Friday, August 20, 2010

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985)

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: creative directing that hides animation limitations, easy to follow character driven narrative, well paced war story, realistic character portrayals, philosophy as a "side dish", emotionall compelling.

The Bad: a few "far out" concepts about psychic powers, skimps on the politics that made its predecessor such a treat to watch.

Current Availability Status: "Anime legends" edition boxsets available online. Not available in singapore.

> Below: Limited collectors edition. Out of print.

DVD extras: trailers


7 years have passed since the events of the original MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM and the battles lines have shifted once again. Yesterdays heroes are today's oppressors as the once heroic Earth Federation has degenerated into a fascist ruling party whose iron law is upheld in the space colonies by the "Titans", an elite task-force created to quell any form of possible insurrection. Opposing them is "A.E.U.G", formed by a number of ex-ZEON members including the legendary Char Aznable. It is an underground group of freedom fighters slowly gaining support and power among the colonies. Enter the brash and hot headed Kamille Bidan who, during the events of an A.E.U.G attempt to capture some experimental mobile suits, lands up piloting the newly developed Gundam MK2. A series of tragedies occur which forces Kamille, who already harbors a dislike for the Titans and the Federation, to join up with the A.E.U.G as they make their way to earth. While the Titans are determined to stop the AEUG no matter the cost, the AUEG themselves are planning an all out attack on the Earth Federation. However, as the two factions tear at each other, a more dangerous threats looms in the form of the "Neo Zeon" movement.

The first thing that would strike any viewer of Zeta Gundam is how the various players in the war were portrayed. Instead of going for a morally ambiguous stand and make each side seem "good" in their own way, this show is quick to bring out the "ugly face" of each side, ally or enemy; it is the viewers' choice to either root for the devil or the demon. Even the heroes do some morally questionable things over the course of the story, but it all plays into some very well thought out character development.

This series focuses more strongly on its main character of Kamille Bidan, his point-of-view and how me meets the various different characters as the story advances. Kamille starts off as, quite honestly, a self-centered brat with an identity crisis and a dysfunctional family relationship. But his development over the course of the series is heart warming and emotionally engaging as he matures and is given a crash course in "growing up" and being a responsible soldier. Without spoiling anything here, but let us just say that the poor kid experiences quite a good number of deaths, especially involving some people close to him. Some of those deaths were a result of enemy action, but others came as a result of Kamille's own childish stubborness.

How the characters react to their situations are realistically logical, in a style that one would expect from any real life person thrust into that situation, and lead up well into their subsequent actions, be it a subtle change of attitude or even defecting to the other side. From the inner turmoil of Kamille Bidan, to the crazed obsession of Jared Messa, to even Quattro Bajena's loss of faith in his leadership capabilities. All of them are equally compelling and fully developed. Character from the original MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM series return, all grown up and a little differnt in their outlook toward the war, but the same people that the fans remember. However, it is Kamille's story and the narrative manages to keep its focus despite the ever growing cast.

The story moves along at an excellent pace with enough twists to keep you coming back for more. It may start off a little slow for the first few episodes, mainly just to get all our main cast into place, but manages to pick up after that. The episodes never seem to drag and the intrigue just keeps building especially after the introduction of the cyber newtypes and "Axis Zeon". Though not as in the forefront as other Gundam productions, politics play an intergral role in advancing the plot and giving a sense of scale to the ongoing conflict.

Created in 1985, Zeta Gundam's animation is actually quite good for its time. It can hold up to many anime series up to those in the late 1990s thanks to its detailed artwork. The director does use a number of stock footage and repeated scenes especially in battles, but he does it in such a way that it is never really obvious the scenes are re-used. Little things like using a stock footage in mirror-image or re-coloring the background of a stock footage or even playing with the speed of the animation all helps to "mask" the re-used scenes and animation. A very shrewd bit of directing there that allows the animation to look great while saving on cost. In fact, one can argue that the style of the art and animation here lends a very "gritty" look to the show that goes well with its darker storyline. Thanks to that, the action in Zeta Gundam is intense and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

At times however, the saturated narrative does seem to lose its focus. Near the latest parts of the series, psychic powers start to manifest. The concept of a "Newtype" initially was a person born in space with the ability to fully understand, almost metaphysically, the intentions and actions of others. Now, a "newtype" is anyone who exhibits not just enhanced perception and low level ESP, but actual psychic powers that allows one to predict an opponent's next move and even used in the form of a psychic attack. Thankfully other concepts fare a lot better, particularly the differnt points of view and philosophical rhetorics about the nature of war.

Conceptual shortcomings aside, MOBILE SUIT ZETA GUNDAM is very much and enjoyable anime series; a timeless tale that can appeal to any modern audience who are willing to look past its vintage. For those that can not look past its age, Sunrise and Bandai saw it fit to remake the series back in 2005 into three movies featuring updated animation and artwork. However, any Gundam fan will tell you that nothing beats the"classic charm". With animation beyond its time, a dark but highly engaging story and an emotionally identifiable cast with strong characterization, it is no wonder many long time Gundam fans regard MOBILE SUIT ZETA GUNDAM as the best Gundam series ever created.

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

Go For it: if you'd like to experience a milestone in anime history; a sweeping galaxy spanning tale that takes the time to focus intimately on its characters.
Avoid it: if technical age is a factor that would affect your enjoyment of a story.

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

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