One thing I like about watching a classic anime is to recognize the different anime that would pay homage to it in later years. Hayao Miyazaki’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky is another example of this. Mobile Suit Gundam (0079) brought the mecha-genre away from the cheesy giant robot-shows of Go Nagai to a more serious and realistic side, and traces of its influence can still be seen in today’s anime. Haro from Gundam 00 actually turns out to be one such example, and the three kids in Eureka7 have also been taken from the original Gundam.
After watching this series, I finally understand a bit why the post Universal Century-Gundam series are so shunned by the UC-fanboys, and at the same time I came to appreciate a series like Gundam 00 a whole lot more, but more on that below. The battles in Mobile Suit Gundam are indeed extremely realistic, and there’s one key element that made this possible: the great focus on logistics. With this, military bases suddenly don’t have limitless supplies anymore, and the fact that this series is mostly about just one battleship, instead of an entire fleet makes this one war-series that features some intense battles. It also never loses steam: every episode has at least one battle that fits in the story, rather than filling the audience’s need of action. And this intense attention to detail indeed seems to be missing in the other Gundam series I’ve seen so far (Gundam Wing and 00)
The second great strength of this series is the amount of attention it gives to the enemy forces. It’s not like they develop every single enemy soldier into a likable character, but this series gives a terrific overview of all the different kinds of enemies that you can run into the battlefield. All have their own priorities and agendas, ranging from low-ranked soldiers to high officials, none of them is ignored.
Still, the thing is that this series hasn’t been perfect. Based on the stories of the fans of UC, I expected Mobile Suit Gundam to be something like the epitome of realism, but this doesn’t turn out to be true, as it has a lot of points where it could have done better. The most obvious being of course Amuro, the lead hero. The guy just looks at a manual, and within three days he’s able to pilot a complex mobile suit like an expert and he also turns into a master tactician. Something that would take ordinary soldiers years of training. The reason this series gives for these abilities later on in the series is rather weak. If you want to god-mode your characters, you’ve got some good explanation to do, and the thing about Newtypes feels just like a lazy excuse to let a teenaged boy be the centre of attention.
Probably because of this, Mobile Suit Gundam also has a really weird difficulty-curve. In regular anime, the different enemies get tougher and harder to defeat as the series goes on, but here it’s just the opposite: during the first half, the enemies are all really tough and hard to beat. They come with interesting tactics and don’t let themselves get killed that easily. Then the second half hits and even though the enemies seem to get their hands on a more advanced mobile suit with every single episode, they also become a lot more stupid. At one point, they just become sitting ducks for Amuro to hit. I was rather disappointed by that, to be honest. When you realize that the enemies aren’t a threat anymore, the series does lose a bit of its tension. I think this is also the reason why the ending screwed up so badly.
Don’t get me wrong: Mobile Suit Gundam is a great series, but these flaws do remain. Of course, the following paragraph will be just speculation as I haven’t seen Zeta nor Victory Gundam, but I suspect that these two, despite whatever greatnesses they may hold, weren’t completely perfect either. The thing is that every Gundam-series seems to have its own strengths and weaknesses, and there’s no way you can be perfect at everything at such a large-scale series. Mobile Suit Gundam focused more on low-scale battles with a focus on logistics, while Gundam Wing on the other hand focused more at philosophy and large-scale politics. If you keep expecting the same thing as the originals, then you indeed will be disappointed.
That’s also what I find so interesting about Gundam 00, as only now I realize that it was partially an attempt to flesh out the areas in which Mobile Suit Gundam didn’t do so well. While the original series had a clear good and evil side with the Earth Federation and Zeon, Gundam 00 never depicts anyone as truly good or evil. Gundam 00 also never bothered to god-mode its characters, and instead only focused on upgrading its technology, and the closest things that resemble Newtypes have actually been explained well and don’t stand out too much. There also wasn’t really an explanation behind the huge level of technology of the White Base and Gundam on Mobile Suit Gundam, and Gundam 00 managed to find a pretty good explanation of a plot that took 200 years to prepare.
On the other hand, Mobile Suit Gundam shows more how the different battles affect the mentality of the pilots, it’s cast of characters is more dynamic. It also doesn’t have any characters that sit in their rooms for episodes after each other being emo, and whenever a character’s angsting, you’ll know that in the next episode that person will have already progressed past this angsting-stage. In this way, you can see that these two series complement each other pretty nicely. What you miss in Mobile Suit Gundam, you can find in Gundam 00 and vice versa.
Normally my reviews are geared towards readers that haven’t seen the anime in question yet, but in this case, I had too many thoughts I wanted to share. I tried to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but apologies if I ended up spoiling something. Despite its age, Mobile Suit Gundam is worth your time if you like war-stories. As it turns out, every war-anime is different and focuses at something different. Simoun had the religious influence, and showed what really happens if your technology is miles above that of your enemy; Heroic Age had space-battles of the highest possible epic-scale; series as Toward the Terra focused more on their characters and Flag was all about realism. I must say, that it’s a really diverse genre that you can’t possibly stuff into just one series.