I’LL BE THE FIRST TO ADMIT, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn is an amazing show. I don’t just mean how it functions as a refrain for the entire mythology of Gundam. I actually mean how it’s superlative as a real robot show, by portraying mecha and their battles with superb quality: the best middle ground between the extremely plausible (by mecha anime standards, of course) such as FLAG, or even Patlabor, or Ghost in the Shell; to the ridiculous (by real robot standards) such as Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, or Code Geass.
This standard of quality allowed the OVA to showcase the Sinanju as the quickest, most agile mobile suit (outside of course, the super ridiculous prototypes in AU Gundam), and made Full Frontal look like one of the most skilled pilots in the Universal Century.
The Gundam franchise, as a rule sets suits of comparable power levels against each other, it is far more rarer an occurrence in Macross, which has historically pitted VFs against Regults which are pretty much space coffins not unlike the Balls in Gundam’s One Year War. Even so, Balls go against Zaku IIs who go against GMs, while the Gundam may rip more than a few Zaku IIs apart its real battle is with the Zeong… just as the Sinanju really had to face the Gundam Unicorn after having its way with Jegans and ReZels.
This is part of the myth-making that makes heroes and villains, that makes Gundam a cult of “ace pilots.” This however, where things begin to break down. Ace pilot status, for much of Gundam, seems to be bestowed by virtue of the prototype mecha that the pilot is allowed to use – often customized for the pilots’ genetic or engineered abilities, and not so much a status bestowed in acknowledgment of battlefield performance. The myth-building then becomes more about the prototype mecha facing each other, and less about the performance of the pilot over time.
In Macross, there are few pilots who’ve been bestowed “Ace” status, though many have demonstrable ability. What is remarkable though, that the most notable of these Aces achieved their status piloting mass-production units. This is more consistent to the real robot ideal that began with Mobile Suit Gundam in 1979. This is what I’m saying:
Macross, via the VF-1 achieved more with what Gundam as an ideal tried to do.
Mobile Suit Gundam, while in my mind remaining the apotheosis of real robot anime, was compromised in its attempt to depart from super hero type super robot shows by the necessity of featuring unique models (enemies) in what amounts to a monster of the week format. What the Zaku II innovated in, was taken back by having to produce a mobile suit for every significant opponent (“This is no Zaku Boy…”).
Char Aznable himself ended up piloting 4 different suits in the original TV series fighting Amuro’s Gundam. The Sinanju itself is a result of this “tradition” that now represents the actual failure of Gundam to depart from super robot trappings. There is no interest in breaking from this now, because this method sells toys, which results in more Gundam being made. I for one see no true tragedy in this, as I prefer to live in a world where the Sinanju exists (where the Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn show exists).
But in the ideal of Gundam and the departure into the real robot way, Macross kicked Gundam’s ass. Each new Gundam show is a catalog of new suits. The plot of the shows, are written around the highlight reels of these new toys. This is not to say Macross doesn’t have this behavior as well, but it is far less obvious. Also, the Macross mecha are all but for a few instances, mass production units just as the VF-1 is.
Thus, the Sinanju represents a non-tragic failure of Gundam to live up to its ideals. The VF-1 is the triumph of what Gundam tried to do.
Now, here’s something interesting. As far as I’m concerned, the best days of the Universal Century revolved around the Earth Federation vs. Zeon conflict, both in terms of narrative quality and in mecha design. The apex of this is in Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (other shows may be done from existing material, but I’ll go with shows). Look at the following units, who must now represent the cutting edge of mass-production mobile suits:
These are, for all intents and purposes the definitive acknowledgment of the superiority of Variable Fighters as a mass-production fighting machine.
If it wasn’t already clear in how Mobile Suit Z Gundam introduced transforming mobile suits en masse, as if fighter craft “suddenly” became viable threats in the modern battlefield after being pretty much obsolete when Mobile Suits were introduced as the force that changed warfare in the first place, the reiteration in Mobile Suit ZZ Gundam, and now Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn makes it crystal clear how Macross transformed real robot anime.
After Macross, so many robot shows in the 1980s had to have something transform in some way or another. Gundam wasn’t about to be left behind.
Gundam was and is at its best and greatest when it shows the individual narratives as interesting sideshows in the great conflicts, that the obsession about silver bullets and super weapons never really decided the war. It just can’t help betraying what’s best about it, settling for only what is awesome.
It wanted us to believe that the soldiers do the fighting that wins wars, albeit victimized by the corruption of their leaders. But far too often, after the conclusion of the original series, it shows us how the elite few do all the fighting that matters… and now in Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn you have a single mobile suit that is the KEY to the whole history of the war, and the Sinanju is what stands in its way.
While never failing to acknowledge the merits of Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn and the Sinanju, if you’re a Gundam fan who wants Gundam to achieve what it set out to do – to put the war stories in the hands of the common soldier and their standard-issue mobile suits (and less in the hands of caricatures like Full Frontal, or teenagers like Banagher Links). If you want your standard issue Gundam mecha to be given the utmost creative powers that otherwise go into designing units like the Sinanju, then vote for the VF-1 in Sai Mecha.
I suppose I have to vote for one of these, so I pick the Evangelion Test Type over the Tachikoma.
I vote for the Zaku II over the Escaflowne (for reasons consistent with what I wrote above; and because I am a Gundamfag)
I vote for the YF-19 over Gurren Lagann (because I am a Macrossfag).