Stuff the U.C.
Since I’ve talked about Macross, it’s only fitting that I talk about Gundam, especially considering Gundam is a franchise that I found much easier to get into than I did Macross. I also, probably unsurprisingly, prefer Gundam to Macross, as there is precious little in the way of idol stuff in the former. (“But wait!”, you say, “Gundam Build Fighters has an idol!”, and I respond, “Yes, it did, and I dropped the show after I finished that episode.” That was more, admittedly, due to the have-your-cheesecake-and-eat-it-too brand of misogyny, though, rather than strictly it being due to idol crap. Being periodically tickled to see stuff like the Moon Cannon pop up didn’t really make up for having shitastic female characters.) But I’m not going to get too into Macross vs. Gundam (except to note that it seems rather odd to me to compare a franchise that has twenty-six TV series and OAVs with one that has nine; I was going to give figures for number of manga, too, but figured just noting that Gundam’s U.C. timeline has sixteen manga series alone… although, really, I see little reason to compare the two since once you get past the fact that both franchises involve mechs and space (usually) there just isn’t much else held in common), it being such a contentious matter; we can just leave it at me preferring Gundam.
That being said, I realized, slightly startled, that except for five episodes of Build Fighters, I actually haven’t seen any Gundam more recent than Turn A, which wrapped up its TV run fourteen years ago. Can I claim to be a fan of a franchise despite having managed to watch anything newer than about six years old (I watched Turn A in 2006 originally)? But I suppose at this point what I really need to do is actually go back a bit further.
My entry to Gundam was a fairly typical one for a female American anime fan of my vintage – I started off with Gundam Wing. In fact, I only ended up watching Gundam Wing at all because I was reading tons of BL fanfiction about the series and figured, well, shit, I better actually watch it so I can understand these fanfics better! I know, I know, shameful, terribly shameful. My own sentiment toward this particular part of the process at this point is one of definite amusement. I’m sure at some point I would’ve ended up watching some Gundam anyway, but this does make for a funnier story. And even knowing I probably would’ve made my way to the franchise anyway, I have an appreciation for Gundam Wing. It’s a fairly flawed show, but it really appealed to my high school-aged self and I continue to quite like some of its mech designs; I also think anyone being snotty about someone becoming a fan of the franchise via Wing is just being an uppity jerk. Oh, yeah, and Two-Mix was a fantastic band.
I picked up Gundam 0079 War in the Pocket after I made me way through Wing (I primarily watched it by borrowing a friend’s Hong Kong bootleg of the series; I was, honestly, impressed by the high quality of this bootleg release, as if featured a rather nice DVD case and the English subtitles were shockingly non-nonsensical). It sounded like the sort of thing that was up my alley – a serious look at war that was oft-times grim. A legit look at war! I’m making a bit light of it at its own expense, but War in the Pocket is a pretty solid OAV. Where Wing gets heavier in the way that one greedily laps up as a sixteen year old, War in the Pocket gets heavy in a manner that holds up better over time, primarily since Wing is big on teenagers piloting massive robots whereas War in the Pocket gives its child protagonist who dreams of piloting and who holds a more romantic view of war a swift kick in the teeth. If Wing is all about how cool it would be to pilot a mech and how much of a difference you could make doing so, War in the Pocket says that you won’t matter and will probably die in some forgotten corner all alone.
From there, though, my Gundam adventure goes more unconventional. Despite airing on Cartoon Network, I never saw any of Gundam Seed (to include Destiny), nor did I see (much of) Gundam 00. I was witness to a lot of gnashing of teeth over new fans getting into Gundam because of Destiny, however, which was really just the same old tooth gnashing that occurred when people became fans because of Wing.
My next Gundam series I watched at roughly the same time as one another – After War Gundam X and Turn A Gundam. Gundam X is the only Gundam TV series to be canceled other than the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Gundam X takes place in a world where the colonies were dropped, leading to widespread devastation and a huge drop in the world’s population. It is also, arguably, the most obscure of Gundam TV series, as it was never released in North America nor does it carry the infamy of some of its non-released peers such as Victory Gundam or Gundam ZZ.
I really like Gundam X, but I’ll admit it’s hard to make the case for it to other people. It looks like shit for when it aired, the characters are almost all grating at the start and some of them never improve, and the truncation of the storyline does leave some things dissatisfyingly unresolved. But the Moon Cannon is really cool! The Moon Cannon is a potentially over-powered device that’s strength relies on the phases of the moon and is also tied to Tiffa Adil, who also acts as a bit of a limiter on the device’s usefulness since she tends to experience psychological breakdowns when its fired. I also find the setting intriguing, even if more in theory than in practice. And the romance that develops between Tiffa and Garrod Ran, the young Gundam pilot, is genuinely sweet. But I’m fully willing to accept that my enjoyment of Gundam X isn’t an enjoyment that most people will share.
Let’s move along to its stablemate, Turn A Gundam, which was intended by Tomino to be the series that unified all the timelines in the Gundam franchise into the “Correct Century” timeline. Turn A isn’t my favorite Gundam series (it’s my second), but it’s the best Gundam TV series I’ve seen to date. For one, it actually looks pretty good, something which was distinctly rare for Gundam TV series up to that point. It had a great cast, an opera-ish OP of which the first refrain is downright earworm-ish (“TURN A TURN, TURN A TURN”), a world that was entirely unlike any other Gundam had inhabited previously or since, and, most importantly, it’s a show where Tomino’s simultaneous thirst for seriousness in the giant robot genre and his ceaseless need to include goofier aspects manages to cohere perfectly. It is also the first Gundam Sunrise let Tomino get anywhere near after the gruesome grind that was Victory Gundam, and the first he touched after undergoing mental health counseling (although I didn’t truly appreciate this last bit until after I’d seen Victory Gundam).
Turn A Gundam takes place in a far-distant future wherein some technology has been lost and humanity is living in a turn-of-the-19th century sort of world, with biplanes and empire waists in abundance. Not only has some technology been lost, but knowledge of people who had fled the Earth for the Moon centuries prior has been, too, so it comes as a bit of a surprise when the Moonrace re-establishes contact with the Earth and makes clear their intent to return to the planet, by violent means if necessary. The story centers around Loran Cehack, one of a few Moonrace agents sent ahead to conduct reconnaissance, and who is painfully naïve, as he reports the planet suitable for life and is subsequently devastated when the Moonrace attack. Loran ends up piloting the titular Gundam in an attempt to protect the Earthrace; it has a mustache.
I love Turn A Gundam, and I’ve been mildly pleased to see its stock rise in more recent years as more people get around to watching it, although it never managing to get released in North America is a bit of a blow. We’re down to Gundam ZZ, Victory Gundam, After War Gundam X, and this one for Gundam TV series that haven’t had commercial releases stateside, and it’s the only one of the mix that I genuinely rue the lack of a DVD release for. Turn A is the Gundam I’d most readily recommend to people who aren’t really into Gundam, or are skeptical of it, or even of mech shows in general; for a Gundam show it’s a bit slower to boil, as Loran and his cohort spend about two years on Earth prior to the outbreak of conflict.
Finally, I want to mention the opening scene, as it is one of my favorite in all of anime. It shows Loran with Fran and Keith, the two other members of the Moonrace recon squad, each one in a separate spacecraft as a voice in the background counts down to launch and the three recite or sing difference songs and nursery rhymes, flipping switches as they go. It’s been about six years since I last watched Turn A Gundam, but I can still picture it perfectly – it’s quite striking.
I’ve mentioned Victory Gundam a couple of times, so I may as well finally circle to it. I started Victory Gundam roughly a year after I finished Turn A Gundam. I caught a few episodes of Gundam 00 in the mix at some point in this period of time, too, but it didn’t stick, and I didn’t have a TV to watch the broadcast, so that was that. It took me a while to watch Victory Gundam. I used to previously claim to having enjoyed watching it. I enjoyed watching Victory Gundam in a masochistic fashion, because, actually, it was actively painful to watch Victory Gundam. I suspect it would’ve been more pleasant to eat broken glass while walking across hot asphalt soaked with sulfuric acid than it was to watch this show. That this is what crawled out of Tomino’s head when the man was suffering from clinical depression is something that makes perfect sense. When the show was released on DVD, the blurb Tomino provided amounted roughly to, “Don’t watch this show, it’s awful.”
Victory Gundam is what results when a severely depressed man with a loathing for humanity makes a mech show. I honestly find the inner workings of the show difficult to recall because the show’s primary concern, really, is, “How do we kill off most of the cast at a clip of several bodies every few weeks?” The show is hyper-misogynistic, and there’s a creepy dose of implied… well, it’s not legally pedophilia, but the dynamic between thirteen year old lead Uso Ewin and seventeen year old enemy pilot Katejina Loos is unsettling, to say the least. As the show goes on, everything gets increasingly ludicrous, body counts soaring, misogyny roaring, and the bending of physics even managing to go beyond Gundam’s usual disregard for the science. The whole thing is so utterly joyless. There are many older fans who complain about the switch to the alternate continuities throughout the 90s post-Victory, and these are clearly people who’ve either never watched Victory, or who did so long enough ago that they’ve been able to fully apply the nostalgia filter with it – Victory Gundam is horrible, and Tomino clearly needed help. Anyone wanting to claim that he would’ve made anything better than the Gundam series between Victory and Turn A should just plop down and try to watch Garzey’s Wing and Brain Powerd, his only directorial efforts between the two.
I stumbled into watch Gundam F91 a few months after Victory; otherwise I was very much burned out on the franchise. I like Gundam F91 more in the abstract than I did in the actual, which I suppose isn’t surprising given that it was originally supposed to be a 52-episode TV series that suffered so severely from production issues that it was cut down to a two-hour movie. I know it was somewhat expanded upon with the manga Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam, but I’ve never gotten around to it, and I’m not even sure if its possible to (it definitely was never licensed, and I doubt that anyone ever bothered to scanlate the entire thing). F91 is a short enough piece, and its been a long enough time since I watched it, that I have little to nothing else to say about it. There is a character who is mildly a Juri Arisugawa lookalike, which is always something I support (yes, I know, Juri didn’t exist yet when this was made).
Talking about F91 does make me interested in Gundam Unicorn again, which is another Gundam entry I haven’t gotten to as yet. F91, chronologically, takes place after Unicorn, so a lot of anime cataloging sites (My Anime List, AniDB, Anime News Network’s encyclopedia) list Unicorn as the prequel to F91. It is, strictly speaking, true, but it still feels funny to think of it that way.
But getting back to what I actually have watched… well, it was a good while before I touched anything new for Gundam after the agony of Victory. It really was that bad! Please don’t watch it, I like to think that I generally like my readership. Victory hurts. Victory is suffering.
About a year and a half ago, though, I worked my way into watching G Gundam. I actually had seen an episode of G Gundam when I was in high school while it aired on Cartoon Network in the Toonami block, but I’d found Domon Kasshu’s behavior and disposition so shitty that I didn’t bother with anything else. When I started watching G Gundam this time, I realized I’d seen the first episode, when Domon’s “with a heart of gold” portion of the “jerk with a heart of gold” had yet to have been in much evidence. Thankfully, Domon’s better nature becomes clear rather quickly for shows utilizing this particular personality, and Seki Tomokazu’s fairly hammy delivery also is less grating in tone than Mark Gatha’s was in the English dub off the bat, although I did bounce fairly routinely from Japanese to English while watching the show. Both the Japanese and English language tracks were to my liking here, which is a rarity, likely because both casts sound like they’re having a stupidly large amount of fun with the voice acting.
Prior to Gundam Build Fighters, I would argue that G Gundam was the most purely shounen of the Gundam franchise. In G Gundam, a large chunk of the population lives in colonies since the surface of the Earth was wrecked pretty badly by years and years of war; the various colonies belong to different nations on Earth, so we get Neo-Japan, Neo-France, etc. To prevent against future warfare, the colonies all field one fighter each every four years for the Gundam Fight, a massive tournament that takes place on Earth and of which the fighter’s nation gets to dominate the political scene for the next four years. Its actually a pretty smart system, if you ask me! The opening portion of the Fight is less like the standard tournament, as it involves the participants wandering around Earth fighting whomever they challenge or whomever challenges them, and then whoever is left at the end of that goes to the portion that’s in keeping with the usual tournament approach.
G Gundam is my favorite Gundam. In fact, it is one of my favorite anime series, period. Its one of those rare shows where the Power of Love saving the day is completely, totally cool, and really was the best and only way to cap it all off. Domon is moe. His associate/love interest/Gundam mechanic, Rain Mikamura, is one of the best female Gundam characters (she’s also a doctor) The thing is loaded with over-the-top racial/ethnic/national stereotypes (the Mexican Gundam is the Tequila Gundam and wears a sombrero, the Dutch Gundam is shaped like a windmill, the Russian female character is basically Natasha from Rockie and Bullwinkle, etc.), the cheese is more or less nonstop, there’s a horse that has a Gundam (eat your heart out, Nobunaga the Fool), and one of the primary characters is known as Master Asia, a man who is capable of fighting mobile suits with rhythmic gymnastics. G Gundam is the show I tell everyone to watch. EVERYONE. Including non-anime fans! And did I mention the attack names? ERUPTINGGGG BURNING FINGERRRR!!!! And there’s a God Gundam. And a Devil Gundam.
Apparently my DVD sets are now worth at least $75 each (I paid $25 for one of them, $45 for the other), but I would never even dream of parting with them.
G Gundam is best Gundam, and I will never be persuaded otherwise. It tends to get maligned as the start of the downfall of the Gundam franchise in the 90’s because of how obviously it was a toy commercial (if every nation has a Gundam, well, that’s a hell of a lot more gunpla to be sold, huh?), but it was perfectly suited for washing the sour taste of Victory Gundam out of everyone’s mouths, as it aired after Victory ended. Its also fan-fucking-tastic, so forget the haters, they just want to pretend Gundam is very deep and serious and that 0083 and ZZ NEVER happened because UC was ALWAYS VERY MATURE AND SERIOUS, OK?
(I can’t wait to watch ZZ, bros. I really, really can’t.)
Despite writing this over the course of about a week and a half, I have to confess that my energy for the topic is beginning to fade a bit, so let’s finish this up. I gave Gundam Build Fighters a go after snubbing Gundam AGE (snubbed because, eww, children), and, alright, because everyone kept saying it was hyper gay and so much so that they just referred to it as Gundam Boyfriends. Lol, I know. I did watch five episodes of it, and for the first three its decent if uninspiring – it was fun to see all these Gundams I loved resurfacing in the GunPla Battles even if the lead was pretty boring. But then it had to get all Sunrise misogyny on me, and, well, here, I’ll just excerpt from what I’ve said previously:
Actually, the crappy female cast and the treatment of them turned me off a good deal. Episode four should’ve just been titled “Madonna versus Whore”. Idol girl Kirara is a Fake Geek Girl who shakes her bum and boobs, gets her fans to build her Gunpla, but who has done all the legwork on learning about Gundam the franchise herself. China is the meek, modest girl-next-door type who becomes interested in Gunpla ’cause the guy she has a crush on is into it but who shows no aspirations of any sort, be it to win at Gunpla fights or whatever. (Kirara also definitely comes off as a “have one’s cake and eat it, too” figure – we’re clearly supposed to look down on her for her use of Gunpla to advance her idol career, but the camera angles invite us to enjoy her body.) …Is it even worth bothering to go over the fact that the male adversaries have all been presented as fully legitimate, or to mention that Kirara loses her match versus the hero even though she cheated to try to win? And, no, I’m not really inclined to be charitable given Sunrise’s generally poor track record with female characters.
And that was pretty much it for myself and Build Fighters. If I’d found the cast more engaging to that point, I probably could’ve gotten over Kirara, but, well, the cast was 90% dullsville. The only bit of color was Ricardo Fellini, who plays the older, grizzled veteran (despite only being in his 20s) who has a penchant for trying to woo women by presenting them with Gunpla, something that brings him no success in these early episodes (I hem and haw about whether this tactic would work on me; I don’t have any Gunpla because money, but I do have a decent amount of Zoids that I got people to give me for my birthday and Christmas, etc. when I was a teenager and I was hideously bummed out when TOMY discontinued their American releases). Sure, he’s a stock character himself, but he’s at least got a little bit of liveliness about him that every other character wholly lacks.
So that covers all the Gundam I’ve watched and my sentiments about them. I tend to consider myself a socially unacceptable Gundam fan since I’m primarily into the various alternate universe timelines and haven’t actually ever watched the original TV series or even its compilation movies. I do plan to get to Zeta Gundam eventually, although Gundam Unicorn and I are far likelier to set a date for each other before that, and I do have solid plans to watch ZZ (another anime fan and I are planning to shack up later this year and have enthusiastically agreed to watch it together, so I have to be good and wait!). And I’m legitimately looking forward to the adaptation of Gundam the Origin next year, although I rue that Gundam Ecole dul Ciel will never get an anime and will probably never get completed at all. But in my heart, G Gundam, Turn A Gundam, and Gundam X are my favorites, and I’m pretty sure only ZZ could displace one of them…!
In closing, if you’re not convinced about G Gundam, well, here: