For the uninitiated, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam will seem either a complete obscurity or just another sequel in the seemingly immortal Gundam franchise. In fact, it has garnered legions of life-long fans since its release twenty-five years ago and enjoys the status of being one of Japan's favourite shows. But, having even heard some voices hail it as the best of the Gundam shows, I can only point out that it still fails to be an outstanding work in general. While Director Yoshiyuki Tomino's political themes pulse strongly in an elevated presentation style, his slew of characters drift and ebb in a circus of personal relationships. And it is bloody slow to do anything.
Ultimately, viewers who stick with Zeta Gundam will do so because they catch on early to its slow-cooking layers of intrigue. It steps beyond the good-guy-vs-bad-guy formula to present a picture of war so crooked that even Robert McNamara would need to lie down. In the seven years since MS Gundam, the Earth Federation has shifted from victim of the war to perpetrator - a twist in the vein of Legend of the Galactic Heroes' Earth Alliance where an institutionally democratic government rules as incompetently and violently as possible. Within this framework, the government's elite force, the Titans, kill a lot of innocents and the elusive AEUG freedom fighters fly around in space trying to save whoever's left. Among the double-crosses and the blinkered personal motives of characters on both sides, the real victims turn out to be the values of morality and fair play.
I will not underplay this strength in Zeta Gundam. Primarily, that kind of brewing epicness is rare for mecha shows and for quite obvious reasons. When you have giant robots at your disposal to thrill an audience, why bother developing a subtle and complex political backdrop? Why not just make Gundam 00? Zeta Gundam certainly feels different to most of the franchise, more self-aware and carefully premeditated to reveal the futility of human virtue in times of war.
But will that comfort viewers when the show morphs into a cheap daytime drama thanks to the plethora of hackneyed romantic subplots? Once the teenage hero Kamille Bidan joins the AEUG, he quickly forms attachments to his colleagues Reccoa Londe and Emma Sheen. He also engages in a painfully trite will-they-won't-they with his best friend Fa and, later, the deranged enemy pilot Four. I never quite figured out whether the spy Sarah and him were developing something when they shared some ice cream, but at that point I simply gawped at the sheer number of women who gravitated towards him despite his juvenile personality. And he's not the only one. These superfluous romances are made worse when the characters thrash out emotional issues at the most inconvenient times. Their confrontations often seem like a lot of shouting over nothing. I asked myself time and time again why this show insisted on so many of its characters falling for each other when most of the crushes led at best to insanely boring arguments. What happened to people just being darn good friends like in MS Gundam? What happened to comradeship and ideological compatibility, bonds that I can believe would form in such a grim context?
Moreover, the narrative has a tendency to plod for long stretches, with few treats to pull a critical viewer along. Of course, robots clash and romances blossom, but they seem almost perfunctory ingredients to accent two dozen episodes of subtly shifting loyalties, repetitive attacks on space colonies, and Kamille Bidan's tantrums. Episode four, as a rare example, delivers one of the most evocative scenes of the series. In that moment, Zeta Gundam promises to be all the dark, controversial things its more childish predecessor could not. Unfortunately, despite the heavy shocks of that twist, its effects do not ripple far enough into the rest of the story - beyond setting the Titans up as a devious lot that cannot be trusted, it merely heralds an otherwise protracted famine of highlights.
Luckily, Zeta Gundam's disparate elements manage to bond into a streamlined conflict in the final act. This occurs mainly because the characters complete their political manoeuvres and position themselves for the final push in their ambitions. At that point, people's actions start having meaningful consequences and the best characters such as the delightfully nefarious Haman Karn crawl out of the background to deliver some knock-out scenes. Indeed, the rewards as Zeta finally settles into its stride are satisfying, but viewers have to wait for them... a long while.
Zeta Gundam's visuals were great then and look great now. Animated in an era when artists exhibited talent through their paint brushes and not a computer mouse, the show has nonetheless remained stunningly easy on the eye. The robots move with a timeless liveliness, like a grandpa who still knows how to dance. And the backgrounds offer rich, convincing detail that, compared to the prequel, make Zeta look harder and sleeker and less like a toy factory.
The US dub dispenses with the cheesy acting of MS Gundam and treats the script more like a quiet drama, with no urgency in the dialogue and little fluctuation in emotion. The downside of this is that, when it matters, there is also not enough acting. Char Aznable's performance suffers the most from this as his new voice actor, Tom Edwards, polishes away the magnificent irony that Michael Kopsa was able to bring to the role in the original. Here, Char sounds like someone's kind uncle. Then there is the scene after the Titans instigate a mindboggling tragedy in episode four. Nobuo Tobita's Kamille sounds furious at the loss, verging on crazed, while Jonathan Lachlan-Stewart makes the same character seem merely irritated. In the Japanese dub, everyone seems suitably shocked and trying to remain professional under such unprecedented circumstances; in the US dub, they react like this kind of thing happens a lot. Based on the importance of that scene in establishing the show's controversial bent, I recommend watching the subtitled version.
I'll concede one point in regards to the main cast. They are usually two-dimensional and perversely revelatory. For instance, I remember my mixed feelings upon discovering Reccoa Londe's true internal conflict - the frustration, the utter disgust, and at last a perverse sense of relief that all her vague behaviour in the past thirty-something episodes actually made perfect sense. But she is unpleasant to follow and so are most of her co-stars. Simply immoral or amoral characters might still have been interesting, but the overemotional hypocrites and irrational malcontents on offer here just rob the viewer of patience.
Kamille, for one, is an obnoxious and heavy-handed hero who, after sixteen years of life, still cannot cope with having a girlish name and still blames his parents for all his petty miseries. In that all-important fourth episode, he makes a speech that suggests he might be growing up ('I forgive you,' he says to Jerid Messa, another crass idiot who has done him unspeakable harm. 'I'm good enough to beat you and your Hizack, but I'm powerless before the cruelty of the military system. And it's cruelty breeds the worst hatred.') but that faint glimmer of hope dies quickly. He sporadically lapses from angry to enlightened in a string of unconvincing melodramas. Comparisons with MS Gundam's Amuro Ray are not only unavoidable, but often encouraged by the show itself. Amuro's trials nudged him from carefree child to tormented adolescent to self-aware man, and his confidence grew with his knowledge of the Gundam in an endearing symbiotic manner. Kamille, on the other hand, has bags of unbridled attitude - for him, the Zeta is just a badge to prove it.
In the end, the real question of Zeta Gundam's enjoyment is not whether it performs outstandingly overall - because it doesn't - but whether the viewer has the fortitude to wait for it to get outstanding. Were I a twelve-year old in 1985, Zeta Gundam's manifold action sequences alone might have sufficed to carry me through its first thirty plodding instalments. As it is, I'm a twenty-five year old in 2010 who watched because others kept telling me it would get better. And that much is true: events improve infinitely during Zeta Gundam's more focused final act and die-hard mecha fans will find a rare treat in its sophisticated clusterfuck narrative.
Even though this is a direct sequel to the first Gundam series, it primarily relies on a new cast of characters while other major characters like Amuro are now secondary and has a very small but significant appearance as well as Kai Shiden and Hayato Kobayashi. Despite this, little to no previous experience of the first Gundam series isn’t required to really follow the story though it is highly recommended to mostly understand Char or Quattro or whatever you want to call him. This series has a reputation amongst Gundam fans as being dark and gritty, and I can’t deny that. But I believe that whatever is presented should not be found offensive since there is meaning to what happens in this series and helps progress it, but I don’t think that this quality alone should define the series.
Camille in comparison to Amuro in the first series is more idealistic and wants to fight because he hates the Titans and somewhat out of spite of his home life, while with Amuro, he just felt forced into the situation. And I think this series was what also helped make Char more appealing to the hardcore Gundam fan base because of the use of his character and I think his role really reflects what people think of him in real life as well. The Titans, the main antagonists are despicable and truly people you can hate. In a lot of animes, there are time you can sympathize and relate to their main villains, while in this anime, you really can’t for the most part though there are some notable exemptions like Four Murasame.
Of course being a 1986 release, the quality of the animation won’t really be that appealing in a modern sense. Rather than pointing out the obvious, there are really little to no flaws with the design and execution of the battles. Granted the color schemes of some of the robots are very flash in a 1980s sense, but I felt with the recent release of the trilogy, it shows that the quality of the design is still timeless like how recent game releases based on the first Gundam still demonstrates this quality in relation to that series. The costumes aren’t as spandex looking like in the first one and are more loose and realistic to military code, and the frames of the majority of the new mobile suits presented are sleek, retro, articulate, and tight.
The designs of the mobile suits also perfectly reflect the nature of the battles being fast paced and agile which is very true with Char’s Hyaku-Shiki, a mobile suit that really compliments his piloting skills.
My only exposure to the dub to this day despite owning the DVDs is playing the English version of Gundam vs Zeta Gundam for the PlayStation 2. The dub was intolerable and none of the actors from the first season reprise their roles who I thought were good. That’s all I have to say the dub. The Japanese track as most anime elitists and fans would naturally of course say is much superior. Sorry to sound like that, but I just think that’s how it is. Characters from the first Gundam series who come back reprise their roles such as Ikeda Shuuichi as Char, Hirotaka Suzuoka as Captain Bright, and Furuya Tooru as Amuro. But for the new characters, there are some excellent additions. Narutards to casual fans and new fans of Naruto will probably enjoy the charismatic and captivating performances of Inoue Kazuhiko the voice of Kakashi as Jerrid and Ohtsuka Houchu the voice of Jiraiya as Yazan. Inoue still retains a youthful voice, but in comparison to his role of Kakashi he is more emotional and naïve. Ohtsuka’s voice is still recognizable but as Yazan he is very sadistic.
And last, I’ll address the voice of Camille, Tobita Nobuo, also the voice of Tomo from Fushigi Yuugi, Domon from Flame of Recca, and Uribatake from Nadesico, is very multi-talented in his own right. Even though he is more adult in those roles, in this one, he is convincing as a confused and enraged teenager in relation to his situations. Moving on, the music is very energetic and captivating in a 1980s sense. It captures a lot of its atmosphere of romance, war, and hope. I especially feel this with the 2nd opening theme, Mizu no hoshi he ai wo komete. The ending theme hoshi no zora believe is very campy cutsey but I think it’s used to wind the audience down after seeing something crazy in the series. I don’t know, but I like it. The movie trilogy relies of Gackt for their soundtrack. The songs are good, but I’m not a huge fan of Gackt personally. The background music is very intense and appropriate to the gritty atmosphere of the series, which you’ll have to hear to believe, or play the Gundam vs Zeta Gundam game itself which is also appropriately used.
As you can dispute on a certain number of Gundam series, fans will not only argue that this is the best Gundam series, but one of the best animes ever which is something I can personally agree with. I strongly suggest you watch the TV series over the movie trilogy which I personally found disappointing which is another discussion for another time. But anyway, I think the story is very captivating and comedy and romance is used when appropriate. You can really truly feel the characters. The designs and battle sequences are high octane and the music is just incredible.
The original Gundam show was a fairly entertaining show in of itself and in starting the Gundam franchise in earnest it did anime an enormous favour. The ride hasn't always been smooth either for Tomino the director or for those of us disappointed at the few flops in amongst this metaseries made up almost entirely of mediocre, good and sometimes masterpiece titles. Zeta Gundam is one of these masterpieces.
Anybody who's seen the original Gundam won't find it hard to point out why Zeta is even better and by a fair bit too; while Mobile Suit Gundam happened mainly on Earth Zeta happens mainly in space which works far better on an artistic level due to the very mechanics of the whole setting and medium; even now animation can't quite make Earth look on TV the way it looks in reality but space is for the most part blackness with a few white dots here and there and the occasional planet, asteroid, black hole, satellite, space colony and whatever else so it's much easier to make it look convincing and suspension of disbelief is a lot easier for the viewer to pull off when there isn't much disbelief to suspend; this goes without saying. Another factor is it does begin as your usual 1 v 1 conflict but then another party enters (although if they wanted to bloody both sides they should have entered the war when it began and if they wanted the best conditions for invading Earth they should have waited until the war had ended and then they would not only have surprise but would be unbloodied) and that makes things far more interesting. One gripe I have about the original Gundam is that the tension is nearly all false; of course a Newtype with a Gundam is going to defeat even an experienced ace but when there's 2 enemies with psychic powers to fight while your side is being hit by 2 enemy forces at the same time, now that is tension at its very best. Another reason and this is more subjective is the fact that purple is my favourite colour and the greater use of purple or similar colours is a feat for the eyes. The music is even better whether it be one of the best and most archetypal military songs ever Zeta's Pulse or the soothing English ending theme or 2nd Japanese opening you will hear some excellent songs. Finally as usual the Japanese dub is fine but the English dub is excellent with the dark nature of this series (where a teenage boy literally loses his mind and most of the main cast are killed in the final few episodes plus a defection) reflected in the cold qualities of Haman's and Kamille's voices, cold but also nice like the winter's air at daybreak.
Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam uses a similar plot structure as the original Mobile Suit Gundam, but the story is crafted with the hands of experience and maturity. Gone are the loose strings and redundant plot devices. The show has a tight script helmed by a dynamic cast. The characters are both calculating and political, but they are hindered by emotions. They know what they want and how to get it, but they never are truly satisfied. As circumstances change, people die, moral stigmas emerge and characters lose sight of their initial goals and unwittingly become pawns of other, more ambitious individuals. The continuous, almost episodic, string of fights set the stage for the all this drama to play out. Every self-respecting fan of the mecha genre should watch this anime. Heck, I would also give an enthusiastic “a-okay” to those impartial or even slightly adverse to the genre. It is a classic that sparked a phenomenon that is still burning strong. For those still skeptical because of the show’s age, I must remind you that all great stories are timeless and Zeta Gundam is no exception. One of the Greatest Universal Century Timeline Stories :D
Zeta Gundam, first off, this show has nothing to do with a Greek letter. Rather, it's a grand space epic with giant robots thrown in for good measure and to make sure Bandai has a new line of Gunpla to sell during it's run and beyond.
Taking place 7 years after the One Year War ended in the first series, we follow the footsteps of Kamille Bidan as he finds himself alongside the Anti-Earth-Union-Group, or A.E.U.G. This new force is there to stop the exploits of the new rival forces known as the Titans. With a complete disragard for civilians or others involved in their exploits, the Titans make more compelling enemies than Zeon in the first series, since Zeon actions were mainly focused on destroying the White Base.
After managing to acquire a Gundam Mark. II from the Titan forces, Kamille ends up becoming one of the main mobile suit pilots for the Arguma, the White Base of Zeta Gundam if you will. There, he is suspected to be a Newtype, a new type of humans who can read thought waves and have heightened senses, making them more invaluable as pilots. So Zeta Gundam begins with our lead character in tow.
Now, one thing that is drastically superior to the previous series is the animation quality. It was seven years since the original Gundam series aired, so after finding out that it was a hit thanks to the film re-releases, a lot more budget was put into the animation, and it's a feast to the eyes. The mobile suits move around space and Earth with high detail in movement and the actual characters, of course, take a back seat in terms of animation quality.
In terms of sound, the soundtrack is widely regarded as legendary because of it's heavy use of orchestra, and it definitely helps heighten the feeling of war in the show. The voices, despite being being two years after the English dub of the original Gundam, the voices sound completely different and recurring characters from the original series like Amuro and Bright don't have their original voices. This must be because a different dubbing company dubbed the voices, so it's not a big deal, though the voices aren't as amazing as the first series, though some characters do shine above the others.
Also to note, there is more of a focus on romance in Zeta Gundam. Though fairly brief, some relationships definitely help flesh out the main cast, and this is great because it wasn't that prominent in the original. I won't say who goes with who, since, well, they're spoilers for those who want to watch this show.
In conclusion, so far, this is my favorite Gundam series. I've been watching the series in order of their release, so this is only the second one I've seen, and from what I've heard from others about the other series, Zeta Gundam is regarded as the best in the franchise compared to the other series. The animation is great, the soundtrack is brilliant and the character development and romance that takes place is welcome to this franchise. I can't say this enough, go watch Zeta Gundam for one of the best shows in the mecha anime genre!