2005 marks the year that I discovered Yoshiyuki Tomino’s fabled Mobile Suit Gundam; it is rare to find a space opera with a story as far reaching as this, with characters, cultures and technologies that stretch over the limitless expanse of space and time, telling stories of intense personal drama and intergalactic political upheaval with such an ambitious visual flair.
Buoyed by the success of the original Mobile Suit Gundam movie trilogy, Yoshiyuki Tomino returned to his pet universe with Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam; this is a 50 episode TV series, produced in 1985 and set 7 years after boy wonder Amuro Ray and White Base cut swathes through the Principality of Zeon and ended the One Year War. The Earth Federation came out on top but in the years that have since passed, their dominance over humanity, and particularly the growing space colonies, has grown weak and distant.
Enforcing the Federation’s policies with an iron fist are the Titans; a brutal military force with strength and arrogance beyond control. No one dares to stand up and question their methods, fearing at best a swift beating and at worst, execution. With the Titans controlling space, human life is cheap.
In response to the threat of the Titans, the Anti-Earth Union Group (or as they are also known, the AEUG) is formed; largely made up of spacenoids (space dwelling humans), the AEUG is a politically driven military organisation, spearheaded by talented mobile suit pilots, and is fast becoming a real concern for the Titans.
Kamille Bidan is one such talented pilot; hot headed, rash but with an eye for combat, he is an instinctive and emotional teenager who is instantly reminiscent of One Year War hero Amuro Ray.
And so the stage is set for Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam to weave its way through a markedly down beat vision of mankind’s space faring future. In a series where heavily populated space colonies are pumped full of poisonous gas, beautiful mountains are nuked into dust and children are forced to face hardened men in mortal combat, you can be forgiven if you find yourself overwhelmed by the utter hopelessness of it all.
Evidently, Tomino has a morbid fascination with war but his means and ideas are nothing if not justified. Space represents a new and unexplored frontier for humanity to purge; and with everyone looking to make the most of this new “land”, an intense power struggle is bound to ignite. Add to this a growing fear of “Newtypes” (humans with advance mental abilities) and you have an entire generation of people paranoid and envious of each other.
Fans of characters from the original Mobile Suit Gundam series will be pleased to know that many of the most important personalities return for starring roles in Zeta Gundam; most notable is Char Aznable (who is also known as Quattro Bajeena), he is now an important member of the AEUG, in terms of both piloting skills and political direction, and given that we spent a lot of time in Zeta Gundam following the AEUG’s campaign against the Titans, it is interesting to see Char’s personality from a different perspective.
Of the new characters, Kamille makes a strong impression as a confused teenager thrown into a war he seems rather ambivalent about. Despite starting out as a bit of an angry brat, Kamille eventually develops into a likable and level headed soldier. His mentality is well defined, and even as he loses friends in battle and is physically beaten for breaking AEUG rules, he anchors Zeta Gundam well within the realms of intense personal struggle.
For animation drawn in 1985, Zeta Gundam stands the test of time well; despite a few character designs looking either too simplistic or just outright strange, the epic scale and gritty detail of this future war is well realised. Though the story telling itself helps to elevate the animation beyond its physical limitations, imagination has always played a massive part in Gundam series and Tomino has one hell of a creative touch; everything seems to have been considered, right down to what many would consider pointless oddities like the Titan’s combat uniform. Consequently, the Gundam universe is so full of life, history and tradition that you can loose yourself in this series for hours and feel a part of it all, caught up with everything from a deviously raised eye-brow to a colourful swish of a beam sabre.
I could waffle on about Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam for pages but I’ll refrain from boring you and simply say that if you love space-spanning science fiction, you won’t find a more immersive experience than locking horns with Zeta Gundam.
This is an effortlessly multilayered and insanely interesting series, a story that involves as much political intrigue as it does personal drama. There is a sense of prevailing tragedy running throughout and while some will find this too much to take, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam is a series that in pursuit of a realistic depiction of humanity’s inevitable future pulls no punches when it comes to showing the true horrors of, but also comradery and friendship formed by war.