Let's talk about the history of the Japanese anime Gundam, which gave birth to a legendary franchise, between war, humanity and robots.
Gundam it's one of mine franchise favorites. It is a world of animated series, model cars, video games, movies, comics and art that has been around for forty-one years.
In this sense, we have already talked about how Gundam has inaugurated an entire science fiction genre, namely the genre real robot, in this article.
In the series of articles that will come out on Gundam, I will rant on the subject a little in the round. Partly because during the pandemic my roommates are sick of hearing me talk about this franchise and therefore they proposed to spoil you. A little bit because I feel this franchise was important to Japanese animation, science fiction and popular culture. On the other hand if they do giant and self-propelled statues, there will be a reason!
Orient yourself within the multiplicity of branded products Gundam it can be difficult and without some indication there is a risk of not properly appreciating the work.
I imagine, for example, someone who starts by looking Gundam 00 or Gundam ZZ. Tastes are not discussed, but I think these two series give the wrong idea about franchise, and therefore are not a good starting point. Moreover, as he states Sturgeon's theorem, 90% of everything is garbage, and the world of Mobile Suit it is not exempt. There are a lot of branded products Gundam that is not worth your time. So if you want to get close to that franchise, I want to try to suggest the good stuff (at least in my opinion) before.
In this article, therefore, we will talk about how it was born Gundam, of the first series of franchise, Namely Mobile Suit Gundam, its main theme (ie war) and some problems that arise with the product.
An important premise before starting
Before starting, however, it is good to clarify a few things. The franchise of Gundam it is very vast and complex, as so many products have been produced, including anime, manga, video games and books, in the last 40 years. Many of these products never even made it to the West. So, don't expect an all-encompassing series of articles on Gundam.
I myself have not seen / read / played / collected all of Gundam. It is an impossible undertaking and would make me a fanatic of this world rather than an enthusiast. Nor do I think that what has been produced on this issue is all pure gold. For the aforementioned Sturgeon's law, the franchise it has problematic elements and it would be incorrect to ignore them.
Let us remember, therefore, that you can love a franchise while being aware of its faults, and we must talk about them openly rather than pretend that these faults do not exist and always seek justification in the face of errors.
Gundam is an intellectual property with over forty years of life. It all started in 1979 with the animated series Gundam Mobile Suite, to then become magnified in a proliferation of products: other series, films, books, comics and merchandising of all kinds.
It is not at all risky (and indeed we will often) to compare the success and the life of Gundam al franchise di Star Wars, in terms of economic success, cultural influence (at least in Japan) and commercial practices aimed at the survival of the product.
The works of this genre belong to the genre fiction, to the genre wick and to the subgenus real robot.
The stories told in these works can be summarized in a very simplistic way as follows: Gundam tells of people who find themselves fighting a war aboard giant robots called Mobile Suit.
A big chunk of the production of Gundam one is set timeline well defined: theUniversal Century. The first work of this timeline fu Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), which chronicles the war between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon, and then many others have been produced over the course of forty years, the latest among them Mobile Suit Gundam Hataway out May 7, 2021.
In the 90s and especially in the 00s many have proliferated timeline alternatives, in an attempt to revitalize the genre with mixed results. We will learn more about these products in subsequent articles in this series. In this article, however, we will focus more on Mobile Suit Gundam, that is on the first and main work of franchise.
Mobile Suit Gundam: the original series
Let's first see the plot of the first series of the franchise, that is Mobile Suit Gundam.
The beginning of the war between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon
Humanity moved into space, living in clusters of O'Neil model colonies around the Earth. The situation between spazionoids (i.e. the inhabitants of the colonies) e land is tense.
In the year 79 of the Universal Century (the new calendar inaugurated with the colonization of space), a group of colonies, the self-proclaimed Principality of Zeon, begins a war of independence against the Earth Federation. This war will later be called "One Year War“, Having started on January 3rd and ended on December 31st.
The war begins suddenly and extremely destructively. In fact, half of the global population dies in the first month.
Additionally, Zeon fights with a never-before-seen weapon, which gives him an absolute advantage: i mobile suit (robots) mass-produced. Thanks to these, he decimated the forces of the Earth Federation.
The introduction of the Gundam
Nine months later, the war suddenly arrives even in the remote colony of Side 7, when the major of Zeon Char aznable attacks it to take possession of the mobile suit experimental that the Federation is developing there: the Gundam.
The young man Amuro Rei will fly the Gundam to save his life and that of his peers, who will end up being drafted as ship personnel White Base.
From this moment on, the animated series follows the journey of the White Base to Earth and then back to space, hunted by Char and many other enemies. From the Gundam and from White Base the fate of the conflict depends, as they represent the only possibility of bridging the technological gap with Zeon.
A war made by people
The long journey of the White Base is dotted with meetings e clashes: they will find ruthless enemies, honorable rivals, sincere allies and unsuspected traitors. In addition to the core of the protagonists, there is a large cast of supporting actors and many transitory characters (who usually don't live long), who serve both to push the plot and to motivate the growth of the protagonists. Obviously, Amuro Rei is the one who has the most significant encounters, which each time will broaden his perspective on war, on the parties involved and on life.
Moreover, the narrative artifice of mobile suit allows two robots to collide on the battlefield without the pilots' identity being mutually known. This has given birth to some scenes that I really love. For example, when a fleeing Amuro runs into the Zeonian officer Ramba Ral and for the first time sees Zeon soldiers as people who know how to be civilians. Or when, much later in the series, in the neutral zone of Side 6, Amuro gets a tire changed by his arch rival Char Aznable, who does not recognize him immediately (nor does he expect the driver of the fearsome "white devil" to be a kid. teenager).
The ending: a victory that does not pay off the losses of the war
The war proceeds with the progressive collected by the Federation thanks to the efforts of the crew of the White Base. In the second part of the story, the needs of the market weaken the plot a bit by inserting too many “robots of the week” punctually defeated. However, we arrive at the sequence of final episodes with many twists and very high stakes that make the ending of the saga a well-made and by no means predictable narrative.
Since forty years have now passed, I don't think the ending of Mobile Suit Gundam be more of a spoiler.
Both Zeon and the Federation come to the final battle tried and weakened by the war, both because they are running out of resources, and because they have hit each other with super-weapons. Amuro and Char fight their final duel.
Eventually, Char decides to carry out her personal revenge by assassinating the last of Zeon's ruling family, Kycilia Zabi, before disappearing into thin air. Amuro, after the duel, will be able to save himself from the destruction of the Zeon base only thanks to the maturation of his psychic powers and the deep bond he has formed with his comrades.
But it's not a 100% happy ending. The war has taken too great a price for everything to return to how it was before. Everyone has lost someone, everyone has grown up in spite of themselves, everyone has blood on their hands.
The final victory will also have a bitter taste, leaving the viewer with the idea that yes, the war was won, but it would have been better if it hadn't been fought at all.
How did Mobile Suit Gundam
Let's see who the authors of Mobile Suit Gundam, and what were their main sources of inspiration.
Parents of Gundam
Mobile Suit Gundam was produced by Sunrise Inc., and since then the fate of the franchise was inextricably linked to that of the animation studio.
Yoshiyuki Tomino: the main creator
Yoshiyuki Tomino is the main creator of Gundam. He was the creator of the original series and many of the subsequent products.
His career has had ups and downs, and will forever be linked to mobile suit white, although before this he was the author of Daitarn 3 and other works related to the genre Super Robot.
Tomino has had personal problems and has been fighting for a long time trough. In the acute stages of the disease, its production was significantly affected, turning to darker tones and a kill count higher and higher (since 1977 they called him "The Butcher"). Tomino is a very capable, serious and professional author; he had brilliant ideas and left an unmistakable mark on the history of Japanese animation.
However, creating an animated series is not the work of a single man and it is appropriate here to recognize the work of other creatives.
Yoshikazu Yasuhiko and Kunio Ōtawara: the two designers of Gundam
Yoshikazu Yasuhiko and the character designer of the series: to him we owe the main characters of Mobile Suit Gundam. Yasuhiko also edited some subsequent Gundam series, especially the beautiful one Gundam: The Origin. His collaboration with Tomino dates back to '77 when he made da character designer for the series Zambot 3.
Kunio Ōkawara and the mecha designer. In the sense that he was the first to boast this title.
In his career he took care of the design of several robots (the year before Gundam curated the mecha design di Daitarn 3, where he met Tomino), but they are those of Gundam to have consecrated it to the Olympus of creativity. This man basically invented a career as well as some of the most distinctive robot designs.
Other important authors of the franchise
But a forty-year-old franchise and far too many animated and comic series can't rely on just these people. Inevitably, some have to pick up the baton and keep telling stories.
Kazuhisa Kondo it's a mangaka who put the first series on comics, and since then has become the most capable and refined aedo. Hajime Katoki is a genius of mecha design which has been able to build on what Ōtawara has created, giving a unique line, recognizable yet respectful of tradition to mobile suit of this world.
There are not only men in the creative teams (although they make up the majority) of Gundam. In fact, one of the most popular authors is Haruhiko Mikimoto, character designer e mangaka. Mikimoto worked on Macross e Gunbuster, and since 2002 he has been writing Gundam École du Ciel, a shojo series set inUniversal Century.
The sources of inspiration for Mobile Suit Gundam
Other robots and Japanese science fiction
Before working on the mobile suit white, Tomino had cut his teeth with two previous series wick always for Sunrise: Zambot 3 & Daitarn 3. These series are quite classic for the genre (e Daitarn is much loved here in Italy) and, although they tend to confirm the stereotypes of the genre, they have allowed the author to collaborate with Yasuhiko and with Okawara, creating the collaborative team leading Gundam.
Da Zambot 3, Tomino takes the idea that even in a cartoon for children good people can die (which is actually not too rare in Japanese animation). In Daitarn 3 for sure Okawara takes some design elements that will be better developed in the next work.
For much of the storyline of Mobile Suit Gundam, the crew of the White Base travels alone, facing the hordes of mobile suit by Zeon. This narrative is certainly indebted to the works of Leiji Matsumoto: Capitan harlock, But especially Space battleship Yamato. There are many similarities between the narrative structure of this work and the first half of Mobile Suit Gundam. In that sense, one of the things I appreciated the most was how also in Yamato the bad guys are paranazis.
Let's not turn around: if it hadn't come out two years earlier Star Wars, Mobile Suit Gundam it would have looked very different. The villain with a hidden face, the head of state only hinted at and never really present, the beam saber, the newtype. These are all heavily inspired by the legendary George Lucas movie.
If in the first cover of Gundam 0079 that I saw there was no Gundam with his in his hand beam saber, I probably would never have read the comic. As we will see in the next articles, Star Wars it was not only a form of content inspiration, it was also a business model as regards merchandising and the creation of satellite products that kept the franchise.
World War II
This too will be explored in the next articles, but to understand Gundam it is necessary to understand how much it owes to one of the largest and most tragic armed conflicts in the history of mankind.
Zeon, the main enemy of the Earth Federation, is obviously inspired by Nazi Germany. Between uniforms, flag, Nazi salute, you have to be blind not to see the parallelism.
In the same way, the course of the war follows that of the Second World War, with references that many connoisseurs know how to identify.
Finally, the process of development and nomenclature of the various tank models in the Second World War inspired that of the mobile suit in the series.
War stories and how to tell them
Let's see now how Mobile Suit Gundam has brought some very interesting themes, which have become a cornerstone of franchise.
Child soldiers of Gundam
Mobile Suit Gundam essentially tells one war story. It tells of kids who would normally have spent the day riding scooters, bathing in artificial lakes and going to school. Instead, they are suddenly torn from their families and homes, forced to wear a uniform and fight for their lives.
It is the drama of child soldiers forced to fight a war unleashed by the idiocy of adults.
The protagonists of the series all undergo some form of trauma, and all the main characters have, some first and some later, a moment of rejection of the conflict. This phase of rejection occurs when the violence perpetrated and suffered exceeds the limit and especially when the end of this conflict is not seen. Despite them (there are other episodes to film eh!), The characters are forced to continue the conflict. They will have to find among their fellow soldiers the reason to go ahead and not give up.
The new generations as a hope for the future and an external point of view
In most of the series (with a couple of notable exceptions) after the original, the protagonists will continue to be kids (almost all boys, unfortunately). The main reason is obviously because that specific demographic can identify with the protagonist.
However, the desire to use a little boy, whose point of view is outside the military world, to show through his naivety should not be underestimated.senselessness of the conflict.
From this point of view, the speech made by one of the characters of Gundam UC, when he says that only children, only the new generations, have the hope of rebuilding a different way, free from the mistakes made by adults. The possibility of redemption and redemption for a system that does not work lies precisely in the new generations.
Similar speeches, full of hope for the new generations, are present in almost all works.
Obviously, it seems that conflict is part of the human soul, and punctually falls back into violence, series after series.
The characters and spectators will have the opportunity to reflect on the dichotomy between the utopian aspirations we should yearn for and the violent instincts that anchor us in the vicious circle of violence.
Death in Gundam
"Can you remain alive in spite of the WAR?" is the question with which Yasuhiko closes each volume of the manga Gundam: The Origin.
A question by no means taken for granted given that the death rate of the series is quite high. Especially in the works set in the vein Universal Century, Tomino and his successors did not hold back in the to make the characters die.
The secondary characters are obviously those with the greatest chance of leaving the feathers, but even within the circle of the main characters the risk is quite high.
Both in the main series and in the subsequent series, the deaths in combat are distributed throughout the narrative arc and are often the starting point for a moment of reflection on the cruelty of war and an opportunity for the protagonist to grow. On the other hand, already when he was in charge of Zambot 3, Tomino had earned the nickname of "the butcher" for having sacrificed the protagonists of the series in the finale.
The effect of death on history
Perhaps the most memorable deaths are those of the secondary characters. These in fact are also introduced several episodes before. Maybe they escape death a couple of times and give the illusion that it is possible to survive this senseless conflict, only to die when it seemed they could do it. A cruel and mocking fate that should remind us how precious human life is.
For a series aimed at children, the deaths are many, and often drag down the mood of the series. For this, several have been included comic relief that as the series progresses justify their presence.
Personally I find that having put such a high number of deaths was, as well as innovative, fundamental for keep the initial promises of the narrative. If in the first episode they claim that half of the population of the earthly sphere died in the first few months, they cannot pass nearly fifty episodes without digging some pit.
On the other hand, Japanese animation was much freer than the American one of the same times which, under the constant scrutiny of parents' associations, could not show violence and deaths even when it told of war. For this reason, for example, in G.I. Joe every time they shot down an aircraft they had to show that the pilot ejected in time!
Cool Robot: the problem
The themes of rejection of war, pacifism and trust in a better world are present in the series, but often end up being considered secondary.
In fact, very often, especially among the most causal fans the battles between mobile suit, space wars, the mecha design and visual effects attract more attention and overshadow the message. Paraphrasing, we could say that when Gundam focuses on the absurdity of war, the average viewer looks at the wick.
As in any work, the outward appearance is important and it is right to appreciate it. However, one must also strive to find a message within it, so that there is a process of growth and an intrinsic value is added to the half that we are consuming.
Very often, unfortunately, the taste for narrating a battle, creating a conflict to justify the release of a new one mecha design, the spectacularity of an action scene or the charisma and attractiveness of a certain character have meant that the appearance of coolness clouded the moral ofanime.
Especially in the minor leagues, the message that war is wrong is not as effective, and more often the idea is that with the appropriate justification war is acceptable. Unfortunately.
The banality of evil: Zeon
A similar problem also occurs with the average viewer and how the sides are perceived. The Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation are often put on an equal footing, saying they both did bad things. Usually, the next step for those who say these things is to reach out and shout "Sieg Zeon"!
This is what happens is when we mistake the humanization of people with the apology of Nazism.
Zeon as the Third Reich in space
Let's face it: the Principality of Zeon is clearly inspired by the Nazi Germany and to the third Reich. We'll see the similarities in a later article, but the call in design, ideology, and even actions is pretty blatant. Zeon has an ideology that proclaims the superiority of one human group over another, the reclamation of a living space and follows the Nazi model in uniforms, visual aspects, rituals and dynamics of power.
Zeon does bad things. Not only do we see a surprise war, the attack on neutral factions and other war crimes. In fact, Zeon is also distinguished by genuine acts genocide, which we will explore in the next episode. While their demands for independence are understandable (especially in the face of the Federation's treatment of colonials), having chosen a brutal and violent modus operandi eliminates any merit this faction may have. Hence, Zeon inevitably takes the wrong side.
Not just monsters: the complexity of the enemy
However Mobile Suit Gundam he is keen to show how varied and complex human nature is, and how much no alignment is made up of good ones and bad ones. For this reason, among the ranks of Zeon we find not only (many) sociopaths. There are also loving family fathers, honorable soldiers who care for their underlings, simple people who just wanted to improve the quality of life.
On the other hand, among the personnel of the Earth Federation, together with the noble and valiant fighters, there are also arrogant soldiers, infamous traitors and petty manipulators.
Humanity is varied and trying to explain itself why people like us have been able to do such terrible deeds it is one of the most difficult questions that philosophy has been trying to tackle since Nuremberg.
Unfortunately, if the viewer does not have the right tools of evaluation, they will see it as a "Zeon and Federation are on the same moral level". Often, attracted by the charm of Zeon's uniforms (a fascination that even I suffer), the viewer will end up siding with the Nazis of the Universal Century. Guilty of this is also a certain amount of manga, which wants to pass the Zeonians as heroes loyal to their homeland. According to this view, the Zeonians' only fault is that they had evil people as their leaders. Which is a bit like many Japanese justified themselves after World War II.
Also for these reasons, I would like to help anyone who comes close to franchise in order to have a more aware view of it.