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Mobile Suit Gundam

Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: Film, TV.

Japanese animated tv series (1979-1980). Original title Kidō Senshi Gandamu. Nippon Sunrise. Directed and written by Yoshiyuki Tomino. Voice cast includes Toru Furuya, Shūichi Ikeda, You Inoue and Hirotaka Suzuoki. 43 25-minute episodes. Colour.

By 2179 (or year 0079 of the Universal Century) most of humanity lives in gigantic orbiting Space Habitats positioned at various Earth Lagrange Points. The furthest group of colonies, located at point L2 and named "Side 3", renames itself the "Principality of Zeon" and declares a War of independence against the Earth Federation. Both sides suffer immense casualties.

The Principality of Zeon, though numerically inferior, has the advantage of Mobile Suits (see Mecha) called Zakus: however the Earth Federation is working on a new suit called the Gundam, which is more powerful and whose Computers learn from experience. They are being secretly developed at the Side 7 colony – which is now attacked by Zeon forces led by Char Aznable (Ikeda), the show's charismatic main antagonist. The chaotic circumstances lead to fifteen-year-old Amuro Ray (Furuy) being the first to use a Gundam in battle; fortuitously a user's manual is to hand. A Federation ship at the colony, the White Base, has most of its crew killed in the attack, so resorts to using teenaged Side 7 refugees to fill the empty posts. They return to Earth with the prototype Gundams: the Federation begins their mass production, then sends a fleet carrying Gundams to defeat the Principality.

But the Principality has been upgrading its own Mobile Suits, so the fleet is fought hard all the way. The rebels are ruled by the Zabi clan, who were responsible for the death of Char's father – Char has vowed to kill them all: that he is only partially successful in his ambition is due to the Zabi family members' own readiness to commit parricide. With the Zabi family wiped out, peace follows and what becomes known as the One Year War ends.

Despite Amuro being the main character, Char is the most well known of the franchise: though his motives might seem understandable and he comes across as charming, he is a psychopath (though this is presumably not why his name is phonetically the same, and deliberately so, as the french crooner Charles Aznavour). Also prominent are Bright Noa (Suzuoki), the officer cadet who, by default, becomes White Base's captain and Sayla Mass (Inoue), a Side 7 student who becomes a White Base fighter, and is also Char's sister.

The show's mobile suits are influenced by the Powered Armour in Robert A Heinlein's Starship Troopers (October-November 1959 F&SF as "Starship Soldier"; 1959). Up until Mobile Suit Gundam, Mecha stories normally involved "super robots", the result of implausible and/or extremely advanced science, usually a one-off built by a Mad Scientist or an ancient/alien civilization (see Forerunners); but in this series they are "real robots" – the product of sober science, engineering (see Technology) and mass production. Real robots lean to sf and tend to be used in war-related stories, super robots lean to fantasy and tend to be used in superhero-like plots: there are grey areas.

The show pays more than lip service to science: thought has gone into the practicalities of space colonies, having been influenced by the ideas of Gerard K O'Neill, whilst the in-universe discovery of the Minovsky particle (see Imaginary Science) is used to justify the otherwise illogical situation of having mecha fighting in space (as opposed to simply ignoring the problem). The show is also interested on the effect of growing up in space, with youngsters showing signs of becoming "Newtypes" (see Evolution), though their acquiring of mild Psi Powers means this slips into Pseudoscience.

The series was repackaged (edited with some new material) into three films: Mobile Suit Gundam (1981), and Mobile Suit Gundam: Soldiers of Sorrow (1981) and Mobile Suit Gundam: Encounters in Space (1982). The television series was not initially successful – its planned run was reduced from 52 episodes – but reruns, toy sales and the movies changed that: for example, Encounters in Space was the fourth highest-grossing Japanese film of 1982.

Though the series has much of interest, including an anti-war message, it is overlong, with unexceptional animation: the more concise films (see above) are generally seen as the best way of enjoying the show.

The story continued in what is known as the "Universal Century" timeline: some are prequels or side-stories, but others show the fallout of the One Year War where the Federation's behaviour in victory makes them less sympathetic. The timeline comprises three more television series, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985-1986), Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (1986-1987) and Mobile Suit Victory Gundam (1993-1994); the Original Video Animation (OVA) releases Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket (1989), Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory (1991-1992), Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team (1996-1999), Mobile Suit Gundam MS IGLOO (2004-2009), Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (2010-2014) and Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin (2015-2018); the Original Net Animations (ONA) Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt (2015-2017) and Mobile Suit Gundam Twilight AXIS (2017); there are also the films Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack (1988), Mobile Suit Gundam F91 (1991), the live-action G-Saviour (2000), Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative (2018) and the planned «Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway's Flash» (2020), first of a trilogy. There are also the presumably non-canonical Gundam vs Hello Kitty (2019) ONAs, two short-shorts celebrating the respective franchises' anniversaries.

Additionally, there are several Alternate World Gundam timelines: "Future Century", with the television series Mobile Fighter G Gundam (1994-1995); the "After Colony" series Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (1995-1996) and OVA Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz (1997); the "After War" series After War Gundam X (1996); the "Correct Century" series ∀ Gundam (1999-2000); the "Cosmic Era" tv series Mobile Suit Gundam SEED (2002-2003) and Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny (2004-2005), plus OVA Mobile Suit Gundam SEED MSV Astray (2004) and ONA Mobile Suit Gundam SEED CE.73: Stargazer (2006); the "Anno Domini" series Mobile Suit Gundam 00 (2007-2009) and film Mobile Suit Gundam 00 the Movie: A Wakening of the Trailblazer (2010); the "Advanced Generation" series Mobile Suit Gundam AGE (2011-2012); the "Regild Century" series Gundam: Reconguista in G (2014-2015) and "Post Disaster" series Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (2015-2017). Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury (2022) is set in the Ad Stella timeline. Another OVA, Gundam Evolve (2001-2005), is set in various timelines.

There are also the "Gundam Build" animated shows: the OVA Model Suit Gunpla Builders Beginning G (2010), about Gundam model kits, and the television series Gundam Build Fighters (2013-2014), Gundam Build Fighters Try (2014-2015), Gundam Build Divers (2018) and Gundam Build Divers Re:RISE (2019-current), whose protagonists play near-future Gundam Videogames. There are also numerous Manga, novels and videogames set in the various timelines.

Because – save for the first series being shown in Italy in 1980 – none of the franchise was broadcast in the West until the mid-nineties, Western audiences would have seen several Anime influenced by Gundam (such as Robotech) before they saw the show itself. Nevertheless in 2019 Gundam was the world's thirteenth highest-grossing media franchise. [SP]


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