(This is an entry on my hobbies, one of which is assembling model kits from the Japanese Animated series, Gundam.)
Japanese animation comes in so many different genres and styles that a room full of average fans could all have different tastes. One of the oldest and most popular forms of anime is mecha anime, which often depicts humans operating robots of various size in combat situations. This can be divided further into Super Robots and Real Robots. If you’d like an easy way to remember the difference, think of Super Robots like Power Rangers or Voltron – super heroes piloting unrealistic flying super machines. Real Robot anime normally feature smaller, more industrialized machines often portrayed in military conflict.
Today, we look at one of the pioneers of mecha anime, a Real Robot classic that has remained ahead of the curve for nearly 40 years.
Mobile Suit Gundam is one of the oldest anime universes, spanning back to 1979. It’s original namesake program failed to capture a large audience and was originally cancelled only a year after its premiere. Where the creators did find success, however, was with the toy market. Mobile Suit Gundam model kits sales drove the creators to release a sequel series that, while critically panned, launched the series as a regional sensation in Asian nations. This success expanded even further when the Gundam Wing series premiered in the US in the mid-90’s. As of 2014, Bandai was pulling in 70 billion yen ($600 million) in yearly revenues.
The Gundam universe is divided into 10 different timelines that cover over 30 series and movies. It’s a bit confusing to track them all as they don’t all have the same creators and are treated as completely independent of each other unless they are sequels. Despite the disjointed nature of the storylines, there are a few consistencies between the series: Political conflict and corruption between nations, a clash of ideals, the harsh realities of war and young protagonists.
The current incarnation, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans is a throwback to what made the series popular to begin with. A group of child mercenary soldiers called Tekkedan are forced into a political chess match between the factions of Earth and it’s Outer Colonies. These young men are captured as slaves from a young age and forcefully implanted with a system that allows to sync their central nervous system directly with machines of war. After gaining their freedom pretty early on, these youngsters have to decide what kind of future they want through a series of geo-political indicative trials.
The first season just wrapped up two weeks ago, receiving some of the highest ratings for the series in a few years and has been renewed for a second season. If you’re looking for a good introduction to the series, this is it. While I can’t vouch for the quality of every Gundam series, IBO is bringing the longtime series into a renaissance and is available to watch through Hulu, Youtube or Funimation’s website for free.
Because of a multitude of creators and contributors, the quality of the animated series will vary. One aspect of the series that has yet to stop improving is the model kit design. The detail to design has scaled up from the original No Grade classifications assigned to the 1980’s releases. Nowadays consumers can purchase kits of varying difficulty up to Master Grade and, more recently, Real Grade. These models feature snap joints for easy connecting, as opposed to the glue and paint of the original designs.
All in all, the Gundam universe has continued to expand through various generations while staying true to its original formula of realistic robot violence influenced by political corruption and potential civil war. It touches on the fragility and difficulty of the human experience from the cockpit of a 100 foot tall metal obelisk.