Burn, Gundam, and Cut a Path to the Future

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.

13 thoughts on “Burn, Gundam, and Cut a Path to the Future

  1. Was Destiny really THAT bad?

    See, Gundam 00 was the first Gundam show I actually properly watched. I loved it at first – I thought it felt fresh and and compelling (I know it’s supposed to be a retread of Wing but as I haven’t seen that, it wouldn’t bother me). But as it went on, it seemed to lose focus in the second half of the first season, and to descend into ridiculousness in the second season. It became yet another Sunrise show where the plot moved forward only because the writers got out and pushed it along, up until the climax which lacked any real sense of closure, or any deeper meaning at all.

    In this, it was very much like Code Geass, actually. But was Destiny really so bad that 00 was an improvement? And as mostly a Gundam outsider, is Gundam in general more like that first part, or the later ones? If I liked the first part, are there any other Gundam series more along those lines?

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  2. Gundam Wing was the first Gundam I ever saw and it took the spot of my favorite anime over Dragon Ball Z back in middle school. It wasn’t until Mobile Suit Gundam started airing on Cartoon Network that my love for Gundam began. In my eyes MSG introduced me to what real anime was and that it could be more than just a thing for children. I owe my love for anime to Gundam and will continue to watch it as long as it’s on.

    I haven’t seen SEED or Destiny but I love 00. Its taken place of my favorite Gundam series. I know it’s suppose to be a reimagining of sorts of Wing but I saw a lot of similarities between the 2nd Season of 00 and Zeta Gundam. It may just be me but the A-Laws seem to resemble the Titans and Celestial Being takes the place of AEUG.

    Anyway, great blog!

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  3. I see a lot of people these days questioning if SEED Destiny really was as bad as everyone says it is. I’m here to tell you that SEED Destiny’s poor reputation is entirely justified. This isn’t like Gundam ZZ though, which people didn’t like because it started off as a silly wacky sequel to the very dark and violent Z Gundam. This is a level of bad that can only occur when a show has no direction.

    Keep in mind that I do not mean BAD direction. This is not like a show where random plot events keep happening and it moves the story to a ridiculous point where nothing makes sense. At the very least with a bad show like that, you can see that one event follows the other.

    SEED Destiny had terrible plot contradictions, and when I say “plot contradictions,” I’m not even talking about when one plot point is established and then another in a later episode ignores it intentionally or otherwise (though SEED Destiny did that too). What SEED Destiny is guilty of is being unable to commit to a direction. What would happen in SEED Destiny is that the characters would do something important, and then three episodes later that thing would be undone and the show would start moving in another direction entirely. “Chicken with head cut off” is an apt metaphor. This isn’t like Code Geass or Gundam 00 at all. In those shows, like them or hate them, at least you can see that the show is moving SOMEWHERE instead of plodding around and falling on its face and then trying to call 911 but realizing its cell phone is actually a box of paper clips.

    The fight scenes after a certain point were also very often filled with reused clips to the extent that they often felt like the same fight scene over and over and over. With Gundam 00, even if they reused some stock footage, you always knew that the battle you got was different from the one previous. All I can remember from SEED Destiny’s fights for about 10 episodes was “Savior Gundam transforms into a robot, shoots, and then transforms into a plane.” The amount of stock footage used in this show was criminal, especially when it was taken from very good fight scenes from the original SEED.

    The biggest indicator of the poor level of execution in Gundam SEED Destiny, however, is the fact that it couldn’t even keep its MAIN CHARACTERS straight. Kira Yamato was the hero of the first Gundam SEED. In SEED Destiny, the main character was supposed to be a new guy, Shinn Asuka. Shinn Asuka is a dumb asshole but that’s part of what makes his character. I don’t know if it was fan backlash or the creators changing their mind or what, but after Kira is re-introduced in SEED Destiny, the focus gradually shifts from Shinn to Kira. At first, I was excited about Kira and Friends being back to see how they would spice up the plot, but what ended up happening is that they TOOK the plot away from Shinn, and turned Kira into the new main character! This is also another good example of a ridiculous SEED Destiny contradiction.

    This is a show where a staff member actually apologized to the viewers for the poor quality of the final product.

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  4. @WAHa.06×36: See the problem with your viewpoint and a lot of other viewpoints I’ve seen when approaching Gundam 00 is that you went into it with preconceived notions like “it’s a retread of Gundam Wing”, or “it’s a Sunrise show” such that it coloured your view of it beforehand. That’s the kind of thing that always comes back to bite a viewer in the ass. I would argue that the second half of the first season was where it gained focus too and the first half was just interventions of the week. To me this view that it lost focus during the second half of season 1 makes absolutely no sense at all. In fact I would say the first 12 episodes of the show were by far the weakest. As for the climax and subsequently the ending lacking closure, I don’t know how many times I have tried to explain this, but it’s because it is setting up the movie that will almost certainly finish the story once and for all. It was very deliberately left without a sense of finality for that purpose so that unlike Gundam Seed Destiny the sequel won’t feel entirely unnecessary right from the get go.

    And I am trying to get a feel for what people’s foundation for what constitutes “ridiculous” are, because I just can’t pin it down and it seems like it’s mounted a sliding scale. What is so especially ridiculous about Gundam 00 Second Season as compared to the first one? I think people were just letthat whole “OMG Hax” trend bother them when it came to the 00 Gundam, but I mean really, it was explained and justified from the first episode that it was that powerful so there’s no reason why one shouldn’t be expected to go with it and it’s twin drive concept.

    Anyway, Happy Anniversary Gundam, and hopefully you can weather the current generation of anime fans hyper criticism for you and your production studio and make it to your 50th. :D

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  5. Like others, Gundam Wing wasn’t just my first Gundam show, it opened for me the gate to this wonderful world of japanese animation. My favorites from the series are still the stories from Universal Century, be it 8th MS Team, 0080, 0083, or even some of the MS Igloo features. However, Endless Waltz has my favorite Gundam designs in the franchise.

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  6. > This isn’t like Code Geass or Gundam 00 at all.

    Not like Gundam 00, I’ll agree. But Geass season 2… Well… What WAS that China arc all about?

    > you went into it with preconceived notions like “it’s a retread of Gundam Wing”

    Did you even read the part where I said I never saw Gundam Wing and wouldn’t care one bit if it was a retread of something I never saw? I didn’t know what to expect from a Gundam show, I’ve never seen one before. And I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. For a while. The first part had interesting politics, interesting characters with interesting motivations, and an extremely engaging motif of outcast vigilantes fighting against a society that was neither evil, nor a real antagonist. Celestial Being thrived in a total moral grey zone – it was in no way clear that they were right in their convictions, nor was it clear that their opponents were.

    This all entertained me greatly.

    But then the show started shifting the focus away from that. The Trinity siblings were over-the-top for a show that had so far focused on believable and human characters. They did develop the motif somewhat, but at the expense of suspension of disbelief. They were just too ridiculous.

    The second season threw everything the first season accomplished out the window. It established a clearly evil enemy as the antagonist in the shape of A-Laws. Away went the subtle ethics of the first season, replaced with simple good-vs-evil battles. To say nothing of the utter ridiculousness of the Innovators.

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  7. Well maybe people need to redefine their idea of what constitutes “ridiculous” because I’m starting to wonder just how “realistic” a mecha show needs to in order for them to not complain about it.

    And you are still over simplifying everything with regard to your last paragraph so again it’s the problem with how you chose to view it that is hurting the show. And again seriously, what is with this “ridiculous” criticism I keep seeing popping up with everything now. I just don’t get it……

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  8. As for the China arc in Geass R2, I don’t see what there was to not understand about it and why so many people don’t get:

    China agreed to accept Black Knight refugees from Japan, Schneizel beat them in getting to China and tried to have the Eunuch’s join the Britannian Empire. Zero pretended to kidnap the empress and use her as a hostage with threats to kill her with a real plan to get the Eunuch’s to reveal their true intentions were not in line with the best interests of the Chinese Public and that they were the ones that wanted the princess dead. Lelouch then jumped in and protected the princess, had this broadcast to the rest of China so that popular opinion swayed in favour of Li’s Rebels and their allies the Black Knights, the Eunuch’s were purged and in return Li and the Empress went on to form a lasting alliance with the Black Knights which would eventually give birth to the U.F.N and a power to rival that of Britannia.

    Pretty basic stuff.

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  9. That was a good read. I’m pretty new to Gundam, having been a Macross fan the last 25 years. But I’m pretty hard core now, and I appreciate all the memories you shared. I can definitely relate.

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  10. remember that time you came over to my place in tokyo and f5’d torrents all night waiting for GSD raws cause nature made you miss that night’s episode? that was a valiant display of TRUE OTAKU SPIRIT

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  11. Pingback: Oh Me Oh My, Tomino to Be in NY « OGIUE MANIAX

  12. Just stumbled upon this, and had to say that I too, after spending two years as President of my high school anime club, have “One does not care to acknowledge the mistakes of one’s youth.” next to my picture in the yearbook.

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