Mobile Suit Gundam, an iconic series famous for popularizing the mecha genre and demonstrating that anime could be used to tell a serious, compelling story. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam is a direct sequel to the original series, and it continues to draw from its predecessor and push the envelope of mecha anime; many of Zeta Gundam’s influences can still be seen in mecha shows today.
Zeta Gundam is set 8 years after the end of the One Year War in Mobile Suit Gundam, and the political background has changed quite a bit from E.F.S.F versus Zeon. Instead, the Earth Federation has founded an autonomous unit called the Titans, whose responsibility is to hunt down Zeon remnants but have become cruel in their methods, ruthlessly oppressing those who call for equal rights in space. In response to their aggression a rebel group called the Anti-Earth Union Group (A.E.U.G.) is founded to defeat them. The show begins during an attack bythe AEUG to steal mobile suits from the Titans, specifically the Gundam MK-II, the successor to the original RX-78-2 Gundam from Mobile Suit Gundam. During this attack, a young teenager named Kamille Bidan gets caught up in the fray; Kamille is a colonist who abhors the Titans’s policies and his ideology combined with some other events lead him to join the AEUG as the pilot of the Gundam. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam follows Kamille’s journey with the AEUG to defeat the Titans, and along the way he finds mentors, develops nemeses, and encounters love, loss, and betrayal. (Sidenote: Kamille is NOT a girl’s name!)
Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam accurately captures a depiction in war in that there are a LOT of characters to keep up with. The AEUG itself has at least 10 important characters, and add that to the major players on both the Titans, Karaba, and Axis side means you have a main and supporting cast reaching 40 people. All of these characters means it is difficult to juggle screentime. Kamille, being the protagonist, obviously gets the most screentime and develops the most. Notable characters such as Quattro Bajeena, Reccoa Londe, Emma Sheen, Four Murasame and others also have their own revelations, but for a lot of characters their lack of screentime stunts their growth. For example, Scirocco Paptimus is one of the main antagonists but I never really get to understand his true motives and his establishment as the “true enemy” of the AEUG comes suddenly and without impact. The viewer can tell that Scirocco is bad dude to watch out for, but when he finally tries to take the spotlight as the villain he falls a bit flat and seems very one dimensional. However all of these characters allowed me to get everyone’s perspective on the way and their motives, the different factions show how deep and complicated war is, no one is exempt from it. Zeta is ambitious for the amount of characters it tries to juggle, and for that it should be applauded. The characters allow the show to portray war as it is: gritty, dark, and unsatisfying, with no one free from its influence.
Being a mecha anime, I would be remiss if I did not address the designs of the mobile suit. There are so many more mobile suits in this series compared to the first series, but first I’ll focus on the titular one: gundam. The Gundam Mark-II is very similar to the RX-78-2, but it introduces the golden “V-fin” that Gundam is so synonymous with. (RX-78-2 also had a V-fin, but it was white). The shield mounted on the arm is a more modern look compared to RX-78-2’s handheld shield, and overall the design is much more intricate and appears more realistic. The Zeta Gundam which is later introduced is a whole new take on a Gundam, and it is refreshing to see. Its face abandons the “mouth” and the “chin” for a sleeker, more cybernetic look where only the eyes shine out from behind its mask. The V-fin also gets and addition with a beetle horn-like add-on encompassing its sensor. The Zeta Gundam also has the ability to transform into a Mobile Armor (MA), and the transformation sequences are beautifully done and the machine fluidly becomes a Waverider. Many mobile suits in Zeta Gundam also have an MA mode, perhaps done to showcase how far technology has come since the One Year War. Zeta Gundam is also the first series to have multiple Gundams in one show, in addition to the MK-II and the Zeta there is the Psyco Gundam and its successor the Psyco Gundam MK-II, both controlled via Psycommu System and spouting a ridiculous number of beam guns.
However, Gundams are not the only beautiful machines in Zeta. The Hyaku Shiki piloted by Quattro Bajeena has an elegant gold color scheme and features the character “one hundred” on its shoulders. The Byarlant piloted by Jerid in some of the later episodes is sleek and fast, reflected in its design. The concealed particle guns in its forearms only enhance that image as it does not carry around a beam rifle which would ruin its swift image. I believe it may have been a source of inspiration for the Devilfish in Eureka Seven. The O is also a unique mobile suit due to its bulk; the dull yellow armored suit looks like a fortress but has surprising melee capabilities. Finally, the Qubeley, perhaps not one of the most elegant suits, but it is the first to introduce funnels. The Elmeth, a mobile armor in the One Year War had used bits, but funnels are more powerful, graceful, and just plain cool. The idea of controlling mini beam funnels with my mind has always amazed me and any mobile suit with funnels is a mobile suit I like.
The grunts of Zeta Gundam also have beautiful designs. Although nothing in my mind will ever reach the iconic status of the Zaku II in my mind, The Marasai is a cool crimson and brings to mind Char’s suits from Mobile Suit Gundam, with a cool should shield and the standard spiky shoulder on the other end. The head is a streamlined helmet, and it also features the pipes that line the Zaku’s body. The Hambrabi is also an interesting suit, with its cool blue coloring and its weapon like an electric spider web, reminiscent of the Gouf’s heat rod. Its MA mode is also slick and its arms fold like a mantis, waiting to strike. The Axis’s Gaza-C reminds me of Gundam Wing’s Leo or Taurus with the immovable eye.
Alright enough about mobile suits, let’s move on to some gripes I have with Zeta Gundam. One thing that really threw me off was the pacing of the show. As I mentioned before, Zeta Gundam has a lot of characters that it has to keep up with and divide screentime appropriately, but despite this the start of the show is SO SLOW. I found myself bored with the first 5 episodes, laughing at the ridiculous amounts of slaps meant to be taken seriously, and wondering where the hell this show was going . The show finally hits its stride around episode 15, and really picks up halfway through the series around episode 30, where every episode advances the plot comfortably and each character is developing at a good rate. However, near the end of the series, the pacing is exponentially increased. Once I got to episode 45, I found myself wondering: How the hell are they going to wrap this all up in 5 episodes? The answer? Kill ’em all Tomino. Within the last 3 episodes Tomino, the director, proceeds to kill off almost half of all the characters you really care about, and their deaths are rushed and happen within minutes, not allowing you to really absorb the impact of their deaths or process their absence.The finale is disappointing, to say the least. Jerid, the one who we see as Kamille’s rival, is killed by Kamille almost as an afterthought; Jerid does not get the cathartic and epic battle that both he and the viewer were expecting. The final battle between Kamille and Scirocco takes all of 10 minutes, with not much actual combat but instead with a scene of Kamille seeing dead people which abruptly leads to Scirocco’s death. However, because Scirocco didn’t get all that developed as a character, I didn’t feel as that satisfied about his death and I certainly wasn’t satisfied by their “battle.” However, I will give Tomino points in that the ending is darker and more realistic than Mobile Suit Gundam; Kamille exits the final battle mentally damaged, unable to recognize his surroundings or Fa’s voice. I have no idea how Scirroco managed to do that simply by yelling, but whatever. The last scene of Zeta Gundam leaves a lot of plot points unresolved, such as what will happen to Axis and the AEUG, who will rule over the Earth Sphere, has peace been accomplished, and does Kamille recover? It is presumed that the viewer will go on to watch Gundam ZZ to get these answers, but if you choose not to you feel a bit cheated as you expect more resolution after a 50 episode investment.
It might seem like I hate Zeta Gundam from that paragraph, but I really do love it, which makes all the flaws more apparent to me. Kamille is a stronger protagonist than Amuro, with more resolve and better character development. He goes from a bratty kid who refuses to pilot the Gundam to becoming a strong soldier always looking out for his teammates and great combat skills. It is great to see Char Aznable as an adult in the aftermath of his efforts of the One Year War and how he has matured into becoming a leader and his ideals about the Earth and peace have developed. Captain Bright is back and he is as badass as ever, exuding confidence on his bridge and commanding with authority. Four Murasame is much better “Lalah” character, Kamille and Astonaige provide great comedy relief, the kids on the ship are less annoying, Haro is back, and characters from the original series return is a treat. The soundtrack is fantastic, with two great OPs and a solid EDs, and ambient tracks that accurately convey the mood of scenes. The Newtype concept is further refined and explored, with tons of Cyber-Newtypes and Kamille not understanding the need for war and the lack of understanding between humans. Haman Karn and Minerva Zabi are introduced, both of which will play huge roles in Gundam ZZ and Gundam Unicorn. The list of great things in Mobile Suit Gundam Zeta goes on and on, and it may the best UC Gundam show yet. (I’ll have to get back to you on that one once I watch Gundam ZZ.) If you’ve never watched a Mobile Suit Gundam series show before, I highly recommend both Zeta and the original series because they are so important to the history of anime and they are great shows that stand the test of time. For those who are unfamiliar with Gundam, I leave you with this chart, and I hope you give it a chance!