#62 : Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ

The red headed step twice removed cousin that you swear has to be adopted.  Much is said about the reputation of Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ as the oddball of the original Universal Century timeline of Gundam. Now I can poo-poo all over this show too, but why? It is better to see the hidden glories inside this odd release. Let us instead look at the areas where ZZ Gundam does well as well as my areas of questioning, at least from my perspective.

ZZ_1First, it is well animated. Kind of generic, but Sunrise usually gives royal treatment to many classic series and that should not be overlooked. Also the change from Yoshikazu Yasuhiko to Hiroyuki Kiazume for lead character designer is not a bad change. Kitazume has great skills as an artist, so he is most welcome as a change. What would Judau have looked like other wise? Maybe a different eye shape perhaps? And by the way, is it me or are there like way more girls than dudes in this show? Nothing wrong with that and all of them are on the cuter side. Therefore the nickname for ZZ shall be forever known as Cute Girl Gundam (thats better than my nickname for Zeta, Bitchslap Gundam… just ask Kamille).

ZZ_2Second, patience and the 20 episode mark. When I first saw this series I watched about the first 20 episodes and was a little disappointed to say the least. In response, I did a very sensible thing… I took a break from it for about a month. Upon returning, to my surprise, the series began to change (for a short period of time) back into the older dramatic flavor of Zeta and MSG. This gave me faith to continue to the finish. And even though the show is far from perfect, I did finish it. Like anything in life, get away for five minutes to clear your perspective.

ZZ_3Third, we get resolution for Zeta’s tragic hero, Kamille Bidan. And after Zeta, I was worried beyond belief for Kamille, as he is my favorite pilot and the show just stops in a dramatic cliffhanger. Thankfully we see him get out of his shock and mental issues from the final battle of Zeta, though the price he paid for what he did may never be fully healed. The price of karma and severe PTSD on a newtype is a bitch! And… thank you Fa for standing by him.

Something else to consider… not every mecha series is, or even has to be, an epic space opera melodrama. While this may be true and can work for other shows, Xabungle and GoShogun come to mind, it is a serious jolt for my view on the classic Gundam Universe. Some may blame director Yoshiyuki Tomino since he has an interesting portfolio, but I know no anime is the sole responsibility of just one individual. Miyazaki may be the lone exception to that rule (he has his genius hands in everything) 🙂

ZZ_4Now for the main problem I have with ZZ. It is not the story, or the characters, or even the bizarre comedy. It is a more fundamental issue I have with many things in our culture. It’s that it is a product of a branding machine. The sole reason for ZZ’s existence is to continue a franchise to make more money. It’s a victim of marketing and higher ups trying to bend an already established universe and twist it around to make it appeal to someone else who would care less about Gundam. Gundam, like other properties, still continues today with constant revisiting leaving little room for originality. Perhaps mecha and Gundam perhaps are just dead concepts? Love live you beautiful giant robots.

…and also sometimes when a story is finished, it should be treated as such. Sequels after sequels are not always necessary.

So in the end we have a Gundam series that starts off with an introductory episode, the second episode features a food fight, we meet one of the missing Misfits from Jem and the Holograms and we get an episode where the boys have to dress up like girls to rescue their comrades. Not my typical definition of Gundam, but who knows, it may be more to your liking than you realize. ZZ Gundam may be far from perfect (what is perfect amyways?), but it is at least worth a view for the sake of posterity.

#45 : Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam

Whether in the afterworld or someplace else, the soul that used to inhabit this cold shell is probably not at peace. And further out there is a green planet… ” … I love that intro and yes I love this show. While I often think you can never go beyond an original, this is a big exception. This is not a sequel, nor a followup to Mobile Suit GundamMobile Suit Zeta Gundam is a melancholic ride of intensity that can never be topped.

ZG_1For me Zeta Gundam is the pinnacle of Gundam. I have not seen every Gundam series and to be honest I don’t know how I can. This show left a mark on me that I cannot shake even now. At it’s best it might be the most brutal and passionate tale of epic space opera mecha. The aftermath of ZZ Gundam and then Char’s Counterattack left me disappointed as I felt the story had no where else to go, or just didn’t go anywhere. Zeta Gundam, for me, was the top of what mecha once was and became. Even watching mecha related shows from later decades that take on the direct seriousness and drama, for me, are more cookie cutter or fall flat with being a bit too much for what it is (Evangelion is an exception, but that is it’s own brillance).

ZG_2When I first watched Zeta I had no idea what was going on and this was due to the fact that I had zero exposure to the Universal Century timeline. I watched almost a third of the show and proclaimed I had to go back a little further to make some sense of all this. Once I got around to the original Mobile Suit Gundam series and digested all there was I was in much better shape. I would come back to Zeta and digested the first half this time with glee and joy. I would eventually purchase the second half and, no lie, watched the final 25 episodes in what was possibly one of the greatest endurance runs of my life. In the span of a day and a half I would finish that second half and my life was never the same.

ZG_3Zeta takes place about eight years after the original series and for me the real draw is our new protagonist. I love Kamille Bidan. Some say he is troubled, maybe autistic. It may be that, but his confusion and angst mixed with raw ability hit very close to almost looking in the mirror. I get this guy, totally get this guy. Also with the reintroductions of Char Aznable… I mean Quattro Bajenna (love those shades dude), Amuro Ray (who I still find it hard to believe had a back seat role in this chapter), Bright Noa (welcome back captain) and most of the other members of the White Base crew makes everything proper and tidy. And with a plethora of many more new characters in this series as well, it is sad to say that a minority live to the end. Many tears have I shed over and over again over the loss of so many folks including the troubled Four Murasume and the brilliant Emma Sheen.

ZG_4Now I want to discuss the ending. How do you describe it… kind of like a car accident? All that heavy action and movement, which breaks to a moment of reflection and confusion which seems to stand still. Where am I, why do I feel in shock that I can’t even talk, what just happened? How sad to watch our protagonist, Kamille, once filled with such passion and drive become nothing more than a confused shell. And that is our finale. Cut… done. That’s it? Yup and somehow even though many call it a downer and open ended ending, I find it beyond satisfying. This is not some wrapped up in a bow Hollywood every one wins and smiles at the end kind of ending. This is a close the book, take a breathe and sighing out type of ending. You have to take some time to process what has just occurred and not just only the ending, but the whole show as an entirety. And because of the need of this processing, it stays with you. LIKE GLUE!

Zeta Gundam… a product of it’s time, a pinnacle of a generation and a classic for all time. One of my all time favorites now and forever.

#30 : Mobile Suit Gundam

1979 was a breakthrough year. And Mobile Suit Gundam was a breakthrough series, or was it? I see Gundam as a continuation, an evolution and a product of it’s time expressing the then fashionable mecha genre with space opera not unlike Space Battleship Yamato or Star Wars. But where Yamato was emotional and Star Wars was heroic, Gundam was intense passion. And that passion became a franchise bigger than it’s own name, an elephant in the room that now seems to define mecha itself. But nothing compares to an original and for me when you go back  ‘the’ original, it is hard to move ahead to what seems like a copycat for cash.

msg_1The original Gundam may have broke the mold in regards to looking at the large robot as a piece of utilitarian hardware instead of this super hero deus ex machina. But, Gundam did not happen in a bubble or was a happy accident. The mecha genre had been building through the 1970s and the likes of Yoshiyuki Tomino (Gundam’s creator/director) and Tadao Nagahama both pushed story and character development through the later part of the decade. Two shows from 1977 deserve the place as major stepping stones leading to Gundam, Nagahama’s Voltes V and Tomino’s Zambot 3. If you love mecha and consider Gundam to be the true beginning of mecha as serious storytelling, you may have to scratch that surface again.

msg_2Why do I love the original Gundam so? Simple answer… it’s good. Damn good… no great. An epitome of the concept of the large epic space opera. Top it off for it being harder sci-fi as well. Warp drives and far out deep space are out. We are going to stay close to the Earth sphere for this story. Let’s strip out a bit of the super fantastic and make it about political ideals. A corrupt unified government, the Earth Federation, versus an even more corrupt family dictatorship, the Zeon (Jeon?) Empire that can likened to the Godfather or I Claudius. And everyone else is in between and by due fact of geography resides to one of those sides, which is where a majority of our main cast resides. Many aboard a Federation ship called White Base, which houses the Federation’s newest prototype, the RX78-02 Gundam.

msg_3And this tale has one of the greatest rivalry combinations pitting an electronics obsessed otaku kid who wants nothing to do with fighting or war against a blonde elitist pilot who must be in disguise in order to carry out his own personal revenge for the wrong done to his family. Amuro vs. Char, a combo remade too many times in each successive Gundam series that may look good on paper, but never approaches the original. In between both men are two women, Char’s distant sister Sayla Mass, who is close to Amuro, and the woman of mystery who flirts with the hearts of Amuro and Char, Lalah Sune. It is more than a rivalry of who is a better pilot, or for which side of the conflict they fight for. It is personal and full of blind angst that can’t be expressed except between two lost souls needing conflict to justify their existences. As Marshall McLuhan says “Violence as a Quest for Identity.” This is a bonafide soap opera.

msg_4And this is just another robot show? Well at least it was in 1979. Ratings were not too hot, but a certain group of fans caught on, very similar to original Yamato. And both would get a second chance in the theaters. My chance to experience original Gundam came after encounters with first Gundam Wing, which left me a little empty, and the first half of Zeta Gundam, which left me a little confused. I tried original Gundam next and I could not go back. Zeta Gundam made much more sense and I became a die hard fan of the Universal Century timeline with two conditions: first it has to be helmed by Yoshiyuki Tomino and two, it has to feature Amuro and Char. Gundam is not Gundam without these combinations for me similar to the way I see Macross as being the story of Hikaru, Misa and Minmei.

msg_5Of all the hype for Star Wars or the newest Gundam release, the original Mobile Suit Gundam will always stick out to me. Well Zeta Gundam is a love of mine as well, but there would be no Zeta Gundam without the original. Also no Macross as well, so it is to be said if Gundam never came out who would have known where or if my fandom would have occured. If you ask me where do you start with Gundam, I have only one answer. Start at the very beginning with the original Mobile Suit Gundam.

#23 : The Ideon: A Contact/Be Invoked

How often do we get to have a second chance? Have you ever had an idea, a story or a project that was meant for a bigger promise and an even bigger finale? Often times some stories, be it anime or otherwise, get a premature conclusion. This would be the second production in a row where Yoshiyuki Tomino would go back and retell his story again after early cancellation. The first was that little show he did a season previously called Mobile Suit Gundam, though that was more a refinement of the overall story. For Space Runaway Ideon, the ending was completely cut and rushed leaving a universe of questioning what just happened? Two years later the missing pieces and a proper ending would emerge in the theaters as The Ideon: A Contact and The Ideon: Be Invoked.

idem_1For my money Ideon is the ultimate super robot tale, maybe even the most amazing space opera I have experienced as well. Tackling issues of xenophobia and higher cosmic metaphysics around a large cast of characters that go through beyond the sublime. The Ideon robot, for me, is the most terrifying machine… EVER! The Ideon is not so much a robot and the Ide energy is more than spiritual mumbo jumbo. These are acts of nature, an act of whatever name you want to call the deity, or the ultimate power of the universe. Perhaps the embodiment of the universe itself as neither good nor bad, it just is. Perhaps the energies to keep the cycles of life and evolution flowing, continuing and growing. All of this from the origins of a simple toy sponsored show with funky disco derived fashions. Truly a concept beyond it’s physical package.

idem_2First let’s look at A Contact. There is nothing new here if you are already familiar with the TV series. Retelling the first two thirds of the series in a condensed structure makes the movie move quite fast, but I would still recommend viewing it as there is nothing wrong with reviewing the events leading up to Be Invoked. Though for those of you who have yet to see the Ideon TV series I would highly recommend diving into the 39 episodes that were produced as you get a little more background. There is nothing wrong with cutting out the fat so they say, but when you cut into the meat as well it can leave you a little hungry.

idem_3Now for Be Invoked. I really, really, really and truly love this movie and what it did for me. After watching the TV series, then A Contact I would move to Be Invoked and felt a sense of satisfaction that this journey was worth the work. The masterpiece was at the end, much like the final movement of a great symphony. The same thing happened to me with Patlabor. The original OVA, to the first movie and then Patlabor 2: The Movie as a finale was like being bathed in something words can never describe. I have seen the promised land and but it truly moved me. It’s moments like this that make me most happy. Many have said that the Ideon movies are much like the Evangelion movie duo, Death and Rebirth and End of… , but I disagree. True, Gainax was yet again paying tribute by following a formula, but the Eva movies presented an alternate ending kind of like ‘top this if you didn’t like how the TV series ended’ because we gave you the end and you thought it was not enough. But where both franchises are similar in their movie adaptation is the fact that they end BIG!

idem_4But what about Be Invoked makes it so worthwhile personally. Ideon for me is one of if not the darkest sci-fi space opera I have witnessed. Yoshiyuki Tomino would let it all out with the plot revolving around two civilizations who can only fight each other. When characters die, they die and tragically, not unlike Zeta Gundam and Aura Battler Dunbine. And in Ideon everyone pays the final price, kind of like and old saying I heard as how serious is life, you won’t get out of it alive. If this spoils things I am sorry, but Ideon is known as the show where everyone and everything dies. But, from the movie I have gained a new perspective on the concept of death. The floating spirits being reborn to a higher consciousness is a welcome concept. It is not over when the physical organism is done, you continue on although not in the same state of mind or body. That and the wisdom of Alan Watts stating that death is like going to sleep without waking up, or being born is awakening without a memory of falling asleep. So instead of death it is rebirth and as I have often said in the end, we will all die and live happily ever after.

It’s big, it’s bold, it’s one of Sunrise’s best robot franchises ever. Would I ever want to see a remake? Well much like Citizen Kane, how do you top perfection done right the first time? Particularly with that great orchestral score (I love those soundtracks). Oh Ideon, how you rocked my world.

 

 

 

#6 : Combat Mecha Xabungle

Xabungle4During an era when mecha shows on television were beginning to grow into a new form of sophistication through serious science fiction epics, which feature the titular named robot. Shows like the Xambot 3, Voltes 5, the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Ideon and Baldios showed the way into future. But, with all this taking everything completely seriously, there were moments when these studios and creators decided to do things a little more silly and spastic. Combat Mecha Xabungle would fit this alternate idea perfectly.

Xabungle2Ask many fans to say if they have heard of Yoshiyuki Tomino and usually two responses comes out: one, he is the guy who created Gundam and/or he is the guy who made horrid garbage like Garvey’s Wing. Of course there is middle ground in his career and Xabungle fits in quite nicely towards the better quality end. Known for his dark serious stories, which usually entail a large scale of character deaths. Now, would it surprise you that Mr. Tomino and staff can actually have a sense of humor? It goes to show that his popular reputation may not be completely true, though it is true he can be a bit of a cranky old man like Miyazaki (Hey kids get off my lawn!).

Xabungle is set in the future on the planet Zola, but this future takes it’s cues from the American Wild West. Though I would say it is not completely is this subject as there are themes that do not match up to the western genre, but the attitude is there. You do have cowboys, can-can dancers and towns in the desert, but you also have large land gunships, a caste system where the ruling class live in domed cities and other sci-fi concepts like brainwashing and large robots (yeah for giant robots). Also, on this planet there is basically one law, if you wish to seek revenge you have three days to accomplish your task. After that you should forgive what has been done and for our hero Jiron Amos, this is a law worth breaking. After all Timp Sharon, a guy who looks a lot like Clint Eastwood, murdered his parents. And would you take that standing down? No, but of course in the spirit of this show you have to trip, hover in the air, try to run back and fall down in the process.

Xabungle3I was surprised how well the comedy actually fit into the story. It is possible there may have been influence from the currently running Urusei Yatsura, famous for it’s hijinks, and maybe even the previous year’s parody filled GoShogun. I am sure this may have been partial to the fact as well to attract younger viewers, as this show was based on toys and not a model kit line, like that of Gundam. And in the tradition of Tomino character naming, we get some odd ones like Rag, Elchi, Blume and Chill (who has to be one of the best kid sidekick characters I have every seen) to name a few. But nothing tops Fatman, yeah Fat-o-man is more the appropriate pronunciation, but he is a muscle hulking quiet guy, not so much a fat man (still nothing tops Shot Weapon from Dunbine). But certain times there is some crafty writing such as Jiron saying, ‘I am the main character here’, or the comment when five of the characters end up in the Xabungle (by the way, it was built for two) and the comment came up, ‘hey why are there five in the Xabungle?’ ‘Well thats what you usually do in mech shows.’ EXACTLY! Let’s form Voltron, right?

Also, how many mecha series do you know where the robots, or should I say “Walker Machines”, run on ordinary pump gasoline, the same stuff you put into your car? The Xabungle does this, even the controls are a car’s steering wheel. And as for the titular blue bot, it’s not a bad design and it grew on me, but it’s replacement the Gallier never excited me. But the crown and glory is the Iron Gear, the heroes main land ship that turns into a giant robot (but no where near as impressive as the mighty Macross).

Xabungle1Xabungle never blew my mind, but I was not expecting a masterpiece. This show is a fun, silly time. It’s good, not great and I can’t call  it a classic, but it is one of those buried oddities that gets forgotten each passing year. In some ways I almost feel this show kind of harkens back to the simpler robot shows of the 1970s, though having a more complex plot structure without taking itself too seriously. If you have seen Xabungle, I salute you.