Once upon a time I wrote about Gundam’s best, the cream of the crop. It was tough actually as Gundam has a lot going for it and some classics. However this, this is easier as when Gundam is bad Gundam is BAD. These are not just bad, no these are the worst, so sit back and “enjoy” as we look back at the worst examples this storied franchise has to offer.
Note: The rules are simple the title must contain the word “Gundam” and be an anime. Meaning no Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn or other video games, it thankfully also saves me from writing about this... I’m sure you can guess what it is.
To be honest I debated putting this on this list for a few reasons the main one being is that it’s not terrible. The series story is just kind of weird, meandering, and easy to get lost in. This is especially true when it comes to it’s place in the Gundam universe.
You see the creator of Gundam and this particular series Yoshiyuki Tomino never really warmed to the idea of alternative universes within Gundam. However by the time of Turn A the alternate universes were a key component of Gundam, especially in the West with the immense success of Wing and G Gundam. Effectively to undo this he tried to unify the timelines with Turn A, creating a convoluted mess that nobody really paid attention too afterwards. Funny enough even Tomino ignored the unifying “Dark History” idea of Turn A in his own next Gundam. No wonder the very next series SEED also ignored it...
Beyond that the suits themselves were not what one would call stellar. Mostly due to the premise of the show there was so few. Beyond that in an era of gorgeous Mobile Suit design the Turn A Gundam itself is likely the ugliest (most overpowered too). It’s not a surprise following Turn A Gundam SEED used more traditional designs for their suits such as the Freedom Gundam the most popular model in terms of sales. Overall Turn A came together near the end however for all its flaws it was a disappointment.
When you think Gundam, normally one thinks of giant robots, angsty teens, plastic models and the like. This was a spin off from the later as Super Deformed Model kits proved incredibly popular with a key demographic - children. Now what does any good media company do when it has a popular product? Exploit it for all it’s worth and with that SD Gundam the anime came into being. Despite being kryptonite to long time Gundam fans the series no matter how loath I am to admit is massively popular and could now be considered a sub-franchise.
The best thing you can say about SD Gundam is that it is inoffensive. In the sense you can sit back and kind of completely ignore it. Well unless you like Gundam Build Fighters Try - but really why would you do that the first season was so much better? Nope SD Gundam is for the kids and if you are over 12 sorry to say this isn’t likely for you. But hey, the models are cute.
This is kind of funny as I put Gundam OO on my “Bests” list as it’s popularity and general beauty is hard to deny. However as the series went on its quality consistently dropped especially in the second season as things got a little too convoluted, outlandish, and just just generally became meh... However Sunrise never letting a popular thing go to waste (See above) decided to make the first full length Gundam film in decades.
This was a mistake. Not only had the series reached its logical conclusion with the villains being defeated and the world moving on, but the characters themselves had reached logical endings. How did Sunrise get around this? ALIENS! Yes for the first time in Gundam history the story about humanity fighting for it’s destiny in the stars became about Aliens...
Why does Awakening of the Trailblazer suck? It forgot everything of what it meant to be a Gundam. This leaves out the absolutely insane third act of the film that seems like it was written by Avatar era James Cameron if he was tripping on acid. Awakening of the Trailblazer makes me think we’re lucky we never got that Gundam SEED movie...
Speaking of Gundam SEED... Okay where to start with this one? The first thing one must discuss is the characters and how even their own show did not have faith in them. The series introduces an entirely new cast, new factions, new everything (well except Athrun) and for 14 episodes of so it stays that way. That is until Kira promptly steals the series back as the show realized every one of those characters sucked.
For example Shinn is a whinny little brat, Athrun is well still Athrun, and the rest are not that memorable unless you like needlessly short skirts on Mobile Suit Pilots. Sadly the story the characters act in is also among the weakest, as all the flaws of the original that we overlook for its charms returns from Kira being too good at everything while piloting some of the most overpowered suits in the entire franchise, to the god damn beam spam.
Hell it even has a Char Clone who’s identity is spoiled by the Ending Credits which simultaneously ruining one of the most tragic losses and actual emotional scenes of the last season. Why? To get more characters from the previous series of course because they knew the current cast couldn’t sustain the series. In short SEED Destiny was terrible because it was Gundam SEED without any of the redeeming qualities and a whole lot of new mistakes on top of it.
To be fair it’s not all bad it has one of the best soundtracks in the franchise.
What’s wrong with Gundam ZZ? Two words Judau Ashta. How best to describe Judeau, well imagine Kira Yamato from SEED with all Gary Stu powers and now give him the personality of an amoral arms dealer. From that you get Judau Ashta the most deliberately annoying asshole to grace a Gundam up to that point. Judau is a prick, he knows it and doesn’t care if you like him or not - yes this is our hero.
However the real issue with ZZ was the unfortunate placement it has in the Universal Century timeline. Compared to the original Mobile Suit Gundam and it’s sequel Zeta Gundam ZZ is just not as important in the grand scheme of things. It’s entirely possible to skip the series and miss out on nothing. Originally slated to appear Char Aznable the true villain of the early franchise was held back to later appear in the theatrical film (and best Gundam piece of media) Char’s Counterattack.
By holding back key elements that made Gundam Gundam, ZZ felt as if it was only treading water especially following the emotionally draining Zeta. This would be all the more apparent with the release of Chars Counterattack the true conclusion to the narrative arc of the Universal Century starting in Mobile Suit Gundam reducing ZZ to almost glorified filler. Taken as it’s own piece of media ZZ may hold up, however surrounded by the greats of the Universal Century timeline it’s easy to see it’s weakness. The series was never really given a chance by Sunrise which is a shame and because of it ZZ is easily the weakest of the early Gundams.
In the HD Gundam Era starting with OO Sunrise was doing well both in the West and Japan. Gundam was going through a sort of renaissance with both new fans and old alike enjoying the beauty the new technology could bring. As is becoming a common theme here Sunrise wanted to expand this even further. If Gundam was succeeding with teens and older fans, well then they had to get the children too!
Teaming up with Level-5 the producers of the popular Professor Layton video game series Gundam AGE was born. Consisting of three parts through a hundred years of history it follows a family of pilots as they fight a mysterious “alien” threat. To better draw in the children the designs were inspired by Level-5 much in the same was Code Geass was inspired by CLAMP. This resulted in a very childish and cartoony anime that instantly turned off older fans of the franchise many of whom didn’t even give the series a chance.
In many ways this was the right decision on the part of the fans as the series just was never that good. The writing was lackluster and trite likely to keep it simple enough for younger viewers while the action seemed sanitized by Gundam standards. Interestingly during AGEs production the amazing Gundam Unicorn was produced as an OVA series keeping older fans placated for long enough to still care about Gundam. Some (including myself) still call Gundam Unicorn Sunrises apology for AGE.
It’s kind of amazing how Yoshiyuki Tomino could make a masterpiece in Char’s Counterattack the undeniable Best of Gundam, while also being able to make the absolute worst to ever bare its name - Gundam: Reconguista in G. The series didn’t even start out as a Gundam but was later reworked to fit into the franchise a Sunrise apparently didn’t think anyone would watch it with Gundam in the title. Yes, the only reason this series is here instead of relegated to the trash heap of anime history is Sunrise realized what stinker they had and had to deal with it and tried to trick people into watching it. They mostly failed.
The best thing you can say about G Reco as it’s alternately known is it’s the shortest Gundam series at only 26 episodes (despite having plans for a second season that never materialized). However even though it has a short run time the story is nearly incomprehensible making zero sense at the beginning, middle, and end where events, factions, and even religions can be name dropped and never mentioned again. It is a story where characters act with no discernible reason other then to move the “plot” whatever it may be along. To be blunt G Reco fails on even the most basic levels of story telling.
Beyond that it has some of the weirdest mech designs in the entire series. Even by Turn A standards they are ugly beasts and considering how thematically similar the two series are that is not a surprise. They make sense in the context of the show, however when a series is so in love with itself that can be an issue. Tomino may be the father of Gundam but like George Lucas and Star Wars it’s clear it is time the king steps down before madness fully takes him.
As I was writing this I found myself happy how short it turned out to be. As my Best list is significantly longer then this and if Gundam: Iron Blooded-Orphans sticks the landing it’ll get a little longer too. Furthermore whenever Gundam gets bad such as the AGE/G Reco double whammy it finds away to correct itself with Unicorn/Iron-Blooded Orphans. When a series starts in the 1970's there is bound to be some duds however the series remains vibrant even today.
I hope you enjoyed this and feel free to argue in the comments, I’m sure some of you will have issues with my picks or things I left off. Anyways have a good one. Iron Blooded Orphans coverage continues every (well most) Sundays.
Past two weeks of IBO Coverage if you’re interested.