Gundam is now a whopping 30 years old. From its humble beginnings as an almost-failed giant robot show that was just a little different from its predecessors to its current status as one of the most significant and influential franchises of all time, Gundam is synonymous with anime around the world. For me personally, Gundam carries many important memories, ones I cherish to this day. Allow me to tell you the story up until now of my own journey through Gundam.
I don’t remember when exactly in high school it was, but one day my brother (who had gotten me into anime in the first place) brought home a couple of series on VHS he had borrowed from a friend: Gundam W and Gundam. This was a year or two before Wing appeared on Cartoon Network. Watching these series, especially Wing, I was taken in by the combination of gorgeous giant robots and politics and dynamic characters.
Really though, the content of Wing and 0083 isn’t important so much as where it took me, as soon I would meet some fellow mech-heads who would bring me further into the world of mecha, even introducing me to Evangelion. You know who you guys are. Practically every day after school we would go into the high school’s computer lab and watch anime clips (with a good portion of that devoted to Gundam), discussing mobile suit specs and which ones were our favorites, and getting our first taste of shows such as Gaogaigar via video clips from that old site Best Anime. I remember thinking that the RX-78-2 design was so dated, and thought the more modern Gundam designs were far superior, falling victim to the shine and polish of the “new.” The computer lab attendant tolerated us as best as he could, and for that I thank him (rest in peace Mr. Clancy).
At this point I was hooked on Gundam in a big way. I went to Chinatown, where they sold bootleg anime on VHS, and purchased the original gundam movie trilogy as I wanted to see how it all started. I also bought Char’s Counterattack, as it was the source of the Sazabi and the Nu Gundam, two designs I had fallen in love with. Char’s Counterattack became my favorite Gundam anime, and I still hold it in quite high regard today, though the original trilogy has risen in rank quite a bit. After that, I watched X, F-91, G, 08th MS Team, a few episodes of Turn A (whatever was available in Chinatown at the time), Zeta, and even G-Saviour of all things.
I remember getting free model kit catalogs from one of the anime sellers in Chinatown, and looking at the pages over and over. I remember buying model kits and cherishing my Gundam X, my Virsago, my RX-78-2, my Qubeley, my Sazabi, my V Gundam, and especially my Nu Gundam. And I remember finding the Mecha Domain, a site which listed specs of Gundams and robots from other anime (known today as the Mecha Anime HQ) and Mark Simmons’ extremely informative site the Gundam Project (Mark Simmons would go on to actually run the official Gundam website). Naturally, my friends and I would use this information to debate who would win in fights and what our favorite designs were. We’d laugh at the ridiculous design of the Devil Gundam (“It has a head for a body!”). We’d go over to each other’s houses and play Gundam: the Battle Master 2 (I loved using Char’s Red Zaku, as it was (obviously) very very fast). When I think of being a mecha fan, hell, an anime fan, these are the times I think about first.
At the end of high school, after having spent a year as the anime club’s president and having my yearbook photo appear with a Char Aznable quote (“One chooses not to acknowledge the mistakes of one’s youth”), I went off to college. With the magic of bittorrent began to watch SEED. At this point I was separated from my Gundam-loving friends, but we still managed to talk about it. I was quite fond of SEED, and my stance to this day is that it starts off seeming like a clone of First Gundam but gradually becomes its own beast, with a unique, more romantic feel compared to other Gundam series. What really brought out this feeling towards SEED though was the introduction of Cagalli Yula Athha. Never before had I seen such an incredible female character in a Gundam series! I had previously considered Emma Sheen to be the most attractive Gundam heroine, but that was no longer the case. Cagalli’s aggressiveness and kind heart won me over in a way only Maetel, Daidouji Tomoyo, and Ogiue have been able to surpass.
This of course is why SEED Destiny was that much more painful.
I began watching SEED Destiny the semester before I went to study abroad in Japan. Watching it in America originally, it was an incredibly worthy successor to SEED. By the time I got to Japan, I was fearing for its safety and continually waiting for the episode where the crying, moping Cagalli would be herself again. That episode came, but by then it was too late. I learned a valuable lesson with Destiny, as I had originally claimed that there was no way Destiny could become worse than SEED: don’t assume things you dumbass!
It wasn’t all bad times, though. Through college, though I did not have nearly the number of mecha-loving friends that I used to, I still met a few through happenstance. I remember having an argument about Coordinators and whether or not they were a good concept. Again, if you’re reading this, you know who you are.
Now we’re pretty close to the present, and you can track my shifting views on Gundam 00 right here on Ogiue Maniax. One big thing is that early on, I still felt burned by the failure that was SEED Destiny, and I was hesitant to move onto a new Gundam series for fear that it would happen again. I’m happy to have been proven wrong, and to know that one bad show cannot take down the juggernaut that was birthed from Tomino Yoshiyuki’s head.
If you were to ask me why I was so into Gundam 10 years ago, I’m not entirely sure I would remember. Nowadays, I can see Gundam as an ambitious franchise which changed the way people looked at a genre of Japanese animation, that continually transforms itself for every new generation of fans, but I did not think about it like that back then. There were the awesome characters, and the legendary robot designs, and the fact that the villains were never stock villains, but I think what was most important for my Gundam fandom was being able to share it with friends.