My love for the mecha anime genre is well-documented on this blog and elsewhere. And of course, Gundam is the granddaddy of the genre, such a huge franchise! Which is also why we never watched a Gundam series, because it is just frankly too ‘deep’ to just jump into without getting hopelessly lost in a sea of characters, factions and mecha.
(I’m not counting Gundam Build Fighters and its second season as ‘proper’ Gundam series, because it’s not set in the ‘Gundam universe’ but focuses on the plastic models (‘gunpla’) instead. There is the occasional nod to events in the series, but you don’t need to have that background to watch Build Fighters.)
I did watch half an episode of the original series, but I bounced off because it was really outdated in a lot of ways. One website with advice on how to ‘ease into’ Gundam states that this is the best way to know what is going on, and that not watching a series because of the outdated animation is like not playing old games because the graphics are bad. But of course it’s not just the animation that’s outdated, but also the art style and the storytelling — things were certainly different in the early 80s! And also: lots of older games get ‘remastered’ re-releases with improved graphics — so apparently there is a market for the same thing but then prettier!
We watched Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn RE:0096, a re-cut of a series of theatrical releases into a TV series — there are some odd twists and turns to make the episodes fit in the whole timeslot, and I do have the feeling that a few things were left out, but it does make it easier to ‘digest’. It’s set at the year 96 in the ‘Universal Century’, which started with the Earth Federation building massive space colonies — and with a terrorist attack on ‘Laplace’, the space colony where the ceremony for the new year reckoning was going to be held. This attack set the narrative for the conflict between the Earth Federation (the ‘earthnoids’) and the space inhabitants (the ‘spacenoids’) for control over the space colonies. Teenager Banagher gets thrown in the middle of it all when he rescues a Zeon princess and gets shoved into the cockpit of the ‘Unicorn Gundam’ by his father, the current head of a foundation that was basically blackmailing the Earth Federation for privileges based on their possession of the ‘Laplace Box’, which could upset the power balance greatly when its contents were made public.
…Yes, it’s a lot. But it all gets (kinda) explained, and I was able to look up the rest, so at the end we had an idea of what it was all about.
What I really liked was how alliances shift as the situation (both political and military) changes. A character who is out for blood in one episode might be compelled to cooperate with their former enemies in the next episode — in a way that makes sense. That’s no mean feat of storywriting, but it does add to the complexity of the story — and if you need to know the ‘in-universe background’ to understand the shift, then that’s adding an additional burden on the first-time Gundam viewer.
But: we finished it, and I might look into watching more Gundam series. With the background knowledge that we have now, we might even make sense of it!