how to communicate with his fists.” That's the kind of awkward sincerity that G-Gundam delivers exclusively.
I can't neglect to mention another hallmark of this series: the international caricatures that comprise every representative Gundam fighter and betray Imagawa's passion for world cinema. They're usually stereotypical, but when the representative for a country is evil for no reason (looking at you, Neo-India) it can definitely veer into uncomfortable territory. But most of the time, it's just too weird to be an issue. For example, I loved the way the character of Chibodee Crocket pokes fun at American idealism, like when his crew insists his childhood lullaby was “America the Beautiful.” This is pure camp, which is why it's easy to brush off the more overt stereotypes—it's too absurd to offend, and too out-there to be taken seriously.
Wild, wacky, and over-the-top, G-Gundam is unlike any other entry in the Gundam multiverse. The first of its timeline, it's a show anyone can get into with no prior Gundam knowledge. And with a story inspired by tokusatsu, it's just crazy enough to keep your attention. This fast-paced, silly action story has aged better than I expected it to, and it's clear that Nozomi's Ultra Edition, with its remastered audio and visuals, played a major role in keeping it fresh. This quirky show has never looked better, and it's worth a watch for Gundam fans and newbies alike.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : A
Music : A
+ Bold visual and audio transfer that makes the series better than you might remember, fun extras make the ultra edition worth it for fans
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