Mobile Suit Gundam

Alt title: Kidou Senshi Gundam

TV (43 eps)
1979 - 1980
3.787 out of 5 from 5,714 votes
Rank #2,270

The year is Universal Century 0079 and mankind is yet again at war. The space colony Side 3 has declared itself the Principality of Zeon and has separated itself from the Earth Federation. In a raid on the colony Side 7, Zeon troops force a band of civilians, military recruits and one green ensign to escape on a previously unseen class of ship with prototype Federation mobile suits. Among them is Amuro Ray, who piloted the Gundam during the raid on Side 7. Unfortunately, his mastery of it earns him the responsibility of using it in the war against Zeon...

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StoryIn all the obvious ways, Mobile Suit Gundam is a generic mecha show. A group of untrained soldiers and civilians acquire the Earth Federation's greatest ship, the White Base, and its top secret new weapon, the Gundam, then spend the rest of the time running from the enemy Zeon Empire. With the protagonists wandering from one place to the next in response to banal needs like repairing weapons and restocking supplies, the story risks extreme linearity and repetitiveness. Because of this, I struggled at first to understand why it still felt so good. Surely MS Gundam's success will have something to do with the fact that it devotes as much time to the interpersonal clashes of its cast as the intergalactic one. It cares about its motley bunch of protagonists; it wants to detail their growth as people and as a team even as it delivers on kiddified action and pretty toys. When reluctant hero Amuro Ray watches two soldiers die in a bomb blast mere seconds after he speaks to them, the camera unexpectedly zooms in on the chaos evident on his face. Clearly, what is happening behind his eyes takes precedence over the physical destruction itself. Then, after his first victory in the Gundam, Amuro receives not praise but a dressing down from his new boss Lieutenant Bright Noa, who promptly snaps at him to better his tactics and ensure he maintains the Gundam well. For Amuro, the initial episodes are a coming-of-age ceremony of harsh realities; the viewer understands that conquering his weaknesses and adjusting to his equally frightened colleagues are prerequisites to conquering his physical enemies. Even when attention shifts to the mechanics of war, the show seems far more interested in the wreckage of lives as opposed to the material damage. "It doesn't matter who wins or loses," says a White Base passenger as she bandages the arm of a Zeon soldier. "After the men finish fighting, there will be wives without husbands and children without fathers." The narrative implies that war is terrible not just because people suffer, but because everyone loses in the end. Gundam shows these days treat the humanitarian aspect of war as an excuse for tearjerker subplots or emotionally manipulative climaxes - half-baked philosophies are shoehorned in and plenty of uninteresting folks die. MS Gundam may be a simple show targeting the naive kids of yesteryear, but its sincere humanist approach makes it all the more refreshing when compared to the cynical wizz-bang works prevalent today. In fact, the show's real weakness stems from being an incomplete work in spirit. Initially sheduled to run fifty episodes, poor ratings meant Sunrise cut the running time to forty-three. As a result, the final episodes brush roughly over certain character arcs to hurriedly tie up the main war narrative with a suitable climax.AnimationThe animation bested my expectations. Unobtrusive yet detailed enough to appear like a plausible world, it also proves more consistent in quality than, say, Gundam Wing. I felt most surprised at how much fun I derived from the antiquated mecha designs. Kunio Okawara (the same guy responsible for most of the Gundam franchise's mechanical designs) offers a kitchy selection of toy-selling hits alongside the now iconic Gundam robot. Honestly, I am tempted to add 'Gouf' to my Christmas list just for the hilarity of watching my family navigate their way through Japanese internet sales. Or maybe I should ask for that round, yellow one that looks like a murderous Pacman. Hmmm...SoundStylistically, the US dub rips from shows like Lassie or Happy Days. I refer to its charming, homely TV acting that should involve quaint words like 'Gee!' and 'Drat!'. Except, the characters experience anything but happy days and the emotional nuance of the main voice actors convinces. Brad Swaile's Amuro, for instance, is confused but not braindead, emotional but not melodramatic. And Michael Kopsa brings the outstanding performance of the series with his wry turn as antagonist, Char Aznable. Minor characters, on the other hand, achieve either limp or wooden performances depending on their particular lack of talent.CharactersDirector Yoshiyuki Tomino wanted to portray characters that changed over time, and not always in a pleasant way. No doubt more important people before me have congratulated him on a job well done. Although he lays out a commendable array of personalities who evolve dynamically through their experiences in very human cognitive processes, only two rise above the rest to define the entire franchise: Amuro Ray's internal conflicts drew me along on an emotional journey that went beyond mere sympathy to feelings of devastation. I recall a gripping confrontation between him and Mr. Bright when Amuro, frustrated with the crew's reliance on him, petulantly refuses orders to sortie. Contrast this with a heroic scene only moments before, when he offers his entire meal to a family because he notices another starved civilian stealing theirs. His daily life, a debilitating cocktail of paranoia, mood swings, insomnia, loss of appetite, and an increasing sense of isolation, nevertheless doesn't stop him doing the right thing when he must. Indeed, wiser and more battle-hardened characters than Amuro exist in this story, but his straining between fear and courage demands attention in ways that pure heroism does not. Moreover, watching him incrementally grow into a resigned sort of confidence delivers some uniquely bittersweet gratification in the end. Char Aznable, on the other hand, is so stupefyingly awesome that the creators saw fit to clone his persona in numerous spin-offs (see Rau le Creuset of Gundam SEED and Zechs Merquise of Gundam Wing). The key antagonist with a grudge against all sides of the conflict, Char fights his battles using an arsenal of false smiles and an armour of slippery ethics. Ironically, the most telling sign of his inner workings is the mask he wears. Could anyone trust a man who hides his eyes when wisdom dictates they are the windows to his soul? A shrewd person would say no, which is why his comically naive 'best friend' Captain Garma Zabi makes such easy prey. Since Char actually hates Garma, he does his damndest to encourage the latter's self-defeating tactics against the White Base, often with words whose tasteless irony are clear to everyone except the victim: "You're right. The most expedient way to flush a rat out of its nest is with a little bit of carpet bombing." The epitomic lovable bastard, Char is also an enigma, enticing and vividly memorable.OverallHaving watched MS Gundam, I reinterpret SEED's success as stemming from its copy-paste skills. SEED fans in particular will like what this show has to offer. I refer not just to the shared format of a long space voyage in the context of intergalactic warfare, but also to the strong emphasis on the personal growth of complex individuals. Naturally, MS Gundam suffers dated quirks that more recent spin-offs have long learned to avoid. For instance, the pinnacle of military security is still nothing more than criss-crossing lines of red laser beams. And characters occasionally utter lines like "I'm going to use the super-napalm" when ordinary napalm would do just as well. In regards to this I will point out that outmoded stylistic choices have not impeded the show's relevance one bit. Simple it may be, retrospectively cliched even, but its sincere people focus keeps it always impactful.


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) VERDICT: 7/10


This highly original and innovating anime offers so much in terms of being the original “realistic mech anime series.” It talks about the potential realities of war on both a battlefront and political scale. It’s a wonderful coming of age story for many of the characters that each develops for not only the good guys, but the bad guys as well. I’m not sure if relate to them is a right word, but you can sure bet sympathize and understand them is something you can certainly do. And it’s a story of trust and betrayal on both fronts as well. All I can say is, it’s the perfect story about everything you can possibly get on human nature in an anime. I feel that even if mankind can advance this far, sadly, there can never be any absolute peace, and the realities war can have on a person on all scales. OK, granted this was animated nearly 30 years ago, so the colors, resolution, and movement are most certainly not as up to some people’s standards. But I feel for its time, I do have to give it some of the credit it does deserve. I feel in terms of design in both character and mechanical, it is excellent and innovative and can transcend into our current generation’s style of animation and makes it timeless, which has been proven in some of the animated cutscenes of the PS1 and PS2 games such as Federation vs Zeon or Journey to Jaburo and thus keeps it up to date. And the battles themselves are pretty intense and plays careful strategy into it. Afterall, in war, you always got to think two steps ahead of the game. Such as when Char and Amuro first fight, Amuro easily loses energy on the beam rifle because he relied on it too much. So such tactics in terms of both offense and defense in this anime are effectively applied.For the voice acting, this is the anime that helped define the careers of Furuya Tohru, who plays Amuro, and would later play Tuxedo Mask in Sailor Moon, Seiya in Saint Seiya, and Yamucha in Dragon Ball. This also helped the career of the late Suzuoki Hirotaka, the voice of Captain Bright who is also famous as Kuno from Ranma, Kaifun in Macross, and Shiryu in Saint Seiya. And one more mention I want to make is Furukawa Yoshio as Kai which is quite a surprise because he plays bad ass characters like Shin from Fist of the North star and Piccolo from Dragon Ball Z. And the cast list goes on. In addition to a great Japanese cast, the English dub of the TV series (don’t remember the movie dub too much) is also incredible. As much as I can’t stand Richard Cox as Inuyasha and Ranma, I thought he was dead perfect as Kai. I thought his voice matched the character well and I think his performance equals to that of Furukawa’s. I also enjoyed Brad Swale as Amuro. He portrays a character that is young, intelligent, and growing. But the problem I had with the dub was Char. I don’t remember who played him, but I felt he was not as charismatic as Ikeda Shuuichi. But overall, you’ll get an incredible experience watching it in either language though it is a pity that the TV series DVD set is only in English and the trilogy DVD set is exclusively in Japanese. But the DVD trilogy does have a new set of voice actors such as Dozle’s and Ma Kube’s voices were changed. Ma Kube’s original voice actor passed away while Dozle’s voice actor, Gouri Daisuke was busy with other stuff, I guess. The music is also cheesy, but also catchy. If you think of the Ashita no Joe themes as true old school Japanese music, expect the same, but still represents a transition period to where Japanese popular music is now with beats but in a retro sense. The TV series music is of course a bit more campy, but sings about how the Gundam will rise and defeat their enemy and the ending theme is about Amuro being a man. But the trilogy soundtrack is much more mature and also maintains themes in relation to the series. I understand that Gundam isn’t really a series that’s for everybody. Afterall, I grew up on Transformers and Voltron, and the concept of robots as a potential military weapon does have a lot of appeal to me. But when I got a first hand view of the series, I was later captured by the characters and intrigued by the story and that this just wasn’t some shallow action anime. Tomino truly made a revolution of this series that initially failed in the ratings, but would now become one of Japan’s biggest anime franchises. Despite the success Gundam continues to have, it is a pity it never caught on in the long run outside of Japan, but I still manage to always find myself back to sometimes watching either the TV series and/or movie.

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