The Eggshell of Gundam Fandom

Ever since Mobile Fighter G Gundam, various anime in the franchise have been accused of not really being Gundam, or for betraying the idea of Gundam in some capacity. Whether that’s robots powered by martial arts, a preponderance of pretty boys, or the presence of a mustache and biplanes, it’s clear that, at least to some, there is a vague idea of what Gundam shouldn’t be, but what I find interesting is that over time these prejudices seem to fade or in some cases even become something of a minority. Where once in the English-speaking fandom G Gundam was seen as a freak accident at best, nowadays you’ll find plenty of people who actually will say that G Gundam is their favorite Gundam, or even that G Gundam is the only good Gundam.

I am not here to judge anyone’s tastes or preferences, but rather I would like to wonder aloud about how and why this happens. In the case ofGundam W and G Gundam, the answer partly lies in the way they were situated in the Toonami block of the early to mid 2000s and were able to build up a fanbase as a result, but I feel like that is just one instance of a more basic process at work.

Whenever opinions form about a current or upcoming Gundam, it seems to come primarily from those most invested and devoted to Gundam. This group consistently has Gundam-ness as a priority, and so the initial discussion is shaped by that established fandom and their values. What I’m thinking is that over time, a series has a greater chance of reaching more people, and eventually they’re found by people who won’t necessarily label themselves as Gundam fans, whose value sets are different. At that point, a series may reach an audience more receptive to its ideas or less prejudiced against it (though they may carry their own prejudices different from the ones of more hardcore Gundam fans).

Essentially, what I’m wondering about is whether or not Gundam series (and perhaps other franchises like Macross) undergo a process where they first start off surrounded by their immediate fandom created by the franchise, and then break through that established core, such that the discussion about these series starts to change, that it’s not simply “a matter of time” but also a matter of reaching people who might be more receptive to it. That might not mean that a series will be loved, but that there is a greater chance of it happening.

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5 thoughts on “The Eggshell of Gundam Fandom

  1. On the other side though, you get stuff like Zelda fandom where they actively encourage and celebrate the changes each version makes. Maybe it’s because there’s already an understanding that they’ll stick to inherent Zelda-ness, but it strikes me as though the “how Gundam is it” thing isn’t universal across fandoms

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  2. I think this is mostly on the mark. I saw this trend to a truly depressing extent in response to the Gundam 00 movie. Critical fans freaked at the idea of any sort of alien being involved, they said this was “not Gundam”, they were mad the same sorts of stories weren’t told from the very start of the Gundam 00 series until the very end…..and the critique pretty much always stopped there. Seldom did critics attempt to engage the movie as the final part of the greater story they were telling or step back to look at 00 as a whole on its own merits, if they ever did. No, first and foremost Awakening of the Trailblazer was criticized for how Gundamesque it was or wasn’t. And yet, ironically, many of those same fans will also angst over how the franchise is too wedded to certain tropes and ideas (such as what they consider to be ham-fisted, anti-war messages). The cognitive dissonance at work there is spectacular.

    This negative aspect of the fandom isn’t new. Back at the dawn of the 00s, any negative opinions I saw about Gundam Wing other AU titles were pretty much always framed as unfavorable comparisons to the Universal Century at large or maybe the original Gundam. Critics had their own idea of what a “real story” with the name Gundam on it should be and clung to that standard…and meanwhile people embraced Wing after seeing it on TV and explored more for themselves and that was a net plus, putting aside whether Wing held up in that person’s mind or not.

    G Gundam is admittedly totally drenched in fighting anime tropes, but I’d say it’s gained appreciation today because (a) a lot of people really like those and (b) there’s a goofy cartoonishness to it that is (IMO) a bit too lacking in anime these days. Much of Domon’s story is actually rife with tragedy and melodrama, but the show has fun with itself and doesn’t take itself overly serious either. That’s essentially an antidote for a fan sour on a Gundam anime that they felt was much too didactic.

    This part is admittedly just a theory, but I suspect some credit is owed to the impact of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, which built up to telling a truly grand tale that was complemented and even enhanced by its completely crazy ideas and its execution of them. Everything that could be said about G Gundam’s good kind of cartoonishness is at least doubly true for Gurren Lagann.

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  3. The average anime viewer doesn’t go back in time to watch much. Many Gundam fans make it a mission to go back and watch older things, as the earliest stuff is practically a mobile suit holy grail.

    I think its much simpler, the haters moved on, and those who love Gundam as a franchise are the ones going back to watch the AU items as well. The only people left talking about G Gundam, silly are those that found it fun endearing and worthwhile.

    As an example, remember when everyone talked about how DBZ was a terrible show with so much filler. There was a point where many people around me rated Evangelion as ‘not actually good, just overrated’. People discussed and chatted and now mostly just fans remain for everything. If we were granted another season of G Gundam, i assured you the hate would rise anew! Look how many people avoided Gundam AGE because there were brightly colored kiddie designs!

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  4. I find it interesting how the majority of complaints about recent Gundam series; 00 S2, Unicorn and Age are that they are TOO ‘Gundam’. Go on /m/ anytime a new age or Unicorn episode airs and you’ll see threads upon threads of complaints of how its a ‘rehash’, ‘fankwank’, ‘repetitive’ ect.

    Meanwhile, what are the most successful recent Gundam properties? Unicorn, the Original Seed run… Those two entries have very different audiences, but at the heart of it they also share the same story-structure as 0079, and are filled with reverence for the early-UC lore. Just something to consider.

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