Turn A Gundam

Type: TV Series
Episode Count: 50
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Vintage: 1999-2000
Date of Review: December 9, 2013

What, you thought I was going to start out with the original Mobile Suit Gundam?

As part of the 20th anniversary celebration for the venerated Gundam franchise, animation studio Sunrise decided to do something a little different. Sure, they’d done that before with the alternate timelines of Mobile Fighter G Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, and the like. But with their new 1999 series ∀ Gundam (Turn A Gundam), the powers-that-be took it a step further, enlisting legendary futurist Syd Mead to design mobile suits for their latest project. The man responsible for such classic designs as the TRON lightcycles and Blade Runner‘s dystopian future (to say the least) lent his formidable concept art talents to Gundam, creating the titular mobile suit as well as many others.

Design aside…how’s the series itself? ∀ Gundam takes place in a unique post-Industrial Revolution world, rather than the futuristic space colonies we’re used to. Mobile suits aren’t even built; they’re excavated from beneath the mountains! However, some of the usual Gundam tropes are still present. Our story follows a young man from the Moon named Loran Cehack; as he assimilates into Earth society, he gets caught up in a conflict and ends up finding a mysterious mobile suit known by many names: “White Doll,” “White Devil,” “Mustache,” and, of course…”Gundam.”

For the most part, ∀ Gundam is more lighthearted and positive than many other Gundam works, with even a bit of comedy thrown into the mix. Not to extent of Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ or even the original Gundam series, but there’s some amusing scenes nonetheless, especially those centered around a specific pilot introduced early on. The overall tone is still serious and dramatic, and tells a stirring tale of coming of age amidst the backdrop of a potentially world-changing conflict.

Even though ∀ Gundam is a self-contained series, there’s some great homages to Gundam sagas of the past in terms of certain mobile suit designs. The visuals are bright and colorful, again something not often seen in Gundam. Most of this is due to the fact that nearly all of ∀ Gundam takes place on Earth; the characters don’t even make it into space until the tail end of the series!

The great animation is complimented by some fantastic art design; Mead’s new mecha designs mix well with the old, including the incredibly unique ∀ Gundam itself. (Which just happens to be my favorite Gundam of all time; call me a blasphemer if you wish, but I stand by my belief!) The mobile suits really stand out compared to the rest of the Earth technology that looks like something out of the early twentieth century. Mobile suits, old-timey automobiles, and biplanes side by side? You bet.

Of equal if not greater importance are the characters, of course, and ∀ Gundam has some truly great ones. Loran is an instantly likeable character who brings a wide-eyed optimism to the Gundam world, and the Heim sisters Sochie and Kihel help ground him in the realities of his new home. Even the supporting cast is great, as characters are often realistic and relatable. No sweeping drama is complete without its villains, either, and ∀ Gundam‘s break the mold a bit. None of them are inherently evil; in fact, every single one of them, including the central antagonist, all simply believe they’re doing what’s right. In some cases, certain opponents end up switching sides.

Last but not least, there’s the music. Yoko Kanno composed an excellent score for ∀ Gundam that stands apart just as much as its visual design. From tribal chanting to upbeat melodies to ethereal ballads, her soundtrack fits the world of ∀ Gundam to a tee. A few echoing orchestral pieces are still there, sure, but it’s definitely not the usual fare when it comes to space operas.

∀ Gundam is rife with great character development, drama, and mobile suit action, all in a world that remains unparalleled in the Gundam universe over a decade later. (And just wait until you see the shocking twists towards the end of the series.) Ultimately, ∀ Gundam is a bold step outside of the box, and highly recommended for any Gundam or mecha fan.

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