This Week in Anime
Goddamn, It's Gundam Time!

by Steve Jones & Monique Thomas,

Yoshiyuki Tomino changed anime as we know it with the debut of Mobile Suit Gundam, the genre-defining mecha show that birthed a franchise that continues to this day. The original 1979 anime series can be a bit cumbersome to new fans like Nicky, but fortunately Gundam.info's official YouTube channel is offering the condensed movie trilogy for free! Get ready to witness a rivalry that will span across the universe!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @NickyEnchilada @vestenet


Nicky
Hey, Steve! What's that in the sky? Is it a bird?
Is it a plane?
Steve
Oh hold on, I know this one!
NO!! It's a Gundam!

That's right! Today we're covering the ORIGINAL, THE OG, THE UC, Mobile Suit Gundam. Or, at least the first movie compilation that's been so graciously made officially available via YouTube for a short period of time.
Yeah, all of us here at This Week In Anime felt kinda bad about making you sit through a bunch of weird porn shorts for your inaugural column, so to make up for that, we've decided to take a crack at one of the most widely-beloved and influential anime series of all time. This is going to be a discussion about deep, high-brow, important art, with none of that cheap fanservice that so many lesser shows choose to resort to in order to—

Ah crap. Well. Welcome to Gundam?
Well first things first, I've got a confession to make...
It's okay. There's no shame in the Universal Century.
I've never really seen the OG series before or really much Gundam at all!
That's okay! I hadn't watched any Gundams myself until a few years back, and there's still so much more Gundam that I haven't experienced. It's a 40-year-old daunting and diverse franchise that's traded a lot of different creative hands, so it can be intimidating to get into. But I think these OG (that stands for "original Gundam") compilation movies provide the Gundam-illiterate a solid foundation for what the series is. And boy is it a lot.
It's A LOT A LOT! it's clear why this has so much staying power and influence. It puts you in it's setting immediately to tell you “HEY, THIS IS A WAR STORY!” and while a lot of more modern series may beat around the bush, Mobile Suit Gundam, pulls zero punches, or kicks for that matter.
Things do indeed escalate quickly. Part of that is certainly a consequence of condensing a full TV series into 3 movies, and part of that is a consequence of Yoshiyuki Tomino being a super strange yet totally distinctive writer. I love, for instance, that this entire sprawling franchise about war and robots begins with Amuro in his underwear, trying to log online while ignoring a mandatory military evacuation.
Amuro is introduced as a total otaku! Always tinkering in his room and being neglectful of his own needs. His close friend/not girlfriend/mandatory mother figure, Frau Bow always has to come in to chastise him. She's the real MVP!
So, not only does the series pull you into the setting hard. It also pulls you into their characters. Even though they're in a war, they're real humans processing these things that are too damn big for any human to carry. They often get drawn into this big melodrama that it's easy for the sensitive young protagonist, Amuro, to forget something as simple as eating.
And this is one big reason why I think Gundam not only holds up surprisingly well, but is borderline necessary viewing for better understanding the ensuing four decades of anime. It takes the giant robot genre down often uncomfortably real avenues. Like, to bring up the Big Modern Mecha Touchstone, Evangelion's Shinji isn't actually a subversion, but an iteration on themes that were already being covered with Amuro here. Namely: making children fight your war is pretty messed up, huh!

Boy, Amuro's dad, you really couldn't have gotten that more wrong.
He's so wrong his son immediately jumps into the shiny new military toy w/ the user manual in hand and accidentally sends him flying right into the vacuum of space! Something Amuro hasn't even REALIZED yet!
This is more of an incidental point, but I LOVE how Amuro leafs through the giant instruction manual throughout the opening battle. I think it was Tomino's way of further grounding in reality the inherently ridiculous conceit of giant robots, but it's also innately very funny to me.

Good thing he found the "talk to the hand" button.
He also found the SWORD attachment on this big giant samurai robot!
Oh yeah, 1979 places Mobile Suit Gundam a full two years post-Star Wars, so you know there's gotta be lightsabers.
The scope function is also INCREDIBLY Star Wars. Something I also didn't watch until like LAST YEAR, yes, I know I'm a criminal, please don't roast me.
Hey, whether or not you've seen Star Wars or Gundam, the important thing is that you watch anime, so regardless, you're still a huge nerd.
Being a huge nerd has been a boon here because even if I haven't seen these things, I know a lot of things through osmosis; including that Gundam even has it's very own Darth Vader!
Not only that, every installment of Gundam has its own Darth Vader, and each of those Darth Vaders is based on the original Darth Vader, who is Char. And Char is amazing.

He has a red robot, he is Three Times Faster than other robots, and he loves betraying people. He's perfect.
He's also EXTREMELY FABULOUS! No wonder the ladies love him.
No joke, I recall Tomino specifically highlighting female fans of the original series as integral to the success and legacy of the franchise.
Char also isn't the only pretty boy in the series. but I'll get to that a bit later.

Let's talk about another things fujoshi love: intense budding rivalry between Char and Amuro!
Unsurprisingly, it gets developed much further in the second and third films, but the first one depicts the sparks that kindle their legendary rivalry. I mean it's classic stuff. Amuro is the only pilot who's been able to give Char a run for his money, which causes the arrogant Char to immediately fixate on him, and vice versa. This even becomes a plot point, when a depressed and stubborn Amuro only rises to action at the mention of Char's name.


Look at the way his eyes light up. That's a beautiful relationship if I've ever seen one.
Amuro also has the advantage of New Technology. The first part of the movie makes a point that the Gundam is a lot sturdier than the Mass Produced Model, Zaku. Making it easy for Amuro to slice through the enemy's men even with his inexperience. However, Char continually has him beat in the brains department, making them pretty evenly matched even with an inferior weapon. Though, this still to Char's chagrin. And in these War Games, whoever has the bigger gun, wins! Simple as that!
Char is more than smug enough to make his moments of frustration all the more delicious. He's a legit compelling character too, villainous and intriguing in equal measures. The first film only grazes at some of the stuff percolating beneath his perpetually-present space goggles, but there's a reason he's had such a lasting impact on Gundam and beyond.

And this film actually does cover one of his most iconic moments, but we'll need to talk about that other pretty boy first.
And just like a young Moyocco Anno, I too, am a mark for purple hair!
Can we get some F's in chat for Garma?
F!!

Everyone told me I was gonna fall into the Char/Garma hole watching this movie and they we're totally right because it's SOOO juicy. Right off the bat they have this very familiar relationship that hints at this kind of history that all leads up to this big moment of complete and utter betrayal. Garma is a powerful figure from a powerful family. But he's also very young and too naive not to trust Char, topped off w/ a tragic and forbidden romance w/ his fiancé Icelina, this makes him this very likeable and tragic figure for a villain.
It's such good stuff! It's also why I'm not surprised that Mobile Suit Gundam had such a strong female fanbase. There's homoeroticism littered throughout the series, no doubt, but then there's this:


It's normal for boys to be nude and contemplate the betrayal of their old friends.
Ah yes, "old friends", since the academy! Just a couple of old bros, hanging out. Totally nothing more than that!
I also love that, at this point, we don't even get anything close to the full explanation of Char's motivations, but he executes his plan with such maniacal aplomb that it's hard not to love the bastard.


Oh! And did you know that the city Garma explodes to death in is canonically Seattle? Because it's Seattle.
I didn't know this! They should've superimposed a space needle to tell me it was Seattle even though it's actually shot in Toronto, like every other movie.
It certainly made me think differently about Sakura-con. Back in the Before Times when we still had anime conventions, I mean.
Anyways, Char killing Garma represents a villainous Point of No Return for Char, but it also parallels Amuro's own Loss of Innocence. Earlier, Amuro and the gang head back down to Earth, where Amuro finds his former childhood home, where he hopes his mother is. Instead he only finds some stinky soldiers who are smellin' up the place and getting CRUNK! Later he runs into an old neighbor and he tells her his mother is helping nurse those affected by the war. We also get this really cute flashback of baby Amuro!!
We also also get this frankly incredible line of dialogue from his mother.

This is one of those points where Tomino's treatment of his female characters reveals itself to be Not That Great, since Amuro's mom only exists so Amuro can have mommy issues on top of his daddy ones.
And boy, his surprise visit home does not end up helping that angle.

BIG OOF! Amuro's mom is a little bit of an uptight pacifist unable to accept the realities of war but I still enjoy the tragedy of a mom not being able to accept that her little boy is forced to be a hardened murderer. Also, it's kinda hard to be Not Mad, when Amuro, shooting and killing a Zeon soldier in order to protect himself TOTALLY fucked over that WHOLE TOWN!

It also gives us this beautiful pan out shot that is basically the emotional climax of the movie, in which Amuro decides to leave Earth, his mom, and his former boyish life behind in order to protect his friends by shooting a few more dudes.
And that's the bitter core running throughout this entire inaugural installment of Mobile Suit Gundam. Because when you look at the big picture, all White Base is trying to do is escort its refugees to safety. That's it. But since they also have a top secret weapon payload, they become too good at defending themselves, and thus they get embroiled in a war that's resorted to throwing kids to the frontline. It's one big, slow, perpetual loss of innocence perpetrated by people in power who couldn't care less whether Amuro and his friends die.
The saddest part is that Amuro and the others realize this, but can't do anything about it.

To be fair, if we consider slapping people an offense, then nearly every character in Gundam is guilty.

Oh old anime! It was different times but it certainly makes things feel dramatic and impactful, just like a soap. But scenes like this carry a lot of Gundam's visual weight! It's full of these little moments of melodramaticism, sweeping motions, and bright colors.
Yeah despite their many imitators and descendants, these classic Gundam series have a wholly unique flavor that nobody (besides Tomino) can accurately replicate. For better or worse.
Tomino is truly the king of the non-sequitur.
There's a lot of scenes where you can just FEEL the character's blood running cold, or hot, or I guess whatever temperature Char is feelin' right now. I'll call it an Iced Coffee.

Though there's also points where I can like DEFINITELY see the scratches on the cell from some cheap footage. It's kind of charming.
Oh, the #aesthetic is definitely there, and it's impeccable. There's also something nice about seeing traditionally-animated giant robots. Even when they go off-model, it just feels more grounded and organic.

It also helps that the designs are (mostly) iconic. Look at those Zaku absolute units.
I'm certain a lot of the Federation equipment would not look so...patriotic, if it was designed today. That's for sure!
I mean, even though their enemies have iconography in part modeled after Nazis, Mobile Suit Gundam makes no equivocations about the Federation being huge jerks as well. There are very few "good guys" in Gundam, and they certainly aren't ranking members of any government.
The only good thing around is HARO. Look at this thing! It's adorable.

Love that Good Orb! (Gorb, for short)
See? After only one movie you're already well on your way to understanding Gundam!
I did it! I've grown up and become a Real OtakuTM.

Now here is hoping I still remember to eat.
Congratulations! And to anyone who's ever been interested in checking out the original series, I very highly recommend watching the film trilogy while it's up on Gundam.info's YouTube channel. It's a perfectly adequate substitute for the TV version, and you might just find yourself catching the Gundam bug. At the very least, you can enjoy Amuro in action rocking some sweet denim like only a late '70s sci-fi protagonist can.
So Much "Good" 70's Fashion!

discuss this in the forum (8 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

This Week in Anime homepage / archives