Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
As skirmishes between the Titans and the AEUG grow more frequent, a teenage ace pilot named Kamille finds himself at the center. As Kamille continues to develop his latent psychic “Newtype” powers, the enemy Titans experiment by sending out vivacious female “Cyber Newtype” pilots, each of whom manage to involve themselves with Kamille on a personal level. As the conflict escalates, and both the Titans and the AEUG suffer considerable losses, both groups find themselves confronting the full force of a third group, Axis Zeon, led by the formidable Haman Karn. Now that the AEUG is facing both Haman's ire and the Titans' deadly Colony Laser, Kamille must master his abilities before it's too late.
It's nothing new to say that Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam is a coming-of-age story. However, it becomes more apparent in the second half of the series that it's also a coming-of-age story for the Gundam franchise itself. The first half was very much a sequel to Gundam 0079, with many of the same characters and plot points making appearances. The second half spirals into a far deeper and more original conflict, with a host of new characters, surprising military technologies, and criss-crossing allegiances. This dramatic emphasis marks a step toward the slow-burn style of the typical Gundam show today, yet still continues to present a new skirmish every episode until all the battles begin to blur together. We've also all but ditched any characters carried over from Gundam 0079, so the result is a rather disjointed second half. Zeta Gundam is still a classic entry in the Gundam pantheon, but focusing the lens on just its second half shows that it wasn't entirely successful.
The major takeaway from this second half's story: don't get too attached to anybody. Director Yoshiyuki Tomino was in his infamous “kill 'em all” mode during this time, leading to one of the most unhappy endings in his oeuvre. This is aided immensely by Zeta Gundam's focus on relationships between the sexes that traverse even military allegiance and enemy lines. At the center is Kamille, who bears the brunt of the show's emotional trauma. All of Kamille's relationships show that he wants to fix broken people, which is why he has no space in his life for a capable, competent woman like his childhood friend, Fa. He wants to save mentally unstable Four and brainwashed Rosamia and the deeply confused Reccoa. “This is the military, gender is irrelevant!” insists Bright, and nobody has ever been more wrong.
Instead, gender is perhaps the most important character trait in this half of the show. It makes up an enormous motivator and instigator for everyone's actions, and they rarely turn out well. Many episodes are dedicated to Reccoa's romantic confusion. “You had no choice but to play the role of a strong woman,” Titan leader Paptimus Scirocco says to seduce the AEUG pilot into defecting, appealing to her femininity rather than her principles. We're led to believe the only reason she is vulnerable is because Quattro refused her advances. (Who can blame him, with her wooden flirting that becomes worse in the toneless dub: “Lt., do you ever feel like crying?”) Meanwhile, Sarah's jealousy of Reccoa and adoration toward Scirocco begin to slip thanks to the kindness of Kamille and Katz. “All he did was treat you like a normal girl,” Kamille accuses, when Sarah is ready to kill him. It's just one more example of how jilted love affairs take center stage on the battlefield. In these 25 episodes there are just as many battles, and it's hard to tell which ones are truly important to furthering the plot and which ones are just lovers ironically killing each other, Capulet-Montague style. (Quattro's skirmish with Haman, his apparent former lover, turns out to be both!)
Visually, be ready for some truly bizarre mobile suits. If the angry donut that was the Asshimar wasn't weird enough, perhaps you'll prefer the lime green Palace Athena or the transformative bell of the Baund Doc. The most iconic suits are certainly Scirocco's The O (with its massive proportions and miniscule head) and Haman's insect-like Qubeley. A lot of effort has been put into making these mobile suits move well, and that effort is still visible 31 years later. This show doesn't reuse footage as often as Gundam 0079, and when it does, it's much less obvious about it. It's also hard to spot even a single time where the Gundam's proportions alter mid-movement. As with the first half, the Blu-Ray transfer doesn't have any noticeable problems.
The battles look great, but it's sometimes hard to tell what they're being fought for. Even though dozens of relationships are constantly being formed and broken, the pacing seems inversely slow. An ultimate Titan weapon called the Colony Laser is revealed in episode 40, but it takes ten episodes for the good guys to do anything about it. Really, the trouble is that Zeta Gundam has a deeper and more thought-provoking plot than Gundam 0079, yet it tries to carry itself like Gundam 0079 did. It was easy to keep track of the prequel's constant battles because they were all stepping stones to one another in service of the same end. It also made more sense for there to be child characters in 0079, since White Base was originally a civilian rescue ship. This time, Quattro brings Qum and SHINTA on board for little more than comic relief.
At the same time, most of the characters carried over from 0079 are dropped from the plot entirely for the second half of the show, and we never hear from them again. This is confusing, since I wanted to know what happened to that cast, but it's also a relief because it allows the story to focus more on the increasingly interesting new players, Haman especially. Her theatricality brings about a ton of iconic scenes, most notably the Titans/Zeon/AEUG three-way standoff that literally takes place on a stage. In this plot full of loopholes, forgotten character arcs, and lost threads, these are the moments that will stick with Gundam viewers forever, because they are excellently executed, from the dialogue to the scripting to the background music. (Unfortunately, the original opening and ending music still haven't been licensed, which is a huge blow to the soundtrack).
I think what Zeta Gundam fans like me forget is that these moments are the highlights, not the norm. This is a show that spirals out of control as it reaches its tragic conclusion, and eventually it falls apart. The few characters that Tomino doesn't kill have arcs that remain unfinished, and it's frustrating to think that we might have had time to address them if there had been fewer pointless battles. Zeta Gundam is Gundam's awkward coming-of-age, developing the doomed romantic plots that remain so vital to the franchise immemorial, while slowly discovering that what worked for the lighthearted Gundam 0079 isn't going to work for everything. This is a classic and an important note in Gundam's history. It may be inconsistent, but it is the pioneer that introduced some of the most enduring plot points to this well-loved timeline.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : C+
+ Iconic moments, enduring characters, and romantic storylines deliver strong emotion. Bizarre, creative mobile suit designs that look great and move better.
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