Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)

I reviewed both halves of the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime series for (Neo, Uncooked Media). My review of the first half is on the Neo website, while my review of the second half is below.

In Neo 143, we heaped praise on the first half of Gundam, a venerable thirty-six year old show still worth five stars. We conceded, though, that the later episodes were less convincing and compelling. Bad news: this decline continues a way into volume two, with slacker plotting and action that plays like diminished-returns replays of the exciting early episodes. Good news: it improves if you stay with it, with many rewards and a great ending.

The story carries straight on from the first set, returning to the crew of White Base in the desert of a war-torn Earth. The opening episodes tie up some story ends, but feel mediocre; even another tragic character death feels perfunctory. At least Char soon reappears, though he’s slow to regain centre stage, while the scene changes add interest. We see sea-monster style mecha with webbed hands attacking the characters at a stormy Belfast. Then it’s on to South America for a jungle battle, with mecha swinging through tunnels like burrowing moles. The later suits are even more ludicrous, but fun.

Some moments are exasperatingly misjudged, like a scene where Amuro rails against a snooty commander who’s giving out an insulting posthumous ‘promotion’ to the boy’s dead friend. It’s a great dramatic moment… and gets promptly spoiled by goofy animation of the commander’s outrage. On the other hand, the same episode takes one of the most dreaded scenarios in a TV show, the ‘annoying kids must save the day’ story, and makes it amusingly enjoyable.

The set is full of such mixed virtues. Consider two new characters added to the show. One is a new crewmember for White Base, the roguish, hulking Sleggar, rumoured to be modelled in real life on Rocky-era Sylvester Stallone. Sleggar’s attitude is more like an unreconstructed 007, hitting a woman in the face to – quite literally – slap sense into her. You can laugh at the macho overstatement or take offence, and probably both at once. Let’s not even talk about the woman’s reaction…

Yet the series is progressive for 1979 in giving a pivotal role to a beautiful Indian woman, Lalah, memorably introduced from nowhere in a storm. It’s Lalah who brings “Newtypes” to the fore, Gundam’s name for the next evolution of humanity. If you’ve seen the Gundam film compilations, they endlessly force the Newtype idea into rewritten dialogue. The original lets Newtypes emerge effectively, gracefully and inherently tragically. They’re embodied in a dying swan descending through rain which we see Lalah admiring. You may criticise Lalah herself as an overly “exotic” foreign figure, but she’s a wonderful creation of anime, an angel dealing death whose singing mecha attacks foreshadow RahXephon.

By the time Lalah appears, the series has returned to space and (ironically) found its feet. There are multiple story payoffs, titanic battles, Gundam’s version of the 2001 stargate, and a tremendous final fight, going from hundreds of spaceships and robot suits to two flying men duelling with swords. It’s well-known that Gundam’s run was shortened on TV, but you don’t feel it at all. If Gundam had ended with this first series, it would still be tremendously satisfying.

Of course, it didn’t end – Anime Limited has already acquired the 1985 sequel series, Zeta Gundam. The saga has only begun…