Review: Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)
Long absence, I know. But I just wanted to share my thoughts on a remarkable little anime series from the ’70s.
When I was 13, and a big nerdy Gundam Wing fangirl, Cartoon Network started showing Mobile Suit Gundam after the conclusion of Wing. I stopped watching the show after a few episodes because I didn’t like any of the characters and I thought it was lame and cliche. But boy, did I misjudge it.
I just finished watching the entire series (in Japanese, if you must know) and I really enjoyed it. If you compare it with everything that came before (cartoony giant robots), it was really groundbreaking.
A quick summary for the uninitiated (no spoilers): This is the first show in the long-running Gundam series, which involves vaguely samurai-like humanoid giant robots in some variety of warfare. In MS Gundam, Amuro Ray and a group of military and civilians survive an attack on their space colony and are drawn into conflict with the evil Principality of Zeon. World War II…IN SPACE, sort of.
My favorite point came towards the end of the series, where there are some truly avant-garde psychedelic (and most likely 2001: A Space Odyssey-inspired) moments as the series spirals quickly towards its epic conclusion.
Speaking of influences from other films, I definitely can feel some Star Trek influence in MS Gundam. The multicultural cast (their names are a combination of German, Japanese, Spanish, English, and other influences), strong military women, and “space navy” theme are clearly present. On that note, I think that MS Gundam most likely started the Gundam series’ tradition of strong female characters. Sayla, Hamon, and Lalah are some tough and awesome ladies and were enjoyable to follow through the series.
I enjoy anime from the 1970s – the hand-drawn dusty cel look is charming to me, I guess. The retro look and feel of MS Gundam is great, as is the disco-style funky battle music and J-folk ending theme. While the opening theme song recalls other giant robot series in that it is mainly about the Gundam itself, it’s catchy, upbeat, and infectiously fun.
Let’s talk about the characters, which are really the best thing in the show, in my opinion. These are some of the best-loved characters in Japan and I hope my descriptions and opinions here do them justice.
Let’s start with the White Base crew. I grew to love this bunch of tough folks with funny names, along with the obligatory pack-o’-orphans (Kikka, Katz, and Letz) that add comic relief here and there. MS Gundam gets in a lot of character development, which is one thing that Gundam Wing didn’t do so well (there were really too many characters). Amuro has his issues and moments, but that’s probably realistically to be expected of a teenage boy. My boyfriend and I both posited that we would probably be the Kai Shiden of the group if thrown into the same situation (laziness, snark, etc.).
…now for the bad guys. While pretty much all the Zeons have something….kinda…wrong…with them in terms of appearance (they all have purple hair, weird body shapes, look sickly, etc), that just adds to their evil appearance. Char Aznable, who Japanese people love “three times more” (qualifier used to describe Char’s mechas) than pretty much anything else, is a cool dude. And the foundation for every masked baddie in anime (and every masked bad guy in Gundam, pretty much) since the ’70s. Char was the only thing that kept me watching MS Gundam as a 13-year-old.
Did I mention that there is a lot of face slapping and punching?
….yeah. Good to know that Kai gets slapped around almost as much as Amuro. Slegger Law’s only purpose as a character is basically (1) to slap a bitch and (2) to hit on the ladies of White Base.
Okay, now for the bad points. This show was made partially to sell toys. So the Gundam does a lot of really goofy transforming stuff that is often used as episode filler. Also, some of the designs weren’t quite up to the “realistic robot” standards that Tomino envisioned when he conceived of Gundam, and come off as…well, silly. But I can’t really complain about this, since the Gundam and friends still look ten times more realistic than most of their contemporary giant robot brethren, who look like the mecha from Power Rangers or plastic toys.
Well, that’s it for my disorganized quick review blurb. I hope you will check this series out, it’s a real gem.
(…and before you ask, yes, I am a colossal nerd and have already started watching the sequel, Zeta Gundam. Will I review that? Maybe.)