Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
Mobile Suit Victory Gundam
Sub.Blu-Ray - Collection 1 (episodes 1-26)
It is the year 0153, more than seventy years after the events of Mobile Suit Gundam and the One Year War. Humanity has long forgotten about the atrocities of Zeon and the Earth Federation, but history repeats itself. The space colony-based Zanscare Empire has just declared independence from the now-weakened Earth Federation and launched an invasion of Earth at the same time. Swept up in the middle are two seemingly ordinary 13-year-olds, Uso Ewin and Shakti Kareen, when their Earth haven suddenly becomes a warzone. After it turns out that Uso has a preternatural knack for piloting mobile suits, the resistance group League Militaire recruits him as their youngest and most talented pilot. But just how far is Uso willing to go to protect his friends, when the Zanscare Empire's favorite assassination device, the guillotine, stands waiting for him if he fails?
This is the Gundam show director Yoshiyuki Tomino doesn't want you to watch.
“I want to completely reject this work. These kind of results are the full responsibility of the director,” Tomino is quoted directly on Mobile Suit Victory Gundam's sales page.
It's not the storyline that bothers Tomino about his 1993 anime, nor is it the quality of the Blu-Ray itself, which is quite good. Instead, it's his self-proclaimed remembrance of creating a series while indebted to his sponsors. While it's difficult to find primary sources for exactly what was plaguing Tomino, his depression is palpable in the story's tone. (Just as with Game of Thrones, I'd advise you not to get too attached to any one Victory character.)
But for all of Tomino's dire warnings, the first half of Victory Gundam is a strong start. After a rocky beginning (possibly forced by the show's sponsors), this story combines an emotional character drama with creative mobile suit battles in a 26-episode run that, while unspeakably tragic, is never ordinary.
The worst part of Victory Gundam hits right at episode one. The action starts, confusingly, in media res, and then the story works backwards from there until being fully clarified in episode four. We don't know why Chronicle Asher, a Char clone in an orange mobile suit and a face mask, is kicking our 13-year-old protagonist Uso Ewin, or why 13-year-old Shakti Kareen is hurriedly finding milk for a newborn baby that couldn't possibly be her child. Fans believe what we view as episode one was originally intended to be episode four, but that Tomino experienced pressure from sponsors to show the main mobile suit, the Victory, as soon as possible.
However, if you can make it through the puzzling first three episodes, the plot shows itself clearly. There's a clear class divide at work, along with all the tensions that go with it. There's the elite Zanscare Empire, complete with elaborate military attire and unsubtle Nazi symbolism. Meanwhile, the League Militaire, aka the “good guys,” are a ragtag group of women, children, and elderly men who work to stave off the Empire's Earth invasion. There's a very obvious parallel to the French Revolution, down to the Empire's copious use of the guillotine. The first 15 episodes all take place on Earth as the League Militaire defends their homeland. It's not until later that they go on the offensive, discovering that even though it's on a space colony, the Zanscare Empire is a lot closer to home than anyone—especially Shakti—ever imagined.
Series protagonist Uso remains the youngest Gundam pilot ever. Much of the story focuses on how both sides react to his youth for good reason; the very fact that a 13-year-old could be an ace pilot makes so much of what both sides do reprehensible. Each thinks they have the moral high ground. The Zanscare Empire can tell itself the insurgents are reprehensible for using a child, while at other times being simply terrified the League Militaire has developed a mobile suit easy enough for a child to operate. Meanwhile, the League Militaire repeatedly justifies to themselves that they have no choice. Frankly, they might not. Nobody is as talented as Uso (whose computer-savvy upbringing may remind you of Gundam's first protagonist, Amuro), and there are scarcely any adult men under 65 in this group to fight. Instead, the League Militaire joins forces with the Shrike Team, an all-female mobile suit squadron, and children operate the Fishbone, a support vehicle that supplies Uso with weapons.
Much of the tragedy comes from how Uso feels about his predicament. He quickly learns that if he chooses not to pilot the Victory and runs away, the adults will simply die. He justifies each life he takes with “If you hadn't resisted…” or “you lowered your weapon, so it was easy for me to slash you.” Piloting comes naturally to Uso, and he's rarely in mortal peril. So it's extremely frustrating for him to see weaker pilots continue to attack as if they have a chance, only for Uso to kill them easily. His skills are those of an adult, but his mindset is not. When a Zanscare pilot tries to hold him hostage in space, he insists, “I'm just a regular kid!” The subject of kids comes up all the time. An enemy pilot hears Uso's voice over the comm and thinks, “I have a son who is only sixteen.” The elderly mechanic of the League Militaire relies on Uso's “children's intuition.” Marbet and Junko, the adults who support Uso as backup and stand-in mothers, agonize over how they can't allow him to be a kid. Indeed, Uso spends a lot of this show in tears. This show has an extremely high death count, and of all the Gundam pilots, Uso is the one I feel the worst for. The storyline pulls no punches in illustrating the reality of war, and Uso is the perfect avatar to drive its horrors home.
Overall, Victory Gundam has a likable cast, though they certainly have to put up with more than your average Gundam characters. Chronicle Asher is our obvious homage to Char, and while I didn't like him at first (kicking a kid in the face is pretty low, even if that kid is a super-talented pilot), his plan to dismantle the patriarchy and revolutionize Zanscare from the inside makes him interesting. Katejina Loos is Uso's femme fatale, a wealthy Earth girl who code-switches easily to fit right in as a Zanscare spy. Shakti is taking care of a baby for some reason, but seems to have supernatural powers that make her a civilian parallel to Uso. She seems at first like a Fraw Bow or Fa Yuiry clone, but she quickly becomes extremely relevant to the plot.
Visually, the animation is nothing to write home about, but it remains steady for its time. The one place where the animation is ahead of its time is in its depiction of mobile suits, which rarely look “off brand.” The anime shows off both mobile suit design and the animators' prowess through elaborate transformation sequences—most mobile suits, including the Gundam, can divide into three pieces, and it's not just for show. More than once, Uso uses his suit's legs, or “boots,” as a weapon by forcibly ejecting them into an enemy. Meanwhile, enemy suits are especially unique. They wield a propeller on the forearm that doesn't only help them fly, but doubles as a shield and weapon. The symbolism inherent to the mecha design is also obvious—the enemy suits are purple and red with evil, catlike eyes.
Sound-wise, Victory Gundam has one of the catchiest opening and closing theme combinations in “Stand Up To The Victory” and “Winners Forever,” but they certainly don't match the series' miserable tone. Instead, a string-heavy selection of compositions makes sure every new betrayal and character death is acknowledged with punctuated tragedy. It can't be overstated how sad this show is. You'd think the combination of a dog, a baby, and a mischievous Haro robot (with an odd bleating voice) would give this show some levity. Nope.
When Victory Gundam came out in 1993, there was only one Gundam timeline—Universal Century—and as a result, this is a more advanced series that assumes at least some Gundam knowledge on the viewer's part. Phrases like “Minovsky particles,” “Newtypes,” and “La Vie En Rose,” (a repair ship type used since Mobile Suit Gundam) are thrown around without ever being explained. Paired with the tragic overtones, I wouldn't recommend Victory Gundam as anyone's first foray into the Gundam universe. That said, I entirely disagree with Tomino, because this is a series that ought to be watched. Despite a rough beginning and depressing tone, it's a powerful story about why war is a terrible solution to any problem, told through the entirely-believable perspective of a kid.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : C
Music : B+
+ Interesting mobile suit functionality and relatable characters who will definitely make you sad
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