When Anime fans think of Gundam, they think about Gundam Wing or Gundam SEED. From there, there is confusion as to whether both series are connected to each other, thanks to “Gundam” in the title. Well, it is true that Wing and SEED are connected, but only to one franchise.
There are too many Gundam series for one to keep count, but think of it as Star Trek; spanning many TV series and movies taking place in a few years from the initial timeline or in alternate universes. (Important: This is also a good series suggestion under the “If You Like…” category for fans of Star Trek and pure Sci-Fi fans who are interested in Anime.)
However, knowing when series begins and the other ends is a bit different when it comes to Gundam. The Gundam universe is so vast that when I was asked to share my love of the franchise with the members of the BBAMAJAM club the discussion was split up over not one, not two, but three parts.
To begin where it all started, let’s take a look back at the year 1979: the year the very first Gundam series came into existence: Mobile Suit Gundam.
This is the original (as in the very first) Gundam series that inspired many spinoffs up to the recent Gundam 00 and the premiere of the Gundam Unicorn OVA. While Wing, SEED, and 00 takes place in an alternate universe: After Colony (AC) in Wing, Cosmic Era (CE) in SEED, and Anno Domini (AD: our very own era) in 00, Mobile Suit Gundam takes place in the Universal Century (UC) of 0079.
Unlike the newer Gundam series, where a group of pilots band together to save the colonies from war, it starts with an unlikely hero by the name of Amuro Ray, an average teenager with a passion for electronics, just like his dad, Tem. In the first episode, Amuro’s home colony of Side 7 is under an evacuation order from the Earth Federation Space Force (EFSF) due to an security breach involving enemy forces of the Principality of Zeon. Amongst the enemy stands Char Aznable, a masked, inspiring pilot who goes by the nickname, “The Red Comet”. (For Wing fans: think of Zechs Marquise, The Lighting Count).
In the midst of the evacuation, Amuro comes across a prototype mobile suit that goes by the codename of “Gundam” (as it seems that in all mecha series, it’s found on the back of a military truck). On his way to leave the colony with his childhood friend, Frau Bow, Amuro gets inside the Gundam and fends off the Zeon’s Zaku model mobile suits terrorizing the colony. Without prior piloting experience, Amuro successfully defeats the enemy. His ability to pilot the Gundam by not under going years of training forces him into the Earth Federation Force to fight in the “One Year War” against Zeon.
Now you know the plot of the original series. It may sound the same depending on which series you may have watched first: for example: Wing begins with Heero Yuy found unconscious by Relena. For SEED: it begins similarly to Mobile Suit Gundam, with Kira Yamato attending school—except that it seems rushed compared to the original, in my opinion.
What I like… or shall I say, love, about Mobile Suit Gundam, is the intense character development. Through most of the series, the story focuses on the rivalry between Amuro and Char, and the theory of “Newtypes“: psychic beings with the potential of becoming a Weapon of Mass Destruction, replacing ordinary pilots with just one pilot, to rule the universe.
Previous Gundam series seem to focus either on the political or mech aspect of the story, but another plus for the original is that it focuses on everything: Mecha, Politics, Romance, Angst…and a little comedy. Throughout the series, there are other moments that may make you smile or make you cry; it even makes filler episodes exciting to watch.
There are memorable characters in Mobile Suit Gundam, such as Officer Bright Noa (an underrated character who is known for the Bright Slap meme), Kai Shiden (perhaps the most annoying character next to Amuro), on the Zeon side, Ramba Ral and Garma Zabi, and a character that is a Japanese pop culture reference in TV shows such as the J-Drama Densha Otoko, and in the minds of Gundam fans all around the world, Matilda Ajan.
Just like Star Trek, the show was canceled due to low ratings and was given a few episodes to end. 43 episodes long, the series was revived thanks to high ratings in reruns and was given a second chance in the form of a movie trilogy in the early 80’s, followed by strong sales of model kits (a la G.I. Joe figures).
As of writing, the original TV series on R1 DVD is out of print, but the movie trilogy is out on DVD under Bandai’s “Anime Legends” collection. While I prefer the original TV series, the movie is a good way to get into Gundam with just three, 2-hour movies. There are differences between the TV version and movie trilogy: like that most the comedy bits are removed (as they are considered “filler”), and that it adds a few scenes that never made it on TV. Most of the animation is new compared to the original series where the quality was questioned (i.e.: the “lost” (to the US) episode, “Kukuru Doan’s Island“).
To conclude: regardless of however you watch it, it’s a series that should not be overlooked. Even if it’s 30 years old or if you don’t care for mecha, you may enjoy it for its amazing twists. So…please, I beg of you to do what ever you can to watch it! If you did watch Mobile Suit Gundam when it aired on Toonami or from the recent streams on YouTube and Crunchyroll, the next series in the Universal Century timeline is Zeta Gundam. But I shall call it a day, as explaining Zeta will take an additional 1,000 words.
Score: 5 out of 5