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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