Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) review: The "classic" deconstructed.

Overall verdict: 6.5/10

The Good: realistic character interplay, trend starter of the gritty "real robot" war genre, sneaks in philosophies about war amid the drama and battles,

The Bad: mediocre animation and sub-par artwork even when compared to other 1970s productions, extremely dated Japanese vocal track, English vocal track tries too hard to sound dated, complex plot and political maneuverings may not appeal to many.

Current Availability Status: DVD out of print.....


"The all time classic", "the one that started it all", "The Original Gundam". It has been called "influential", "a masterpiece" and "a legend". However the first thing anyone would notice would be the god awful theme song, complete with horrendously childish lyrics that sounds like something from Tetsuwan Atom(Astro Boy to you guys in the west), all set to cheesy footage of a bunch of kid characters running, posing heroically and piloting a giant robot. It looked like some show aimed at 5 year olds.

But sit through that deceptively juvenile one and a half minutes and one will be greeted by a cunning surprise. Gundam's story is anything BUT childish or campy. Where the opening theme set up the show to be little more than kid friendly heroics involving giant robots, what it really presented was a very real and very engaging war story about a gifted but misunderstood youngster and his friends forced into the heat of combat by unfortunate circumstance.

The story goes that in the far future date of "Universal Century" 0079, "The Principality of Zeon" wages war with the Earth Federation over authority in the outlying space colonies. The war soon spreads to the colony "side 7" where our main character, Amuro Ray, resides. Following an unprovoked attack on the colony which spreads fear and chaos, Amuro and his friends stumble across the prototype Federation mobile suit called "Gundam". A series of events lead up to our unlikely heroes landing on board, and becoming drafted as the crew of, "White Base", a powerful Federation space carrier commanded by the then ensign Bright Noa. This motley gang soon learn to work together and in due time, they and Gundam come to play a pivotal role in the ongoing conflict, forever altering the course of the war.

Unexpected twists ensue as the conflict both between the Federation and ZEON and among the rag tag crew of the White Base builds. The drama of inter character relationships and interactions play out as good as some live action TV shows and they manage to engage you on an emotional level without coming across as overly melodramatic. You get a sense that the characters really grow and evolve as the story moves along, never falling too far into the usual stock character stereotypes. Amid developing the characters, the story manages to weave in some underlying philosophies and thought provoking points of view on war. It lends an edge to the show that makes it a whole lot "smarter" than your average shonen adventure or super robot series of that era.

Within The "enemy" ZEON forces themselves, there is great turbulence under the seemly calm surface. A complex subplot of political backstabbing and "power-play" among the ruling party of ZEON made for a very intriguing experience. What is more intriguing is the mysterious Char Aznable. Aside from being a highly skilled mobile suit pilot and "rival" to Amuro Ray, bits and pieces of his past and ulterior motives are revealed little by little in such a way that makes you want to know more about him. As the events that shaped his current mindset, as well as the reasons behind his ruthless actions and obsession with defeating Amuro, Char easily becomes the most well rounded character of the cast.

True to the hype, the numerous battles in Gundam are done in a comparatively realistic way. There is a greater emphasis on teamwork between Amuro in the Gundam, the weapons and support team on White Base and the other pilots in the other mobile suits. The inexperience of the crew and the vulnerability of the Gundam make each battle a true nail-biter with a greater sense of actual peril.

Admittedly, this is not an easy series to get into, mainly due to its age. Already mediocre compared to other anime series that came out in the late 1970s and 80s, the animation style is painfully dated compared to today's fare. Stiff animation with a low frame rate, sketchy lines, inconsistent artwork, faded colors, not to mention the periodic "off model" character design. To judge Gundam based on its visual merits alone would not be doing its great story justice. Gundam's age is also apparent in the voice acting. The Japanese voices fit the characters well, but the script is definitely dated and the poor, almost muffled, sound quality betrays the earnest acting. On the other hand, the english language track handled by the "go to" team for gundam dubs, "Ocean group", feels like a lost dub of the 70s. Despite being produced in 2000, the way the actors emote, and the way the dialogue blends with the background music and sound effects feels 20 years older than it actually is.

MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM was no doubt an influential piece of work. But perhaps that was due more to it being a trend starter for the gritty "real robot" war genre in a market over-saturated by child friendly and sometimes comparatively cheerful "super-robot" anime. The dialogue heavy nature of the narrative might cause the story to drag in certain parts and for all its complexity, it might actually end up alienating those more used to simpler plots. On its own merits, Mobile Suit Gundam is a cut above the rest, though not as big a "cut" as the hype may claim.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you have a vested interest in the good ol classics that helped shape the identity of the japanese anime industry.
Avoid it: if anime, to you, has to be digitally rendered in bright colors, feature upbeat j-pop songs and have characters that look sexually attractive.

Entertainment: B-
Story: A-
Characters: A
Animation: C-
Art: D+
Voice work (japanese): B
Voice work (english): B-
Replay Value: C
"Brains": B+

Believe it. This is the only time in the entire series where the Gundam's face is actually PROPERLY drawn
Thanks to poor quality control, the Gundam never seems to have the same face twice, sometimes becoming disproportional with the body, other times falling serverely off model.

Give me Zaku back me purse!!!
simplistic low detailed artwork. Notice how the seemilgly solid titanium "skirt" around the Zaku's thighs warps and wraps itself like a real cloth skirt as the Zaku's legs move.

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