It’s that time again. Time to write another unnecessarily long post on a Gundam series. It is necessary for this one because it is special in a lot of ways. Not just to the fandom, but for me in particular. Zeta is like going from the original Star Wars film to Empire Strikes Back in a lot of ways. I will always love the original Gundam series because that’s how I got into Gundam and mecha anime, but Zeta Gundam was the “oh, there is more of this?” That piece of resistance that said that there was much more out there then was provided through television. That wakeup call saying that there were stories out there that didn’t make it here yet, so the flood gate of content was opened. Zeta gundam was also the official start of the Gundam franchise. It wouldn’t be a franchise without Zeta which is shown by how many Gundam series at least reference it if not create an alternative take in their own way. To celebrate the occasion, I asked K from K a the movies to make a special feature image. Much thanks to him. Follow him on WordPress.
Zeta Gundam takes place in the year Universal Century 0086 or UC 0086 if you want to be efficient. This is seven years after the universe shattering One Year War explored through the original Mobile Suit Gundam. That was the war where the crew of the experimental spacecraft, the White Base, captained by Bright Noa and containing the ace Gundam pilot by the name Amuro Ray, led the Earth Federation charge against the Principality of Zeon to victory. The crew of the White Base was constantly challenged by the Zeon Ace the Red Comet, otherwise known as Char Aznable. The show was a lot of things. A forced family uniting together against the forces that opposed them, a great drama about how war changes people for the better and for the worse, and a great piece of anime history that shook the bounds of everything. Zeta Gundam is a different beast because a lot of things changed in seven years.
This anime series starts in a seemingly peaceful colony called Green Noa 1. Well, it would be peaceful if it wasn’t for one unusual teenager by the name of Kamille Bidan. A teenager who may or may not have new type abilities, two parents that are in conflict with each other who are also engineers, the dad having a side woman, and there is a Titan’s base on it. Oh, the Titans are a fascist group of elites from the Earth Federation that rule with an iron fist and are working on the Gundam Mark 2. One day, all hell breaks loose when a certain command leader by the name of Quatro Bajeena (it’s Char Aznable) breaks into the colony to steal the Mark 2. He is an officer of the Anti-Earth Union Group (or AEUG), a group of free people who oppose the titans. One tragedy leads to another and Kamille joins the AEUG with the Gundam Mark 2 in tow. Thus starts the war called the Gryps Conflict.
From that point on, it’s a very complicated war between the almost always outgunned AEUG vs the ever evil Titans in space and on Earth. Kamille has a bit of a rivalry between the elitist and most worthless person ever, Jerid, who keeps failing upward on the Titan’s side. The Titans push their power further and further, and a ghost from Zeon’s past led by the ever wonderful and evil Haman Karn gets closer and closer to being another piece in that conflict. It is a very intricate conflict that has some real weight and chaos to it. Battles take place on Earth where Amuro shows up for a bit with his own conflicts with Char, but most takes place in space. All in all, this is a tale of Kamille Biden growing up, falling in love, having his heart broken by his love interest being a mind-controlled pilot of the Psycho Gundam by the name of 4, and learning from his mistakes and the mistakes of others before him. I do think this show would have worked with 39 episodes instead of 50 due to some middle moments that don’t amount to much besides building tension between characters that was already there.
Zeta Gundam is a bit of an odd duck when it comes to its story as well. Why? I know that it’s a cliche to say this somewhat, but it’s not the story that first time viewers expect it to be. In my mind, it looks at story in how it was presented in the Original Gundam and spits at it. How war affects with people and New Types, with the expansion of that concept by appearance of the fake new types fighting against natural ones, do appear. That’s true, but the story is not presented in the same way. Zeta Gundam doesn’t become a story where people unite and become a family. In fact, the show itself is focused much more on individual actions and how they affect the whole. One person’s failure or attitude on the battlefield is focused on to the point where it can ruin everyone else’s actions and battle strategies. Characters who meet together are also easily thrown onto ship without even questioning it. This is a world of freelancers that just work together.
In terms of some quirky nature, Tomino really likes focusing on failure and strange moments that otherwise wouldn’t be in a serious narrative. Zeta Gundam has a lot of those moments in it. For instance, Zeta Gundam starts with a certain pilot by the name of Jerid crashing a Gundam Mark 2 into a building completely destroying it. This action does a lot of things like making Jerid more human considering that he doesn’t know how to fly a mobile suit in a colony, shows his character as a constant failure, and is shows how bad and unattached the Titans are to the colonies because they are from Earth and don’t care about the damage. There are so many strange moments that are like that from characters fist fighting on the bridge, a random moment where a flying haro disrupts the movement of people moving through a hallway, and such. It’s quite beautiful in how it’s executed and interpreted as well.
The general writing behind Zeta Gundam is like that too. For instance, Tomino has the writing style that feels like the characters are talking like they are in a play and they tell you how they are feeling and what is going on. As a fan of Tomino, that can take some getting used to because that is just pure Tomino. I mean, you have heard his strange character names, right. Those quirks are what I think make his characters feel unintentionally feel larger than life like you are watching super heroes or something in action? That combines with the individual nature of these characters in Zeta Gundam to keep you at least in lock with where the characters currently are? Kind of helpful in how the characters explore their nature in the story as the chaos of the situation keeps pouring and pouring on. The main weakness I find is where characters are meant to have closer relationships with each other in the ending and the strange writing connecting to the individual nature of the series clash to it being weaker then it could be.
My theory continues with how the ace pilots and the crew of the hero ship from the last war are shown in this series. No one is where they want to be or expect to be. Usually, a sequel develops the conflict a bit more with the main cast of that series, right? Zeta Gundam is and isn’t interested in that. Why is natural born charisma boy by the name of Char Aznable, if that is real name, hiding his charm and only taking part in the charge about the Titans? Why is Amuro Ray under lock down and held prisoner by the Earth Federation for seven years? I mean, both of these pilots are in their mid to late 20’s and still in the prime of their lives? What happens as a result? The less important crew members of the White Base are leading the charge in their stead until both of them get the wake up by Kamille reminding them of their youth and their power. With that, things really start to get rolling once Char and Amuro are reminded of what they can do. So basically, it’s Kamille’s fault for Char’s Counterattack. I’m just saiyan.
While on the positivity train, let’s talk about the look of the series too because Zeta Gundam has aged very well. The world of Zeta Gundam feels like a natural expansion of the original Mobile Suit Gundam in a lot of ways. Everything in it feels like seven years have passed. Not just because Zeta Gundam was produced in the Japanese Bubble Economy where production standards just increased, but because the technology and character designs naturally progressed. I can easily say that there is a good line between how the characters looked in the OG and Zeta because the characters in Zeta are how they would look 7 years in the future. Every character has aged very well by feeling much more filled out and grown up in the UC style. This is a hard thing to do in anime in general considering that adults just look like older teenagers most of the time. With that comes the growth of the space colonies and spaceships in how they work, function, and the features of all of them. I love it so much. Especially how 80’s it is.
This expansion comes with the mobile suits as well. There is a very clear delineated between how a Zaku and GM are too slow compared to the Hyzaks and Nemos which are used in Zeta Gundam and those are just grunt units. The Gundam Mark 2 is a lot more powerful than the original Gundam and that is just where the adventures and evolution of the Gundam start in Zeta and the UC. There is a Psycho Gundam that is at least ten times taller than a normal Gundam that is controlled by a new type. A Gundam but not Gundam, the Hyakku Shiki is a golden mobile suit piloted by Char himself is pimpin machine and no one else but him can pilot it. The Zeta Gundam itself is a transforming mobile suit, from fighter to mobile suit, piloted by Kamille and its honestly one of the best Gundam designs ever because of how unique it is in terms of color design and execution. And there is an endless amount of great moment suits from the enemy’s side like Paptimus’ O and Haman Karn’s Quebly. There are so many fluid pieces of animation of battle, along with some dynamic moments and even little thrusters that are shown. It’s crazy good.
With the growth ideas and technology comes the growth of New Types and their powers. I think this comes with a lot of pluses and a few minuses as well. Ever since Amuro Ray and Zeon’s new type laboratories, the military complex of Zeta Gundam discovered a new one and it was expanded upon. So some of the special auras and powers that come in and are experiments. The concept of cyber new types is fascinating because it’s an approximation of what they think a new type is and normal new types are forced to fight them because of the nature of the conflict itself. So that is interesting stuff to explore. The big question is why are cyber new types women who had their mind wiped? I get why 4 was like that because that was Kamille’s first love interest and is a bit of an intro towards the conflict at hand to the main crew. Why are the rest of them like that? Why not some men too? There isn’t a reason for it, just a point of view that Tomino had on women at that point despite the cast being full of very good female characters. It stuck in UC Gundam and other Gundam series in alternate universes and it’s pretty bad honestly. A huge weakness for the whole franchise.
In the end, I really like Zeta Gundam. I still think it is an anime classic that deserves a lot of its reputation. Of course, there are a lot of flaws in it like Tomino’s writing that not everyone is going to be a fan of and that’s fine. Also know that the way Zeta Gundam is executed may not sit correctly with people and Tomino’s horrible takes on women are pretty bad. I sometimes feel like Haman Karn was introduced with so much bad assery and weight was to be a counter balance to all of that. Yes, Haman Karn is a certain waifu for me but can you blame me? If you know the show, then you know why. Otherwise, I love Zeta Gundam and I do not think there will be a time period where I will not like Zeta Gundam. It is one of the best things that Tomino has ever written. What could be better? Well, Turn A Gundam and Space Runaway Ideon are a bit higher on the list for me but that is by inches. Please watch this when you can, but after watching the original series because a lot of contexts from the original series is needed for Zeta Gundam to work properly.