G – Gundam

There were a lot of things I could have gone with today for G, but I just had to go with Gundam. Despite all of its flaws, warts and blemishes, I’m a huge fan of Mobile Suit Gundam and the Universal Century setting.

Gundam was one of the first entries into the ‘real robot’ sub-genre of Giant Robots. This meant that rather than being made of magic and unicorns, the robots were basically giant multipurpose humanoid tanks used for construction and warfare. Of course much of the animation in the earliest series still reflected that of super robot shows (fully flexible joints, full human range of movement) because that’s what animators of the day had to draw on. The later UC OVAs tend to reflect the ‘real robot’ aspect of the mechs more accurately; these are big cumbersome machines that clod along while carrying giant machine guns and battleship grade beam cannons. In fact, the biggest mechanical advantages the original RX-78-2 Gundam had over the Zeon mainstay mechs were significantly thicker armor that could resist the Zaku’s 120mm machine gun shots and carried a beam rifle with the output equivalent to a small battle cruiser.

A good show is always defined by its villains. During the One Year War, we’re given the Principality(sometimes Duchy) of Zeon, a bizarre pastiche of outerspace Jewish Nazis. The Jewish aspect and its political connotations is often shoved under the rug. Prior to the standardization of the proper names, Zeon was more often than not Romanized as “Zion”. It’s not pronounced Zion the way that your typical American rube might pronounce it, but it is pronounced the way you’d pronounce it in Hebrew. So you have a space Zionist movement of space colonists who have declared an independent homeland for Spacenoids and screw everyone else. In Zum City, the capital, the Zabi family palace is fronted by two grand columns depicting the Iron Cross and the Rising Sun. So, wow. Zionist Space Nazis.

Yep, looks pretty Nazi to me!

Yep, looks pretty Nazi to me!

Much like the Nazis of WWII, Zeon’s major downfall was a combination of squibbling between generals that reflected the Wehrmacht, SS and Luftwaffe’s inability to effectively coordinate with one another and the expenditure of resources on flashy military prototypes rather than maximize the efficacy of mass production units. And they’re also bad dudes who aren’t afraid to commit some pretty heinous atrocities in the name of independence. Which again is why more recent releases of the older series have attempted to put distance between the series and the original connotations of Zion.*

This kinda got away from me here… Oh, right, real robots.

One  significance of Gundam, as opposed to a lot of other giant robot shows, was that ultimately the Hero’s actions contributed only in minor ways over the course of a fairly large war. White Base was almost never involved in any significant strategic operations throughout the One Year War until the Federation was already pressing its advantage in space against a retreating Zeon. The Gundam served as a distraction for Zeon to send its ace pilots and/or politically dissident commanders to chase after and keep them out of various intrigues.

There are a LOT of games out there that cover events in the One Year War. And a LOT of them are pretty bad, though all of them are lovely little snowflakes that hold special places in my heart. The best description I’ve ever read of Journey to Jaburo (or any game, really) was that it was like “pushing a Tiger II through the Ardennes with a toothpick”. One of the games that gets some pretty unfair slag, because it was Nintendo Hard, was Zeonic Front. Of all of the games I’ve played, though, nothing has better captured the feel of the Real Robot genre than Zeonic Front. I’ve heard it described as Rainbow 6 with Robots, but not having played Rainbow 6, I really couldn’t say. Though to be clunking along towards checkpoint Bravo only to be shot and blown to hell by that tank hiding behind a cluster of trees because you were looking for bigger threats with radar rather than checking infrared heat signatures? That’s the kind of giant robot stuff I’m talking about, and even in frustrating death, I feel strangely satisfied. Also: I wonder if I’m the only person who noticed that the one black pilot is the only guy who gets stuck piloting a Zaku I for the entire war?

*: It should be noted that no real or perceived antisemitism in Mobile Suit Gundam would prevent Neil Sedaka from composing the awesome opening songs for the much-better-than-the-first sequel, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam.

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7 responses to “G – Gundam

  1. The only Giant Robot shows I’ve watched were Evangelion and Code Geass — neither of which was especially about the robots. :/

    I might be a little biased because I saw Star Wars first and generally prefer air forces and planes over ground forces and tanks. 😉

    –Dither

    • Eva was more of a deconstruction of the Super Robot genre than Real Robots. Can’t comment on Code Geass, as I never saw it. I’m with you for the most part on air-force stuff, but for whatever reason I still like Real Robots. Probably because of all the Mechwarrior 2 and Heavy Gear I played as a kid.

      The main in-universe explanation (in Gundam) for using giant robots was they could be used for construction and they were modular and could use any equipment or weapons they could carry. Your standard MS-06J Zaku II could be equipped with a bull-pup 120mm machine gun, a 175mm cannon, a 280mm bazooka, or really anything it could pick up.

  2. A few small quibbles, which I will say while putting on my thickest Otaku glasses. The Gundam didn’t have thicker armor, it was made of a special, much more expensive armor (which was prohibitively expensive and thus only used on the Gundam and other early prototypes, such as the early runs of the Guncannon and Guntank).

    On the historical front, while infighting and useless prototyping contributed to the downfall of Nazi Germany, overwhelmingly it came down to overextending themselves and ultimately picking fights with Russia and the United States, when they were still exhausted from fighting France and Britain. Which actually also parallels Gundam, as the Zeon forces would have been able to keep their 80-odd percent of Federation holdings if General Revil hadn’t informed Federation forces that Zeon production and military was stretched to its limit by what they had accomplished thus far.

    Zeonic Front is pretty much Rainbow 6 with robots, high lethality, emphasis on planning, movement and strategic thinking over quick button presses, etc. Great article, overall, despite my minorest of quibbles. You should do Zeta Gundam for your Z post, obviously hah hah

    • Thanks! I forget the specifics on the armor, but the exact material I believe got inserted into the continuity at a later point. Whatever it was, the Gundam’s shield was made of the best stuff, the Guncannon was made of the stuff the Gundam’s shield was made of (so that it didn’t have to carry a shield, but prevented it from seeing mass production in its original ‘super armored’ form), and the Gun Tank was… made of Gun Tank… There was something about Lunar metals being used for the Gundam, but I feel like that was from a later series or OVA. However, by ‘thicker’ armor, I meant merely to express in simplest terms than the standard vulcan and machine gun rounds were unable to penetrate it.

      Also, I forget, do you remember at what point, if any, Revil’s time spent as a prisoner of Zeon worked its way into the official UC continuity? In the book, he was able to reveal that Zeon had maxed out its warmaking capacity because he’d seen it first had while he was a prisoner before he made an epic escape back to Earth, but the book is one of the last places to look for UC canon.

      And as tempted as I’d be to do Zeta Gundam, I’ve already got one written up for the Zeveult from Hyperspeed. :/

      • I believe in the original Gundam they actually talk about it being made of Lunar titanium or something. I forget exactly what, but I remember them talking about it fairly early on in the show.

        I can’t remember an exact time for Revil talking about it, but I feel like it’s been referenced in a few other animated stories, though I couldn’t tell you which. It may just be a jumble of misremembered information though.

        I never played Hyperspeed, but just from a few seconds of googling, it sounds a bit like Starflight and Star Control, so I’m excited to hear about it.

      • I feel like it was something that was mentioned once and then completely forgotten about for most of the original series. It’s been too long since I’ve watched either, but I want to say that the Lunar Titanium came up in Zeta, though.

        As far as I know, the “Zeon is Tired” speech was first in the books, but if it was referenced in any OYW series, it would’ve had to have been MS-IGLOO. Otherwise it’s probably in either a game or a comic or something. I think that fanon holds that he gave it around the same time as, probably a bit before, Ghiren’s “Take Your Sorrow, Turn it into Anger” speech, maybe a bit before, but it’s hard to say, since the books’ timeline in no way resembles or can be matched up to the series’ timeline.

        Hyperspeed is awesome, if you can ever find it and/or a way to play it. Open-ended sandbox adventure flight simulator RPG gaming at its finest (seriously, there’s no easy way to nail down this game’s genre).

    • And speaking of warfighting capabilities, I’m still always baffled by the original assertions that both sides lost half their respective forces in the opening months of the war and that over a billion people died in the Battle of Loum.

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