Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ
Sub.Blu-Ray - Collection 1
Immediately following the tragic events of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, the horrors of war are on everyone's minds. But not Judau Ashta's. This teen protagonist would rather steal a Gundam than pilot one. His attitude changes when his life is on the line, and Captain Bright Noa, observing his raw talent, offers him a place on the Argama. He and his ragtag crew make a mockery of military protocol until Judau's little sister, Leina, is kidnapped by Haman's Axis forces. Finally, this budding Newtype has a reason of his own to declare war.
The first two Gundam shows were serious business. In Mobile Suit Gundam and Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, director Yoshiyuki Tomino wasn't afraid to kill off even beloved main characters to prove a point. So it must have been a major shock to 1986 Gundam fans watching the first few episodes of Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ. “Wait, is this supposed to be… funny?”
It's different from our standpoint in 2016. Gundam has been in the hands of multiple directors who have each put their own twist on the original space opera formula—and many have indeed been intended to be humorous, like G-Gundam and Gundam Build Fighters. Japanese-speaking fans may also be familiar with Gundam-san, the manga and anime short that includes sketches about Amuro Ray going through puberty and a talking Zaku trying to get a promotion. Or Char's Daily Life, the comedy manga about the iconic Red Comet inexplicably living in Japan. A lot of this comedy is situational: seeing our beloved Gundam characters in ordinary situations, like war hero Ramba Ral coaching a middle school Gunpla team. But it can also be funny without being meta, like with G-Gundam, which simply takes the absurdity of the idea of the center of Gundam—to solve all our problems with teens in killing machines—and runs with it.
In the wake of both kinds of Gundam humor, Gundam ZZ is surprisingly palatable. It's no wonder to me that it was received very badly by contemporary fans still stinging from Zeta Gundam's body count. But today, it's a lot easier to be comfortable laughing at Gundam. The first 22 episodes of Gundam ZZ, which this Blu-Ray review encompasses, are primarily humorous. You could loop the Benny Hill theme as a soundtrack and it wouldn't be out of place. It's only when the anime makes its ties to Zeta Gundam obvious that the tonal shift feels wrong and unfunny.
Judging by what I had heard about the plot of Gundam ZZ, I came into this show expecting to hate it. And sure enough, the first few episodes didn't help. We are reintroduced to Zeta Gundam protagonist Kamille, reduced to an unseeing vegetable state, at the same time that we meet loudmouthed delinquent Judau and his friends. These teen junk collectors clearly see themselves as some kind of Robin Hood band, but it's hard to root for them when they're just so awful—stealing for fun, with no loyalty among themselves—even when their Scooby-Doo villainesque victims are just as horrible. It feels downright disrespectful to have turned the war into a playground right in front of Kamille, who has suffered the real consequences of fighting. These early episodes also use the same joke again and again: for some reason, pilots have a lot of trouble closing mobile suit hatches, a concept that is constantly taken advantage of.
Yet as I adjusted to Gundam ZZ's tone and Zeta characters like Kamille fell into the background, I found myself laughing out loud. This is a show that overuses the “boing” sound effect. A show where (at least for the first part) nobody dies. Everyone is outrageous and unlikeable and so bad they're good. The enemies are fantastic—there's Mashymre Cello, a Zeon commander who sees himself as a knight, but really just has the hots for Haman. There's his superior, Chara Soon, who looks like a Jem and the Holograms reject and has a superbly-cast Valley Girl voice to match. The Zeon soldiers are hopelessly goofy, patting themselves on the backs for each other's awful plans. And though they have many, many opportunities to kill Judau in the Double Zeta, they always affirm that it wouldn't be “chivalrous” to do so, and let him get away. The new main characters aren't any better. Beecha and Mondo (bless those terrible names) have no honor at all, hatching plans to kill everyone on the Argama and even murder Judau so there can be a “new main character.” But since this is supposed to be funny, nobody actually dies from their awfulness. And in the middle of it all is Bright Noa, the sole straight man in the joke his life has become—and in a comedic extension of the tradition of giving Gundams to just anyone, maybe the only person on the Argama with military ranking, too. These characters' funny flaws are amplified in bizarre situations like the Moon Moon colony, which is supremely memorable for its absurdity and total contrast to anything in Gundam prior.
Visually, there's nothing to complain about here. Even though Gundam ZZ was created in 1986, it's clearly improved from Gundam Zeta, perhaps thanks to its prequel's success. The soundtrack is suitable if a little repetitive, and the “Not an Anime” opening is certainly catchy, if a little misleading in its message. This is the first time Gundam ZZ has been released for English speaking fans, but the subtitle dialogue is rife with modern colloquialisms like “hold that thought” and “I don't know, search me,” which actually work great for this collection's informal feel. The one-liners especially are fantastic, if sometimes groan-worthy. When Mashymre fights Judau for the first time, they introduce themselves: “I'm Mashymre Cello and I'm commander of the Endra!" "I'm Judau Ashta and I'm... cutting class!"
However, part way through this collection, the Gundam ZZ story undergoes yet another tonal shift, this time back toward the stark horror of Gundam Zeta. When Judau tries to rescue Leina from another Newtype pilot, Ple, in episode 19, Ple gets so angry that she kills people. It's the first time we've directly seen the consequences of everyone's selfish, inept actions, and it's sobering. The death count racks up and I feel terrible for laughing. It's not funny anymore to see little kids Shinta and Kum in increasingly dangerous situations, now that I know they could die. Even worse, the humor starts to disappear altogether, and without it we're left with interesting but unlikeable characters, cool but underutilized mobile suits, and a plot that whiplashes us for ever not taking it seriously. Gundam ZZ is a real oddity of the franchise. It was the first to inject so much humor into the canon and can be celebrated for that. But that humor didn't stick around. This could have been a silly show or a serious show, but it fails at being both.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Laugh-out-loud hilarious moments, memorably bizarre characters and situations.
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