April 7, 1979 was the date of the Japanese premiere of Yoshiyuki Tomino’s Mobile Suit Gundam, a low-rated sci-fi anime present about big robots that—within the 40 years since—has used the superior energy of merchandising to develop into a popular culture pressure that’s primarily on par with one thing like Star Wars right here within the United States. When Mobile Suit Gundam debuted, most big robotic anime was about magical, sentient robots preventing towards the forces of evil, however Gundam was extra of an unflinching (but nonetheless by some means kid-friendly) struggle drama that confirmed common individuals interacting with extra lifelike equipment. Old mecha anime confirmed robots being operated by radio instructions or fantastical power, however mecha in Gundam have been operated extra like they might be in actual life, with pedals and levers and tactile switches (paving the best way for stuff like Robotech right here within the West).
Since the unique present launched, the Gundam model has raked in cash from video video games and mannequin kits, all whereas Japanese animation studio Sunrise has continued to crank out over a dozen sequels and spin-off exhibits. Despite this lengthy historical past, understanding what makes Gundam particular isn’t truly too exhausting. You simply want to know the place to begin.
So, what’s a Gundam? The numerous exhibits have their very own explanations, as they don’t all happen in the identical universe, however the straightforward model is that it’s a selected variety of “cellular go well with”—which is the generic time period for an enormous, humanoid robotic that a pilot can experience in like a tank. In the unique collection, cellular fits are used for conflict as a result of future know-how has made long-range gear like radar and guided missiles ineffective, they usually’re formed like individuals as a result of, nicely, it appears cool. Depending on the story, a Gundam is both a state-of-the-art, bleeding-edge weapon of struggle or an historic, outdated piece of equipment that was left behind for being too unique or harmful.
You can inform a Gundam from each different cellular go well with as a result of they sometimes have an eyebrow-like crest on the brow, a pink chin factor, and a primarily white paint scheme with occasional pink or blue highlights. Some Gundams have wings, some have lightsabers, some can rework, and a few carry huge cannons which might be the dimensions of an oil tanker. However, the simplest approach to determine a Gundam is by determining which character in a given present is the “good guy.” If they’ve an enormous robotic that absolutely shreds each different robotic, that one might be the Gundam. You may acknowledge the Gundam from its cameo in Ready Player One.
The nebulous definition of what a Gundam truly is has allowed Sunrise to design numerous totally different variations on the essential design for various exhibits, which has additionally allowed it to merchandise the Gundam model to oblivion. Gunpla—a portmanteau of “Gundam” and “plastic”—is a line of mannequin kits that has been round virtually so long as Gundam itself (although the identify is a newer invention), with just about each single cellular go well with that has ever appeared on any present having been out there in several scales with totally different gimmicks and utilizing totally different advances in plastic mould know-how sooner or later. Merchandise is so necessary to the Gundam model that the official web site spends a big quantity of time detailing the different beverages available at the Gundam cafes in Japan.
The different essential factor to clarify is that there are two sorts of Gundam tales. Well, there are as many various sorts of tales as there are tales themselves, since each artistic group places a special spin on the essential idea (there are area operas, Band Of Brothers-style items on the day by day lives of troopers, and Pokémon-style child adventures), however every of these tales falls into one of two classes: the “Universal Century” tales that composes the primary canon and those that exist outdoors it—I’m going to name them “Alternate Universe” for the needs of this guide.
All of the Universal Century tales are tied not directly to the unique Mobile Suit Gundam, whereas all of the others happen in their very own universes and usually haven’t any connection to another collection past the looks of no less than one Gundam and a quantity of particular tropes and direct aesthetic callbacks which might be current in each Gundam story in a method or one other. Most of these revolve across the hero of Mobile Suit Gundam, Amuro Ray, and his masked rival, Char Aznable. Many Gundam tales contain a longstanding feud between two characters, with one of them sometimes donning a masks and being related to the colour purple, a direct callback to that central relationship from the unique present.
The last lesson that’s essential to understanding Gundam is that each collection, from the bleakest drama to the silliest aspect story, is deeply and enthusiastically anti-war. The motion in Gundam is usually thrilling, and the excessive level of some exhibits is the best way shit blows up actual good, however the cool robots are actually only a lure to lure motion and sci-fi followers into recognizing that warfare is silly, the individuals who struggle in wars are sometimes getting used as nothing however instruments of some highly effective individual’s greed, and the toll that warfare takes on troopers, civilians, and the setting is never—if ever—value it. Sometimes this deeper message doesn’t even attempt to be delicate, like in a single film the place an thrilling battle is intercut with civilians on the bottom being crushed to dying by the enormous bullet casings flying out of a cellular go well with’s monumental machine gun. The imagery couldn’t probably be extra on the nostril, however typically the best anti-war message is the one you don’t have to take into consideration too arduous.
With these essential notes in thoughts, we’ll be breaking this guide down between the Universal Century and Alternate Universe exhibits and storylines that make the best entry factors.
Universal Century: Mobile Suit Gundam
There’s no higher place to begin than the start. Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) establishes the principles of its universe and lays the groundwork for each UC story that follows, even ones that happen many years later. Here’s the essential model: MSG takes place in UC 0079, so 79 years after mankind has developed area colonies that orbit the Earth. Before that, historical past progressed simply because it did in our universe, which is simply actually related within the sense that each one of the identical wars that have been fought in our historical past have been additionally fought a number of centuries prior to the occasions of MSG. One fascinating element that units MSG aside from different mecha anime of its period is that, whereas the cellular fits all have names (like Gundam or Zaku), additionally they have chilly army designations (like RX-78-2 or MS-06 Zaku II) that add to the concept that is all simply hardware and never something magical.
The entirety of MSG takes place throughout what is known as the One Year War, a battle between the unified Earth Federation authorities and a gaggle of area colonist rebels referred to as the Principality Of Zeon. The Federation are principally the “good guys” by default, principally as a result of they only need to uphold the established order, but in addition as a result of the power-hungry Zabi household that runs the Zeon forces have a nasty behavior of doing terrible shit like dropping an unlimited colony on the planet that obliterates the whole thing of Australia. That being stated, the Federation is simply marginally higher, with its personal provide of super-weapons and tendency to make backroom offers that put sustaining its personal energy over truly defending individuals.
The primary plot of the collection facilities on Amuro Ray, the teenage son of a scientist who helps the Federation design a brand new cellular go well with referred to as—anticipate it—the Gundam. When a squad of Zeon troops led by a hotshot ace named Char Aznable attempt to assault Amuro’s residence colony, he makes use of his secret information of his father’s venture to pilot the Gundam and battle them off, inadvertently getting himself and his associates conscripted into the Federation army. Char, who turns into Amuro’s longtime rival, occurs to be on a mission of his personal: He’s truly the long-lost son of a political chief who impressed what turned the Zeon motion, and he needs to execute the Zabi household as a result of he believes they killed his father in an influence seize (they completely did).
The animation in MSG isn’t nice, however the story holds up properly, particularly in a collection of compilation films that got here out later and condensed the plot down to a extra manageable size. Also, after testing MSG, there’s a prequel miniseries referred to as Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin (tailored from a manga of the identical identify) that follows Char from his childhood to the moments proper earlier than the beginning of the collection. The story is usually fascinating for the best way it provides some of the Zeon characters a much bigger highlight, however its kinetic and classy cellular go well with battles are the best half.
Alternate Century: New Mobile Report Gundam Wing, Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz
Thanks to Cartoon Network’s Toonami block airing the present within the late-’90s, the Gundam present that the majority Americans are in all probability already acquainted with is Gundam Wing (1995-1996). Fortunately, it’s an excellent entry level for non-Universal Century Gundam tales, happening in a completely separate timeline referred to as “After Colony.” Unlike MSG, Wing isn’t about warring factions, focusing as an alternative on a staff of 5 younger Gundam pilots who’re despatched by revolutionaries dwelling in area colonies to dismantle the corrupt Earth authorities—an inversion of MSG’s plot, in a approach. The 5 pilots are all youngsters, like Amuro, and one of them shortly develops a rivalry with an enemy ace who has a masks, makes use of a pretend identify, and wears a pink uniform. Unlike Amuro, although, the pilots in Wing are all tremendous cool teen boys with cool hairstyles that kind of rely as personalities.
As nice and influential as MSG is, Wing is arguably the best place to begin with Gundam. It’s trustworthy to the core themes of a Gundam story, particularly the futility of warfare and the concept true evil doesn’t essentially exist, nevertheless it repackages them with a really teenage “us against them” angle that has broader attraction than a conflict story. Not all of us can relate to actually choosing up arms to battle on your residence, the best way Amuro does, however who hasn’t felt like they and their buddies are the one ones who can see how corrupt and heartless the individuals in energy are? Also, there’s a scene through which the feminine lead invitations the primary Gundam pilot to her party, and he responds, “I’ll kill you,” in a totally flat monotone. It’s lovely.
The story continued in Endless Waltz (1997), a sequel film that takes place shortly after the top of the collection and options really absurd new designs for all of its Gundams (why would a robotic want wings with feathers?). It actually hammers in the concept the Gundams—like all weapons of conflict—do extra hurt than good, with some of the pilots celebrating the top of the battle in the primary collection by launching their fits into the solar. It additionally ends with an audacious observe that claims all warfare has been definitively abolished within the After Colony universe, which is somewhat low cost and tacky, however it’s additionally one thing that, say, Star Wars might by no means do. Wing and EW truly put within the work to set up that even its worst antagonists typically have good intentions, and it’s refreshing to see a struggle story that means the arc of historical past might and will bend towards pacifism. Also, simply pay attention to the music on this sequence and check out not to get hyped.
Universal Century: The 08th MS Team, Zeta Gundam, Gundam ZZ, Gundam Thunderbolt
With the bottom information of the One Year War and the Universal Century established, the Gundam choices open up significantly. Zeta Gundam (1985) is a direct sequel to the occasions of MSG, with the Earth Federation making a full-on heel flip and a new rookie pilot grabbing a Gundam and becoming a member of up with a band of rebels—one of whom bears a suspicious similarity to Char—towards the more and more fascistic Federation regime. Gundam ZZ (1986, pronounced Double Zeta) is a sequel to Zeta, however the story begins to really feel much less important because it strikes farther from the acquainted motivations of the preliminary Zeon/Federation struggle.
Instead, the best tales to discover right here—and arguably the best tales in the complete Gundam canon—are those that happen concurrently with MSG’s depiction of the One Year War however don’t immediately contain the key gamers of that saga. The 08th MS Team (1996) miniseries is definitely a excessive level of all the franchise, setting the motion in a jungle on Earth and specializing in a ragtag group of Federation troops who come upon a secret Zeon super-weapon—all whereas the squad’s chief hides the truth that he and the sister of a high-ranking Zeon officer have fallen in love. It’s principally Romeo And Juliet set throughout a sci-fi interpretation of the Vietnam War, and if that doesn’t suggest a narrative concerning the inherent futility of fight, nothing does. On prime of that, one of the troopers is an aspiring pop songwriter, which is a really enjoyable element, and 08th MS Team contains a spectacular showdown between the eponymous squad and a single Zeon pilot within the ruins of a metropolis that makes the entire present value watching (although it’s value watching anyway).
Another good story right here is Gundam Thunderbolt (2017), which is kind of a critique of the friendly-ish rivalry between Amuro and Char. Set close to the top of the One Year War, it’s a few cocky, jazz-loving Gundam pilot locked in a determined, protracted battle with a Zeon sniper who’s a member of a division solely staffed with troopers who suffered grievous warfare accidents. Both sides within the battle find yourself wanting like monsters in Thunderbolt, displaying simply how harmful that sort of infinite one-upmanship may be when taken to an excessive.
Alternate Universe: Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Iron-Blooded Orphans (2015) is an fascinating case amongst Gundam exhibits. Like Wing, it doesn’t really feel notably devoted to very many features of the unique collection or the established tropes (even when it does have a cool dangerous man in a masks and is implicitly anti-war). The present is a few group of youngsters working for a personal army firm on Mars, a number of centuries after an enormous struggle between the Earth and its area colonies—although not the identical struggle as within the Universal Century tales. The kids shortly insurgent towards their merciless bosses (partially thanks to a long-forgotten relic from the conflict referred to as a Gundam) and take over the corporate for themselves.
The kids, now skilled mercenaries, get swept up in a motion to shield the rights of individuals dwelling in area towards an oppressive pro-Earth regime, they usually repeatedly have to face the horrors of warfare and the horrors of rising up, which turns into extra difficult when all they’ve ever recognized is fight. The intelligent hook in IBO is that the essential premise may be learn as a critique of the Gundam trope of the teenage ace pilot who turns into a conflict hero in a single day. MSG doesn’t spend a ton of time on the psychological toll that each one of the preventing takes on Amuro (particularly after some of the early fights), however IBO is primarily about that psychological toll and the best way youngsters can grow to be desensitized to violence. It sadly has a bizarre relationship with its feminine characters, just like the crew members on a bizarre polygamist ship that everybody simply accepts as a traditional factor or the underage woman who’s chastely engaged to an grownup man, each of that are extraordinarily off-putting.
Universal Century: Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, Gundam F91, Char’s Counterattack
Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory (1991) is one of the extra visually spectacular Gundam exhibits, with some of its artistic workforce happening to work on the indelible anime basic Cowboy Bebop, however its story is just too ingrained within the backstory of the Universal Century to have a lot of an impression for anybody who isn’t already versed in Gundam lore. As indicated by the title, it takes place a number of years after the One Year War when an notorious Zeon veteran named Anavel Gato (who’s superior) sneaks onto a Federation base to steal an experimental Gundam with a nuclear warhead. 0083 is supposed to set up why and the way the Federation turn into fascist villains, which is why the “good guys” have a nuke so lengthy after the struggle. Gato’s eventual use of the nuke is secretly coordinated by Federation officers to justify a crackdown on Zeon remnants.
Speaking of issues that don’t work with out a longtime familiarity with the One Year War, Char’s Counterattack (1988) takes place a decade after 0083 and is the definitive finish of the Char/Amuro saga. It contains a resurgent Zeon faction making an attempt to punish the Federation for its many evils, which naturally signifies that an older Char and Amuro have one other massive cellular go well with struggle. It’s principally only a payoff to issues that occurred in Mobile Suit Gundam, lacking an opportunity to elaborate on how these two characters might have modified of their many years of feuding.
There’s additionally Gundam F91 (1991), which is a particularly fascinating failure. Envisioned as a correct follow-up to MSG, F91 takes place in UC 0123, many years after the One Year War has pale into historical past. Though a piece of the complete collection was scripted out, points at Sunrise required the complete plot to be condensed right into a single film. What is there occurs to be fairly partaking (if sometimes nonsensical), however it’s exhausting to ignore that an entire lot of it’s immediately ripped from Star Wars—for example, the masked villain is anyone’s secret father, and the rating echoes John Williams’ work so clearly that we will solely assume no one at Lucasfilm is conscious F91 exists. (Please don’t inform them.)
Alternate Century: Mobile Fighter G Gundam
How can one describe one thing as completely mad as G Gundam (1994)? The present is ridiculous, hilarious, wildly offensive, and in addition type of superior. It’s Dragon Ball Z with robots and a very unbelievable degree of ethnic stereotypes, and it completely shouldn’t be anybody’s first publicity to Gundam. The primary setup is that humanity has largely moved into area and deserted the very idea of struggle (thus far so good) and changed it with an Olympics-like occasion each few years the place each nation builds its personal Gundam and drops it on Earth for an enormous battle royale (nonetheless good). The final Gundam standing is the winner, and its nation then will get to management the universe. The drawback is that some individuals nonetheless reside on Earth, and the present wastes completely no time in addressing that the Gundam fights have utterly ravaged the complete planet, which means even this safer various to warfare continues to be deeply silly and damaging. That’s all good!
Here’s what’s not good: Every nation’s Gundam—besides Japan, should you can consider that—is constructed on varyingly hurtful stereotypes. The American Gundam is a football-playing surfer cowboy with boxing gloves. Canada’s Gundam is an enormous lumberjack. Holland’s Gundam is an enormous windmill. Kenya’s Gundam wears a gown that appears like a zebra. Mexico’s Gundam has a sombrero and a few cactus-like armor, and within the unique Japanese dub it was referred to as—we’re very, very sorry for this—Tequila Gundam. It’s all fucked up, however the present is such pure, uncut bananas that it sort of works in context. It’s arduous to advocate G Gundam and not using a lot of caveats, however it’s so outlandish that a well-informed Gundam aficionado has to expertise it.
If that looks like so much of Gundam content material already, simply remember that there’s a lot extra. We talked about manga, however there are additionally books, video video games, extra Universal Century spin-offs, and extra Alternate Universe tales. The most outstanding different factor in Gundam, although, is Gundam Build Fighters (2013) and its personal collection of sequels and spin-offs. Those exhibits are a gross try to immediately money in on the favored Gunpla line of Gundam mannequin kits, sometimes happening in a universe the place individuals purchase Gundam toys and make them battle like Pokémon.
1. Mobile Suit Gundam: The first collection, the one which established the important thing themes and aesthetic tropes which have carried Gundam for these previous 40 years. A mecha anime basic, if not the mecha anime basic.
2. Gundam Wing: The most approachable Gundam collection, requiring the least quantity of established Gundam information and with probably the most deserves as a stand-alone story. It drags a bit and a few of the animation is clearly stretching a price range, nevertheless it has a pleasant message about pacifism.
three. The 08th MS Team: The excessive level for the entire Gundam model. It’s a cool, gritty conflict drama that can also be a love story, elegantly strolling the road between making its battle scenes look cool and making it clear that preventing is definitely dangerous.
four. Iron Blooded Orphans: Proof that Gundam, even after many years of tales, can nonetheless put new spins on the essential concept of “war can seem exciting, but it’s actually very bad.”
5. Mobile Fighter G Gundam: It have to be seen to be believed. Audacious in almost each respect, it bends the definition of what a Gundam collection might be so far as potential with out breaking something.