ANIME EVOLUTION SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Notice: Consider this a small essay on all of the Universal Century seasons, as I am too bored to write a different entry on each one when they are otherwise following the same storyline.
Osamu Tezuka brought sophistication to Japanese animation, Go Nagai added the dark aspect, Leiji Matsumoto added the romantic space opera feeling… and then Tomino Yoshiyuki came to add the real robots and the overblown dramatization of characters. The way I see it this dude managed to combine the best of two worlds, that of the exciting aspect of mecha with that of the complicating world and dramatic settings of space operas. He did a fine job for his time, not only in creating a whole sub genre of his own, but also initializing one of the longest, most famous, non-stop expanding, and most successful sales-wise franchises of all times. Enter the Gundam!
Tomino deserves a place in the hall of fame for establishing an entire new approach to sci-fi and war dramas with semi-realistically operating mechas and a detailed evolving scenario. Many tried to copy it, very few succeeded. The thing is, it would take several years for this fact to be proven, since the original Gundam series hardly got the tv ratings it deserved because it was still too low on action and too serious on dramatic story. Tomino’s first attempt was actually a failure as most kids still wanted brainless action and simply changed the channel to Voltes V, while the more romantic sci-fi lovers still preferred Leiji’s Battleship Yamato or Space Pirate Captain Harlock space operas to robots fighting each other with sabers, or something like that.
Tomino had to wait several years until his second Gundam series (the Zeta Gundam) changed the public opinion towards a positive light. Because the circumstances were much better in the mid 80’s, when the classical super robot formula was beginning to lose its appeal and all mecha shows simply copied the exact same formula Voltus V had reached. Also, most of the first generation anime fans, who grew up with Tetsuwan Atom as kids and Mazinger Z as teenagers, now were adults who again wanted something different than the same old robots hitting each other. Because of their age, they now wanted something more focused on the setting and the characters and less on the action. And hell, why not have more realistic technology while you are at it? I mean, the mysterious alloy X or the new energy harvested from Y rays was starting to feel too simple for an otherwise epic story of planetary proportions.
This is what practically made Gundam so captivating; its attention to finer details. The mecha were drawn more complicating and not like Lego toys, the console panels looked more realistic, weapons and spaceships were functioning with a theoretical scientific explanation. Typical mecka series feature special attacks like rocket punches and chest beams without much justification (how they work, what fuel they use, how they are installed, how much energy they use up, etc.). Also, most accessories on Gundams have a reason for being there (oxygen tanks, fuel reservoirs, radar censors).
Another great thing is how weapons and spaceships have a tremendous variety. Typical mecha series have only a couple of robots with a few accessories such as weapons and booster backpacks. In Gundam, everything comes in a vast assembly line and with a huge customization that can generate thousands of different combinations. Although that was practically nothing much plot-wise, it did help to further propel the sales of material related to the robots. There were thousands of plamo fans, who were spending thousands of Yens on thousands of extra accessories for creating their own Gundam model. Which means, market-wise it blew the competition out of the water.
Other features are how every Gundam show had the best graphics of its time. This tradition continued to almost every new installment thereafter. The human figures may not have any great detail but keep their form intact throughout the series. They don’t deform or get simplistic in funny situations.
In the sound department, the series has nice music themes, staring with a ballad before heading for more pop songs later on. It feels like a huge contrast to the style of the blood-boiling openings of other retro mecha series but they are good on their own and fit the feeling of the show.
Now about the voice acting part… yes and no. On the good side, the dialogues are a lot more sophisticated in context, usually mentioning various situations regarding clashes of ideologies and friendships which are tested in the midst of battle and political agendas. On the other hand, the voices themselves simply don’t… sound real. Tomino may have been great in the story and the themes but in the liveliness part of the dialogues he ranks amongst the worst writers ever. His characters all sound wooden and artificial, changing moods and tones in voice and ideas and their stream of thought and emotional swings simply make no sense. Which makes everything feel like a whim of the moment with little regard to what actually happens on screen. That alone drops the level of realism as well as the empathy with the characters.
I have heard some who claim that the weird way the characters act and talk is part of what makes them so unique and memorable. So yeah, I guess if you compare these lunatics with any other cast of their time they surely stand out immediately. They make no sense but then again they are special for the same reason.
The story part is by far the most mature one ever seen as of yet in the anime medium, making even the one in Captain Harlock to feel simplistic. In the future, overpopulation leads to the creation of space colonies around Earth. The exploitation of the colonists and the creation of a psionic race of humans, begin a catastrophic war, centered on colony independence from Earth control. The protagonist is Amuro, a civilian piloting (by need rather than choice) a Mobile Suit Gundam (huge mecha, boosted by mind waves) in order to protect his colony from other revolting Spacenoids (people living in space). Although he is a Newtype (human with advanced psionic powers, trait of many spacenoids), he fights along the Federation’s side, which is composed of Oldtypes (normal people). He just wants to end the terrible war, as soon as possible. He doesn’t care which side wins as long as peace returns. The main rival is Char, a Zeon Newtype official, with ambitions that include both the dominance of Newtypes in space and the assassination of the radical Zeon royal family.
The story is much more realistic and well planed than anything else that came out before it for the following reasons:
- Unlike having a typical “Aliens/monsters vs Humans” story, Gundam has a “Humans vs Humans” story. So, we feel sad even when the bad guys lose, because they are not heartless/bizarre aliens/monsters, bound to destroy Earth just for the heck of it. They are mistreated people with feelings and hopes for the future, like the good guys.
- There are essentially no good guys and bad guys. The apparent good Earth Federation of the planet’s surface promotes law and peace through tyrannical means. The apparent evil Zeon Principality of the revolting colonies cause mass destruction and murder because the Federation didn’t allow freedom through peaceful means.
- Many events are reminiscent of real-life historical events:
a) French Revolution: The mistreated peasants (Zeon) revolt against the uncaring aristocrats (Federation).
b) World War Two: The exploited German people (Zeon) turn to fascism in order to revenge Europe’s (Federation) snubbing restrains (Zeon uniforms resemble those of Nazis).
c) Afghanistan War: Terrorists (Zeon) destroy the Two Towers (major cities) by ramming airplanes on them (descending colonies), in order to resist America’s (Federation) forceful control over their country.
- Other issues of great importance are also discussed in the series:
a) Humanity’s uncontrollable expanding populace is constantly increasing demands in food and water and exhausts Earth’s natural resources. This gives an ecological theme to the story.
b) Humanity’s overpopulation leads to non-stop wars for control of the world’s natural resources. This leads to further destruction of the planet’s fragile balance. A solution proposed in the series is birth control and population stability.
c) There is great racism between Oldtypes and Newtypes. The first believe to have more rights and the second believe to be genetically superior. This gives the series a message about human rights and equality before law.
d) Zeon leaders want to eradicate most of humanity and maintain a small, genetically improved populace that can easily be controlled. This gives the series a message about humanity, power mongering and elitism.
e) There are romantic relationships in the series, centering on key characters. And they are not the lame harem-type relationships with the boy being a jerk and the girl kicking the shit out of him every 5 minutes.
- Gundam is also a sci-fi war drama. There is angst before the tragedy of war and sorrow for the dead in the battles. No one is treated just as a faceless drone (the insane Zeon leaders do, which has a reverse result on us). The protagonist does not take sides in this war. He is neither pseudo-democratic/autocratic nor fascist. He just chose a side in order to end the war. This prevents the series from promoting or damning political ideologies and just proposes a pacifistic world-view. It still does use propaganda against political ideologies though, as it has a lot of allegories with the events of World War Two. And hates with guts everything America, Japan or Germany did to the world (not a bad thing but propaganda none the less).
- The story slowly changes the formula from season to season, as well its main cast, thus preventing the show from feeling like a complete rehash.
a) The first series is about the war between colonists and federals, as well as the political intrigues of the Zeon royal family and the sinister plan of Char to take revenge for what they did to his family.
b) The sequel, Zeta, is about the aftermath, when megalomaniacs plan to turn the Federation into a totalitarian regime, while even the royal family of the colonists plans to crawl into politics in a way to gain power and support. The Titans faction is a fine example of how a democratic party can easily turn to fascists themselves out of fear of losing its authority. Also, the number of Newtypes starts to increase and more and more use psionics as means to fight better.
c) The next sequel is… well… a plotless silly comedy with robots. Very few people consider Double Zeta to be even a mediocre season because it trashed the feeling of drama and epic struggle for silly strolling in random places with random people. But heck, Tomino just wanted to make something light for a change and he realized it didn’t work and didn’t try to repeat it.
d) Next came Char’s Counterattack, a movie where Amuro and Char have their final showdown, ending a rivalry which lasted for decades. It also shows how Char slowly changed his priorities from a simple revenge to a global conspiracy to force humanity into space.
e) After that, several side stories and a final season for this continuity came, but none managed to be equally captivating, as the setting started to feel like it was going in circles, pretty much like what had happened with the classical super robots formula. All the later characters were far less interesting, the stories felt like slight variations of the first two seasons, and Tomino himself pretty much hated Gundam Victory (ironic name BTW) and demanded to end the storyline there. After that he preferred to focus on alternative universes which usually lasted one or two seasons at the most, with a movie finale.
As far as the stories are interesting, the pacing of them will feel bad for most as it tends to be slow and repetitive, as if every episode needs to have a battle just for the sake of having a battle that otherwise offers nothing essencial most of the time. Also, the plot twists simply come out of nowhere, because the characters all have weird mood swings and yell for no apparent reason or without proper justification. Also there still are logical fallacies in the story despite all good efforts to not have those. The Newtypes for example are supposed to be far better in controlling Mobile suits and even have the ability to use telepathy to sense others of their kind and even chat with the dead. But there several points where even normals get to fight evenly with them or hear them talking with telepathy, or their lasers seem to miss despite the ability to lock on their targets. All that make things look tad random and unrealistic but still beat the competition.
As far as characters go, Amuro and Char are memorable, since they reappear in later series as allies and rivals again. They have a decent strong personality and character development. As it usually goes with most bad guys, Char is a far more interesting character than the too-goody protagonist, Amuro. His childhood past and the loss of many loved ones changed him several times. He originally seeks to help humanity live permanently in space, then to destroy it, then to defeat Amuro, then to avenge the Zeon leaders, then to lay low until he can be ready to strike anew, and so on, and so on… Poor Amuro hardly affects the story as Char does.
The second season finds Amuro taking the sidelines while another character, Kamille, is now the protagonist, teaming up with Char, who now has an alias, and going to take out the asses who plan to take over the world with the fear of weaponry. Kamille is far more of an idealist and he screams like an idiot all the time about love and friendship and stuff being more important than politics or agendas. Well, he is definitely more memorable than that dried up Amuro but on the other hand HE DOESN’T SHUT UP AND NAGS LIKE A SPOILED BRAT. And I guess that sold too well because all following series aimed to have an annoying Kamille look-alike.
As I said, the characters behave weird and their development feels more like random mood swings that came out of nowhere. Don’t take things too seriously because the very mature setting, most twists are based on random changes of hearts, which is Tomino’s trademark and seems to seel nicely to the target audience. It still makes them more memorable than the average cast of their era as almost half of them are eventually killed by the end of the timeline, usually in a very dramatic way. Also, them talking as ghosts offers a metaphysical aspect to the show, proving how emotions outlive death and how ideals are more then empty words.
Although usually criticized of being pretencious and full of shallow idealism and inconsistencies, the first Gundam universe remains to this day as the most elaborate and interesting to follow through and left a huge impression on the industry in general. It is semi-serious in all but still manages to cover a bit of everything. With some patience and some suspension of disbelief it can be a very enjoyable experience for eveyone.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 7/10
General Artwork 2/2 (good looking)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 8/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (erratic)
Complexity 2/2 (rich context)
Plausibility 1/2 (it tries a bit in social and personal drama but the mood swings are killing it)
Conclusion 2/2 (solid)
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 2/2 (everybody has some)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 8/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little actual plot)
Memorability 4/4 (well, it has a bit of everything so it’s easy to forever remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 6/10
Art 1/1 (looks great)
Sound 1/2 (good songs but the dialogues are usually meh)
Story 2/3 (great concepts but the pacing is so damn slow)
Characters 2/4 (they are ok but most are easy to forget)