Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (Sunrise, 1985)

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Zgundam

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.

Zeta Gundams

Left to right: Gundam MK-II, Zeta Gundam, Psycho Gundam

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.

zeta special suits

Left to Right: Hyaku Shiki, Byarlant, Qubuley

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.

zeta mooks

Left to Right: Marasai, Hambrabi, Gaza-C

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!

Gundam Timelines

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EUREKA SEVEN (BONES, 2005-2006)

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Eureka Seven

The first time I watched Eureka Seven must have been back in 2006 when it first aired on Cartoon Network’s adult swim block. As a 11 year old, I found the episodes exciting and funny, but I did not have the conviction to try and watch the entire series. (I neither had the money for DVDs nor the ability to pirate things). However, over the winter break I decided I wanted to revisit my childhood watching anime and decided I wanted to finish Eureka Seven, for the sake of 11 year-old me and because it still seemed interesting.

Best decision I’ve made this year.

The opening, the scenery, the characters, the story, everything drew me into the world of Eureka Seven. I was completely enamored and had to restrain myself from watching the entire series in two days. Instead I considered it a reward for surviving another day of not finishing the series and would marathon 5 episodes or so every night. And when it finally finished, I felt so fulfilled and empty at the same time. However, before I go into the ending, how about I start from the beginning:

Eureka Seven revolves around a teenaged boy named Renton Thurston. His father is known as a hero who saved the world, however Renton is just a typical teenager who does not pay attention in school and hates everything about his town. The only happiness he finds in life is from “lifting”. (Imagine surfing, but instead of riding the waves you ride air currents called “trapar”) One day, Renton’s world changes as a young girl piloting an LFO (basically a giant mech with it’s own lifting board) crashes into Renton’s room. Her name is Eureka, and she is Renton’s first love. The trials that these two lovers go through form the basis of Eureka Seven, and watching them tackle each challenge is the source of fulfillment of this series.

However, Eureka and Renton are not the only stars in this show. Eureka is a member of Gekkostate, a group of young professional lifters who also have their own personalities and secrets. The leader of Gekkostate is Holland Novak, Renton’s lifting idol. He shares a close but complex relationship with Talho Yuki, the pilot of the Gekko, Gekkostate’s ship. Others in the control room include Ken-Goh, veteran weapons master, Gidget, ditzy communications officer, Hap, stingy co-captain, and Woz (named after Steve Wozniak), the chill hacker. Gekkostate has many other members whom you come to appreciate for their quirks and beliefs as the show progresses, and the narrative allows you to see how Gekkostate operates as a family and how Renton is incorporated into that family. This makes the first episodes a true joy to watch each episode as you are simply watching how the Gekkostate family operates on a daily basis and how Renton has to adapt in order to be welcomed and become a member of the Gekkostate. Even as the plot begins to develop in the later episodes you still get to see the crew interact with one as a family unit and can laugh alongside them or share in their pain or anger.

The young couple: Eureka and Renton

The young couple: Eureka and Renton

Emotions. Emotions are very well done in Eureka Seven. The producers of each episode knew how to draw each emotion they wanted out of the audience with the animation, writing, and music. Even now as I listen to certain pieces of the soundtrack I am drawn back to a certain scene and can remember vividly the characters and their feelings. I found myself laughing out loud several times during the show, as well as openly crying at other parts. This anime gets its viewers emotionally invested with every episode, to the point where after the final episode you can look back on the journey that you experienced along with the members of Gekkostate fondly and with such emotion that it feels like the producers allowed you to become a member of Gekkostate by watching Eureka Seven.

The Nirvash Type Zero

The Nirvash Type Zero

Seeing as Eureka Seven is a mecha show, I feel it is also necessary to address to robot designs in the series. Simply put: they are wonderful. You’d think it would be odd to see giant robots essentially surfboarding in the air, but the mechs are designed with a certain sleekness that makes lifting seem natural for these robots, and the accompanying animations are fluid and beautiful. The Nirvash, which the mech that Eureka and Renton pilot, especially looks at home in the skies provides its own influence on the crew as it is treated like another Gekkostate member. The various forms the Nirvash takes on during the show help to emphasize that Eureka and Renton are also changing as they progress towards their goals and the fact that Nirvash has a mind of its own makes it unique in a genre where mechs are often just tools used by the protagonist for the realization of their own ideals.

Finally, before I wrap up my review I’d just like to mention that the soundtrack is phenomenal throughout the series. Sato Naoki does a wonderful job as composer and manages to make music tracks that fit each moment of the anime perfectly, and are a joy to listen to on their own. Notable tracks are “Forbidden Fruit”, which often lays during moments of mischief and brings a smile my face every time I listen to it. “The Gekko” is inspirational and grandeur, reminding me of defining moments of the series when the climax of an episode was reached. “Dewy Novak” is a very charged and dramatic track that helps scenes convey their importance and sense of doom. The openings and endings are also great to listen to as singles, and I never actually bothered to skip the opening or ending of any episode as they were great to listen to and wind down from an episode or pump up for another one. “Storywriter” by Supercar is also a great rock track that plays during key moments of the series and I love how it has a “remix” feel to it in the beginning. Eureka Seven also acknowledges the importance of music by making many references throughout the show to various musicians such as Ray Charles, the Beastie Boys, and Joy Division.

I can confidently say that Eureka Seven is in my top 3 of anime that I have watched, and it is not likely to lose that distinction any time soon. I love how the series starts off with no real particular goal and episode after episode gets you adjusted to the world that Renton and Eureka lived in and what kind of people they were and who the people on the Gekko state are. Then, as Eureka and Renton begin to realize their feelings for one another the plot truly begins to develop we can see how their innocent, pure, gushing love is the both the beginning and the end of this series, and once you hear their voices say “The End” after the final episode you realize that their story is finally over and you are glad that you were with them every step of the way of their relationship. Eureka Seven is a beautiful anime abut two young lovers in a crazy, insane world that tries to keep them apart, but in the end it cannot and the universe thanks them for their love.

P.S. I watched this series dubbed and loved it, you should try so too!