Mobile Suit Victory Gundam

Type: Series
Number of Episodes: 51
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Vintage: 1993-1994
Date of Review: March 28, 2017

Many decades after the legendary battles between Earth and Zeon, the world has settled into an uneasy peace. When the powerful Zanscare Empire threatens that peace, the League Militaire takes up arms when the Federation cannot. Even children are dragged into service, as Üso Ewin discovers when he pilots the Victory Gundam to protect his loved ones. But can he hold out in the face of a devastating and depressing war?

The latest chapter in the Universal Century saga sees us moving even further into the future, over fifty years beyond the classic Gundam series, and with almost zero connection to those save for a few minor mentions. As such, Victory almost seems like a standalone series, though newbies might be confused by some common saga terminology — Minovsky particles, Newtypes, psycommu, et cetera — because Victory does assume some prior Gundam knowledge. Still, I don’t think a newcomer would be too lost, with one caveat: the first few episodes. Legend has it that Bandai wanted to introduce the Victory Gundam in the very first episode in order to kickstart toy sales, whereas in the original planned broadcast order, it doens’t appear until a few episodes later. As such, the episodes were hastily edited and reordered, throwing the Victory Gundam (and the viewer!) into a story that’s already begun. It’s confusing, to be sure, but once you get past that, everything makes much more sense.

At times, Victory seems that the powers-that-be were throwing things at the wall to see what would stick. For better or for worse, this gave us some radical new mobile suit and warship designs, incorporating unlikely influences from helicopters and motorcycles. While the treaded units laid waste on the ground, the tires look absolutely ridiculous in space, a sentiment shared by the League Militaire. While some enemy suit designs are a bit head-scratching in nature, in general, the Zanscare Empire’s mecha forces have a very unique look that sharply contrasts with our heroes’ more “generic” grunt suits. This obviously makes it very easy to instantly distinguish between the good guys from the bad guys, but it’s always great to have more variety!

As for the eponymous Victory Gundam, it’s a fantastic design. Compact, modular, and exceptionally effective in combat! This series also marks a very rare occurrence of the titular Gundam later being mass-produced in the same form. This makes perfect sense in-universe, as the League specifically designed the Victory to be easily repaired and replaced in the field, with many modular parts available from the start.

In keeping with the Gundam franchise’s multicultural leanings, Üso and friends are distinctly European. Aside from the requisite space battles, most of the fighting on Earth takes place in either Europe or North America, and Üso returns home more than once only to find that he just can’t stay there while the war rages on. Üso’s cohorts are interesting and believable in their own right, as are the villains who don’t fall into the expected mold of “just plain evil.” There’s plenty of shades of gray in there, but I will say that one character in particular was so infuriating, I was just waiting for them to get shot or blown up or meet some other terrible fate. So what happened to them? Watch Victory to see if they got their just desserts.

Victory has a reputation for being a very dark and depressing series, giving creator Yoshiyuki Tomino his infamous nickname “Kill ’em All.” Indeed, many popular characters get brutally killed throughout the series, and the last batch of episodes in particular are a massive deathfest, both for the militaries and civilians. The moral of the story is, don’t get too attached to anyone in Victory. (That’s not to say that the show doesn’t have its lighthearted or weirder moments, like the bizarre sequence in which Üso is accosted by a bikini gunner squad. That one really came out of left field.) Though he’s usually a strong-willed pilot, I’m surprised Üso didn’t snap, especially after a horrifically tragic event he witnesses near the series’ halfway point. Other Gundam protagonists have lost their shit over less.

Victory is a robust yet often forgotten part of the Universal Century that isn’t reliant on throwbacks. Great early 1990s animation mixed with a solid score makes this an underrated show indeed, and the last full Universal Century series, to boot. If you can handle the darkness (and the misplaced order for the first few episodes), Victory is well worth a watch.

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