Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
Blu-Ray - Part 1
Seven years after the One Year War, the Earth Federation has established an elite force called the Titans to eradicate all remaining things Zeon. As the Titans grow overzealous, a resistance group called the AEUG (Anti-Earth Union Group) forms. When troubled teen civilian Kamille Bidan has a personal grudge against some Titan soldiers, he swipes their Gundam Mk-II and joins the mysterious Lt. Quattro Bajeena in the AEUG. Here, Kamille has a front row seat to the unresolved personal dramas of One Year War heroes on both sides while discovering his latent psychic, or “Newtype,” Gundam-piloting powers.
Don't be fooled by the new name or the young new protagonist—Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam is a sequel series. Its many tie-ins to the One Year War at the center of Mobile Suit Gundam 0079 cement it as a follow-up to the former, from the characters (and those characters' old rivalries and romances), to the very political situation that creates the bulk of this series' intrigue. The viewer's enjoyment of this series is strongly dependent on whether they've already watched Gundam 0079, and this show would get a much different (and lower) review from a reviewer who wasn't already familiar with the considerable returning cast and events.
In the context of the Gundam pantheon, however, Zeta Gundam is a triumph. An even darker take on the horrors of war than its predecessor, it's a raw and gripping drama that further establishes director Yoshiyuki Tomino's reputation as a powerful storyteller.
The story centers on Kamille Bidan, a firebrand protagonist with obvious teen anger issues, which many, many other characters attempt to slap and punch out of him, to mixed results. Unlike his predecessor, Kamille is thrilled to pilot the Gundam and, if anything, too quick to act. He's too quick to succumb to anger or romantic love, and given to bouts of contrarianism. However, his flaws don't make him unlikable; they make him compelling and vulnerable. “War isn't fair,” Lt. Emma tells him, and her harsh words to Kamille sting all of us. We know that war isn't fair in real life, but in a story like Gundam 0079, we're used to things turning out well for the good guys. Not so in Zeta, where Kamille gets pushed around plenty and there's nothing he can do about it.
The first 25 episodes of Zeta Gundam read like a litany of Kamille's many problems. Even though this story spans complex political events culminating in war for an entire solar system, it remains an entirely personal story as well. This dark series of events includes many, many, often deadly goodbyes. Kamille's wartime coming-of-age isn't a happy one, with his relationship with his parents and with his first romance both tinged with blood. Even the father figures he looks up to, like Bright Noa and Quattro Bajeena, either stand back as he is brutally disciplined, or partake in said discipline themselves. The story balances its myopic focus on Kamille with a much wider scope over the whole galaxy because Kamille's immense talent means he and his Gundam are often at the center of battles with massive repercussions for everyone involved. Though we pan to a variety of characters—both new and familiar—this never stops being Kamille's story, and that is what lends it such relatable appeal.
A word on Kamille's father figure, Lt. Quattro Bajeena, though. It's not a spoiler to acknowledge that he's One Year War hero Char Aznable in disguise. When Kamille acknowledges it, Quattro doesn't deny it but simply plays Devil's Advocate, “Assuming that I were.” Quattro's relationship with Kamille leads to this Newtype pilot meeting his predecessor, Amuro, and developing into a complex platonic relationship triangle between the three. Conversations between Amuro and Kamille, the protagonists of this series and the last, are dualistically insightful because they're two characters who dealt with being thrown into the same situation in very different ways. While Amuro resented his piloting abilities, Kamille preens himself over them. While Char was Amuro's greatest foe, Kamille works with and looks up to him. It's in this relationship that the tie-in between old and new becomes most blatant in Zeta Gundam.
While characters have a lot to say to one another, they're unfortunately less than articulate. The Zeta Gundam subtitles have not been redone for the Blu-Ray from their earlier 2004 DVD release, and while translations appear to be perfectly accurate, they are sometimes so jarring that they interrupt the viewing experience. “I am an autistic child,” 18-year-old Kamille intones. The way characters refer to discipline as “correction,” quotation marks and all, is offputting. Zeta Gundam is famous for quirky Engrish in its art—an accusation in a letter that Quattro receives that states “he is a Char,” but it seems its subtitles haven't aged well, either. On the other hand, the dub (which the Blu-Ray has also inherited from the 2004 DVD release) benefits from a returning cast of recognizable English speakers from the Gundam 0079 dub, but the most important character, Kamille, suffers from an overly manly voice in contrast to his youthful Japanese one. “Why, you're just a kid!” an enemy soldier exclaims to Kamille over the comm system, an exchange that doesn't translate well with Kamille's deeper dub voice.
Zeta Gundam's music also has a disappointing caveat—even after 31 years, nobody has been able to secure the rights to either the opening or ending songs. All the music is purely instrumental, and it lacks the punch of the 0079 soundtrack. These are not songs that will get stuck in your head. It's a shame that such great art doesn't have an equally iconic musical score to go with it, but even the art requires a caveat—it was, after all, drawn in 1985. Since Zeta Gundam benefitted from a loyal following and didn't suffer the budget cuts that Gundam 0079 did, it looks and moves better than its predecessor, with fluid animation, in-betweens that don't alter the proportions of the Gundam every time, and lovingly detailed line drawings. Crisp art and striking mecha design enhance battles that use their environments in especially creative ways (the Mk-II getting tangled in the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge is a highlight). Still, there is some inconsistency here. Close-ups of characters faces look incredible; characters drawn in the background barely have noses attached. It's clear that with a newer original film, Zeta Gundam didn't have the Blu-Ray transition issues that Gundam 0079 had earlier this year. The scenes that take place in space are especially rich, showing the stars reflecting off of every surface. There are also some tiny details that the animators probably never thought anybody would notice until this slick new Blu-Ray proved them wrong, like the inclusion of “sex” as one of the words mobile suit pilots sometimes see on their view-screens.
Zeta Gundam has the benefit (or detriment) of time on its side, and as a result it has been around long enough for Tomino to release it in several different ways. Aside from the DVD and the Blu-Ray, Zeta Gundam was also released in three movies, in which anywhere from 33% to 80% of the art was redone to give the show a more modern look. That art is nice to look at, but this reviewer can't recommend these movies over the show, as they alter a significant portion of the plot. Whether the plot is improved or regressed is for another review, but it's inarguable that the altered storyline severs the Zeta Gundam movies from the events of the Gundam timeline. As we've seen with this latest release of Zeta Gundam, its original story is its most powerful asset, and taken in a vacuum, it would never be as memorable today.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : A
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : C+
+ A timeless space opera epic story remains powerful 31 years later. A rich transition to Blu-Ray leaves nothing to the imagination.
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