Turn “A” Gundam

Turn "A" Gundam Type: TV Series
Episode Count: 50
Genre: Sci-Fi / Mecha / Drama
Vintage: 1999

Version reviewed: Japanese, Subtitled
Date of Review: 28 Dec 2015

Grade: B+

The title of this series is stylized as ∀ Gundam.

A very different kind of Gundam series.

Plot Summary
The Moon’s Queen Dianna has begun her Earth Return plan, where citizens of the Moon return to Earth in waves in order to resettle the planet. Among the returners are Loran Cehack and his friends Fran and Keith. Each finds their own role to blend in with Earth’s population, with Loran becoming a driver for the Heim mining family. Things begin to change when an attack from the Moon awakens something from the distant past. What was thought to be a god may in fact be something more.

The Review
While I may not have an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Gundam (I leave that to my colleague liquidcross), it is still readily apparent to me that Turn “A” Gundam is no ordinary Gundam series. This is in a completely different realm than my first exposure to Gundam: Gundam Wing. While that series is all about excess, Turn “A” Gundam is very grounded, figuratively and literally. Turn “A” Gundam is a Gundam series which takes place largely on the Earth, and with scarcely a Gundam to be found in its fifty episode run! Both do appear in the series, but only when the time is right, and this series is laid out in a very particular way.

Turn “A” Gundam is a series very much rooted in the past, despite taking place far into the future. The first indication of this is from an aesthetic standpoint. Character designs and settings are all straight out of the American 1920s. It’s an era plucked from the final years of Edwardian fashion and technology, presented in a mostly straightforward way without falling into the steampunk trap. Don’t get me wrong; steampunk has its place, but I find it to be a bit overused these days (though this is a fifteen year old series now). I usually prefer my Edwardian and Victorian depictions straight up and without all of the gears and steam. But I digress.

Another way which Turn “A” Gundam pays tribute to the past is in its production values. Though produced at the eve of the new millennium, it looks like it could have been made in the late ’70s, complete with a theme song which reminded me a lot of the opening song for 1979’s The Rose of Versailles. It is also the final Gundam series to be painted by hand.

Story and characters were almost culture shock, coming from Gundam Wing, but it was good culture shock. Turn “A” goes for a much more practical and less fantastic approach, and in fact seems to focus more on the characters and overall story rather than the mecha battles themselves. A slow and deliberate pace guides the series through its extensive backstory and exposition before literally launching it into the stratosphere. For a long time, Turn “A” doesn’t even feel like watching a Gundam series, but that works in its favor, instead of being a point against it.

As for the characters, everyone has a story, and most of them get theirs told, at least in part, and they are all interesting in some way. One of the Gundam quirks I am familiar with popped up again: characters addressing each other by their full name. It sounds a bit odd and overly formal, but in a way it wouldn’t be a Gundam series without it. For me, Loran is a lead character I am conflicted on. On the one hand, his pacifist ideals and desire to protect people are to be commended. On the other, he has a serious complex over one of the other main characters, and Loran’s indecisiveness can make Shinji Ikari seem like the pinnacle of assertion at times. My favorite character in the series is actually one of the supporting leads: Sochie Heim, the younger of the two Heim sisters who Loran works for. Sochie is a firebrand who speaks her mind and doesn’t take nonsense from anybody, and I found her to be a refreshing contrast to Loran’s extreme passiveness. There are many colorful characters in Turn “A” Gundam, from the comic relief duo to the battle-thirsty lieutenant who never seems to succeed. Don’t forget the suave leader of Dianna’s Royal Guard or the hippie Moon loyalists, either!

Turn “A” Gundam was recommended to me by liquidcross as a good “next” Gundam series for me because of its unique qualities which set it apart from even the cream of the Gundam crop. I’d have to say it was an accurate prediction, as I enjoyed it immensely, despite my issues with Loran. The story is always interesting, though it unravels just a bit towards the end. The characters are never boring, and the musical backdrop always provides just the right mood. On that note, the soundtrack is composed by none other than Yoko Kanno, though her style is very incognito for Turn “A” Gundam’s score, with her trademarks apparent in only a few pieces of a more tribal nature and some of the more proper songs.

Turn “A” Gundam will appeal to not only Gundam fanatics but also fans of mecha and science fiction generally. The Gundam trademarks are here, but even those not as well-versed in the franchise mythologies will find much to enjoy.

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