The Great Gundam Project (GGP) became my favorite podcast last year for their insightful criticism and leftist readings of the popular anime series. I had only begun my journey through Gundam last year, simultaneously keeping up with the current podcast and watching the original series. I continued that trajectory even though the big series that they covered were referential to shows I hadn’t watched yet. My watch order ended up being After War Gundam X > Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz > Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam > Turn A Gundam > Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (currently watching). For the spoiler adverse I would 100% not recommend this. Gundam X and Turn A Gundam are both in communication with past Gundam series which made watching them GGP more enriching. It also meant that I was spoiled on a number of occasions and for series I hadn’t even got to yet. Some spoilers came from the shows but were relatively minor, like Mobile Suits I hadn’t seen showing up in Turn A Gundam (the Kapol hadn’t yet appeared in ZZ for me). Others were integral in discussions of the shows on the podcast like Em, Jackson, and Austin discussed depictions of Newtypes across various series. This didn’t hurt my personal enjoyment of the individual series and watching alongside enhanced my reading of them. For now my watch order will continue to be a bit odd at least until I get caught up through all the ones leading up to G Gundam (watched it as a kid, not especially enticed to rewatch). All of these series are bangers too. I’m kind of shocked how good of a time I had watching different variations of similar ideas play out. The list of shows are all fairly distinct from one another even as they recycle and mine new parts out of core Gundam ideas (Endless Waltz being an exception here). I think I’m probably in the honeymoon period of the Gundam series if duds like Wing and 08th MS Team from last year prove anything. I’m only just starting Mobile Suit Gundam Seed but I’m seeing a lot of potential red flags pop up around some of its ideas like “Naturals” and “Coordinators” (the OP and ED songs rip though).
The ideas that really carry over across these series seem to stem back from Gundam inflection point Zeta Gundam. Zeta was the first big Gundam tv series as the original Mobile Suit Gundam (0079) was canceled and didn’t gain popularity until the compilation movies released a few years later. 0079 introduces an important Gundam idea relatively late into the series; the existence of Newtypes, people with extrasensory abilities that come from being “free of Earth’s gravity.” Depending on the series you’re watching, Newtypes are seen as the next step of human evolution. Newtypes are relatively rare and are often seen in Gundam among Mobile Suit pilots and especially protagonists. The relative importance of Newtypes changes from show to show and sometimes they’re never even mentioned. What does occur regardless of if Newtypes are mentioned by name is the same sort of psychedelia; even without Newtypes most Gundam shows will still incorporate a way to illustrate the invisible connections between people and the universe around them.
A big differentiator between Zeta and 0079, aside from the tone shift, is the knowledge and treatment of Newtypes. 0079 ends on a relatively positive note. The White Base seemingly all awaken their Newtype abilities as they hear Amuro’s voice from across time and space. The entire bridge crew is able to tap into the psychic communication that Amuro had been experiencing and there’s a sense of unity in the show’s closing moments. Zeta Gundam knows the audience has an understanding of Newtypes and immediately starts playing with that through the new chosen boy Kamille as he experiences Newtype flashes in the midst of his no good, very bad day. Zeta is interested in exploring the arms race for Newtypes, both in the AEUG’s utilization of Kamille and the Titans experiments with the new “Cyber Newtypes.” Newtypes are weapons and the other aspects of this transformation, the unlimited possibilities of an evolution in humanity, is ignored. Kamille and Four, the main Cyber Newtype of the show, make for a convincing pair of star crossed lovers. Their instant chemistry at New Hong Kong offers a glimpse at what civilian life could be for the two of them. They’re both isolated among their respective groups even if Kamille is offered the illusion of freedom. Zeta is a dark show though and there is nothing more doomed in the series than a woman. Four’s tragic death at the hands of Kamille signals the tragic fates that await the rest of the female cast. Zeta often earns its darker tone but the motivations of the women go completely haywire in the final stretch. I wrote a bit about that in August and the endings really soured me on Zeta. I still have a lot of fondness for Zeta but it’s the one I’d have the most reservations about recommending.
That statement could completely change by the time I finish Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ as I am about 10 episodes away from the finish. The maligned sequel to Zeta has much stronger character work following the remnants of a diminished AEUG as they find themselves working with a crew of kids from the forgotten colony of Shangri-La. The lack of traditional officers and adults working aboard the Argama means that the “Gundam Team,” led by Newtype Judau Ashta, have more agency over their actions. Judau is the polar opposite of Amuro and Kamille. He has a better understanding of a life outside of the war and even has motivations that are separate from being the best pilot (or being forced to be that). Judau also has the agency to express compassion for others and the Gundam Teams’ solo missions are usually motivated by helping people (this doesn’t always go as planned). Judau is able to do this because he’s not indoctrinated in the same way as Amuro and Kamille. The “get in the robot” pressure doesn’t come from military leaders or Quattro but instead his peers. That means he never has to develop a personal involvement with the military and gets great moments fighting against orders throughout the series.
Judau also literally contrasts Kamille in their episodes together, a kind of worst case scenario for Judau if he ever loses his agency. Kamille is a shell of the person he once was, his Newtype abilities turning against him after experiencing so much loss. Judau’s abilities seem to only awaken when he’s protecting someone, like when he faces Haman Karn to Dhakar. Judau’s intense pressure only exerts itself when he needs it most. His new humanity shows in his compassion and his caretaking of Ple, the young Cyber Newtype. I’m hesitant to dig too much into it as I know there’s future things about Ple that I haven’t seen yet. In the earlier episodes though, Judau’s effortless support of Ple allows her to move beyond the trappings of being a “weapon.” Judau’s humanity helps Ple find hers. I also want to call attention to how refreshing the tone of ZZ is. There’s understandable whiplash at the start as it goes from the dark ending of Zeta into slapstick comedy right from the jump. This eventually settles out into a more balanced tone of light and dark elements, something more similar to 0079’s. There’s a ton of great material showing just how rotten the Earth Federation is and the evilness that comes from people with power and authority. The colony drop on Dublin is a great example, showing the lengths Neo Zeon will go to assert dominance and the Earth Federation’s inaction letting the city be destroyed. Don’t believe the negative press; if you can get past the initial hump there’s a really fantastic show waiting for you.
Speaking of refreshing, I found another ignored series After War Gundam X to be an absolute hidden gem. The canceled series is overlooked in the wider Gundam canon; I don’t even think it rises to the level of hate that other shows get just a more passable “eh.” I was surprised by how much I liked it and how much I still think about it. Gundam X plays with a lot of Gundam tradition in a new setting; a post apocalypse Earth that was ruined from Colony drops from the previous war. Surprisingly our protagonist is not the main Newtype of the show as Garrod Ran is just a normal boy who stumbles into piloting the Gundam. He becomes immediately smitten with Tiffa Adill, a young Newtype with powerful clairvoyance and psychic abilities. Together they join the Freeden and the captain Jamille Neate’s mission of finding and rescuing the world’s Newtypes. Jamille is also a Newtype, one who was part of the Earth military. His mission is one of reconciliation and his character is like if Amuro actually took stock and grew from his actions. The presence of Newtype-ness is strong in Gundam X dissecting how Newtype’s were treated and what it actually means to be one.
In fact Tiffa never thinks of herself as Newtype, just someone who was born with extra senses. She’s also different from the typical depiction of a Newtype as their abilities are usually awakened free in space. There’s a hardline distinction between people with psychic abilities and Newtypes that comes directly from the opposing sides of Earth and Space. The Earth military is up to their usual business of trying to create Newtypes and characters like the Frost Brothers are seen as failures (literally called “Category F”). They both only have telepathy between each other but are incompatible with the “Flash System,” Newtype military tech, of the Earth. The Space Revolutionary Army, the space government, on the other hand believes that they are a civilization of Newtypes and all people born in space are one. Their ideal is reminiscent of Eugenics, believing themselves to be a new and superior race. The climactic confrontation with D.O.M.E. stresses the show’s message; to dispel the idea of Newtype and end the conflicts over them. Newtype is a label, a word used to dehumanize individuals and turn them into tools. It’s used for ideological and military purposes and in fact is just an illusion. It’s a poignant message on a wider Gundam motif, offering a final message on the recurrent state of the Gundam series. Gundam X says to cast off your old preconceptions for how these series should go and open yourself up to new possibilities. Too bad nobody watched it. Also this show has incredible mech designs including my personal favorite the Juracg Cold Climate Type (snowboarding suit!). The character work here is great as well and I loved the entire wider cast (also pro the Enil and Tonya ship).
It’s also just as interesting when a series excludes using the term “Newtype” like in the best Gundam show Turn A Gundam. It doesn’t mean that psychic connection is gone from the series but rather it’s not a focal point. Turn A shifts the setting to a post-post apocalypse Earth where humans have rebuilt society with limited technology. It looks similar to our understanding of turn of the century life, taking place in on the continent of “Ameria” and that has yet to develop industry. There are early cars, propeller planes and some electricity but the majority of work is still physical labor. Instead of people being on colonies, our Spacenoids come from the Moon. Our protagonist Loran is sent down to monitor the Earth and see if it is compatible for the Moon Race to return. There’s a heavy emphasis on connection with nature and Loran is immediately awestruck with the abundance of Earth. There’s a great moment where he exclaims to the Moon how beautiful the Earth is. His ideal life ends when the Moon Race enact their return plan and a conflict breaks out between them and the Earthers their transplanting. Turn A deals a lot with Settler Colonialism, two sides fighting over land and community distribution. It’s really distinct from other Gundam conflicts as the two sides are less coordinated and organized. Ameria isn’t a connected Nation and the Moon Race are led by a kind Monarch. It’s less about warring factions trying to subjugate the other and more about differing ideas on how to coexist or expelling the other people entirely.
Loran is different from the other Gundam boys, having dark skin and no overt psychic abilities. He has a compassionate nature though and that often leads others to use him for nefarious ends. That trait though is his greatest asset. Loran is able to show the cooperative nature of humanity like using the Gundam as a tool for assistance (a bridge for cars to drive over, creating a laundry machine in a river) rather than for war. It’s this wider understanding of a shared humanity that ultimately leads to the Gundams cocooning. He finally understands that weapons of war will always be used for that and the Gundam almost seems at peace. Turn A’s bittersweet ending shows life moving on. There’s no tidy resolution to the world’s problems, just an adaptation to a new normal. I teared up watching the hurt and joy that accompanied the individual characters’ endings (Sochie deserves better). It’s a beautiful show from start to finish.
It’s rather funny that I’m finishing with the OVA/movie that also deals with weapons of war being destroyed but in a clunkier manner. Gundam Wing is certainly not one for complex ideas and neither is Endless Waltz. The one thing Endless Waltz has going for it though is the short runtime, cramming all the good high melodrama of the series into an hour and a half. And that’s why you come to Gundam Wing; the heightened sensibilities and dead serious attitude. The movie deals with Gundam boys (minus Wu Fei) sending the Gundams into the sun so there will be no more fighting. But wait a faction emerges with Mobile Suits! It’s now a race for them to retrieve the Gundams and save the day. It’s all pretty pedantic dealing once again with how to achieve absolute pacifism and disarmament. If you can go along for the ride though you’re in for a feast of great Mobile Suit fights and dialogue taken directly from soaps (in a good way). I love Endless Waltz for all its popcorn energy especially the new over the top Gundam designs (hell ya for actually feathers and wings on a Gundam). It’s a great time.
I’m very thankful for all these great series and have the feeling it’s only down from here. Maybe that’s a bit uncharitable as I still have older OVAs and Victory to go through. This year was a true Gundam feast though and I’m excited to continue on the journey.