Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ
by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,
I started playing the farming game Stardew Valley last week, and it's taught me that I should never, under any circumstances, be allowed to name a real animal. My character owns three chickens named "Drumstick," "Buffalo," and "McNugget," and I'm planning on naming my first cow "Sirloin." Does it help if I claim that I got the idea from watching Silver Spoon? Anyway, welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ Part 1
On Shelves This Week
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Shelf Life Reviews
Due to a rift in space and time known as the "Paul Didn't Plan Far Enough Ahead With The Review Schedule" effect, we've ended up doing back-to-back Gundam reviews. This week, we go back to the Universal Century timeline with Gabriella's take on Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ.
Famously unreleased in the Western world for many years, it's hard to believe that this is our first official exposure to the third leg of Mobile Suit Gundam's Universal Century timeline. This story is one of the pillars of early English-language anime fandom, so Gundam ZZ, its televised conclusion, should be a beloved entry in the franchise. However, a cursory glance at the Gundam Fandom Wars reveals that this isn't the case – Gundam ZZ looks to be, if not a maligned Gundam, at least a controversial one, largely due to its status as a follow-up to the fan-favorite Zeta Gundam. Right off the bat, I can see why. Zeta Gundam is the most tragic of the original series, the one where the emotional stakes are the highest, and it ended with our heroes at their lowest points. Coming right off that soul-crushing conclusion, Gundam ZZ begins with much of the previous cast either broken or absent, introducing us to their replacements via 10+ episodes of wacky hijinks. It's like the transition between The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi, but with almost all of the heroes replaced by new characters. The more you like Zeta, the more this will hurt. Personally, I'm middling on Zeta, so Gundam ZZ doesn't crush my dreams, although I do have to acknowledge it as a step down overall.
Personally, I somewhat enjoy the tonal change of pace from Zeta. I found that series unnecessarily dour at times, and I missed the balance of lighthearted antics and sincere emotions from Mobile Suit Gundam. Despite the impression created by Zeta, comedic filler material has never been foreign to this series – there just hasn't been much of it since the beginning of Mobile Suit Gundam. As for the comedy itself, it's hit and miss. There are now dedicated comic relief characters besides the lovable orphans. They've invaded the ranks of the military, with characters like Tuxedo Mask wannabe Mashmyre Cello and 80s cheese elemental Chara Soon. Basically, the comedy is now closer in proximity to the war drama, which sucks out some of the emotional impact and leads to jarring tonal shifts. This is all off base from Mobile Suit Gundam's golden standard for balancing drama and comedy, but I just can't hate anything that involves Bright Noa getting badgered by chickens. (Bright's extramarital affair, however, is another matter altogether. Go take a cold shower, Captain.)
Once again, if you were super hot on Zeta, there's a good chance that you'll be down on ZZ. But while I agree that Zeta is the better series, the gulf in quality between it and ZZ isn't as overwhelming as I'd been lead to believe. The biggest issue is still the main problem of all early Gundams – the inflated 80s runtime and pacing. It's a long show, there's a lot of repeated material, and not much feels like it's getting accomplished until the very end of these 22 episodes. Judau joins the team, gets into some skirmishes, and meets the enemy psychic girl who will probably break his heart later on. That's about it. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of a dub, which makes it harder to marathon Gundam in the background.
It's also become apparent that Yoshiyuki Tomino only has a few story ideas that he repeats over and over. This marks the third or fourth time in a row that our protagonist has befriended a tragic enemy waif. This one's platonic at least, but that just makes it a combination of the Rosamia Badam/Four Murasame bits from Zeta Gundam. And all that is just a redo of Lalah Sune from Mobile Suit Gundam. What I'm saying is that it's not fresh anymore. I also understand that it's series convention, but Zeta Gundam's conclusion wasn't a great point to switch off to a new protagonist. We leave Kamille at his lowest point, and it's troubling to abandon his story for a new crew while he's in such dire straits. Judua's an alright guy otherwise. Unlike Amuro and Kamille, he's street-smart rather than book-smart, and he doesn't have much in terms of serious emotional baggage. If you disliked Amuro and Kamille for their reticence and vulnerability, you might like Judau, who is immediately a more admirable character. Anyway, Gundam ZZ eventually compensates for this by attaching him to one of the most messed up characters in the franchise, so it's not like his mental health will last that long.
So far, Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ is easily the weakest of the three original Universal Century series. It lacks both the novelty of Mobile Suit Gundam and intensity of Zeta Gundam. Zeta Gundam concludes by setting up this epic conflict between Haman Karn's forces and the weakened Federation, but for these first 20 episodes of ZZ, it barely seems like either side is making progress. Still, it's not an absolute disaster, and by the end of this volume, the story finally starts approaching something interesting. This isn't peak material for the franchise, but if you're in a position to watch this, chances are that you're a committed enough Gundam fan to just finish the whole thing out. After all, it still contains many of the series' virtues, like the 80s artistry and awesome mecha designs. While the packaging and extras are bare-bones, this is a great-looking Blu-ray. Even B-list Gundam deserves a spot in an anime fan's collection.
That wraps up this week's review section. Come on back next week, where I promise we'll cover a series that doesn't have the word "Gundam" in its title.
There's no Shelf Obsessed entry this week, but if you want to show off your anime collection to the world, send me your photos at [email protected]!
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