Disclaimer: nothing in this post is substantiated by research (or at least, citations). If you have links to posts, articles, and/or interviews that debunk or corroborate any of the things I mention here, please share them (in the comments, even if they’re in Japanese). I love you.
This is speculation on creative development, so in this kind of foppery, the authors aren’t dead, they’re probably what matters most. Tomino Yoshiyuki’s Mobile Suit Gundam started a revolution in robot anime back in 1979. The primary hallmarks of his new type of robot show are the following:
- Dark dramatic story (with pyrrhic victory and/or ambiguously emotional ending)
- Militarization of fighting (combat operations, as opposed to 1 vs. 1 pro-wrestling matches); also, more grounding in ‘harder’ science (relative to super robot shows prevalent at the time)
- Mass production of robot types, and related to this is the popularization of enemy robot types
Personally, I think is a tremendous, if not the biggest innovation in terms of content in the tradition of robot anime.
Shows that immediately succeeded in this style include Tomino’s own Space Runaway Ideon (1980), as well as Heavy Metal L-Gaim (1984), Armored Trooper Votoms (1983), Fang of the Sun Dougram (1981), etc. But the big series that became a (super)franchise after Gundam is Super Dimension Fortress Macross (1982), by Kawamori Shoji and his gang of Gundam fanboys.
While Gundam isn’t the only obvious inspiration for Macross, though it does have the three hallmarks of Gundam mentioned above in varying degrees. both Gundam and Macross (and Ideon) pay due homage to Matsumoto Leiji’s Space Battleship Yamato (1974), in having their protagonist’s ships (arks in some cases) make odysseys through space.
As much as the Yamato-esque odyssey became part in varying degrees of many robot/science fiction anime that followed, and as much as Gundam’s hallmarks became staples in what would eventually be called “real robot” shows, SDFM had its own pervasive influence on robot anime in the 1980s: the mass-produced transforming robots.
But the influence that concerns me in this post is Macross’ impact on the Gundam franchise. Lo and behold, the next titular Gundam robot now transofms!
Mobile Suit Z Gundam (1985), while being the follow-up to its tremendously successful predecessors (The original series and its theatrical releases) is also a response to the very successful Super Dimension Fortress Macross, and its incredibly successful theatrical release Do You Remember Love? (1984).
Gundam had to top Macross. I can’t imagine the people behind it thinking any other way. Even if I consider SDFM my most favorite anime ever, I have no problem seeing Z Gundam as the superior show. There are many things to appreciate:
- There are more robot variants.
- There is more intrigue and complexity in the conflict.
- There is already a very interesting history and context that Z Gundam draws from and builds on.
- Iconic characters re-appear and play important roles.
- It doesn’t have lolicon shit (Mineva x Char is just trying too hard).
- Jerid > Qamzin (I don’t care what anybody says).
- Had solid animation for TV (SDFM had a lot of shitty animation).
- Colony Laser > SDF-1 Main Gun > Alaska Base Grand Cannon >>>>> Argama Mega Particle Cannon (rating for coolness, not power)
- Had more episodes (50 vs. 36).
- So many robot models and ships are crap or butt-ugly
- Beam weapons, such decisive things in the OYW become commonplace and nerfed
- Transformation feels tacked on. Even the Z Gundam itself is ass.
- Macross has lolicon shit (in 1983, Minmay was considered loli).
- Macross has Minmay and her music!
- Battles are MUCH bigger.
- Aces (Max, Millya) have much higher kill counts than NTs.
- Macross: Do You Remember Love? >>>>>>>>>>>>> Mobile Suit Z Gundam Movie Trilogy (despite being 24 years older).
- Z Gundam had Katz Kobayashi.
- Z Gundam had crap episodes (Rosamia Badam arc near the end is a festival of facepalm).
- SDFM’s post-war arc is exemplary and outstanding. Z Gundam’s post-war story is Mobile Suit ZZ Gundam.
(I do am not necessarily being disparaging when I say “lolicon shit”)
Having said all that, this I think is the decisive thing (Minmay aside, which all of Gundam would never ever ever have a chance with topping): Roy Focker is cool. He is so fricking cool. The coolest aniki, the baddest bad boy of the skies. Nobody hates Roy Focker. If these people exist, I think they’re just trying too hard. I’d understand indifference, but hate? Roy Focker is one of the best things about Macross.
So what does Gundam do?
They make a Roy Focker character of its own: an older, mentor type figure to a 15-year old protagonist pilot. But they made him cooler. How could they possibly do this? Instead of building a Roy Focker clone, it repurposed the most iconic character in its mythology, giving it a Roy Focker role.
It’s as if, Tomino thought: I can do better. I turned fucking Char Aznable into a Roy Focker figure. I’ll show them.
And he sure showed us all. Char Aznable was already the baddest badass who is also cool, and a villain to boot. He was the coolest villain in robot anime, often filled with buttmonkeys and caricatures. For many fans of UC Gundam, Quattro Bajeena is their favorite incarnation of Char Aznable.
“Thank you Roy Focker”, says Char,”I’ll be sure to stay away from the pineapple salad.”
And yeah that ending; Mobile Suit Z Gundam’s final eps and its un-retconned end (and innocence of knowing ZZ Gundam will be made) is just one of the very best ever, and certainly superior to the lame Misa x Hikaru end of Super Dimension Fortress Macross.