Thirty-seven years ago, a man named Yoshiyuki Tomino set out to create something different from its predecessors. The anime medium was filled with shows featuring superpowered mecha that were more like superheroes in their own right. The medium was saturated with them. So Tomino created a new kind of mecha show, one where mecha were realistic tools of war limited by science. And from this ideal, Mobile Suit Gundam was born, and despite the low-ratings and shortened runtime of the original series, it has since spawned one of the largest anime franchises in all of Japan. It also created the Real Robot genre, which thrives to this day.
Up until now I had never viewed the original Mobile Suit Gundam, referred to as 0079 these days to differentiate it from the series that have succeeded it. If you read my previous impressions on Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, you’ll know that I was having trouble watching it due to how much it has aged in the last 37 years. But for some reason, after I wrote that article, I had an urge to push through it. And, oddly enough, the art and animation didn’t look so bad anymore. Still dated, but it was tolerable this time. And so for the last week I have been watching all 43 episodes of 0079, and I am not disappointed. To be honest, it feels like I taken a rite of passage and become a true Gundam fan.
Mobile Suit Gundam 0079 follows the exploits of the crew of the prototype Federation warship White Base as they struggle to survive in an Earth Sphere ravaged by war. Amuro Ray stumbles upon the mobile suit Gundam and pilots it into battle against numerous enemies who threaten him and the White Base.
On paper it’s a very simple story, but one that fulfills its goals by the end. The show was intent on showing the horrors of war and to that end many characters die over its 43 episode run. Due to the rushed nature of many episodes, it’s hard to get attached to any character that isn’t a member of the White Base crew. That being said however, you still end up feeling sorry for many brave warriors who fall in battle fighting for what they believe in. Gundam manages to convey its emotional story without you needing to get attached to characters and that is something I rarely see from a story.
Of course, this isn’t a simple war story, it never is with Gundam. It is also a coming of age story. Most of the White Base crew are teenagers, many of whom were merely civilians that stumbled into the White Base to escape the destruction of their home. The main protagonist, Amuro Ray, is no different. He’s only 15 years old and yet, due to the fact that he piloted the Gundam once, he was pressed into service as the Gundams permanent pilot. From constant battles(That he wins.) he becomes both mentally exhausted and completely full of himself. His childish tendencies are put front and center, and by the end of the show, Amuro has matured into an adult, despite the fact that the show only takes place over the course of three to four months. It just goes to show how much a war can change a person.
Of course, you can’t talk about the original Gundam without mentioned Char Aznable, the shows main antagonist and eternal rival of Amuro. He’s a man with a mysterious past and he always hides his face behind a mask. His character is just as complex as he is dangerous. The show never really tells you what his one true goal is. He has many, most of which intersect at some point or another and he flip flops between them on a whim. That may sound like a bad thing since it makes him out to be this confusing character with no real direction, but the direction is there and the show does resolve one of these goals. It’s a good thing then that 0079 is not Char’s only appearance in the Gundam series with his character being further explored and developed later. He’s a truly great character and that is made all the more apparent by the fact that many Gundam antagonists that have come after him simply pale in comparison, no matter how hard they try to emulate him. Heck, an entire character archetype was created known as the Char Clone. If a character posesses any amount of similar traits to Char such as a mask, similar appearance, or shared personality traits, then they are labelled a Char Clone. And out of all the Gundam series I have watched, none have really come close to matching him. The only character I can think of that has come close is McGillis Fareed from the recent first season of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. Only time will tell if he continues to stand up to his legacy with the second season right around the corner.
But of course, I’d be wrong to not call out the flaws in this show as well. The writing is, often times, all over the place. One character will be talking about one thing and all of a sudden the topic will change without even so much as a prompt. It can be jarring at times. The story all spends WAY too much time following the White Base as it tries to reach the Federation. We’re talking somewhere around 25 episodes, the length of a full anime season. This probably wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for the fact that the shows episode count was condensed from 49-50 down to 43, meaning the final half of the show was incredibly rushed. So rushed, in fact, that whole relationships between characters were either sped up to one episodes worth of development or were completely absent from the story despite hints to the contrary.
For instance(And beware I’m going into spoiler territory here.), it’s shown in future installments of Mobile Suit Gundam that Bright Noa and Mirai Yashima eventually get married and have two children. However, as of Gundam 0079, there is next to no indication that the two have any feelings from one another despite being good friends. I don’t really count the occasional irritation from Bright when other men are involved. The relationship between Amuro Ray and Sayla Mass suffers far worse. In the last few episodes, its hinted that there might be something going on between the two of them, if vaguely, but it’s never really explored at all. The biggest confirmation actually comes from Char telling Sayla that Amuro is calling for her, even though it wouldn’t be until later that he actually did, suggesting that Char might have sensed Amuro’s feelings for her. In the novelization of Gundam 0079(Which is non-canon since, not only does the anime override both past and future adaptations by default, but also because Amuro dies at the end of the novel whereas in the anime he survives, which actually came before the novel and Char’s Counterattack would not be possible if Amuro had died.) their relationship is greatly expanded upon, basically filling in the blanks that the diminished episode count created. This could still be counted as canon information despite the fact that the ending clearly isn’t.
It frustrates me that there’s such a disconnect between the show and the novelization of it, including the fact that future installments don’t acknowledge this particular relationship at all really since Sayla only makes cameos and Amuro has moved on. Only the novelizations(having retconned the origjnal novels end) acknowledge a continued romantic relationship between the two of them, culminating with Sayla becoming pregnant with Amuro’s child in 0093 during the events of Char’s Counterattack. I’d appreciate a lot more consistency, regardless of how old all of this stuff is.
As I mentioned before prior to me going off on a tangent, Mobile Suit Gundam 0079 is now 37 years old as of April 2016. Its age clearly shows in the art of the show seen above. The animations are jerky, stray pencil lines are everywhere, and anything that’s moving never remains consistent in its appearance as it goes from frame to frame. One minute the Gundam is slender and the next it looks like it inhaled an entire McDonalds or skipped leg day. Take this as more of a retrospective critique as it’s honestly unfair to try and review this show as if it were made today. That being said, for all of Tomino’s talk of a Real Robot show, the Gundam moves not unlike a flesh and blood person. Sometimes you’d swear it was a person and not a machine. It and the Guncannon are the only two mobile suits to move like this. I’m not sure if it was meant to show how much more advanced they are or if it was some kind of oversight. For its time it probably looked great, but it definitely doesn’t hold up anymore, which is why I desperately want it to be re-adapted in some form.
The soundtrack is definitely very 70's and it stands out from the show. IT’s noticeable and that’s a good thing, even if I sometimes felt like they played the wrong track at the wrong time. Sad scenes had happy music, happy scenes had meh music or none at all. The soundtrack is also very... limited. It isn’t very large with the same tracks being used repeatedly over the course of the series. Even the opening and ending remained the same throughout, though I can’t say I ever got bored of it’s opening theme “Tobe Gundam!” At first I disliked it, but then it grew on me and before long I was singing along. However, I do feel like the song was also not appropriate for the type of show that Gundam was supposed to be. I’ve said this before, but Gundam is a Real Robot show, not a Super Robot show. Yet the opening theme is very superhero-esque and feels like it should have been a Power Rangers opening.
The sound effects have also aged just like the show itself. They’re simple, repetitive, yet good enough and never really irritating. And that’s a good thing because they’ve practically become iconic with the Universal Century timeline at the very least.
Mobile Suit Gundam 0079 is a product of its time, but one that has managed to stand the test of time and become a defining piece of Japanese entertainment. It has gone on to spawn sequels, prequels, and spin-offs galore, including a model kit empire, and all of it can be traced back to this original show which is practically required viewing for anyone that considers themselves a Gundam fan. Watching this show is like a rite of passage to become more than just a fan.
I won’t score it as that wouldn’t be right for a show so old, I’ll simply say that it’s a good show and worth your time if you’ve got some to spare. As of right now you can pick up the Blu-Ray collections on Amazon and Right-Stuf for $45 or less.
Also, I should probably mention that I never finished watching the third compilation film Encounters in Space. It is entirely possible that some of my character development grievances are corrected in the film.
Bonus Section: Sayla Mass - A Highly Underutilized Character
Sayla Mass, born Artesia Som Deikun and younger sister of Casval Som Deikun aka Char Aznable, is most prominent in the original Mobile Suit Gundam and the novels that followed it. However, as far as the television series and films are concerned, Sayla becomes nothing more than a cameo following the conclusion of the original series. Her relationship with Amuro is only one facet of her story. Her relationship with her brother, Char, and their history with the Zabi family, is another facet entirely. Her beliefs are opposite of Char’s, yet instead of trying to deal with him herself, she completely backs out of the conflict and fades into the shadows of the Gundam story, leaving it entirely to Amuro and Char. After Gundam ZZ, Sayla is never seen again, despite the fact that her being a major character in Char’s Counterattack would have made a lot of sense with it being the final battle between Amuro and Char, concluding with both of their apparent deaths.
Now, to be fair, I can accept this on some levels because it’s an instance where a romantic relationship eventually died and ended, something that honestly doesn’t happen too often in anime, yet for once, it would have made a lot more sense for it to continue throughout the story. It’s also an instance where a great character is practically removed from the story entirely for no apparent reason. There was still so much more that could have been done with her and we don’t even get any sort of resolution with her because she just falls off the face of the Earth, fading into obscurity.
One last thing I wanted to mention is that, aside from Char’s Counterattack, there is one other UC series that would have been perfect for Sayla’s return to the story and that would have been Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn. It takes place three years after the events of Char’s Counterattack and stars Banagher Links, the new Amuro Ray, and Full Frontal, the new Char and a literal Char clone. With rumors of the Red Comet’s second coming, you would think that Sayla would come out of whatever hole she’s been in to confront him now that Amuro is gone, especially with Mineva Lao Zabi in the picture. It would have been the perfect time for her to return. She could guide the Newtype Banagher Links while also confronting the shard of Char that resides within Full Frontal.
And now I’ve rambled far longer than I intend too and that last section probably reads like a bunch of scattered thoughts. Oh well. Hope you all enjoyed this review(And bonus!).