JP On Gaming

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

[Review] Mobile Suit Z-Gundam

I was lucky enough to find a special sub'd version of all 50 episodes of Mobile Suit Z-Gundam. This series was originally shown in Japan in 1986-87.

Now when the show started, I expected something similar to the origanl series, with complex characters, both for the good and bad guys. Even if most of the villains were somewhat crazy with maniacal goals and short-term obsessions. But still, a few of the villains, such as the Zabi family and Char Aznable, had goals that could be understood. They may be evil but you can see how they do not see themselves as bad.

The basic story is ten years after the original series, with the defeat of the Principality of Zeon, the Earth Federation created a new group to ensure no group in space would grow powerful enough to threaten it, called the Titans. In the decade since, the Titans grow into a militaristic powerhouse that subsumes the Earth Federation Military.

And what happens when you give people all the best and latest weaponry and a decent dose of power?

You end up with a "Who watches the watchers" scenario where, on one side, the Titans want to assure and consolidate their power. And on the other, freedom fighters who oppose the move.

I won't go into the many twists of the series, but from the AEUG (Anti-Earth Union Group), the Earth Federation, and the Titans, we later add a group of Neo-Zeon trying to return to prominence.

Our heroes here are a gathering of random people from the latter group. Most have no ideological attachment to one side or the other. Some are there because of someone else. And others have a private reason to join one side. There are 50 episodes, so that makes a LOT of characters.

Of course, my favorite in Gundam-dom, appears here as a good guy. Char Aznable (going by the name Quattro) is a lieutenant in the AEUG and one of their best mobile suit pilot. His presence and participation in the events starts as something of a mystery but his charisma and intelligence shine through as the series progresses. He is Mr Cool throughout the series, keeping his eyes on the prize (most of the time). His reactions are very human and make him an endearing figure throughout the series.

The main character is Kamille. Many people make jokes that his is a woman's name (in French, it is a unisex name). At first, he is a petulant child, but losses and lessons hit him hard at the end.

One side plot involves the many women, on both sides, who try to prove themselves as pilots but also try to figure out their places as women. Their role is contrasted by the women who took on domestic roles. I found the questioning, the answers, and the doubts they went through to be surprisingly deep. They are not just eye candy (though some of their dresses in space are odd choices...). I found myself wondering about the two roles women have. I thought it was a well-presented dilemma overall.

A major element of the story has to be with the Titans trying to control the Earth Federation. The political aspect is important throughout the series because some characters like Char have to pull double-duty: pilot and politician.

Char's speech in Dakar is pretty powerful and one I thought was truly a highlight of the Gundam universe. (You can see the full speech on Wikiquote). It encapsulates everything that is right about Gundam. I copied the final paragraph because it speaks of a timeless truth, of a tyrant losing his grip on power and the extremes he will go to to keep that power.

The Titans have started a battle above us, disregarding the lives of the delegates of this Assembly. You can see the brutality of their actions for yourselves. They set themselves above the regular Earth Federation Forces, and smear anyone who opposes them as terrorists. But it is their own arrogance that is their greatest sin; it will be the ruin of humanity! Those of you who have been watching these events unfold on television must realize by now that this is who the Titans are. I admit, it was wrong of us to take over this Assembly, but what of the Titans, who are trying to destroy it with the representatives still inside? Would they even destroy their own supporters among them?!

Another thing the series does well is to draw in characters from the Original Series, give them a cameo role that plays into the bigger story. This is the case of Amuro Rey, of Frau Bow (now Kobayashi), and Mineva Zabi. These characters come in for a few moments or episodes before fading in the background as we focus on Kamille. Now I don't like "Uber good boy" Amuro but I liked that he stayed on Earth when Kamille returns to space. We touch base with him later when they return to Earth.

When we first meet him, I worried that we'd get a massive blob of characters, similar to the latest era of Doctor Who when fifteen characters all try to say something and everyone's plot gets drowned in noise.

The team of Z Gundam are not modern-day writers. They did it right. So much so, that I feel like a series could be developped around the adventure of Amuro and Hayato as they fight the titans on Earth. Their actions are important but do not detract from the gravitas of what we see. Though there is something there for sure. Well done team.

Now... one element that looks really odd has to deal with physical contact. Yes, some dudes just randomly grab the women's breast or butts and no subtly. They are quickly slapped but still it took me by surprise.

Another is whenever a subordonate refuses or challenges an order, the commanding officer slaps or punches the subordinate. Kamille gets his butt kicked a few times, especially early on.

Now... This series is ABSOLUTELY BRUTAL. I mean people die. A LOT. Named and unnamed characters meet their end. Their deaths are sudden, and even when a Titan gets killed, I felt sad about the loss. Long-time rivals like Jerid, Mouar, and Bask in particular.

The series ends on a sad note, with Kamille's mind getting completely broken. This series takes no prisoners and really lets you know that no one escapes war without serious loss. No one wins. Only, the Titans are defeated. A lot of people died.

So... I did not have to deliberate very long about this one. The animation is dated, but the fight scenes still deliver, the story is good, and the characters different and each with their own subplot and the questioning it presents spot on.

This is the type of great entertainment that, had I seen as a child, I would have loved it. Mecha, missiles, action, girls, everything I like (still). However as I watch as an adult... the questioning and dilemmas become most important. Pixar did that on a few of its products too.

My rating for this is a clear 4/5. This is a solid and highly enjoyable anime that's more than firing missiles and laser swords.

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