Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam

Type: TV Series
Episode Count: 50
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Vintage: 1985-1986
Date of Review: June 30, 2014

Seven years after the One Year War, the world is a very different place. The Earth Federation has gone corrupt in the form of the Titans, another rebellious faction has sprung up to oppose them, and Zeonic remnants are waiting in the wings. In the midst of this powder keg, another young man finds himself in the cockpit of a Gundam. Where will Kamille Bidan’s journey take him?

Here we have the first of many sequels to Mobile Suit Gundam. While connections to the original series are there, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam focuses on a new cast, and of course, new mobile suits. There’s more than one Gundam this time; the titular Zeta Gundam doesn’t show up until later in the series, but the show opens with a few new Gundam Mk-II units which see plenty of use. There’s loads of other new mobile suits, too, so mecha fans certainly won’t be disappointed. The mechanical design in Zeta is considerably more advanced and detailed than that of the original series, giving us some great new units that withstand the test of time.

But a Gundam show’s characters are just as important as those giant robots, and Zeta has great ones in spades. Like previous Gundam pilot Amuro Ray, Kamille starts out rather whiny, even getting slapped across the face numerous times. And yes, some of those slaps are meted out by the one and only Bright Noa, a carryover from the original Gundam series and the unsung hero of the Universal Century, if you ask me. (Bright goes on to appear in a few other UC series, usually having an important role.)

Anyway, Kamille obviously gains confidence and skill over time, otherwise he wouldn’t live very long. He also suffers his share of slings and arrows, but it’s made believable the entire time. Kamille even designed the Zeta Gundam itself, so he’s no slouch in the smarts department, either. Watching Kamille’s growth go all over the map is eerily reminiscent of real life, except for the mobile suits. He’ll have his victories, but sometimes the rug will get yanked right out from under him because fate is just a cruel mistress sometimes. Then there’s the matter of Quattro Bajeena, an ace pilot working with the anti-government rebels. There’s much more to him that meets the eye, and the truth about Quattro breaks the story wide open.

Despite airing only six years later than its predecessor, the animation in Zeta has taken a bold leap forward. I already mentioned how great the new mechanical designs were, but even the characters and background animation have gotten a significant boost. There’s still some “1980s anime” tropes, especially in terms of clothing and hairstyles, but it’s not to the series’ detriment. Slow-paced character moments are just as visually appealing as massive mobile suit battles in space. On the music front, the score features grand orchestra mixed with jazz fusion, complete with heavy use of saxophone solos. Again, very ’80s, and it almost sounds like the Yellowjackets scored parts of the series. That’s not to say that Zeta has a bad soundtrack; it certainly doesn’t. Everything fits the scenes well, often flowing perfectly into the background.

Much like Mobile Suit Gundam before it, Zeta was later compiled into three feature-length films…but this time around, the movies came much further down the line. To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the series, the Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: A New Translation trilogy was released from 2005 to 2006. The movies look fantastic, featuring new animation and changes to the story like its predecessor, albeit to a stronger degree. They’ve also been reframed for a widescreen aspect ratio, but it’s so expertly done you’ll feel as though nothing’s missing. The only slight against the films is that the new animation is done in a very different art style, so it’s quite distracting when jumping between new and old, which often happens in the same scene!

Also, the ending to the New Translation trilogy is vastly different from the original Zeta series; as such, the powers-that-be consider it to be a side story or alternate retelling, as it does not fit any of the later Universal Century canon. Because of this, I recommend that newcomers watch Zeta in its entirety first, then watch New Translation. I know that’s a lot more material to get caught up on, but trust me: it’s worth it.

With Zeta, Gundam became a bona fide franchise. It’s widely considered to be the finest Gundam series, and it certainly lives up to that hype. Zeta is admittedly a slow burn at first, but the show takes off soon enough, particularly in the second half; it’s very hard to stop watching at that point. If you’re only going to watch a single Gundam show, Zeta is definitely it!

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