For those of you who have absolutely no idea what the hell I’m talking about Gundam is a large franchise, primarily an anime, that’s extremely popular in Japan and pretty darn popular in America as well with the right people. Although it’s a bit more complicated than that the most important thing to know about it that is it features giant robots (or “mecha” as they’re often called) fighting each other with beam rifles and laser swords….and usually in space. If that sentence doesn’t at least peak your interest than I’m unsure if you and I will get along.
So today I’ll be looking at the Gundam TV series. It’s important to understand though that there is a lot more to this franchise than just the cartoons. As a giant money maker for its parent company Bandai this series has taken just about as many forms as you can think of. However for the purposes of this article I won’t be going over every little thing. In fact I’ll likely be skipping or skimming over many of the spin-off movies or OVAs, of which there are a lot, so if I don’t mention a comic or a light novel series here or there just note that I likely am aware it exists and you don’t need to tell me how dumb I am for forgetting to mention it. And if I do skip your favorite Gundam related thing and it really bugs you feel free talk about it in the comment section (just don’t ramble; that’s my job and I’ll delete anything that tries to touch my Kool-Aid).
We all dig giant robots after the jump.
|Smells like the 70s|
The story of Gundam begins in 1979 when the now classic anime Mobile Suit Gundam. It basically created the concept of “Real Robots”, a genre of anime where the robots in questions are depicted as mass produced tools no different from other vehicles such as tanks. Prior to this giant robots were depicted as pseudo-sentient superheroes often piloted by a young boy’s heart and willpower or some such craziness (the “Super Robot” genre, such as Mazinger Z). Though honestly the titular Gundam clearly had some old guard elements to it as it was clearly the most powerful of its kind in the series. The show was also famous for its depiction of war in what was still considered a children’s cartoon. Where previous efforts made things out to be relatively lighthearted adventures Mobile Suit Gundam was more of character study by seeing how the main cast could deal with a bunch of terrible, tragic shit happening to them and around them. The show was principally created by Yoshiyuki Tomino, who rather famously earned the nickname “Kill ‘Em All” for his tendency for killing off characters, sometimes entire casts of characters, in such cruel and abrupt way that even Joss Whedon would blush.
Mobile Suit Gundam takes place in the year 0079 of the Universal Century, which is an unknown period of time into our own future. It revolves around a yearlong war between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon (the space colonies) who have awesome humanoid robot tanks called mobile suits at their disposal. 15-year old
Sadly the initial ratings were so goddamn terrible that the show was cut down from 52 to 43 episodes and the whole thing was basically canceled. Surprisingly the model kits that were associated with the show sold insanely well even after the show left the air, retroactively making the series a big hit. Bandai thus realized where the money truly was and thus continue producing Gundam anime in order, all together now, TO SELL TOYS! Yes, despite all the good things you’ve heard about Gundam the cartoons, the movies, and the comics all exist solely to get kids and adult collectors to pony up cash for the model kits. Thankfully the creators of the fiction still get have the chance to write mature, complex stories with the mythos (although they sometimes make crap, but that’s true of anything) making the Gundam series a bit more legitimate than, say, the majority of American cartoons from the 80s that were also merchandise driven.
|"Hey kids, buy me!"|
Sequels and Spin-Offs
|Gee, I hope it works out for these crazy kids*|
In 1993 Bandai shook things up a bit with Mobile Suit Victory Gundam which took place far ahead in the timeline in the year 0153. It was the final Gundam series directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino for some years. The response to the series was mixed partly due to supposed behind the scene clashes between Tomino and the producers and partly due to the fact that the show was easily the darkest show in the Gundam franchise. According to legend Tomino was battling with depression, which was something that he had dealt with throughout the 80s as well, and led him to say “f**k it, I’ll just kill as many characters as I can.” Tomino left the franchise after this series and to this day in very outspoken about how much he hates this show, which may be part of the reason it’s never been released in the United States. Regardless Victory Gundam was the final TV show set in the UC timeline (though spin-off material continues to re-visit it).
|Because the only thing missing was obviously martial art action|
Following G Gundam came New Mobile Report Gundam Wing which you likely know of as it was released in the US through Cartoon Network a few years later and was partially responsible for the anime boom of early 2000s. Taking place in the After Colony timeline Wing followed the a more traditional formula for a Gundam show, unlike G Gundam, and was supposedly very popular with a female demographic which I always found odd as there’s pretty much no well written women on the show. Gundam Wing had a large amount of spin-offs most notably the sequel OVA/film Endless Waltz and most recently another, decades later sequel called Frozen Teardrop.
|I'm pretty sure the mantra of this show's fanbase is "Make the boys kiss"|
By 2002 the franchise began what would end up being their most successful series since the original trilogy: Mobile Suit Gundam SEED. Set in the Cosmic Era SEED closely followed the plot stricture of the original series in the first part of the show, to the point that a lot of people thought of it as a remake. But the series ended up being strongly written and took its own unique turn. This anime was crazy popular in Japan, to the point that even today it earned the second highest ratings of the series after Zeta Gundam. SEED was the first Gundam series since the UC timeline to get a TV series sequel, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny which was not as well received, and to this day the Cosmic Era remains the only timeline to be showcased as being on even standing with the original. Though whether or not we’ll ever see any more new material from this timeline remains to be seen.
|The villain of this show is called "Full Frontal" so I can't take it seriously|
Oh, except that it spawned a full TV series called Gundam Build Fighters. That is the series I will be reviewing next time so I’ll save my thoughts for then. But it’s important to note that this series may have been something of a game changer for Gundam.
This fall the latest Gundam series will hit Japan; Gundam
|What's with Tomino and weird ass titles?|
*Yeah, I know this image is from the Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: A New Translation movies rather than Zeta Gundam proper but I like the picture.