Gundam’s Jetstream Attack

Gundam has undergone many changes over the years, either creating sequels or alternate timelines where new stories can be told, and every incarnation inevitably leads to some complaints that the franchise is heading in the wrong direction and that it can’t capture the magic of an older, more beloved series (often times this is considered to be Zeta Gundam). At the same time, people also complain that the series which try to play off of the old classics are too bogged down in their continuity. It seems almost impossible to fulfill all of the criteria set for a new Gundam (especially when you take into account the blame that is often placed on the fans themselves for not liking a certain series), and I think Sunrise and Bandai have realized this too. This time around, they’ve decided not to put all of their Mobile Eggs in one basket, and given everyone what they want, separately.

Gundam Unicorn, currently running, is an OVA series which acts as a direct sequel to the film Char’s Counterattack, seeks to capture those old UC fans who were never quite comfortable with the feel of later series such as Gundam W and Gundam 00, or even the later Universal Century timeline series such as Gundam F-91 and V Gundam. The character designs harken back to an 80s aesthetic and the plot itself is such that it appeals most to people who are already invested in its universe.

Gundam AGE is an all-new TV series in an entirely original universe with very modern character designs (sometimes regarded as “kiddy”), a generational motif that could potentially give it a wide appeal, and a merchandising system that is updated for the age of Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!  Unlike Unicorn, it requires no prior knowledge of Gundam, and seems designed to capture fans unfamiliar with the franchise.

Gundam: The Origin is an anime adaptation of a manga based on the original anime. First Gundam is unique relative to even its direct sequels ina number of ways, and it could both introduce the original beloved story to new fans as well as appeal to those people who enjoyed Gundam decades ago but never became “Gundam Fans” per se.

Given this multi-pronged assault, I have to wonder why some fans still complain in the direction Gundam is going. Never mind that Gundam AGE isn’t even out yet, I can understand why someone would look at AGE and think, “This is so not for me,” but you’re literally getting something for non-fans, something for old hardcore fans, and something somewhat in the middle. The only logic I could see behind being against this approach is that the three anime muddle the image of Gundam, compromising its overall artistic merit. I disagree with that as well.

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Four Kings Meet in a Room to Discuss the Meaning of a Punch Made out of Rocket

If you were to ask someone informed what the most influential giant robot series of all time were, they’d probably give the following answer: Mazinger Z, Mobile Suit Gundam, Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, Neon Genesis Evangelion. Isn’t it amazing then, when you realize that all four of these series have had recent revivals, as if the Forces of Anime have deemed this period of time to be the celebration of all things humanoid and mechanical?

Mazinger Z has the new Imagawa-directed Shin Mazinger Shougeki! Z-Hen, which takes elements of the entirety of Mazinger lore and its remakes (as well as much of Nagai’s works) and incorporates them into a single cohesive story that explores and brings to light the thematic elements which make Mazinger Z itself such a prominent part of anime’s history. As the first Super Robot to be piloted from within, and the first to declare its attacks with passionate yells, and then in 2009 to make such a show feel fresh and original, I think we’re all the better for knowing it exists.

Gundam received a new series set in our timeline (AD) in the form of Gundam 00, as well as a return to the Universal Century timeline that few expected after all these years in the form of Gundam Unicorn and Ring of Gundam. There’s also the massive celebration of its 30th anniversary in real life, which includes life-size Gundams, weddings on life-size Gundams, and musical concerts. Whichevery way you prefer your Gundam, whether you’re an old-school curmudgeon or someone who came in from Wing or SEED, there’s a message for you, and that message is “Gundam is Amazing!”

Macross Frontier meanwhile celebrated the franchise’s 25th anniversary. Unlike Gundam, Macross doesn’t just get animated series updates every year, so to have a full series emerge and capture much of the energy of the original Macross while still being true to its current era of anime made Frontier a joy to follow. The most interesting departures, so to speak, were the extremely current-era character designs (in contrast with the classic 80’s Mikimoto ones), and the ways in which the concept of  the “pop idol” has morphed over the course of two or three decades.

Evangelion is in the process of having its story entirely re-animated and retold in a series of movies which seek to do more than just cash in on an already perpetually marketable franchise, though that’s not to say that they don’t do so at all, and instead also transform the story in dramatic ways, from adding entirely new characters to subtle changes in the characters’ personalities and actions, everything is moving towards the idea that things will Not Be the Same. It’s also the newest series of the bunch, and thus the “freshest” in the public consciousness.

What’s also interesting about this is that when you step back and look, you’ll see that each of these series has influenced the one after it in very powerful ways, whether indirectly or otherwise. Mazinger Z set the stage for the super robot formula, which led to a young Tomino Yoshiyuki working on super robot series, then getting tired of them, eventually leading to Gundam, the first series to really push the idea of giant robots as tools, and to advance the concept of a war with no real winners that existed in series such as Daimos and Zambot 3. Macross is an evolution of this “real robot” concept thanks to a staff that fell in love with Gundam years ago, and now includes real-world vehicles transforming directly into robots, a much greater emphasis on character relationships, and an optimistic spin with the idea that the power of songs can influence two warring cultures and bring them closer to one another. Evangelion’s director Anno Hideaki worked on Macross, and the influence of both it and Gundam and even Mazinger Z permeate throughout its episodes and general design. The “Monster of the Week” formula made popular by Mazinger Z finds its revival in the form of the mysterious “Angels” in Evangelion, but the story and the monsters are merely part of a philosophical backdrop. Characters are entirely the focus of the series, and these children are so intrinsically flawed that some do not enjoy them as characters.

And now it’s like all of these series are sitting in the same room, feeling the weight of their years of fame, and standing shoulder to shoulder, eager to see what happens next in the world of giant robot anime. And then sitting in the same room is Tetsujin 28, which nods its head in approval.

Are giant robots still capable of capturing imagination and transforming world-views after all this time? I think so, and I think it’s happening as you read this.