I want you all to know this is Mike's fault.
So... I watched the Mobile Suit Gundam compilation movies. And Char's Counterattack. And Hathaway. Do I have thoughts, you ask? Fuck yes, I have many thoughts. Let's start with the most obvious one: I'm into Gundam now. God damn it.
So for a little background, Mobile Suit Gundam is an uber-popular Japanese franchise that runs on a simple premise: Humanity is waging war in space in giant mechanical space suits called "Mobile Suits." Basically, think Star Wars: The Clone Wars but instead of clones and space wizards, there are giant robots and psychics. It's a classic sci-fi epic with gray morality, rivalries and vendettas, courageous sacrifices, massive battles, and heroes on both sides.
So, let's crack our knuckles, get in the robot, debate whether Char did nothing wrong, and dive into Mobile Suit Gundam. I'm going to do a blog on Hathaway, but for this post I'm just gonna cover the original trilogy with some comments about Char's Counterattack. That one will get its own blog soon as well.
Oh, and, uh... spoilers for a decades-old anime, I guess.
Wow, Cool Robot!
The Mobile Suit Gundam compilation trilogy is damn good for what it is. The animation is wonky, the characters (Particularly the women) tend to be written with their emotions worn on their sleeves. In fact, I'm gonna highlight the writing as one of the story's most double-edged points: There's a whole lot of quality to it at points, with it tackling huge themes, genuine messages, and having some really badass moments. At the same time, it is overwhelmingly melodramatic. Almost every conversation is punctuated with someone getting bitch-slapped, often a woman. Characters often feel like they're overreacting to things, and it's nowhere near reinventing the wheel in terms of character arcs, as is prominently shown in the way Amuro Ray, our protagonist, develops. (More on him soon.) That said? There's also very effective aspects, chief among them the incredibly gray morality that only increases as time goes on. While the crew of White Base are genuine heroes, a huge point is made that Federation command is incredibly shady, often leaving them in danger or re-routing them into further danger due to apathy and corruption. Even the ruling family, the Zabis, run the entire moral spectrum, ranging from noble heroes who just happen to be on the wrong side like Garma, and depraved psychopaths like Gihren.
Gackt and Andrew W.K. have done this guy's speech in concert. Not sure if that's worrying or not.
Let's talk Gihren for a moment. He's one of the best characters in the entire trilogy, and a lot of that is owed to how well he eschews the otherwise gray nature of the story. Putting Gihren in charge of Zeon is a great writing decision, as it ensures that, beyond a very vocal set of fringe viewers, you want the Federation to win despite their own corruption, as Gihren controlling the galaxy is dangerous for everyone. Gihren stands out as perhaps the sole completely unsympathetic character in the trilogy, and he is an absolute standout for it. He carries a devilish charisma that keeps you understanding why people follow the bastard, while simultaneously being so vile that the audience won't be mourning when his comparatively likable sister Kycilia puts a hole in his head.
Amuro Ray is an ace pilot, a war hero, and a total crybaby.
So, with Gihren out of the way, let's talk about the protagonist. The protagonist, as aforementioned, is Amuro Ray, a 15-year-old pilot who stumbles into his abusive father's creation, the "white mobile suit," a.k.a. the RX-78-2 Gundam. As someone who's got a passing familiarity with Heinlein, I immediately recognized the resemblance (A deliberate one, apparently) to the "jumpsuits" of Starship Troopers fame. Amuro is a normal boy swept up in a massive war, the only one who can pilot the Gundam, and a combination of hellish one-man-army and gentle soul. Now, Amuro's arc isn't exactly groundbreaking. In short, he starts the story just wanting to save everyone's life with minimal combat, and becomes somewhat bloodthirsty after a lot of angsting and trying desperately to escape his duties. Amuro is... a mixed bag. He definitely has psychological depth and a soft side, but at the same time, he can often come off as ungodly whiny, with much of the melodrama in the films being traced back to him and his frequent sets of angst. Some of his angst is well called for, some of his angst is stupidly contrived, but either way, there's a lot of it!
Char Aznable: Trained killer. Ace pilot. Unfairly hot.
Char Aznable is Amuro's main rival among the Zeon forces. He's a mysterious masked man with his own secret agenda... ah, what the hell, you guys know who he is. He's only the most popular character in the damn franchise. Anyways, yeah, Char's a treasure. He's a delight to watch, his robots are universally spiffy, and his final fight with Amuro is awesome. Char is possibly the highlight of the film, a sympathetic foe who barely manages the role of "villain" yet nonetheless proves utterly ruthless in pursuit of revenge. Known as "the most magnificent bastard ever to pilot a mech," Char Aznable is probably my favorite character in the whole trilogy.
Kycilia Zabi: Fascist. Iron-willed. Unfairly hot.
Kycilia Zabi is the Zabi who deserves the most mention in my opinion, since I already covered Gihren. She's a cold-hearted, utterly unflappable badass woman. She's pretty awesome, all things considered. She's got a solid arc, a badass look about her, and the fact she ultimately puts Gihren down absolutely sells her as the top dog of Zeon. Also, she gets 360-no-scope-headshotted by Char with a rocket launcher, which all in all was pretty sick. 10/10 death there.
So what do I think of the actual movies? They're... good for what they are, as I said at the start. The animation's often off-model, the writing is melodramatic, and the characters can feel entirely lacking in nuance at times. Nonetheless, there's a ton of fun to be had with them, whether mentally keeping track of every slap across the trilogy, enjoying the robot battles and the genuinely well written moments that appear from time to time, or marking out at some of the more epic deaths, the compilation movies are a solid way to experience Gundam. I've never watched the show and it took me literally years to access these since I was late to the punch on watching them on YouTube, but I really enjoyed them. If you're going in expecting something Oscar-worthy, you're not gonna get it-- they're ridiculous, melodramatic, and rather cheesy-- but I wouldn't have it any other way. It's a classic sci-fi story with all the elements of the genre, and while in some ways it may not seem special now, the Mobile Suit Gundam compilation trilogy is a great starting point and honestly a joy to watch. They're packed with robot action and some solid writing despite their cheesy late-'70s nature and limited animation.
Next blog will be on Char's Counterattack, where we will discuss whether Char actually did nothing wrong! In the meantime, I'm Riley, and this has been the first blog in the Blogger Suit Gundam trilogy!