That caption isn’t just for the Gundam franchise as a whole. It’s also for myself. Yes, the world wouldn’t be the same if Gundam 0079 didn’t take off or even just not come out. This show was cancelled when it was first airing, can you believe that? With that, I don’t want to imagine that world because it feels like a bad one without any light or happiness in it. Gundam is the light, damn it. Still, I honestly don’t think that I would be the same if I didn’t completely become enamored in Mobile Suit Gundam when it aired on Toonami. Yes, I watched G, Wing, and Universal Century ovas that appeared on Toonami, but I named my Nintendo DS in high school Guntank because of this show. I feel like I have been more strongly affected by Mobile Suit Gundam then what came after it. Rewatching this series again was fun because I visited my origin story along with this franchise at the same time. I really do love it.
It is Universal Century 0079. Mobile Suit Gundam takes place eight months after what is to be called the One Year War, started. A war where the space colonies of Side 3 rebelled against the Earth Federation for independence. Side 3’s rebellion is called the Principality of Zeon and is controlled by Zabi family. Let’s just say this straight out, this was a horrible war. The Antarctic treaty cancelled the use of nukes, but that didn’t stop half of human kind’s population from dying and Zeon dropping a colony on the Earth to completely destroy a city. Sydney, Australia no longer exists in Mobile Suit Gundam. With Zeon’s more advanced technology and the Earth Federation’s larger man power and resources pushing the two into stalemate, someone and/or someone needed to break it. This leads us to the start of Mobile Suit Gundam.
On an out of the way space colony of side 7, the Earth Federation were working on life changing technology that would put the war on their favor. A new warship called White Base and new mobile suits that will give the E.F. the advantage. One of them was the Gundam, a mobile suit created by Tim Ray. The Zeon, having heard about this, had an ambitious person by the name Char Aznable, the Red Comet, stage a scouting mission that eventually went out of control in deaths. Somehow, a bunch of civilians and lower ranked military officers survived the attack and escaped on the experimental war ship, The White Base. Amuro Ray, Tim Ray’s son, was a shut in that find his way to the Gundam’s pilot seat where his life was about to change. This is how Mobile Suit Gundam started with a loud bang.
Mobile Suit Gundam is a lot of things thematically and character wise, but at first, it’s a story about survival in the worst possible circumstances and how war can change someone. The first half of Mobile Suit Gundam is about a group of people surviving an impossible situation they never wanted to be in. The White Base is almost always under the attack by one Zeon Force or another as they head to the Earth Federation’s secret base, Jaburo. Char Aznable, The Red Comet, attacked them for a while, then the forces slowly change as more and more people die or are assigned to fight elsewhere. It is war that is more then just one ship conflict after all. The crew of the White Base are civilians or barely soldiers and barely survive each week and it gets to them. People bend, break, and reform into soldiers because they have to. Tensions mount, characters grind against each other from high stress (I’m surprised about the lack of sex), and mecha action has to happen or they die. It’s some great, human drama in the horrors of war. (Don’t try at home, ever.)
I do have some complaints about this half even if it is pretty great to watch. After the wave of energy from the first give or so episodes leaves, it can be pretty tedious or frustrating to watch. Somewhat monotamous one can say. There are some great personalities in and outside of White Base which keeps the story interesting alongside some normal civilians and soldiers put on display to flesh out the world, but there is the fact that you are going to see the G Armor fighter thing take off and then instantly reform to gundam and fighter after taking a couple hits or something because it’s a stupid design. Same with the growing angst with Amuro even if they are for believable reasons. He really does become an asshole who cares more about himself then the White Base, but that is what happens when you get an introvert to suddenly be an extrovert. Still, I really love these aspects though even if it’s flawed.
The second half itself is different because it’s time for White Base to fight back with the Earth Federation sort of behind them. Maybe. Either way, it’s the return to space. The White Base is the decoy that they were in the first half, but the crew of it is ready now. The White Base crew knows that they can take on any challenge now because they are all battle hardened and are motivated to succeed in this fight for some payback. If how they changed were pictures, you could barely tell that the beforehand and after hand pictures are the same because they’ve changed so much. Amuro masters the gundam, and the White Base crew is the one which allowed the Earth Federation to win different battles. Especially the final fight against Zeon at A Bua Qu.
The space arc also introduces a lot of aspects that will play into Gundam lore from this point onward. Mainly two concepts, giant space lasers and the advanced, psychic form of a human called a New Type. The concept moves greatly in a lot of Universal Century stuff afterward. Amuro Ray does slowly become a psychic over the course of the series alongside some other crew members on White Base on different levels. Like Sayla, Char’s sister, for instance is a new type too. There is also a new one by the name of Lalah Sune. A new type who doesn’t understand war, but is also protected by Char Aznable as she advances. Yeah, that Lalah Sune conflict and what happens to her (I’m not saying but you can guess) really puts a larger wedge in Char Aznable and Amuro Ray for the rest of their lives. Yes, I also wrote a post on the movie where their saga ends so you can read that here.
Let’s talk about these characters specifically. Amuro Ray changed from the loner, tech genius kid to a new type and master of mobile warfare in the Gundam. There were plenty of times where he could have failed because he didn’t want to after a while and eventually tied the ego of being a gundam pilot to himself, but he became a major support to his crew after some massive growth in this grinding machine. Same with everyone. The Junior Officer Bright became a captain with endless confidence and father of his crew with the pilot Mirai’s help. Mirai was always strong, she just became more symphathetic with people. I can see how the two got married. Kai changed from the smart mouthed asshole to a person who had something to fight for. Even Frau Bau became a mother to the orphans on the ship and worked hard to fight for them. Some people died along the way which is sad because we spent time with them. Other people like Sayla had a slow drip of motivation leave them as Gundam continued.
Ok, some minor Spoilers. Sayla mass is a zeonic princess that ran away from home and her brother turned out to be Char Aznable. In the first episode, she was the one to motivated everyone to do something to help the White Base and that changed with the slow drip in of Char Aznable appearing in her life. I mean, the guy was constantly trying to kill White Base right? The two did continue to run into each other from one place to another where they slowly come to terms with who both are and how one could die whenever. It’s wonderful human drama because that’s what this family is. Char Aznable joined Zeon to kill the Zabi family slowly from the inside and surprisingly, he’s done a better job than you would think. He’s a person who has endless motivation and ferocity in what he wants to do because he has a vengeance story. He’s an interesting and complex character and you can tell why so many Char Clones appeared off of him.
Survival and revenge alongside war is bad are three of a lot running themes of Mobile Suit Gundam. I feel like the series is also a larger look at wars in general and people who have to fight them. This isn’t something like Legend of the Galactic Heroes when we are in the command center of all battles and watching dots on a screen disappear after a win or defeat. People get down and dirty at each other for things they believe in. These enemies could be friends if they weren’t fighting. There is also of viewings for the general soldiers on both sides doing human things like delivering resources to civilians or just having a chat right with one another right before they die. There is also the question of supply problems and repairs which are constantly things each side has to worry about. This isn’t a time of limitless resources. It’s a war out there and unfortunately, the machines of two nations wants people to die.
I think this is the thing that enraptured me when I watched Mobile Suit Gundam so young. Usually, the anime I watched on Toonami back then featured these great, gigantic people or figures fighting each other for supremacy and to choose who lives or dies in the end. At this point, I haven’t seen a series where people in-between the giant figures fought each other just because they were told to for political reasons. Gundam Wing had this, but it wasn’t as interesting or done as well because that show is completely ridiculous. Mobile Suit Gundam is a fantastic character piece in seeing how war changes people for the better and for the worse. You know, on top of some cool mecha action scenes that happen and drama on a ship. Friendships form and are forged in fire in a situation that is behind normal human understanding. It’s a wonderful and dirty piece of media that I can’t help but love. It’s a story that has aged extremely well because it still resonates with our society today.
That being said, the visuals of Mobile Suit Gundam are heavily outdated. It’s from the late 70’s and early 80’s, so it’s definitely aged even if there are some cool shots here and there. I’m kind of amazed by how good the character designs, there are coloring problems, the ships, places inside the ship, colonies, and locations still look on an aesthetic level, but that stops when things start moving. There are a number of still frames, stock footage of important moments happening again and again, and even more stills of people standing in place or sitting on the ship itself. Some action scenes look alright with character moving and diving all over the place, but those moments are pretty rare and sparse. Maybe that’s why they have so much impact in the series, because they are rare and explosive. Some space scenes are pretty cool to look at.
I really dig the mecha design in Mobile Suit Gundam. Zeon has a lot of mecha, but they are realistic designs (as far as mecha go) which are rounded and more alien in form. Like, you can tell the suit comes from space just by looking at it. Such a similar design aesthetic for all eight units that came out recently. The Zakus are cool and are the center of all Zeon development plans. Even the last mecha that shows up against Gundam. The Earth Federation follows a long with very human mundane and grounded with rectangles in their designs and are very functional. Even the gundam, which looks difference from the rest of the Earth Federation Units, follows Earth Federation design principals. Yhere are some stellar moments of animation in Gundam with high and iconic moments that will still wow you. At the same time, there are also a lot of still frames, stock footage, and very out of model mecha moments that will completely stunned. I feel like Sunrise really worked as hard as they can to make it all work and such. Especially with how hard the animation process was back then. The movie trilogy fixes visual problems, but I love the human error of it all too.
Mobile Suit Gundam is one of my favorite anime of all time. Not in my top ten perhaps, but it’s very up there for me. It gets a solid, which you really shouldn’t be surprised about. I have a large and unreasonable nostalgia for it and this rewatch helped me realize that the anime itself is still pretty great and how much I still love it. There are some flaws based on its age though. The animation and art are obvious, the story is told at a slower pace than modern shows because it packed with all sorts of slow down moments in between the larger explosions of character moments and such. Also, some mecha designs that are generally useless in the show and are obviously meant to sell more model kits. A lot of these things are fixed in the movie trilogy and the movie trilogy is generally good, but the story and flaws in the art and animation really fit the story of people struggling in a giant space box for a while, right? It’s a meta element that adds quite a bit. Almost like the series was made in the same situation but in different ways. Working in animation is hard, but it must have been worse in the early 80’s.