More a personal kind of post, this is just me coming to terms with a franchise that by all means I should be fanatical about, but am somehow not. That said, I enjoy a lot of it but find myself very critical about so many things about its many iterations and yet I watch a lot of it, on a pace that will probably cover most of the franchise within a year or two.
I mean you wouldn’t watch such a big chunk of shows if you weren’t a fan right? But I also feel that I’m watching Gundam the way I would read required authors back at university. I never read Dickens. I’m sure he’s great and all but I never went after him the same way I did Umberto Eco or Fyodor Dostoevsky. I’m watching Gundam because I feel that it is important as a mecha anime fan, the same way one can’t really earn a degree in English without studying Shakespeare (I was lucky Dickens was not required reading).
But wtf? I own zero Macross toys and end up buying this. You see I really like Gundam, and it’s just that I need to articulate my feelings about it in some form so I can shut about this borderline emo waffling about it. I want to write about Gundam in the future, so here I’m just threshing out my issues about it. As a Macross fan I don’t want to write a comparison post. I can refer you to Animanachronism, be sure to read the great comments as they fill in the blanks left by the main post body.
I first noticed Gundam as an adolescent in the early 90s. I saw the Gunpla in the specialty toy stores and was intrigued. They were mighty expensive and I couldn’t very well afford them so that was that. Some time in the very early 90s my younger brother brought home a Zaku II from War in the Pocket. It was so cool. It needed another suit to fight, but my allowance was tied up buying Dungeons & Dragons books so my brother got only other 3 Gunpla we owned: the Marasai (from Zeta), the Gelgoog-J from (Stardust Memory), and the JAGD-DOGA from Char’s Counterattack. We knew nothing about the toys and the anime they came from, much less that they all happened to be Zeonic mobile suits. They just looked awesome.
Our next experience with Gundam was with a video game: Gundam Wing Endless Duel (Nintendo Super Famicom). At this point we haven’t watched W (come to think of it, I never saw more than parts of an episode or 2), but we were so happy with the game. It was your Street-Fighter clone 2-D fighting game with beam spam galore. Epyon was overpowered, but then again so was Wing Zero. I remember thinking, “Who’s that man in the strange mask and why does he have the coolest mobile suit?” Tallgeese was my favorite by far (I named my first tennis racquet Tallgeese… what a geek).
After this, NOTHING for the next 12 years (in that span I discovered Hokuto no Ken, Dragonball Z, Ninja Scroll, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Ranma 1/2, Slam Dunk, Van Dread, Eva, Kare Kano, GTO, You’re Under Arrest, Cowboy Bebop, Escaflowne, Macross Plus, and Hentai). When I met Mechafetish around 2006 he started introducing me to Gundam. I saw the first ep of Stardust Memory – got bored real quick (I watched it again this year much to my eventual satisfaction), as well as V Gundam – which I found equally boring and slow. In the meantime Animax was showing ZZ of all shows, which didn’t help convert me to the franchise at all.
About 4 years ago I was reading a lot of anime reviews, on places like THEM! and Anime Academy. The reviews for a lot of Gundam shows were quite glowing, and I started to feel I was missing out. Still, the sheer size of the franchise was intimidating. I really wanted to start, but I didn’t know where – and I missed the boat when Animax showed 0079. Sayang. But then my friend showed me Turn A Gundam – so highly regarded, with a Kanno Yoko score to boot! How can I go wrong?
After 9 episodes, I had enough. It didn’t seem any more real robot than SDF Macross. It felt every bit as super robot – with the robot doing nothing super. It was ugly with that upturned mustache and the most dramatic thing it did at that point was to save a cow. A COW!
I was not impressed at all. I wanted those 4 hours or so of my life back. But late last year he also introduced me to Gundam 00, and I said, now we’re talkin’! Lurking at anime blogs and in /m/ I’ve read a whole lot of complaints about this show. Frankly, the only thing I find bad (as in corny, in this case) was the ridiculous wheel defense the united forces in their faux-GN Drives used against the Thrones, particularly against the fangs of Throne Zwei. That sucked hard. Otherwise, I was hooked. I bought into all of it: Celestial Being, the prettyboy Meisters, the political double-dealing, all of it. This was great for a robot cartoon show. I loved it.
By the time I was watching 00, I had already seen both Gunbusters, the Ideon movies, gave up on Mai Hime and Eureka 7, fallen in love with all things Ghibli, and Tenggen Toppa Gurren Lagann. I’ve even seen “Close Encounter” Deculture edition. I found something I could really get into, a gateway Gundam series if you will. After the wtf battle with Alejandro at the end, and the glorious wtf that was Graham’s attack – I’m enjoying 00 S2 even more. I don’t even find the meisters as emo as people complain. The worst emo I ever saw was Amuro. I hate that guy. He stole the Gundam and HID IT IN A HOLE! Too emo to function.
Taleweaver, another friend who is a serious Gundam otaku since at least the ’90s got me to re-watch Stardust Memory. And this time, I was ready. Stardust Memory opened the world of the Universal Century for me. It got me interested about A Baoa Qu and the One Year War. The characters didn’t do much for me (Gundam’s characters rarely do), but I really enjoyed the mecha and the space battles. I felt like I really got part of the mystique that made the franchise special: Universal Century mobile suits and how they fared in battle. Now as much as I enjoy the suits from W and 00, they’re super robots as far as I’m concerned. They’re bigger than Mazinger Z anyway (who’s shorter than the RX-78-2).
UC has a romance that I feel is better than any of the actual anime produced. Granted, I’ve only seen the movies of 0079 and Zeta so I probably missed all of the supposes awesome moments that are supposed to “make me a man”. I prefer the side stories – I still haven’t finished 08th MS Team though I like it a lot, but the king is 0080: War in the Pocket (find an excellent post here). That was really good. I don’t care what anybody says, that story was better than anything in mecha anime. I feel Al and Bernie are my friends, and although I don’t ever want to go through watching it again, they’ll be friends with me forever. I have seen Char’s Counterattack, and to me it exemplifies what I dislike most about the franchise.
I’m so irritated that I’m concerned that I won’t make any sense. Let’s start with an easy mark: Quess Paraya. I don’t like her not because she’s a stupid whore, but how important Tomino makes her in the story. A big part of the revenge of Zeon, CHAR’S FUCKING COUNTERATTACK, is distracted by her. Her storyline (ugh) caught EVERYONE in its web: Amuro, Char, Gyunei, Hathaway… it’s sickening. Hathaway Noah is one of the worst emotards in all anime (if there’s a worse one I don’t want to know) – he endangers missions and fucks everything up for her sake. He’s NOBODY! Gyunei would’ve been an interesting character, save that the rivalry with Char that would’ve been good to watch became more about Quess Paraya… Oh good lord. Conveniently, Quess just happens to be A POWERFUL NEWTYPE that has a CUSTOM MOBILE ARMOR that conveniently, the WHOLE OF ZEON CAN’T FIND A PILOT FOR. She enters the battles as a completely random entity – totally unconcerned with any of the causes, and fights for… wait for it… CHAR’S LOVE. Oh give me a number of dunderhead Rankas to equal the stars.
Totally ruined the whole Universal Century for me, and I would normally forgive the Amuro Newtype Super-Saiyan power move to save Earth from the asteroid. This tainted my experience of Char Azanble, who is truly one of the most interesting characters in anime (I like Ver.Quattro Bajeena the best). I’m not fond of the Newtype concept, the battle tactics and technologies it begets (bits and funnels: meh). And I’m totally not sold on the rivalry between Char and Amuro. Over Lalah Sune (among other reasons I keep getting reminded), give me a break. I’ll take Lelouch v. Suzaku any day. I wanted to be a big Haman Karn fan (because it seemed the right thing to do), but what I saw of her was underwhelming, and I know ZZ exists. Paptimus Scirocco as a big bad: ugh. I wanted Gundam to be grit and metal the way 08th and War in the Pocket, and in a lot of ways Stardust Memory are. SDF Macross was ridiculous, but the whole Minmei defense was based on a cultural difference and not mystic Newtype/Fold-wave/Spiritia magic. Ahh sequels.
Quite anticlimactic. I was ready to become a total UC freak the way my friends are, but alas – I find myself finding joy in 00 and find no compelling reason to watch ZZ, Victory, and F91 though I’m still open to watch the Zeta series in full. I’ve committed to re-watch Turn A, and am currently enjoying Domon’s JOYFUL WONDROUS ANTICS IN G-GUNDAM. So right now I’m this Gundam frankenfan monster…
The possibility that now opens is that I can enjoy the franchise in my own terms. It’s really difficult if not outright impossible to enjoy a series in a vacuum, but something like that is what I want to create for myself.
Haven’t seen any Gundam at all? Don’t know where to start? Find your Gateway Gundam!