The original Gundam series is a mix of obviously old-school animation with some plot lines that are ahead of its time. The influence of the series is obvious, but does it still hold up? My first watch of the blu-ray releases has coincided with this blog, so it seemed like an ideal show to review, albeit slowly, so let’s take a look at the first batch!
What would later be known as the One Year War is still raging between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon, a nation based in a distant space colony. The Federation’s work on a new warship known as “White Base” has lead Zeon to attack the Side 7 Colony, an event that would alter the course of the war, as well as the lives of simple mechanic Amuro Ray and ace Zeon pilot Char Aznable…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
Char Aznable looking like he has giant hands due to perspective.
Amuro Ray (Toru Furuya / Brad Swaile) – The son of Earth Federation researcher Tem Ray, Amuro is living peacefully on Side 7 working as a amateur mechanic. When the war visits his home he finds himself in the cockpit of the prototype Federation mobile suit known as “Gundam”, and to his surprise he is able to pilot it well… which is handy for all the killing he now has to do! Hooray!
Char Aznable (Shuichi Ikeda / Michael Kopsa) – Formally known as Casval Rem Deikun, son of the famous speaker and champion of sovereignty Zeon Zum Deikun. Char wishes for nothing more than the death of the Zabi family, who plotted his father’s death and then used it as an excuse to launch their war of independence against Earth, even going as far to name themselves “Zeon” in tribute. As “Char Aznable” he has gained their trust as an ace pilot, though really he is biding his time, looking for the right time to strike back… although he is still no fan of Earth dominance, so killing some “Feddies” is a nice side mission for him!
Bright Noa (Hirotaka Suzuoki / Chris Kalhoon) – A simple Ensign at the time of the attack on White Base, he is left in charge of the warship when the other higher ranking officers are killed by the Zeon raid. He does he best to lead, including slapping some kids around who are having a strop due to the whole “they never signed up to kill anyone or fight in a war” thing… Damn softies!
Sayla Mass (Yo Inoue / Alaina Burnett) – Formally known as Artesia Som Deikun, the daughter of Zeon Zum Deikun, and therefore the younger sister of the man known as Char Aznable. She is one of the civilians who finds herself on board the White Base after the attack on Side 7, though she soon rises in the ranks due to there being so few people of any competence, and she has a logical head on her.
Kai Shiden (Toshio Furukawa / Richard Ian Cox) – A selfish and cowardly arsehole who (sadly for those who disliked being around him) turned out to be a good pilot when he was among the evacuated civilians from Side 7. He pilots the Guncannon, a prototype Federation mobile suit that is less unique than the Gundam. All that, however, doesn’t change his snarky attitude…
Hayato Kobayashi (Kiyonobu Suzuki / Matt Smith) – One of the civilians who was evacuated onto the White Base. He is desperate to help out and ends up being a co-pilot in the Guntank, a tank with a mobile suit body and head stuck on it. Handy!
Ryu Jose (Shozo Iizuka / Ward Perry) – The kind and gentle giant type, he helps Hayato in the Guntank, as well as pilots the Core Fighter spaceship. He is so nice and loved by the crew that he is clearly not going to die later on in order to inspire them. Nope! Not at all.
Garma Zabi (Katsuji Mori / Brian Dobson) – The youngest member of the Zabi family, Garma is desperate to prove himself to his older siblings, especially his sister Kycilia. He trusts his old academy buddy Char Aznable with his life, which… maybe he shouldn’t.
Plus many more!
Guuundam-uuu! Guuundam-uuu!! As the opening theme goes…
Although obviously I’ve seen it done many times now (and sadly before seeing the original series), the concept of a small group made of mostly civilians having to use advanced weaponry to make it to a safe place is a really fun concept and works well here. Bright Noa is an effective leader and you have a good grouping of troubled teens and a few adults to round the group off.
Amuro himself is an interesting character. He’s not immediately likable, behaving like a spoiled brat sometimes, and other times being far too arrogant. That being said I think it’s because you see his evolution across the series that it’s forgivable here, which is one of the key differences in reviews where I’ve seen the series before. That being said, Char Aznable often steals the show, in these episodes he’s just the ace pilot who is going up against our heroes, then in the final few episodes of the batch you see the more human side of him, and the side that’s secretly after revenge. His betrayal of Garma must have been a shock to people the first time round.
The stories around the refugees that were on White Base are an interesting look at a real war concept (something Gundam was the first to do in a fighting robot setting, leading to the whole idea of a “Real War” robot show, and boy did that concept ever run off!). Episode 8 especially sees Amuro and co. try and stop a plane of “evil” Zeon soldiers from attacking a group of refugees they dropped off, only to see them drop off supplies to aid them. It’s a good nod that no side in a war is the “good side”, and then people of both sides are often forced into combat.
The whole Garma storyline is interesting, because you know full well he is not a nice man, and truly believes in his family’s goal of pretty much wiping out the Earth Forces and gaining independence and dominance together, rather than just the former. However, scenes with his Earth-born love and the trouble she has with her father not accepting the marriage, all before his death devastates her, again shows that both sides of the war are full of regular humans. You may not go as far as to feel sorry for him, but it is an effective storyline in that it’s not just “this guy is evil and is getting his comeuppance”.
Amuro in the Gundam’s cockpit… because he’s the pilot… and a cock.
Given the year it was made and the general outlook on women at the time in Japan, it’s not really shocking that most of the women in the show are crying or moaning and getting slapped around for being hysterical or whatever. There are a few exceptions, Sayla isn’t incompetent and is in fact an authority role (although she does do a few “silly” things that put her in danger later on…) and there a few female leaders on both sides, but it still does often feel old fashioned, especially Frau, Amruo’s friend.
Also I feel it was unnecessary to add both a trio of kids to run around saying funny kids things AND have an amusing robot mascot. Go for one or the other, not both!
It’s unfair to rag on the animation, it is what it is due to the time it was made. The actual brightness and detail looks great on blu-ray, but there still is no getting round some of the designs or stiff animation, but again, it’s of its time and it would be unfair for it to count against it.
The Zaku mobile suits, an iconic image in Japan.
The start of Gundam can be a bit slow, but once you get past the first few episodes and start the first “story arc” (such as they are in these shows) you do get behind the White Base crew, though you’ll probably end this batch of episodes far more interested in the actions of Char Aznable. Either way I’m looking forward to more blu-ray restored Gundam in my future!