Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ
Sub.Blu-Ray - Collection 1
The conflict between the Anti Earth Union Group (AEUG) and Neo Zeon, formerly called Axis, is growing bloodier every day. But for teenage Gundam pilot Judau Ashta, the war is much closer to home. A Neo Zeon officer named Glemy has kidnapped his sister, Leina, and Judau will do anything to get her back, even if it means deepening the schism between both sides. After Captain Bright Noa leaves the Argama in the hands of Judau and his friends, there's no adults left to stop these teenage junk collectors from waging war as they see fit. But Zeon leader Haman Karn has her own plans for Judau in mind…
In the first half of Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, there were already signs that this comedy show was verging toward a major tonal shift. If the joking tone was already jarring after the grim events of its prequel, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, this show's swerve back into drama was a major shock. The first half of Gundam ZZ garnered its humor from poking fun at its unlikeable cast and their poor choices. In its second, darker half, it doesn't have a foundation to support its newfound morality. All of a sudden Gundam ZZ wants to talk about the deep stuff, but with such insubstantial characters this exploration ends up looking hollow—and no amount of good animation can save it.
In part one, there were already slight signs that the show was moving in a darker direction. Now, however, it's hard to believe this is the same show. We've gone from regular hijinks with silly sound effects to a drastically raised body count. Early on, Judau and company engage in a desert skirmish against some native freedom fighters. It's hard to support Judau and his friends' carefree attitudes in victory when, right after they leave, the camera pans to a group of widows and orphans tearfully mourning the soldiers they just decimated.
We've gone from “war is hilarious” to the more typical Gundam franchise message of “war is terrible.” Only, we don't have any avatars of morality that viewers will want to root for. A great example occurs on the Tigerbaum colony, when a bunch of hoodlum kids try to steal the Gundam in order to sell it for parts—just like Judau originally intended to in the very first episode. It's such an obvious parallel and opportunity for self awareness, but Judau and his friends were having none of it, simply beating up those teens and getting them to obey. There's nothing poignant here, no self reflection on the protagonists' part. It's a reminder that Judau and co. are really still just a bunch of juvenile delinquents themselves.
Don't look for saviors on the Zeon side, either. Against all of the odds, it's Glemy Toto who becomes a main character. Yes, that's right, the gullible lovesick rich kid is suddenly supposed to be a complex anti-hero with conflicting motivations. There's a fan theory that adored Gundam antagonist Char (who appears in the opening) was originally supposed to appear in Gundam ZZ, but was ultimately cut due to time constraints—and Glemy underwent a motivation shift in order to take his place. It's one way to explain how this wimp suddenly becomes the leader of a Zeon rebellion, a calculating user, and a thorn in even Haman Karn's side. Haman herself is an especial disappointment in this second half. We've previously seen Haman as one cool customer in Zeta Gundam, perhaps the most intimidating villain in the Gundam universe. Now, she is reduced to her inexplicable affections for Judau, and she is willing to do some pretty un-Haman-like things for love, none of which seem very wise. As the Zeon forces begin to schism, the bad guys' politics become more interesting, ostensibly setting up the elaborate political landscape for Char's Counterattack, but remain a meltdown of character motivation.
Visually, this show continues to be uncannily detailed for its time. It's an '80s show that rivals shows made over a decade later in character and mecha design. The fashion is fantastic, and gets better over time as Judau, Ple, Elle, and more rock some trendsetting looks that should make cosplayers go bananas. Creative battle choreography that makes use of a full range of mecha weapons as well as foreign objects like dummy asteroids kept my interest during the show's increasingly tense (and bloody) fights. Pause on a mobile suit's introduction, like when Ple Two first shows up in her Queen Mansa, and you'll see startlingly gorgeous art. The second opening and ending themes aren't half as catchy, but the soundtrack does its job.
It's still not enough to make up for Gundam ZZ part two being one big bummer. While Judau and his friends are enjoying their teenage hijinks, Bright takes a moment to show Hayato the room of his deceased adopted son Katz, who died in battle during Zeta Gundam—a turning point that causes Hayato to lose the will to live. Later, Bright's love interest on the La Vie En Rose is disposed of when it becomes apparent he isn't going to cheat on his wife, Mirai. Yeah, a lot of people die in Gundam ZZ, but worse than that is the feeling that the living characters have no sympathy for the dead. When Judau believes Leina has died, Roux tells him “people throughout history have died for reasons just as ridiculous, or worse,” which hardly sounds comforting. When one of the protagonist pilots dies, it's more than an episode before anyone addresses their absence. When main characters die for almost no reason except that the their arcs have concluded, it feels more pointless than emotional. There is no real mourning, just the teens plowing forward on their path of constant destruction. It's anarchy on the Argama, with no real purpose or direction, just a heck of a lot of killing.
There's no real wrap-up here either. Whether Kamille got his sanity back is unclear. Whether the war will continue after Neo Zeon lost basically all their officers is unclear. Why Judau chooses to travel far away from Leina—when his entire motivation throughout the show was to save, protect, or otherwise be with her—is really unclear. Overall, it's hard to tell why any of these formerly comic relief characters do anything. I really did enjoy the comedy aspects of Gundam ZZ. With characters this hard to like, it's much easier to laugh at them than to relate to them. Now that the time for joking is over, I'm left without any plot points worth caring about.
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : C-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : C
+ Detailed visuals and smooth animation, especially impressive for a 1986 TV production
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