Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ

Type: TV Series
Episode Count: 47
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Vintage: 1986-1987
Date of Review: August 11, 2014

Hot on the heels of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, we’re treated to the continuing adventures of the warship Argama and her crew as they are faced with a Neo Zeon threat. When the Zeta Gundam is nearly stolen by a group of punks on a nearby colony, events are set into motion counting down to another massive war, and a destiny grander than Judau Ashta and friends could ever have imagined.

After the dark finale of Zeta, series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino decided to take things in a lighter direction with its successor series, Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (aka “Double Zeta”). Indeed, the first half of ZZ is rife with comedy! This would’ve been fine…except that the execution is very poor, and ZZ just isn’t very good at first. Series protagonist Judau is very unlikeable when we’re introduced to him, and his fellow scavengers are even worse. I spent most of the series hoping Judau’s douchebag friends would get airlocked. Our old pal Bright Noa has to deal with some truly humiliating events, nearly turning the saga of the Argama and the Gundams into a joke. Even the bad guys suck; there’s a few decent ones, sure, but fops like Mashymre Cello and the batshit-crazy Chara Soon seem like rushed caricatures rather than solid villains who present an actual threat.

However, in the second half of the series, ZZ actually gets quite good. The comedy is dropped, we see some actual character growth, and Judau becomes a much more interesting lead. Seeing how he reacts when serious threats push him well out of his thieving comfort zone is a vast improvement for Judau and ZZ as a whole. His burgeoning Newtype abilities take a slightly different tack, too, and just wait’ll you see what Judau can do by series’ end.

The animation looks just fine, but it’s often hard to take it seriously: while the show uses an art style similar to its predecessors, the character design takes a leap off the deep end. ZZ features some of the most ridiculous 1980s fashions you’ve ever seen, especially when it comes to the women. And they get even more over-the-top during the good part of the series! Just as the story gets serious, the female characters decide to change into what are apparently summer club outfits with random bites taken out of the sides. It’s oddly hilarious, but not in the way the creators intended, I’m sure. The problem is that it’s distracting; there could be a serious plot development going on, but you’re too busy snickering at Roux Louka’s side-ponytail. It’s hard to imagine the Gundam Team going into battle dressed like they’re in a cheesy music video, but there you have it.

As for the mecha, those look great. The ZZ Gundam itself didn’t impress me at first, but the design is growing on me. It brings back the classic Core Block system, and looks tough as nails in battle; that’s really all that matters, right? There’s plenty of fine details in the Gundams and other mobile suits, too, giving establishing shots and fight scenes alike some added polish. ZZ also adds many new great enemy mobile suit designs, most of which really fell under the radar until Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn over twenty years later. (That story takes place approximately eight years after the events of ZZ, but features many of the older series’ mobile suits.)

The music is a solid science fiction soundtrack that we’ve come to expect from a Gundam series. I don’t mean to gloss over it, but there’s something more important to be addressed: one can’t talk about ZZ without mentioning its original theme song, “Anime ja nai.” I rarely talk about anime opening and ending themes, as they’re often pop songs that rarely fit the subject matter. But ZZ‘s theme bears examination because it’s incredibly annoying, yet simultaneously became one of the most beloved anime themes in history. Basically, it’s joking that ZZ is “not an anime,” and that it shouldn’t be taken seriously. I just find it amusing that not only does the show troll the viewers for a while with comedy and crappy characters, but so does the initial title song!

In the end, it’s hard to recommend ZZ, as the first half is of such cheesy quality. (And it’s not like you can just skip it, else you’d be lost for the rest.) Obviously, it’s required viewing if you want to keep up with the Universal Century, and it does have some redeeming features, like the aformentioned improved second half, the wrapup of leftover story threads from Zeta, and sowing seeds for later productions (most notably the excellent Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn). But as far as casual Gundam fans or newcomers are concerned? You can pass on this one. It’s not a bad series, just a tough sell.

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