Why Watch Gundam? (Plus Some Gundam Recommendations)

Why Watch Gundam? (Plus Some Gundam Recommendations)

Without a doubt, Gundam has become an international cultural icon of Japanese mecha anime. From museums and cafes, video-games and arcade machines, to even a life-sized Gundam statue in Odaiba, Japan, otakus the world over have flocked to see just what is so mesmerizing about the franchise. Contrary to other anime, the mecha genre has two subsets of fans—the ones who solely enjoy the anime, and the ones who like building model kits of their favorite mechs (and of course, there are those who like both). Gundam is definitively THE leading mecha series to not only have a reputation in producing decent to critically acclaimed anime series, but also in well-made “gunpla”, a portmanteau for “Gundam” and “plastic model”. In fact, almost 460 million gunpla have been sold over the past 36 years since Gundam was originally created by the famous Yoshiyuki Tomino in 1979 [1], according to Bandai Namco’s 2016 Annual Report.

The pressing question remains however: why has Gundam been so appealing to people all these years? How has it stood the test of time, while others perished over the years from the brutality that is the competitive anime market? Perhaps the best way to answer this question is through a narrative paradigm, summarizing the key characteristics of what makes Gundam, Gundam.

GUNDAM 0080: WAR IN THE POCKET

 

While few have heard of this beloved Gundam OVA of mine, Gundam 0080 has managed to become my top favorite Gundam series out of the rest. What was truly unique about this series is how it was different from most other Gundams. Instead of focusing on the usual trope of battles, blood, and tears from war, 0080 predominantly focuses on the human elements of war and how it affects children, comrades, and friends. The intense fervour and incredible quality of execution in this tragic story of the protagonists, Al, Bernie, and Chris, have definitely made this Gundam installment one of, if not THE best. Every scene was filled with purpose and significance, foreshadowing events of what was to come in the ultimate pinnacle and climax of the story (that I will not spoil). As I have remarked before in a previous blog of mine, Gundam 0080 is a perfectly executed modern Greek Tragedy, one that which encourages us to see life in shades of gray rather than in black and white—something that all too many people unfortunately still do in their day-to-day lives.

G GUNDAM

Another rather surprising entry that I will be mentioning today is G Gundam, one of the first Gundam anime to be dubbed and officially aired here in the West. This quintessential cheesy shounen anime has most if not all of the classic tropes you can imagine in a 90s show whose target demographic are teenage boys: butch men fighting with heart and passion, a tantalizing romance between the male protagonist and his love interest, and a classic revenge story set in the midst of an all-out worldwide Gundam tournament brawler. G Gundam is undoubtedly the most “super robot” Gundam in the franchise, and is both a blast from the past and a blast to enjoy.

UNIVERSAL CENTURY

The Universal Century is not only the first Gundam universe/timeline, but also the one with the richest history and depth. This timeline includes the original 1979 “Mobile Suit Gundam”, the epic space opera that is “Zeta Gundam”, and more recently acclaimed works such as “Gundam Unicorn”.

“Mobile Suit Gundam” defined what is now called the “real robot” genre, a genre that is in stark contrast to that of almost all mecha anime made before its time, as before then, the “super robot” genre dominated primetime anime. Instead of the cheesy, unrealistic, superhuman mechs from TTGL, Gundam attempts to semi-ground itself in reality in its battles, mechs, and of course, its characters and politics that accurately portray real-life politics and the human condition. In some ways, I’d compare this contrast between super robot anime vs Gundam with the humanism vs Christianity conflict throughout history. Rather than having godlike super robots with unfathomable amounts of power that defy the laws of physics and nature, Gundam maturely exhibits the monumental feats mankind can do from its own efforts and intelligence.

“Humanity alone possesses a god; the power to transcend the now, the inner god called possibility”

-Banagher Links (Gundam Unicorn) [2]

The “real robot” aspects of Gundam also include fascinating and bounteous amounts of actual science and math-based lore that any sci-fi geek would love, from the physics of “Minovsky particles”, the human evolution of “Newtypes”, genetically enhanced “Cyber Newtypes”, and more.

All in all, being the first timeline created, the Universal Century rightfully shares the title of being the one that possesses all of the classic elements of Gundam. Similar to Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Gundam brilliantly showcases its underlying theme of moral ambiguity—that good people under conflicting principles and perspectives from personal life experiences have the capacity to do great harm unto others. Zeta Gundam and ZZ Gundam also harmoniously portrayed Tomino’s nihilistic philosophies throughout their airing as well—that war is messy, confusing, and in a pacifistic sense, pointless. This pessimistic point that Tomino makes about the entropic disorder in Gundam is beautiful in its simplicity.

“Neither Newtypes nor Cyber Newtypes are really able to make a difference in the world… All we can do is kill others, isn’t it?”

-Camille Bidan (Zeta Gundam) [3]

CONCLUSION

From 0080, G Gundam, and to the Universal Century Gundam series, it seems rather apparent now what Gundam has to offer—something enjoyable for everyone. Do you enjoy a good tragedy? How about some mindless action-packed virile fights, reminiscent to classic shounen anime? And last but not least, what about an epic space opera on a grand scale, with copious amounts of emotions, battle scenes, but also politics, moral ambiguity, and complex plots and scenes? Chances are most people, including you, are intrigued by at least one or more of these elements, which is why I conclude to you, dearest reader:

WATCH GUNDAM NOW!

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